November 20, 2015 8:16 PM MST - Subscription purchasing, account maintenance, forum profile maintenance, new account registration, and forum posting have been disabled
as we prepare our databases for the final migration to our new server next week. Stay tuned here for more details.
Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
Once more into the breach, which camera system?
Display Avatars Sort By:
Tjaard Breeuwer
(Tjaard) - MLife

Locale: Minnesota, USA
Once more into the breach, which camera system? on 03/10/2012 13:09:47 MST Print View

I know this has been and will be asked many times.
I want to keep it a bit more focused than many of the discussions simply pointing out about weight vs quality/options. I know which options and quality I want, at what weight can I get it?

I am looking for a camera system for hiking, vacationing, backpacking, ski touring, climbing etc. Thus light weight/size are required, but not ultralight, I have a different camera for that.

Here come my specific desires that I think go for many other hikers too:

For the smaller types counts:

Don't want to make huger prints, a bit of cropping to 8x10 is plenty.
Don't care about a tiny bit of grain in the very largest enlargements.
Minimal manual controls needed. Flash settings, EV comp, iso setting, aperture p. mode or aperture comp are mostly enough.

BUT, for the bigger types counts:

Want very good results at high iso, as tripods are few and far between and wildlife and mountain/water shots are often at long focus length and for low light shooting.
Need very quick start-up, to conserve battery on a multi-day trip camera is stored off, but I don't want to miss a shot.
Want very short shutter lag for action shots of people and animals.
Want reasonable sharp images.
Usually available with external flash

Then for all I'd want:
Polarizing and ND filters available.
Fast lenses.
Both wide angle(at least 28mm for lot's of landscape) and tele(at least 250mm don't want to miss a great wildlife shot), preferably in as few lenses as possible(conflict with the above)
18mm and 400mm (35 mm equivalent)would be nicer.
Image stabilization
Fast autofocus
Funtional manual focus would be nice
Great ergonomics including with thin gloves
Reasonable ergonomics with one hand
Dust and moisture resistant
Good battery life
decent video options(zooming etc) but no high resolution needed.
External flash option would be nice

Edited by Tjaard on 03/10/2012 13:25:22 MST.

(KalebC) - F

Locale: South West
Canon G1X on 03/10/2012 13:59:49 MST Print View

Looks like you need a Canon G1X

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Once more into the breach, which camera system? on 03/10/2012 14:08:20 MST Print View

Hi Tjaard,

Your timing might be impeccable, as the new Olympus E-M5 seems to meet your criteria and the µ4/3 system covers the focal length range you desire. There are even fast primes now, although no mirrorless system has fast zooms yet. Some of the primes mimic true manual focusing while some compact zooms delete the focus ring entirely. Some lenses have variable speed power zoom for more advanced video use. There are at least a couple dozen system lenses to choose from (I've lost track).

You should be able to actually touch one within a month, by which time complete reviews will be published. Production model jpeg samples are amazingly clean, even at the available loopy high ISOs. I'm equally interested in the new "5-axis" IBIS system.

Happy shopping,


Alasdair Fowler
(MessiahKhan) - F

Locale: Newcastle, UK
Once more into the breach, which camera system? on 03/10/2012 14:16:22 MST Print View

Well, my requirements for a camera system were quite similar to yours. I already have a full Nikon Pro DSLR system with a hole host of lenses, but unfortunately it is too heavy to take out on the hills, or for a thru hike like I am doing this year. So I needed an alternative system that gave me good enough image quality that I wouldn't be disappointed that I didn't have the DSLR, but still light enough that it wouldn't be a burden.

After a load of research I ended up with an Olympus E-P3 with 12mm f2 and 100-300mm f5.6 lenses. The image quality is great, the camera is pretty easy to use and is nice and light. One option that is out now which I would seriously consider instead of the E-P3 is the new Olympus OM-D E-M5 as it adds a built in viewfinder an weatherproofing. The lenses I chose also give me a great landscape setup (infact the 12mm f2 is better than some of my Nikon lenses) and the 100-300mm gives me a wildlife option. I am pleased with the whole system, and have added an ultralight tripod, filters and remote shutter to make it a very versatile but usable system.

