Why I won’t be going small

There seems to be a sudden rush towards compact system cameras at the moment, at least if you follow some of the more social media savvy photographers. I can see why a smaller, lighter camera would be appealing but I find the cries that the DSLR is a dead a bit over the top.

I can’t recall ever seeing anything like this before, even in the fickle world of photography. Trends have come along and there has been much bandwagon jumping but there is something that feels a bit disingenuous about this one. Photographers that have made the switch to Micro Four Thirds or the Sony or Fuji systems seem almost evangelical. These people, who have previously proclaimed that it’s “not about the gear, it about the photographer”, are now running around the globe shooting with a mini camera telling us all to ditch our DSLRs today. I have even seen photographers saying they can offer a better service to their clients now they have made the switch. Really? Why should clients care about, or even understand the difference? Something just doesn’t sit right.

I must have missed the point at which full frame cameras with their excellent low light capabilities and shallow depth of field stopped being the thing to aspire to own.

Bigger is better?

Case in point: I’ve been an avid listener to the This Week In Photo podcast for years and it wasn’t that long ago the host, Frederick Van Johnson, made a bet with co-host Ron Brinkmann, that crop sensor cameras would soon become extinct and everything would be full frame. Fast forward to now and Frederick is waxing lyrical about his Olympus OMD with an even smaller sensor than those crop bodies. And he’s not the only one but when did the size and weight of your camera become the main factor to consider? These cameras are capable but simply not as good quality as a full frame DSLR, no one disputes that and when pressed on the topic the response is “it’s almost as good!”

Almost? No thanks. I don’t want to compromise on quality or have my kit impose restrictions on what I can do. Sure, a little Fuji X100S would be a nice to carry around on a daily basis but I’m not about to follow Trey Radcliffe’s advise and sell all my Canon gear and invest in 3 Sony NEXs. Why does it have to be either/or?

This is may be cynical but here’s my theory. Anyone wanting to build a large audience and become a celebrity photographer needs “a thing”. It used to be organic. David Hobby was the small flash guy, Zack Arias was the one light guy but those things have been done. There’s a rush for the next big thing and it seems to be small and mirrorless.

I have dabbled with a few compact system cameras and while they are great fun, they just don’t do it for me. I like my full frame DSLRs with their heft, fast auto focus and big glass. Maybe I am missing something but so far no one has been able to tell me why these new cameras are better, aside from being smaller and lighter. My iPhone is small, light and always with me, and it can make calls too! If I’m going out with the express intention of taking photographs I’ll throw my 5D over my shoulder.

I am all for new technology opening up new possibilities and mirrorless cameras are definitely interesting and have a future but they aren’t the be all and end all of photography. So maybe my “thing” is to not go small. To stick with my big, “antiquated” DSLR. The be the “full frame” guy?

This is how I feel about the topic today but I can’t promise I won’t suddenly and dramatically do a 180 degree change in direction if someone makes a good case in the comments…


  1. GordonM

    I think it’s all about horses for courses Simon and you have to love each type of camera for what it’s capable of. eg. I’m loving my fuji as a carry round (smaller than a DSLR but still has a viewfinder – i don’t like taking pics at arms full-length with a compact camera LCD screen), it’s high iso performance, it’s image quality, it’s quietness (fantastic for weddings) AND it slows me down a bit more to think about composition, the look etc when I’m doing fashion/editorial type shots.

    Then again I’m loving my lumix because it’s video is much more capable and easier to use than DSLR, but it’s high iso for stills is I think rubbish by comparison to the fuji or full-frame DSLR. It’s also DSLR like in operation so feels at home in my hands so I can work quickly with it and the size and weight of the f2.8 lenses are great compared to the equivalent big guns in Nikon and Canon formats.

    But there is no way that either can keep up with the action shots, the shallow depth of field of using the 85mm f1.4, and the responsiveness and faster/slicker operation I find with using DSLRs for so long. And as you say the high iso performance and depth of field of full-frame are winners in themselves.

    So rather than ditching everything to go one system or the other, I think photographers of the future may need both types of system and choose which camera to use depending on the requirements of the job in hand, and also the client’s expectations (eg. a member of the public having their portrait done is different to a double-page spread in Vogue). Do photographers want portability and lightness, image quality, speed, high iso, video, depth of field and so they may have to make compromises depending on the importance of one factor or another.

    Did you see Corey Rich the other night on CreativeLive? He was using his nikon D4 and D800 for video and for stills, but also using the Nikon J1 mirrorless compact for video in some situations where it’s compact size and weight were better suited to that task at the time. But still providing the quality he required.

    So bottom line ….. would I ditch my DSLR? No, I do jobs where it is better suited than using my mirrorless. Bottom line again …. would I ditch my mirrorless cameras? No, I do jobs where it is better suited than using my DSLR.

    Just my 2p worth, sorry for rambling on.


    PS. Keep up the great work Simon and REALLY enjoy reading your blog articles. Catch up soon.

  2. Christiaan Lowe

    Nice write up Simon I agree with both your comments,I love my D800 and wouldn’t ditch it for a compact,but I would like to get the Fuji 100s as an addition to my gear as I’ve always loved Fuji’s images,I started off using a Fuji S602z Bridge camera then onto the Fuji S3 Pro then the S5 Pro and always been impressed with the skin tones and Dynamic range,so getting a handy 100s to carry around instead of all my gear with my D800 would be a big benefit ,compromising on quality for the convenience is sometimes worth it.

  3. Craig Hendley

    Hi Si,

    These smaller cameras can produce stunning results IN THE RIGHT CONDITIONS.
    But what happens when the sun goes in and you still need a fast shutter and quick autofocus? Action shots indoors in poor light, with or without flash?

    You can make small sensors as good as you want, but you can’t change the laws of quantum mechanics when it comes to light particles. For a given technology, the bigger the sensor……..

  4. Craig Hendley

    Forgot to mention, agree totally with the iPhone thing.
    If I want to have a camera with me at all times to “snap the moment” then I use a phone. If I want a decent shot, then only the best will do and I go to a DSLR. For me, there is no in between – either a “snap” or a “photograph”.


  5. Steven Finlay

    No, you are not being cynical. They really are just searching for a marketing hook to get clicks on blogs or views on youtube. You could be generous and call it marketing if you want but take it all with a large pinch (sack) of salt.

    The reason it has all become so odd is because of social media. Previously marketing was all about the product. It was impersonal. Now it is all about the person. People buy products based on a connection with a person. (You personally may not but lots of folks do). These photographers therefore build social media profiles that they believe will attract followers (customers?). Simple as that.


  6. simon

    Thanks for the comments everyone.

    @Gordon and Christiaan: Totally agree. Mirrorless cameras a re great but its still a case of the right tool for the job.

    @Craig: Totally agree about no middle ground between “snap” and “photograph” – I hadn’t realised i thought like that.

    @Steven: It does seem a bit bandwagony! I may add one to bag of gear at some point but I won’t be selling everything else to do it.


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