How small a camera do YOU really want? Is there a smaller size limit that makes a camera unusable for you?

The photographer in this image has average sized hands. 

Love the web. It has an iron clad memory and no memory at all. You can go back and find just about everything ever written in the web but it requires you to actually go back and look. It has no memory at all in that people arrive daily to certain specialty sites and their understanding of say, photography, starts on the day of their arrival. To them, there is no history.

I wrote something over the weekend about Nikon's upcoming mirrorless announcement and was trashed as someone who is "a dinosaur" "permanently welded to ancient DSLR technology" "unable to understand the advantages of EVFs" and so much more. Apparently I have no standing to predict or suggest future camera designs because I (supposedly) have no experience or understanding of the whole magical miracle of mirrorless cameras. Really?

My desire for the new mirrorless Nikon, for whatever new camera hits the market, is that it be large enough to comfortably held and used for long periods of time, and this desire is a result of having owned, nearly eight years ago, a full little Nikon V1 system, complete with pixie sized lenses. It was novel at the time and it was only hampered in image quality by a somewhat noisy one inch, 10 megapixel sensor. 

From a handling point of view the camera was not optimal for heavy use, daylong use, quick use, etc. It was a sweet handbag camera and a perfect travel camera for someone who might take a couple dozen well considered images in a day. For someone shooting hundreds or thousands of images in a day the small size was ironclad insurance that you would have hand cramps by the end of the day. 

I'm hoping Nikon understands the need for a camera to have a certain size in order to work effectively and comfortably.

Please understand that my "request" is not some mean or "bitter" reaction to progress nor a "red flag" of me "aging out" of the industry and being "wedded" to old technology and being unwilling to change. 

A quick look through the 3710 blog entries I've written over the last nine years would inform newcomers that not only have I owned, and extensively used, the Nikon V1 mirrorless system but also the first models of Olympus and Panasonic m4:3rds cameras; including: EP-2, EP-3, EP-5, OMD EM5, OMD EM5ii, G5, G6, GH3, GH4, GH5 (still in current inventory),  and also the Sony Nex-7, Sony 6300, Sony A72, Sony A7R2, and many, many one inch sensor cameras. All purchased with my cash, all used for months and months before moving on. If I say something about the handling of one of these cameras it's not fictional conjecture but the result of lots of time spent with the product. 

Mirrorless rocks. The Panasonic GH5 cameras are my go-to system of the moment. 

The Nikons work for lots of interesting stuff. I hope they survive as a camera company and that their new model is workable and lovable. 

I sense some jealousy from some people who write most virulently about my shortcomings. I'm lucky to be able to afford whatever cameras I want and to trade them whenever I please. That doesn't mean I don't understand the features and benefits of each ---- for me.

Here's my honest question for power users: Do you really want cameras to get smaller and smaller? Is there a bottom limit? Is there a point at which your cameras is too small to easily use? Let me know.


Mike Rosiak said...


Here's a quirky answer to your final questions: I want a camera small enough to use my eye's optics.

Since early June, when I had rush surgery to repair a detaching retina of my left eye, I have become very interested both in the stages of recovery, and the overall optics of the eye. During the surgery, (at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia), my surgeon removed all of the vitreous humor, used a laser to tack back up the portion of my retina that had come loose, (total vision loss in a quadrant of my field of vision), and replaced the vitreous with gas. Freon gas. They call it a gas bubble, and I have been wearing a bright green medical alert bracelet since then. I must not fly,or travel to high altitudes. The penalty for doing so is blindness.

The progression is, aqueous humor created by the eye slowly displaces the gas. As it does, from my viewpoint inside my head, a dark line representing the surface of the aqueous has gradually, over 5 weeks so far, progressed from near the top of my field of vision, to a sort of half-moon on the bottom. Physically, the aqueous has filled from the bottom up, and the dark line I'm seeing, which reflects light, is like looking across a small pond, but upside down. When it was about the half-way point, I likened it to a camera in a waterproof box, half above water, half below.

