Old School Photo Hack

Recommended Photo Gear — In Praise of Small Cameras

Guard desk in the brig -- Fort McHenry, Maryland (April 2015)Leica IIIf + Arista 100 + Leica Summicron 50mm f/2.0

Guard desk in the brig — Fort McHenry, Maryland (April 2015)
Leica IIIf + Arista 100 + Leica Summicron 50mm f/2.0

I get this question often — up to several times per month — from fellow photo enthusiasts, both experienced and not…  about what photo gear could I recommend to them?

And the number one top recommendation I make that no one pays attention to?

Go small.

The smaller the gear you can bring yourself to tolerate, the better.  Go with something small enough that you will enjoy carrying it on extended photowalks, or exhausting day hikes, or keeping in your hand, over your shoulder, or around your neck for 8-12 hours at a time without physical pain.

Before buying a camera (and lenses, filters, a bag, straps, strobe, batteries, film and/or memory chips, and all the other related paraphernalia), do yourself a favor and see what you can carry with you over the length of an entire day during the weekend.  Start out by putting a 10-pound rock (or the same weight in gravel, flour, or books) in a small bag or sock, and hang it from around your neck or shoulder with some shoelaces or something similar, and see just how long you can stand it.

If you lasted all day (no cheating!) and were good for more, then congratulations — you can carry around a moderately sized camera kit.  If not, then you need to pare down the weight to something you can manage for many hours at a time.  Repeat this process with progressively smaller weights until you finally reach the level that you’re comfortable with carrying all day.

Think this exercise is stupid?  Talk to any pro out there and ask them; I know that gear weight will be one of their top three complaints.

To put this in perspective, one of my photo buddies used to shoot large format 8×10 film sheets for the absolute best image quality that anyone can obtain.  Being a former military man, he thought he was good for an entire day of humping that heavy gear around — until his knees began to give out.  By the time he and I started doing photowalks together a couple of years later, he had migrated down to large format 4×6 film sheets — but his backpack still weighed over 80-POUNDS.  I shot with large format 8×10 sheet film decades ago, but only in the professional studio environment; I never had to break my back under the load of that enormous deadweight for 8-12 hours at a time.  And my buddy?  I dunno what (or if) he’s shooting these days, but I know his knees are pretty much toast.  And his blown knee story is very common among pro photographers… as are bad hips, ankles, blown backs, and shoulders.  Heavy gear is the bane of the pros; don’t let it be yours as well.

The heaviest photo bag I’ve ever carried for any length of time tipped the scales at 32-pounds — and that was a 35mm film SLR, several zooms, a couple primes (including a macro lens), filters, a macro stage, a motor drive, a flash strobe, batteries, extra film, and a tripod.  Try doing a seven-mile hike with all that on your back in Arches National Park, being baked in the desert heat and having only one small bottle of water on hand.  Never again.  I lasted less than 12-months with that rig, simply because it was too heavy for me to lug around.  And as much as I was geared up for every photo opportunity that presented itself, ultimately I wasn’t ready for any of them because I left the gear at home rather than kill myself with all that weight.

What does my kit weigh today?  It varies, depending on what my back is able to tolerate (I’ve got five partially herniated discs in my lumbar region, dating back to 1994 when I fell off a 20-foot ladder).  The heaviest my bag weighs now is right around 7.5-pounds — and that’s absolutely everything I need , including a tiny tripod.  If my back is acting up (like it is as I’m typing this), I can ditch everything and carry a 15-ounce digi-cam (complete with extra batteries), or go even lighter with a 6-ounce 35mm film point-and-shoot camera .  The tiny digital point-and-shoot is more capable and offers far more flexibility, but the 35mm film point-and-shoot delivers superior image quality — so any choice I make is always a compromise.  And I’ll also point out here that I’m a hybrid shooter; I shoot with both digital and 35mm film, so the contents in my bag varies with what I want to shoot for any specific day or occasion.

Why am I harping on this?

Well, invariably the people asking me what gear I can recommend to them have already made up their mind, because they usually buy some big honking monstrosity to hang around their neck, use it a lot during the honeymoon phase, then less and less often over time, until they finally stop altogether, and it ends up collecting dust on the shelf.  Their biggest complaint?  It’s too heavy.  Or it’s too big.  Or it’s not accessible enough.  Or it’s too complex.  But too heavy is usually the answer I hear the most often.

