It may sound unconventional, but sometimes you need to force yourself to work with less. Carrying too much gear can hinder your ability to work freely. Packing light is liberating as it allows you to go further and explore more of an area. Every ounce adds up, so give careful thought to what comes along. Rather than struggling with 30 pounds of lenses, it's now possible to carry a lightweight zoom or two prime lenses that provide coverage for most situations. As Soren Kierkegaard said, "The more a person limits himself, the more resourceful he becomes."
A DSLR is a commitment. You make a decision to take pictures, pack your gear, and head out. This has proven to be an effective formula for a very long time. For those who needed some added motivation, activities such as “Photo Walks” became quite popular. If you listened to the chatter at these events, it was typically about what lenses were left at home because they were just too heavy. All-around zoom lenses were the preferred weapon of choice. Otherwise, the rest of the kit just sat on a shelf collecting dust. The iPhone started to change things though. It provided users with another capture device, and more importantly, one that was with them all the time.
It wasn’t long before our commitment to the DSLR began to erode. For a while, the internet was overflowing with low res smartphone images. These devices were widely embraced not because of their superb image quality, but their connectivity. It was easy to share a moment with your friends and family in a heartbeat. Truth be told, the actual clarity and resolution was far from ideal. Then, there was the lack of manual control. Ultimately, it was an inferior point and shoot that was connected to the internet. Despite these limitations, this technology took the world by storm.
Citizen journalists were replacing actual professional photojournalists at an alarming rate, and it seemed cameras were everywhere. One of the most powerful images of 2009 “Miracle on the Hudson” was captured on an iPhone by Janis Krums when Flight 1549 went down. The quality was lousy, but Janis managed to capture a moment in history that no one else did.
Meanwhile, talented photographers like Damon Winters worked to push the boundaries of what someone could do with a phone camera. His prize winning collection from Afghanistan was captured with the Hipstamatic app. As the phones improved, so did the built in camera.
In 2012, an iPhone image by Ben Lowy graced the cover of Time Magazine. While it suffered from some noise artifacts, the image was unquestionably powerful. it seemed DSLRs, were no longer necessary to achieve professional-type results.
All of this set the stage for the Mirrorless evolution. Photographers wanted the best of both worlds with a ultra portable, highly capable camera, with interchangeable lenses. Industry giants like Canon and Nikon were slow to adapt. No one could blame them of course, as most of their sales come from DSLRs. Meanwhile, other manufacturers seized the opportunity and started developing groundbreaking products. Panasonic, Fuji, Olympus and Sony all led the charge. They created cameras and lens systems that weighed a fraction of a DSLR while retaining all of their functionality. To seal the deal, they added features like built in Wifi, advanced autofocus, tilt and touch screens, electronic viewfinders and more. Each manufacturer continues pushing the envelope with silent shutters, built in time lapse, live composite modes, and even a full frame option. The once muted reaction has quickly grown to a roar.
Statistically speaking, mirrorless camera advantages include the possibility of dramatically improving your percentage of keepers. It’s simple really; by carrying a camera at all times, your photo opportunities increase while the success ratio soars. Now some may argue that by packing light, you’re sacrificing image quality. A number of ISO comparisons can be found that back this claim. Yet, these studies are shortsighted; merely comparing apples to apples. What they fail to take into account is just how different shooting with a mirrorless camera is. To understand how this actually translates in practice, one needs to step back and look at the bigger picture. Remember, a camera’s IQ is only as good as the person controlling it.
If you do the math, DSLRs are about twice as heavy as mirrorless cameras and approximately 40% bulkier. When you’re traveling to distant places or hiking deep into the woods, every ounce matters. I’ve been on small airplanes with a strict 25 pound luggage limit. Much to my surprise, that included personal items!
