Back in 2010 when micro four-thirds cameras and lenses hit the shelves, small was beautiful. Even mid-decade, when Fuji and Sony APS-C cameras grabbed our attention, small cameras and small lenses were a virtue. Now things are changing. Only the Leica M system, which combines tiny full-frame lenses with a series of relatively light bodies, is holding its corner.
While Leica has maintained this economy of scale with its TL/CL line1, the mirrorless camera. in general, has suffered from bloat. It’s much like the original Volkswagen Golf compared with the current model or, perhaps even more amazing, the tiny late-1950 Mini parked alongside today’s bulbous versions.
About all that remains of the original Mini is that trademark central instrument dial and that happens to be my least-favoured feature.
The main reason for cameras and lenses to grow is the move to larger sensors and a quest for ever-wider apertures. Today’s leading full-frame mirrorless bodies are little different in size and weight to the pro DSLRs that we were all keen to ditch at the end of the noughties. Gradually, size has crept up on us.
Even the Sony a7 range, the epitome of a compact full-frame mirrorless camera, is putting on weight in its old age. This article shows how the latest a7r IV compares with the first generation.
It’s in the lens department, though, that the effects of bloat are most noticeable. The faster Leica SL primes, for instance, are enormous compared with, say, equivalent M lenses. And Sigma’s Art cousins are just as bulky.
M lenses, of course, need no electronics, no stabilisation and no autofocus, so it’s no surprise they are small and relatively light2.
But the difference is increasingly remarkable, especially when it is remembered that small lenses such as the 50mm Apo-Summicron-M ASPH will produce results just as good, if not better, than the autofocus monsters we are now expected to carry around with our mirrorless cameras.
Wherever you look, whether at the L-mount line-up or at Canon, Nikon or other marques, pro-quality lenses are huge. They are not going to get any smaller any time soon.
What’s your view? Are bigger lenses necessary for maximum performance? Is it more sensible to choose slower lenses, say f/2 or f/2.8, in order to keep down weight but still enjoy pro quality?
- Peter Karbe, who designed the lenses for the Leica T deliberately omitted in-lens stabilisation and opted for relatively slow zooms in order to keep the system compact and light ↩
- This “analogue” design is one reason why M lenses, with no electronic p
arts, are a wonderful long-term investment. On past experience, they will still be around and functioning in another hundred years. ↩