Size Does Matter
Thursday - 18 December, 2014 7:36 pm     A+ | a-
I’m a gadget freak. There, I’ve said it. I can spend hours on the Internet poring over the latest camera or lens—even if I have no intention of purchasing. I read manuals—sometimes multiple times. I can spend so long hovering over the tech items at Best Buy that the security staff develop an endearing interest in me. It’s an affliction, I know.

It will come as no surprise then, to hear that I have a nice DSLR and plenty of associated lenses, tripods, filters, remote control, flash units, etc., and an assortment of camera bags to carry them all in. I can’t see myself ever giving them up. But, you know what? I find I’m using them less and less. Why? Because it’s all just too big!

You see, the kind of photography I like to do is landscape photography (no surprise there—given the address of this web site). For a photographer whose primary interest is landscape, there is one crucial characteristic to note, and it’s fresh from the department of stating the obvious: the landscape doesn’t move (residents of California: your results may vary).

The landscape’s propensity for inertia translates to two important points for the landscape photographer:
  • It ain’t coming to us; we have to go to it.
  • We hardly need the fastest camera in terms of focusing and ergonomics.
Hiking the mile-and-half up to the iconic Delicate Arch in Arches National Park last year, I was in a race against the setting sun. I got there with just enough time to set the camera and tripod up and snap one or two shots before the lights went out. Never was I more aware, during that hike, of the heavy camera bag on my back, and the tripod slung across my shoulder.

I also get to most of my locations on a motorcycle, or even a scooter. Combine the limited carrying capabilities of such transport with the hikes often required to get to the location, and lighter, smaller gear starts to make a lot of sense to me.

Because we are not shooting fast-moving subjects, we really don’t need the instant focusing and fast setting capabilities at which a DSLR excels. Bonus for the landscape photographer!

Of course, we are inevitably making some compromises in terms of quality and ease-of-use with the smaller camera offerings, but here’s the thing: smaller cameras of the mirror-less variety are now getting so good that the gap is narrowing at a rate that should have DSLR manufacturers shaking in their boots.

Sure, any reasonably competent photographer could pixel-peep at the shots from a compact camera, and point out what is lacking in comparison to the DSLR, but here’s a relevant cliché: it’s not about the camera. It’s a cliché because it’s true. When was the last time you heard someone positively critique a photograph, and say something like: “look at just how clean those shadows are! No noise at all!”? If it’s an uninteresting, shot, it will be uninteresting if photographed with the best camera in the world. If it’s a great, well-conceived and well-executed shot, it will be great even if photographed on a $120 point-and-shoot.

A couple of years ago, I did an experiment. I determined to leave the DSLR at home for a year, and shoot solely with a compact camera—specifically, the Canon G11. Of course, this fitted in well with my lifestyle because I could simply put the smaller camera in my pocket when I went out riding. If I did carry a tripod, it could be much smaller and lighter because the camera it was supporting was so. That year produced some of the best images I have ever made. Much of the reason for that, I suspect, was that I had a camera with me much more often.

To shoot with the DSLR means that one has to make a conscious decision to go out shooting. It’s the reason you’re heading out of the door. That may mean you lose some opportunities.

Recently, I was sitting talking with some people when this shot presented itself. The light was just right, and the dog’s pose was perfect. I had my little Canon G11 with me, and was able to surreptitiously take this shot. I was able to do this without getting out of my seat by using the articulated screen of the camera. Even if I had had the DSLR with me, the action of me getting out of the seat to take the shot would have awoken the dog. The moment would have passed. Mark one up for the compact camera!

Even the G11 is a little bulky. It will fit in an oversized pocket, but you’re going to know about it! I recently purchased a Sony RX100 M3. With this tiny marvel, I have no excuse to ever be without a camera. I have not left the house without it since the day it arrived.

So, I am an avid proponent of the compact camera. Personally, I don’t feel I have a need for the micro 4/3 mirror-less cameras, for they don’t offer enough benefits in size and weight reduction for me. Am I ready to give up the DSLR yet? Not quite, but the reasons to keep it are becoming far less compelling.
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