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Tuesday, 25 November 2008


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I agree, the top tier cameras are too big and too heavy. Pick D700 over D3 and 5D over 1DS any day.

Very true. Matters little having the fanciest/biggest camera, if it's too heavy, or makes you feel self conscious slogging around with it on your neck. The 5D was about right but I found the K10D/20D pancake combo is even better for my stealthy style.

Mike...what a cool job you have. God... they'll be sending nude models to go with those cameras soon!
Am looking forward to some adroit feedback in relation to all those neat cameras passing thru your hands. Some real life user comparisons please!
I'm a longtime Pentax user. One of those glorious Spotmatic II 1.4's like the one in the pic documented my life (and the folks around me) for around thirty year. For most of that time it performed faultlessly. Beautiful and well designed machinery. Never the less; Nikon's D700 sure has perked some interest with moi since it made it's debut. So... lets hear it!
Dennis F.

Hmmm. Maybe I should send you a photo of my little VQ-1005 key chain camera.

Put me in for the larger, heavier camera. It feels better in every respect, except hanging around my neck. (Using an Upstrap, it hangs nicely on my shoulder when not shooting.) On the Canon side, the pro models (1D and 1Ds series) have some significant upgrades over the prosumer (5D and 40/50d) bodies -- much more so than on the Nikon side, where the D300 and D700 are much closer to the D3 in performance. While my 40d is a nice camera, it pales in comparison to the 1D Mark II bodies that I use at work.

Having played with the D700, though, if I were a Nikon shooter I would be buying them by the dozen. Talk about hitting it out of the park....

I think substituting comparison piles of bills for the lead photo principals would retain the same approximate weight to size ratio...

PS- A black ME Super was (still is) one sexy little sports car!

A Panasonic G1 just landed on my doorstep (I agonized a long time before buying) and my sense of what's the right size has just changed again. Before G1 a Nikon D200 seemed good. It already feels like a tank in comparison.

The funny thing about the G1 is that it's size alone wouldn't be enough to satisfy me. Yeah, it fits my (medium-sized) hand well, but what impresses me is how the shutter release button, Quick Menu button and command dial all are easy to reach and are intelligently designed. So I think the G1 could be larger or smaller: as long as the key buttons/dials fall to hand well it's the right size.

Now I'm impatiently waiting for the 20mm 1.7 prime.

I'm comfortable shooting something sized like the Minolta Maxxum 7 (film camera) which is smaller than the KM 7D & Sony A700, though those are pretty good in hand (the old Maxxum 7xi was actually the best fitting camera I ever used, though I hated the user interface). But more than how it feels in my hands, I want a smaller camera kit simply to be more willing to carry it more places (and less likely to resort to a compact) and to be less conspicuous when shooting in public. Not to be sneaky, just to attract less attention and more than that, to not look like I'm shooting people with a bazooka when they notice me.

I'm looking for a compact digicam for my wife right now, and finding some of the smaller (Canon SD series) models just silly and even many models apparently designed for holding with one hand only. As much as people want OVFs because they insist that "holding the camera out at arms length" results in bad pictures, holding the camera out with two hands and elbows at your side, you can get pretty sharp shots at much slower shutter speeds than you'd need with a DSLR. But I'm not envisioning that working with a one-handed camera.

Anyway, I'm still waiting to see what Oly does with Micro 4/3--that little boxy mockup (coupled with Panasonic's upcoming 20mm lens) looked like it has potential (hopefully they'll put something to grip on it).

"Hmmm. Maybe I should send you a photo of my little VQ-1005 key chain camera."

Can you photograph it beside a Canonet?

Mike J.

Re: the last comparison. Ah but the Canonet is so smooth. No bulbous lumps and bumps. It's not just the raw measurements but also the feel in the hands. I would think thats why you like the M7 with a 35mm lens. Another example, my Olympus Pen F with a 38mm lens is not much smaller than my OM-1 with a 50 if you go by H-W-D measurements, but without the prism hump or mirror box it just feels much smaller in the hands. I await with great hope for developments in the micro 4:3 format.

