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

Published February 7, 2013
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



Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

Posted in Equipment
  • Duncan

    How about:

    Sell the Panasonic 35-100 and 100-300 since they’re too big to carry easily and not good enough in absolute performance (especially since at those lengths there’s a good chance it’s action photography where m43 is still weak anyway).

    Then buy some of the smaller m43 primes: Olympus 12, Panasonic 20, Olympus 45. You’ve then got a setup small enough to fit in a man bag and will produce pretty good results for groups and short portraits for when you want more than then RX100, but don’t want the full SLR kit bag. Should be roughly cost neutral compared to the zooms you sell.

    Then get a crop camera of your choice with a 70-200 and a macro. 70-200 will give you 100-300ish for action, and the macro just to get the higher resolution on the big body.

    This is roughly where I’ve ended up after a great deal of equipment churn. OMD with primes up to 90mm (well 150mm as of last week) equivalent where the better static focussing helps with portraits and I’m more likely to carry it places.

    Separately I have a 7D with 70-200/4 and 400/5.6 for wildlife/aircraft/etc. where the AF tracking matters. The times the 7D gets used is more likely to be a “photography occassion” where I don’t mind carrying the equipment, as opposed to be an event with optional photography like a family get together where a full size SLR feels like too much.

  • Nick

    Hi Roger,
    You should also consider the Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 for your APS-C cameras.

  • Roger Cicala

    Totally true, Uwe, and a point I should have made more clear. I was speaking in the ‘image resolution’ term.

  • Matthijs

    Why not…

    …choose slower zooms?
    …choose more primes?
    …consider the quality and price of all the lenses you’ll buy eventually if you’re brutally honest?
    …weigh lens quality more than sensor quality?

    This might greatly impact your ultimate price, quality and choice.

    I might be way off but I think your comparison is not what you’ll end up with. (See your recent OM investments.)

    Hope this helps.

  • >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.)

    In absolute resolution terms yes but often not at the pixel level.

  • Martin

    Oh and considering your 24-70 post, and the improved marriage between new lenses and new bodies, it might be that the solution will be a 7DII plus 100-400 II. May not be this year, though, and vita brevis!

  • Martin

    Thanks, Roger. We think alike. I am tempted by the 7D because it’s quite cheap now but ars loga vita brevis, etc, I think the 7DII is likely to be the maiden’s prayer. Just wish they’d get on with it!

  • Jim

    Great article, as always, although i didn’t want to be reminded how much I’ve spent on my OMD system. Was your Olympus 75mm f/1.8 sold during the Black Friday sale last November? If so, then I have your lens! It’s brilliant, BTW, although gets limited use right now – I’m enjoying the 60mm macro too much!

  • John

    Its tough Roger, for us poor souls out here, to see you in the candy land store of camera stuff having to make these hard decisions. My two cents, OK, one cent:
    Canon 6d 2k
    24-70 II 2.2k
    70-200 II 2.3k
    ZE15 3k
    2xII .5k

    Total $11247 This does not include any “founder’s discount” you may get from connections you still have. And if you need a longer lens, why there’s this really good rental house not far from you. As someone else mentioned get the best glass now as you wont regret it later.

  • Roger Cicala


    It is a big ommission, and 6 months from now, assuming a new Canon crop camera, I’d probably be different. But the 60D and 7D, in my opinion, are too long in the tooth and the newer APS-Cs from everyone else have really opened a gap. I had originally planned on the 60D in my thoughts (the 7D and I just can’t seem to agree on what supposed to be in focus – I think it doesn’t like me). But after looking at the specs a bit I really thought the Pentax was a more interesting camera to explore, and I was certain I wouldn’t go 60D if I went crop sensor.

    All of that being said, one of the really good suggestions in the last post’s comments was that if I go full-frame, a crop-sensor second body is probably less expensive than another lens and probably more functional. I’m really thinking about that point. If I end up with a Canon system, though, it will be the next generation crop body. But again, I think this has more to do with the fact that Canon is overdue for a refresh and the timing of these posts.

  • Eric

    If it were anybody else and they were interested in super-telephotos I’d send them to Canon, hands down(and I’m a Nikon guy). There’s a huge gap between the 80-400 and what, the 500 f4? Yes, the 300 f4 but no VR. Seeing as you can grab one of those 5/600s on your way out of the office, D800.

