Evolving my camera system for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Galapagos: Digital Photography Review


My last bucket list trip, taken right before joining DPReview in 2013, was a cruise around the bottom of South America, with several days spent in Antarctica, pictured here. Photos taken with the Canon EOS 7D.

Fourteen months ago I was supposed to be cruising around the Galapagos Islands onboard the National Geographic Endeavour II, seeing barren landscapes and animals you won’t find anywhere else (blue-footed boobies!). It was a trip high on my bucket list, and one that I’d been saving up for nearly two years; cruises to the Galapagos don’t come cheap.

But months before my scheduled departure, the first major outbreak of covid-19 in the U.S. tore through a nursing home five minutes from my house, killing nearly 40 people. Everyone knows what happened next.

I’m planning on buying my gear, rather than borrowing it from the cabinet in the DPReview office

Obviously, the trip was cancelled, but the nice folks at Lindblad Expeditions let me reschedule for 2021 (and why not, since they already had my money). As time went by I started to lose confidence about travel in 2021, so a few months later I pushed the trip back to 2022, just to be safe.

But I’m not writing this article to share my travel woes. With the trip looking like it will actually happen next year, I’ve returned to planning what gear to bring. Unlike the first time I performed this exercise, I’m planning on buying my gear, rather than borrowing it from the cabinet in the DPReview office.

And why am I doing this now, rather than closer to the trip? Simply put: the value of my current gear is only going to go down between now and then.

This iceberg was much, much, much larger than our ship – and that’s just on the surface.

My current gear

The EOS 5D Mark III with the 24-104mm F4L kit lens

For many years I’ve been the proud owner of a Canon EOS 5D Mark III. Even though I rarely use it due to all the new toys in the office, it still has a special place in my heart. It takes great photos, the ergonomics are close to perfect, it can take a beating and the optical viewfinder is large and bright.

As for lenses, I own Canon’s 70-200 F4L IS USM (the first one), 17-40mm F4L USM and the 24-105mm F4L that came in the box with the camera. While I could always buy more lenses, those three covered the bases, and well.

Camera requirements

The most important factor in my search for a new camera system is price. I’m looking for the value option, not the best camera on the market.

As for my camera system wishes, here are the main features I’m looking for on my 5D III replacement (the 5D already offers some of these things):

  • I want a more capable sensor; the 5D’s resolution is fine, but the dynamic range is behind the times.
  • I want a tilting or articulating screen so I don’t have to lay on the volcanic rock found on most of the islands.
  • I want 4K video. Of all places to take high quality video, the Galapagos is it.
  • I want in-body image stabilization. My hands have a mild tremor and I don’t want tmiss a shot.
  • I want something rugged enough to get wet or bashed into… something.
  • I want dual card slots; not taking any chances since this is likely a one-time trip
  • The display and EVF must pass the “polarized sunglasses test”. I need to be able to see what I’m looking at (in both landscape and portrait orientations) when shooting outdoors.

Some may be surprised that didn’t include amazing autofocus on the list. While I want something to focus quickly and accurately, having top-notch subject tracking isn’t a deal-breaker, since most of my subjects won’t be running around. (I’m also one of those focus and recompose people: probably the only one left in the DPReview office. That said, the switch to mirrorless may convert me to continuous autofocus with subject tracking.)

Next, I have a rough list of the kinds of lenses I’d like in my backpack, which happen to be very similar to what I already own. I would rent a longer super-tele lens, since I don’t need one in my personal collection. Here’s what I’m looking to buy:

  • Ultra-wide (16-35mm equiv.)
  • Standard (24-105mm equiv.)
  • Tele-zoom (70-200mm equiv.)

Ideally, these lenses would be in the F4 equivalent range, since I don’t need the very best, and my bank account is not overflowing with cash.

What’s my gear worth?

My Canon gear, all boxed up and ready to sell.

Not wanting to deal with craigslist, I went to KEH’s website to look into prices for my Canon gear (and don’t forget to check with your local camera store, who sometimes buy used equipment for trade or credit). Here’s what they were willing to offer on June 23, 2021:

Product KEH condition KEH trade-in estimate
EOS 5D Mark III body Excellent $809
EF 70-200 F4L IS USM Excellent $520
EF 24-105mm F4L IS USM Excellent $683
EF 17-40mm F4L USM Excellent+ $365
Grand total $2377

So I have almost $2400 to spend, but I still want to keep my cost as low as possible. What are my options?

