It was three years ago this month that I switched from shooting with a Canon camera to shooting with a Sony. I thought this would be a good time to share more details on why I made the change, how things went after switching camera systems and let you know if I’d do it again.
My hope is that this post helps you sort out how to think about upgrading your camera or switching to a different camera system. Here’s what I was thinking when making the transition and everything I thought was important when I was trying to decide if I should switch camera systems. In the process, I’ll also share why my wife switched from Nikon to Olympus. (I have never been sponsored by any camera manufacturer.)
Let’s start with what my priorities and desires are when it comes to a camera system and you’ll then see how that lead to my choice:
- No more than $5000 price for the camera body (That put the kibosh on any thoughts of a medium format camera like a Hasselblad.)
- Small enough size for all-day, hand-held shooting without excessive bulk (This kept me away from Canon’s 1-series cameras that have the old fashioned motordrive look where the body extends an inch or more below the camera mount and reinforced the idea that medium format cameras were not for me.)
- Ability to produce reasonably large prints (kept me away from all 16 megapixel (MP) cameras since I didn’t want to downgrade from the 23MP camera I had been shooting with and made me drool over bulky medium format cameras I could not afford and were too heavy)
- Ability to shoot long exposures at night for light painting without excessive noise (The high ISO performance of a camera will often hint at how noisy it is in general since few review sites comment about long exposure shooting. Generically, the smaller the sensor, the higher the noise it produces.)
- Good for hand-held midday shooting when there is an extreme brightness range (good dynamic range, but also reasonable speed measured in frames per second for Bracketing/HDR)
- Ability to easily produce soft, out of focus, backgrounds to visually separate subject from background (required a minimum of f2.8 lenses in the medium to telephoto range and a full frame sensor)
It’s important to note that the desires I mentioned above are not ideal for shooting subjects that move fast. That means the next time I go on safari in Africa, it will be with a rented camera and lens since I’ll have totally different camera desires in that situation.
Before switching brands, I shot with a Canon 5D Mark III which I eventually replaced with a Sony A7R and a year later the A7RII.
Left: Sony A7R I ultimately chose; Right: The Canon 5D Mark III that it replaced. (Image from CameraSize.com)
With an existing investment of five expensive Canon lenses in my bag, my focus for future camera upgrades had been squarely with Canon. Switching to any other brand (and therefore a different lens mount) had been just too big of an investment for me to consider. But then something revolutionary happened: mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras were released that allowed you to shoot with virtually any lens, regardless of brand! That means everything from a Canon fisheye zoom to a decades-old Lieca lens could be used.
How’s that possible? That was only possible because removing the mirror from inside the camera allowed camera makers to cut the thickness of the body to almost half as thick as a typical DSLR camera. Therefore, if you were to hold a DSLR lens in front of a mirrorless camera and maintain the required distance from lens to sensor that would be used on the DSLR, you’d have at least a half-inch gap between the lens and mirrorless camera body. Enterprising folks decided to create a spacer to fill that gap which featured a Sony lens mount machined onto one end and a Canon, Nikon or Leica body mount on the other, allowing you to mount almost any brand lens. Finally, someone figured out how to read the electrical signal the Sony camera would send to the lens for aperture and auto-focus control and translate it into what the other brands used to do the same task. Once they were able to stuff all the required electronics into a spacer of the right length, then you could buy an adaptor to mount whatever brand lens you wanted to the Sony body. That simply cannot be done the other way around. A DSLR camera needs a lens specifically designed for its lens mount since there is no room for an adaptor.
Metabones brand Canon to Sony lens adaptor.
While waiting for Canon to release a new version of my camera, I noticed they were taking longer and longer to release new models. The original 5D was on the market for 37 months before they updated it to the Mark II, then another 42 months passed before they released the Mark III. At the time I made the jump to Sony, it had been 29 months since they introduced the camera I was then using. That told me that I could expect to have to wait a year or more before I should expect a new Canon camera. At the same time, Fuji, Olympus and Sony were releasing new cameras regularly that had drool-worthly features.