The index of refraction of the gas is similar to atmospheric air, and it acts to counter the refraction imparted by the cornea. The result, initially, was that all I saw was blurry dark motion against any white background. Now, since there is only about 20-30% gas remaining, the area perceived as above the line has cleared up.

A unique, but vanishing, capability is evident when I look straight down, as the bubble perches on top of the aqueous and acts like another lens - a built-in low power jeweler's loupe. I find it handy for reading fine print.

So, back to my first comment: All along, I have wished for the ability to take pictures of what I see, as I see it, i.e., from inside.

Now, wouldn't it be cool to look at something, say "click," and have a photograph?

Mike Rosiak said...

Addendum to previous post:
My wife's G85 is a "just right" combination of manageable size and fit to average or larger hands.

Ilya said...

It is not only size. There are so many factors. Grips can be different. Bigger cameras with almost no grip can be comfortable or not. My film SLR does not have a real grip, but it is very comfortable. My pocket compact Canon has a grip, and this allows it to accommodate AA batteries, while same size cameras with tiny rechargeables will slip out of your hands. And then for someone who does NOT have to shoot all day, there is aesthetics. Somehow, for me, the grips on Sony A6xxx make them too ugly.

Rob Katz said...

though in some areas, sizes supposedly matters, i am not sure that image acquisition is one of those areas.

too big is unwieldy.

too small is unusable.

and small camera bodies doesn't always translate to small glass lenses.

i'll go the goldilocks "just right" route and hope that image quality and handling will remain my go-to bottom line objectives in determining which tool for which job.

as always, thanks kirk for the wonderful forum and exchange of images and ideas.

thumbs up.

smalltalk productions

Roger Jones said...

Good Morning

After a 2 mile run and 20 minutes in the weight room, and coffee in hand I'm ready for Kirk Tuck's blog. Lets see what Mr. Tuck is up to today??
Oh yes, EVF's, I do not like EVF very much, but have to admit I haven't used them that much, I'll get use to them as time marches on.
It makes me sad to think Nikon may not survive in the cameras industry much longer, they've given us a lot. So lets hope the new mirrorless camera is what we're hoping for. I like the fuji EVF and optical viewfinder in one approach.
Off to my writing class.


Jarle VikshÄland said...

Not forgetting the G3 - your blogposts about it got me into the mirrorless world.

William Collinson said...

I'm truly at a loss for words for anyone who trashes you as a "dinosaur". I originally found your blog based on your exceptionally cognizant words about the GH5, where you very articulately communicated the real world advantages of a well implemented EVF on a well considered mirrorless body.

I've been shooting mirrorless since what some consider the first APS/C mirrorless camera, the none-ILC Sigma DP1. I've shot four generations of m4/3 cameras from Olympus and Panasonic, and am currently a Fuji XT shooter. Yet, I still miss my Nikons and consider everyday picking up a D700 or maybe D610 and a couple of key lenses.

The mirrorless design paradigm has matured considerably and can arguably replace the traditional DSLR, yet there is something about how you shoot with a DSLR, and how traditional PDAF as implemented in them works, that is impossible to replicate with even the best mirrorless cameras. It isn't about being a dinosaur or stuck in the past, it is about the fact that different kinds of tools bring about different results, sometimes through how you interact with the tool.

I've been watching this same kind of thing in audio production for decades now. As much as we embrace and applaud the digital, in-the-box recording process, the act of -how- you produce music versus the traditional big-studio experience is fundamentally different, and each approach brings about unique results. One is not better than the other, they are both legitimate approaches to music production. Likewise, traditional DSLR vs Mirrorless is more about how we interact with our tools as artists than it is the technical capability of each.

Then again, maybe we have to be a little more "seasoned" as people to be able to enjoy such insight. Just don't call me a dinosaur :)

Roger Jones said...

Oh yes as for small cameras, Fuji X100, Pentax KS2 or something like that is small enough.


Hynee said...

I think the lower limit for me would be "Do I have to do the dirty nappy hold to use this camera?"

I can actually do that fine, and have done it on larger mirrorless cameras (Sony APS-C), but to do photography properly you should be comfortable with the EVF. So smaller m4/3 cameras don't do it for me.

rlh1138 said...