  • Adam

    Wonderful comparison though it’s difficult to compare the platforms strictly on cost. One reader opined that he never regretted a larger frame camera and in many instances that is true. But if the alternative is no camera a 4/3’rds or even p&s is better. And while cost is an imperative, one has to factor in all of the other intangibles. Lugging a bunch of heavy gear cross country/continent is sometimes a non-starter. As I have gotten older, hauling my 1d series cameras around with big glass is neither practical or desirable. In the end, it’s all about tradeoffs; IQ vs. Size vs. Cost.

  • Mike

    Can we get some love for used gear?

    My current rig:

    Canon 5D ($600 used, including a crappy kit lens and 16 gig CF card)
    Canon 28mm f/1.8 ($350 used)
    Canon 50mm f/1.4 ($300 new)
    Canon 100mm macro ($350 used)

    That’s $1600. And I’m thinking about picking up a used 70-200mm f/4 IS or 100-400mm for about $900-1000.

    Also, I can actually now sell these lenses for as much if not more than what I paid, so it actually ends up costing me nothing to own them.

  • Well my list would be smaller – for most of what I do, I’d be perfectly happy with something like a 28, 50, and 85/90/105mm prime (the latter being a macro would be an additional plus).

    Micro Four Thirds would give me all of that; APS-C wouldn’t (well yes, you could mount a 20mm full frame prime and make it a 30 or 32mm, but hmmm). Regular Four Thirds wouldn’t – they have awesome zooms, but no short primes. That leaves full frame.

    Lately I calculated: an E-M5, the grip (I think you need it with this camera), and the PanaLeica 25mm. Good stuff, but together that would almost be around 2000€ where I live. Then I realized that a D600 or a 6D with one of their nifty fifties (1.8 would surely be fine) isn’t that much more (if anything at all)…

    That of course leaves the question of missing IBIS in those full framers (except the Sony).

    Great series; I’m very much looking forward to all of those thoughts and experiences of yours. Thanks for sharing them.

  • Bob

    Great writeup. The reason that there wasn’t a big difference between the cost of full frame and crop sensor systems is because you were using full frame lenses, silly! 🙂

    You can actually get the FF vs. Crop differential down to about 50% if you get crop-frame f/2.8 zooms from Nikon and Canon, and/or the equivalent lenses from Sigma, Tamron or Tokina.

    For example, Sigma makes a very good stabilized 17-50 and 50-150 f/2.8, and Tokina makes very good (although not stabilized) 11-16, 16-50, and 50-135.

  • Milan

    Looking at the cost of getting that extra 10-20% from what you get with what you have now, it doesn’t look like you’re so cost conscious…

    I mean, if the biggest issue with m4/3 right now is the 400mm weak spot, by just buying a Canon 200mm f2.8 (some $750 and 1.6 lb) and an adapter you’ll solve mostly the problem for now (yes, with slow AF or just MF, so it depends on the kind of things you shoot at that FL). If with less than 1/10th of the investment, you’ll get 90% of your needs, that sounds like a good deal.

    Or maybe not, just wondering…

  • Martin

    Interesting posts Roger. Like you I have found the wifi on the Canon 6D to be a killer utility as I can see what I am taking even when the tripod is so low that I can’t see the LV comfortably. IQ is extremely good too. However, I have tried getting birds in flight with the 6D and it is a hit and miss affair. This may be technique, or it may be using an EF 1.4x III extender on my 70-200/4, which will certainly slow down the AF or it may be that the 6D’s not up to it in that demanding field. So I am thinking about the 7D for improving the AF hit rate as well as extending reach. Then I noticed you have no Canon crop camera in your APS-C alternatives. Now gicen the great lenses this seems a big omission unless you really don’t like the 7D or 60D. Or is it that you are wauthibg for the 7D II in the expectation that its AF featuring will be up there with the 5D III?

  • James Scholz


    Thanks again for your interesting series.

    I am getting Social Security and have photographed for many years. I have lugged 8×10 film cameras to mountain tops and camped for as long as 5 days in remote wilderness spots waiting for the perfect weather conditions for a shot. I have never regretted spending good money on what I considered the best equipment for the job, but have regretted in the film days going with smaller formats when I could have shot larger. I have regretted being too lazy to use a tripod with my 35mm camera when months later I realized the image was a prize and it could have been better. I have regretted taking short cuts, and most anything that stood in the way of my producing the best images I could, but I can not remember ever looking back and feeling bad about purchasing a really good photographic tool and wishing I had gone with a cheaper but lesser item.

    When I read the obituaries and see more and more people my age it is clear to me that making the best images I can is more important then saving a relatively small amount of money on equipment. I now shoot mostly digital and am really happy with the biggest sharpest sensors and the brightest lenses and very solid panning equipment. When the shot comes up short I just look in the mirror rather then blame the tools.

