Micro 4/3 cameras for Patagonia trip?

I had a recent email conversation with someone looking for a camera to take with them on vacation to Patagonia, specifically a micro four-thirds camera which mixes smaller form factor with the interchangeable lens systems typically enjoyed by DSLR users. I wanted to share the thread for others who may be similarly interested!

I’m so excited! My next trip is to Patagonia in April! I love the bridge camera I bought last year so I’m not sure I’m ready to upgrade anytime soon, but I hear a lot of buzz of how great the micro 4/3 cameras are! My impression is that you still have to have DSLR skill in terms of knowing how to adjust settings and buying fancy lenses etc… which may be too complicated for me… but I thought I’d check with you to get your opinion…  I may start researching these cameras and maybe get [my boyfriend] one this year since he has a DSLR that he loves using but is so huge and bulky that it’s not that convenient for when we’re traveling! They do seem quite pricey, but I’ve seen some models on Amazon for under $300 though I guess there’s a big range in quality?

Just like bridge cameras, micro four-thirds cameras do fill a gap between full DSLRs and point-and-shoot cameras. The main thing you gain with a micro 4/3 camera is the ability to use different lenses while being smaller than your average DSLR. That’s why it’s the traveling DSLR user’s dream. Of course, it will have some basic Auto features so you can still use it like a point-and-shoot too. A micro 4/3 camera will probably be a bit smaller than a bridge camera, but not necessarily much lighter. I actually suggest going to a Best Buy or something and checking out the size difference. The two most popular brands are Olympus and Panasonic. So for example, see the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 and Olympus PEN E-P3.

In addition to micro 4/3, Sony has their own line of compact system cameras called the NEX series. Since you seem to like Sony, it’s probably worth checking out too. I have a number of friends (both photographers and casual shooters) who have the Sony NEX-5N and love it. If you checked out the links, you’ll probably see that everything costs $700+ for the camera body + one lens. Yes, there are some bodies now selling for $350 or so, but they are first-generation compact system cameras, which in my opinion are outdated and aren’t going to be worthwhile for you to even consider, unless your boyfriend is the type who likes to play around with something just to get an idea if he really cares for it before upgrading. Anyway, hope that helps.

My main suggestions are to check out the links for the reviews and then visit the store to see and get a feel for them in person. I think you’ll have a better idea after that whether it’s worthwhile. (Be sure to try disconnecting the lens and putting it back on when you’re seeing it in person!)

P.S. My wife and I are going to Greece and Italy at the end of April. I’m lugging all of my photo gear. =] 

Thanks, Kenneth! I can’t believe you’re traveling with all your camera stuff! I can’t wait to see the pictures though! 🙂 My newest purchase is one of those compact monopods so I can mount my small tiny point-and-shoot on it and take self-photos with my boyfriend because we’re going to be out in a lot of areas of Patagonia where there won’t be anyone to take photos for us. We’ll see how well it works! 🙂 He’s dragging his DSLR with him but it’s so heavy! He’s talked about micro 4/3’s a couple times so I know he’s interested… but it also seems crazy to spend almost $1000 on a non-DSLR camera! Anyway, thanks for the advice!!!!

A seasoned DSLR-user will understand why these “non-DSLRs” cost about $1000 with basic lenses out the door. That’s the primary target group for this camera, in my opinion. So if you did get it for him, I bet he’d be pretty pleased. =] When you say compact monopod for self-portraits, do you mean something like what I just bought, the Manfrotto 560B? Not quite sure I’ve seen anything else that can stand up by itself, unless you’re talking about those Gorillapods that can wrap around objects!

Haha… I’m sure he would be since he’s been staring at them and mentioning them… Why haven’t you gotten one of these yet? And is your wife ok with your dragging all your photo stuff on vacation? 🙂 I did not by the Manfrotto one… I think I got a tiny one for my point-and-shoot camera from Xshot just for fun… They don’t stand by themselves… it’s basically a camera on the stick. You place the mini monopod on, hold it out, and set the timer on automatic to take your self-portrait. 🙂 I did also get a Gorillapod but I don’t feel like I trust it enough not to go upside down with the weight of the camera on it! Will have to experiment some more with it before Patagonia!

Honestly, between a great compact system camera and a decent DSLR, the DSLR is going to result in the better image quality and performance. I’m not yet at a life stage (with kids, etc) where shedding excess travel weight is terribly important yet. So I’d rather choose high performance gear even if it’s heavier. Further, since I’ve invested a lot of money for the assortment of lenses and gear for my DSLRs, it’s going to be difficult to just shed all of it. Many of my friends with Micro 4/3 cameras say things like, “Oh yeah, I love traveling with my micro 4/3 camera, but if I have to shoot a wedding, I’m still going to use my DSLR.” To me, that seems like a hassle to have two systems to worry about. I have asked my wife before whether she was interested in a compact system, since she hates the weight of a DSLR. We’ll see! 

Have you heard anything about the Nikon N1? Is it a micro 4/3? There was one at the store with interchangeable lenses!

Yeah, I’ve read a bit about the Nikon 1 Series (technically the J1 and V1 cameras). Honestly not that into it. I would estimate it’s better than a point-and-shoot, but underperforms most micro 4/3 cameras, so if you’re going for interchangeable lenses, might as well choose from Olympus, Panasonic, or Sony. 

Hey Kenneth, online I see older models like the Olympus PEN E-PL1 and Panasonic DMC-LX5 that are so much cheaper… Any thoughts on them? I think my boyfriend is considering getting one even before the trip so now he’s looking into them himself!

I think the biggest weakness of the earlier generation units is slow autofocus and poor low-light performance. If those are not big priorities because you’ll mostly shoot outdoors during the day and mostly of scenery or people standing still, then you will probably like these units just fine (and feel good about paying about 1/2 the price of the latest units!). But even when I say slow autofocus and poor low-light performance, it’s still going to be way better than your average point-and-shoot.

Decisions, decisions! =]


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