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?”

J.L. Williams said:

Interesting series (although I agree with Thom about strict priority-setting; it really does simplify your universe of choices drastically.)

A pleasant surprise to me as a Micro 4/3 user is that your comparison is making M4/3 look like a much better value than I would have guessed. A knock one often hears about M4/3 is that it is pricey compared to what you could get in traditional DSLR formats. But considering that your erstwhile M4/3 system was made up mostly of top-of-the-line gear, it prices out very well.

Of course if something doesn’t do what you need it to do (as in your case) then it doesn’t matter how good a value it is — but since I’m finding that M4/3 DOES do almost everything I need it to do, I’m glad to know I’m not getting hosed on pricing as badly as I would have thought.

robert cook said:

Roger , you said you need a new hobby !! You have one , you Love it and your Great at it !! So consider your phone , and the best Bridge camera, like the 2.8 always. 28 ish to 600ish Pany , light and easy to carry handy set up !! That way you have a BACK UP and versatility always. But if you start to carry all that GARBAGGGGGE around, on your lists ,, what can I say ,, but less is more. How about the 28 to 300 Nikon zoom on the Nikon D 800 E and I think your life would be mellower !!!!! The Canons cameras have focus issues that , FORCED me to switch to Nikon . And THERE IS NOT A BETTER SENSOR TODAY than the Sony sensor in the Nikon D800 E,, (35format). Now,, one other thing you should really wait for.. The NEW coming Sony 70 400 lens.. WHAT A RANGE !! What versatility !! That one lens and one other and your DONE !!! But you do need a back up body ,, the Sony A 78 is rumored. Thank you for all your reviews.

Tim Cooper said:

You can add a crop body to the full-frame kit essentially for free by switching out the full-frame ultrawide for a crop ultrawide.

I wouldn’t do this because I love the 17L and lust after that 14-24G, but if you don’t need a high-end landscape lens it’s probably a good idea.

Mathias said:

I already wondered in the last post, why you picked the Nikon 5200 over the 7000 while prefering the Sony A77 to the A57 and choosing the bigger Pentax model as well. That appears a bit inconsistent, to me.

nandadevieast said:

Are you a guy who can’t spend too many months with a camera…
Come on, tell us the truth…:)

Peter said:

Nikon: d52k is craptastic. 7k

Sony: remap focus zoom to be convenient, and spend a while with a fast prime. play with evf for review in different lighting. Use af/mf instead of depress shutter halfway for focus. Play with low-light, with that stabilized f/1.4.

Marko Solic said:

First of all, great series of posts, I enjoy reading each one. :)

Secondly, why is the resolution of the D800(e) so important to you?
I understand the advantage that it gives you with the lenses, but I don’t undetstand what is the practical application of all that?
If one camera+lens combination has a number of 985 on your chart (whatever it means :D ), and another has 805 – how will that affect your photographs in real life?
If you’ll be printing huge landscapes or if you are doing high-end fasion photography I will certainly understand, but to be honest, will you be doing any of those things?
The real test should be your photos the way you will use them, without 100% magnification or charts – are you even capable of telling the difference between let’s say 5D III, A99, and D800E with their 24-70mm lenses?

Peter said:

One more tip on Sony: use Oxus zoom, and just lean back or forward slightly to microadjust. Hyper accurate way to fine tune manual focus. Very helpful at f/1.4.

Stephen said:

What do you find weak about the Sony 100/2.8 Macro?

Luis said:

Roger, you killed my crush on micro 4/3. Thank you.
Loses to P&S going portable and cheap, and is as expensive and cumbersome as APS-C catching up with IQ.

The open question in your APS-C configurations is how much are you giving up for 66% of the price. I miss too a “good but no great” APS-C lenses configuration for some 33% of the cost.

Samuel H said:

Reading the comments from the previous post, two bodies instead of a >300mm lens makes a lot of sense.

D800E: $3100
D5200: $900
Samyang 14mm f/2.8: $420
Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 VC: $1300
Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 VC: $1500
Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Micro: $900
Nikon SB-700: $327

That adds up to $8500, and has all your bases covered, including a 300mm equivalent with VC.

