Roger Buys a Camera System: So What's This Going to Cost?

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Lensrentals, 2013


In my last post I made a preliminary list of systems I was going to consider. Some people are a little surprised I'm considering crop sensor cameras. I'm surprised that they're surprised. I've shot with a micro 4/3 system for months and it certainly met 80% of my needs, so an APS-C based camera may be just fine. Or I may decide that I need to have a full-frame camera. I've generally shot full frame for the last several years.

But did I mention this is coming out of my own pocket? And that I'm kind of cheap? It's been several years since I've actually priced systems but the last time I checked APS-C was a lot cheaper. I want to look at just how many of my hard earned it requires to join the Big Boy Full-Frame Camera Owner's Club. I may just hang out with the kids.

I also want an idea, before I start comparing systems, about the cost difference between the different systems. I know exactly what the cameras sell for, but that doesn't necessarily reflect the cost of buying into a system. (Oh, and for those of you who think I have these numbers floating around in my head, I haven't done Lensrentals' purchasing for almost two years. I'm way out of the loop.)

My Olympus OM-D System's Cost

Roger Cicala, 2013


I've most recently been shooting with an Olympus OM-D system that I bought over several months. Purchasing piecemeal tends to confuse me about what I've actually invested in the system, so I tallied up my total costs.

Olympus OM-D E-M5$1,049
Olympus HLD-6 Grip$249
Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 OIS$1,498
Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 OIS$1,144
Panasonic 7-14mm f/4$949
Olympus 75mm f/1.8$949
Olympus 60mm f/2.8 Macro$499
Panasonic 100-300mm f/4-5.6 OIS$499
TOTAL $6,836


I have to admit I was a bit taken aback. Nearly $7,000 in my micro 4/3 system. I'm glad I took the time to tally this up. I truly hadn't realized how much I had invested in it.

This probably surprised me more than anything I had looked at so far. It may well serve as a good example for those who are thinking of changing systems - it's an expensive proposition (By the way - whoever recently bought a nice Olympus 75mm f/1.8 from Lensrentals, you got a great deal. That was my personal lens).

I know what you're thinking, but no, my wife would rather shove bamboo shoots under her fingernails than read my blog, so my secret is safe with you. Nothing like hiding in plain sight. The best part is if it ever does come to her attention, I'll be able to say, "But, honey, I even wrote about it!! What do you mean you had no idea??" Once again I serve as a role model for husbands everywhere.

This is probably as good a place as any to mention why I'm leaving the Olympus behind. It's been a good camera system for me. One of the major reasons for getting it, though, was my desire for a small system. To maximize the image quality I ended up with the very best lenses, most of which aren't that tiny. I've recently picked up a Sony RX-100 and that quickly became a go-everywhere, truly pocketable camera for when I'm just shooting snapshots for online jpgs. If anyone wants a blog post about the best point-and-shoot camera, here it is: get the RX-100.

In the end, my shooting style and demand for the best lenses made it a bit less portable than I'd hoped for, the RX-100 eased my need for a small camera system, and I found that I was shooting SLRs more and the Olympus less. When I moved out to the country the Micro 4/3 telephoto weakness became more irritating to me and pushed me over the edge.

Full Frame Costs

Just to get a rough idea, I'm going to price the body and these lenses: 24-70 f/2.8, 70-200 f/2.8, 100 or 150mm Macro, wide-angle f/2.8 zoom, and the best quality telezoom. I also want a moderately wide-angle, wide-aperture prime lens. I'd probably go with the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens for any of the three full-frame bodies so my actual cost will be $899 more than the table shows. Finally, I want a shoe-mount flash. I'll use the middle grade flash because that's what I use in real life.

No comparison like this is going to be perfectly fair, and when I finally decide on a system I'll make some changes, but this should give me a rough idea about system cost. Obviously these are February 2013 prices. If you stumble on this article in 6 months they'll probably be quite different. Of course, these are current list prices, too, and if you shop carefully you could certainly save a couple of hundred bucks.

Nikon D800E$3,097Canon 5D Mk III$3,149Sony A99$2,798
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 AF-S$1,887Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II$2,199Sony-Zeiss 24-70mm f/2.8$1,898
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II$2,397Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II$2,299Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 G$1,998
Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 AF-S$1,997Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II$1,489Sony-Zeiss 16-35mm f/2.8$1,898
Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Micro$899Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro$899Sigma 150mm f/2.8 Macro$1,099
Sigma 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3$1,509Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS$1,489Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G$1,898
Nikon SB-700$327Canon 430EX II$279Sony HVL-F43AM$348


Two notes on the table above: I substituted the Sigma 50-500mm OS for the Nikon system because it's both a better lens optically and a bit less expensive than the Nikon 80-400. I substituted the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 OS for the Sony 100mm f/2.8 macro, which I consider a weak lens. That added $300 to the Sony system.