The Sony I ultimately switched to had the advantage over my existing camera of offering higher resolution (36MP vs 23MP), wider dynamic range (14.1 vs 11.7 stops) without compromising low light, high ISO shooting capability (DXO ISO 2746 vs 2293) and achieved a much better overall DXO score (95 vs 81). All the while costing less, being much smaller and weighing less than half as much (408 vs 910 grams). For me, those were compelling reasons for considering a switch. The main negatives of the Sony were that it shot slower (4fps vs 6) and had a limited selection of lenses available. But an available Canon to Sony lens adaptor removed the last resistance that I had, so I decided to make the jump!
Experience After the Switch
I decided to keep my Canon cameras just in case I didn’t like the experience of using the Sony and my initial experience with the A7R was less than stellar. The physical layout of the camera and its menu system design left much to be desired. Coming from the Canon world, I was used to extremely refined physical layout and menu designs that I still miss to this day. Couple that with the unreliable performance of the Metabones brand Canon to Sony lens adaptor, batteries that last a fraction of the time I was used to and a very loud shutter and you have a formula for frustration. Here’s how things played out:
At first I thought the 4 frames per second shooting speed might be the biggest problem since I was accustomed to shooting a ton of hand-held HDR images (multiple shots that vary in exposure that are merged into a single image) and was worried about camera movement between shots. Over time, I found that I shot fewer and fewer HDR shots with the Sony simply because each shot contained more information than my Canon was capable of delivering. The Sony delivered 14.1 stops of dynamic range (meaning the brightness range the camera is capable of capturing detail in before things clip to solid white or black) compared to only 11.7 on the Canon. The Canon also produced much more noise in the shadows, which made it even more essential to shoot HDR when shooting in the midday sun, while the Sony captured enough range in a single shot that HDR wasn’t needed. All I needed to do was make sure I didn’t blow out the highlights with too bright of an exposure. This made up for some of the overall clunkiness of the camera.
The loud shutter made for terrible street shooting since it would cause people to look over their shoulder when they heard the loud clunk of the shutter, which totally ruined my stealth street shooting style. I hated that! But street shooting only makes up a small fraction of what I shoot, so I mainly switched to shooting with a longer lens in those situations to keep my distance and therefore maintain a level of stealth.
With my Canon, I was used to being able to last an entire day of shooting on a single battery. After switching to Sony, I need to have at least two and I will occasionally wish for a third. The batteries are smaller than what the Canon uses, but it’s still a pain to have to remember to carry extra stuff with you and the battery seemed to wait until the perfect shooting moment before running out of power.
My battery died right as Karen was in the perfect position for this shot. I hated to have to tell her to do it again.
The focus system on the Sony sucked in comparison with the Canon. I was used to a nice mini-joystick control where I could press the middle to go to auto, or instantly take control. Sony’s setup for controlling focus was sucky at best and frustrating the rest of the time. It also had only 25 autofocus points compared to Canon’s 61.
DSLR vs Mirrorless
At this point, it makes sense to cover the fundamental differences between the Canon and Sony cameras. They are totally different in how they are designed, which should help to reveal why I have stuck with Sony and never switched back to Canon (which I was often tempted to do). Here’s how the two cameras are fundamentally different in design:
My Canon was a DSLR where the R in that acronym stands for Reflex. That means the viewfinder is a purely optical setup that involves a 45° angle mirror inside the camera that sends the light from the camera lens up and onto a focusing screen, through a prism and then into my eye. When you press the shutter, that mirror swings up and out of the way so the lens focuses light onto the sensor that is behind it. That’s the same setup people with interchangeable lens cameras have used for decades.
Bulky DSLR design vs Slim Mirrorless with electronic viewfinder.
The Sony, on the other hand, took advantage of the fact that a modern camera sensor is capable of capturing video and therefore they could get away with not using a mirror/focus screen/prism setup and instead just install a video screen in the viewfinder and in the process simplify the camera. With no mirror, the lens can focus the light directly on the sensor and you then view exactly what the sensor is capturing via a video screen. There are many advantages and disadvantages to this setup. Let’s look at how they influenced my experience when transitioning to a mirrorless camera:
With a DSLR, your view through the viewfinder is much like wearing weak sunglasses. The aperture in your camera is usually “wide open”, but still causes some light to be lost, so you have a view that is just a bit darker than the scene. If the scene becomes overly dark at night, so does your view of it. The brightness of your view through the viewfinder is unaffected by the settings you dial in on your camera because it is a purely optical view. With a mirrorless camera, your view reflects the exposure setting you have dialed in and therefore is a preview of the resulting image you are about to capture. A nighttime scene looks just as bright as one in the full sun if your camera is set to auto exposure mode.