Advances in technology can allow us to go places that were previously inaccessible. No longer does a photographer need to leave important things behind. That’s one of the reasons carbon fiber tripods have become the preferred choice for many. Since they are much lighter than aluminum models, photographers can go further. Couple this with a lighter camera system, and it’s possible to reach remote locations faster, giving you the competitive edge. You can probably tell that weight is one of the mirrorless camera advantages over DSLR.
Before getting into specific features, it helps to understand the characteristics of the various sensor types. After careful research on the differences between micro 4/3, full frame and APS-C options, there is no one definitive winner. Ultimately, the best option depends on your specific shooting needs. This is most apparent when exploring the concept of aperture equivalence.
Which Sensor Size is Right?
At the same effective focal range and aperture, the actual depth of field each format provides will appear different based on sensor size. For example, a full frame camera at f2.8 dramatically throws a background out of focus. This is ideal for reducing distractions and bringing attention to the subject. To achieve the same look with an APS-C sensor you would need to open the aperture to f1.8. With micro 4/3, you’d need f1.4. Clearly, this makes shallow depth of field easier to achieve with a full frame. Having said that, micro 4/3 users can create similar results with amazing lenses like the Voigtlander 42.5mm f0.95. For more information on this along with images that show these differences, be sure to check this terrific post on the Borrow Lenses blog.
While larger sensors enjoy a slight advantage for shallow depth of field, the opposite happens with great depth of field. Put simply, f5.6 on a micro 4/3 camera provides the equivalent depth of field to f8 on APS-C and f11 on a full frame model. This provides the micro 4/3 user with 1-2 extra stops of light while still creating sharp focus from near to far. As a result, the ISO doesn’t need to be as high, providing better image quality. For the same exposure and equivalent depth of field, here is an example of how the sensor size would affect the settings.
Micro 4/3: 1/125, f5.6, ISO 200
APS-C: 1/125, f8, ISO 400
Full Frame: 1/125, f11, ISO 800
This is summed up nicely by Cambridge in Colour who note, “Larger sensors (and correspondingly higher pixel counts) undoubtedly produce more detail if you can afford to sacrifice depth of field. On the other hand, if you wish to maintain the same depth of field, larger sensor sizes do not necessarily have a resolution advantage.”
Picking up my DSLR now feels like stepping back in time. I say this not solely because of the weight, but the glaring absence of useful features that are standard in even the most entry-level mirrorless bodies. No longer do you need to stand beneath a shaded tree to check your images on the LCD. The quality of EVF in today’s mirrorless cameras is astonishing. It’s similar to using live view, but in the viewfinder where the display is not affected by harsh sunlight. Without removing your eye from the viewfinder you can check critical focus and exposure while viewing the histogram, highlight alert, and exposure settings. With in-viewfinder image magnification and focus peaking, manual focus has never been easier or more accurate. Tapping the shutter lightly will activate the shooting mode so you’re always ready to capture the action. This can certainly reduce time spent chimping, and helps one remain focused on the subject in front of them.
Depending on the model, you may enjoy other features like double exposures, silent electronic shutter, splash and freeze proof bodies, touch screen autofocus covering most of the frame, and built in wifi. It’s these little things that ultimately make the shooting experience more enjoyable, and. On a DSLR, shutter speeds over 30 seconds require the bulb mode. Meanwhile, most of the Olympus cameras have 60 second exposures along with Live Composite and Live Time modes that allow you to watch the picture build in real time.
Why pay extra for image stabilized lenses when you can get it built into the body? This way, it works with all of your lenses, including legacy glass. After seeing how effective is it, I would not buy another camera body without it. Normally, the slowest shutter speed I feel comfortable hand holding a camera at is around 1/100. Sure, it’s possible to push it further, but the likelihood of soft images increases. With 5 axis stabilization on, it’s possible to capture sharp hand held image at 1/13th of a second or slower. You may be skeptical, as I certainly was. Yet after many tests, the manufacturer’s claims are indeed accurate.The camera is your paintbrush, your voice, your pen. Use it to express yourself and the work will be unlike any other. If you are feeling too comfortable with your craft, it’s time to shake things up and experiment with new methods.
