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Large sensor compact vs rangefinder style mirrorless SOTM for pocketable cameras
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Maxwell Walrath
Large sensor compact vs rangefinder style mirrorless SOTM for pocketable cameras on 02/27/2014 15:57:35 MST Print View

Hi everyone,

I'm looking to purchase a camera and have been wondering about the performance of compacts vs mirrorless styles of cameras. As far as a budget goes, somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 is doable. Less would be better, obviously.

Being that a lot of my photography will be outdoors and hiking, most rangefinders with their kit lenses are eliminated from contention right off the bat because they aren't pocketable. One exception seems to be the Sony alpha-NEX line. When they aren't powered on, the depth of the camera looks to be about 2.5" around the lens only...not the most comfortable to carry around but definitely doable. Other brands come with huge kit lenses that could be replaced if the budget allows for it.

The Sony RX100 and RX100II, and the Ricoh GR seem to be top choices for compacts, with the zoom capabilities of the Sony being the only thing in my mind keeping it in contention with the larger sensor Ricoh. Looking at mirrorless, the entire Sony NEX line stands out because of pocketability, but if I am able to find a good deal on a small zoom lens or a couple of small primes then the options for rangefinder cameras could be nearly limitless.

My concerns are many. First and foremost, will the mirrorless cameras take inherently higher IQ shots (as I have seemed to gather from quite a few message boards), or is this notion from times past before larger sensor compacts hit the market? If so, how much quality is sacrificed going with a zoom lens vs primes? I do not see myself carrying a large collection of lenses, and I am concerned about damaging the gear if I am messing around with swapping lenses while hiking (and the cost in dollars and weight of keeping everything safe and clean). I don't plan on printing large images at the time (though I could see getting into that in the future), so should I should set my budget considerably lower?

As for my preferences for photography, I tend to prefer wide angle shots but I am often in places where zoom could come in handy. Trips to Glacier, the Grand Canyon, Costa Rica and Shenandoah are planned for the next year. I like taking shots near sunset like everyone else, so low-light capture might be important, and I don't have a tri-pod yet but will be getting one for hiking trips.

Thanks in advance,

Edited by max1856 on 02/27/2014 16:00:55 MST.

Brendan S
(brendans) - MLife

Locale: Fruita CO
Re: Large sensor compact vs rangefinder style mirrorless SOTM for pocketable cameras on 02/27/2014 16:38:44 MST Print View

Hey Max,
Looks like you've pretty much done your research. The RX100 seems to be a killer little camera if you need the flexibility of different focal lengths. I've heard it's not as good at the longer end of the zoom. The Ricoh GR will probably give you the best image quality of what you've listed by quite a bit. Looks like an excellent camera if you like 28mm. Like you said the Nexs might be an option if you're willing to swap lenses but the interchangeable cameras + lens are usually larger than fixed lens cameras because part of the lens is in the body. IMO the Nex line doesn't quite have the magic of some of the other cameras out there unless you want to spend a lot more on great lenses. Others might disagree.

For reference I've used a Fuji X100, Ricoh GXR w/ the leica m mount, Canon S90, Sony A7r, and Sigma DP2 merrill. I briefly upgraded to the A7r recently from the sigma but decided not to keep the sony because the DP2m is so damn good for the price and size and I like the pics more. If they fit your needs, the Sigmas are unbeatable for image quality for size/price/weight but they definitely aren't for everyone. Shameless plug but I'm selling the Fuji and Ricoh. PM me if you're interested.

IMO something like the RX100 has quite a bit better IQ than even the more "serious" smaller sensored cameras like the canon s90/95/100, lumix lx7, etc. Sensor size isn't everything but is meaningful. APS-C seems to be the sweet spot of price/IQ/camera size. M43 has its followers but the cameras are usually similar price and size to the NEX/Ricoh/Fuji APS-C cameras.

Edit: I'd also recommend at least checking out used stuff. I've always bought used cameras and lenses and especially if you can find something with some cosmetic flaws you can get some deals. I'd recommend checking out rangefinderforum, getdpi, and fredmiranda used gear forums. The amazon warehouse deals are good too and have a 30 day guarantee, although I've found their condition descriptions all over the place.

Edited by brendans on 02/27/2014 16:44:58 MST.

bayden cline
(pyro_) - F

Locale: Ontario Canada
How about the nikon 1 series on 02/27/2014 19:08:00 MST Print View

He other line you might want to consider is the nikon 1 cameras. I have been really happy with my nikon V1 and have been deviating on if I want to pick up the waterproof aw1 that they have available.

What I like about the V1 is at it is fairly small but still have a nice viewfinder on it. There are also some very nice lenses available for it

The other nice thing about he nikon 1 cameras is that due to the 1" sensor the lenses are much smaller than most other cameras.