However, for those savvy souls that actually take heed –- they buy something that they can keep close (in a pocket, purse, waist pack, or small satchel), they use it all the time, and the weight is never something that pushes them away from taking photos.

I hear your next question forming before you even say it — what about image quality?

Image quality is often brought up as a reason to avoid small cameras, but I can tell you from extensive experience (over 50 years as of this writing) that it’s the wetware behind the lens that drives the image –- not the hardware.  Granted, there will be times when hardware is the only logical solution to some photo opportunity you meet (like close-ups of distant wildlife or ultra-wide landscapes) but — by and large — a small camera will do the job for the majority of your imaging needs.

And before you dismiss my post as the ravings of an out-of-touch lunatic, I offer up a number of my own images in the small camera categories to back up my point, beginning with the smallest of the small and working up so you can see (or not) the difference in quality.  Oh, and feel free to click on any of the photos to embiggen them for closer scrutiny!


Cell Phones

Starting with the smallest digital sensor (1/3″ according to Wikipedia), here are some of my recent images from an iPhone 5S and iPhone 6 Plus; please note that these have been heavily post-processed in Adobe Lightroom prior to sharing them with you here.

As I comment to anyone who asks, the iPhone is capable of shooting some very fine images — provided that care is taken with regard to exposure and lighting.  And to anyone that dismisses iPhones as not being “good enough”, two of my iPhone shots have actually been commercially published — this one and this one.

Full disclosure: I never use the images directly out of the iPhone; they are always imported to my laptop first, post-processed within Lightroom, then exported for use from there.

Still, the image quality that can be achieved from cell phones today can be absolutely jaw-droppingly stunning.  For this reason, I have to say that a current model cell phone with a good quality camera is about the best thing out there for keeping on-hand all the time and being ready when the photo opportunity presents itself.  A cell phone camera is small and light, almost always readily available, reasonably quick to start-up, and capable of taking great photos.

For anyone just starting out with photography, pull your camera phone out of your pocket and start taking real photographs with it!  Once you’ve mastered taking photos with a cell phone, you can begin to look further afield to other cameras that offer more capabilities and/or quality.


Digital Point-and-Shoots:

Next up we have some recent images from the 1″ sensor of a digital point-and-shoot, the Sony RX100 IV.  If you thought the photos from the iPhone could look good, then you better sit down — because image quality dramatically improves from here.  Again, these images have been heavily post-processed with Adobe Lightroom.

When I first switched to digital, my digi-cam of choice was the original Canon PowerShot G3 (not to be confused with the brand new PowerShot G3 X), which was pretty hot stuff for those days.  And is the old G3 still a force to be reckoned with today?  Nah, not so much.  The current crop of digi-cams blow the doors off those of yesteryear — with fast glass, high-dynamic-range imagery, fully supported RAW files, and just about everything that you can think of being included with many of them now.

If you’re ready to graduate up from a cell phone camera — or if you’re ready to step down from a heavier camera of any type (film or digital) — this is your sweet spot.  The smallest of these cameras can be about the size of a pack of cigarettes, and not much heavier.  However — as you can see from the photos directly above — they pack a huge wallop, at least as far as image quality is concerned.  And because they have integrated non-removable lenses, getting dust on the sensor isn’t something that you normally have to worry about or deal with.

What in terms of image quality is still missing from these tiny cameras?  The two that come to mind are the quality of the out-of-focus areas (called bokeh), and the signal noise from the small image sensors that they use.  However, with each new generation of digi-cams that come out, these shortcomings continue to be improved upon.  Will they ever equal the image quality of full-frame cameras?  Dunno.  But they have made incredible strides in image quality, even from just a year or two ago.


Mirrorless Cameras

Now we begin to enter high-end image quality, where some of the very best digital sensors (both APS-C and full-frame) are being produced today, where bokeh and image quality can approach, match, or even exceed that of the top-of-the-line full-frame sensors from Canon and Nikon, yet the gear can be a lot smaller and up to fifty percent lighter than traditional full-frame DSLR equipment.  To show what they are capable of, here are a few of my recent mirrorless APS-C sensor images:

I can hear your thoughts now… Wow!  I want THAT, where do I sign up?