Not answering your question, as I'm not a power user. But instead, asking you one or two. Kind of rhetorical, but serious too. So, why would you read the kind of site that has the kind of remarks you quote? Or were those comments sent to you? Just wondering. Esp funny to me, as you were the person who first got me to think seriously about EVFs, talking about seeing white balance, etc. in the viewer. And for me, seeing B&W in the viewer. Huge help - and led to my first mirrorless, the R1. And, you were making those comments at a time when other sites were still saying this mirrorless thing with it's EVFs would never work out. So.. whatever.

Ray H.

John Krumm said...

I really liked the way the Olympus 520 felt in my hands. Sure, it was made of plastic, but it was tough plastic that felt good. I kept 6 of them in a box for years, letting middle school students use them in the rain (in a rain forest area, Juneau, AK). Told them to put a microfiber cloth on top if it started pouring, which worked. It wasn't too heavy, but it had a good grip and good controls and a decent battery.

Over time I find myself valuing the feel and function of the camera first, image quality second and size/weight third. I would not mind, for instance, a lighter version of my K1 that is the exact same size. It would be cool if our cameras and lenses were super tough, easy to use, just the right size, and less heavy. Lenses too. We need a materials revolution, perhaps.

Eric Rose said...

As the cliche expression goes, "haters gonna hate". Ignore them. As far as your question is concerned The Nikon F5 was about as big and heavy as I ever wanted to deal with and the Pentax MX was just to small for my hands. In today's world the Panasonic G85 which I am currently using is just a tad to small for me but is usable. The GH5 would be better and once they are superseded by some new flashier model I will pick one up. I will keep the G85 as it is a good performer and for those occasions when I want something smaller it will do nicely. I have grown to love the EVF and look forward to seeing what Nikon will come up with.

My prediction is that Nikon will release a pro level FF mirrorless camera at about the same price as the D5 and then a larger sensor mirrorless at some stratospheric price only the well healed can afford.


Tinderbox said...

Don't worry about the trolls, there is always someone to shoot their mouth off or who is tone deaf about how they voice their opinion online. I can think of few people as qualified to discuss the subject of mirrorless as you are.

Hugh said...

Ergonomics count highly for me.

The 5D series have always been about perfect for me.
I can work them without looking at the camera (it takes a little time to set up the custom settings first).

I've tried Olympus (OMD-EM5). I've used very expensive Olympus microscopes (paid for with my own money) through choice, rather than Zeiss or Leitz. Olympus have always made some of the best lenses ever. The cameras are too small, and have confusing menus.

Sony A6300 - brilliant quality - again, confusing menus and poor ergonomics.

Sold them, and went back to a Canon 100D (Rebels SL-1) as my light setup.
Why... I can set everything without looking, and I can operate every function one handed. Never need two hands, never need to look at the camera to find the buttons. Why does that matter so much to me... I'm off to Botswana in August, watching big game, including lions, on a horse. I need one hand for the reins; only one hand spare for working the camera.

gbunton said...

Kirk, I'm a little more ancient than you but about the same size. I still lug around a 4x5 Sinar and film no less. As for digital, I'm still content with a d700. Recently picked up an x pro 2 and some excellent Fuji glass, love this system as I shot for 40 yrs with a Leica m4 which I still have. Yes, that was a camera with ergonomics and fits quite well with your assessment of feels right. Ignore the haters at our age it's just a waste of energy better spent in the pool:)


Steve Renwick said...

Yes indeed. If a camera is as small as a Leica M3 or a Nikon FM3A, its controls should be similarly sparse.

I didn't understand the reason for a Nikon professional camera's size until I picked up a big ugly heavy D3 and used it for the whole day. Then it's obvious.

As for commenters, I leave you with the wise words of Peter Egan: "If people want to be dead wrong, that's their business."

Paul Kelly said...

I find the Sony A6000 a perfect size and weight. I find the Sony RX-10 larger and heavier than I would like, though I accept this is necessary for the lens specification.

Gato said...