Thoughts on Resolution
You can remove the next camera body from your shopping cart and make massive prints with the model you own right now. I find that incredibly empowering. That 10 megapixel DSLR from 2008? It’ll do just fine. So will the 16 megapixel micro 4/3 body or the Sony with compressed Raw files. The key is to capture a technically sound image in the camera at the time of exposure. This quality file will hold up better to more post production in photo enlargement software and super sized prints. Of course good light also helps, but perhaps the biggest impact comes from the quality of the lens.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am in no way advocating a massive DSLR fire sale. The artistic control of a manual camera is undoubtedly far more powerful than any point and shoot or phone. What I am noting however, is that all of the megapixel talk, sensor comparisons and new camera reviews are designed to sell more merchandise, not make you a better artist.
In checking the submission requirements for Getty images, you’ll notice that files need to be 50MB. Even on most full frame camera, resampling in photo enlargement software is necessary to accomplish this. Yet despite the interpolation, these images are of high enough quality for the world’s largest stock photography agency and all of their clients. Still think you need more resolution? Look at the list of approved cameras for Getty. You’ll see older models such as the 10 megapixel Canon 40D.
My photography gear has evolved quite a bit over the years. While size is the most obvious difference, that is only a portion of the story. My path is likely quite different from others you may have read. For me, a bigger sensor wasn't the marker of a great camera. The real a-ha moment was when I tested the full frame Canon 6D against the Olympus OMD EM10. The Olympus image was sharp from corner to corner while the Canon gear produced a very soft photo.
I was shocked of course and wanted to share my findings right away. Could it be that an entry level m43 body could beat a pro quality DSLR? The post stirred up a lot of input and the response was overwhelming. Most everyone who read it criticized my testing process. While I admit it wasn't a scientific comparison, it was eye-opening enough for me to switch to Micro four-thirds completely. I sold all of my Canon equipment and dove into the M43 system without reservation.
The first true test came on a ten day trek around Iceland. It was my first traveling experience with all mirrorless gear. Battery life was a concern so I picked up a bunch of 3rd party Wasabi batteries. My kit was fairly stripped down as I brought two bodies and two lenses. On the OMD EM1 I mounted the incredible Olympus 40-150mm f2.8. The OMD EM10 was paired with the versatile 12-40mm f2.8. For extra reach I also brought the Olympus 1.4x extender. To say I was pleased would be an understatement. The intuitive nature of the cameras allowed me to shoot freely without the gear getting in the way. I was able to hike further, shoot in the rain, and most importantly, the image quality was amazing.
It was clear to me that these cameras could handle landscapes well, but what about more fleeting moments like street photography? For my next adventure I headed to Venice where I focused on people, specifically faces and hands. I felt like a photographic ninja, capable of swooping in and out while going unnoticed. I didn't only shoot candids though. For some of the shots I straight out asked if I could take their portrait. The people of Italy are so kind, and just about everyone said yes. I believe the low profile of the OMD also made it less intimidating as opposed to a large DSLR and lens. Having 81 focus points made it easy to create pleasing compositions. I shot everything in RAW and processed them to B&W in Lightroom.
One of my favorite scenic shots from Venice would not have even been possible with my old Canon gear. Thanks to an incredible Olympus feature called Live Composite, I was able to create a 12 minute exposure without overexposing any one area of the scene. I watched in real time as the lights from the boat traffic were recorded onto the frame. This was yet another example of where the camera allowed me to bring my vision to life.
I traveled to Tuscany where I was shooting everything from architecture to vineyards. Features like the double exposure mode made it possible to create really unique images of oft-photographed sights. Not once did I miss my DSLR. Even tricky lighting situations that featured high dynamic range were possible with the mirrorless setup.
