Three Camera Systems: One Too Many?

I’ve been a photographer since 1994 and SLR has been my technology of choice ever since. Since the move to digital I’ve hated the bulk and weight of APS-C dSLRs, but I put up with those in order to get speedy operation and high image quality.

For the past few years I’ve also owned a compact camera but could never get excited about the “water-color look” of the images (even in RAW). I was also briefly tempted by the D600, but didn’t want to add any more bulk or weight to my already large and heavy set. On the other hand I’ve been preaching forever that 12-16 high-quality megapixels are enough for anything an amateur might need, so basically I’d planned to use my D7000 as my only camera for as long as it clicked.

But then exciting new cameras came into the world: most notably large-sensor compacts and mirrorless systems with built-in image stabilization.

To make the long story short, I couldn’t resist. I tried out the Sony RX-100 and was quite impressed. I still am. If it had a 12 MP sensor I’d be even happier, but as it is the results are stellar and it makes such a small and sweet package. The image below shows my system number one — complete with extra batteries, a camera strap and a camera bag — the way I carry it around.

Sony_RX-100

Next up (in size) is system number two. At first I was very suspicious of electronic viewfinders (EVF), and the first implementations were indeed disappointing. But working photographers (that’s my definition of a “pro”) like Ming Thein and Kirk Tuck were (and still are) producing very impressive results with their Olympus E-M5 and Sony NEX-7 respesctively, so I decided to give Olympus a try. The E-M5 it very small and light, has IBIS and is part of an impressive system of high-quality lenses, so after prices came down a bit, I got one. Initially I was overwhelmed by the number of settings and options, but after spending an evening or two with it, I was able to customize it nicely for my needs, and I have been impressed with it ever since.

Olympus_E-M5

In order to evaluate m4/3 as a primary system I’ve borrowed a few items and bought a few more. What you are seeing above is a killer set for travel and street photography. It might work poorly on the race track (slow continuous AF) or on a wildlife safari (no long lenses in my kit), but it’s perfect for me. The Really Right Stuff grip makes the camera extremely comfortable to handhold and allows me to attach the SunSniper Compact strap on the left side of the camera’s base, so the combo hangs perfectly next to my left hip. All of the above fit comfortably in a Lowepro OmniSport, and they weigh so little that I often wonder if there is really anything in the bag. 😉

And this thought brings me to system number three. It’s proven and it’s serious, it takes a beating and keeps on ticking. This system (or variations thereof) has accompanied me on all my trips, and I know it inside and out. With it I’ve made my best pictures to date. The batteries last forever, there are countless lenses and accessories for it and lots of used gear at reasonable prices. But it’s big and heavy, and none of the lenses I am able to afford or willing to carry have image stabilization.

20130217-00040

So, what am I to do? Three systems seems like at least one too many…

  • Keep all three systems? Take the compact on my way to work and when I don’t expect any specific photo opportunities. Use the m4/3 gear on city and weekend outings (with lower need for ruggedness and easier access to power) and dedicate the dSLR to the tougher and longer jobs?
  • Sell off the compact camera and use the E-M5 with a 14/2.5 instead? But is it small and flexible enough for taking everywhere? Probably not…
  • Or I am ready to give up my trusty old dSLR and thus the optical viewfinder?! This would be like giving up a good and reliable job for a new and exciting one…

Tough to say right now. What I’m not ready to do is give up the m4/3 gear. In one short month it’s become my favorite for travel, concert photography and macro. I’ve even got used to the EVF and am now enjoying all its benefits. Next step with the E-M5: candid street photography — I’m a bit scared but completely determined to try it out!

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