Most photographers, whether professional or amateur, as much as they love their photographic gear, loathe the notion of lugging around tons of heavy equipment. What’s the solution, you may ask? Well, some would say, “why don’t you get a portable point-n‐shoot”, or “invest in one of those smaller mirrorless cameras”. Others disagree amusingly and grab their bulky DSLR with a smug on their face!
You might have found yourself in one of those tricky scenarios, where you really wanted to carry your bulky camera and yet you wished it was a few pounds lighter, a tad bit smaller but still gave you pleasing results. Thanks to technology whiz-kids in the camera land, we have had a ﬂurry of compact cameras being introduced recently that oﬀer plenty of bells & whistles to satisfy even the most demanding consumer / prosumer, and professionals alike for their speciﬁc needs. Having said that, I admit these cameras may not entirely deliver quality that rivals pro level DSLR’s yet it’s suﬃce to say they pack quite a punch for intended purposes.
(A shot from lower Michigan Ave. by the Chicago river. NEX-5, 16mm, f/5.6, 1/3 sec, ISO 200)
In search of a decent point and shoot camera, I found myself rather inclined towards the Sony NEX-5, which was a newly-released camera back then (the current version of the camera is the Sony NEX-5R, which Nasim reviewed a while ago). I bought it, took occasional photos of friends & family and enjoyed it from a point and shoot user perspective. In fact it would be fair to say I never really pushed the camera, and explored all the possibilities. For quite some time, read months and months, my camera was just sitting at home. Needless to say, since I invested very minimal time & eﬀort into utilizing the camera to its full potential and improving my photography technique with it, I was left with images that were rather sub-‐standard and eventually my self biased brain blamed it on the camera.
I must admit, it was the small form factor of the NEX system that made me swing back and want to carry it with me almost everywhere I went. Attached with a small 16mm pancake lens, it was easy enough to ﬁt in a jacket pocket and be ready when the moment appeared. Deﬁnitely convenient than my Nikon D800 any given day!
(Flamingo shaped abstract structure created by the “Alexander Calder”. NEX-5, 16mm, f/5.6, 1 sec, ISO 200)
There are many websites that discuss the technical pros and cons of such smaller portable cameras, but in this article I’ll refrain from repeating those and stick to my personal experience. From what I can tell, having good equipment helps but its crucial to remember these are photography tools ultimately; and having a tool that helps you take more shots at the right time might be handy than the one that you left in your bag because it was heavy. I guess, what I’m trying to say is: Sometimes people get so much caught up with the technical aspects of capturing a photo they forget the reason why they got involved in the ﬁrst place.
(SE view of Chicago downtown from my condo. NEX-5, 16mm, f/5.6, 1 sec, ISO 200)
For those that argue about the technical ability of such compact systems basically need to re-evaluate and ask themselves who their target audience really is. If you are only going to post your photos on social media and/or share it with friends & family; these system have enough potential to deliver images if you’re willing to up your game.
(The very famous Chicago Bean, commonly known as the “Cloud Gate”. NEX-5, 16mm, f/5.6, 6 sec, ISO 200)
(Eastern view of Chicago river walk. NEX-5, 16mm, f/5.6, 1/10 sec, ISO 200)
In my opinion, these compact systems act like a natural extension to one’s photographic needs without adding the bulk. For those that already have a DSLR, having a smaller system comes in handy in places where you don’t want the additional weight or risk losing those candid shots since most bulky DSLR’s tend to intimidate people. And, for those that would like to graduate from their cell phone cameras, these will serve you well for years to come.
(A traveler from far east. NEX-5, 50mm, f/1.8, 1/200 sec, ISO 200)
Ultimately, my intent in this writeup is not to encourage readers to go out and purchase a compact camera, or in case anyone’s thinking – recommend a Sony NEX system! No, I am not here to praise about one system or bash another. My goal is simply to reiterate: take as many photos as you can with what you have, and enjoy along the way. If a smaller system happens to make that task easier, by all means jump for it! Challenge yourself, and use the equipment you already have instead of buying the next-best-camera on the market.