Samuel H said:

… which begs the question: what’s sharper, D800 with sigma 50-500, or D5200 with Tamron 70-200 VC?

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Stephen, it’s a good lens but has a more CA and a bit less resolution than the the newer designed macros. If I was locked into Alpha I’d shoot the Sigma 150 instead.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:


I’m focusing on 16 X 20 prints, although I do print larger. And that’s the question I want to answer – will it make a difference in my work. I know it does on test charts, but I don’t print those very often :-) So that’s why the comparison.

Rob said:

I thought it might be interesting to look at the weight of the various systems….

OMD system 2535g
Nikon 5200 crop system 6105g
Nikon 800E FF system 7519g

That is the primary reason that my OMD system is unlikely to be upgraded. Still if you are buying photographic equipment by weight, it sure does look expensive!

Lester said:

Just to offer one solution to the M4/3 telephoto “problem” — I run the Zuiko 50-200 (100-400 equiv) f2.8-3.5 on my OM-D E-M5 through an MMF-3 adaptor. Focus is slow (not good for action shots), but IQ is superb…

Scott Gant said:

Roger, I have to ask, what is it that you’re looking for that the m4/3 system just isn’t giving you? Is it just for the ultra long focal lengths you’re looking for?

Have you ever looked at a picture that someone else took and go “oh, I can see he didn’t use a FF camera with that”? Can you even tell just by looking what camera/lens/format was used? I personally can’t. Now, getting to how YOU take pictures, again, what is it that you’re not getting from your system that you wish you could get?

Also, why do you have to buy an entire new system? Why not just keep your m4/3 system now, and just buy a single camera and single lens that you’re not getting from the m4/3? You know, you want a 400mm lens, so get one and use it on a D800…but then you also have your Olympus for other things. Why the “all the same system” mindset? Just curious.

I don’t use an m4/3 system btw, but I see it everyday with people saying “I’m dumping my FF DSLR for m4/3, and I’ve never been happier”. Even some pros are going mirrorless with the m4/3 systems, which is why I was curious to see why you’re moving away from it and going back to DSLR-land. I’m still chugging along with a 5D MkII.

Randy Schwartz said:

Aside from cost, another question to answer is how much do you want to carry? In general, quality equals weight (that includes bodies and lenses). To me, much of the appeal of Canon’s 6D is its size and weight. If you want (need?) the benefits of FF, there’s no way to get away with low weight. Bottom line: That’s why we enthusiasts have many cameras and lenses (or rent them), some days you want to go light, other days you want to feel your inner pro and take out the heavy artillery. I assume the new system you will be purchasing will be your heavy artillery. Good luck to you and your back! lol.

JonR said:

Your two “system” articles are excellent, but I think that you are premature in abandoning your m43 system for either athe heavier and more expensive APS-C or FF systems scoring high on the DxO charts. Below, I provide some thoughts as to why it is advisable to wait for the hybrid focusing m43/43 camera that Olympus is proving to produce this year.
I too have been going through this process having decided to adopt a lighter (weight) system (D300 & FX/DX lenses) due to my advancing age and emersion in nature photography requiring fast telephoto lenses. For about two years, I have been shooting with a lot of m43 (EM-5 & GH2 bodies & many lenses), Four Thirds Oly Pro telephoto zooms and my Nikon DX/FX gear (plus the Sony RX100 and the Nikon N1 V1 for special purposes).
My assessment is similar to yours re the OM-D EM-5: it’s a great camera that meets my needs for macro, landscape, architectural, street and even multi-flash photography using the Pani 7-14mm f/4, 12-35mm f/2.8 & 45mm f/2.8 macro lenses plus the OLY 14-150mm walk around lens. The less than stellar performance of the m43 system comes in the telephoto range especially with consistent AF-C of moving birds in low contrast light. The Pani 100-300mm is a decent lens for nature telephoto work but the not nearly the optic quality of the OLY 90-250mm f/2.8 or the more compact OLY 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 zooms even when the latter are combined with a 1.4x TC. These two lenses are surpurb but were designed to focus optimally with phase detect sensors. On the EM-5 they will focus under 3 seconds in AF-1 + M but not near instantly and continuously as they should.
Olympus is very aware that they have mostly orphaned their excellent Four Thirds lenses and have repeatedly announced their commitment to solve this issue with a new “pro” m43/43 camera body in 2013. It should have a mirrorless hybrid sensor – I hope – similar to the design used by the little Nikon N1. This little CX sensor has 77 (?) phase shift detect sensors buried in the same plane as the more abundant contrast focus sensors. (The N1 V1 with the TF1 adapter focuses my 200-400 F/4 instantly while producing an equivalent 10MP image @ F/4 and 549-1024mm!)
Clearly, there is proven technology for Olympus to build a new m43/43 camera with an excellent sensor with a hybrid focus systems. (Note that the new Nikon D5200 has both focusing systems but no micro adjustment capability to correct for front/back focus issues.) Therefor, it seem advisable to wait for the new Olympus body before abandoning ones excellent m43 or Four Thirds gear and investing in more expensive an heavier APS-C or FF systems.

Randy Schwartz said:

Going a little deeper into what determines one’s purchase might include the “fun” factor and resale value. Certainly, for most of us, our camera equipment is very much our toys. As you mentioned, having Wi-Fi is a lot of fun (and we’re only in the early stages here). I think Canon did a very smart thing adding that to the 6D- I’m sure we’ll see more of that in future cameras from all makes. That leads me to resale value. Like you think you’ll be keeping the body(ies) for more than a year or two? (Let’s not forget why you do this for a living!) Lenses have much more staying power than bodies, but even there we do get bored with using the same lenses over and over. There’s little doubt in my mind that Nikon and Canon will maintain better resale value, if for no other reason then there being more enthusiasts out there married to those brands. I believe Canon has the edge here based their service record and Nikon being a much smaller company (but I do expect Nikon will be purchased by a bigger company when that time comes).

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Scott, the ‘over the edge’ for me was the telephoto end. When I first got into the OM-D I was doing far less than I am now. But once I moved out to the country, with a pond behind my house, hardly a day goes by that I don’t want to take a shot of the deer, coyote, and birds that I can see from the back porch. There are workarounds, obviously, but not with wildlife-speed autofocus.

As to the prints, I have a number of 16 X 20 OM-D prints hanging in the house and at the office. But, as I’ll mention in the next article, there definitely is a difference for many subjects that I can see.

Justin said:

Another consideration is to ditch the heavy zooms. For the D800e (as an example), mount a 24-120 and pick up a few primes. The trinity of 28, 50, 85 f1.8s are spectacular.

Add the Bigma you mentioned and you are done. Or add one more zoom, either the 16-35 f/4 or the 14-24 f/2.8.

Jos MARTENS said:

My system proposal : two bodies ( to avoid changing lenses, especially interesting in dusty areas ), one APS-C to give you maximum zoom, one full frame to give you maximum wide angle. Lenses : I owe a Sigma 120-300 2.8 IS/VR,very good sharpness but heavy, and a 24-70. Add a 100 mm makro and eventually an ultrawide, fixed or zoom. Add a shoe-mounted flash, not necessarily a top of the range model. Do not forget : a camera bag/rucksack that packs it all with space for extra batteries, memory cards, and Ipad/Iphone( your go light camera)/portable PC for back-up and review. Oh yes maybe also the chargers and for survival a few power bars and bottle of water. Now check : can and will you carry this weight and does it suit your wallet? I leave it to you to pick the lenses and calculate the prices

Stephen Froehlich said:

Roger, you mention that the CA of the Sony-branded macro is too big for you, but I’m assuming you shoot RAW and correct the CA (plus don’t the Sony bodies do this internally). You’ve already posted a great analysis of the tradeoff between mathematical un-distortion and resolution, but I would think that mathematical lateral CA correction would have far fewer side effects. I’d love to see you undertake that analysis at some point as I am in the habit of ignoring lateral CA performance in my decision-making these days, relying on DxO to do it instead.