Tjaard Breeuwer
(Tjaard) - MLife

Locale: Minnesota, USA
Thanks! on 03/10/2012 19:11:40 MST Print View

The background for this quest is that I got a entry level level DSLR and superzoom two years ago. On vacation and most of the time, I don't use it as an SLR at all. I don't change lenses and when I do D-o-F check they are on the screen, not in the viewfinder, so a big compact would seem fine.

BUT those often seem so poor in low light performance, which is super common, both backpacking and insides(have cute kids). Also start-up and shutterlag bother the heck out of me. And I love being able to use polarising and ND filters. Hence my quest for a smaller camera with SLR like specs.

Thanks for the tips. The Canon sounds great, but I often want more than 120mm tele (bird shots anyone?), and there doesn't seem to be tele converter.

The Olympus EM D was actually the reason I thought of this when I read about it and thought it sounded pretty much like my dream cam. The Pen seems like a nice cam but I really do miss a viewfinder if I don't have one, I like going out in sunny weather! Also I have shaky hands, so do best with a good solid arms tucked in posture.

Edited by Tjaard on 03/11/2012 19:37:02 MDT.

Adam Johnson
(mr.ajandkj) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Sony Nex on 03/10/2012 22:21:58 MST Print View

Sony NEX 5N meets all your specs, love mine. Big bonus in being able to use virtually any legacy lenses with an inexpensive adapter.

Edited by mr.ajandkj on 03/10/2012 23:00:16 MST.

Mark Dijkstra
(Markacd) - F
camera on 03/11/2012 07:22:50 MDT Print View

As far as I know there are no compact cameras out there that are actually good in low light. Some are less bad, but none are good. Same story for shutter lag.

There are many so called mirrorles cameras out there. Panasonic and Olympus have the m4/3 systems. I have tried some of those systems and in general I prefer the Olympus cameras over the Panasonics. The Nikon 1 series are relatively new competitors that have a smaller sensor and probably slightly worse quality in low light. The Nikon is incredibly fast though. Sony makes the NEX cameras. I think Canon is going to make (it may even be out already) a camera with a large sensor, similar to the mirrorles cameras, but without an interchangable lens. I think it's based on Canon's G-series (high end compacts), so that could be the first truly good compact.

I believe one of the Nikon models, the NEX-7 and some of the early Panasonics are the only ones with a built in viewfinder. Most of the ones that don't have a built in viewfinder have an optional external viewfinder. From what I hear some of these are quite good, but some of them are not all that usefull.

There are adapters for all of these cameras (I'm not sure about the Nikons) so that they can use just about any lens ever made. However, focussing will have to be done manually with these adapters. The Sony NEX has some interesting software built in that makes focussing manually a lot easier and more acurate. Only the Olympus cameras have stabilisation built into the body. The others rely on stabilised lenses. In other words, when you use an adapter, most cameras have no stabilisation. Most of the time that's not a problem though. I can keep my camera stable enough by hand for a 135mm lens (I can probably handle more tele, but I haven't tried yet) and otherwise you can always find a rock, branch or something else to lean on for extra stability.

I have the NEX-5 myself and I love it. I bought it because it is far superior to the m4/3 systems in low light and has the best overal quality imho. The 18-55 kit lens is capable of pretty fast autofocus (faster than the Olympus kit lens). What I also like about the Sony is that it has a cool panorama mode. I also prefer the grip to its competitors.

I would actually prefer a NEX-7 because it has a built in viewfinder, but that one is far too expensive for me. The NEX-7 also has built in flash as well as a flash hotshoe that enables you to use a real flash. The NEX-5 does have an external flash, but it's no better than most built in flashes and because it only has a weird "accessory port" instead of a standard flash connection, it can not use a decent external flash. Maybe you can use a remote flash, but I'm not sure about that.