Normally I carry mine in a dashpoint 30 case or else mounted on a capture clip that is attached to my backpack at chest level

ed hyatt
(edhyatt) - MLife

Locale: The North
Large sensor compact vs rangefinder style mirrorless SOTM for pocketable cameras on 02/28/2014 00:50:27 MST Print View

I've been having the same debate with myself for a while; a lot of the micro-four-thirds look appealing but have (almost) decided on the Ricoh GR.

I already have a Ricoh and the handling, position of controls and so forth is really well thought-out; the ability to customise button function is useful.

That said one of the deciding factors for me is not having to take a lens cap off and on - which you don't with the GR. I keep my camera (a GX200) in an Ortlieb Snap so it is right where I want it for pretty much one-handed operation; I'll be able to0 do the same with the GR.

Adam Rothermich
(aroth87) - F

Locale: Missouri Ozarks
Re: Large sensor compact vs rangefinder style mirrorless SOTM for pocketable cameras on 02/28/2014 04:50:56 MST Print View

I'll second the recommendation to buy used as well. Check out Adorama and B&H also sell used gear. I just recently picked up a Micro Four Thirds kit consisting of a Panasonic G5, Panasonic 14mm, and Sigma 30mm for under $500 all off the forums. They have a very active B/S/T board and if you decide to go the m4/3 route its a good place to look. I posted WTB ads for each item and had multiple reasonable offers within 24 hours.

As far as which camera to choose I'll offer my experience. I had a Nikon D300 that I used for the occasional paid job. Didn't like lugging it on hikes so I got an Olympus XZ-1 P&S. The controls were ok but I didn't like the IQ much. It was fine for posting to Flickr/Facebook but the prints were nothing special. Went back to carrying the D300 for a while then decided ~6 lbs of camera was ridiculous again. Got the m4/3 gear and it weighs half as much and it all fits into a 2L waistpack. I like the files much better than the P&S although I haven't had a chance to get prints made yet. I used a Panasonic G3 previously and got some great prints out of it so I'm confident the G5 will be good too.

I wish I had tried the Sony RX100. If you don't want the hassle of interchangeable lenses I think it would be a good option. But I really like being able to use my Nikon lenses on the Panasonic, especially my 55mm f/3.5 Micro. Personally I couldn't do with only a single focal length like the X100 or GR. I like to shoot a mixture of landscapes, people pictures, and macro and that's hard to do with just a wide angle lens. A two or three lens kit suits me much better. YMMV.


Maxwell Walrath
re: on 02/28/2014 13:13:05 MST Print View

Thank you all for your feedback. The suggestion to look into smaller sensor cameras and their accompanying smaller lenses is a great one. I'll look into the Ortlieb and other carrying methods as well.

Brendan, how have you found the Merrill to work on the trail? I have come across snipets of info before seeing your excitement for it, now that I have done read a number of articles on the Sigma it is definitely seeming more interesting. I am ok with the idea of the Sigma not being ok to use at dawn or dusk, but for regular use while walking are you able to stabilze it enough without the use of a tripod? I think I would be perfectly fine with the long write times and slower than average focus while on the move, but I could not see myself taking out a tripod unless I was stopped for a meal break or at camp.

Brendan S
(brendans) - MLife

Locale: Fruita CO
Sigma on 02/28/2014 14:04:17 MST Print View

I basically never use a tripod. I have the little ballhead off of a gorillapod that I've adapted to attach to a trekking pole but I've hardly ever used it. I find it fine for sunrise/sunset but it has some funky flares sometimes if shooting directly into the sun. I shoot mostly black and white and the higher ISOs are much more usable than with color. With color 400 is pretty much the limit. Good news is it's razor sharp wide open so you don't really need to stop down. My blog has lots of shots if you want to check out the types of stuff I've used it for.

Maxwell Walrath
re: Large sensor compact vs rangefinder style mirrorless SOTM for pocketable cameras on 02/28/2014 14:58:37 MST Print View

Amazing pics Brendan. That part of the country is really special. I hiked the Paria a few years back, your photos really do justice to slots and canyon walls. Now I just need to move west and buy a raft.

Edited by max1856 on 02/28/2014 14:59:13 MST.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Large sensor compact vs rangefinder style mirrorless SOTM for pocketable cameras on 02/28/2014 15:28:55 MST Print View

take a look at the Panasonic GM1 with 12-32mm lens :Pana GM1
(photo stolen from the net)

Mark Cashmere
(tinkrtoy) - M

Locale: NEOH
Re: Sigma on 02/28/2014 17:17:04 MST Print View

I'll be honest Brendan, I pull up your blog at work when I need a piece of serenity. Love those shots! I've thought about picking up a Sigma, but I always find myself in the quandary of 'it's the photographer, not the camera'. How difficult is it to get those shots with the DP2m? Are you fiddling a lot? I hear the Sigmas can be quirky to use and to be completely honest I like using my Nikon D40 with the 35mm f/1.8G prime lens practically in auto mode when taking pics, but it is so darn bulky to carry. If the Sigma had an OVF or EVF I would be in. Trying to find a compromise, but back panel LCDs seem to be winning. Doesn't really give you that 'street-photog' feel that I enjoy.

