How heavy a camera do you need?

Hearing about a photographer friend's bad back reminded me of a lesson that was being taught in Panasonic's booth this year at CES 2013. That lesson was simple, even professionals don't have to lug around heavy equipment any more to produce high-end results. Compact Camera System versus standard sized DSLR equipment

Full sized systems vs. Compact System Cameras

What this display showed was a Panasonic Lumix Compact System Camera built around their professional grade Lumix GH3 body and four Lumix digital interchangeable lenses covering 14-600mm in 35mm equivalent on the top shelf above and a generic full sized DSLR system below covering a similar range of 17-600mm.

The punch line for this display was the full sized system weighted 7.3 kg while the Panasonic system came in at only 2 kg.

Does this mean you can get the same results?

Panasonic Lumix GH3Here's where the fight usually breaks out.

It would be hard to find anyone who'd admit that the Panasonic Lumix Compact System Camera comes close to matching up with either the Canon EOS-1D X or Nikon's D3X and all the exotic lenses and accessories available in their systems. But in a way it doesn't matter.

It's the same type of conversation that takes place when Adobe's Photoshop comes up. Few people can honestly say they know every function of the program. Instead, they'll admit they know and use just a small portion of it to meet their needs. The same is true for this discussion.

How much of a system do most of us actually need?

How many photographers actually need to use a perspective control or fisheye lens let alone all the horsepower available in those two top of the lineNikon D3X DSLR DSLR bodies mentioned above that cost over $6000 apiece? The answer is much like the one for Photoshop, very few.

All three of these cameras and their systems will produce high quality images for what most photographers need to accomplish every day. The question might boil down to can you accomplish what you do and save your back with the lighter advanced tools available today?

How did this happen and what does it mean?

The simple answer is advanced electronics. The larger sensors that receive light through the lens along with faster more powerful processors can record far more information than a piece of the best film.

This means that less light is needed to pass through the lens which allows for smaller lighter lenses. Also, camera bodies that housed intricate film transport systems with mirrors that flopped up and down are no longer needed either.

Many different compact system cameras to choose from

This newer smaller class of cameras and lenses go by many names. Olympus 1 Nikkor compact system camera lenscalls theirs the Pen and OM-D, Panasonic has the Lumix Compact System Cameras, Nikon has their 1 Nikon system, Samsung their NX SMART cameras, Canon has the EOS M camera, Fujifilm has the X Series and Sony calls theirs Alpha Nex cameras.

While the approach for each might be different, for instance both Olympus and Panasonic subscribe to the Micro Four Thirds standard, they all allow for smaller camera bodies and lenses to do the work of larger equipment based on the needs of 35mm film technology.

It's an easy lesson that hasn't sunk in for everyone

The basic lesson from the display is that electronics fueled digital imaging equipment can accomplish far more than was ever possible with the best 35mm film based cameras. Once we accept that, the next question is why do we still insist on buying equipment that was designed to look, feel, and weigh as much as our old 35mm film camera systems?

Maybe it's time for all of us to do our backs a favor and go shopping for some smaller new equipment.  

Dave Dornlas

April 15, 2013

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