The cameras clearly performed well in travel situations but could it hold its own in a studio environment? I put this to the test with a floral design shoot under artificial lights. The client wanted very high res files for print and web. I shot most of the job from above while standing on a ladder. The sensor cranked out beautiful, clean RAW photos. The resolution proved to be more than enough for the assignment, and the Photodirector was quite pleased with the outcome. Coincidentally there was a video shoot happening at the same time. The videographer was using a Panasonic M43 camera. It seems that a growing number of people are realizing that M43 is capable of professional quality results.
The most recent addition to my kit is the Olympus PEN F along with a very small 20mm f1.7 pancake lens. Remarkably, this is even smaller than the OMD cameras making them ideal for street photography here in New York. Some of my favorite features are the silent shutter, articulating screen, small body size, terrific sensor and image processor, and the various film simulation modes.
The small size of the camera allows it to sit in my hand perfectly. I don't have large hands and it seems each button was placed in the ideal position. This makes it possible to access the important features without removing my eye from the viewfinder. The aperture and shutter are changed with the front and rear dial while the ISO and WB are accessible on the four way controller.
I barely notice when I'm wearing it around my wrist. The PEN is really lightweight, especially when paired with the tiny 20mm lens. While it doesn't weigh much, it is not cheaply made. In fact, this is one solid camera. Although it's not weatherproof, I have no doubt it will stand up to the New York streets in winter.
The B&W mode is beautiful, churning out JPEG files that really pop with great contrast. I especially enjoy Mono Profile 2 with the grain turned off. By shooting in JPEG instead of RAW, I don't have to do much post production. Right out of the camera, images have a real film look with inky blacks and bright whites.
Wifi is super easy to set-up and use. I simply downloaded the Olympus app to my Samsung phone and paired it with the camera in a matter of seconds. Once this was done, I was able to transfer JPEG images from the PEN to my phone. This makes it a breeze to share images on social media.
Silent Shutter, aka "stealth mode". Working this way is ideal for street photography. The camera literally does not make a sound. This allows me to go undetected, making it possible to get shots I would have been too nervous to try with a noisy DSLR. I have my drive set to Silent/Continuous Low which takes about five frames per second. There is also a high speed burst mode which I've yet to try.
The battle is over, and full frame cameras have lost the race. Here’s why.
I’ve been selling photos through a high end stock agency for the last two years. In my collection are images from a full frame DSLR, an APS-C DSLR, and several Micro 4/3rds cameras, and after tallying my sales for an entire year, it turns out my highest selling image was taken with the Olympus OMD EM10. That’s right: the entry level OMD model.
Now you may think that this is an anomaly, but guess what… my second most sold image was taken with the same micro 4/3rds camera, too. Put simply, a 16-megapixel micro 4/3rds sensor outsold a full-frame sensor many times over. And the funny thing is, it cost me far less to purchase, and was easier to carry along. Was there enough resolution to go around? Absolutely! The agency I work with asks for 50MB TIFFs and I was able to hit this mark easily by shooting in RAW and processing through Alien Skin’s Blowup software.
In addition to shooting travel work, I’m a photography teacher. People ask me what camera to buy all of the time, and I honestly can’t think of a reason why I would recommend a DSLR anymore.
I was a loyal Canon shooter for years, but they totally missed the mirrorless boat. Nikon is way behind the ball as well, and their slumping sales numbers prove it. And while Sony got into the mirrorless game, they got all caught up in the full-frame hype. As a result, the lenses are huge which totally defeats the purpose of a smaller camera. Dare I also say, their selection of zoom lenses is rather disappointing. Meanwhile micro 4/3rd users enjoy seemingly endless options from Olympus, Panasonic, Voigtlander and more.
Why do I feel the need to write this piece? It’s to counter the marketing machines that have done a great job convincing people that they need a full-frame sensor. They are preying on unknowing customers and it’s just wrong.