As far as weight is concerned, My NEX-5 with 18-55 lens, lens cap, supplied flash, neck strap and 2 extra batteries weighs 622 grams. The batteries weigh about 50 grams each, so for day trips you can save another 100 grams. The lens hood (which I don't take with me) weighs 12 grams and my home made camera bag weighs 44 grams. Commercially available bags generally weigh 3-5 times more than mine, so keep that in mind. I think you can roughly say a camera like this weighs about 2-3 times as much as a compact camera with similar accessories and about 1/2-1/3 of an SLR.

Tjaard Breeuwer
(Tjaard) - MLife

Locale: Minnesota, USA
Nex 5N on 03/11/2012 08:46:22 MDT Print View

Thanks for the info and weights Mark. The new Nex5N does come with the flash, and it can take the optional OLED viewfinder, pricy at $350, but still less than the NEX 7 and it gives you the option of leaving it home for weight savings.
That does look like a very nice option. Unfortunately it plugs in the same as the flash so it's either or, a bummer if you want to use fill flash in bright sun.

I also don't like the touchscreen, to clumsy for those and I wear gloves a lot.

Sony Nex 5N listed weight:
270g loaded body, 460g Tamron 18-200 lens, viewfinder 26g, flash <63 g,
total 819g (29.3oz)

Edited by Tjaard on 03/11/2012 09:04:10 MDT.

Mark Dijkstra
(Markacd) - F
slow focus on 03/11/2012 11:52:29 MDT Print View

The 18-200mm lens is pretty slow with autofocus. Don't get that lens if fast autofocus is important to you.

I don't know if Sony has made a new viewfinder by now, but the viewfinder they had a while back was an optical viewfinder that could only be used with the 16mm lens.

If the touchscreen is not important to you, you could also look for the predecessor of the NEX-5N, which is the NEX-5. They're basicly the same, but the later model has a few extra megapixels (testers can barely see the difference) and a touchscreen. I think it's also slightly faster in continuous shooting. The NEX-3 is the same camera as the NEX-5 except for a slightly different grip and slightly lower resolution filming. The NEX-C3 is basicly a slightly smaller version of the 5N with slower continuous shooting, lower resolution filming and I'm not sure if it has a touch screen. In other words, there are 4 different cameras that are all nearly the same, but which have very different prices.

Edited by Markacd on 03/11/2012 11:57:08 MDT.

Tjaard Breeuwer
(Tjaard) - MLife

Locale: Minnesota, USA
Viewfinder on 03/11/2012 13:55:27 MDT Print View

No, the viewfinder that is available for the NEX-5N is an electronic one, supposedly similar to the built in one on the Nex-7. Hence the $350 price tag, but it is reviewed very well. It does not work with the other cameras, like the old NEX 5 or either the old or new NEX-3. :-(.

Bummer to hear about the AF speed on that Tamron lens. I know nothing about it, just listed it as it is about 10%lighter than the Sony equivalent.

Mark Dijkstra
(Markacd) - F
lens on 03/11/2012 16:42:09 MDT Print View

Oh wait, you weren't talking about Sony's own 18-200mm lens? In that case I said nothing. I've tried Sony's sel18200 lens and that one is horribly slow. I don't know about other lenses. I do believe those large zoomlenses are often slow. I would try it out before you buy one.

Darren M.

Locale: West
Sony Love on 03/11/2012 18:11:06 MDT Print View

Well, you list of wants and needs are broad and deep. As I'm sure you know, you will have to make acceptable compromises with some of your desires.

Just a quick background. I've shot with Digital SLR's for 11 years now. Had Canon, then Nikon and just last year picked up the Sony NEX5N. I really have enjoyed the Sony. I wanted to get a smaller camera that would travel easier for outdoor activities and yet still give me the highest final image quality that I can get with a smaller system. I can tell you that the sensor in the NEX cameras is amazing. Sure, it's not like my full frame Nikon's in low light, but it's close enough. I felt like you in that I intended on getting the EVF for the Sony but, I truly have gotten over this. I never thought I'd get used to not having a viewfinder. You do get used to it and for a small, light,'s just not needed. I don't use the touch screen capability of the Sony, so it's never been a issue for me.