If that’s what you want, then get thee to a Sony or Fuji dealership — and don’t look back.  Why not Canon or Nikon?  Both of the industry leaders have been asleep at the wheel in the mirrorless market for the past several years, and the early offerings they have made available for purchase have been roundly ignored by customers.  Sony and Fuji, however, have made huge leaps in mirrorless sensor development and have produced products that have been hailed by photo customers as being the greatest thing since sliced bread.  Sony, in particular, has designed their mirrorless cameras to be able to mount — with the proper adapter — just about any lens ever made by any manufacturer on the planet, so if you’re concerned about your investment in lenses from someone else, you should be able to find a solution for making them work with Sony mirrorless bodies.

However, these cameras are significantly heavier, bulkier, and pricier than the digital point-and-shoot cameras (digi-cams) that we covered in the previous section.  What’s not to like about them?  Well, in addition to being heavier, bulkier, and pricier — here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Dust can get into the sensor area when changing lenses.  With some camera models, dust on the sensor is not much of an issue, just use a quality dust blower and you’re good to go; however, with other camera models it can be a nightmare, and one that requires the camera body to be shipped back to the vendor for factory servicing on a regular basis.
  • Mirrorless cameras have small bodies, but the electronics draw about the same level of electricity (or more) that the big full-frame DSLRs draw.  Smaller bodies mean smaller batteries, which means you need to bring spares.  Sometimes lots of spares.  And if you’re traveling, getting all these batteries recharged can be a serious challenge.

If you’re willing to work with these potential shortcomings, then — by all means — have fun!


35mm Film Point-and-Shoot Cameras

I know what you’re thinking…  What the heck is this doing here?  It should have been up before the cell phone section!

Ummmm, no.  You see — 35mm film is the original full-frame sensor, albeit with some limitations when compared to the latest-and-greatest digi-cams, mirrorless cameras, and DSLRs.  And just what are those limitations?  35mm film has been eclipsed by digital in terms of resolution, dynamic range, and ease of use.  So why use film at all?  Isn’t it dead?  Nope, film’s not dead, though it is a challenge getting it processed compared to just a few years ago.  Even buying fresh film is a bit of a hassle compared to a few years ago.  And it’s a fact that the cheapest film is more expensive — over time — than the reusable memory chips that are swapped in and out of digital cameras.

So — with all those drawbacks (and some of them are fairly serious) — what’s the draw and why is it here?

Two words.  Image quality.

Unlike digital, 35mm film is a mature technology and it can be packaged into a camera form-factor that’s just as small as some of the smallest 1″ digital point-and-shoot cameras — only it’s full-frame, instead of being a tiny fraction of that.  So where the tiny digi-cams might struggle with creating beautiful bokeh and suffer from signal noise, film continues to reign supreme.

Don’t believe me?  Here are a number of my recent 35mm film point-and-shoot images (from various cameras, all of which are tiny):

So… What do you think?  Is seeing believing — or are you unconvinced?  Did you click on any of the images to embiggen them for closer scrutiny?

At present — though maybe for not much longer — 35mm film still offers better image quality than all of digital, at least up through the APS-C sensor sizes (though digital completely fails when compared to any large format films, like 4×6 or 8×10).  But 35mm film does offer something digital still can’t touch — an organic look than is impossible for digital to duplicate.  Look at the very top image on this page for an example of what I’m describing, the photo of the chair and desk next to the window.

So if you’re wanting to go big and crave the amazing image quality of full-frame digital — but simply can’t afford it — look to 35mm film.  The required camera gear sells for a fraction of the cost of digital (you can get it on eBay for cheap), yet you can get spectacular results.  How cheap is a 35mm film point-and–shoot camera?  How about less than $10.00?  Seriously, eBay has crazy prices for basic point-and-shoot 35mm cameras, to see them just click here.  A little gun-shy?  I don’t blame you, but there’s a way to deal with that as well; go for the gear that has already gone through a CLA (Cleaning, Lube & Adjustment) recently, which you can also find on eBay for a bit more cost here.