In the end, I’m going to leave you with a rather generic comment, but one which got stuck in my head, “If your advantage is hardware, time will test you for sure but if your advantage is technique then time will be by your side and you’ll capture memories”.
I have a few more images I’d like to share. Enjoy, and thank you for reading!
for sure, we will laugh at ourselves in the near future.. these d800s and huge lenses will be seen just as we now see the brick-sized cellphones of the 90’s :-)
Lots of truth in that …Leica owner have been doing that for years….now its available to the masses :)
Well done Ankur ! I had stopped using this site so much, as aggressive anti-mirrorless responders spoilt my experience of the Mansurovs well-mannered website.
You have hit the nail on the head with your title ‘Extend your DSLR with a mirrorless’ This is exactly the reason many of us chose to buy into the system, we don’t expect a Nikon 1 system to outperform a DX or FX system but, in my experience, it comes pretty darn close in many situations. And of course, what many anti-mirrorless do not seem able to get their heads around is the size weight and convenience advantages of these systems. I am able to carry round a V2 + 10-100 every day, all day, if I wish and never miss a shot. That’s the point and yet with an FT-1 and, say my 70-200 f/4 I also have a convenient lightweight super zoom combo. That said, I have to admit that I get better pics from my D7100 and 70-200 + Tcx1.4 . . . but only when I make a special effort to carry it with me – going to an air-show or wild life park, for instance. But on all other occasions I take my Nikon 1 kit. I have both primes and both wide and all-purpose zooms – and, if I need it all, it all fits inside of two children’s cylindrical pencil cases!
For me, the main drawback of the CX sensor is its relatively poor low light performance. I do a lot of shooting in dimly lit museums and, even with the 18mm f/1.8, I’m struggling to get reasonable ISO noise free photos. I have ordered the 32 f/1.2 months ago (Nikon seem to be playing games with us again here in the UK as there is no sign of it despite announcements for pre-orders). I’m hoping that this will help the low light drawback. Fingers-crossed! Any helpfull suggeations on this low light issue would be well received.
Thanks again for a great mirrorless friendly posting and many more please?
Thanks for such kind words and taking the time to share your thoughts with us! :)
If I may, I believe PhotographyLife has done an exceptional job in keeping the content fresh and providing much value added benefit to all the readers in terms of the quality & quantity of its posts.
I can relate to your personal experience shooting with the CX system. To some, being in denial has become second nature instead of embracing what gets them where they intend to be, quickly and effortlessly. These are the same people who will manage to find reasons to complain about every little thing. From my personal experience, majority of them lack either the skill, will or a combination of two resulting in rather sub-standard images compared to some shooters who churn out fantastic photos even from a smaller compact system. I would be delusional to point fingers at anyone, but I leave it to one’s personal judgement to decipher.
Having said that, as with any non-pro system (and in some cases with pro systems as well) there are going to be certain trade-offs with the limitations (tech/$$ value, size, weight, convenience, etc.) one has to design a system within. Low light performance has been in the cross-hair for many, and I find stacking multiple shots in-camera/twilight mode helps if you can’t really use a tripod to trigger either one exposure or multiple exposures to blend manually in post. This image might be a good example of blending multiple (-3 to +3) exposures manually.
In the end, I’d like to thank Mr. Mansursov for letting me present my opinion in front of a broader audience via this medium, and hopefully can continue to contribute with a few more articles in near future :)
I have a D600 with a few good lenses. There are definitely a few places I would prefer something smaller. I am thinking about getting the Sony RX100 II…good sensor and small size coupled with not committing to a compact lens system.
I also think having something like a Nikon 1 body with a 10-100 lens (or similar 4/3 combo) is a good option. That would give you the framing similar to a full frame camera with a 28-300 lens, I believe, which would be great for scouting out new locations without being weighed down by larger equipment. If you found a great place for photos, you could always come back with the big full-frame guns later.
James: I agree with you, infact I have done the same numerous times! Both the camera systems you mentioned, RX100 M2 and Nikon 1 offer tremendous potential – end result lies in the hands of the user. The thing that sets most people back is the expectations they have from smaller systems. You can’t expect these compact systems to go head to head with pro level cams; and like you said – for those situations where you know what you need in terms of image quality, bring back the big guns and fire away!