I will also note that you’re asking a camera system to do just about everything well … a very demanding task. Its amazing that you can find so many choices that are up to the challenge, especially for less than the price of a car … or a bassoon.

I would also join Roger in noting that ownership of an RX100 has radically shifted how we use our DSLRs (A Canon T1i and XSi in our case.)
i.e. they almost never get used with the standard kit lens anymore. Instead I only break out the DSLRs when we need something (aperture, reach, UWA, true macro) that the RX100 can’t do. (Then there is the fact that the RX100 can sync flash at 1/2000s …)

Karl said:

Roger, thank you for this great series of articles. I’m quite surprised you didn’t put weather sealing in to your considerations. It would make all the difference to me. But then I’m not sure about the sealing of your listed lenses. The D5200 is certainly missing it and that’s why I’d chose the D7k over it if I had to choose between the two.
Also I’d take a second body just to have another focal length handy. Especially at the low prices of the older ones but then this resolved anytime in the future if really needed.

David said:

I really like this article. What I am perplexed by is that you claim you are lacking in the tele-photo end with your OMD. But you have a 600mm f5.6 with the Panny 100-300mm lens. For you full frame systems your maxed out at 400mm with Canon and 500mm in Nikon with the sigma, which I don’t think is that great a lens. When Panasonic releases the 150mm lens this year or next, then you have the fast tele you were missing. I would just buy the Panasonic lens when it come out and be done. For other tele lenes just get the Tamron 300mm f2.8 adaptall or the Nikon AIS 400mm and you really have telephoto.
Maybe my comment is hitting that I don’t know exactly what the OMD is not giving you. Or maybe you think the other side will give you something better, but a $12000 reality check might just tell you no its not different, just heavier and more expensive.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:


6 months ago that wasn’t too important to me but when I moved into the country every day became a 400mm photo op as various animals came by to water in the pond behind my house. When I took an SLR and 400mm lens home I could get more detail than I could with the xx-300 lenses m4/3 lenses even zoomed out to 600mm equivalent. One solution would be to wait for a better m4/3 lens, but Spring starts here in a couple of weeks and as I said in the first post, I want a system now, and have found ‘waiting for what’s coming’ is fun, but not practical.

Another solution would be to buy an SLR with a dedicated lens and just keep that at the house. The cost of things makes that a true consideration, but I also want to explore my options a lot more fully.

Joe said:

Where’s that Olympus 300/2.8 43rds lens when you need it (haven’t seen it on the site in 1-2 years).

A good idea would be to setup a tripod with a super tele and body on a gimbal head and just leave it at the door. Clean memory card and a charged battery (if not doing a plugin setup). Always ready for a grab and shoot. Of course, this would be in addition to your walk about kit, which will have an added cost of home improvements.

Gary said:

If you go with the Sony A99 then I’d get the HVL-60M rather than the 43. Sony changed the shoe, with the 43 you have to use an adapter, the 60 is the new version so no messing around.

Jerry said:

If you go with f/4 zooms and the Canon 6D, you can get a complete full-frame system for $6205! I was surprised (in a good way) when I added it up: 6D kit with 24-105L, $2699; 17-40L, $839; 100L Macro $899; 100-400L, $1489, and the 430EX II flash, $279. The slower zooms are equivalent to the f/2.8 zooms on crop (or at least, within a half-stop to a stop, past 100 mm). The complete telephoto zoom range is covered, so the 70-200 is redundant. This saves a lens in your bag, and the kit is much lighter than the equivalent crop system. Yet you get full-frame resolution, and get the best performance out of your primes.