So what did I learn? That I'm not going to choose my full-frame system on price point, obviously. Whichever full-frame system I choose will run just under $13,000 (including the 35mm prime). I can probably save enough with careful shopping to make it $12,000. But there's not going to be a significant price savings with one system over the other.

One other point -- people are going to ask why I don't substitute the Canon 6D or Nikon D600 and save nearly $1,000. Well, $2,000 versus $3,000 for a camera seems like a big difference, but $13,000 versus $12,000 has me in 'might as well get the best' mode. Still, I may well consider doing that later, although I'd be more likely to substitute the Canon 6D than the Nikon D600.

This point was one I explored a bit in the first article in this group. For the Nikon, at least, the increased resolution of the D800 may actually let me save a bit of money on lenses. For example, the D800 and Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 VC will certainly out-resolve the D600 with the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8. I'm not saying I'd do that, but that $600 difference alone could largely offset the difference in camera costs.

The difference in resolution between the two Canon cameras is smaller. With that system the trade off would be better AF versus cooler features (I have a man-crush on the 6D's WiFi setup). I'm more likely to make that switch if I go with Canon, but at the moment I'm leaning towards the 5D Mk III.

Crop Sensor Costs

Roger Cicala, 2013


OK, so how much will I save with if I go with an APS-C camera? I did the same exercise with my three APS-C camera choices. There's a more variation here but I'll try to keep the systems roughly equivalent. I want to point out, though, that these lens lists are just for comparison purposes. As I get into each system more I'll certainly make some lens changes.

Nikon Nikon Pentax Pentax Sony Sony
Nikon D5200$897Pentax K-5 IIs$1,197Sony A77$1,098
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 AF-S$1,887Pentax 16-50mm f/2.8$1,497Sony-Zeiss 24-70mm f/2.8$1,898
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II$2,397Pentax 50-135mm f/2.8$1,597Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 G$1,988
Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5$599Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5$599Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5$599
Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Micro$899Pentax 100mm f/2.8 Macro$847Sigma 105mm f/2.8 Macro$769
Nikon 300mm f/4$1,379Pentax 300mm f/4$1,397Sigma 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3 OS$1,509
Nikon SB-700$327Pentax AF-360 FGZ$239Sony HVL-F43AM$348
TOTAL $8,385 TOTAL $7,373 TOTAL $8,209


A couple of points need explaining for this comparison. First, I'm listing the Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 lens for all 3 systems because it's a very good lens, gets me as wide as I want to be, and lists at a reasonable price. I might consider any of the many other ultra-wide choices for a specific system, but for now I'll take f/3.5.

Second, I put the Nikon and Sony 24-70 f/2.8 lenses as my standard zoom rather than their APS-C equivalents. I've shot enough with the Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 DX and Sony 16-50mm f/2.8 to know I prefer the full-frame lenses in their place and would pay the difference. The Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 VC might be an alternative. In theory a crop-sensor lens will provide a better value since it is designed and manufactured with a smaller image circle. My experience is that they almost always cost less, but are not always the better value.

It's probably not quite fair to put the Pentax 50-135mm f/2.8 against the Sony and Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 lenses either, but that's the option I have for an f/2.8 telezoom. There is a long gap in my Pentax system between that 135 and the 300mm f/4 lens I have for a telephoto. If I put the 200 f/2.8 in that gap, I add $1,100 to the Pentax system cost. I considered the Pentax 60-250mm f/4 as an alternative but I'd prefer f/2.8 and the 60-250mm didn't quite have the image quality of some of the other lenses -- good, not great.

This brings me to a point I want to reemphasize; an area where I probably think differently than most of you. The lesser camera needs the better lens. This is the opposite of what most people actually buy.

I consider that a higher camera resolution makes every lens resolve better. (I wasn't sure how much, which is why I did the 24-70 f/2.8 system comparison earlier.) But it's something I had already discovered when I moved from full-frame SLRs to the Olympus OM-D. I was happy with the images only when I had a very good lens on the OM-D.

At any rate, if I decide on any of the 3 APS-C systems, I'll be getting some different lenses than the ones listed in the tables above. This was just to provide me with  a rough idea about system cost.

The takeaway message is that if I go crop-sensor, given the lenses I prefer, the cost will be about 2/3 of what a full-frame will cost me. To be honest, I had expected a bit bigger differential.

What's Next?

I was surprised at how much I'd spent on my micro 4/3 system. Then I was surprised to find how much I would spend for a new full-frame system. Finally, I was surprised to find going with an APS-C system wasn't going to save me quite as much as I'd hoped. There were no good surprises today. In fact, I spent a few minutes thinking that my cell phone takes pretty nice pictures. Maybe I need a new hobby.

