There is no chance to win a horse race with a Jutland horse. It’s just not the right type of horse for the job. You don’t tow a caravan with a Lamborghini either. Although it’s powerful it is just the wrong car for the task.
Why I’m telling you that? Because in photography some people are doing exactly that: They use the wrong tool for the job.They are chasing their playing kids with their Fuji X-series cameras or doing close up photography with a Fuji X100 or Sony RX100. They are doing landscapes or portraits with a Nikon 1 or sport photography with a Nikon D800. I’m not saying it can be done. I’m sure you can tow a caravan with a Lamborghini but most likely after a couple of stop and go’s your clutch is gone and it just feels wrong. You would be better of with a SUV ( or truck if you live in the USA. )
This article is just about to give you an orientation what camera to use for which application. It is written with the amateur in mind. To prevent you from reading a lot I will keep it simple. And I will only talk about cameras with larger sensors ( from Nikon 1 or Sony RX100 upwards ) up to full frame.
Best camera system – worst camera system
- best: full frame DSLR
- worst: Nikon 1, m43
- best: full frame camera
- worst: Nikon 1, Sony RX100, m43
nature photography ( wildlife, birds )
- best: fast APS-C camera like Nikon D300s or Canon 7D
- worst: full frame ( only valid if you can’t afford the big tele primes like a 4/500 or 4/600 ), Fuji X
- best: full frame camera or Fuji X
- worst: Nikon 1, M43, Sony RX100
Shooting in low light you got 2 options. Use a tripod. In that case high ISO quality is less important but it is still an advantage to have a low noise sensor. Good dynamic range is also a plus because of the mixed lighting. The sensor in the Sony RX100 and the Nikon 1 are too small for very good results. Why is the Sony RX100 not good enough when everybody raves about it’s low light qualities ( I did as well in this blog ). The RX100 does an outstanding job if you consider that it is just a compact digital camera. It is of course inferior to a Fuji X or a full frame camera. There is a 2 stops difference to a Fuji X100 and about 3 stops to a X-Pro 1 and the new full frame cameras. M43 cameras have vastly improved with the latest Sony sensor. All 16 MP versions should do rather good but still not as good as Fuji X and full frame.
close up photography:
- best: M43 or APS-C DSLR, ( Nikon 1 )
- worst: Fuji X100, Leica X2 or similar
Here you need depth of field ( DOF ) to get most of your main subject in focus. With a full frame sensor and a long close up lens it is extremely tricky to get the whole subject in the focus pane. When shooting the wing of a butterfly you really need to take care to get it in focus. The Fuji X100 or the Leica X2 are amazing travel and street cameras but they are totally useless for close up photography. APS-C and M43 clearly work best. When you are a nature photographer you are very likely shooting birds, wildlife and close ups. In that case it is still best to have a good APS-C camera. For close up work a tilt and swivel screen might be a big advantage for low level work.
travel photography: ( that is difficult! )
Europe or Asia with focus on old towns, historic places and buildings (also lot’s of walking)
- best: Fuji X, Sony NEX, Sony RX1
- worst: Full frame DSLR
Canada, USA with focus on wildlife and landscape (lot’s of driving, lugging gear around is not a big deal. “If it is more than 200 meters away from the parking lot it is not photogenic!”)
- best: full frame DSLR plus APS-C DSLR
- worst: Fuji X100, Sony RX1
Of course travel photography is the most complex topic here because you always need to compromise and you need to decide for each of your vacations separately. I assume that the typical reader of this article is not a travel photographer that makes a living out of his pictures. He/She is most likely a photo enthusiast that wants first of all spend a very nice vacations together with his/her family or friends. That usually also means that there is a need to compromise. What is more important? The photos I will bring home or having a good time? I know what I’m talking about. I put a very high importance to the images I took because photography always has been my favorite hobby. Though within the last couple of years I also enjoy to have less equipment especially in cities. Very small cameras like the Fuji X100 or the Sony NEX 5 with the pancake have become my most used gear.
And of course there is a big difference in between a 4 day city trip to a 3 week RV vacation in Northern America. Most of the time it will be a mix of different needs: Full frame DSLR for landscape, APS-C DSLR for wildlife and a small camera for the city trips, restaurants and beach walks.
If you go with a DSLR I recommend to try to keep the lenses as “light” as possible. That means f4 versions instead of f2.8. Today Canon and Nikon offer great travel zooms with constant f4 and image stabilization.
is a typical setup.
Lightest setup without compromising results: small full frame with 2 zooms
If you want to travel really light but still using full frame get a “small” Nikon D600 or Canon 6D ( saves 200 grams over a 5D mk III ), a 24-105 plus a 70-200. You can also consider a 17-40 plus a 70-200. There is much more wide angle and only a small gap in between that isn’t covered.
Even lighter setup but of course compromised: APS-C plus travel zoom
small APS-C DSLR like a Canon 650D + 18-200 universal zoom. Still a very capable setup that gives lot’s of coverage in a handy package. No need to change lenses is a nice thing too. Or even better a 15-85 lens that will offer better IQ but most important far more wide angle than the travel zoom.
Or get a Fuji X plus zoom or better the 14, 18 and 35mm lenses. Very light but very capable.
Sony NEX 6 plus power zoom (16-50) just about perfect for ultralight traveling. You can always add a 18-200 if you want to have a more versatile setup. Or of course a m43 camera with zooms or prime lenses depending on your preferences.
Sony RX100. Yes I think that this camera is good enough to cover a vacation if traveling light is the most important factor. Of course it is inferior to the other solutions but it is so much better than a smartphone. A photo should record memories. Don’t let yours to be recorded by a smart phone. You might regret it one day.