The Economic Reality of Photographic Equipment

Sony A7R mk IV

I have done a quick price rundown of my current DSLR kit as it compares price wise to a roughly equivalent replacement mirrorless kit from Nikon, Canon and Sony.

I’ve tried to maintain the same general camera resolution and lens capability, however, in some instances I had to go with the nearest equivalent lens to fill in the comparison.

I’m not including a spare camera body in my comparison.

Here is my current working kit, based on a Nikon D850 46 megapixel full frame DSLR, at current retail prices as of the time of this post.

Nikon D850 (46 Mpix Full Frame) $2,996.95

Nikon 28mm f/1.8G $ 699.95

Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR $2,096.95

Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR $2,346.95

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED AF-S VR $1,396.95

Total Retail Price $9,537.75

If I were to order my complete existing kit new today, it would cost me $9,537.75, not including tax and shipping. That’s quite a bit of expense to build a competent photography kit. It’s not a top of the line kit using the most exotic lenses. It’s what I’ve put together for a good solid budget kit capable of doing everything I need to do. I also began assembling my current kit 5 years ago and I didn’t purchase everything new. I did buy my D850 new as well as my 24-70mm and 200-500mm lenses. The remainder of my kit was purchased used in excellent condition at about 70% of the full retail price to save some money.

With my existing kit in mind, I then priced the Nikon, Canon and Sony rough equivalent gear, to see what it would cost me to switch to mirrorless.

I also stuck with manufacturers lenses, as I am not a big fan of buying Tamron or Sigma when the camera maker has a similar lens. That keeps compatibility issues to minimum, and in a general sense, the manufacturer’s lenses are typically better lenses, though a tad more expensive.

So here are the comparable mirrorless kits and what it would cost to purchase a roughly similar kit brand new.

Nikon Mirrorless Replacement Kit

Nikon Z7 II (47 Mpix Full Frame $2,996.95

Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 $ 299.95

Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S $2,299.95

Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S $2,599.95

Nikon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S $2,699.95

Total Retail Price $10,896.75

 

Sony Mirrorless Replacement Kit

Sony Alpha 7R IV (61MP full frame) $3,499.99

FE 24mm f/2.8 G $ 599.99

FE 24-70 mm f/2.8 GM $1,999,99

FE 70-200 mm f/2.8 GM OSS $2,299.99

FE 200–600 mm f/5.6–6.3 G OSS $1,999.99

Total Retail Price $10,399.95

 

Canon Mirrorless Replacement Kit

Canon R5 (45 mpix, Full Frame) $3,899.00

Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM $ 499.99

Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8 USM L IS $2,399.00

Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8 USM L IS $2,799.00

Canon RF 100-500 f/4.5-7.1 USM L IS $2,899.00

Total Retail Price $12,495.99

 

If I were going to switch to mirrorless, I would only consider these three possible replacement kits from Nikon, Sony and Canon.

You’ve probably heard it said, it’s not so much the camera body that matters as much as it is the lenses. For that reason, I’ve stuck with comparable lenses, but the word on the street is that in most cases at these price points, the mirrorless lenses are a little better optically. Not leaps and bounds better, but measurably better. That’s important enough to drive my decision making. Right now, Nikon doesn’t have a affordable super-telephoto zoom lens in the Z mount other than the 100-400mm. While probably a good lens, it doesn’t meet my requirements and to achieve a longer focal length I would probably substitute a Sigma or Tamron lens that got me to 500 or 600mm. Not something I want to do at the moment.

From an image quality point of view, all of these cameras are going to give me virtually identical results. The real differences are in the state of technology and additional performance and capability the mirrorless bodies offer over the now nearly obsolete Nikon D850 DSLR. Since Nikon will probably not be offering an update to the D850, it’s just a matter of time before it becomes so far behind the curve as to force me to switch. Right now, it’s doing everything I need and more.

The Nikon Z system is a pretty good kit in general, however, there are a few problems with me sticking with Nikon at the moment. For starters, the Z7 II is probably a slight bit behind the Sony and Canon offerings performance wise. When I look at the Z7 II, I don’t see anything that wows me. Before I’d even think about switching to a Nikon mirrorless system to replace my existing DSLR kit, I would either pony up the extra cash and buy a Z9 or just wait until there is a upgrade to the Z7 II, in whatever form it comes in.

The next listing is for a Sony mirrorless kit based on the Sony A7R IV.