The blackness that fills the majority of this picture shows you how dark the scene was, while the tiny screen near the bottom is representation of how the viewfinder rendered the same scene after taking into consideration the exposure settings.
That means that dialing your exposure compensation setting to +2 will make your view of the scene two stops brighter than before you made the change. DSLR users can get a similar view by turning on what is commonly referred to as Live View where you use the big screen on the back of your camera. But with mirrorless, you don’t have to press some button to get a big mirror to flip out of the way to allow Live View to work. That’s instead the default view both in the viewfinder and on the big screen on the back of the camera.
Exposure Compensation’s effect on viewfinder view of scene: Left: -2.0, Middle: 0, Right: +2
With the optical viewfinder in my Canon, I ended up constantly reviewing what I had captured (commonly referred to as “chimping”) to make sure I nailed the exposure since my view out the lens was totally different from what I had captured. With the Sony, chimping was mainly useful to make sure I captured the moment and wasn’t needed at all when shooting scenes that didn’t have subjects in motion since I was viewing a preview of the resulting shot before I pressed the shutter.
Dynamic Range Preview
With my Canon, I could easily see the full brightness range of most scenes, even in broad daylight since I had a purely optical view out the lens and my eyes are good at adjusting to different brigthness levels. BUT, the second I pressed the shutter and then reviewed the end result on the screen on the back of the camera, I’d learn that the camera could only capture a fraction of that mid-day sun brightness range. Either my highlights would be blown out to white, or the shadows would get clipped to black. With zero preview of this in the viewfinder, many less seasoned photographers would constantly have bracketing turned on so they’d capture at least three shots, each with a different exposure. The more seasoned shooters would instead take one shot and then chimp-away to see if they nailed it, or would just end up with many under or over-exposed shots. Regardless of approach, neither option was ideal. This is a thing of the past with mirrorless cameras since your view in the viewfinder is an exact preview of the brightness range you will end up capturing. Not only that, but it can make blown out highlights appear striped (known as zebra stripes) so you can see where you’ve got solid white just in case you were not sure. That’s similar to the “blinkies” that many people see when reviewing an image on a DSLR, but you’re seeing it live while viewing the scene instead of afterward.
There is a disadvantage to having the brightness and dynamic range of your viewfinder reflect what you will achieve in your end result. You cannot see the full scene when there is a wide brightness range since the highlights will either be solid white, or the shadows will be solid black and therefore you can’t see what’s there. Shoot indoors with the windows uncovered and you can either see what’s inside or out in the bright sun, but not both! In fact, if you have the exposure set to capture the interior nice and bright, then your windows might be covered with moving stripes to indicate they will be rendered as solid white when you capture the scene. That really sucks when you plan to shoot HDR or fill the room with light via a strobe in an attempt to capture both bright and dark areas with detail. It’s really a two-edged sword where you gain the benefit of a great preview, but lose the ability to see the full brightness of some scenes.
Depth of Field Preview
With a DSLR, there is usually a button on the camera body really close to the lens that allows you to preview the depth of field you will achieve at your currently dialed-in aperture setting and therefore get an idea of what will be sharp. The problem is that your viewfinder gets really dark when the lens switches from being “wide open”, at maybe f2.8, to being stopped down to let’s say f22. Since it’s a purely optical view out the lens, allowing less light in darkens your view. With a mirrorless camera, the brightness of your view is unaffected when using DOF preview, which makes it so you can just leave it turned on via a menu setting if you desire. That means I can always see a preview of what will be sharp in the scene while I’m adjusting my aperture setting. You can also zoom up and carefully check that both near and far objects are acceptably sharp.
