Forget Mirrorless cameras with Interchangeable Lenses - It's Interchangeable camera time

Anyone else hate changing lenses? I do, always have. Switching between cameras has always been more appealing for me. Though it can be taken to extremes!!

Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now

Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now

While the DSLRisation of MCE (Mirrorless / CSC / E.V.I.L ) cameras continues and the lenses for those systems get ever bigger and heavier, there is a quiet revolution going on elsewhere. This may well turn out to be much more significant than the somewhat small (and getting smaller) differences between DSLR's and top of the range MCE's as they both continue to lose sales. The rise (and rise) of smartphones and the gradual improvement in their camera functions is obvious, but that is also accompanied by the significant improvement in the micro compact, micro sensor catergory. Only much of what is being offered doesn't have a micro sensor anymore.

Currently I have four smartphones - Nokia Lumia 1020, Panasonic CM1, Samsung K zoom and a Blackberry Q10. I also have two fixed lens zoom compact cameras - a Canon G7X with a 1" sensor and a Leica D-LUX (Typ 109), a Panasonic LX100 clone with a multi-aspect m4/3 sensor. In addition I have another fixed lens compact - my Sigma DP2 Quattro with it's extraordinary image quality. For some time now I've been 'mixing and matching' between all of these and going out with various combinations. The following images were all shot with those cameras.

Images created in the same location are often taken with a different camera. In addition I also go out with my iPad Air 2 occasionally, specifically to use the panorama creating function.

As you will appreciate, using gear like this has considerable benefits in terms of weight and size. Particularly when I carry the gear in a couple of 'gadget vests' that I've bought.

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Everything I carry disappears into these with no problem and the top one actually has an iPad pocket. And this is a different way of working and certainly an interesting one as well. As you might imagine I attract less attention than with a DSLR or large mirrorless outfit. It is also the case that these days using these small(er) cameras means the compromises I make in terms of image quality are pretty minimal, particularly since I'm usually shooting outdoors in sunshine or bright light. And I am constantly surprised by the image quality of the smartphones I use (though apart from the Blackberry, these are the top of the tree 'photographers phones') and both the Canon GX7 and Leica D-LUX (typ 109) are capable of really good results. Plus with the Sigma Quattro DP2 I've got the best image quality (at base ISO) I've ever seen from an APS-C sensor.

And obviously if I thought that I was sacrificing potential sales for convenience, then I wouldn't do this. But I don't so I will continue to work like this. Now none of this means that I won't have a place for my DSLR's and mirrorless cameras, because it has to be said that these smartphone / compact cameras aren't exactly the quickest and battery life is pretty appalling. Though both the Panasonic CM1 and Leica D-LUX (Typ 109) offer me a 4K photo option ('grabbing' an 8MP still from the 4K footage) so in terms of capturing action and fast moving subjects, that's not as difficult as it might seem. And with the battery issue I often go out with three phones, so I've always got backups.

From 4K video footage shot on my Panasonic CM1

It's becoming pretty clear that all the major R & D is happening at this end of the camera market. DSLR's and MCE cameras continue to improve sure, but the pace and nature of the innovation is slower than it was. Camera upgrades seem to get smaller and smaller and in terms of the final result, the images, there's not that much improvement. I was using a 24MP Nikon D3X back in 2009 and I see very little (if any) advance in terms of IQ from that camera with what I own now. But the improvements in phone cameras and some of the smaller compact cameras has improved by a much more significant distance. At the same time I was using that D3X I wouldn't even have considered the options I'm using now, The quality of the cameras in mobile phones was appalling and I used to look at samples from the small sensor cameras that people raved about and wonder what all the fuss was about. Not so now. I'm getting results from my phones, that with the right subject and under the right conditions will have no problems being reproduced A3 in magazines. And the 1" sensor in my Canon G7X is capable of larger than that. Plus now of course I have 4K video in my Panasonic CM1 smartphone and Leica D-LUX (Typ 109) to add further versatility to what I'm doing. 

It is becoming obvious to me that as time passes the gear I use will be moving in this direction. There are going to be more and more 'communication cameras' on the market, which have constantly improving camera and video functions and quality of results. Apart from anything else the manufacturers know that they have to make these devices 'idiot-proof' and certainly less complicated and 'fiddle-free' than 'proper cameras.' (Though I have to say it would be nice if that applied to all the other smartphone functions, some of which drive me mad with their over complication and tendency to try and persuade me to do things I don't want to do.) Currently this means that all my smartphones are incredibly (and surprisingly) good at getting exposure and colour balance right. Even my ageing (in smartphone terms) Blackberry smartphone has almost perfect colour and amazingly good 1080 HD video.

Now whether the massive MP count of my Nokia Lumia 1020 or the zoom range of my Samsung K zoom are the way things are going remains to be seen. Despite rumours about Microsoft / Nokia coming up with some 50MP smartphone camera nothing has surfaced as yet. And no one seems inclined to copy the Samsung zoom. Incidentally on that camera, the longer part of the zoom is the weak point. Instead of a 10x zoom a 5x would have been a much better idea. Plus it could get made redundant if the rumours are true about Apple looking into the idea of putting more than one camera and lens into their iPhones. This would have the benefit of keeping the Smartphone form and factor as people seem to want it to remain. Plus with size and quality of some of the lenses turning up on phones theses days, I don't doubt it will happen.

Finally I have to make the point about price. Some of the above was bought at a premium price. The Leica D-LUX (Typ 109) Panasonic CM1 and Sigma DP2 Quattro certainly weren't cheap. But some of the other stuff was very reasonable. The Canon G7X (with a cashback) cost me just over £300, the Samsung K zoom was £250 plus the postage to get a free top up pay as you go card and The Nokia Lumia 1020 is discontinued but you can still buy them new on ebay for around £250. So it is possible to get a good deal on a very decent picture taking camera / device that has a very small footprint. 

Following on from this I'm going to be writing about using some of these combinations in the next few days, what's good about them and what's not so good. And as ever, the bottom line is what kind of images I can create with them. Certainly my experiences so far have been very positive and certainly I've enjoyed working outside my comfort zone and have also enjoyed creating images in a different way. There are frustrations and still many things that gear such as this can't do, or can't do well enough when compared to DSLR / MCE functionality. But this smaller, lighter gear also has it's own benefits, mainly in where, when and how I can take pictures. I don't need to tell you the reaction to large DSLR (or DSLR lookalike) cameras is not always positive, whereas phone photography is almost 'invisible' to people these days. And while the assumption is still aound that smartphone / compact photography is somehow not serious and / or not great quality I'm aiming to take advantage of that. Because eventually there will be a time when these devices are every bit the equal of their larger, bulkier and more 'professional' looking counterparts. And that time may well be arriving sooner than we think.