Changing Systems: a Two Year Retrospective

Introduction

Two years ago, I changed my digital camera system, from Pentax APS-C to Micro Four Thirds (MFT). At that point, I had been using Pentax DSLRs continuously for six years, and amassed a few nice lenses and accessories. It was a difficult decision to make, and one I still mull over on a regular basis.

This week, I thought I’d explore what it’s been like changing systems. I’ll touch on my reasons for changing, choosing MFT, how the change felt at the time, and how that decision feels two years on.

Rationale for Change

To look at this properly, we need to go back to the start of 2010, when I traded my Pentax K10D on a Pentax K-7. That choice was easy to make: the K-7 had superior ergonomics, a 100% coverage viewfinder, and a marginally smaller, lighter body. I’ll be honest: I regretted selling the K10D within six months. This was mostly due to the thicker anti-aliasing filter on the K-7 (which made images a bit soft for my taste).

Fast forward to March 2012, and I was getting ready to move the K-7 on. At that time, Pentax had released the K-5, which addressed my image quality concerns, without changing the rugged build or fine ergonomics I was accustomed to. I was prepared to make the trade, until one fateful night when I bumped my tripod over. This resulted in a damaged shutter button (as well as a scrape on the hand grip). Upon finding that it was not able to be repaired in New Zealand, I had to re-think my upgrade to a K-5; I didn’t see a point to buying a camera to use in New Zealand that I couldn’t have repaired in New Zealand.

As well as repairability, another issue had been emerging: every time I took the camera out, I returned with a sore back. I was also unable to take the camera for long walks on hill tracks in Dunedin, as it occupied too much room in my pack to allow for packing spare clothing, food and water. Deciding that weight and size were becoming an issue, along with a paucity of local repair options, I settled on changing systems.

Choice

While in possession of the K-7, I began to yearn for something more portable, yet still flexible enough to take interchangeable lenses, and with decent low light performance. The camera I settled on for this role was the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1: Olympus’ entry-level MFT camera. I was very happy with this camera, and on many levels, found it preferable to the K-7.

Knowing that I wanted something smaller and lighter than a DSLR, I looked into mirrorless cameras to use as workhorses. Certain cameras were ruled out rapidly, based on cost, features, and system maturity. Eventually, I found that MFT would theoretically meet my needs: it was more cost effective than the others, and more mature as a system (giving me several more accessory and lens options). The only thing lacking was a weatherproof camera and lens, but this was ameliorated with the announcement of the OM-D E-M5 and 12-50 mm. Add to that Olympus’ reputation for reliability (which rivalled Pentax’s), and it was the most logical choice at the time.

Making the Change

I was stupid, and ignored my own advice: I ordered the camera, without handling it first to see if it worked for me. I assumed, after having owned my archaic OM-2n for a few months, that it would be a perfect fit. Fortunately, when it arrived, and the grip was fitted, it was the perfect size for my hands.

While the fact it met my needs and was comfortable for me to use sounds good, there was another side to the change: the costs.

The first, and most obvious cost, was financial. Being unable to trade a damaged camera put me at a disadvantage. While I sold some of my old Pentax gear (and have some left to sell), this didn’t offset the cost by much. The reason is two-fold: firstly, the gear depreciated, and was not worth much; secondly, what money I did make was immediately put into purchasing MFT-compatible items to replace the Pentax equivalents.

The second cost came in terms of features. Every manufacturer has unique features to use as a unique selling point. On my K-7, I count the auto horizon levelling and composition adjustment amongst these. While Olympus haven’t fitted these (or equivalents) to any of their cameras, I barely used those features, so it’s a non-issue. More of an issue was losing ISO 100 for landscapes and macro work. This was added in a firmware update, though it took two years for that to happen. Admittedly, I soon adjusted to using ISO 200 as my base ISO, and didn’t find it lacking.

The third cost, and the one I’m feeling the most, is the loss of lenses. Having been with Pentax cameras for six years, I had acquired some nice glass. I fondly remember my Pentax A 100/2.8 as a stellar portrait lens; my Pentax Super Macro Takumar 50/4 being as capable as ever, over 40 years on; the Sigma 17-70/2.8-4.5 being an brilliant all rounder; and Sigma 150-500/5-6.3 as a brutally heavy, though impeccable lens for wildlife. I chose not to keep these lenses, either because they wouldn’t work with adapters well, or I wouldn’t use them enough to justify keeping them around. I’m yet to obtain MFT equivalents to the 100 mm and 150-500 mm, though aim to do so within the next two years.

The Present

There are days where I miss the old gear for sentimental reasons, but those days are overwhelmed by the ones where I’m happy with having made the change. While I’m still filling a few gaps in my lens lineup, I haven’t found MFT lacking in any particular area. I feel that it’s a quality system, and for what I’m doing, it works well.

As mentioned several hundred words ago, I still mull over my choice. I will admit to still liking Pentax a lot, and in fact, I’m rather partial to the new K-3 and 645D. However, both are still larger and heavier than MFT, which would bring me back to a back-pain induced desire for change. Add to that the cost of switching back, and I may give it a miss for now.

Sticking with the APS-C sensor size, I’ve also been intrigued by the Fujifilm X-T1. On the face of things, it offered what I look for. Delving deeper, however, the system isn’t as mature as MFT, and is somewhat costlier (in New Zealand). Based on this, I’m not tempted to look at it, though I’m sure it’s a nice camera which will be well loved by its users.

The Future

My future with MFT is strong. It’s a mature system which keeps growing, and has not left me wanting (save for the lenses I’m yet to buy). At this stage, I see myself acquiring more quality glass (a strength of the system), and upgrading camera bodies to give the lenses the best platforms to work off.

Further down the line, I may run a second system in tandem with MFT (e.g. medium format for dedicated tripod work). Truthfully, that’s decades in the future, if it ever does occur in the future.

Conclusion

MFT has served me well, and continues to do so. The only major issue I have encountered is the absence of telephoto options in my lens collection, though this is actively being resolved.

Changing wasn’t without its downsides, but overall, I changed for the better, and I’m glad of it.

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