Ow. I’ve been having a lot of pain in my left shoulder lately. It might just be age, but I can’t help thinking that all these years of carrying a camera bag on that shoulder have left me messed up. The years of having a pound of bird riding on that shoulder probably didn’t help either.
Of course, wearing a backpack to distribute the weight across both shoulders helps, but backpacks aren’t as convenient as shoulder bags and they still put weight on my shoulder. So a couple of years ago I started experimenting with smaller, lighter cameras. I love my 5D Mark III but it’s big and when you carry a few lenses with it you end up with a pretty heavy bag. The question, of course, is what do you give up in the way of quality, lens variety, and so on. Here’s a quick overview of my path to my current solution.
I started by picking up a Fuji X-E1. I loved the small size, light weight and image quality, but the camera was too slow – shot-to-shot time was sluggish and autofocus was sometimes slow. Also, the viewfinder was too much of a compromise, especially in bright daylight.
In the Fall of 2013, as I was getting ready to motorcycle across the country I decided that the Fuji wasn’t gonna cut it for the types of things I wanted to shoot along the way so I decided to lug the 5D. Only then did I discover that it didn’t fit in the new motorcycle bags that I was using. That’s when I happened upon the Canon Rebel SL-1, which is essentially a 50D in a very tiny body. It had all of the features that I wanted – all the normal SLR features including depth of field preview – and it supported the Canon flash system. And wow it’s small, and lightweight. Also, because it’s a cropped sensor camera it supports Canon’s S-series lenses, which save even more weight.
With the 5D I typically carried the Canon 24-105L and the Canon 16-35 L II. While I couldn’t get an exact equivalent in focal length range on the Rebel, I got close with the excellent Canon 17-55S and the 10-22S. Here you can see the weight difference:
Focal length and weight aren’t everything, though. While I was gaining speed with the 18-55 over the 24-105 (f/2.8 vs. f/4) I was losing speed moving from the 16-55 to the 10-22. However, I don’t usually shoot wide angle with shallow depth of field, so I wasn’t losing much creative control at the wide end, just low light capability.
I shot a few jobs with the tiny Rebel and found it very comfortable, easy to handle, responsive and capable. The only times I felt compromised were in low light – it didn’t provide the clean result that I was used to from the 5D. At some point last year I did a comparison between the Rebel and the Fuji and found that the Rebel didn’t have nearly as good a noise response as the X-E1. Not long after that, Fuji released the X-T1, to rave reviews. Since I still had Fuji glass I decided to give it a try.
Though I’ve long scoffed at electronic viewfinders, the X-T1 won me over. Its viewfinder is actually larger than the 5D’s! While some aspects of the camera’s speed are not quite up to that of an SLR the X-T1 is much peppier than the X-E1 and I’ve found it to be fine, speed-wise, for most of the shooting I do. I have a few complaints about the interface and controls, but no camera is perfect. And wow, I definitely can’t complain about image quality. Over the last couple of years, Fuji has extended their line of excellent lenses with a robust complement of primes and zooms. In addition to a few primes I picked up the 10-24. While I’m still sacrificing some speed when compared to the Canon 16-35, I can’t complain at all about image quality from this excellent lens.
Of course, the goal of this search was less shoulder pain, so here’s how the X-T1 stacks up against the 5D with a roughly equivalent set of lenses:
There’s no question that the Fuji X-T1 is a much easier system to lug around on a long day of shooting. It’s smaller to pack, too, which is great for times when you’re traveling by bike or flying with only carry-on baggage. When compared to the SL1, though, the weight savings is not as significant:
This is where I got stuck for a while. The SL1 has a true optical viewfinder, works with all the lenses that I use on my 5D, is compatible with the Canon flash system, and has an interface that I’m extremely familiar with and which I feel is very streamlined and refined. Oh, I should also probably mention battery life – the X-T1’s batteries deliver just a fraction of what I get out of either of the Canon cameras, so I suppose you could argue that some of the weight savings of the Fuji is lost in having to carry extra batteries.
In the end, though, the SL1 went on to eBay for the simple reason that the Fuji simply produces better images. Better noise, better sharpness straight out of the camera. It has some other perks, too – built-in Wifi, and an articulated screen, for example. But there’s something else: the Fuji is simply very fun to shoot with. It’s small and unobtrusive, it looks great and has a fantastic feel and I love the lack of modes. Rather than selecting a priority or aperture priority mode you simply set either the shutter speed or aperture control to auto. Somehow, this feels like one less level of mediation between me and the exposure. It takes longer to change ISO and shutter speed than it does on either of the Canon SLRs, which is a drag, but I rarely shoot in an environment where that makes a difference.
Since getting the X-E1 I have been very impressed with Fuji, as a company. They seem to really listen to their users – they obviously monitor chatter in forums and take feedback seriously. Frequent firmware updates often address specific user complaints (and sometimes provide upgrades for cameras that Fuji no longer makes!) and they’re not afraid to innovate. Canon and Nikon feel stagnant and lost, by comparison.
I love shooting with the 5D. I love the interface, the big bright viewfinder and, of course, the quality of the images. I just hate carrying it. The Fuji X-T1 has, so far, turned out to be a great solution for easing shoulder pain while maintaining image quality and shooting flexibility.