Wanting to move up from a P&S but not wanting the size and weight of a full size DSLR camera I finally decided to go with the Nikon V1 when the price dropped. I am VERY happy with my choice.
Joni, Good call on the Nikon V1 – with that price drop it’s all the more alluring now. I must admit, in capable hands these systems have the potential to deliver! Enjoy your V1 :) Cheers!
Thanks for the article. Indeed, mirrorless cameras have been all the rage in the past few years; you have a good point there.
However, I just felt that the camera you chose to exemplify your point may not have been the best one. The NEX-5 is a very capable camera on its own right, but an APS-C sensor WILL require relatively large lenses, defeating the purpose of a mirrorless system. Also, the NEX-5 has a viewfinder that is only optional and a bit pricey, again working against this camera as an extension of the work one does with an DSLR for most people.
The Nikon 1 V1/V2 and the Olympus OMD would possibly be better examples of truly portable systems with an incredible list of possibilities; a typical Nikon user could use his/her middle range zoom lens (say the 70-300mm IF-ED) in a lot of situations and still have a very portable system. Bintang’s post exemplifies this well.
Nice pics. Did you use HDR (or at least some form of double-processing)? They have a somewhat surreal feel.
Antonio, thanks for looking and sharing your thoughts! :)
I admit Nex-5 may not be the best camera to demonstrate, considering it’s already 3 years old and lacks a bunch of bells & whistles today’s compacts systems come equipped with; however, if I may – I’d like to reiterate the intent of this post – to encourage users to push themselves with their compact systems, and not to advise them to purchase one camera system over another. Since I already had the first gen Nex, I decided to put together images to showcase its usage in different scenarios.
Now that being said, I’m certain other compact systems like Nikon 1 V1/V2, OMD, XE series – all perform remarkably well, but the decision to purchase a certain system will likely revolve around one’s need, level of experience, expectations and the ability to deliver intended images.
Yes, you’re correct – Night time shots posted here reflect HDR implementation (-2, 0, +2 exposures blended together manually).
Ankur, thanks. Your night time pics came out real well. Nice job!
Antonio: Thank you for such kind words! :)
Any good pro or amateur for that matter in all honesty wouldn’t lug around a bag full of kit would he?…well the truth is a lot from the past didn’t…Cartier Bresson, Gary Winogrand to name but two, but I wont go into that here…you can read what I have to say on it here for free, because I wrote a book on it: www.blurb.co.uk/b/438…one-reason
But yes in principle I would agree I recently bought an Olympus OMD and am currently assessing it in various roles, so the jury’s still out :)
Martin, Thanks the sharing that! :) Quite an interesting read and as much I want to differ, I feel restricting yourself to limited piece of equipment helps drive passion a tad more by challenging yourself.
Feel free to share feedback about your OMD experience as a user! Cheers!
Your welcome Ankur, and yes as soon as I’ve tested it a little more I shall :)
When I first heard about sony NEX, I immediately interested with it because it had APS-C sensor. But I didn’t it because it lack of external control. Even worse, I can’t customize any of its button. When the second generation of NEX came out, I immediately bought it. Btw, I bought NEX 5N. NEX 7 was too expensive and I didn’t like its noise performance.
I know 5N doesn’t have many external button, but, at least, I can customize the button. Even then, I still felt shooting with 5N isn’t as pleasant as using DSLR. Because I have to compose using LCD screen, no dedicated button for important setting like ISO, exp compensation, WB. Fortunately, 5N picture quality is quite good and its also quite small, so I can live with it.
About 1 year after I purchased it, sony released NEX-6. It has build in EVF,build in flash, and more button. NEX-6 is really what I want from a mirrorless camera. And I also learned sony’s pattern. They keep iterating camera each year with more and more feature that an enthusiast photographer wanted.
I know iterating a product is camera maker’s habit. So, I use my experience of buying NEX 5N as lesson. I will only buy mirrorless camera that has features that I want. Right now, I’m interested in fuji XE series. It has build in EVF, picture quality is very good, noise performance is very good, many external button. I will wait for its third or fourth generation and hoping fuji will improve camera performance and, hopefully, eliminate any quirkiness.