For a couple of years I used tiny little Panasonic GX-1 cameras. Loved them when I was just carrying them around and making a few photos now and then, loved them somewhat less when I was using them in a working session for an hour or more of constant shooting -- always came away with hand cramps. I eventually made grips to give me a little extra size on those sessions and everything worked fine.

My main body now is a GX-8 which is a pretty nice overall size, though I add a little padding to the grip for long sessions where I'll be holding it for an hour or so, partly to make things more comfortable and partly to keep the base of my thumb away from the buttons.

So yes, a camera can be too small for some kinds of pro work, but at the same time quite nice for a carry-around.

Bassman said...

Kirk, no need to defend yourself against the trolls. Or the ignorant. We faithful are all well aware of the quality of your insights into this field of capturing photons in a box.

As for the size question, the GX7 is okay for a short period, and with a small lens. The E-M1 is about as big and heavy as I want, the E-M1.2 pushes the limit for me. But shooting with the OM-Ds reminds me of the sense of shooting with my Nikon DX cameras - the controls and buttons are all easy to find, easy to use, and generally well thought out. The grip feels good in my hand. After spending time configuring the camera as I like, it’s all very inspinctive.

And the Nikon V1 … a cute little camera with great AF and good (if slow) lenses let down by everything else about it. The sensor, the controls, the body shape, the FT-1, …

Michael Matthews said...

The larger concern for me, when it comes to small cameras, is the lack of real estate on the right-hand side of the camera back. This mania for miniaturization forces an oversupply of controls into an inadequate space. The result is the frequent discovery...always after the fact...that the four-way control pad on my OMD 5.2 has inadvertently moved the focus point to some bizarre location way out in left field.

It’s probably true to say that I’m careless and/or clumsy in my camera handling. Accepting that as given, if anyone knows how to lock that focus point center screen — permanently if need be — the info would be greatly appreciated.

Dave Lively said...

I am not a power user. I normally take about 50 to 100 photos a day while on vacation and probably average about 25 a week when I am at home. But I want to take those photos with a real camera that is fairly small and light.

Nikon does not have to choose between making the bigger camera you want or the lighter camera I want. Both is a valid option. They make both small and large SLRs. They should make both small and large mirrorless cameras. I just hope they realize that small does not have to mean stripped down.

ODL Designs said...

Great read. The Internet, right!
Well for me, and small lenses the em5 with no grip but with a wrist strap... And when I am shooting for work the em1.2 it has a very comfortable grip and even carrying the 40-150 f2.8 from the camera body with one hand is very comfortable.

Terry Manning said...

For a walk-around daily shooter, I am loving the size and feel of the secondhand Fuji X-E1 I bought recently (with a 7artisans 25mm f1.8 lens), but when I'm shooting "high-end" stuff my reflex had been to reach for my Canon DSLR and assorted lenses. I'm sure that reflex will disappear as soon as I finish selling said Canon gear and replace it with comparable Fuji gear.

bpr said...

Kirk Tick mirrorless hater. Now that is funny.

Personally I agree with you getting a right-sized system matters. I ditched Sony’s A7 series due to handling and balance issues. I just prefer to use the Canon 5D range. My wife does too, she hated the A7rIII I recently urged her To consider when replacing her aged 5d2.

That said, my favourite lens in the Sony system - the ZE 35/2.8 - does balance beautifully on an A7(x), and it could tempt me back...

Anonymous said...

Funnily enough I came down to the comments to write something like Mike wrote. Having a seamless eye based camera to record instants that I've seen would be really good.

I like smaller bodies, with smaller prime lenses. So something with similar controls to my EP5 in a slightly smaller body would be nifty. I don't want an evf, but a tilt screen I can use as a wlf is also now an essential for me.

But yep, whoever wrote the criticism of you clearly took only the most cursory look at your blog, photos and writing.


Gord Millar said...

I bought a Sony RX100m4 because neck problems made walking around all day with my Canon 70D very painfull, and the pain can hang around for days. But, as fantastic the Sony is, I find it small for my hands and the zoom range limiting. It never feels secure and comfortable like the Canon does. I have to find a new solution and I’m frozen with indecision. :-(

So I would say the RX100m4 is too small while the 70D is a nice fit but heavy.