35mm Rangefinders

Sold on 35mm film, but repelled by the lowly point-and-shoot?  And still want something like a small mirrorless digital body?  How about the original mirrorless camera — the 35mm rangefinder!  They take interchangeable lenses — from 12mm to 135mm — and are significantly smaller than an SLR or a DSLR.  And the image quality — just like the little film point-and-shoots — is to die for.

Check it out — here are some of my recent 35mm film shots from various 35mm rangefinder bodies:

If you want to get into 35mm rangefinder gear — again — eBay has crazy prices, starting as low as $10.00 or less, which you can see here.  Still a little gun-shy about buying used film gear?  I don’t blame you, but — just like above — there’s a way to deal with that as well; go for the gear that has already gone through a CLA (Cleaning, Lube & Adjustment) recently, which you can also find on eBay for a bit more cost here.


I hope this has given you some ideas about moving forward with your photography, and perhaps a lighter and smaller way of doing so.  Keep your eyes open for more posts in the future for detailed info about rangefinders, film processing, the venerable Leica M3, and more.

69 thoughts on “Recommended Photo Gear — In Praise of Small Cameras

  1. narami

    Rangefinders!!!!! Like a Canonet 28? That’s my favorite camera. I’ve taken images with that baby that don’t come close to my best with the Rebel.
    Not that I’m professional, I just love photos and have collected a few lomos and point and shoot’s.


    1. narami

      I haven’t shot a ton with it (because I’m paranoid about it getting wrecked, even though I sealed it when I bought it and it’s maintenance is minimal) but the first roll I developed I was amazed that I manage to pull of the layers and the … You call it raw quality. I had never seen that in my photos before. Which makes me think that everyone goes digital because post processing is so accessible and they think it will be easier to capture quality that way, but truly the easiest way for an amateur to capture quality images is still film.
      Just my thoughts. This post is awesome. I’m gonna Pin it & tweet it today.
      Oh, & I haven’t checked but I read that prices on the Canonet went up because it was featured as the camera of the principal character of a movie in 2012, that made it “popular” again. Pop culture…


  2. desleyjane

    Great post Mitch and stunning photos. I went from Canon point and shoot to Olympus OMD EM5 mirror less and am in love with this camera. Incredibly light, but a powerhouse, absolutely happy with the image quality. Can I make a full wall-size print? No, but it’s ok, I can paint my walls 😉 And the advice about working out what you can carry is excellent. I always pop my camera with one or two prime lenses in my massive handbag when I travel for work. Now if I include my laptop, my back is out for a few days afterwards. We’re talking about 8kg at this point (it’s a heavy laptop). Consequently, laptop goes in the suitcase 😉


    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      You’re very welcome.

      The new mirrorless cameras are wonderful little powerhouses to shoot with, capable of delivering amazing results for such small packages.

      I don’t carry a laptop anymore due to the weight issue. If I have to travel with one, I bring a roller with me and put it in that. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      You’re very welcome.

      For night photography, it’s hard to beat the newer mirrorless bodies from Sony. They have incredible dynamic range and shadow recovery, especially the a7S (the brand new a7SII was just announced a few hours ago). If their full-frame offerings are too dear, then take a look at the a6000, or even the older NEX-5N.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author


      Yep, film isn’t for everyone; it takes a level of dedication that has been abandoned by the vast majority of the public, in favor of digital and the rise of the cell phone cameras.

      Mirrorless is an excellent trend; I don’t know why Nikon and Canon have let Sony and Fuji take the lead, but they better do something soon — or they won’t be the leaders much longer.


  3. Jim Grey

    What a useful post!

    I haven’t tired of slinging a heavy film SLR over my shoulder for a day of shooting … yet. But I can feel that day coming. I’m 48 and not getting any younger.

    My go-to everyday camera is the tiny Canon PowerShot S95. It was arguably the best digital P&S five years ago, and I know it like the back of my hand, so I keep getting enormously satisfying images from it every time I use it


  4. ken and agnes photoworks

    very informative article, mitch, thanks.
    switching from a DSLR to a mirroless set-up did wonders in raising the comfort bar and enjoyment for me when out photowalking for hours. as you rightly put and prove it, bigger and heavier gear does not necessarily equate to better pictures, the contrary may be true at times.
    if you don’t mind me asking … how did you fall of a 20f ladder?
    regards, ken


    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Thanks for the confirmation, Ken.