No Need for Mirror Lockup
With a DSLR camera, pressing the shutter causes the mirror inside the camera to quickly move up and out of the way and then stop moving almost instantly after that before taking the shot. That physical movement causes vibration that can make your images look soft due to slight motion blur caused by camera movement. To get around it, I’d use a feature called mirror lockup when I was working on a tripod where I’d press the shutter twice, once to cause the mirror to raise and a second time to actually take the photo. Since mirrorless cameras by definition have no mirror, there is no need for the mirror lockup feature.
Having the entire viewfinder being a video screen allows more information to be displayed than what can be shown in the small side panels outside a traditional optical viewfinder. That allows for features such as a grid to be toggled on and off, an interactive histogram and more. One of the most desirable features is focus peaking. That’s where, when using manual focus, you can see which areas are sharp because their edges will be covered in red. Not only that, but it can react to changes you make to the aperture setting, so you have another way to visualize how the aperture setting affects depth of field. These are things that are only available using the rear screen of a DSLR since the viewfinder is purely optical instead of digital.
Red areas indicate sharp edges
Poor Display Management
Mirrorless cameras suck up battery power much faster than DSLR cameras because they are constantly powering a video screen – either the one in the viewfinder, or the larger one on the back of the camera. I’m amazed that the camera makers have not come up with better screen management algorithms. I wish they would auto-power off after a short period of non-use and then quickly power back on when I start using my camera again. Instead, I have to manually power down the camera if I want to extend the battery life. If the camera is turned on and just hanging around my neck, a sensor at the top of the viewfinder eyepiece thinks that my belly must be an eyeball and therefore leaves the screen on. Or, if it’s hanging lens down from my neck with nothing touching the eyepiece, then it thinks I must want to view the back, even though I’m just walking around and not even thinking about the camera.
I frequently mount the camera on a tripod and capture long exposures in Bulb mode for light painting. The entire time, the screen is powered up even though it is displaying black for the entire 2-3 minute exposure, just sucking down battery power.
You also have to be careful not to allow dust to get on the sensor at the top of the eyepiece, otherwise the camera will think that your eye is using that display and it will not allow you to use the one on the back of the camera. That’s a good reason to keep a few Q-tips in your bag so you can quickly clean the eyepiece sensor and remedy the situation.
As you can see, there are many advantages and disadvantages to both approaches to designing cameras (DSLR vs Mirrorless). I personally find the advantages outweigh the disadvantages for my type of shooting, but that might not be the case for everyone. There are many other advantages that apply to other mirrorless cameras on the market that I did not mention here since they did not apply to my specific camera model (like being able to shoot at 20 frames per second with full auto-focus, no mirror-induced camera shake and no viewfinder blackout on the Sony A9).
12 Months Later, Upgrade to A7RII
Unlike Canon, who took a month shy of three years before they updated my previous camera model, Sony took just over a year and a half to update their camera. I had switched to Sony about 10 months after they released the A7R camera. After a year of shooting with that camera, I was able to upgrade to the then newly-released Sony A7RII.
That upgrade improved the shooting speed from 4 to 5 frames per second compared to my previous Sony camera, increased the resolution from 36MP to 42MP, gave me a completely silent electric shutter, increased the focus points from 25 to 399, added Wifi, 4K video recording and more. It felt like a huge upgrade, but the layout of the camera was still very clunky when compared to a full frame Nikon or Canon. I still occasionally find that I have changed my ISO setting without meaning to due to the button design and have the same bitches about screen management, focus point selection and other features, so life with Sony is still not paradise.
The totally silent shutter brought a completely new level of stealth to my street shooting game, while the Wifi gave me a new way to control and preview my lightpainting-from my iPad!
Three Year Update on Lenses
I originally planned to continue shooting with my Canon glass via an adaptor, but found the setup to be unreliable. Half the time it worked fine, while the other half, I’d have to disconnect and reconnect the lens to get the auto-focus to work at all. But, had there not been an adaptor available, I probably would have never considered switching to Sony.