Thanks for posting the pics nonetheless

Edited by tinkrtoy on 02/28/2014 17:20:36 MST.

Maxwell Walrath
viewfinder on 02/28/2014 17:35:35 MST Print View

Hi Mark, it's pricey but a Sigma viewfinder is available.

I have read that the quickest way to take shots with the viewfinder and save some battery power is turn the LCD off and put it in sleep mode.

Brendan S
(brendans) - MLife

Locale: Fruita CO
Re: viewfinder on 02/28/2014 17:57:23 MST Print View

Thanks for the comments on the pics.

I forgot to mention battery life on the sigmas. It's almost hilariously bad. I bought like 20 batteries from ebay for a couple bucks a piece. They're slightly different from the sigma batteries and require a small amount of surgery to fit but they work. They're tiny and light and cheap so I've gotten used to it.

No viewfinder does suck, but agin I've just come to accept most of the quirks.

Really the Sigmas are kinda a lot to put up with and they're pretty limited in what they can shoot but they do what they do extremely well. The Ricoh is probably a lot better all-around camera for most people if you're okay with the one focal length option. I don't really think I'd recommend the Sigmas as an only camera or just for snapshots documenting a trip.

Mark Cashmere
(tinkrtoy) - M

Locale: NEOH
Re: Re: viewfinder on 02/28/2014 18:50:40 MST Print View

Appreciate the truth, Brendan.

Max, ya almost had me with that viewfinder but I think I will stick with my amateur status rolling my D40 and S100...

Jacob D
(JacobD) - F

Locale: North Bay
NEX vs. RX100 on 03/12/2014 12:58:34 MDT Print View


Did you ever decide on a camera to go with? I've come from full frame SLR, to compact SLR, to APS-C mirrorless, and now finally to large sensor compact. It would be hard NOT to recommend giving the RX100 a shot.

I'd third the suggestion to buy used (whichever camera you decide on). If it's not your cup of tea you should be able to resell it at a negligible loss, worst case. I picked my RX100 up for $350 used and I have seen them go for less.

My NEX 5N is still very much my primary camera, and I see no reason to change that. I wanted the RX100 to take along on runs and trips where I'd like to be fast and light. If you're under the impression that the NEX's are pocketable... sorry to be the bearer of bad news - but they're really not unless you've got extra big pockets and the smallest possible lens. Being an interchangeable lens cameras is the strength of the NEX, not pocketability.

The RX100 is *just* pocketable. It's a solid 8.5 ounces and just a tad bit smaller than a NEX body.

From an image quality standpoint the RX100 is top of class. I've only just started using mine but I can see it's a very capable little camera. It does lack in the ability to hold/recover highlight detail when compared to the APS-C sensor of the NEX, probably same applies to the shadow detail... but impressive performance none the less.

Strikes against the RX100 are it's lack of an articulating LCD screen, and lack of a viewfinder option - both of which are available on the RX100 mark II. The power on/off time is also a little long for my taste, but the lens has to do it's thang... so there's that.

Anyway, food for thought if you haven't decided yet!

By the way, this is neither here nor there, but Sony has killed off the "NEX" name. Going forward they're now using Alpha a5000, Alpha a6000, etc... These are essentially the new NEX bodies with the same approx size, appearance, and lens mount.

Edited by JacobD on 03/12/2014 13:02:50 MDT.

Maxwell Walrath
what I bought on 08/05/2014 11:11:10 MDT Print View

I want to thank everyone again for all the terrific input. I have learned a lot more about cameras than I thought I would when I set out to find one to buy.

I ended up with a Canon EOS M (the slow-focusing one) with a 22mm f2 pancake lens. It is heavy at 15 oz including the lens cap and strap, but it's a small package. The price on these has been dropping, unlike my other bills, and I pulled the trigger as an impulse buy when I saw it on slickdeals for $249 including the lens, with no taxes and free shipping.

I thought it would be fun to try astrophotography while I'm out on hikes, and a fast lens became a feature I really wanted. In the $600-700 range, I was going back and forth between the Fuji X-E1, the Sigma DP Merrill 1 (the amazing daytime shots had me seriously considering giving up all flexibility for low-light situations), and to a lesser extent the Ricoh GR. Larger sensors were appealing. I think I would have gotten the Fuji if not for the Canon sale I came across...their lenses sound great and I like the colors I'm seeing in their sample images.

Anyway, thanks again to everyone, and I'll post some images when I take it on a proper trip later this month.

Edited by max1856 on 08/05/2014 11:16:10 MDT.