Having a clearly defined camera system objective is critical when buying equipment. The more tightly we define our photographic needs, the more likely we are to select the right combination of components to meet our goals. This is true regardless of the camera format and brand we purchase.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
What’s the big idea?
Defining the ‘big idea’ behind your camera equipment choices is a good place to start. Are you trying to build a system based on achieving the best image quality? Is system versatility your main consideration? Perhaps portability is your guiding principle. Do you have a specific niche, such as portrait or wildlife photography, that guides all of your equipment choices?
Whatever that ‘big idea’ is for you, it should form the central rationale for every equipment choice you make. This helps each of us build a well-integrated imaging system to meet our individual needs, and enables us to make the most of our available budget.
In 2019 when I made a significant investment in new camera gear, my big idea was ‘unrestricted freedom’. My goal was to build a system that allowed me to go anywhere, in any weather condition, and photograph the widest possible range of subject matter.
While setting a camera system objective of ‘unrestricted freedom’ may sound a bit vague, it was actually a powerful touchstone for me.
It meant looking for ways to eliminate the need for tripods and other camera supports. It focused me on a comparatively smaller, lighter system. Unrestricted freedom meant having weatherproofed equipment that could handle harsh weather conditions. My ‘big idea’ directly affected my choice of lenses and other system components.
Estimated system life.
When purchasing camera gear, looking into the future is important. How long do you plan on using the new equipment that you will be purchasing? Some photographers put a high value on owning gear that utilizes the most recent technological breakthroughs. Their estimated system life (or at least the life of their camera body) will be far shorter than that of other photographers.
As regular readers know, the original impetus for us making an equipment change came from the shifting needs of some of my safety video clients. If I had not considered estimated system life, I could have made some poor camera gear choices based on near-term requirements only.
Being an active senior, I needed to look beyond the near-term requirements of the client-driven portion of our business. It was critical to try to anticipate what I’d be doing with my camera gear after we were no longer doing client work. So, ‘unrestricted freedom’ also included more emphasis on travel, macro, bird and other genres of photography of special interest to me.
We determined that our estimated system life would be a minimum of 10 years. This meant that build quality, shutter life, and weatherproofing took on added importance. It also meant that we wanted to use gear that utilized some leading edge technologies that would provide unique capabilities in the near term, while also being of use over a longer time frame.
Understanding your shooting style.
Your camera system objective will be directly impacted by understanding your shooting style. Some photographers prefer shooting handheld. Others like using tripods. Many people have a preference for prime lenses, while others favour zoom lenses. One shooting style is not better than another… they’re just different.
My shooting style has always been heavily skewed to using zoom lenses handheld. Prime lenses for me have always been ‘specialty’ lenses that I use when specific subject matter or lighting dictate their use. Other than those specific situations I freely admit that I hate using prime lenses. But… that’s just me. Prime lenses may be excellent choices for photographers with a different shooting style than mine.
I initially bought one prime lens when putting together our new camera system, an M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro lens. Since our initial equipment purchase I’ve added one additional prime lens, an M.Zuiko PRO 45 mm f/1.2. I use this prime lens for occasional portraiture work and for extreme low light video situations. It is my least used lens and will likely remain that way. I have no intention whatsoever of adding any additional prime lenses to our Olympus kit as they are simply not a good fit for my shooting style.
Over many years I’ve observed that photographic shooting style does not typically change over time. If you prefer zoom lenses, or prime lenses, that likely won’t change. One of the worst things that a photographer can do is buy equipment that runs counter to their shooting style. It is almost guaranteed that it will either collect dust, or be sold at some point in the future.
Choosing lenses and accessories.
For most of us, this is really where the rubber meets the road. Many photographers have a lot more money invested in lenses than they do in camera bodies.
In situations where we are changing formats, choosing lenses and accessories can represent very difficult choices. This is precisely why having a well defined camera system objective is so important.
Let’s cycle back to my ‘unrestricted freedom’ camera system objective to illustrate how it impacted my choice of lenses and accessories. The biggest reason why I prefer using zoom lenses is the compositional freedom that they provide. I chose M.Zuiko PRO f/2.8 zooms over variable aperture zoom options because the constant aperture PRO f/2.8 zooms provided more ‘unrestricted freedom’ in terms of low light functionality.
I chose the M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8 over the M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 mm f/4 because of one additional stop of low light capability. The practical difference in IBIS performance when using an E-M1X body with either of these lenses was negligable.
The difference in price between these two PRO zooms went a long way towards the purchase of the M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter. This further expanded the overall capability of my camera system when used on the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8. It expanded my system to an efov of 600 mm @ f/5.6. This contributed to my ‘unrestricted freedom’ camera system objective by giving me a lot more reach.
A number of readers have asked me why I only purchased M.Zuiko lenses and did not consider any of the plethora of M4/3 lens options available from other manufacturers.
There are a number of reasons for this. These include the excellent optical performance and construction quality of M.Zuiko lenses, and the convenience of M.Zuiko PRO lenses having focus clutches. Another factor is my firm belief that computational photography will play an increasingly important role in the future.
I think it is reasonable to assume that as the camera market continues to erode that all camera manufacturers will create firmware that restricts certain features to their own brand of lenses. To me, buying lenses outside of the M.Zuiko family may result in future incompatibility issues in terms of using specific camera capabilities. So, from my perspective, non M.Zuiko lenses represented a potential risk to my camera system objective of ‘unrestricted freedom’.
I purchased the Olympus STF-8 Twin Macro Flash, Olympus FL-700 WR Flash, and FC-WR Wireless Flash Commander because they all provided solid weatherproofing like the rest of my Olympus gear. Choosing the wireless flash provided more overall flexibility. All of these flash components fit very well with my overall camera system objective of ‘unrestricted freedom’.
The risk of not burning bridges.
One of the most gut-wrenching decisions facing a photographer is deciding whether to sell their collection of lenses and move to a different camera brand, format and/or system. This can have some significant financial implications given the amount of money that many photographers have tied up in their lenses.
Many photographers choose to keep their existing lenses and update their camera body. This can also mean using an adapter to facilitate the use of older lenses when going from a DSLR to a mirrorless body. As long as the updated camera body still makes sense from a photographer’s camera system objective, this can be a very good decision.
Unfortunately there can also be a significant risk in not burning bridges by selling off all of those older lenses. A photographer may feel financially obligated to stay with their existing camera brand and format, even though it may no longer be the best fit for their changing camera system objective.
While adding a new body may generate an immediate spike in the enjoyment of the current camera system, it may be shortlived once the novelty of using a new camera body wears off.
In cases where our camera system objective has shifted significantly, it is often better to take our financial hit upfront. This allows us to move to a different camera brand or format that better meets our current and future needs. The brand and format of camera you choose should be fully dependent on your specific camera system objective.
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Most image were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Some images are out-of-camera jpegs that were adjusted to taste in post.
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