If you are looking to print at 8x10 max, you really have plenty of resolution with any of these options. The ability to downsample a 16 megapixel image to 8x10 @ 200-300 dpi with give you amazing low light images. The lens options are getting better and more Sony lenses are coming. Of course you have the ability to use so many others with the adapter as others have stated. If you want the option to use super fast lenses (over-rated in my opinion- i've had Leica too), which are manual, the manual focus peaking feature on the Sony is amazing! I'd recommend renting one with someone like Try it and see if you like it. I never thought that I'd like this system as much as I do. I look forward to more and more lens options but for now, the NEX5N and the 18-55mm lens gives me great versatility and more importantly, top-notch image quality.

Tjaard Breeuwer
(Tjaard) - MLife

Locale: Minnesota, USA
Just the body and lens weight on 03/12/2012 13:25:45 MDT Print View

So the suggestions seem to be the NEX system or the micro 4/3 system.

The fixed lens cams I looked all missed the longer focal length requirement. (Or not?)

So just to get a rough idea of size and weight here are the empty body weights and lens weight for lens(systems)giving 28-250mm (35mm equiv) focal lenths.
The Sony Bodies are thinner than the Olympus ones I think, but their lenses longer.

pana 14-140mm OIS, 460g
pana 14-42mm OIS,95g, 27mm long!
GF2C 262g
Minimum weight: 722g

Olymp 12-50mm 211g, 83mm long, dust and spray resistant
Olymp 14-42mm II R, 113g, 50mm long
Olymp 14-150mm, 280g, 83mm long
Olymp 40-150mm, 190g, 83mm long
OM-D OIS 365g
Minimum weight: 645g

Sony 18-200mm OIS, 524g, 102 mm long!
Tamron 18-200 OIS, 460g
Sony 18-55mm OIS, 194g, 60mm long
Sony 55-210mm OIS, 345g, 108mm long!
Sony 16mm,70g, 23mm long
NEX7 291g
Minimum weight: 751g

For comparison lightweight APSC SLR:
Sony 18-250mm 440g , this is a larger zoom range(15x vs 10x), a 18-200 is 40g less
Sony a500 DSLR 596g
Total 1036g
This is about 300-400g more.
It would seem that the biggest gains for the mirrorless systems are NEX with a pancake lens, where the flat package might fit in a pocket, and m4/3 for longer telephoto lenses where the smaller glass can be a fair bit lighter.

Edited by Tjaard on 03/14/2012 20:36:44 MDT.

Tjaard Breeuwer
(Tjaard) - MLife

Locale: Minnesota, USA
Samsung too on 03/14/2012 10:20:22 MDT Print View

As I was looking I found out Samsung has a system too.

18-200mm OIS, 576g, 105mm
NX10 353g

Total weight: 929g

So a bit on the porky side, only an ounce or two less than the DSLR system with a 10x zoom lens. But still a more compact option than those and at a great price. Also it has a more pronounced grip than some of the other models.

Edited by Tjaard on 03/14/2012 10:21:19 MDT.

Mark Dijkstra
(Markacd) - F
Nikon on 03/14/2012 11:56:50 MDT Print View

Nikon has the new 1 series. They have a slightly smaller sensor than m4/3, so their lenses are potentially smaller as well. I have no idea what lenses are currently available for that camera though.

Unless you have very large pockets I don't think any of these cameras will fit in one. Even with a pancake lens they are still considerably larger than most compacts.

In the end the weight difference between these cameras is not that big. The size difference is not that huge either. I would try to test a few of them. Hold them in your hands and find out which feels better. In the end that's going to make a bigger difference than the quality of the pictures. All of them can make nice pictures, but one of them is going to put a big smile on your face every time you use it. That's the one you want.

Also, check out cameralabs ( They have very good reviews of most of the cameras you're looking at.