      My fall? I got careless when painting the interior roof of our garage, right up at the apex. I had moved the ladder to a new position and didn’t make certain that the footing at the base matched the top. The top of the ladder had foam protectors on it to keep them from messing up the paint, and the foam began to roll under my weight as I got closer to the top of the ladder. Once I reached the top rung, the foam protectors finished rolling out from under the apex beam at the top of the roof and I was in free fall.

      I now know that my top pain threshold on a 1-to-10 scale is black out, because that’s what I did.

      At any rate, I don’t climb ladders anymore without Cindy there to hold the base now. And yes, I’ve very lucky to be alive after falling that distance onto the concrete pad within the garage.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. ken and agnes photoworks

      thanks for sharing, mitch.
      i am a bit of a diy man myself, which reminds me to exercise care and not to chance it in certain situations, or leave it to the pros, but the feeling of accomplishment in fixing something in the home yourself is really great, not to mention the brownie points from the missus ;).
      have you tried them acupunture and qigong stuff? it helped to save my back from a bad MTB biking fall.
      regards, ken


    3. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      I’ve tried a chiropractor (completely changed my mind about them entirely — in a good way), but not acupuncture or qigong. So far — when my back acts up — I treat it with heat and special exercises (ice just makes it spasm and get far worse). It can get better in a few hours or as long as a week, it just depends. I’ve avoided surgery like the plague because I’ve been told that even today the success level remains only around 50 percent.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. ken and agnes photoworks

      there have been many cases where acupuncture or qigong actually helped to relief to alleviate the pain from such injuries. i did not consider surgery back then, and in retrospect i made the right choice. i healed my back with constant qigong practice at the introduction by a friend. the ‘lifting the sky’ and ‘drawing the moon’ routines work wonders for me. check it out.
      regards, ken


  5. photobyjohnbo

    As a hiker, I am well aware of the weight penalty of my D7000 and 16-300 mm zoom. A camera strap that allows me to carry the camera on my waist instead of around my neck is helpful at keeping the neck strain at bay. I would really like a smaller, lighter alternative but I find it hard to give up the 300 mm end of the zoom. It puts me up close to those elk on a ridge or that eagle near the top of a giant pine. Your article gives me a glimmer of hope for a smaller camera and large lens by using an adapter that would allow me to use that longer telephoto. That lens isn’t exactly light either. Are there options in small and light for a wide range zoom? Thanks for a great article. Who knows… maybe Santa will be good to me this year. 🙂


    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      I hear ya! I, too, have discovered the joys of getting camera away from my neck, only my solution is to use finger loops instead (http://www.leicagoodies.com/sling.more.html). This way I have the camera constantly in my hand at the ready, and if I’m using film — then everything is preset (even the focus and aperture), so all I have to do is frame and snap the shutter. Super fast and no lost shots that way.

      As far as an alternative to the 300mm lens that you own, have you taken a gander at the recent Sony HX90V (http://www.dpreview.com/products/sony/compacts/sony_dschx90v)? It zooms from 24mm to 720mm and fits in the palm of your hand. Super tiny! The only drawback is that it doesn’t support RAW, just JPG files only. I have a huge 560mm f/6.8 lens that has since been replaced by the HX90V, so now on those few occasions when I need longer reach I don’t have to worry about adding that beast of a lens, plus a heavyweight tripod to keep it steady.

      If the Sony HX90V isn’t to your liking,
      then there’s the recent Nikon Coolpix P900 with a freakish zoom of 24mm-2000mm. Some of the YouTube videos from this one are able to show the movement of the moon through the sky. However the big drawback is the size — it’s not small.

      Hope those ideas help you!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Recommended reading | Down the Road

  7. baranduin

    In post- I haven’t been impressed with the low light capabilities of the mirrorless cameras yet. I still travel with my DSLR. Even to Disneyland. Crazy, I know, especially as the lenses seem to be getting bigger and bigger.