Try it yourself. Walk into a camera store and tell them you are looking for a pro quality camera. Do they pull the micro 4/3rds body from the case or the more expensive full-frame DSLR? I think you already know the answer. These camera salespeople need to be educated as well. Then again, if they work on commission it’s their job to mislead you. This is why I am voicing the benefits of micro 4/3rds systems.
My cameras have five stops of image stabilization built into them. This means I can hand hold at much slower shutter speeds than a DSLR. This alone negates any ISO advantages the full-frame sensor had. Then there’s the depth of field benefits of micro 4/3rds. At f/4 I am gathering a ton of light but getting the equivalent to f/8 depth of field. This means there’s no diffraction to worry about as I am using the lens in it’s sweet spot. When I want shallow depth of field I use one of the many amazing f/1.8 lenses. For a trip to Iceland I even rented a Panasonic f/1.2 lens. Let me tell you, the bokeh was beautiful.
I posted a side by side comparison to Facebook as a simple test. One image was captured with a full frame DSLR and a professional quality lens totaling approximately $2400. The other was shot with a small mirrorless camera with a micro 4/3 sensor and a prime lens totaling $899. Both were captured in RAW on a tripod with the exact same camera settings and auto white balance. They were imported into Lightroom and were not sharpened or adjusted in any way, only saved for the web. The difference was negligible.
Considering that an entry level Olympus with a micro 4/3 sensor can actually compete with a full frame DSLR on image quality, I believe a major shift is coming to the industry sooner rather than later. Yes there will definitely be pixel-peepers who dispute that. This is not for them, but rather to help YOU find the best tool for your specific needs. Do you want to spend an extra $1500 and carry more weight or would you be better off with this alternative?
The images out of the mirrorless have more than enough resolution for publication, web, and print enlargements. Granted, the 6D definitely offers better detail at larger print sizes. Still, at a fraction of the weight and price, one has to really determine what their priorities are. For travel, scenic, everyday work, the OMD EM-10 has repeatedly proven its worth. In addition to the excellent files one can capture with it, the functionality is actually superior in my opinion with more focus points, EVF, to name a few. Having said that, I still reach for the DSLR for sports, wildlife, and aviation. I feel the AI Servo and instantaneous response are more conducive for high-speed situations. Yet with advances in mirrorless technology and a wider selection of available lenses, I do wonder how much longer that will be the case.
So tell me where I’ve gone wrong here? I’m inviting the trolls to chime in. I’m shooting more, selling more, and enjoying my photography more. How can you still justify the extra cost and size of a full-frame system?
Many of you have expressed interest in potentially switching to a mirrorless camera. Having been through that process myself, I know there is a lot to consider. To help with your decision, here is how I would recommend moving forward.
Research the following cameras to see what's the best fit for your photographic needs. All of these models are under $900 and offer professional image quality with advanced features. In no particular order:
Panasonic GX 85
Olympus OM-D EM10MKIIIKeep in mind, each of these manufacturers offers a wide variety of bodies and lenses so explore their entire line of products. Remember, even more important than the actual camera you choose is the selection of lenses. Now, I'll probably take some heat for this statement, but here it is. Sony makes phenomenal cameras, but their lens choices are severely lacking. Also note, Olympus and Panasonic share lenses so you have a huge selection with either of those companies. Finally, Fuji cameras do have a larger APS-C sensor which will offer slightly improved ISO sensitivity. As a tradeoff however, the gear is bigger and heavier.
Consider selling your current gear over at keh.com. They offer the best prices and you can get an online quote for what they will pay you instantly. Alternatively, you can look at selling over at Adorama.com or bhphotovideo.com. All of these are safer options than eBay or Craigslist.
While we all love new gear, think about buying something in gently used condition from one of the above stores. You will save a substantial amount of money and often receive a warranty from the seller. This will allow you to invest in better lenses, necessary filters (polarizer) and a new smaller camera bag