The cost of switching camera systems

By on February 13th, 2014 in General

My friend Chris and I have had back and forth conversations about the merits of the µ4/3 camera systems compared to the Fuji X series and Sony α7 compact systems cameras. I'm considering moving away from the DLSR -- I have a Nikon D5100 -- to reduce the bulk of equipment I carry around. Chris holds the position that µ4/3 is lighter, smaller and the lens are cheaper than the Fuji and Sony equivalents. I looked up weight and dimensions of each camera body and they are roughly the same. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is neither the smallest or lightest of these three cameras. Ignoring the megapixel specs of the Sony α7 these cameras all have similar specs. I don't think megapixels matter much for most people once you get up to 16MP. So weight and dimensions varies little between these three cameras.

Chris suggested that lenses for the Sony and Fuji would be more expensive than for the Olympus and that the µ4/3 had more lens options. While I concede that Fuji and Sony don't have as many lenses µ4/3, the µ4/3 format has very few lenses compared to Canon or Nikon. There are many adapters that would allow me to use almost any Nikon or Canon lens with the Sony or Fuji. I don't know of any adapters to allow these lenses to be used on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 but I'm sure they exists. The adapters to allow use of these older Canon/Nikon lens on the micro 43, Fuji X-mount and Sony E-mount do not support any of the automatic functions. I would have to use all the lenses in manual mode on any of these camera systems. It’s a draw on that issue.

Fuji has announced a roadmap for new lenses and I'm sure that we'll see some excellent offerings soon. Sony is just getting started but I also expect to see some excellent Carl Zeiss lenses in the next few years.

So how much would it cost me buy into a compact camera system? Assuming that I was starting from scratch, I would want a midrange zoom lens. For me that means, a 24-70mm lens (35mm). On a full frame camera, like the Sony α7 or Nikon D800, this is wide enough for everything from wide-angle landscapes and panoramas, to portraits and events. So how much would the camera body and 24-70mm lens cost?

For my future camera kit I would want additional lenses in the following 35mm lens equivalents. A 12-24mm (or 10-24mm) wide angle zoom for landscape/architecture HDR photography. For landscapes F stop is irrelevant since I’ll be shooting on a tripod at f-stops between 11 and 20. I want a midrange zoom for everyday use. While the a maximum aperture of f/2.8 may be too slow for night time use but is fine for photo-walks, some sports and indoor family portraits. Most of these I would shoot at f/5.6 to f/8 and a flash will help. I can shoot at higher ISO also. For portraiture I would want either a 85mm f/1.8 or 90mm f/1.8 prime.

35 mm lensAPS-Cµ4/3

So let’s look at the lens offerings for some of the recently popular compact systems cameras. NOTE: Prices are from on date of publication.

Camera BodyCostMidrange Zoom Lens (24-70mm)1CostPortrait Lens2CostWide angle zoom3CostTotal
Fujifilm X-T1$1,299.00Fujifilm XC 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS (24-75mm f/5.2-8.4)$399.00Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 (85mm f/1.8)$999.00Fujifilm XF 10-24mm f/4 (15-36mm f/6) OIS$999.00$3,696.00
Olympus OM-D E-M1$1,269.00Panasonic : LUMIX G X VARIO 12-35mm/F2.8 ASPH X$1,104.99OLYMPUS : M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 45mm F1.8$310.00Panasonic : LUMIX G VARIO 7-14mm F4.0 ASPH$968.00$3,582.98
Sony α7$1,698.00Vario-Tessar T * FE 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS$998.00------------------10-18mm Wide-Angle Zoom$848.00$3,544.00

Surprisingly, the Fuji X-T1 kit with a wide angle zoom lens is almost a thousand dollars cheaper than the similar Olympus kit. Wow! From a sensor size perspective, the Fuji X-T1 is in the middle compared to the Sony and Olympus cameras. The Fuji X-series has more lenses than Sony but fewer than Olympus.

While the f/3.5-5.6 Fuji lens isn’t comparable to the f/2.8 μ 43 and Sony lens, the LUMIX isn’t comparable to a Carl Zeiss (the Sony Vario-Tessar) lens either and the Sony lens is only $300 more. I expect that Fuji will release a faster lens in the near future. I would expect the lens pricing to be about $1000. The Fuji kit would still ends up being cheaper. While Sony E-mount lenses can be used on the α7, this means I wouldn't be shooting cropped down. What's the point of a full-frame sensor if I can't use it? Sony also has no portrait lens for the FE-mount. Sony's lens line up is the smallest of the three systems and Sony hasn't announced any roadmap for what and when lenses might be released.

UPDATE: Chris pointed out that one of the μ 43 lens I listed was actually a four thirds lens. I have updated the table with a true μ 43 lens. That makes the μ 43 camera kit is the cheapest in the line up.

The OMD-M1 is the winner from a lens availability standpoint. Neither Sony or Fuji has lens that meet the requirements at this time.

Local photographer, Alan Kesselhaut recently bought the OM-D EM-1to use instead of his Canon. I'll ask him for his experience but it seems I may have to take the OM-D M-1 more seriously.

UPDATE 2: I found an interesting article about camera lenses and crop sensors. It turns out that smaller format sensors affect more than just field of view (FOV). It turns out depth of field (DOF)is also affected by the same multiplier as for FOV. For example, the characteristics of a 45mm f/1.8 µ 43 lens is roughly equivalent to that of a 90mm f/3.6 lens. Or put another way, if I am shooting a subject at f/8 on a 90mm (35mm) lens I would need to shoot the same subject at f/4 on the 45mm (&macro;4/3) to obtain the same DOF.

Looking at the chart about in that new light (no pun intended), the &macro;4/3 lenses seem much slower than the 35mm equivalents. Of course this affects APS-C cameras as well (including my Nikon D5100). This explains why I've found it challenging to achieve results similar to some of the photos I see online.

  1. Fuji does not have a 24-70mm (35mm) lens for the X-series. The Fujifilm XC 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OIS (24−75 35mm equiv.) is the closest to that range. 
  2. Sony does not have a portrait prime for E-mount or F-mount. 
  3. Fuji does not have a 12-24mm (35mm) lens for the X-series. The Fujifilm XF 10-24mm F4 OIS (μ 43) is the closest to that range but not wide enough for me. I hope Fuji adds a wider zoom to the range soon. The LUMIX G VARIO 7-14mm F4.0 (μ 43) is the widest zoom for the μ 43 format. The Sony is an E-mount lens for the NEX line of cameras. It has a focal length (35mm equivalent) of 15-27 mm.