It drives me to distraction how much better the viewfinder of that 30 yr old Pentax is (it was my high school camera too) compared to all the current crop sensor dslr's. If I recall correctly the cost of that Pentax and 50 1.7 was not much more than 350 new?

I feel like the manufacturers have imposed AF on us instead of making it a choice. Manual focusing a Canon dslr is nowhere near as sure as that old Pentax. And you pay at least double for the new Canon consumer equivalent. (ok it does more...)

I think the pro cameras with built-in vertical grips such as the D3 are actually more comfortable to hold than cameras without as the grip is long enough for all fingers of even the largest hand to wrap around the body (i.e, without having to curl one's pinky under the camera). If only they can be made with lighter material such that they are as light as say a D90. That would be perfect (for me).

I do own a Minolta 7 and the Sony A700 and was desperately trying for a reason to by the A900. But in the end I had to be honest with myself because the A700 fitted with a largish lens is all that I can comfortably hand hold over a reasonable period.

The A900 just pushes me out of my comfort zone.

Just like Ted I bought a Panasonic G1 to replace my Nikon D200. I've been a Nikon user since my Nikkormat FTn (purchased when they were new!) but I've grown tired of big honkin' cameras with big honkin' glass. I also bought the 4/3 lens adapter and Nikon and Pentax M42 mount adapters. That LCD display shouldn't care if I'm using manual aperture settings.

Mine's not here yet. I can't wait for it and the adapters to arrive. I'm dying to try it with a 50mm f/1.4 Super Takumar. I suspect this camera could be a game changer.

I'm into my 2nd week of ownership of a D700 as I typed this. This camera is a dream come true - I've used Canon for 7 years and have been waiting for a digital version of the EOS 1v film camera which I owned and loved. I used the 1v without the optional grip as a sidekick to my Leica M6 - all with primes and a single 70-200 for when I needed to shoot telephoto. The combo worked like a charm!

All I wanted is a solid reliable weather sealed SMALL sized DSLR with a full frame chip - and over the years I've owned several iterations of the XXD series of Canon DSLRs culminating eventually with the 5D, which, while having superlative image quality, never truly made me happy with its build. I did make some of my best images with it (alongside the M6).

Some time last year I bought my girl friend a Nikon D40x as a birthday present, choosing it over the poorly build Canon offerings, and immediately notice just how well built the "amateur" camera really is. I ended up using it more than her!

Then Nikon came along first with essentially, a digital version of the Nikon F100. So after laughing at Nikon users for years for their insistence that full frame is not necessary, and that DX is THE new format of our age, I have now become a Nikon convert. This camera is everything I wanted in a DSLR.

I've customized it using the custom functions to work like a Leica / Canon though :) Dials turn opposite way, function of the main and sub command dials are switched around, focus is entirely with the AF-ON button so it feels like I'm working with a rangefinder - press once to focus and it stays no matter how many shots I take - none of the half press and hold nonsense. I used only short primes, while waiting for Nikon to release updated AFS versions of their primes (where's that AFS 28 f1.4, or AFS 35 f1.4??)

The firsts time I shot in a dark hall at ISO 6400, f2, 1/60, I'm so sold, this one camera has replaced both the M6 and other DSLRs. I guess film is finally dead for me!

I dislike the large, bulbous "pro" DSLR of today; the K10D is already at the upper end of what I'd want to use. If I'd get anything as big as that Nikon it would just end up staying at home, where its capabilities as a camera would be rather wasted.

On the other hand, I happily take along a Yashica TLR without a second thought. In part it's because it's still smaller and lighter than one of those "pro" thingies once you add a lens to them; but in part it's that it's flat and square, not bulbous. The flat sides and straight edges just gives a crisp and lean tone to the handling that modern swollen-plastic designs do not. It simply doesn't look or feel big.