It’s my understanding, at the time Sony released Nex-5 (about 3-yrs ago) they’d realized soon after that they’d created a class leading APS-C compact system. I was among the first to snag a piece even after knowing I’d miss the external controls with no built in EVF. Major bummer! Yes! Fortunately what lacked in the controls dept. Sony’s tiny sensor made up for it in the image quality dept. The RAW files coming out of Nex-5 had enough data for me to turn it into decent photos. Color me impressed? Maybe!
Also, being a tech user all my life I believe I’m very flexible when it comes to adjusting to the so called “improvements” that manufacturers generally throw out in the form of layout changes, addition/removal of external buttons, ports, etc. It doesn’t really bother me, but I have a feeling it does matter to some. The current lineup of pretty much all the compact systems is really good. You’re pretty accurate when you mention about Nex-6, and the XE series; however, as with all non-pro systems most manufacturers tend to add some updates and release a new model every other year. So it might be worth the wait, like you said. Cheers!
I am a long term Nikon DSLR user but recently added a Fuji XE1 compact camera for street and travel photography. After a few months with this system I encourage anyone considering buying a compact camera to look closely at the Fuji cameras and lenses. As someone used to the quality my D700 can generate I am absolutely amazed at the quality of the images the XE1 can produce. The Fuji sensor coupled with Fujinon lenses produce outstanding images. Compact cameras have come a very long ways!
Don, Thanks for the feedback! I agree, compact cameras have definitely come a long way.
I shot with a Nikon D80 camera for many years. I traded up to a D700 when it first came out along with some better lenses but my gear is now somewhat heavier. I’ve been waiting a long time for Nikon to come out with a small camera that takes DSLR quality pictures I can use to supplement my D700.
I recently took the plunge and invested in a Nikon Coolpix A. It delivers as advertised with compact size and full DSLR quality pictures. I now have a camera with me all the time and have taken some shots I would have otherwise missed. I find the small size makes it much easier to get candid shots of people.
I’ll never give up my D700 for all my planned photo excursions but look forward to exploring some new avenues like street photography with my new compact. Thank you for sharing your experiences with a smaller camera. Your pictures motivated me to learn and grow even more with my photography.
John, thanks for looking. Great to hear your new Coolpix A is working it’s magic as advertised. I agree with you, it’s hard to explain to people to not feel intimidated when you point a big black dslr of a box in their faces; and yet with a small cam they all smile away without a second thought.
I’m with you on planned shoots and alike, however, for majority of my casual photos I wouldn’t hesitate to carry the smaller camera. If you think about it, not more than 3-4 years ago, the tech we have in today’s smaller cameras was essentially peaking for semi-pro & pro level cams – given the technique used is good these cameras offer enough potential, to be fair.
“it’s hard to explain to people to not feel intimidated when you point a big black dslr of a box in their faces; and yet with a small cam they all smile away without a second thought”.
I remember the easier days of street photography, looking down at the waistline viewfinder on a Bronica ETRsi or Rolleiflex and averting the eye line of the subject. That’s why I want an articulated viewfinder and where in my view, Nikon missed a trick leaving it off the Nikon “A”.
@Richard I think you will like the rumored GX7 with an articulating viewfinder.
Thanks, that looks extremely interesting.
My wife was recently looking at upgrading from a p&s to a SLR and I suggested for her to buy a Nikon body and we share the lenses that I have, mostly the kit lenses so not really that great a deal.
She really didn’t like the idea of such heavy equipment and eventually decided on the Olympus OM-D EM 5 as it is light and has a view finder. Neither of us is a big fan of using the screen to take pictures, even our Canon p&s has a tiny view finder :)
I have been handling her camera a little (not that I am really allowed to) and like the feel of the light weight camera. If it had been around when I got my D90, I might have chosen the Olympus over the D90. And picture quality of the micro four third sensor is certainly good enough for most of her and my needs.
Marcel, good call on the EM5 – it’s a very capable camera! Way to make your wifey happy, lol! I’m sure she’ll enjoy using it & capture some beautiful photos; you on the other hand will have to rely on stealing the cam from her ;)