For Love of Small Cameras

I admit it. I love small cameras. I don’t like transporting big “pro” cameras, especially full-35mm-frame systems that demand monster size lenses for the same angle of view. I have an Olympus E-series system in part because it is so small and easily transported. I also have a Canon APS-C sensor system that I love (EOS 7D) and lenses, also because it means I transport a lot less whether traveling by car or plane. Finally, I love my little Canon PowerShot G11 — high-quality images and a pocket-sized camera with the same controls you’d expect on a DSLR. If you have any doubts as to the quality of small cameras, check out the latest OP and the excerpt from my book, The Magic of Digital Landscape Photography. No image in the article or book was shot with a sensor larger than APS-C (no “full-frame”) and most were shot with the Four Thirds size sensor of Olympus.

That was why I was excited to have the opportunity to work with some new cameras from Nikon at the Albuquerque Balloon Festival a couple of weeks ago. I went right for the D3100 and the P7100. Most of the other editors/writers/photographers at the event wanted to use the big D3s, but that did not interest me. Also, I wanted to try out the 1080 HD of the D3100. The D3100 is a very compact and very capable little DSLR. I loved it. I also love saying that because no one can accuse me of doing it just to make Nikon happy. I shoot Olympus and Canon! But let me tell you, if you are interested in a small DSLR that is extremely portable, plus it won’t set you back a down payment on a car, check out the D3100. The first two photos posted here are from that camera.

Like all Nikons, the D3100 fits the hand extremely well. Nikon seems to have a knack for creating cameras that really work ergonomically. I have tried the new Canon 60D, and while I love the swivel LCD, I do not love the way it feels in the hand. That is just my observation, and someone with different hands may feel just the opposite. I found the D3100 a perfect companion for walking the grounds of the balloon festival. This is a big place! I was exhausted moving from front to back, constantly surrounded by amazing views of balloons lifting off into the sky. But I never once felt the camera was a burden.

I also shot with the remarkable new AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR (giving official names of lenses these days is like being a kid playing with vegetable soup), the very light and so handy AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR, and the altogether too much fun AF DX Fisheye-Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8G ED. The image stabilization on the first two lenses was a terrific benefit. While I had a small tripod with me, it was often a pain to use because of all of the people around and the action happening. I even tried some video with the stabilization off, then on, and that was really fun to see in the playback — bouncy photos of a telephoto suddenly changing to a smooth shot of balloons in the sky. VR is a great feature to use when shooting video.

On the second day, I used a new Nikon P7100. This is an excellent little camera that has very similar features to my G11. I found it handy to pick up and shoot whenever anything looked interesting, such as turning around and seeing this crab balloon towering over me! It did a great job with a variety of scenes and colors, including sunset clouds from the top of Sandia Mountain next to Albuquerque. I compared the results to what I expect from my G-11 and I think Nikon is actually doing a little better job in controlling noise. I have not shot with Canon’s G12, so maybe it is comparable, but for now, I have to say that the P7100 is an excellent choice for a full-featured, highly capable pocket camera. I do miss the swivel LCD of the G11, but on the other hand, the LCD screen on the P7100 is bright and sharp from all angles. I did try shooting with it on the ground and was able to still see what was on the LCD without my laying on the ground behind the camera.

I am happy to see great cameras come out in small packages. If you like big cameras, more power to you. Have fun with them and I know you will get great shots, too. But for me, I am happy to see any manufacturer working hard to create cameras that create excellent results, plus are easy on the back and pocketbook. That keeps all manufacturers striving to do better in this area. Way to go, Nikon!

On a different note, if you love nature photography, at some point, you must travel to Costa Rica and shoot in the rainforest. It is an amazing place. I am leading a short tour there early in December and we will have a fantastic time. The location is a lodge actually built in second-growth rainforest and it has covered walks so we can shoot in any weather! Check it out at Holbrook Travel.