Assessing Camera Trade-Offs

Over the past number of months I’ve been getting some interesting questions via email from readers. The majority of them were about assessing camera trade-offs, and trying to make a purchase decision. As we all know, there is no such thing as a perfect camera or camera system. Everything photographic comes with some kind of trade-off. Regardless of the camera brand and model we individually choose, the most important thing is selecting gear that best suits our specific needs. This article summarizes some of the feedback I have been receiving from readers.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/5.6, 1/200, ISO-200, subject distance 765 mm

What people like about full frame cameras

One of the most common things that full frame owners like about their gear is being able to photograph moving subjects in low light. No doubt for bird and nature photographers this can be a very important consideration.

Many photographers that frequently require shallow depth-of-field with their work, prefer the look of photographs that they create with full frame gear.

Producing very large sized prints is another area where full frame cameras are preferred by many photographers. Other than these three main areas, other full frame preferences tended to be specific to particular features available on certain cameras.

Olympus OMD-E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/2.8, 1/50, ISO-500, subject distance 300 mm, handheld focus stacking used, out-of-camera jpeg adjusted in post

What people dislike about full frame cameras.

The most common dislike was the size and weight of full frame gear. As some photographers have been getting older they are finding it increasingly difficult to work with larger, heavier equipment. While some full frame mirrorless camera bodies are smaller and lighter than similar DSLR models, concerns about size and weight were focused on the entire system. Not just the camera body.

A few people thought that smaller, lighter mirrorless full frame camera bodies were more difficult to use with longer telephoto lenses as they did not balance particularly well with heavy lenses.

Another concern frequently mentioned was the cost of full frame gear. Cost differences were noted between APS-C and full frame bodies. Concerns were also directed at the cost of constant aperture f/2.8 zooms and fast primes such as f/1.4 or faster.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with MC-20 teleconverter @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-200, FL-700WR flash used, subject distance 1.9 metres

The APS-C conundrum.

Owners of APS-C cameras considering a gear change, appear to be the ones most unsure about what to do for their future camera needs.

Some are contemplating making the move to full frame. The majority feel that the resulting image quality would be better than what they can achieve with their existing APS-C gear. They are unsure if the difference in image quality would counterbalance their size, weight and cost concerns. Some photographers question their ability to effectively handhold full frame cameras, especially those with high resolution sensors.

There are a number of former full frame camera owners who have already made the switch to APS-C. It appears that as long as they can get the lenses they need, there is little thought about making any additional changes. Many owners of Sony APS-C cameras seem to fit into this category.

A number of owners of Nikon and Canon APS-C DSLRs seem to be taking a ‘wait and see’ attitude about potential equipment upgrades. In terms of switching to mirrorless products, the future availability of mirrorless lenses is a fairly common ‘wait and see’ issue.

Some APS-C camera owners, notably photographers that have Fujifilm APS-C gear, seem to be quite committed to their current APS-C system and its specific characteristics.

Generally speaking, people contemplating a move from APS-C to M4/3 see a potential benefit in using somewhat smaller and lighter camera gear. This is counterbalanced by a perceived loss in image quality to at least a marginal degree. Some of the imaging technologies available in Olympus cameras are of interest to current owners of APS-C cameras.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8 @ 40 mm, efov 80 mm, f/2.8, 1/20, ISO-3200, subject distance 905 mm

What M4/3 owners (OIympus) like about their camera gear.

My website has significantly more Olympus than Panasonic M4/3 owners as readers, so I virtually never get emails from Panasonic owners. As a result M4/3 commentary is based on feedback from Olympus owners.

The most common factor that Olympus owners like about their M4/3 camera gear is its IBIS performance. Very closely behind IBIS performance is using smaller and lighter camera equipment.

Many Olympus owners like the wide variety of lenses available from various manufacturers that produce lenses using the M4/3 lens mount. Olympus owners frequently comment positively about the quality of M.Zuiko lenses with many specifically liking the PRO line of lenses.

