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Photographic Image Quality:
Camera + Lens Comparison

Over the years, I've used many cameras and lenses: Pentax H1a and ME-Super film SLRs, Mamiya 220 2¼"×2¼" film twin-lens reflex, Calumet and Toyo 4×5 view cameras, Canon EOS 650 film SLR, Canon PowerShot Pro1 digital "super-zoom," Sony alpha NEX-7 (APS-C digital), and a variety of smaller digital point-and-shoot cameras. The three described below are the ones I currently own, representing the spectrum of most popular formats.


Canon, iPhone, Olympus

Canon EOS 5D mkII, digital single-lens reflex (DSLR)

  Image from Canon

Advantages: Large sensor; prints to 30"×40" or more ♦ Huge selection of high quality lenses: ultra-wide, super-telephoto, tilt-shift, macro, etc. ♦ Optical viewfinder (preferred by some photographers) ♦ Weather-resistent, designed for professional use.

Disadvantages: Big and heavy (3.8 pounds combined) ♦ Focus and compose on screen only in special "live view" mode; screen fixed in place on back ♦ Mirror adds complexity, noise ♦ Takes some practice to use effectively ♦ Expensive.

Image data: Sensor: full-frame, 21Mp ♦ Lens: Canon 24–105mm f/4 at 50mm (longer than the other images to accommodate minimum focusing distance of 1.5 feet) ♦ Focus: manual, label enlarged in live view mode on external monitor ♦ Exposure: aperture priority; f/11, 1/15 second, ISO 200 (f/11 to give depth of field similar to smaller sensors with wider apertures).

Olympus OM-D E-M1, mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC)

  Image from Olympus

Advantages: Smaller and lighter than DSLR (1.9 pounds combined) ♦ Prints to 21"×27" or more ♦ Image stabilization in camera ♦ Excellent low-light performance ♦ Weather-resistant and sturdily built ♦ Tilt-screen always active; permits waist-level and overhead shooting ♦ Electronic viewfinder for shooting in bright light (includes exposure data) ♦ Pro-quality lenses available ♦ Wi-fi to phone ♦ Best photographer-friendly controls I have used.

Disadvantages: Smaller selection of specialized lenses ♦ Still another item to carry around ♦ GPS only with smartphone ♦ Still relatively expensive.

Image data: Sensor: Micro 4/3 (2.0 FOVCF), 16Mp ♦ Panasonic Lumix GX Vario 12–35mm f/2.8 (FF equivalent 24–70mm) at 15mm (FF=30mm), minimum focusing distance of 10 inches (you can see the difference in perspective from the one above) ♦ Focus: Manual, label enlarged on screen ♦ Exposure: Aperture priority; f/5.6, 1/8 second, ISO 200.

Apple iPhone 4S, smartphone with built-in camera

  Image from iPhone

Advantages: Pocket-sized, light weight (5.9 ounces) ♦ Always available ♦ Excellent image quality on computer screen and mobile devices ♦ Easy to share images electronically ♦ GPS data with image ♦ Trivially easy to use.

Disadvantages: No photographer control ♦ JPEG only ♦ Poor low-light performance ♦ Prints to 8"×10" or less ♦ Difficult to see screen in bright sunlight ♦ Quickly outdated by latest technology.

Image data: Sensor: approx. 1/3.6" (8.2 FOVCF), 8Mp ♦ Lens: Apple built-in 4.28mm (FF equivalent 35mm), minimum focusing distance unknown, but this was very close to the bottle ♦ Focus: Tap screen on label ♦ Exposure: Automatic; f/2.4 (fixed), 1/20 second (set by camera), ISO 64 (set by camera).