I'm already well involved in the next steps. I've already spent a couple of weeks shooting first with the Pentax K-5 IIs system, because I was the least familiar with that system and needed time to check out the lenses that were available to me. And some lenses that were not available to me. (For those of you wondering why the Pentax 300mm f/4 lens suddenly showed up for rent, well, that was because my Pentax evaluation required it for research purposes. If you haven't tried it, do. It's quite excellent.)

While I'm familiar with Sony lenses I haven't shot nearly as much with the A99 and A77 as I have previous Alpha cameras, so I'm wallowing in those currently.

I'll let you know what I think in a week or so.

Addendum: I might as well let me secret out now: one of the reasons I began this series of posts was that I knew I'd get some really good input from readers. If you haven't read the comments from the previous post, I suggest them highly. There are some really good thoughts, several of which are already influencing my thinking, with absolutely no strident fanboy posts.


Roger Cicala


February, 2013



108 Responses to “Roger Buys a Camera System: So What's This Going to Cost?”

lisandra said:

Cost isnt so surprising if you ask me, its right where it should be in fact. If you look at it ff goes for about twice as much as your m4/3s kit, and thats ignoring the fact you used 6 lenses for m4/3s and 5 for everyone else. And for aps c? Well if you add something that gets you to 150 equivalent at f1.8 (I wouldnt know what, but figure it aint cheap) that puts apsc in about 1.5 times the cost of m4/3s. Coincidence? I think not!

Patricia Dulaney said:

Thanks for your insights and information. I love Photography and i have my own DSLR camera too but, in times that i want to try new effects on pictures, i just rent on some lenses for me not to keep on buying and just used it for like twice or a week. I just saved my money to what lens i really needed and use often.

Nicholas Cole said:

This is a really cool series. It's no mystery why your APS-C options aren't saving you the money you'd expected though. You're still looking at FF options for the most expensive part of the system. For example, switching to the Sony 16-50 alone would save you close to $1200.

As you said though, lesser camera -> better lenses :)

Here's a question though. You've said previously that if you're going to use something 2-3 times a year, you'll rent it. Are there any lenses in your hypothetical kit that you don't see yourself using more than three times a year?

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:


The lenses in my kit I'll probably use several times a month, but things like a tilt shift and supertelephoto I only use a few times a year.

George Pappas said:


wonderful series. Love your thinking/writing as always.

What struck me about this system comparison is how well the major camera makers have done their marketing homework. They clearly know their customer segments very well and are looking at comparable price/system/switching costs very carefully. The do this as a hedge against losing customers during the inevitable, specific, highs and lows that occur in their product lines during this massive innovation wave called digital photography.

Your case in point is Canon; while the 5D3's sensor may not be the equal of the Nikon D800, the camera's other features plus lens selection were part of Canon's calculus while they get their next generation of sensors on the market. The fact that the FF system costs are functionally equivalent shows the homework that these companies have done....

Excellent series. Thanks again.

andrew said:

I appreciate that I am very late to the game, so may not get a response but I wonder whether you'd comment on the following comparison.

Nikon SB-700 Speedlight (Standard) £229.00
Nikon D600 Body Only (Standard) £1,450.00
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM - Nikon fit (Standard) £899.00
Sigma 85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM (Nikon AF) (Standard) £669.00
Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD (Nikon Fit) (Standard) £846.99

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED (Standard) £1,239.00
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II (standard) £1,605.00
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G (Standard) £1,189.00
Nikon SB-700 Speedlight (Standard) £229.00
Nikon D600 Body Only (Standard) £1,450.00

I'm in a not dissimilar position to that which you found yourself in. I've read your articles and I wonder with the kit listed, whether you are getting 90% of the performance for 70% of the money with the third party lenses listed.

The Sigma 85 prime has had excellent reviews, as has the Tamron 24-70 and the 70-200. So I suppose my question is do you think that you are getting >90% of the technical performance and if so, why would you not have chosen to do something like this?



LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Hi Andrew,

I like most of your choices, but the Sigma 70-200 is definitely not 90% of the Nikon. I'd prefer the Tamron 70-200 if you want to go 3rd party route there.


Nils Karlson said:

I always wonder...where do people get all this money to buy such expensive gear?
Maybe I am on the wrong job, haha!

But well, I shoot a professional system as well - a Pentax 645nII medium format camera with my three favorite lenses (35/75/120, which will give approximately the same width as 21/45/75 in the 35mm world).
I only paid 900€ for the whole system (and a few spare parts as well as the small odd bits) on ebay.

Well, I do not have a scanner (yet), so I can't show the world my pictures, but I am ok with this.
To me, this way is more useful than drooling over a camera I will never ever be able to afford (hey, if anyone wants to give me a D3s as a gift, I'd be glad to use it for action pictures of my cats and dogs), but I prefer the solid Pentax 645nII and its magnificent lenses over a cheap and crummy cropped DSLR with a little peephole (which some folks call 'finder'...because it is so small, you can't find anything).

And the moral of the story? See above ;-)

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on buying a camera system!

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