Why you dont need a DSLR

Captured on a DSLR - a 10 Mpixel Canon 400D (just to prove I'm not biased). This makes a great A2 print.
Captured on a DSLR – a 10 Mpixel Canon 400D (just to prove I’m not biased). This makes a great A2 print. Processed in Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex.

One of the great things I love about my blogging platform is that it allows me to see how people have found my site. Recently I have seen a lot of traffic coming from forums where people have considered switching from a DSLR to Micro 43. Typically someone with a good DSLR such as a Nikon D800 or Canon 7D will poses the question to gather the thinking of others and make a decision.

Often the reason they give for considering such a switch is not because the images are higher quality but because the Micro 43 cameras are more practical. Try carrying a full sized DSLR and 3 lenses up a mountain (with all your other gear) and you will soon understand the problem. Micro 43 is also more flexible than a bulky DSLR and people are now waking up to this fact.

The typical response I have seen to this question are dozens of replies from people suggesting they will regret it and will miss the quality of the DSLR. Clearly a lot of these answers will be based on what people have read in the photography magazines and not on personal experience from using the equipment.

So far I have resisted pitching in to these discussions as my voice and opinion will probably be lost in the noise. I thought therefore that I would post some reasons why you may not need that big DSLR (having made the switch myself) in case it provides help for someone grappling with this problem.

  1. If you are happy with your DSLR at the moment then don’t bother switching. You should only really consider this if you are at the point where you need to replace the DSLR or you have sufficient money to invest in dual systems. You are unlikely to achieve a noticeable improvement in performance unless your current lenses are poor quality (micro 43 lenses are typically better for their cost) or your camera is poor in which case you are back to needing to replace it.
  2. Do you really have the need for something smaller than a DSLR? I am a huge fan of Micro 43 and high quality compact cameras as they give me freedom to shoot in ways that DSLR owners would find difficult. But not everyone finds themselves in this position. Be sure you understand and need the benefits a smaller camera format would offer before you make the switch.
  3. What do you do with your images? If all you are doing is putting them on the internet to share with others then your typical dimensions are going to be around 1000-1500 pixels on the longest side. Even my camera phone does more than that. If this describes you, you are wasting all that extra resolution and lens quality. Why spend £1000 on a lens that is super sharp and largely free from defects only to reduce the image resolution to a point where the benefits can’t be seen.
  4. The last point also leads on to printing. Do you print your images and at what size? If the largest print you make is an A3+ then a quality compact camera is going to be able to do that just as well as a DSLR. It doesn’t matter that you may need to enlarge the image to make the print, you won’t be able to tell. Printers can’t resolve anywhere near as much detail as you can see when you view your image at 100% on a monitor. And if your thinking that you need the image to look sharp and detailed when viewed at 100% on screen, your back to the argument that says you will be reducing the image resolution in order to view it. We don’t view images zoomed in. We view them at a resolution where we can see the entire image on screen at once.

The recurring argument that people seem to trot out on these forums is that you will notice the reduction in quality when switching from a DSLR to a Micro 43. My response to this is you might. If you are viewing your images at 100%, full resolution on the screen and you have a D800 or similar then yes you will notice there is a larger print with more detail than my Olympus EM5. If however your reducing your resolution down to 1500 pixels to share your images on the internet, no you won’t.

Equally, if you are printing your images then you will need to be printing at larger than A2 from an image made on a top of the range DSLR, using a great printer (with good technique) in order to distinguish any difference to my Olympus EM5. Oh yes, you would also need to have good, young eyes with the print viewed close up.

If you want stunning results, it’s not the equipment that will make the difference it’s knowledge and skills. That’s where you should invest your money and not buying into all the marketing hype spawned by camera companies and perpetuated by the magazines that need advertising revenue (you can’t blame them) to survive.

End of rant. I have probably blown any chance of sponsorship from a major camera manufacturer.

9 thoughts on “Why you dont need a DSLR

  1. Excellent post. I follow the blog of photographer Lindsay Dobson too, who shares your opinion of M43. By the way, I found your blog a couple of years ago searching on LX5. I’m an amateur who shoots primarily with a Lumix G3 now, although I carry the LX5 on bike rides and hikes.

