If you've been following my interactions in various comment threads and our weekly newsletter, you'll know that I've spent much of the past couple of months trying to finish our full review of the Fujifilm X100S. I finally completed that review the other day, and after the dust had settled I realised something - I haven't used my DSLR for months. At first, the explanation seemed obvious - I'd been shooting for the X100S review. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this wasn't the only reason. Recently, I've simply not wanted to take my DSLR with me. Here's why.
1: I hate carrying all that weight
|See? The sun does come out in Washington, from time to time! This was taken on a recent hike with the Sony Cyber-shot RX100II. The beauty of a small camera like this is that it's pocketable. I could have taken the same shot with my DSLR but carrying the weight of a heavy camera and lenses all day would have been a pain.|
Everyone says that the weather in Seattle is dreadful, but it's not true! Well actually, it is true, but not for the whole year. We get great summers here, and this year summer came a little early, giving us some beautiful days in April and May (which was a welcome change from last year...). What possible relevance does this have to my camera choice, I hear you ask? Well, when the weather is nice, I like to hike and bike. And when I'm hiking and biking, I like to travel light.
|A quick trip to Korea last year brought a rare opportunity for some 'street' photography - not something I normally do. The small, discreet Fuji X100 was a great companion camera for the trip. The woman in this candid shot did notice me, but only at the point when I tripped the shutter.|
My DSLR is anything but light, even with a prime lens attached, but a camera like the Fujifilm X100S, or Sony Cyber-shot RX100II slips right inside my backpack, and can be slung around my neck without causing discomfort. With a zoom compact I can be more spontaneous as well - no need to fumble for a lens when I need to change my field of view.
2: Small cameras are really good now
If you've been paying attention to our preview and review content over the past couple of years you'll know that if image quality is your main priority, DSLRs aren't the only game in town anymore. Not only are compact cameras getting a lot better, but smartphones are too, and meanwhile, mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras are getting smaller. Plus we're also seeing a new crop of large-sensor, fixed lens compact cameras which offer excellent image quality without the bulk of a typical DSLR.
|I took this shot with the Sony Cyber-shot RX1, which features a sharp, fast 35mm F2 lens. Read our in-depth review for an idea of the image quality this camera is capable of.||At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, here's a shot taken on my old iPhone 3GS. I was out cycling, saw this car, and got the shot. The result (after some processing) is good enough for small prints and web use.|
My current crush is the Fujifilm X100S, but there's plenty of choice. The Ricoh GR is a stunning little camera, likewise Sony's full-frame RX1/R (if you can afford it) and enthusiast compacts like the Canon PowerShot G15, Nikon Coolpix P7700 and Olympus XZ-2 (and others) are small cameras capable of great results.
3: Most of the time, I don't need a zoom
|I find 35mm to be a great general-purpose focal length, which represents my zone of attention. This shot was taken with the Fujifilm X100S. A wider angle of view would have let me include more of the scene, but would it have been any better?|
Something I've realised lately is that most of the time, I really don't need a zoom. I'm happy shooting at around 35mm equivalent focal length. It suits the way I see the world, and it suits the kind of shots I like to take.
Obviously this is hugely personal (I know some people who only shoot at ultra wide-angles, and some that reach for long telephotos) but for me, cameras with ~35mm equivalent lenses, like the X100S, Sony RX1/R or even my iPhone, do the job 90% of the time. And with resolutions of 16MP+ (OK, let's forget the iPhone for a second...) I don't mind cropping in a bit later if I need a more focused composition. It's good for my photography too. Shooting at a single fixed focal length makes you more disciplined, and more creative.
Of course, I could just slap a 35mm prime on my DSLR, but that combination is larger and heavier than something like the Sony RX1 or Fujifilm X100S.
4: I'm trying to take more portraits
|I find 35mm is an ideal focal length for 'arms reach' portraits, and the Fujifilm X100S that I used for this shot is small enough to be unintimidating to a non-professional model.|
I love shooting portraits, it's probably my favorite type of photography, but I hate taking pictures of strangers and I don't want to take photos of models. Staged portraiture leaves me cold. For me, the pleasure of getting a really nice shot of someone that I know, which says something about them is one of the best thrills in photography.
And although I've got some really nice portraits of people close to me using DSLRs, I've had far better results with compact cameras, and even smartphones. I think there are a couple of reasons for this.
Firstly, most DSLRs, even the small ones, are relatively big, chunky things that hide your face when you're using them (if you use the viewfinder, of course). Secondly, they're noisy. Even a quiet shutter is still pretty loud in an intimate setting. Once you've turned all of the stupid sound effects off, compact cameras, smartphones and even some mirrorless ILCs are almost silent. Both of these qualities make them less intimidating to non-professional models, and mean that you can click away discreetly in mixed social situations without anyone getting uncomfortable.
5: I just don't need all that extra gear anymore.
I used to need a lot of photographic gear. I used to be a professional photographer, but now I'm not. Obviously, 'Pro' doesn't necessarily mean 'uses a DSLR', but in my case it did. A few years ago I was regularly photographing concerts, attending events and photo calls and routinely staying up to the early hours of the morning on deadline, editing hundreds of raw files. I saved up and bought some really great equipment, including a serious professional DSLR, a brace of fast zoom and prime lenses, and a couple of flashes (which I never used).
|A Supermarine Seafire, coming awfully close to the ground during an airshow a couple of years back. This is one situation where my DSLR, and a 300mm prime telephoto lens, were indispensable.|
I didn't make much money, but it was a lot of fun. These days I seem to spend the majority of my time in meetings. I'm just an average enthusiast with a day job. I don't need ultra-fast AF, ten frames-per second and ISO 20,000+ any more. Photography is still a huge part of my life, but I just don't need that much gear.
Please note: most of the images in this article are downsized for convenience, but if you want that 100% actual pixels thrill, many are taken from samples published as part of our in-depth reviews and previews of the cameras mentioned.