One of the smallest 35mm cameras in the world is the Minox 35. Made in the 70’s its supple body is less than the length of a matchstick. With full manual controls and a fast 2.8 lens it is a whole world away from the back-breaking 5D’s and D4’s of today. Camera’s used to be thin, lightweight and sexy. Where did it all go wrong?
It seems that the 35mm format has hit a midlife crisis, getting ever wider and heavier with every passing year. No matter how small they claim to be *Cough Canon 100D* they are still goliaths compared to the almost toy like Minox 35. As soon as you stick a digital sensor into a SLR you are left with a hulking black box which breaks your bank and your back.
Let’s face it, you bought your first DSLR with the idea that you would take it everywhere with you, as Cartier Bresson said it would be an extension of your body, a phaser beam to your soul a – a bloody heavy black blob that you won’t take out with you unless you absolutely have to. None of us want to lug around a 24-70 on a full frame body around a busy street market unless we are being paid handsomely to do it, the fact it is has become a chore to carry these things around. To say they are clunky is an understatement; I mean do we even need to talk about the struggle of flying with a DSLR kit? I for one can vouch to seeing many veterans clamber onto planes with a 24-70 snuggled into their jacket for a 7 hour flight.
So the time has come. Strip back, reduce, resize and rethink the camera. It seems the answer to our problem is to go back to basics.
I have always admired Olympus, the first film camera I ever bought was a Olympus OM-20 and a Zuiko 50mm 1.8. This vintage duo weighs far less than my DSLR equivalent and is easier to carry, slimmer and let’s face it rather gorgeous. In 2013 Olympus announced their new flagship camera, the OMD-EM1. With a powerful 16MP Micro 4/3rds sensor, 10 FPS burst and phase detection it has all the features of your regular flagship Canikon. However, when you put this next to even a low-end DSLR it is diminutive in comparison. Tiny size, tiny weight, huge results. What else could you want?
And the story doesn’t end there, the Olympus is amazing for what it is. A lightweight, super compact pro level MICRO 4/3RDS CAMERA. And yes a lot of diehard DSLR fans will be screaming in their beds at the idea of giving up their full frame sensor to something to archaic as Micro 4/3rds. However, the fine folks at Sony have had their A7 range out for a while. With every, what feels like weekly, incarnation of the camera they bring out better and smaller devices with full frame compact bodies. The A7 has a full frame 24.3MP sensor with a variety of flavours ranging from A7S with super high ISO capabilities to the A7R with an even bigger sensor fine-tuned for amazing HD video. And all this for a body which is smaller and lighter than a DSLR for a whole heap less than any flagship camera. Plus with a tonne of lenses and adapter available you could build yourself a handsome video rig with legacy lenses and it would still be more easy to travel with any APS-C equivalent.
The list is endless, the market is now over saturated with Micro 4/3rds, APS-C and Full Frame cameras which are far cheaper, far smaller, far lighter and far easier on the eyes than their DSLR counterparts. In the last few years the progression of these mediums, especially the Mirrorless, has been unprecedented, all of the issues such as viewfinder lag, noise and slow AF have been fixed and now exceed the level required from even DSLR’s. This market is building on its strengths and making cameras the consumer wants. With every passing year more and more professionals are hanging up their DSLR and taking on this rogue medium and have never looked back. Finally, a medium where they make what we want and for a price we can all afford.
It all comes down the fundamental principles of the human condition. If the camera is good, but big and heavy and cumbersome then you simply will not take it out with you every day. However if your camera is good, light weight, thin and fits into your pocket then you have no excuse not to take it out with you every day. The exponential growth of these mediums have made them very attractive to many photographers, we are getting the intimacy back, no longer are we hiding behind bulky black boxes! The DSLR is under fierce competition and this is by far the best thing to happen to the digital medium in a long time.