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Why I'm Not Interested In Full-Frame Mirrorless Cameras

September 20, 2014  •  7 Comments

Dawson Pass, Glacier National Park

 

The reason I got into mirrorless cameras in the first place was to reduce the weight of my hiking camera kit, plain and simple. Certainly there are other benefits of mirrorless systems, but for me, it was all about the weight reduction.  I was never looking to replace my Nikon DSLR gear. I was an early adopter to mirrorless, picking up the Panasonic Lumix GF1 back in 2010. At that time, the only real option for mirrorless was micro four-thirds. Now that there are full-frame and APS-C mirrorless systems available, you might think it would make sense for me to revisit my choice of mirrorless system, but I'm not, and I'll tell you why.

The lion's share of the weight of a camera kit is in the lenses, not the camera body, and the weight of the lenses is primarily driven by three factors: the size of the imaging sensor, the focal length range and the speed of the glass. The larger the sensor, the longer the lens and the faster the lens (e.g. f/2.8 constant aperture) the heavier the glass. The table below shows the weight of my Nikon D700 system (the D800 is in the shop):

  • Nikon D700: 2.50 lbs.
  • 24-70mm f/2.8: 2.20 lbs.
  • 70-200mm f/2.8: 3.40 lbs.
  • Total Nikon Kit Weight: 8.10 lbs.

Now compare the figures above with my GH3 kit:

  • Panasonic Lumix GH3: 1.25 lbs.
  • 12-35mm f/2.8: 0.70 lbs.
  • 35-100mm f/2.8: 0.90 lbs.
  • Total Panasonic Kit Weight: 2.85 lbs.

A more than five pounds reduction in kit weight is huge, but look at where that weight reduction is largely coming from, the lenses.  Of the 5+ pounds reduction in weight, 4 pounds is coming from lenses.

So you might ask what this has to do with why I am not interested in full-frame mirrorless. Again, it comes down to the lenses. Sony's A7 line of full-frame mirrorless cameras have created quite a stir since they were introduced. However, if you stack the Sony lenses up against their closest comparable Nikon lens, you find that there is practically no reduction in weight. Yes, the Sony A7 body is lighter than my D700/800, but the comparable lenses are no lighter than the Nikon equivalents. For example, Sony's 70-200mm f/4 lens weighs 1 pound 14 ounces. Nikon's 70-200 f/4 lens weighs, you guessed it, 1 pound 14 ounces.

Here is the other issue with the Sony lens lineup, they have no fast zooms available and there are none on their roadmap. By fast zooms, I mean a constant aperture of f/2.8. The fastest zooms they offer have a constant aperture of f/4, which might be fine if you're a landscape photographer, but that won't cut it for the events work I do where bad light is always a challenge. So why isn't Sony planning any f/2.8 zooms for their mirrorless full-frame cameras? The answer that the guys over at Luminous Landscapes heard from Sony is that the lenses get too big to handle comfortably with the smaller A7 body. There's the rub, fast lenses for a full-frame sensor camera are going to be big, mirrorless or not. If you want fast zooms, you're pretty much out of luck with the Sony full-frame mirrorless system.

As far as mirrorless is concerned, it's micro four-thirds for me. Frankly, for most people that are looking to reduce the weight of their kit, I would recommend micro four-thirds. The lens selection is way more extensive than any other mirrorless system out there. If you love the full-frame look, then get a full-frame DSLR from Canon or Nikon. The lens selection will leave Sony's in the dust and you'll have a system that will autofocus the pants off of the Sony system.


Comments

Nick(non-registered)
I shoot mirrorless not because it's smaller but because it's small and makes images I can't get on a phase detect AF system. Shooting bright primes wide open and having precious little depth of field means I need autofocus that will focus on the eyes. Preferably the closest one. For me it makes all the difference. I shot informal portraits on a borrowed Digital Reble with the AF point on the eyes selected but had very few amazing keepers. Shooting a current m43 body with a good prime and I just have better results. This coming from someone who used a 1Dmk2 and standard 24-70-200/2.8 kit for years professionally. Now I'm all mirrorless.
Lee Harris(non-registered)
Good article. I rent rooms in my apt in Barcelona and I have 3 guests make excuses for not doing things in the heat because it would mean lugging their DSLRs around! It cracks me up every time!
Charlie w(non-registered)
I was looking to be able to travel without a large bag, so volume was more important than weight. Again it was the lenses that made the decision, the m43 lenses are so tiny. I chose the Olympus E-PL5 with removable viewfinder vf4. With lens and vf removed it fits easily in a pocket, and you can find room for the small lenses without much trouble.
zenon (zen) billings(non-registered)
excellent article, right on the money. i'm a hiker,kayaker and in winter a snow-shoer. when i'm preparing any and all gear i count ounces not pounds! this includes food,clothing and all sorts of additional equipment for extended outing of days into weeks. so yes, i was an early devotee of micro 4/3s. i was seeking best quality for the smallest, lightest package out of necessity not any philosophical notion. i need to carry this stuff!
Tom Northenscold Photography
Fabrizio: I agree that for a landscape photography, the Sony system could make a lot of sense. In fact, the guys over at Luminous Landscapes are landscape photographers, which should come as no surprise given their website name. It all comes down to what your primary motivation is.

Happy shooting!
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