Home Accessories Senior Moments: When you no longer wish to schlepp the big system

Senior Moments: When you no longer wish to schlepp the big system

  Back in 2012 I took the original Nikon 1 to China, my first long-distance trip with a really light mirrorless system camera. Here at the Summer Palace in Beijing.
Back in 2012 I took the original Nikon 1 to China, my first long-distance trip with a really light mirrorless system camera. Here at the Summer Palace in Beijing.

Downsize, downsize, that is the cry I hear a lot these days. I should know. I’ve been through this process several times in my photographic journey. Been there, done that: Bulky SLRs and heavy lenses, followed by an abrupt change to a lightweight film camera with fixed lens. Then the DSLR, a reason to go digital, a bagful of lenses and the system grow’d like Topsy. Eventually, yet again, I reached the point where I felt I just couldn’t manage to schlepp all this gear around, especially on overseas vacations. Then again back to basics with Leica M film camera, a dalliance with Nikon’s less-than-perfect Nikon 1 and a return to the M8/M9 and mirrorless cameras from Fuji, Sony and Olympus/Panasonic. 

  The Nikon 1, with its then-new 1in sensor, is still a capable camera despite not enjoying the success it deserved. It fell to the Sony RX100 to really put this sensor on the map.
The Nikon 1, with its then-new 1in sensor, is still a capable camera despite not enjoying the success it deserved. It fell to the Sony RX100 to really put this sensor on the map.

Simply put, when you have a compact system you feel you are missing something. Maybe that bigger sensor, that bigger lens must have some advantages after all. Then, with the heavy rig in hand (such as in the case of my recent love affair with the Leica SL) and reality sets in. Age plays a big factor, of course. Were I 20 years younger I would probably still be happy to carry around the SL or, even, a big DSLR kit. 

  Just a few yards away from Tienanmen Square, Beijing, with the little Nikon V1
Just a few yards away from Tienanmen Square, Beijing, with the little Nikon V1

Now, I have finally accepted that I definitely do not want a big, bulky DSLR, medium-format (sorry Hasselblad, Fuji) or, even, a top-flight mirrorless such as the SL. The M10 and full-frame sensor is as big as I want to go in camera and format. And, increasingly, I am appreciating the lightness of m4/3 and Leica’s own T system.

One guy who has looked carefully at the senior camera scene is Thomas Stirr of the PhotographyLife blog. He believes that it is not only ‘mature’ photographers who can benefit from downsizing, it is probably something that would appeal to most photographers in one way or another. After all, performance of smaller sensors is improving all the time. The success of micro four-thirds has shown that you don’t need bulky gear to produce good photographs. And smaller sensors mean smaller, lighter cameras and lenses to go with them — especially when you are talking 1in as in these Nikon examples.

Beijing’s Summer Palace, 2012, with the Nikon V1

According to Stirr, many seniors don’t make a complete and sudden change. There’s always a transitional period: “Anecdotally, replacing their entire camera system doesn’t seem quite as popular as adding a cropped sensor body for many seniors. For those seniors who told me that they have switched systems completely it appears that one of two approaches was most commonly used. The first was to switch from DSLRs to a cropped sensor mirrorless solution. Quite often brands like Sony and Fuji were mentioned in this scenario. People that made this switch most often cited their need to maintain image quality with a cropped sensor body, but also shedding some weight by going mirrorless as their main determinants.”

Practising what he preaches, Thomas Stirr has illustrated his article (link below) with results from the Nikon 1 J5, successor to the original one-inch-sensor Nikon. They’re mightily impressive and illustrate what you can achieve when you no longer wish to cart around an enormous full-frame system. 

I decided to dig out some of my own Nikon 1 photographs to give a bit of colour to this review. Thomas’s are better, though.



  1. Absolutely agree with you, Mike, on Sony’s menus and controls. Used to drive me up the wall and is still my reason for preferring the experience of using a Leica – Digilux 1 and 2, V-lux 1, D-lux 4, X-Vario and X1 !!! But I had to cave in to Sony on size and IQ (with Zeiss lenses). The RX100iii in particular has been a real cuckoo in the nest, displacing the D-Lux 4 and taking over its camera case – perfect fit.

  2. My arsenal of shooting kit is in constant flux Mike…

    I do not want to collect cameras, since I can see how easy it is to fill the house with camera gear that seemed so necessary at the time, but following a couple of rolls of film (perhaps), put on a shelf for later appreciation. As to whether a collection becomes valuable, or an investment, hmmm….

    So I almost always chuck one camera and/or lens back into the fray, once I have decided on a new experiment.