Next, I tried shooting with Sony’s f4 zoom lenses before they got around to releasing f2.8 zooms. I was not happy with the quality (mainly lots of distortion), so I sold those lenses and slowly switched to Sony f2.8 zooms as they were released. I am now shooting with three Sony lenses (12-24mm f4, 24-70mm f2.8, 70-200mm f2.8) and two Canon lenses (Fisheye zoom and 17mm tilt/shift). I would love to replace those last two Canon lenses if Sony ever chooses to release equivalent lenses. I don’t mind using the adaptor on my tilt/shift lens since it is manual focus and therefore the problems I’ve had with the Metabones adaptor don’t apply. Overall, the Sony lens lineup is much more filled out with few missing lenses in their lineup compared to when I first switched brands. I’d still love a fisheye zoom, a few tilt shift lenses and a 200-400mm f4.
Many people like mirrorless cameras because they are smaller and lighter than DSLRs. You should be aware that most Sony lenses are not smaller than most of their Nikon or Canon full frame equivalents. That’s because the A7 series of cameras are full-frame cameras. The mirrorless cameras that have smaller glass are all micro 4/3rds or similar sensor sizes.
Quick Rant: The thing the camera makers never tell you is that smaller sensors do not deliver the same limited depth of field as full frame sensors at the same f-stop. So, shooting at f2.8 with a 200mm lens on a full frame camera is not the same as shooting with the equivalent f2.8 lens on a micro 4/3rds camera. I find that most people that have shot with a small sensor camera have heard of the concept of a crop factor. Micro 4/3rds cameras like the Olympus OMD series have a 2x crop factor. That means putting a 100mm lens on that camera will give you the same view that you’d get with a 200mm lens (100mm x2 = 200mm) on a full frame camera. Well, the same thing applies to how the aperture affects depth of field. That means a f2.8 lens on Micro 4/3rds will deliver similar depth of field as shooting at f5.6 (2.8 x2 = 5.6) on a full frame camera. There simply is no equivalent to an f2.8 zoom on mirrorless since they don’t make the f1.4 zoom lens that would be needed to deliver the same depth of field. You can make much smaller and lighter glass when you design the equivalent to an f5.6 zoom. Just Google “depth of field calculator” and plug in the info for full frame fast glass and any mirrorless system that people brag has small and light glass and you’ll see that it’s not the same. That’s why I went with the A7 series instead of something that had a smaller sensor. I value being able to achieve narrow depth of field more than I value lightweight lenses.
Smaller sensors have higher crop factors, which apply to BOTH lens focal length AND aperture.
When it comes to sharpness, I’ve found the f2.8 zooms to be great overall. Brian Smith recently posted a comparison of Sony, Nikon and Canon lenses that I think gives a good perspective on just how sharp Sony lenses are compared to the Canon glass I’ve replaced.
My biggest annoyance with Sony glass… the total lack of a focus scale on any of their lenses! Dang it! I like to know when I am approaching infinity and it will only show me that on-screen if I’m in manual focus.
Would I do it Again?
Would I ever consider going back to Canon? I don’t see that anytime in the near future simply because both brands have been ignoring the concept of mirrorless cameras for professionals and what they have released does not come close to what Sony’s A7 series of cameras can do. Canon’s 5Ds R might be higher resolution (51MP vs 42 for the Sony), but it doesn’t match up in more important areas like dynamic range, high ISO shooting and has overall DXO score of just 86 compared to 98 for my camera. Nikon cameras are more compelling because they feature higher dynamic range and better high ISO capability, but that’s just because Nikon buys their sensors from Sony and uses them in a DSLR format. Mirrorless has too many advantages for me to look into DSLRs. Also, Sony has now released their A9 camera (full frame, 24MP, 20 frames per second) which has a dramatically better physical layout, which hints at a possibly upcoming A9R camera (the R is the high resolution version), which would be the one I’d want and that’s a brighter looking future for me than anything Canon or Nikon has hinted at.
DXO Mark comparison (sizes not to scale… just compare the sensor size in the photos since they are the same size in real life)
If I was still using Canon today, would I make the switch knowing all that I do now? That’s a tough one mainly due to the financial investment I had in Canon glass knowing that I’d ultimately want to replace most of it with Sony lenses.
I’d be doing a lot of research on the used lens market to see what the true cost would be. A quick look at ebay and B&H shows me how much it might cost to swap my old Canon glass for Sony:
- Canon 11-24mm $2200 on ebay minus $1698 for the Sony 12-24mm, earning me a $502 profit!