    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Then you need to see what the Sony a7SII is capable of shooting in conditions so dark that human eye can’t even see what their sensor is recording. Here’s an example video for their new mirrorless camera that was just announced yesterday: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=1&v=CVLBHMbRMW4

      If I were to purchase a interchangeable-lens full-frame body of any make today, it would be the Sony mirrorless a7RII or a7SII.

      However, I’m still holding out for a full-frame digital body that’s in the same size and form-factor of the old Sony NEX-5N, because I like small cameras and feel the a7 series is still too large for my taste.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. LDG luciledegodoy

    You’re right Mitch, I love this post.
    It encompasses all that I needed to hear. It’s very comprehensive and extremely helpful; you didn’t miss anything.

    Before digital, I used a Nikon FM, which I still keep for sentimental reasons, because it was my first and the one I started to learn photography. After I got my first job, I kind of stopped shooting as often but I also stopped carrying a heavy bag with lenses, filters, tripod, camera, film, etc. after a car accident and a broken vertebra in my neck. Heavy weight wasn’t an option anymore, so I adopted point and shot.
    I’m sorry to hear about your fall as well.

    I now have a small Canon power shot s120 and use now my old IPhone 5 because I accidentally dropped the iPhone6 in the canal in front of my house.
    Last year we bought the Olympus E-M10 and the Olympus E-M1 plus some lenses. My husband uses the latter because it’s bulkier and heavier than the E-M10.
    We are super happy with our choice. I was in between Olympus and Sony but have not yet regretted.
    I was wondering why you didn’t mention Olympus at all. I’d be interested in hearing your opinion.
    I became even more interested to check the 35 mm point and shoot.
    Thanks for all the information and links, Mitch. This was an absolutely great post.


    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Ouch — a broken vertebra in your neck! How long did that take to heal? Are you limited in other things that you can’t do?

      While I’m sad to learn of your accident, I’m glad to hear that you survived. It’s also gratifying to know that someone else can really relate to the need for small cameras.

      I didn’t mention the Olympus digital cameras simply because I’ve never even seen them in person. However, I know they make EXCELLENT small film cameras (I’ve own a few), consumer sports optics, and superb scientific instruments (my wife has purchased their scientific products and worked with a number of them over the years).

      I currently own the utterly superb 35mm Olympus Stylus Epic film camera (also known as the μ[mju:]-II in the foreign film markets), which I use when my back is too sensitive to carry anything at all. The only down side that I can say about it, is that I haven’t yet figured out a way to make its DX-code reader correctly read my hand-rolled black and white film canisters (ISO 250).

      Thank you for commenting.


    2. LDG luciledegodoy

      It wasn’t long. I used a neck collar for three months. I have no limitation except for a chronic headache. Thanks and you’re right, having survived without major consequences is a blessing.
      You should check Olympus mirror less cameras. They’re good.
      Otherwise your wife wouldn’t work with Olympus products, right?


    3. LDG luciledegodoy

      Yes, chronic, but I ignore it by leading a normal life and doing the sports I like, even if that may sometimes trigger a headache.
      After having tried all therapies possible, I learned to live well with the help of acupuncture, yoga and shiatsu massage.


  9. lauramacky

    Great post!! I couldn’t agree more about small. I love my D750 and I don’t mind taking it around the Bay Area for photos but I’ve already been talking about a small, mirrorless camera for overseas travel. I really don’t see the need to lug a bunch of gear around.


    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Thanks, Laura!

      If you want a mirrorless full-frame replacement, the Sony a7 series is really hard to beat, especially the new models that they just announced in the past few weeks.

      However, if the a7 series is a bit too pricey (and they are rather spendy for many still) — and you can tolerate the smaller APS-C format — the a6000 is an amazing performer and is beginning to reach fire-sale pricing.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. lauramacky

      You’re welcome! That A7 is what I have my eye on but probably not till next year when the price comes down a bit lol. I really want the full frame (of course lol). I think for travel it would be really neat to have a small FF camera. Once I transitioned to the FF with my Nikon D750, it’s just kind of hard for me to go back. I feel like I’m missing something. Does this ever end by the way? The accumulation of equipment? Sheesh! haha


    3. lauramacky

      hehehe My poor husband wonders when this will end, but then I always remind him it could be worse….I could be a woman who likes to shop for clothes as well! haha