The Sony kit is very compelling, in that it is the least expensive of my comparison kits and it offers me everything I have in the way of lenses and ability, and then some. Sony doesn’t have a 28mm prime yet, so I substituted a 24mm prime, which should do everything I need. I’ve seen images from the Sony FE 200-600mm zoom, and they are good. The additional 100mm on the long end would be of benefit in my world and the lens is very well built and optically as good or better than anything in this price range. The A7R IV body also has higher resolution, bumping my kit from 46 megapixels to 61 megapixels, but that isn’t a gigantic increase in resolution. Still, it’s the highest resolution body of the mirrorless offerings and is worth consideration. The megapixel race isn’t over and the Sony leads the field here.

The real nag about Sony is their user interface. Virtually everyone I know who shoots with Sony cameras hates the interface. I have a Sony camera and I hate the interface. Why Sony doesn’t do something about this mess is beyond me, but I’m sure that if I owned Sony I’d eventually come to understand and know the interface instinctively, all while cursing it in the field.

Lastly, I have assembled a Canon mirrorless system price list for what I would consider to be a rough equivalent to my existing kit.

I used Canon equipment for many years, so I am not unfamiliar with how their lenses and cameras are designed and perform. Canon have a great selection of top notch gear for just about every level. My gripe with Canon is their gear always seems to be priced higher and they always seem to hold something back for marketing purposes. In the old days, it was always said, Canon had the lenses and Nikon had the bodies. I don’t know if that cliche holds water today, as all of the camera manufacturers are a bit skimpy on their lens selections and the mirrorless bodies, in my opinion are still at the tail end of their introductory phase. This brings me to the Canon R5 45 megapixel full frame mirrorless body. If I were to invest in a Canon mirrorless body today, this would be the body I would choose. I have one gripe about the R5 and that is the overheating issue when shooting video. I don’t see how a company would release a camera that overheats and charge so much money for. It feels rushed to market. They have recently announced the R5C, which is a much more video-centric body that addresses the overheating, but it’s also bulkier and has actual vents built into the body to help dissipate heat. The Canon RF 100-500mm lens would offer me a little more wide angle and an equivalent reach at 500mm, but I don’t really need more wide angle as the 70-200mm would cover that range nicely, so I’d be paying for something I didn’t need. Still, I could reconsider my lenses if I had to move to Canon tomorrow and probably find a suitable alternative set that would cover my needed focal ranges without having to pay for the same real estate twice (and at a higher cost.)

Other considerations.

I would not consider sticking with Nikon and using my existing lenses with a FTZ adapter on their mirrorless bodies right now. I could do that and save a lot of money replacing lenses, but that sort of negates the reason for upgrading, which is to move to a similar image quality body with better glass.

I’m also a photographer, not a videographer. I don’t make a lot of video, I’ll never make a lot of video. I did some video when I was a wedding photographer, but I don’t do weddings now and I’m not producing short films. I’m a stills photographer and that is not going to change. So, when I look at replacement cameras, I’m looking at still photography image quality as my main criteria. I don’t feel compelled to spend extra money for more video capability. If I were needing better video, I’d be looking at entirely different stuff. Your shooting style will dictate what you need of course, but for me, video just ain’t my thing. For my purposes, the Nikon D850 does just fine with any video I need to make.

Another intangible is the batteries. I can get 3000 shots on my Nikon D850 and still have battery life left in my camera. I’ve tested my theory on battery life and I am able to work for an entire week with two batteries, one in the camera and one spare, without having to charge batteries. Batteries have weight and occupy space, so the fewer I need to lug around in my kit, the better. Mirrorless bodies on a good day may get half the life of my DSLR battery in the field. That means I’ll need twice as many batteries and time to recharge them and extra space and weight in my camera pack. Not a major thing in most situations, but I can tell you I have been around other photographers shooting mirrorless in the field and they frequently have to stop what they are doing to put a fresh battery in their camera. I spent an entire week in Yellowstone in sub-zero temperatures and never had to swap a battery out in my camera. There’s something to be said about that convenience and reality.

So, I won’t be selling my current kit and replacing it with mirrorless any time soon. There’s just no need and it would cost me far more than what I paid for my existing kit, which is for my purposes as equally capable as any of the compared mirrorless kits.

If I were starting from scratch tomorrow, say my camera bag fell out of a helicopter into the ocean and I had to buy a complete new kit. I would probably go with a Sony mirrorless kit. Right now, the Sony mirrorless offerings are the best bang for the buck.

So there you have it. This explains why I won’t be in a rush to switch to mirrorless cameras. Not that I don’t like them, or that I don’t think they are good cameras. The problem is expense vs results. I am not going to spend another $14,000 to get the same results I’m getting now.

Your mileage may vary.