You see exactly this in the last two pictures above. The Canonet and the Bronica each look flat and trim; the cameras beside them look and feel like they have the mumps by comparison. The huge Nikon almost looks like it's a balloon-animal version of a normal camera (ok, so I exaggerate a bit). The big protruding handles on the right side add to it further. Modern DSLR's aren't just big; they seem designed to look even bigger than they are.

Thanks, those are a cool set of comparison pictures. You can see how each step will be the critical one for someone. Count me on the small-camera side, although I understand how those with different needs might want big ones. (I like a full-size claw hammer but tiny kitchen knives, too.)

The medium format comparison at the end is telling: the digital descendants of 35mm cameras seem to be colonising the whole spectrum, from the little silver ones which shrink every year, to the ever-bigger (and better) pro zooms and pro bodies. I can't quite get used to the idea that the big pipe on the D3 is a wide-to-normal zoom.

'I think. I'm having a bit of trouble imagining any other rational, objective reasons why any ordinary non-professional would possibly need the D3 over the D700, but one reason is that some guys simply like to own the biggest, fanciest, fastest, most capable, and most expensive of anything—and I don't think there's a thing wrong with that.'

i disagree with the above sentence. some girls like the same.

tsk tsk tskl

Autofocus systems in SLRs really undermined the viewfinder size, for later digital SLRs. If anything, they made a feature which removed a standard feature, only to reintroduce it back as a premium feature.

But getting back onto the topic, I carry a consumer digi-camera from way back in the day everywhere with me. The Pentax Optio S4, in a metal Altoids case has seen much more of the world be virtue of fitting in my jean pockets. Size matters, because if you don't carry it, it might as well be a coffee table centre piece. And interestingly, I've grown a certain appreciation for it's image quality, and short comings.

I guess I'm firmly in the camp of, carry-the-camera-you-don't-know-you're-carrying.

I rather like the "toy camera" aesthetic. My cell-phone camera, always with me, fits that niche nicely...

I quite agree, Mike. What makes a comfortable camera is a matter of personal choice.

Unlike David above, who has followed a path that has taken him from an EOS 1V to a D700, my latest buy was a mint EOS 1V in its HS guise (with the integrated 10fps drive and vertical grip). I'm one of those Luddites who has going from digital to film but that's another story.

With the 24-70/2.8L it wears most of the time and the AA batteries that power it, this kit weighs about 4.5lbs. But it is SO well made and handles so beautifully that I don't notice the weight. One has to try a pro 35mm camera after a digital wonder to realise just how simple and easy such a camera is to use. No squinting into a little viewfinder, no screen, no menus and very few buttons.

And it stays put, not dangling all over the place like its 40D baby niece!

Of course, I wouldn't want it for snapshots (I have a pocketable Panasonic digital with magazoom for that!).

Hi Mike,

Long time, no communicate.

I just can’t seem to commit to a DSLR. I can’t afford the full frame models and I can’t have 20mm (35 format) with the smaller sensor DSLRs. When going out planning on taking photographs I like to have a 20, 35 and 85 with me, which currently means carrying my Canon A2e and my Contax RTS II bodies. (you remember my 35 and 85). My have-with-me-everyday camera the past four years is a Canon G6 digital which replaced the Pentax LX 40mm 2.8 pancake combo. When will they make a true superwide for the small sensor DSLRs?

The Pentax ME was a sweet little camera but not being able to see the f-stop in the view finder annoyed me.

Will you shut up about the D700 ! My better half doesn't know it exists, and thinks I 'had' to have the D3 to go full frame. However, the best thing about turning up with the D3 and 14-24 (or 80-200) is that most other photographers step back and let me get the best shooting position, try it, it's amazing but true ! And as all PJ's know, the subject looks straight at the biggest rig, eye contact guaranteed!