Zachery said:

Funny, I went through a similar exercise recently. Though I don’t have the mass amount of gear at my disposable to try and test things out, I have switched systems like 6 times now (yeah, don’t mention the cost of that) and am finally settled on a D800. I decided not to go with the D800E because of this article, primarily the nature of the moiré and the ultimate conclusion that the D800E is sharper but statistically it’s a sub pixel difference: http://www.falklumo.com/lumolabs/articles/D800AA/D800AAFilter.html

But the reason I went with the D800 over the D600 was partly the resolution but also partly the resolution :) . I had already seen with other lenses how I can get a better result downsampling a D800 image to 24mp than a 24mp camera will get, and that’s backed up with the 24-70 comparison article. But I also wanted to simplify my occasional telephoto shooting desires and I decided after a lot of thought that 15mp is okay, for my needs at telephoto distances and I can live with making smaller prints out of those shots. But in practice, I may only need to crop to 18, 20mp. I have the option, though, with the D800 to even go down as far as 10mp with a decent lens and still do a 12×18 print on a rough paper. So while I can take some cheaper lenses and get better images out of them, I can also take some more expensive lenses and get more utility out of them.

Beyond that, I lived with the D800 for months and I found it extremely enjoyable to work with, despite the huge file sizes and 10s LR render times. I chose the D800 over any Canon offering because I can personally see the image quality difference, but also the science backs it up with a massive, over two stops improvement in DR. Remember a stop is DOUBLE… it’s a big deal, but also a significant color sensitivity increase and each bit of that is double as well (commonly misunderstood). The combination of high resolution, high color sensitivity and high DR means the results just coalesce into something very next-generation looking to me compared to what comes out of the Canons.

The only thing that kept me reevaluating this was that in a longer term plan, I will buy a 24mm perspective correction lens. I know the Nikkor is regarded as not as great as the Canon. However, some of the photographers I respect the most are using the D800 + 24mm PC-E and their results are fine art quality and very good. Perhaps it’s a little extra supply of post-processing sauce, but, it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, the images I want to make with this combo can be made, even if it’s not the very best possible resolving 24mm PC-E.

Those were my primary reasons behind going with the D800. I had no existing lenses in any FF system to consider or anything otherwise dragging me in. I was wide open to the Canon option as they have a few lenses I find interesting. But ultimately I felt that I could *do more* with the D800 thanks to its resolution and DR.

Ultimately my core kit will be: D800, Tokina 16-28/2.8, Nikkor 24/3.5 PC-E, Sigma 35/1.4, Nikkor 85/1.8G, Nikkor 70-200/4, Nikkor 80-400 replacement (rumored for this year, fingers crossed). I may also add a few little things here and there, such as a Rokinon 8mm fisheye for crop mode, but that’s the actual plan. Excluding the PC-E and eventual 80-400, that prices out to be about $6350, add the PC-E to take it to 8350, and I don’t know what the 80-400 will cost but it will still be well under $12000-$13000. Of course, that is because of my differing shooting preference, as I don’t really care for normal zooms, though if I did I would get the Nikkor 28-70 most likely, and also I don’t require a fast 70-200, I only use that lens for landscapes.

JN said:

When I bought my 1st DSLR it was the Canon 10D. At the time it got nice reviews. But I do remember that what swayed me (all other things being about equal) and what was/is still important to me is form. I just prefer the Canon DSLR body style/shape, simpler, neater I feel than some others. In the same way I couldn’t wait to get the X100, because its just such an attractive camera.

So of course price, functionality, lens etc etc are really important, but you have to LIKE it too! This works for me. Best of luck with your final choice. I really enjoy your articles Roger, do keep it up.

Mike Dougherty said:

One of the advantages of digital is that you can mix & match more than with film. For example, my current cropped frame digital setup covers a lot of range: (I don’t change lenses in the field.)

D7000 with Sigma 8-16 $900 + $700 = $1,600
D7000 with Sigma 17-70 OS micro $900 + $400 = $1,300
Sony A57 with 70-400 $600 + $2200 = $2,800

Total cost is $5,700 and everything fits in a Think Tank bag that fits in the overhead bin of a CRJ.

I’ve seldom found a situation that I can’t shoot.

Rory said:

Hi Roger – love your blog!