Option 1: Get an EOS R6 and adapt my DSLR lenses

If I had an unlimited budget, I’d sell the whole 5D III kit and get myself an EOS R6 and a few RF lenses (14-35mm F2.8, 24-105mm F4, 70-200mm F4), which adds up to $6900. Unfortunately, I don’t.

The EOS R6 with an adapted EF 70-200 F4 L

I love the R6 because, being a Canon camera, it’s familiar to long-time owner of that brand. Image quality is great, it has really good in-body stabilization, a fully articulating screen, high-res viewfinder and 4K/60p video. And yes, its autofocus is really good too.

Downsides? Some rolling shutter in video, the small risk of overheating in video and so-so battery life (though I’m planning on bringing a small fleet of batteries, just to be safe.

In this scenario I would keep all three of my lenses and buy the R6 and Canon’s basic EF-to-RF adapter. That would add up to $2600 and, after taking the $809 I’d get for trading in my 5D III, I’d still owe almost $1800. Let’s try something else.

Option 2: Sell it all and start over

A more realistic plan may be to dump all of my current gear and start from scratch with a new system. There are an overwhelming amount of camera and lens options, though my camera requirements help narrow down the field a bit.

Cameras

After much soul-searching, here are the cameras on my short list, based on the requirements I mentioned earlier.

Camera Pros Cons Cost (body)*
Canon EOS R6 Build, familiar controls, EVF, video, LCD type, great IBIS Price, rolling shutter, small risk of overheating in video, battery life $2500
Fujifilm X-T4

Design and controls, IBIS, JPEG quality, video, LCD type, battery life

Price, buffer size, too many dials $1700
Nikon Z5 Price, design, image quality, IBIS, EVF, battery life Slow burst, cropped 4K w/rolling shutter, no 70-200 F4, single card slot $1000
Olympus E-M1 III Build/durability, IBIS, fast burst, ‘live’ features, LCD type. battery life Price, low res EVF, smaller sensor, menus, future of company $1600
Panasonic G9 Price, build quality, IBIS, EVF, LCD type, fast burst, 4K/60p video, compact lenses Unusual USB port, “fluttery” autofocus, smaller sensor, battery life $1000

* All prices from B&H Photo

If I was just buying a body, the $2377 I’m getting for my 5D III kit makes all of these products very accessible. But I’m not.

Lenses

Now, for the other big purchase: lenses. As mentioned earlier, I’m looking for an ultra-wide, a standard zoom and a tele-zoom lens. Here’s where things get a little messy.

Camera Lenses Equiv. coverage Cost (lenses)*
Canon EOS R6 14-35mm F4
24-105mm F4
70-200 F4
14-35mm F4
24-105mm F4
70-200 F4
$4400
Fujifilm X-T4 10-24mm F4
16-80mm F4
50-140mm F2.8
15-36mm F5.6
24-120mm F5.6
105-450mm F4.2
$3400
Nikon Z5 14-30mm F4
24-200mm F4-6.3
14-30mm F4
24-200 F4-6.3
$1900
Olympus E-M1 III 7-14mm F2.8
12-40mm F2.8
40-150mm F2.8
14-28mm F5.6
24-80mm F5.6
80-300mm F5.6
$3550
Panasonic G9 8-18mm F2.8-4
12-60mm F2.8-4
35-100mm F2.8
16-36mm F5.6-8
24-120mm F5.6-8
70-200mm F5.6
$2600

* Some of these lenses are available bundled with the camera body, which may save me some money. I’m not including those discounts above. All prices from B&H.

The Nikon kit comes out as the bargain but, as noted earlier, my kit only includes two lenses. While there is a 24-105 on the official roadmap, there’s no announcement date yet. Also, a 70-200 F4 isn’t even on the map – at least not yet. Sure, I could buy the FTZ adapter and use Nikon’s DSLR lenses, but I’d rather not. So, for now, I have to settle for the 24-200 F4-6.3 VR (along with the 14-30mm F4) to tide me over.

