The Mirrorless Versus DSLR Conundrum

camera weights
Weight differences: Nikon D600 versus OM-D EM-1 (with batteries)

I converted from using Nikon DSLRs to Olympus mirrorless digital cameras in 2013. The photo above pretty much illustrates why. My full-frame, Nikon D600 body weighed 359 grams more than the OM-D EM-1 body I use now. That’s a pretty substantial difference.

Differences in lens weights matter, too. The 24-70 f/2.8 Nikkor lens weighed 900 grams by itself. I needed a pretty hefty backpack to carry around a full-frame kit consisting of camera body and three lenses. By contrast, the M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens that mates with the OM-D body weighs less than half: 382g.

I’ve used the OM-D EM-1 extensively since 2013. It’s a great little body, and I’ve shot some superb photos with it. Despite this, I’ve never completely warmed up to it. The lighter weight and form factor made life easier on aging back and shoulders, but little user interface details always bugged me, like the inability to create and assign folders in the memory card. Plus, I never quite liked the 4/3 aspect ratio.

2013-12-04 OM-D EM-1 002
Olympus OM-D EM-1

On the other hand, I don’t really want to return to full-frame DSLRs. I gave up full-frame for a reason, and don’t really want to return to carrying all that weight and bulk. The same holds true for full-frame mirrorless designs, such as the Sony Alpha 7 series. The bodies are lighter than DSLR bodies, but the physics of optics dictates fast lenses will be heavy. The Sony 24-70 f/2.8 lens is in the same cost ballpark as Nikon’s equivalent — and actually weighs a little more.

Then came this.

Nikon D500. Shiny.
Nikon D500. Shiny.

The Nikon D500, announced at 2016’s CES show, is Nikon’s first professional DX body since the D300S shipped eight years ago. DX is Nikon’s term for its APS-sized sensors.  It sort of splits the difference in weight. The D500 weighs roughly the same as the D600 I gave up, but this is mitigated by the generally lighter weight of the lenses. The DX format splits the difference in reach and depth-of-field considerations between full frame and micro four-thirds.

Sensor size comparison

The technology improves with every generation as well. The highest ISO supported by the 20.9 megapixel sensor is ISO 51,200, and you can push that to ISO 1,640,000. I expect that latter number is near-useless, but I would expect usable images at ISO 12,800 and very good ones at ISO 6400. That mitigates the lack of built-in flash, and allows for some flexibility in lenses. For example, I used the Nikon 24-120 f/4 as my walking around lens, offering a constant f/4 aperture throughout its range. That lens weighs in at 25 ounces (710g). Nikon offers the 16-80 f/2.8-f/4 for DX format. Given the 1.5x crop factor, 16-80 is exactly equivalent to the 24-120, but it’s a tad faster. It also weighs less, at just 16.1 ounces (480g) — over a half-pound difference.

I also confess to a certain sentimentality here. I carried a Nikon D300s for several years, and had great fun with it. Shooting with a pro DX-style camera was easily the most fun I ever had with a camera. I shot some fabulous photos with the D300s, and I’ve never quite enjoyed any camera since. The D500 looks a lot like a seriously updated D300s. So there’s definitely a nostalgia factor at work here.

Will I get a D500? I’m not sure yet. There are valid reasons (my back and shoulders) to stick with the lighter Olympus body and lenses. The cost is a factor, too; the D500 is a pricey $1,999, and I’d have to switch lenses (though I hung onto a couple of Nikkor lenses).  But it’s sure tempting.

One Comment Add yours

  1. disquisitioner says:

    I understand the temptation and the reluctance. I have a Pentax K100D DSLR and a number of compatible K-mount lenses but recently bought a Sony a6000 mirrorless camera. Both are APS-C, so not quite the situation you’re in, but the Sony is 225g lighter and much smaller (body & lenses) so better fits my need for a compact, reasonably-priced travel camera with interchangeable lenses. Good luck making your decision!

Leave a Reply