DSLR alternative
January 26, 2015 7:44 PM   Subscribe

My DSLR has been gathering dust lately, and I'd like to get a more compact but reasonably large sensor alternative. My main lens is the Nikon 18-200VR, and my shooting style tends to be a bit telephoto-heavy. Can I learn to love a big-sensor compact with a fixed lens, like the Fuji x100 series, or should I try to find something in the mirrorless DSLR families? If the latter, which one?
posted by Behemoth to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
For what it's worth, i somewhat regret my parallel trade from a big canon body to a sony NEX precisely because there just is no good zoom like that. there isn't even a 17-50*(or whatever, smaller range) equivalent. And all the lenses cost a kabillion dollars.

I love the camera, and it's performance, and it's size/weight(which oh my god is an ENORMOUS improvement), features, and battery life... but i only shoot primes now.

If i were you, i'd find a lens in the sony, micro 4/3-slash-panasonic, or fuji families and work back to find a body from there. I really REALLY wish i had thoroughly checked out the lens selection before i jumped on this. I was enthusiastically like "oh i'll just get a prime i like and figure it out from there!" which turned out to be very pollyannaish.

The fuji lens like that for example, is eight hundred bucks.

Lenses like that cost peanuts for a canon or nikon, you can sometimes get them for under 200 on keh or whatever even.

It's also worth noting that those types of lenses are usually chunky enough that they negate most of the gains of going to a small mirrorless body. Sort of like the original sony e mount 18-55 did, vs the new 16-50(which is crap, but at least it gets tiny). If i was going to switch it up and get a smaller camera, i'd buy something JUST for the low range that was a small-ish lens, and get a separate tele lens for when i wanted that. The combos on m 4/3 or nex/fuji just seem like a horrible value and get mediocre reviews.

If i really wanted a lens like this specifically, i'd probably look at something like the rebel SL1 or nikon D3x00. Neither of which are actually that small, but then you at the very least wouldn't be paying out the ass to strap a big lens on to a small camera.

Note that the x100 is APS-C anyways. Is the camera you have using a smaller sensor than that? Nothing being discussed is full frame.

*oh my god i miss my 17-50 2.8 so much. i almost want a big chunky canon or nikon again just so i can use one.
posted by emptythought at 7:56 PM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

As far as mirrorless bodies go, you can't go wrong with an Olympus E-M5, though it's a couple years old now. I liked the handling a lot better than its successor, the E-M1, and it has advantages over the lower-cost version, the E-M10 (I think those are their names). There are some really decent lenses for that system.

If you want something smaller... well, there's nothing that can really replicate DSLRs, but the advantages of size are considerable and the disadvantages of small sensors are getting less every day. The Panasonic LX100 has gotten great reviews, and it has a 24-75mm equivalent f/1.7-2.8 lens, which is really not bad. Fuji's X30 is nice too, though I do wish they'd kept the optical rangefinder bit on there.

Of course what's most important is you feel comfortable handling the camera... for which reason I suggest actually going (shock!) to a camera shop and putting a couple models in your hands. If you're looking for a few to consider, DPReview just did a roundup that has a bunch of the last year's models.

Also be aware a couple camera shows are coming up (NAB and CP+ IIRC) so new models will be announced and old models will go on sale. Of course you can wait on such things forever, but these really are just around the corner.

My personal take? You could probably learn to love an X100T or RX1. I wish I could afford to find out for myself whether I could!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:31 PM on January 26, 2015

I've recently bought a x100t for hacking on and have mixed feelings about it as a camera. The parallax of the optical range finder is tough to get used to after so many years of SLR through-the-lens optical view finders, although the hybrid mode is pretty neat. It has lots of other interesting features, like WiFi built in and USB charging that my 5Dm2 lacks.

However, and this is a big however, the fixed 23mm f/1.2 lens is pretty wide -- roughly a 35mm FOV on a full-frame. If you find that you were more often at the telephoto side of your 18-200, it might not be the camera for you. Before spending $1300 on a fixed-lens camera you should spend some quality time on it; you can rent one for $60 for a week and see how you like it.
posted by autopilot at 9:10 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ricoh GR is amazing!
posted by Mac-Expert at 9:20 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Micro 4/3 offers a comparable lens to the 18-200VR in the Panasonic 14-140 f/3.5-5.6 OIS. it's around $550. There is an older model that is f/4 on the wide end that can be had used for less.

There are quite a few other medium- and long-range teles for m4/3 as well.

I really like the m4/3 system as a good balance of body/lens size and sensor size. (I will say I wouldn't want to go any smaller on the sensor, though.) The lens selection is also quite good, by far the best of the mirrorless systems, even though some of them are Pana/Oly duplicates. With NEX you get an awesome thin state-of-the-art body and a small assortment of large and unremarkable lenses.
posted by panem_et_circenses at 9:34 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've got the SONY A7 (NEX) and I found that old lenses work quite well (manual focus and aperture). They require an adaptor, however. My best prime is an old Nikon f1.9 and I even have a vintage Kodak lens that has wonderful bokeh.