Nikon is yet to produce a 24-105mm F4 for Z-mount, leaving the 24-200mm F4-6.3 VR as the only alternative.

Right as I was wrapping up this article, Canon introduced its RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM lens, which fits my requirements. At $1700 it’s very expensive, but Canon offers all three types of lenses on my list.

The $2300 RF 15-35mm F2.8 is Canon’s only ultra-wide zoom that I could buy right now, though the 14-35mm F4 is arriving soon.

The only weather-resistant approximately 70-200mm equiv. that Fujifilm offers is its 50-140mm F2.8, which costs more than I’d like, but the 75-210mm equiv. range is nice and it’s still relatively fast. Since it’s still $700 less than the Nikon 70-200 F2.8, I’ll splurge and add the Fujifilm 50-140mm to my shopping list.

Being an F2.8 lens. it’s not surprise that the X-T4 with the 50-140mm is on the large side.

All of the lenses for Micro Four Thirds are have smaller equivalent apertures than the full-frame models, but they’re also more compact and generally lighter, which is one of the biggest selling points of the m4/3 system. Olympus makes some great lenses – and I like the idea of having a 80-300 equiv. – but they’re expensive, and that’s before I factor in the $1600 camera.

The Olympus E-M1 Mark III is remarkably compact with its 40-150mm F2.8 Pro lens attached

Two out of the three Panasonic’s have variable apertures, so they’re not as fast as the fixed aperture Olympus F2.8 lenses, but they hit my desired focal lengths.

So what’s it all going to cost?

I’ve gone through my two options – adapt my existing lenses, or just start all over – now let’s see how much all of these options will cost. Remember that KEH has valued my 5D III body at $809 and adding my lenses brings the total to $2377. This time I’m taking promotions into effect, since that’s how I’d actually buy the equipment.

Option Cost* KEH trade-in credit Out of pocket cost
Canon EOS R6 + adapted current lenses $2500 $809 $1691
Canon EOS R6 + 3 lenses $6900 $2377 $4523
Fujifilm X-T4 + 3 lenses $4800 $2377 $2423
Nikon Z5 + 2 lenses* $2800 $2377 $423
Olympus E-M1 III + 3 lenses $5150 $2377 $2773
Panasonic G9 + 3 lenses $3400 $2377 $1023

* Cost includes camera + lens kits, which may decrease price. All prices from B&H.

The Nikon Z5 appears to be the big bargain here, but remember, I’d be getting one less lens, and and the 24-200mm lens gets slow quickly (it crosses F5.6 at 50mm and F6.3 at 105mm). The EOS R6 with three new lenses is expensive for obvious reasons, and both Fujifilm’s and Olympus’s higher-end cameras and lenses tend to be on the pricey side.

The final choice

On June 25th, I visited B&H’s website and ordered a Panasonic Lumix DC-G9, plus the 8-18mm F2.8-4, 12-60mm F2.8-4 and 35-100mm F2.8 lenses. Is the G9 the camera of my dreams? Nope. Rather, it’s the best one for my needs, in terms of both its lens collection and value. I’m still not sure if my trip will happen next year, but when it eventually happens, I’m confident that I made the right choice.

During my shopping process I considered what features I wanted, what cameras to consider, and how much it was going to cost. Price-wise, the two best values were the Nikon Z5 and the Panasonic DC-G9 (with the Z5 being about $700 more), so they were my finalists.

Ultimately, it was the system that sold me

The factor that drove my decision-making was not image quality, which was the first thing on my ‘must have’ list. I already know how that would turn out (the Nikon easily wins), and I didn’t even look at our studio scene comparison until after I’d ordered my new gear. Given the kind of shooting that I’ll do on the trip (and in life), it’ll be mostly outdoors, so the smaller m4/3 sensor performs well enough for me.

Ultimately, it was the system that sold me. The Micro Four Thirds system offers the lenses I want for my trip, and dozens more than I could buy or rent should the need arise. The lenses are smaller and lighter than those for APS-C or full-frame, which will make them easier to transport in the limited amount of space I’ll have.

Nikon makes some fantastic lenses for the Z system, but its collection of midrange full-frame options just isn’t there yet. I expect that to change, but I’m buying now and not later.


Homepage thumbnail photo of the Blue-footed Booby: PDolby via iStock



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