- Canon 24-70mm f2.8 II $1300 on ebay minus $2198 for the Sony 24-70mm f2.8 G-master, costing me $898
- Canon 70-200mm f2.8 II IS on ebay for $1500 minus $2598 for the Sony 70-200mm f2.8 G-master, costing me $1098
- Metabones adaptor to use my Canon Fisheye zoom and Canon 17mm Tilt/Shift lenses on a Sony body $399 (although there might be better and cheaper options available now… I have not researched that recently)
Total potential premium compared to just upgrading to the next Canon model when it is released: $1893. It’s a tough choice to decide if that’s worth what you would gain. If I had yet to switch and I knew what I know today from using the Sony for three years, I might bite the bullet, but I might also sit on the fence unless I came into a surprise financial windfall (unexpected tax refund, etc.). But if and when Sony releases the A9R that is rumored (see “Future” below), I think I’d make the jump regardless. I’m sure you have different needs and desires, so your answer would likely be different.
Note: This price comparison was done in about 10 minutes and is by no means exacting. I could have easily screwed up, so do your own deep research into the topic if you are truly considering making such a change.
(Tip: Click Advanced next to the search button on ebay, choose Sold Listings on the side bar, enter $200 for minimum price to exclude all accessories and other non-lens items, set the sorting by lowest price, then ignore the first few lowest price items since they are usually damaged and scroll until you see just a hint of consistency in price.)
Before we get into the potential future of cameras, it might be useful to give you an overview of why I think some of these changes are coming.
Let’s start with a quick overview of the Sony’s A7 series cameras, which is compromised of three models: A7, A7S and A7R. They are all full-frame cameras that share the same physical layout but differ in resolution and feature set. Here’s how I think of each version:
- The A7 is a medium resolution general purpose version that offers a reasonable compromise between resolution, ISO performance and price for general shooters.
- The A7S is a low resolution version optimized for high ISO shooting and video production
- The A7R is optimized for high resolution image capture
When Sony revises their models, they add a roman numeral to the end, so the A7 was replaced by the A7II, the A7R with replaced by the A7RII, etc. You’d expect the next updates to bring us to the A7III, etc.
In April of this year, Sony announced a new camera called the A9 which has the same resolution as the A7II, but features a more refined physical body design than the A7 series. Here are some of the upgrades when comparing the new A9 to the A7II:
- 204,800 ISO compared to 51,200
- 1/32,000 max shutter speed vs 1/8000
- 20 frames per second vs 5fps
- 2x larger capacity battery
- Touch screen
- 693 focus points vs 117
- 241 raw file buffer vs 25
I hope that means they will eventually release an A9S and A9R to continue the general logic they applied to the A7 series since they really need to upgrade the physical layout of the cameras. If that ends up being the case, then here are some of the things I’d like to see from the next camera I’d like to own, which I’m assuming will be called the Sony A9R, which I hope to see soon (but I have no insider info… only speculation):
• Dramatically improved physical design and menu design (A9 has it, so I’d expect it to appear in an A9R)
• Focus point mini joystick for quick and easy focus point selection (the A9 has it)
• Digital Focus Scale in viewfinder, or at least an infinity symbol that appears when I’ve hit that point. Ideally it would also indicate when infinity would be reasonably sharp at my current f-stop and focus distance even when I’m not focused at infinity. (I doubt I’ll ever see this since I haven’t heard other people bitch about the lack of focus scale on Sony lenses)
• Much better battery/screen management software (A9 has a 2x capacity batt, but we still need better software management of the screen to save additional battery life)
• Built-In GPS or an attachment GPS device that auto-tags my images like my Canon GP-E2 did back when I had my Canon (I absolutely loved the concept of that device and just wished it would use the camera’s battery instead of a secondary one). I haven’t seen Sony hint at one, but I miss this thing like some people would miss a recently lost family member.
Canon GPS Receiver that auto-tags photos with location data in-camera while shooting.