Dave Jenkins said...

My hands are fairly large -- in fact, in my playing days I could pick up a basketball from the floor with one hand by grasping it from the top -- but I've always preferred smaller cameras. In 1978 I dumped my Nikon F2 and Nikkormats and began a 13-year love affair with the Olympus OM system that lasted until ageing eyes dictated a change to the Canon autofocus system.

I stuck with Canon for 24 years, moving with them into the digital world with larger cameras and heavier lenses. The tipping point for me came in 2010, when I hauled two bodies and a basic set of three zooms and a 50mm macro lens on a trip to Israel and Jordan.

Sweating my load on the long walk into Petra, the ancient city carved into rock, I chanced to meet a man who was carrying only an Olympus EP-2 body with the 14-42 kit lens and a VF-2 viewfinder. We talked for a few minutes, then I asked if I could hold his camera. That was a revelation!

I had been reading with interest Kirk's posts about micro 4/3s, so when I got home, I ordered an E-PL1, then later, a pair of E-M5s and some lenses. However, the wedding photographer for whom I worked as a second-shooter did not like the files, so I held onto my Canon kit for weddings, only upgrading my 5D Classic to a 6D.

Last year, I made the break complete, selling all my Canon stuff, and later, most of my m4/3s equipment, and buying Fuji X-system bodies and lenses. I was surprised to find that a Fuji X-T20 is actually a little smaller than an Oly E-M5 and did not handle as well for me.

I had reached my small-size limit!

However, no problem! A nifty little black leather half-case from Amazon made it handle just right. I'm happy with my choice, and my primary photographer is happy with the files.

The problem with a full-frame system is not the size of the bodies -- I could still be happy with a 6D -- but the size and weight of the lenses. Sony A-series bodies are only marginally larger and heavier than a Fuji X-T2, but when you add a working kit of lenses, the weight saved by the lighter body doesn't make much difference to the overall load.

Anyone who attacks your knowledge and experience with just about every camera and format on the market obviously has spent little time reading your blog and is only showcasing his/her own ignorance for all the world to see.

Rohith Thumati said...

For me, big enough for all the necessary controls/features to be comfortably usable and hefty enough for the glass that's attached, but no more. I loved the size of LX100, for example but the lens was light enough that it felt fine being as small as it is. I wouldn't want it (or any successor) to be any larger, unless feature necessity dictated the additional bulk (i.e., articulated touchscreen, a larger EVF, and/or a bigger lens requiring additional space).

For an interchangeable lens camera, it's a little more difficult, but I think Olympus hit on the solution with the E-M5 (I and II) - modularity. If I just have a small prime lens attached, it handles well without any accessories. But with a bigger lens (e.g., 40-150 f/2.8), adding the grip alone or grip + battery grip improves the handling. It'd be great if other manufacturers took that approach as well.

Edward Richards said...

You have to consider size and complexity together. My Sony A6000 is about the size of a Leica M3. (WHich older folks on this list, including Kirk, have probably used in distant past.) The M3 was perfectly sized, but the number of controls was very limited so you could just hold it without thought. The a6000 is covered with buttons and function switches and knobs and screens. It is on the small side for comfortable use. If I were rich, I might buy a Leica M-D (Typ 262) just to see how a small digital camera with barebones controls is to shoot.

Alex said...

Sizewise, the OM-D Em-5 is too small for the multitude of buttons it carries. The original E-P1 was perfect in the balance of size and controlls, but, alas, without build-in EVF.
You made me switch to EVF, dinosaur that I am. Thank you.

Kirk Decker said...

Coming over from a feed reader to say hi. I remember really wanting to like the OM 2, but when I tried one out, it felt too small for my average sized fingers to manipulate comfortably. A DXXX Nikon is a comfortable day long camera for me. I've got a Hasselblad 500 C/M arriving tomorrow. It won't fit in my shirt pocket, but I know it is going to feel just right in my hands.

Hendrik Mintarno said...

