Camera System Objective

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.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko 1.4X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/4, 1/4000, ISO-1000

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.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 12-100 mm f/4 IS PRO @ 12 mm, f/8, 1/10, ISO-200, image processed to taste from RAW file

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.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8 @ 20 mm, efov 40 mm, f/4.5, 1/30, ISO-1250, subject distance 2.7 metres

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.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 190 mm, efov 380 mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-500, -0.3 step, Pro Capture

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.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/400, ISO-6400, subject distance 200 mm, Handheld Hi Res Mode

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.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, -1 step, 1/50, ISO-800, subject distance 3.5 metres

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.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5, 1/320, ISO-3200, subject distance 245 mm, handheld focus stacking used, out-of-camera jpeg adjusted in post

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.

Olympus OMD-E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5, 1/50, ISO-1250, subject distance 610 mm, handheld focus stacking used, out-of-camera jpeg adjusted in post

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’.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro with STF-8 Twin Macro Flash, f/11, 1/250 ISO-200, subject distance 270 mm

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.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 190mm, efov 380mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-500, -0.7 step, Pro Capture H mode, subject distance 7.2 metres

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.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 134mm, efov 268mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-400, subject distance 15.65 metres

Technical Note:

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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Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/8, 1/4000, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H mode, subject distance 7 metres

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5 thoughts on “Camera System Objective”

  1. I recently discovered this site and have been reading all your articles. I would like to thank you for the well balanced and laid out information and arguments you put forward. They have been really useful to me as I am considering a big change to what camera system i and my wife use. I have still not made my mind up but the olympus has come out as the front runner. I currently shoot canon gear and now await the R5 to see if this can be considered. Thank you again for your varied and interesting articles.

    1. Hi Alex,

      Thank you for your supportive comment and adding to the discussion! It is always great to hear when a reader takes a reasoned, informed path with their selection of camera gear. As often stated in articles here, there is no such thing as a perfect camera. Each of us needs to choose the camera equipment that best meets our specific needs.

      Here is a link to one of my older articles that you may not have read. It provides an outline on how to create a camera buying matrix to aid in the buying decision process: https://smallsensorphotography.com/creating-camera-buying-decision-matrix

      Tom

  2. Hi again, Tom. Thanks for another thoughtful post that’s very relevant to my situation right now.

    A question if I may:

    You say you prefer zoom lenses, over primes (as do I too), and that you chose the PRO 12-40 f/2.8 over the PRO 12-100 f/4 because of its one additional stop of low light capability – – but, given that the 12-100 f/4 is one of the lenses that Olympus says works in combination with the OM-D body to deliver 7.5 stops of stabilisation advantage, does that not (just about) cancel out any light-capturing advantage provided by the 12-40 f/2.8 … and, given the OM-D’s ability to be hand-held at low shutter speeds (to compensate for less-open aperture), doesn’t that make this difference somewhat “academic” in practice … and, aren’t you limiting your freedom by limiting your zoom range (with the 12-40 c/w the 12-100), unless you’re changing lenses more often ?

    I’m asking these questions because these choices are ones I’ll be making soon for myself (once I manage to sell a bit more of my FF gear).

    Regards, John TKA

    1. Hi John,

      The E-M1X provides 7 stops of IBIS with regular lenses. This increases to 7.5 stops when the 12-100 mm IS f/4 is used. As noted in the article, from a practical perspective I did not notice any difference shooting handheld between the PRO 12-40 f/2.8 and the PRO 12-100 f/4. This is for still photography of course. With handheld video I did not notice any discernable difference.

      It is important to keep in mind that there are situations where a slow shutter speed made possible from IBIS can’t be used. For example, I typically shoot client videos at 1/60, f/2.8, and try to keep my ISO to a maximum of ISO-800. So, for my video work a zoom lens with a constant aperture of f/4 is not fast enough for my needs as it would push my ISO settung to ISO-1600.

      In Canada there is about a $400 difference between the PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8 and the PRO 12-100 mm f/4. That’s about 70% of the price of the MC-20 teleconverter. So, for my overall system investment, buying the PRO 12-40 f/2.8 was a much better fit for my video business, did not duplicate any part of the focal length of my PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8, and gave me savings of roughly 70% of the cost of the MC-20 teleconverter. It really was a no brainer for me to go with the PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8. Other photographers may have different needs of course.

      The two zooms I use most often for my video business are the PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 and PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8. I also bring my PRO 45 mm f/1.2 on video shoots which I occasionally need for very low light situations. My PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 is also in my bag but I don’t recall ever needing to use for video thus far.

      If I needed an ‘all in one’ zoom lens for travel purposes I’d likely buy the M.Zuiko 12-200 mm f/3.5-6.3 instead of the 12-100 mm f/4 as it would give me a better overall focal length range and would weigh about 20% less.

      I suppose it will come down to what combination of lenses best meets your needs. For example, if you went with the PRO 12-100 f/4 and the planned 100-400 f/5-6.3 telephoto zoom, that would be a great travel pairing. Adding the PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 would allow you to cover 7 mm to 400 mm natively, efov 14 mm to 800 mm, with only 3 lenses and very little duplication of focal length range.

      Tom

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