So, don't write of the NEX line just 'cause the SONY lenses cost a bajillon dollars.
posted by qwip at 9:50 PM on January 26, 2015

Coming from a telephoto heavy shooting style on a DSLR to a fixed lens mirrorless is going to be a huge adjustment in your photography experience and mindset. You have to give up some things when getting off the DSLR like ease of composing, super fast autofocus, generally faster lenses; but in return you get a really sharp, compact camera. For mostly anything other than sports and action, you are going to get a boost in image quality. You are just going to have to see if you like the "rangefinder" type camera experience. I do recommend the optical/electronic hybrid viewfinder that Fuji offers to smooth your transition. No other company has it. It offers the best composing solution in terms of versatility and clarity for an eyepiece on a mirrorless.
posted by incolorinred at 10:35 PM on January 26, 2015

The relevant points I would make have been made so I'll just go with personal experience here. I went from a D7000 (and the slightly smaller D40x before that) to the Olympus OM-D E-M5 a few years ago. The simple reality was that the E-M5 was superior because...I actually took it out and used it. I didn't dislike the loss of the viewfinder nearly as much as I thought I would. The only thing that bothered me was the inability to get really shallow DOF on portrait shots the way I could with 50mm primes on my DX format DSLR sensors. That's not a concern with telephoto, of course.

My interest in photography has been flagging in recent years and I just recently sold the E-M5, and my next camera will probably be a high quality compact like the coolpix P7800 (well, probably a bit smaller than that). Like a lot of people, even those who are into photography, I have found that my phone covers a large majority of my photo needs.
posted by MillMan at 11:16 PM on January 26, 2015

If you're in love with that Nikon lens, why not get one of the Nikon 1 mirrorless cameras? You can get a lens adapter that lets you use standard Nikkor lenses with the mirrorless body.
posted by ZipRibbons at 11:29 PM on January 26, 2015

I am so tempted to replace my old old DSLR with an RX100. So tempted. If only I could get my DSLR to sell!
posted by kup0 at 1:26 AM on January 27, 2015

If you're used to zooming and composing from where you are, expect to do a lot more running around with a prime. It may not suit the way you're used to working at all.
posted by scruss at 5:01 AM on January 27, 2015

If you think about the major* mirrorless camera lines in three groups (Sony, Fujifilm, and Micro Four Thirds) then you can pretty quickly figure out if there's enough for you to like in one of those three.
  • As mentioned above: Sony has some great cameras and the smallest range of lenses. If you're willing to live with the lenses available now, and you want a large sensor, they're your option. Note that a big sensor will require big, heavy glass, and thus doesn't really gain you much.
  • Fujifilm's X Mount line of cameras is generally well regarded, but the lens selection (while high quality) is heavier on primes than zooms, and doesn't have a lens that covers the range you're used to now (there's a 55-200, but no 18-200). And again, the glass is big and heavy, so while the body is more compact you're not getting a huge drop in total bulk.
  • Micro Four Thirds has the smallest sensor of the three, but the largest lens lineup. The system has another advantage, in that the smaller image circle means that the lenses are all generally much smaller and lighter than anything comparable. In the end you shed more weight in lenses than you do in bodies. That Panasonic 14-140 should cover basically the same range for you and has image stabilization, so it seems like a close fit, if you're happy with the Micro Four Thirds system in general.
* Samsung is still too new, but coming on fast. Nikon's 1 series is a strange outlier, and I'm not sure Canon's EOS M counts as a serious effort.

Also with any of the above you can buy adapters that you could use to mount your old glass, but none of them would support its VR function, which seems not to be worth the effort or expense.

If you want to stay in that same zoom range, I would guess that your options are switch to Micro Four Thirds or just don't upgrade at all. It really comes down to your willingness to buy all new glass for the new system. If you want a compact system above all and you're willing to compromise a bit on sensor size, definitely switch to m43. If you are willing to switch to the prime-heavy lineup of Fujifilm (and the lack of a single lens with the same coverage) you might like the handling and operation of their X Mount cameras. I doubt you'd like the fixed lens on the X100 series, which doesn't come anywhere near 200mm focal length. It's a completely different shooting style than what you describe.
posted by fedward at 7:08 AM on January 27, 2015

M43 might well be what you need if you're after the DSLR with travel zoom experience in a smaller package. the Olympus EM10 mentioned above is a very cool little camera for the cash and has a lot more pluses than minuses. And a second hand EM5 is about the same price. Lenswise the Panasonic 14-140mm reviews well, is small and is v affordable second hand.

I'd also look at the what used to be bridge cameras. The Olympus Stylus 1, the Panasonic FZ1000 and the Sony RX10 won't have quite the image quality of the interchangeable lens cameras with their larger sensors but it may be good enough for your needs and contain an impressive amount of zoom in small, well made packages. Of those three the Olympus Stylus 1 can be had intriguingly cheap!

Totally agree that Sony's are lacking lenses and Fuji's are best with primes. Of all of them the M43 lens selection is the best (and smallest). Don't be scared of buying slightly older models or second hand! Model churn is insanely fast at the moment, image quality and function isn't getting much better in the main and you can get some real bargains by buying models models that are just a year or 2 old.
posted by Mr Ed at 5:44 AM on January 29, 2015

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