I guess the limit for mirrorless is EM5 mark 2 with grip attached. Going smaller also means, you have to both push technological boundaries (IBIS) and physical limitation (going smaller than full frame or going for smaller aperture lens; f/2 instead of f/1.4 or variable aperture zooms such as 2.8-4 instead of fixed to f/2.8). Nikon have to go on diet either by reducing sensor size or lens size in order for it to be successful delivering mirrorless promise: smaller package.
As far as lens line up, Fujifilm doing awesome during X series launch (several important prime lens with 1 zoom) and Nikon should learn from Fuji

Wolfgang Lonien said...

I've learned to live with my Olympus E-M10 (first version) with an additional (smallish) grip, but it's way on the small side of things I find useful. Same for my wife's E-M5 Mk2 (without any grip until now). The E-M1 might be ok, but I haven't tried that one. In a way I'm with John Krumm on this - their older E-520 DSLR was about perfect for my hands.

If I'd try a mirrored solution for people shots again, I guess that a D610 together with some smallish 1.8 primes would be mighty fine. Prices on the used market are tempting as well. As a portrait guy I guess I could do with a 85 and a 35mm or so.

Henk said...

How small?

Depends on it's purpose. When hiking in the mountains of Tirol the Panasonic GM5 is a very competent camera, small, light and great image quality.

The Sony A7R is a very fine camera for slow landscape photography, just not too big and heavy with the adapted OM lenses.


Craig Yuill said...

I own a Nikon D7000 DSLR and two V1 mirrorless cameras. The D7000 is fairly large and has controls that are quite easy to use. It is a great camera for landscape, wildlife, and action photography. My V1s are small, discreet, and quiet, but the few controls that they have are a little fiddly to use. But the V1s are great for video, family vacation photos, and taking photos where you need to be discreet, and quiet or silent. The V1 is probably as small a camera as I would want to use. But I would prefer to use a camera with controls like the D7000.

You have probably read that Nikon Japan finally announced that the Nikon 1 system has been discontinued. I think this is a shame, and I wonder what the system could have been if Nikon had properly thought out the design of the cameras, and properly marketed and planned (and priced) the system. I like using my V1s and likely will continue to do so until they stop working.

Philip Lewis said...

I find the Olympus OMD (EM1ii and EM5.2) works well for my hands - not so big but long fingers. When I shoot the EM-5 with larger lenses, I use the grip.

As to Michael Matthews comment above, I just turn the four way off under button control. I shoot almost always aperture priority.

Jack said...

So the world hasn't run out of morons yet. What a surprise. What's even more surprising is how many of them want to publicly prove their moronic status. (of course, I've probably proven mine with this comment.)

I'd suggest that some enterprising code writer compose a moron filter, but then it would be eerily quiet on the internet front.

At first I found the a6500 to be too small, but have learned my way around it. The Fuji XT20 was too small for me. Too many unintended button bumps. Sent it back. The XT2, however, is a perfect fit.


David said...

Yes. I love the Panasonic GM5 as it fits in pocket. Perfect, small and has small lenses to match, 14-42 pz and 35-100mm.
However, its too small for long time use. Now I love the Em1 for size. But its too large to fit in a pocket. So the limit for me is the GM5. Can't be smaller.

Michael Matthews said...

Thank you, Philip Lewis.

It must have been a blind spot induced by all those menu/submenu choices -- but I never realized that I could turn the OMD EM5.2 four-way control pad off and still have it work normally for the menu and super control panel functions.
A log jam in my brain has been cleared.

Anonymous said...

Size doesn't bother me at all. Bigger typically means better handling and better controls.

For me, it's all about the weight.

I'd love to have a D500/D850, including a lens, that weighed only as much as a Panasonic GH4.

Hardison said...

I would rather read posts from a "dinosaur" who makes his living with a camera than an "expert" troll.

Everything is a trade-off. Anything too big gives me a sore back. Anything too small and I have to carry extra batteries in my pockets. The list of trade-offs goes on and on: Sharpness, color, weight, waterproofing, AF speed, new camera smell...

Here is why I am still using my old equipment: Would I rather have a new lens, or a four-day vacation at the beach?