Big and Small

As you know, I own a Nikon D90 DSLR.

Speaking of DSLRs, people will tend to think of it as a big, heavy, bulky, inconvenient tool. While it is quite true, many people just don't know that there are larger, heavier, bulkier, and more inconvenient cameras out there. Examples are 4 x 5" large format cameras.

large format tachihara

This is the real camera. It is a new camera, and there are companies out there making it. It offers the highest possible image quality that landscape photographers crave for. It is very inconvenient- setting up this thing may need 20 minutes or more, but the results are often fantastic. Large format film contains a whooping potential of resolving 1,140 Megapixels, far better than any digital camera on Earth.

Conventional SLR uses 35mm film. Most amateur/prosumer DSLR uses cropped sensor (1.5x, 1.6x). Professional DSLR uses 35mm full-frame sensor.

Sensor sizes

As you can see, large format cameras' film size are much bigger. Anything in between 35mm and 4 x 8" are medium format cameras. Companies that produce medium format cameras include Phase One, Hasselblad, Mamiya and Leica.

And they are quite large.


Note the 3 little sensor sizes on the bottom of the chart? Those are the sensor sizes you get in your digital compact camera.

In digital photography, full frame sensors are relatively new. They're expensive, but yields high quality. Examples are Nikon D3 and Canon 5D.

D3-2D3-1 D700-D3

These are big cameras.

In comparison, my D90 seems small.


Frankly speaking, I like small cameras more than larger ones, although they're more professional in operation (and size, too). After lugging around my camera + lens + extra battery + extra memory cards + backup camera during my trip to Singapore, I feel that a heavy camera is quite a burden. Only now I understand why people say that with a smaller camera you can make more photos (and thus more good shots)- its because you can carry it with you all the day! Though D90 is considered small to mid-size, and it is quite portable compared to others, but I would bring my camera bag for protection, which makes the overall combination big and heavy.

To me, a really small and portable camera must be the type that can fit into your bag or even pocket. D60, Nikon's entry-level DSLR is quite small, but just quite. Last year Panasonic announced the Lumix G1 which utilizes four-third sensor. It removed the mirror compartment and created a new system called "Micro Four-Third" system which has a shorter flange back distance (distance from the lens mount to the image sensor).

Micro Four Thirds

As a result, the camera is significantly thinner, and more compact in size.

G1-9 G1-1

Panasonic made a serious mistake in the design of G1. The size of G1 isn't really smaller than any other entry-level DSLRs- that's because G1 was designed to look like a DSLR- hand grip, prism and pop-up flash- they can actually subtract all these and make a much smaller camera! It is due to these design flaws that the G1 isn't a sleek camera to carry in your pocket. Considering the price, smaller sensor, limited lens selection, and sacrifice of optical viewfinder, it isn't really a good buy. What's worse, the G1 contradicted itself to be a micro four-third camera- micro four third camera should be really small but the G1 isn't.

Recently Olympus announced a series of cameras which uses the four-third standard. Thus it is expected that Olympus cameras are small. In fact, the E-420 is as small as the G1! (Or rather, the G1 is as large as the Olympus)


The E-420 in the photo above is mounted with a zoom lens.

Here's what it looks like with a 25mm (50mm equivalent in 35mm format) "pancake" lens.

E-420-4 E-420-2Olympus E-420 digital SLR camera with zuiko digital 14-42mm zoom lens.

Small! Fits into your pocket nicely.

Frankly speaking, I like Olympus DSLRs' designs. Small, compact and a little edgy. I've read reviews praising that Olympus DSLRs have excellent build quality too. And I absolutely love the super slim pancake lens. How I wish Nikon designs a 35mm ultra-thin pancake lens.

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