  • Roger Cicala

    MSA – that’s what the final decision is about, of course. But I figured I didn’t need to try out 50+ cameras so first a list of potential candidates.

  • MSA

    Camera ergonomics should also play a role. I haven’t seen much discussion on usability, user interface and general camera software quality.

  • Jim Harris

    PS — the 5D III has better AF, LV and color than the D800. Just saying! 😉

  • Ben

    Something to consider is the used market. Take a look at the Memphis craigslist Photo/Video section and you will see a lot of good Canon lenses for reasonable prices.

  • Jim Harris

    You are really heavily redundant at the long end. I recommend the Canon full frame set-up. But drop the 100-400, and instead pick up the 2X III extender for the 70-200. Cheaper and more practical, plus you get the better IS of the 70-200. Buy the 6D as well — nothing wrong with a nice back-up or secondary use body. Don’t deny yourself the fun aspect. Plus Canon has the best 24-70 lens, and that is going to be your most useful, and will last into the next generation of high MP bodies that are sure to come from Canon. The Canon 100L is an awesome lens and has terrific IS, and I’m sure you like to do quite a bit of hand held shooting. Best of luck deciding! 🙂 Jim

  • Roger Cicala

    Jeremy, IS/VR will play a big part. I have a bit more tremor than most, at least I do after my daily caffeine ration kicks in. I find 1/focal length for me often needs some VR. I really have to be (depending on lots of factors, of course) closer to 1 / 1.5 focal lengths to get sharp images. So it’s a big help.

    Weather sealing not so much. I don’t trust it anyway and usually use a Roger’s Rain Cover (plastic bags and rubber bands) in anything this side of fog.

  • Just a quick note on the pentax gear, the lens is the 16-50/f2.8, it’s not 16-55. My most used lens, with some 30,000 pics taken with it since I got it right after it was released.

    I also have the 50-135/f2.8 and the da*300/f4. Both fantastic quality.

    Other than those lenses, I use the DA15/f4 limited, and an old FA35/f2 heavily.

  • ginsbu

    Another interesting post.

    My feeling is that once you’re committing to the FF f/2.8 zooms for Nikon or Sony, the FF body makes sense. If you’re considering supplementing a FF system with a crop body, bear in mind that IQ-wise, the D800 cropped (or in crop mode) is going to be pretty close. Maybe consider that for more reach with a FF Nikon kit.

    For APS-C, then, I tend to think Pentax is the stronger choice. (I considered Pentax before getting an OM-D.) I would consider the Tamron 17-50/2.8 (the good old non-VC version) and Sigma 70-200/2.8 for a Pentax kit: good IQ and saves a little over the Pentax lenses. Unfortunately though, Pentax has raised their lens prices quite a lot, so they offer less value than they used to.

    That said, I don’t know how much you’ll find APS-C gets you over an OM-D. For your telephoto needs, have you tried any of the 4/3 or other telephotos on an adapter?

    Good luck with your choice and I look forward to reading the rest of the series (and the comments!).

  • Jeremy

    Excellent series (really enjoy number comparisons vs generalities) and a bit humbling if we all take inventory of our current “investments.” Any comment on how IS/VR/SR implementation or weather resistance will play into your decision, or is that another post?

  • You also have to factor in system viability. Sony is the weakest player, is bleeding red ink and could decide to stop investing in DSLRs to focus on NEX.

    I’m sticking with Canon for now despite their embarrassing lag in sensors due to the excellence of the 24-70mm f/2.8L II. I have a 5DIII but if I were buying now, I would also consider the 6D for the GPS and WiFi with minimal loss in AF speed.

    Nikon would be a no-brainier due to IQ, but their quality control has been questionable of late and they are lagging on lenses.

  • Christoph Breitkopf

    Your requirement in the previous article, namely “Accurate Live View or contrast-based focus assist”, seems to suggest that you use manual focus quite often. The large selection of used (and mostly quite inexpensive) MF lenses for Nikon and Pentax is heaven for the lens geek, so I wonder if this might be an additional criterion for you, or if AF is a must-have for all lenses.

  • After I saw the total cost for your OMD system I don’t feel so guilty now since upgrading to a Leica M-E and a couple lenses. A fast 50 as in pre-ASPH Lux, the latest 90mm Elmarit and will add a 28mm Elmarit at the wide end. All this for around 10k. I don’t shoot fast moving stuff and I don’t shoot in the dark either. You need quality light for great photos.

    I can fit all of that plus my accessories in a small bag and it weighs around 5 pounds.

Follow on Feedly