John first you are one of my favorite writers, I have read or listened on tape to all your books. Second what you said about the lens is true. I don't know why Nikon does not make a good 70-200 f4 lens that is half the weight of the large 70-200 f2.8 baseball bat lens that I am forced to carry. I travel with a 12-24 f4 Nikon lens and find it to be a perfect travel lens. Keep up the writing, I look forward to reading Phantom Prey next. Eric

Mike, you did it again. Every few months, you post an item that makes me regret, yet again, getting rid of all the Pentax manual focus prime lenses that I used to own, from 24 mm to 400 mm. I got impatient that no Pentax digital bodies were appearing so I switched to another brand a few years back. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

"Hmmm. Maybe I should send you a photo of my little VQ-1005 key chain camera."

Can you photograph it beside a Canonet?"

I only have a Canon 20D and 350D available for comparison. I don't mind taking a shot of either one with the other if it's useful - just let me know.

I used Pentax cameras for years before going digital and I'm pretty close to selling my Canon stuff and going back. I don't know what they're like now but I'm starting to be irritated by Canon repair bills. Both my Canon L lenses have need new diaphragms this year and back in the old days I just never had this problem. And the 20D "mag alloy" body is has been growing little blisters under the finish. I used to own one of those sweet little black ME Supers. When they got a little wear it was like copper or bronze that would show through. Imagine that today.

I've never seen a D3 "in person", and I'm impressed. Knowing the size of the K20D, and having seen the D700 in shops, I must say. That D3 is a MONSTER camera!

(I always thought the D3 and D700 were about the same width, the D3 only being taller).

Ironically, Nikon today makes what's arguably the best 'small' DSLR, the D40 and its siblings (The D40X, now discontinued and the D60). Small (Smaller than the E-420 in one dimension, slightly larger in another and the third, depth, doesn't matter with a lens mounted), decent VF (Second to the Rebel XSi in size and brightness but with a better focus screen), surprisingly good ergonomics and excellent image quality.

I carriy one paired with the small Voigtlander Ultron 40mm f2 pancake (which meters with the D40) and a Nikon 20mm f2.8 AF (another surprisingly small lens) as a general carry camera. It's actually smaller than my 'compact' Nikon FE2 in width, although a bit taller.

I agree with you about the size, but I have also found that the weight is just as important. Some cameras actually do not weigh enough to feel substantial! That Pentax ME, and also the MX, had a solid feeling to them. My old Canon EOS 630 is about the same size as a Rebel XSi, but the Rebel feels "plasticey" (big surprise there, but the 630 is a plastic body also). There seems to be a minimum weight/size relationship before cameras feel really solid. Sort of like an old Nikkormat or Leica M3.
Thanks for the site!
PS-I think a lot of us are still awaiting your thoughts on the Pentax K20D. There are some good sale prices on that body!

It was my wife's birthday last Friday so we went out on the town with couple of close friends. My friend said that he was unsure about lugging his camera around town while drinking so he left his 40D at home. I asked him to pose his hands as if he had a camera in them. I then told him that he could not take a photograph with just those and I shot him with my big old 1DS mark lll.

I'm from the camp that says "Don't leave home without it."

Hey, people, stop asking for slower lenses! The f/2.8 stuff I'm putting up with now is the slowest set of lenses I've worked with in my life, and the last thing I want to do is throw away the capabilities of the D700 by buying cheap lenses for it.

Within range I'd prefer a smaller body, but I don't find the D700 with 24-70/2.8 hard to hold. Even with the SB-800 mounted. It dangles down at my side perfectly comfortably in one hand, and I can bring it up quickly and easily when needed. (I'm 6 foot two, but my hands are somewhat small for my size, large medium or small large.)

Maybe big equipment helps clear the path through a pile of onlookers, but I find that attitude helps too. I've been walking through and in front of people casually for 40 years, and have to date never gotten complaints about it.

And finally, Mike, what's the title of this column about? I'm not getting it.

"And finally, Mike, what's the title of this column about? I'm not getting it."

See the second-to-last sentence.

Mike J.

The size of the D700 is a step in the right direction. If it was as big as an F100, it would be perfect for an AF camera.

