Why I use a small camera SYSTEM

In one of the endless and endlessly repeated discussions of whether bigger is better on the big Amazon-owned digital photography website DPreview:

Corpy2 wrote:

Well, I was very happy with the quality of the e-m5, especially with the 45 1.8 and the 75mm. But then I looked at the A7r [the Sony A7 in an
unprecedently small digital “full-frame” camera]….

I guess you really can’t have it all.

True indeed.  Photographic formats have always been a compromise,  I chose Olympus Four Thirds in 2004 because it seemed to be the best guess going.

Here is a picture of taken almost ten years ago with my Olympus E-3 that works well as 17′ x 22′ show print. That’s with a decade+ old 5 MP FT sensor.

Glacial Moraine taken on hike up Field Mountain to the Burgess Shale (Canadian Rocky Mountains)

Of course I could have produced a more detailed image and printed an even bigger  had I used a bigger camera.  Ansel Adams used view cameras  when he photographed California National Parks, with so much equipment cameras so big that his equipment that it filled a station wagon, from the reinforced roof of which he sometimes took his pictures.

Heck,  even today Clyde Butcher  hauls his huge 8″x10″ view camera (and he also has an 11×14!)  through the Florida Everglades swamps and enlarges the plates on a 3/4 ton enlarger to produce his beautiful wall-sized  prints.   But Adams also used smaller format and spoke of going back to 35mm.  Like him I do want to be able to take along a variety of lenses (and maybe even a second body!) , BUT I do not want to haul an “only 65 pound or so” bag.  Whimpy, I know, but although I am six years younger than Clyde, I am also half his size

And big and determined as Clyde is, he still needs a loving, loyal unpaid assistant.  Most of us, even if we are blessed with a loving partner, do not have one who who will wade behind us through a mosquito-ridden swamp (and most especially when she gets edited out of portrayals of the photographer).

Also, while I am dedicated to my  photography, I am not quite dedicated enough to suffer malaria half-a-dozen times, as Clyde Butcher apparently has.

So we make sensible compromises.  The Sony A7 is a very interesting camera.  But I know something about Sony.  Kathleen, as a professional musician, and I, too as a teacher, became all too familiar with the sort of triumph of – sometimes mania for – miniaturization that is a hallmark of that company.  As we also did with the wasteful financial and ruinous environmental costs their ever- changing formats through their sound and video equipment can result in.  Producing an interchangeable lens camera with a full traditional 35mm film camera (one inch by one-and-one-half inch) digital sensor to be nearly as small as the Olympus EM-1, with its much smaller “Four Thirds” sensor is indeed a technological tour-de-force. However, there are other aspects besides just size of a camera body to consider.  Reviews and – always more important-  comments from actual users have been mixed: some hate the (un)ergonimics.  Also such an interchangeable lense camera depends very much on its lenses.  Given the optically-necessary-for-full-frame size of these, the net saving in system size and weight becomes much less impressive, especially because the most prestigious of these, made by Germany’s Zeiss have always been large and heavy.  And, when one looks a the cost of Ziess lenses and relates it to Sony’s relative profusion of mounts and standards, buying into the A7 system becomes problematic indeed for those of us who don’t has thousands in pocket change.

Large size is needed for some projects, and bigger may indeed be better when all things are equal.  They never are.  For me – and I speculate for many others – the small size and weight of mFT’s, as a system in relation to the very acceptable photo quality it produces, as well as the many (affordable!) lens and body options it offers are the perfect choice, much in the same way that 35mm came to be, 50+ years ago.  It is more important to learn to use what one has effectively than to lust after ever bigger tools.

saskatoon, canada
Photography is a small voice, at best, but sometimes one photograph, or a group of them, can lure our sense of awareness.
– W. Eugene Smith, Dec 30, 1918 to Oct 15, 1978.
underwater photos:


I was born in Germany, grew up and have lived most of my life in Canada, but was back there from 1986 to 1990 to marry, help to have a daughter and see the wall fall. Attended elementary schools and St. Michael's College High School, Northern Secondary & Jarvis Collegiate in Toronto. Started U at Carleton in Ottawa, but completed my degrees in Anthropology and English at York U in Toronto, where I was also a Teaching Assistant and Research Assistant to Prof. Norman Penner and studied in the Graduate program in Social and Political Thought. Much more recently I completed MA courses in English Literature and worked as a Teaching and Research Assistant at University of Saskatchewan, but became a Program creator and Facilitator and Employment Counsellor at the Saskatoon Open Door Society. I have long been politically active,, have a strong interest in photography, literature and the arts, and am lucky enough to be married to a world-class pianist and to have a beautiful and talented daughter and a brilliant son-in-law,

8 Responses to “Why I use a small camera SYSTEM”

  1. MIron
    February 17, 2014 at 11:46 #

    What it’s the best camera?-camera what you have with you!

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  3. Gregg
    July 6, 2014 at 03:57 #

    Just a slight correction to the post. It was mentioned that Clyde shoots plates in his view cameras but he does not. He shoots sheet film, Kodak Tmax 100 specifically and develops in Kodak TMax Developer. It’s an important distinction for those of us shooting large format. Thanks.

    • John
      July 24, 2014 at 14:01 #

      I have used an 8×10 camera in the past. Tri-x film processed in Micrdol. The negs were contact printed on AGFA Portriga. No digital camera comes close to the 8×10 in sharpness or detail. Wish I still had it at times.


    • September 1, 2014 at 22:16 #

      Just want to thank you for your comment and correction. I’ve never had the courage to try large format, but am trying to shoot film again – also Kodak Tmax – with a 35mm Olympus OM 4TI.

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