• Auto-sensor cleaning each time a lens is changed (another feature I miss from my Canon where it ran every time the camera was powered back on)
Continue the Discussion
Please use the comments section at the bottom of this post or on the Facebook post where I announced this post to let others know about your experiences and opinions related to choosing between Sony/Nikon/Canon and the advantages and disadvantages of DSLR or Mirrorless cameras. But, please keep the discussion friendly and on track to being helpful instead of simply argumentative.
Everything I mentioned in this post had to do with my personal reasons for choosing the camera that I ended up with. Each person has different needs and therefore might end up with a completely different camera choice.
My wife Karen switched camera brands last year from Nikon to Olympus. She asked me to research the best choice for her needs and I thought the Olympus PEN-F camera would be most ideal for her. Why not the same camera that I chose for myself? Karen simply has different desires for what she’d consider an upgrade from her current camera. Her main priority was a smaller camera that was lighter weight. After all, she weighs in right around 100lbs, so carrying a massive camera bag is very uncomfortable.
In assessing her needs, I found that she didn’t really need to make large prints and therefore the resolution of her current 16.2MP camera was fine. Her Nikon D7000 had a 1.5x crop factor, which made me think that Micro 4/3rds cameras should be considered since they offer have a 2x crop factor and that smaller sensor would allow her to end up with a camera and lenses that were dramatically smaller and lighter than what she had been shooting with.
The biggest compromise she’d have to make is the ability to get nice blurry backgrounds by limiting the depth of field (DOF). She was used to f2.8 glass on a 1.5x crop factor camera, while the Micro 4/3rds cameras offer f2.8 glass on a 2x crop factor camera. That means she was used to being able to achieve the equivalent to f4.2 on a full frame camera (2.8×1.5) and her new setup would only get her to the equivalent to f5.6 on a full frame camera (2.8×2). That was the main sacrifice she made when switching to the Olympus PEN-F camera, but at the same time she had an upgrade to from 16.2MP to 20.3MP. The retro design of the camera also swayed her away from the other models in the Olympus lineup.
Swapping out her lenses also had an advantage in that the widest she could shoot with her former setup was 21mm (14mm x1.5 crop factor) and her new setup could get her all the way to 14mm (7mm x2 crop factor). In the end she went from her three Nikon lenses covering 21-300mm to 14-300mm with Olympus glass. She was also able to acquire a tiny 14-42mm (28-84mm full frame equivalent) pancake lens to use for casual shooting that makes her camera small enough to fit in her purse! All the while the total weight and size of the system became a fraction of her former system.
The above info is what I used to determine which camera to recommend for Karen. Her experience of switching from an optical viewfinder to a digital one on the mirrorless camera involved similar trials and tribulations to what I detailed above. I think in the end, she loves her camera, but has a few nick picks about it. From what I can remember it’s primarily the speed: how long it takes to turn on and be ready to a shoot and how much of a forced pause there is before the screen updates after shooting. She also gets annoyed by the short battery life. That hints to me that the retro style of that camera might not be a strong enough reason to stay with that model and that one day she might end up switching so the more professional-oriented Olympus OMD line of cameras, which are also designed for her lenses.
Karen’s full Olympus setup
Karen with her Nikon gear (left) and Olympus gear (right)
Karen absolutely loved her Nikon setup, but really was getting tired of lugging around all that weight. She wasn’t sure if she was going to be willing to put up with that sacrifice in DOF, so she kept all her Nikon gear and is only now getting around it selling it since she hasn’t touched it since buying her Olympus.
Finish with Full Disclosure
I received special treatment from B&H on one order of a Sony camera and lens back when they where a sponsor of a seminar tour I did for KelbyOne (their sponsorship was with KelbyOne, not me, so I did not directly benefit financially from said sponsorship). That simply made it easier for me to acquire my second Sony camera (after I had already switched brands) and had nothing to do with which brand or model I purchased. With exception to the single order mentioned above, I ordered all my gear from either B&H or Amazon’s web site and paid the same price as everyone else. I have zero relationship with Sony (but would welcome becoming a sponsored Sony Artisan so they’d pay me to speak at a bunch of events that I wouldn’t otherwise get to participate in since most events don’t like to pay their speakers anymore and therefor only use sponsored speakers).
Note: All specifications used in comparing these camera systems and lenses was obtained on the DXOMark.com web site. If I made any errors please let me know.