Some are quite excited about Olympus producing more PRO f/4 zooms in the future, that are smaller, lighter and less costly than the current line up of PRO f/2.8 zooms. Many Olympus owners would also like to see the non-PRO M.Zuiko standard primes upgraded with weather proofing in the future.

Other ‘likes’ noted by Olympus owners are weather sealed camera bodies, and specific imaging technologies such as Pro Capture, LIve Composite, in-camera focus stacking, Hi Res modes, and Live ND.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro and STF-8 Twin Macro Flash, f/11, 1/250, ISO-200, subject distance 235 mm

What M4/3 owners (Olympus) dislike about their camera gear.

Olympus owners haven’t expressed any strong dislikes about their camera gear. They are well aware of the technological features in various models. The most common complaint is some Olympus owners wanting all of the features in the most expensive cameras being incorporated in more affordable models.

It appears that some Olympus owners have retained some of their full frame gear to address specific photographic situations. These would include shooting moving subjects in low light conditions, shallow depth-of-field, and image detail when producing very large prints. Other than those specific situations, many photographers with more than one camera system, seem to use their Olympus gear for most of their imaging needs.

Some Olympus owners who want to maintain a very small, lightweight system are waiting for the introduction of the OM-D E-M10 Mark IV. I very rarely hear about any competitive brand ‘gear envy’ from existing Olympus owners.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300mm, efov 600mm, f/8, -0.7 step, 1/2500, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 8.1 metres

Assessing camera trade-offs is intensely personal.

Only you can determine what camera gear will be the best solution for your future needs. Making a decision about purchasing a new camera within the same format and from the same manufacturer can be difficult enough. Contemplating changing camera formats as well as camera brand can be a gut-wrenching experience. For me, this involved looking at my immediate needs, and factoring in my longer term photographic goals.

Since I’m a senior citizen part of my consideration was estimating how many more years would I still be doing client work. This helped me determine my immediate camera gear needs. I then had assess how many more years I’d remain active with photography. The combination of both of these time perspectives resulted in me concluding that the camera system purchase I made in 2019 would realistically be the last one I would ever make.

For me, everything pointed to Olympus in terms of the image quality I needed, quality of build and weatherproofing, unique imaging technologies, IBIS performance, and comfort.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300mm, efov 600mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-640, subject distance 920mm

Reader questions about my decision to buy an Olympus OM-D E-M1X.

I’ve had some in-depth email exchanges with a number of readers who are trying to decide between a number of Olympus camera models. Virtually all of these communications have focused on choosing between the E-M1X, E-M1 Mark II or E-M1 Mark III.

To many photographers there doesn’t appear to be a significant amount of difference between these three cameras. I won’t reprise all of the communications that I’ve had with various readers, but perhaps a summary of my decision to choose the E-M1X over other Olympus models may prove helpful.

Comfort, Handling and Ergonomics
This was the single, most important reason that I chose the E-M1X. I have large hands and when testing the E-M1 Mark II and E-M1X there was absolutely no doubt that the E-M1X was the best camera for me.

When fitted with the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8, I would get cramps in my right forearm within a couple of minutes of using an E-M1 Mark II. Even though the E-M1X required a higher investment, I had no hesitation to buy this model.

When all is said and done, using an E-M1X is an absolute joy. To me, that shooting experience is worth every additional penny that I spent. When spreading the cost difference over a minimum life expectancy of 10 years, I felt it was a very small price to pay. It worked out to a bit more than one cup of coffee per week.

Durability and Reliability
It was critical to me that I purchase gear that I felt confident would last for a minimum of 10 years of regular use. The build quality of the E-M1X is exceptional.

Weatherproofing
If you’ve ever wondered how Olympus does such an outstanding job with weatherproofing its cameras you may find this Imaging Resource video of interest.  Some folks seem to think that Olympus products are ‘overpriced’, Learning how they are made can change this value assessment. If you take time to watch the video, you’ll learn that the E-M1X incorporates Olympus weatherproofing that has been taken up to an even  higher, professional level.