Edit: Something you may also want to consider is that, unless you are planning on making large posters, you can actually do quite a bit of digital zooming before you can see a difference in quality. I have done that several times for bird photography in my back yard. 6 megapixels is plenty for most prints. Most cameras nowadays have more than double.

Edited by Markacd on 03/14/2012 12:10:30 MDT.

Rakesh Malik

Locale: Cascadia
Re: slow focus on 03/14/2012 14:42:29 MDT Print View

"If the touchscreen is not important to you, you could also look for the predecessor of the NEX-5N, which is the NEX-5. "

I have a Nex-5, and my only criticism of it really is its crappy UI. Even after using it for a year, I dislike it. The 5n has a significantly improved UI, which almost swayed me into getting one, until I discovered that the Nex-7 has a FAR improved UI, which I'm going to be using as my backpacking camera as a result... when I get one. Currently, I'm using an Alpha, which I would prefer to use only on short trips because of its size and weight, but it convinced me to sell of my Nikon gear and switch entirely over to Sony for my digital stills as well as for my digital video work.

Rakesh Malik

Locale: Cascadia
Re: Nikon on 03/14/2012 14:46:08 MDT Print View

"6 megapixels is plenty for most prints. Most cameras nowadays have more than double."

That depends a lot on both how large your prints are, and how good you want them to look.

I can say from experience that a 10x15 inch print from a Nex-5 looks excellent, and I still shoot with a 4x5 monorail for when I am seeking something that can print BIG.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Just the body and lens weight on 03/14/2012 18:43:23 MDT Print View

I grew up shooting a Leica CL + 40mm and a 90mm lens. Often the 90mm stayed at home, so I grew used to a limited choice of lens. I get get wider angle by merging multiple images, and telephoto by walking closer :-).

2009-2011 I most carried:

Panasonic GF1 12oz/340grams
20/1.7 lens 4oz/113grams

for a total of 1lb, or 453grams

Sometimes I would add the
9-18/4-5.6 lens 6oz/170grams or the
45/2.8 macro 8.4oz/240grams… but mostly not.

Since this spring I have been mostly carrying just a Fuji X100 which is 420g / 14.75oz.


Edited by verber on 03/14/2012 21:04:26 MDT.

Tjaard Breeuwer
(Tjaard) - MLife

Locale: Minnesota, USA
Good points on 03/14/2012 19:59:55 MDT Print View

Which is why I ask this on BPL, not on a photo website.
My priorities for this use are different then when I go out 'to take photographs' around town.
In the latter case, I don't much care what style of gear I have, you can do good work with any focal length, black and white or color, etc, just 'work within the medium'.

But for backpacking I am looking at a 'documentary' goal, not a 'fine art' goal.
So for me that means being able to record what I encounter, which can be in low light, or far away, or wide view or fast moving etc.

I do agree that there is quite some latitude in enlarging crops from high resolution sensors these days and so a super long focal length might be the first to go to save weight.

It is hard to improvise macro but luckily a great many lenses now have some sort of macro option.

I do not quite agree with Mark Verber that you can just walk closer, this is hardly an option with wildlife, one the the 'must have' shots of a backpacking trip. His point about using panorama stitching is quite good, I haven't done that much.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Good points on 03/14/2012 20:28:02 MDT Print View

"I do not quite agree with Mark Verber that you can just walk closer, this is hardly an option with wildlife, one the the 'must have' shots of a backpacking trip."

I go to some remote spots for backpacking, and wildlife photography is a priority. I generally carry a Canon DSLR with 100-400mm lens for that specific purpose, and that lens stays mounted nearly all of the time since wildlife is not going to wait around for me to change lenses. I also carry a short lens, and I can pop it on, shoot a wildflower, and then pop the 100-400 back on. For wildlife at night, I generally need a DSLR with the ability to move way up in ISO and still get clean results since I seldom carry my real flash units for backpacking.

The good news is that most of these cameras will do video, and some of them have a built-in microphone for the audio. Once in a while I will carry an external shotgun microphone with dead cat. Once in a blue moon I will carry an external audio recorder since I can set it down by the animal burrow, turn it on, and walk away.