I think you should build your system around the lenses you want now and anticipate buying in the future and then go with whatever body works with the lenses. Bodies are always improving, so if Nikon is a tad better now, Canon will be top dog in a year or so, but not so much for the lenses. The crux of th issue, as I see it, is that you have been bitten by the wildlife long lens bug. Unfortunately, there is no cheap cure for this affliction. Like tripods, everyone looks for a cheap solution and finally ended up buying the same equipment as the big dogs. I have lost count of the number of people I know that have bought a sigma or tamron tele that end up with one of the Canon or Nikon super teles. They simply are the best. I shoot Nikon and have both the D800E and D4 plus a 600VR. The D800 is great, but does not acquire focus as fast as the D4. However, I think the Canon tele lens selection is better and they are lighter. Make sure you get a lens with image stabilization.

So, if you really want a 400+mm lens you are really limited to Nikon or Canon, and the Canon options are better. You can save a little money by buying a pre-owned last generation lens. I would suggest you consider a 500/4.

Just my two cents.


Fred said:

Really enjoying this series, Roger. Many thanks.

Just a side note, due to Pentax’s somewhat odd pricing policy, websites aren’t allowed to quote their best pricing in print. My understanding is that B&H (as one example) will quote you considerably lower prices on the phone.

At that point Pentax starts to become a value proposition in addition to its water-resistant, compact/light weight, built in stabilisation and ergonomic qualities.

Lots of other food for thought in the comments. Thanks for suggesting readers take the time to go through them.

Tony Bologna said:

The most interesting point to me is the one left unsaid. The lack of Nikon D7000/D300s or Canon 60D/7D as choices proves just how dire the current prosumer to professional DX market is. I hope this changes soon.

Jeff Stulin said:

In the range of 12mm-75mm (24mm – 150mm ff equiv) I find, that if I am willing to live with primes, that my OMD M4/3 system offers spectacular quality & usability, while remaining extremely small and light. The OMD’s built in stability is very effective.

If I want great zooms, or if I want to go beyond 75mm (150mm ff eqiv), or if I want to photograph action, then another choice may be better.

Because of the size and weight within the 12mm-75mm range my OMD is far better than anything I have ever owned, since I am much more likely to have it with me.

Brad said:

Remember that the D800 will also give you a aps-c crop factor of 15Mp. How often do you actually need 400mm at 36mp? Is 15mp close enough to 16Mp so that you can modify your lens list and stop at say, 300mm instead of needing to have something to cover 400 as well?

That opens you up to a sigma 120-300/2.8OS and then you would not need the 70-200 and 50-500, saving you an extra $800 as well as reducing the weight of the bag you need to carry around.

August said:

Hi Roger,

I’m enjoying your journey. But I’m wondering why you haven’t included any Zeiss lenses in your potential lens cache,
especially knowing your great enthusiasm for them? Like the Sony-Zeiss 135 or the Zeiss 100 macro for either Canon or Nikon?

Best of luck,


Steven Runyan said:

let me break this down in to a series of decisions:
– you regularly want to be able to print a variety of subjects 16×20 (17×25) and larger at a professional level of quality – then FF
– low light is important – then FF
– high quality wide angle (>35mm) is important – then FF
– landscape and architectural is very high Priority – D800e (resolution)
– moving subjects are important – 5D3 (autofocus, frame rate)
– macro is a priority – 5D3 (liveview)
– hassle free warranty and prompt, reasonably priced repair – Canon
– won’t have to change systems for at least 5 years – Nikon or Canon

poor economic decisions:
– an APSC system with APSC lenses which will all have to be replaced when (not if) you buy a FF body
– an APSC system with no upgrade path to FF (e.g. Pentax)

a gamble:
– Sony – the company isn’t profitable, the camera division isn’t profitable, management is under serious pressure. There is a potential problem for Nikon and others Sony decides high resolution sensors aren’t a good business.

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.

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 …

jds said:

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

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.

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.

Trent Grasse said:

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

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.

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.

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,

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 )

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