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



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

Richard said:

Wow! All systems are expensive!

Interesting comments on the lenses. I wonder if the need for good lenses on the OMD comes from that fact that the lens has to produce a really very sharp image in a smaller space, as in viewing and printing you're going to enlarge that final image a lot more. The MTF charts for Olympus I've seen tend to use 20 and 60 lines/mm not 10 and 30 as they're making an image half the size!

I had that Sigma lens! I only sold it for about £100! Should have researched.

I've bought older kit, and hopefully saved. So my OMD-EM5 cost about £600 with the 45 f/1.8 and the 40-150 f/5.6. The 45 has come down in price to about £170 now. The 40-150 is respectable enough though not as sharp seems on offer at half RRP for £140. I don't use the kit zoom, but do use the others, meaning the EM5 body wasn't that expensive at all.

The grip was second hand for about £100 for both parts. A waste of £100 at the moment, but worth keeping in case I want the second battery or external power.

£300 for the 17 f/1.8
£120 for a cheap flash.

So £1120 or $1750, but nowhere near as many lenses as you. The 12-40 PRO is £730 at the moment, but I think I'd be looking second hand now at around £500 for this, similar for the 75 f/1.8. Wow this can be an expensive hobby!

Still, it does give quite reasonable pictures though I have to be precise with it to get the results.

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!

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.


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?



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.

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.

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?

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.

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!

butch said:

im a sony guy and have been looking at the A57 and used A77 as options for my upgrade. i really wish tamron or sony woudl bring back the 400 f4.5
i have the 16-80 and tamron 70-200 2.8. i have been on the lookout for an older minolta 400mm but with the launch of the 500 the prices have gone way up. as for a macro the new tamton 90 usd might be ok or in the same price range the 180macro. your sure right about the spring making you zoom hungry and macro for that matter (all i have for true macro is the 30macro )

Matthew Saville said:

Roger, one weakness that very few people mention about the Nikon VS Canon situation:

1.) Nikon has no mRAW or sRAW mode. So if you enjoy shooting RAW and you get a D800, for example, you're "stuck" at 36 megapixels if you want full-frame results, which can generate ~40-50 MB files and that adds up quickly.

2.) Canon, bless their heart, has mRAW and sRAW which is fabulous for toying around or shooting high volume types of things such as overnight time lapses, or action sports where "reach" isn't important, ...or weddings.

3.) Unfortunately, bless their heart, Canon's mRAW mode introduces horrible color shifting in shadows, especially on the mk3. So if you like to push your dynamic range then you can kiss that option goodbye.

4.) So, we come full circle back to Nikon. (At least personally, I do) ...How to get that file size down? Well, we're in luck; Nikon has both a 12-bit RAW option, and a "Lossy" RAW compression option. This can knock your file size down below 1MB per 1MP! So for example, fully compressed 36 MP RAW files from a D800 would be about the same file size as the 14-bit lossless compressed 22 MP files from the 5D mk3.

Now, before any die-hard pixel peepers jump down my throat over such sacrilege as RAW compression, do yourself a favor and test it out before you crucify me. Or google some tests. The difference is negligible in 99% of shooting environments. I have a very easy rule of thumb: I only bump my Nikons into 14-bit lossless RAW if I am shooting landscapes, and even then it's gotta be a pretty dang epic scene. And even then, I can't really tell a difference in the files.

Anyways, Maybe for your shooting volume this is a non-issue. You gotta be shooting thousands of images per week for this to be a critical problem. I shoot for a wedding studio that has enough volume such that shooting 36 MP un-compressed RAW would cost $10-15K extra per year, LOL.

Articles testing these issues are being published on my website, of course.

