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
  • Luis

    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.

  • Stephen

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

  • Peter

    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.

  • Marko Solic

    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 😀 ), 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

    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.

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

  • Mathias

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • J.L. Williams

    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.

  • Macro and AF-S. I think the Canon 100mm has very fast AF-S compared to Nikon. Why macro and AF-S? If you shoot macro handheld your body moves and if you shoot poppies in light wind you need it even more so. The micro AF of the Canon 100mm Macro is really something.

  • I’d second the suggestion of the non-VC Tamron 17-50mm zoom on the K-5 series. I’ve used one for a few years and it’s quite good. Usually selling for under $450, it’s also quite a good deal.

  • Chris Jankowski

    Lenses are always a moving target, but it is worth pointing out that both of the Sony telephoto zooms you specified: 70-200 f2.8 G and 70-400 f4-5.6 are apparently due for replacement this year. It is hoped that the replacements will remove the deficiencies of the existing ones – softness at f2.8 for the 70-200 and the speed of the SSM for the 70-400. Hopefully, the garish silvery finish of the 70-400 lens will also change.

  • derek

    Actually Sony 100macro is quite good and it may well be better than the Nikon AFS105f2.8VR Micro but it is not as sharp as the Canon 100LIS.
    Wow, serious Nikon charge 1.9k for the 14-24f2.8 in US?
    it costs me only about 1.6k here.

  • Things are even a little more tricky than they at first glance look. I’ll just give you one thing that would worry me about your Nikon crop sensor choice (D5200), for example: no AF Fine Tune. You’re pairing the camera with some very good lenses, but I’d worry whether or not I’d be getting the absolute best out of the system. There are similar small problems with all the other choices, too.

    This is why I insist that people prioritize the things that are important to them: a full 1,2,3… ranking of everything on their list. If AF accuracy is near the top of the list, the D5200 isn’t the right camera (I’m picking on Nikon here because I know it best, obviously).

    Almost any choice someone makes will end up in compromises. Recently I gave up my Nikon crop sensor system for m4/3 (I also have an FX system, so I have a little more flexibility than others). It really ended up that the compromises I made with Nikon DX were worse than the compromises I made with m4/3. But the only way I could figure that out was by prioritizing my needs and wants and doing a careful assessment of who fell where.

  • Hi Roger, if you are thinking about FF and a crop camera then consider that the D800 when used in DX mode is still 16mp which is still within your criteria. It’s your second crop body built in and for no extra cost. Plus you get the AF covering almost all the frame when used in DX mode.

    I also shoot close ups, flowers in my case, 100% viewfinder was a big deal for me as I was fed up with stuff creeping into the edges of my frame. I bought a D3 second hand in the end, as I don’t need the res. the image library that take my stock require everything downsized to 8mp. My other work is mostly for websites or greeting cards so no issue there. D800 was on my short list too but for what I do I couldn’t justify the extra outlay (including computer and storage).

    Although I too am also puzzled at the idea of getting rid of the OMD instead just adding a 200mm with an adapter.

    What ever you deside we will watch and read with interest.

  • Roger Cicala

    Clement, it depends on what I get and what’s available. I’ll buy used from Lensrentals if we have what I want for sale. Otherwise probably new.

  • Roger, don’t forget the “little things”. For instance, I just switched from a 7D to a D600 and in the process I lost IS/VR for my main lens (17-55 f/2.8 IS to Nikon 24-70).

    Like you, I have “somewhat unstable” hands and can’t generally use 1/focal length… So I was worried about losing IS. However, it turns out that the D600 is _way_ better in this regard because:

    1. It has the abiliity to set different focal length multipliers for shutter speed! I have mine set at 2x
    2. MUCH lower noise means that faster shutter speeds (from #1) actually equate to much better looking photos.
    3. Insaneley more configurable Auto ISO modes means that I can set a minimum shutter speed (and ISO ranges) (to satisfy my hands or the action) AND still shoot in aperture priorty with Auto ISO on.

    It might not seem like much, but it’s these small things that really differentiate systems these days…

  • A

    I guess your desire for a tilt-shift lens might ultimately determine whether or not you go APS-C over full frame. Or indeed which brand you choose.

    If you want a native ultra-wide (near 17mm) with tilt, it has to be full frame, and currently it has to be Canon.

    You may also find the price advantage for APS-C narrows even further if you buy the full frame camera and the 24mm TS, rather than the 17mm TS and a crop body. There’s a couple of hundred USD right there.