  10. Marcus

    Although I’m not interested in getting any more cameras (want to buy some of mine?) it is always interesting to read camera gear articles that don’t focus on megapixels, MTF charts, and other things that are not especially important to making photographs.
    I have a Fuji X-Pro 1 with three primes lenses for digital photography and the kit weighs almost nothing. But I prefer film. I have a Zeiss Ikon with 50mm that fits nicely in my bag and travels with me nearly everywhere. The meter is excellent and it might be the camera I would save if I could only keep one. I also have the Contax N1 with the 24-85 zoom that is quite heavy and I only bring it out when I’m on a photo walk. It’s not too bad to carry around in my bag if it’s not all day. My favourite camera is the Contax 645 and I have three primes for that. This is not something I can stick in a smallish shoulder bag so it requires a backpack (When I have too much gear in a shoulder bag my arm and hand start to go numb. I don’t know if that’s normal or not) I found the best way to get around with the thing is to put the camera around my neck with my hands supporting the weight a little bit. The extra lenses, film, remote, etc, go in my photo vest and that supports the weight nicely, at the expense of looking a little odd. The hardest thing about shooting medium format is the tripod. It’s big, heavy, and clumsy. I’m saving up for a carbon fibre tripod but it’s still going to be difficult to carry around. But it’s worth it for those lovely medium format slides. I think . . . .


    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Haha — thank you, Marcus, but no… I have enough cameras already!

      Technical articles on photo gear have their place (after all — I read them too!), but I think more needs to be said about buying only what you truly need, quit obsessing about the rest, and get out from behind the computer screen to take photographs. As other photo sites have stated in recent years, most cameras today can’t capture a bad image; however, it’s up to the wetware behind the camera to determine when to actually snap that decisive moment.

      The Zeiss Ikon is a nice camera which I have owned and used extensively (you can see all of my Zeiss Ikon shots here: https://exploratorius.us/?s=zeiss+ikon); it’s a pity that Zeiss/Cosina stopped producing them, as I think their popularity has only grown with time.

      A Contax 645? Wow! I know it’s a beast, but I bet the image quality from that is stunning. And yes, the numbness that you describe is normal for when you’re carrying too much weight and are beginning to put pressure on the nerve coming out of your neck. 🙂

      When I get to that point I either begin culling stuff out my bag, or I look to other means of transport (hip-supported backpack or a roll-along being my top choices).

      At any rate, thanks for commenting and sharing that with us!


  11. thebluespade

    Thank you Mitch for sharing such considerable knowledge along with personal insight. This is a further all horizon broadener for me. So many directions to go explore. Pick one and go small. A sure print and referral keeper, yes.


  12. mbphoto

    Great article!

    Usually, when people ask me about cameras I also try to first figure out how serioues they want to get.
    I know so many people who bought DSLRs (with Kit lens and nothing else) hoping to get amazing pictures out of them, then ending up never bringing them along because they were too heavy, too bulky or simply didn’t fit into a handbag.

    While a 1″ sensor compact (like the Sony RX100 series) might not deliver the same image quality, it will take much better pictures because you didn’t even bring the DSLR along with you. 😀

    The Panasonic Lumix LX100 is the camera I recommend to people these days if they want a great camera with great automatic but also a range of manual controls for the times you want to get more serious about your exposure.

    For me, I ended up leaving my DSLR at home too after literally ruining my knee on a road trip along the US east coast. I then bought a Fuji X100s and came to love it, always bringing it along in my tiny Hipster leather bag (ONA bowery) and taking thousands of beautiful vacation pictures. Nobody will ever know that it wasn’t a huge DSLR that took these pictures and my knee still loves me for this decision.

    I’m now about to sell the Fuji and already bought an X-Pro1, because I want a little more freedom regarding lens choice. But I still want to keep things light and compact for traveling.

    The Canon 1Ds is only used for professional work, at home and in the studio, or for sports/wildlife when that happens.


  13. mbphoto

    Reblogged this on and commented:

    While I love my 1Ds for its amazing haptics and the handling with large and heavy lenses, I too have given up on bringing it along on vacation and usually rely on the Fuji X-System for its reduced size and weight. Plus, it easily outperforms the Canon in low light.


  14. Pingback: In Front of the Labyrinth | Exploratorius

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