    Anyway, that is the one proviso, other than that I tend to keep the cameras that I like for longer than others and also the camera that seems to fit with my current lifestyle….

    So I fiddled with video when the kids were younger, and then the compilation tape was overwritten with something average and mundane from the BBC, and a whole slice of our young lives has been returned to the mists… I have several old video’s transcribed from 8mm and super 8mm that my father and grandfather made during the 1960’s, but almost no photographs, since my Dad decided that stills were passé and out went the "Empire made" TLR and in came the Gamages super 8 bargain.

    As I get older though (certainly not really any wiser), the phases still have to be endured as a function of blokeism.

    Currently, I took Mike at his word…. 🙂 (but not really), I had been thinking about the Leica T ever since I saw various stories from the net about its abilities, but until last week have dismissed it for lack of eye level viewfinder, I picked up a cheap example… A bashed about T, with an 18-56 lens, and I love it… Even without the viewfinder.

    There is a bloke called Andrew Kim from LA (Minimally Minimal), who reviewed the T when it first emerged, and he talks about "handling" the camera, in a similar manner to how one would talk about a motor car… And he is right, I have really disliked cameras without a built in viewfinder… Leica XE, Ricoh GR, Sony RX100, Panasonic LX100, Ixus, have come and gone with very little ceremony, but the T handles really nicely, and lack of viewfinder is merely novel, rather than a deal-breaking annoyance.

    I have eschewed cameras without meters, and most recently film, will be leaving the building shortly, the M6 and M5 being early victims… I still have a couple of film Olympus 35mm compact cameras and an Ondu 6×9 120 pinholio camera. I noticed that a plethora of processing equipment was building up… Jobo this and Paterson that, and a desire (following my Dad’s passing) to not leave a museum behind me, that nobody should have to review.

    So anyway, regardless of whether Leica introduce a version of the T that has a viewfinder built in, I will be keeping my bashed up T and probably extending the lens collection. There is something about the output from this camera that I really like… It might remind me of the M8 that I had.

    Perhaps for me, old age is about zoom lenses, auto everything, and lighter weight.

    But tomorrow, all might be different!

  3. This really speaks to my condition, Mike! And I really like your Nikon 1 pictures. The summer palace is superb – has an almost Zen-like quality. May be I should have gone for the AW1 when considering a winterised camera two seasons ago? But I thought a Pentax (K50) was the best for the money. After a lot of dithering I have really come to appreciate and actually enjoy having it in the hand. But I don’t want to travel far with it! At the moment I notice the Sony RX100iii surprises me again and again – really good for when I don’t want a camera with me, and when I do, the a6000 with Zeiss constant aperture zoom (24 -105mm equivalent) seems to me the perfect travel combination. When I really want to go out and do some quality work, then the X Vario tops the list, but it is not light or compact and when fiited out with viewfinder and hand-grip it needs a pretty baggy bag! Just my experiences.

    • Thanks, John. Funnily enough, at the time I wasn’t too happy with the Nikon shots. There was a lot of pollution around at the time and most of the shots came out a bit hazy. However, with the benefit of newly learned skills I’ve given them a tweak in Lightroom and now realise that I had underestimated the camera.

      I am impressed by your continued enthusiasm for the Sony RX100III and I have to admit that if I buy a camera in that class I will be sorely tempted to go for the Mark V. I don’t much like Sony’s control layout and menu system but….

  4. I am not completely sold on the oft used logic of downsizing as to me it so often seems like my fellow enthusiasts are actually trying to find a excuse instead for not simply going with the flow via opting for a CMOS sensor size Canon or Nikon SLR, which dare I say in some instances now are both lighter and no bigger if not smaller than some of the mirrorless options.

    Certainly there is very little in it between such as my Leica T plus lens and my already quite elderly Canon 550D and kit lens, and I know which of these two cameras will do the best job in most instances, and much as I would like it to be sad to say it not my much loved Leica, and I am also very conscious that several of the newer cameras within Panasonic and Fuji’s supposedly compact system ranges now seem to be on steroids.

    Better I think to just admit or accept we all like the occasional change but to do so also need to find a excuse or three to persuade ourselves or maybe our wife’s? Anyway its all great fun so maybe best not to go into the excuses too deeply. Don

  5. Well, I have just spent one week in Tuscany with a large, heavy medium format camera system. I tried to work off the car, but there was also quite a lot of walking. Thinking about whether something lighter would have been better, my conclusion was at the time, and still is, that the discomfort will go away when I am back home, but the quality of the pictures will stay. Kind of the "no pain, no gain" sport theory 😉


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