    I guess the Pentax and Sony are still just in the game with the Schneider Super-Angulon 28mm and the T-mount, but I wonder whether the T-mount adds an extra layer of “might be out of tolerance” to the picture…

  • Great series of blogs. You direct, non-sugarcoated comments add to your credibility. I used the D800e with a 70-200 f2.8 VRII and 300mm f2.8 VRII coupled to teleconverters up to the TC-20E III on a recent trip to Brazil to photograph jaguars. I made a decision to “go light” foregoing 200-400 and 500mm lenses as a trade-off for ease of use in a small and often rocking boat. I have to say that the images (even with the 1.4, 1.7, and 2.0 TCs) were some of the best I’ve ever taken. (I used to travel with a D3S and D3X, 200-400, and 500.) I strongly urge all to consider “going light” as I have. With the massive megapixels of the D800e and the high ISO capabilities (I comfortably shot at ISOs of 6,400), it’s a great and flexible system. Of course, for fast action, out comes the D4 (not so light)! And, to really go light, strap a 24mm 1.4G, but be careful not to trip over your smile!

  • Based on roger’s review of it, I rented the Tamron 24-70 2.8 VC for Canon 5dmk3. I was quite happy with that combo.

    Question, are you going to buy your lenses new?

  • Tim Glaser

    The D800E + 14-24mm f/2.8 gives such a huge advantage in the ultrawide category over the other full frame systems, that if that is an important lens for you, then I think that would be much the one I would go with.

    Now that the kinks seem to have been worked out on the D800’s, I don’t see how you can go with the 5DmkIII.

    You must have seen the FM article on how much shadow detail can be recovered from the D800, right?

  • I read in the comments that you want stabilization… Add the Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 VC and you’re at $9K. That’s above crop-sensor system price, but not by much.

  • >Uwe, I would like that very much!! Link us up, please!

    Drop me an email.

  • How about a budget D800 system, using the great sensor to save on lenses, and leaving out the 70-200? (since you’re already going for the 50-500 and a 105mm f/2.8 micro)

    D800E: $3100
    Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 VC: $1300
    Samyang 14mm f/2.8: $420
    Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Micro: $900
    Sigma 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3: $1,509
    Nikon SB-700: $327

    That adds up to $7.5K (plus the sigma 35mm), and I would expect this to perform a lot better than the small sensor systems.

    You can change the Samyang 14mm for something else if you absolutely need AF. Maybe the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8, or even the 11-16mm f/2.8 (it works as a pretty decent 16mm f/2.8 prime when mounted on full frame).

    BTW I’d also cheap out on the crop sensor systems, going for the Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 non-VC.

  • The main benefit of the pentax system are the limited lenses and the in camera shake reduction system.
    I analysed the situations where I take photos and which setup would be the best.

    My optiomal result (which matches nearly my actual gear) would be:
    2 Bodys: K-5II(s) + K-01
    3 Zooms: Sigma 8-16mm, Pentax 16-50mm, Pentax 60-250mm (because of the great bokeh)
    3 Primes: 31mm f1.8, 77mm f1.8, 100mm macro (compare the size/wight to other macros)
    1 flash
    1 tripod

    The situations are:

    1.) Exploring the nature:
    K-5II + 8-16mm, 16-50mm, 60-250mm, 100mm macro

    2.) Night stroll:
    K-5II + 31mm + 77mm

    3.) Hiking with the family, no time to change lenses:
    K-01 + 16-50mm and K-5II + 60-250mm

    4.) Studio shooting:
    K-5II + 31mm, 77mm, 16-50mm, 60-250mm

    5.) City walk with friends, no time to change lenses:
    K-01 + 8-16mm and K-5II + 16-50mm

    6.) Small low light party setup:
    K01 + 31mm + 77mm

    OK, it is slightly more than 7000$

  • Roger Cicala

    Uwe, I would like that very much!! Link us up, please!

  • By the way would be interesting to see how a single image could measure up with different sharpening?

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

    I know. But you also know that once you use the D800 you want it all 🙂 . Your selected lenses would do fine.

    I do some aerial photography and here the GH3 + 35-100mm did quite well. In absolute resolution the D800 + 24-120mm of course wins.

    Please check here:

    For aerials the processing (sharpening) is a core issue.

  • NancyP

    If you do a lot of macro (or anything else) on tripod, the swivel LCD screen is handy. I have the Canon 60D for that reason.

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