I'm perplexed by the need for these cameras to be the size of a 4x5 Speed Graphic. Even the new Leica S2, which uses a medium format size sensor, is dwarfed by the top of the line offerings from Canon and Nikon.

I'm still waiting for a full frame camera the size of a Nikon F/F2/F3.

I'm with you Mike. I own a 5D and find it heavy with the 28-135IS zoom mounted, and that's not even an L lens. I don't find the grip too comfortable either. Although I love the IQ I get from the sensor I often think twice about taking it out and about as I don't find it's a 'walkaround' camera if a zoom is mounted. I guess it's a hangover from my film shooting days when I was an OM system fan. I'm starting to seriously consider trying a G1 or a D60.

I agree the K20D is just about right, though for me a touch on the large side. It doesn't need to go quite as small as the DS, which I also have, but a bit smaller would be nice.

But having said that, and completely contradicting myself, the K20D paradoxically gets better to use once you attach the battery grip. It improves the center of gravity of the camera, especially with a heavier lens, and all around makes it easier to grip. It's a great combination for carrying around in the hand.

Interesting to me is that I own 4 of the cameras you chose to show for size comparisons. They are all of the nonNikons. That must say something about me especially since I have only been shooting and purchasing cameras for about 2 years.

One of my favorite memories from the day I quit my job as a news photographer was when I sold my Nikon F2 and Nikon F3 bodies with motor drives attached. I had carried cameras like those daily for nearly 17 years and I was glad to be rid of them. But later on I would occasionally carry stuff just as heavy for fun. When the neck pain started, I started lightening up. It was too late. The damage was done and 18 months ago I underwent cervical spine surgery. It was a nasty experience I don't recommend. About that time was when I bought my first DSLR. But not a full-frame DSLR--I bought a nice compact APS-C format camera. Most recently, I bought a Canon G-10. I agree: smaller is gooder.

Thanks for these side by side pics Mike, the biggest DSLR I see in small local shops is the Pentax K20D, have to wait for (maybe every six months) a visit to Bath to see the real pro stuff. I remember being very shocked when I first saw the size of the Olympus E1 - and that had a small sensor!

The most striking pic is the one with the Bronica, really helps put modern DSLR size into perspective. Interesting that on occasions when I go out with my "big" bag it is possible to take one less lens and fill the vacated slot with a MF TLR.

Having spent 15 years in the 80s & 90s with Pentax ME and Super A SLRs (same size as the ME Super) that sort of became "the size a camera should be" for me - and, I suspect, many others.

Never had any trouble finding the shutter release on a wide variety of cameras until a recent change to Minolta 600si & Sony A100 - on both I often have to remove the camera from my eye to remind my finger where the button is!

Cheers, Robin

Professionals need to think more about what the final output will be than camera size. If the demands of one's assignments are for a full frame ("35mm") sensor, your choices are limited to 3 manufacturers and I guess 6-7 models. In the era of 35mm film cameras there were numerous manufacturers, and most made a wide variety of lenses to go with them. You could choose your size/weight and had more than 30 professional grade models to choose from (not counting used equipment), that could yield great results in the right hands. I used Pentax H1a's and Spotmatics from the late 1960's until the early 1980's when they were stolen and then moved on to Nikon FM2's (and who said Nikon didn't care about their smaller bodies?) which I had until 5 years ago when I made the final switch to digital only. Since then, it's been worse than awful trying to find the right body size/sensor size combination. The Canon 5D and 5DII are the smallest and lightest, but I stayed in the Nikon camp and began with the Kodak 14s, then Nikon D200s and now D700s. None of them are the kinds of cameras I am very comfortable with for documentary work where I liked to carry 3 bodies, each with a different prime lens. I'm down now to carrying two bodies, frequently with at least one zoom lens, thus adding to the weight. It's not great, but that's the way it is for what I need to accomplish.

I can't stop talking about camera size either.

I'm amazed at the similarity to a picture I made and posted a while ago, only I had the ME Super on the left, and had a D200 instead of the D3:

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



I find more stability in a larger camera

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