  2. I agree with you that the day of the 4/3 camera has arrived and with every generation just gets better and better. I can tell you from experience from hiking down to the floor of Bryce Canyon last year was no fun getting back out of the canyon with the weight of a D800 DSLR and multiple lenses, filters, etc and tripod. I have a GX1 and just love it. I do a lot of printing and I have no problem with the images printed at A3 size. The downfall of the 4/3 cameras still is motion. Using a 4/3 at sporting events such as soccer and lacrosse is not a good option due to the video displays in the camera not able to keep up well with the movement. Cannot throw away the DSLR cameras yet but you know it is coming.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Gerald. I was about to agree with you when I recalled a friend who has been shooting football matches using an EM5 and a 100-300 lens. Some of his images are stunning and the additional magnification of the Micro 43 sensor really works in his favour. I will have to investigate more.

  3. Like Mark, I have an LX5 which I bought to use when I didn’t want to lug my Canon 20D and 3 lenses around. I have been very pleased with the LX5 and would agree that one would be hard pressed to complain about an A3 produced from it. However, looking back 40 years to when I had a Pentax Spotmatic (35mm) and a Yashica 24 (120 roll film) I used to take photos for the local amateur dramatic club and used Tri-X in the Pentax and an 800ASA film in the Yashica. When enlarging both sets of negs to 12″x15″ it was easy to see which was which. The Pentax prints were good and sharp, but the prints from the larger negs of the Yashica had a much better gradation despite the faster and grainier film. It was quite noticeable when looking at the two sets of prints side by side. On that basis, it would be worthwhile shooting the same subject on a 4/3rds camera and a full-frame camera and blowing both sets of images up to A3 or whatever and comparing all aspects of the images.
    Having said all that, I do agree that camera manufacturers have led us all a merry dance with regards to the megapixel count. I’ve had perfectly acceptable A4 prints from a 3megapixel compact, and my old 20D is only about 8megapixels I think. When I was at work, I operated an Epson 9600 and have produced A1 prints from a 20D that once again were perfectly acceptable.
    You need to start from “What do I intend to do with my images? What size will I print them at, if at all”, and work back from there.
    And Hooray! for the LX5, it’s nearly as good as my Yashica T5.

    1. Thanks for the comment Chris. Yes I can imagine the difference in quality between the Pentax and the Yashica. Whilst I can’t give you a direct side by side comparison between a DSLR and Micro 43, I can give you my impression. Having processed many thousands of images from a Canon 5D MKII (with L Series Lenses) the quality is on a par with my Olympus EM5 using ordinary Micro 43 lenses. In many cases the EM5 appears to be sharper when viewed at 100% on the monitor. This is just a general perception but it was enough to convince me to sell the Canon and all my lenses. I also sold the Pentax 67 whilst I was at it. The only “big” camera I am hanging onto is my XPan. It’s also great to hear that ou have been printing A1 from a 20D.

  4. My use of a compact camera is different. I had the choice of giving up photography or finding a way. I am a stoke survivor with a completely useless right side.I love my photograpy (having many 35mm,and Rollie’s in my collection). All shutter releases are placed on the left. So my problem was to find a camera I can use. I have tried tripods,etc,without success.Then I thought of trying digital compact. I have purchased two now because I can use them upside down,holding them single handed and using my left thumb. Previously, I would ask my who was with me to take the shoot,but it was never what I could see and take for myself.

    1. This is a wonderful story. I would never thought of using a compact camera in this way. It’s so wonderful that you have not had to give up photography and can still enjoy creating photographs. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Reblogged this on Derek Rutherford and commented:
    I’ve just started following Robin’s Lightweight Photography blog and have to report it’s pretty awesome. I’m still new to photography-with-intent and have worked my way from a Fujifilm Bridge to a Lumix Gf1 and G3 (primarily the G3 – the Gf1 came attached to a lens I wanted, and I find myself quite attached to the camera!). Really enjoying the M43 experience. Recently borrowed a DSLR and am enjoying that, too. But. (a) it’s huge and heavy and not at all any good for taking with me on cycling trips and (b) I actually prefer the handling of the G3. So much so that I’ve just invested in a new lens… could have gone either way, the Nikon DSLR, or the M43. I choose the latter. Anyway, this blog is great and this particular post is awesome. I hope Robin won’t mind me reposting it. I especially love the last but one paragraph about where to invest our money to improve. Straight talking, great talking!

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