IBIS Performance
At the time that I bought my E-M1X it had the most effective IBIS performance of any Olympus camera, rated up to 7 stops. My ability to shoot handheld has expanded significantly with my E-M1X. It is simply incredible what this camera allows me to do handheld.

AI-Based Intelligent Subject Tracking
My expectation is that Olympus will be providing updates to this incredible technology through firmware updates. I firmly believe this is where the future of photography is headed, and that this technology is exponentially more important than sensor size.

Built-In GPS/Field Sensor System
My future plans include producing a range of additional photography-related eBooks. For some of these it will be important to have GPS and field sensor information readily available.

Peace of Mind
At the end of the day using camera equipment in which a photographer feels 100% confident is priceless.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5, 1/320, ISO-1250, subject distance 245 mm, Handheld Hi Res mode

Technical Note:

Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Most images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. The second photograph displayed was a jpeg produced in camera.

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Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-40mm f/2.8 @ 12, efov 24mm, f/3.2, 1.6 seconds handheld, ISO-200

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8 thoughts on “Assessing Camera Trade-Offs”

  1. I enjoyed this blog issue very much. Thank you.

    Have you ever tried the power/gip with the E-M1 M II or III? As soon as I got the grip for the Mark II, I fell in love with it. While not having large hands, I still find that the grip adds significantly to the comfort level of the camera. Also, it is so much easier to take portrait photos now.

    Since I have not been walking much at all let alone going on photo shoots with my friends because of the COVID-10 stay at home rules, I find that my stability has declined. Consequently, I am considering upgrading to the E-M1 M III or the E-M1X. I am well into the senior citizen category.

    1. Hi Raskil,

      I never tried the grip for the E-M1 Mark II. I bought my second E-M1X before the E-M1 Mark III was introduced so I didn’t have the chance to try out that particular model. Here is a link to a good video by Imaging Resource that shows a size comparison between the E-M1X and E-M1 Mark II with a grip. The video has provides a lot of additional information of construction and features of the E-M1X.

      Tom

  2. I currently shoot Nikon equipment; both FF and APS-C. I like the additional “reach” of my D7500. We have some small foxes in our yard, and with a Sigma 150-600 I have an effective 900 lens; which allows me to get good shots from far away, as the foxes are easily spooked.

    Your use of the Olympus equipment is interesting, however I don’t yet see the time when I will change (though as I get older, I am tempted). I tried Nikon 1 in the past, and got some good shots with it; however it just felt too small in my hands, so I eventually sold/traded in all of my Nikon 1 gear.

    For many years I shot a lot of sports, however I have changed my “focus;” and now I shoot other things. I expect that will also be a motivating factor when/if I ever change systems.

    1. Hi William,

      The key is for each of us to find and use camera gear that best meets our needs. If your current gear is doing the job for you, then I say stick with it!

      Tom

  3. I currently own (and love) my G9. I went from Canon 5D2, 5D4 but the weight became too much (I always used “L” glass). I too, am a senior (as much as I hate to admit it), and switched to the 4/3rds. I kept the 5D2, and sold the 5D4, in the event I would need a full frame (so far, I haven’t). I think many have the assumption you can’t shoot in low light with micro 4/3rds, however, you can. My G9 has an in-camera noise reduction feature for long exposures, and works quite well. The residual can get cleaned up in post.

    BTW, this was a great article. I love your blog!

  4. Dear Mr Thomas

    Reading this post was like I was in my 20’s again devouring photographic magazines again. Also, as I progress in my own experience, and like you wrote being a “senior citizen” we can now “separate a little better wheat from the tares”

    Sometimes I wish I had such a mindset long time ago. That would avoid some purchases…

    Be safe

    1. Hi Antonio,

      As we age, experience rides along with us! I think making some mistakes along the way is just a part of life. Like you, I made some purchases that in hindsight were not the best.

      Tom

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