Take care,

Stefan said:

So, cost. Total cost? You come from 16 MP and go to 20+ MP. You may want to use a new and quick computer and more storage. At 36 MP, you definitely want to. There goes another grand. Sturdier support or new set of filters, anyone? The Lee filters for the 14-24 are great but cost.
What about this altenative set:
D800E or 5DIII
24-120 or 24-105, F4
Sigma 120-200, F2.8 plus TC(s)
Sigma 35, F1.4
Macro around 105 mm
2nd best flash in the vendor lineup plus gels
This should set you back 8-9 grands w/o filters, spares etc.
To substitute for wide angle, go tripod + l-bracket + PTGUI or the like.
And you have much less to carry, out in the countryside.
Btw, is your monitor calibrated? Might want a new one? ;-)
Sounds like a plan? Eager to learn what you'll have chosen.

ken said:

For Steve Runyan:
"an APSC system with no upgrade path to FF (e.g. Pentax)"

They and Tokina have confirmed this actually. They were waiting for costs to come down enough to make FF more of a mass market item instead of 5% of Canikon's sales ;-)
Look for it in 2014 with the usual great Pentax ergonomics...

You pretty much can't go wrong w/ any of the DSLRs nowadays IMHO...compared w/ any of the old film gear, the new sensors w/ ISO gazillion support are pretty amazing...
For 4/3rds and HDSLR video, I'd also short list the Panasonic GH2...more resolution than the 5DmkIII and D800 and video quality comparable to the C300.

Trent Grasse said:

I honestly think 70-200 2.8 with a teleconverter would cover your needs for a long lens very adequately

Esa Tuunanen said:

Weakness of mirrorless 4/3 is definitely long focal length shooting with native narrow FOV teles being few, slow on aperture and not of high quality.
But then again current bodies lack focus system for full utilizing of such lenses so that's probably reason why Olympus or Panasonic haven't been interested in making native lenses to fill that gap.
Here's some about both of these problems:
With moving target/continous focus solved mirrorless 4/3 would have it's own point, like amplified live view image when OVF goes uselessly dark and manageable size&weight 180-500mm FOV f/2.8 lens fit for working with teleconverters.

It's actually interesting question if Sony will eventually remove SLT mirror from Alpha bodies when on sensor PDAF improves.
They probably wanted to simplify mechanical design of body and offer seamless integration of live view but noticed that they needed to keep separate PDAF sensor for retaining focus performance.

Esa Tuunanen said:

"– low light is important – then FF"
Not so fast, Steven.
Advantage isn't automatic for every situation.
Bigger format has better light gathering ability only when allowing shallower DOF. When stopped down for same DOF different formats all have same light gathering ability.

jds said:

Correction: The d800 is of course a full frame ... Not sure what I had in mind when I wrote that last sentence ...

jds said:

If the long end is the only thing that bothers you with your om-d, I'd go with a dedicated body+long lens. That's unless you haven't found weaknesses with your 4/3 system at short focal lengths, you hinted in a comment that you may add to that in a future post)

Like you I have a pond and do lots of wildlife photography, and I can tell you that I've been lusting for a while for a 4/3 to do everything but wildlife photography. Who wants a huge 10kg+ bag when you can do the same at a third of the weight and size? (In a few worse case scenarios I've missed good pictures, just because I "didn't feel like bringing the whole enchilada with me" ...)

With respect to tele-lenses, one thing I've learned over the years is that you can never have a focal length that's too long: You can always move back, but getting closer is another story ... At 500mm and above Nikon and Canon are the only game, at $7k and up ... (With the possible exception of the Sigma 500mm f4.5). The Sigma zooms never worked for me, but a D800 at 36mp could change that. One option is to use a crop sensor with a 400mm, at 640mm effective that's a lot of telelens for the buck. In fact it would be interesting to compare an image from d800 or 5dmk2-3 with 400mm cropped to match the same area as obtained with a aps-c, say d7000 or 7d ...

Mark Davidson said:

I go through a similar exercise a couple of times a year as I go into "camera rut" season. What keeps me in my Canon gear is the 17TS-E. It is a unique money making lens for my architecture photography. The delightful and well regarded Nikkor 14-24 almost makes me jump but the purity of proper correction at capture stills my hand.

The other thing that keeps me from switching is that, as a pro, I have a need for fast , reliable and responsive service from my repair source. I have never used Nikon service but my colleagues who do curse them roundly.

As for the lower DR of the 5DmkIII, I do what I did in the transparency days.... I fill with flash or reflectors.

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