Am I the Only Photographer Who Prefers Heavier Equipment?

Am I the Only Photographer Who Prefers Heavier Equipment?

The love for mirrorless bodies and pancake lenses is bottomless, but what about heavier setups? I can't be alone in my appreciation of them, surely.

For the record, my most used camera for the last year is an a7 III with either a 24-70mm or my beloved 135mm on the front. But my decision to buy that camera had absolutely nothing to do with its size. In fact, I was even a touch put off by its slightness, but the features were great, and so, it became my workhorse. But every lens and camera review will talk about weight — as they should — but always from one perspective: lighter is better.

I get it, I do. I often have to shoot for eight hours straight; I've even had to shoot for 12 hours or more. It's far more physically challenging than people appreciate. I also follow a similar approach to "the lighter, the better" philosophy when I pack my camera bag. I try to take as few lenses, bodies, and accessories as I can get away with. Lugging tons of camera equipment around on your back or shoulder is not fun and can even be damaging long-term. So, why the hell would I prefer heavier cameras and lenses? It's difficult to explain, but I'll unpack it as best I can.

When I first got into photography I had a very small APS-C camera body and a terribly fragile kit zoom lens, with a nifty fifty as backup. It was light, it was small (for the time), and it was easy to leave hanging around your neck. I didn't even think to stray away from that run-and-gun style setup until a number of years later, when Zeiss reached out to me to give one of their new lenses a whirl. It was the Otus 28mm f/1.4, and my word, was it jarring. It arrived in a war chest, weighed more than most of my equipment combined, and it felt as if it could be flung from a high-rise and the only damage sustained would be to the concrete below (do not test this theory).

The stunning Zeiss wide-angle lens as delivered to me in its white coffin.

The build quality on this thing was staggering. The metal barrel, the girth, the giant front element, and the big rubber focus ring that moved smoothly and silently; it was a great experience and a lesson in supreme quality. It was a little like when you sit in your first luxury car or inspect your first high-end watch. You didn't really appreciate the gulf between what you have and what the other half have until it's right there in front of you. Nevertheless, I hadn't drawn a connection between the inherent weight that came with quality (most of the time, anyway) and my enjoyment of using it. Until, that is, Fujifilm was kind enough to fly me to Tokyo for their launch event of the GFX 100 at Fujikina 2019. Only then did I make the connection and begin to flesh out why.

The Fujifilm GFX 100 being live-streamed by a blogger at the Fujifilm factory where they are made.

It isn't just that traditionally speaking, weight is a hallmark of quality with products; it's deeper than that. In Tokyo, I was shooting with either the GFX 100 or the GFX 50R and always paired with one of the loves of my life: the GF 110mm f/2 R LM WR. My usual setup runs at around 1 kg (or 2.2 lbs), whereas with this, I was lugging around a setup that was 2.4 kg (or 5.3 lbs). I am not a large person, nor am I particularly strong, so this represented a significant ramp up in weight and bulkiness. And I loved it.

Even if I shoot an incredible image with my mobile phone, I don't enjoy the experience. I don't feel I'm plying a skill or engaged with the moment, but with the medium format Fuji and a lens that weighs 1 kg/2.2 lbs on its own, I did. I had that camera in my hands for days on end as I walked miles and miles around Tokyo, taking several thousand images. The tactile experience gave me a similar sensation to what I have felt when shooting on different film bodies: you're involved and everything is markedly more satisfying.

Handheld shots from the top of Tokyo Tower at night.

This isn't a criticism of lighter equipment per se, nor is it to say that people who prefer lighter equipment are wrong. Instead, it's an observation that while high weight relative to the item's function is always treated as a negative, it isn't uniformly negative for everyone. I enjoy shooting with my Sony mirrorless, but my enjoyment is derived primarily from the results and seeing the images I create on the back screen. I can say unambiguously and with complete certainty that my time with the two GFX bodies and the 110mm on the front was the most fun and engaging time I've had in photography for many, many years. I had a rare and immediate connection with my equipment.

A young woman in traditional dress outside Sensō-ji, an ancient Buddhist temple located in Asakusa, Tokyo.

I would be up and out every morning early, I would do whatever Fuji had planned for me all day — with the camera in hand — and then I'd forgo a taxi back to my hotel in preference of walking for several hours across the districts. I would return to the room with blisters on my feet, chafed redness on the back of my neck, and strap marks on my shoulders, and I couldn't care less. If all I had to do was sacrifice a little comfort and ease to gain a sense of engagement with my craft and the feeling that I was utilizing a powerful tool, then I was and still am happy to make that sacrifice.

Am I weird? (Please keep your answer strictly within the confines of the article's question!) Do you prefer shooting with heavier equipment? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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89 Comments

Alex Cooke's picture

Couldn't agree more. First, I'll take functionality over weight any day. I don't care how cumbersome the thing is if it gives me the best chance at getting the image at the highest quality. Even if that weren't the case, I absolutely adore the way my 1D X feels in my hands. The ergonomics are fantastic, and the heft makes me feel really connected with it. Probably the same reason I prefer heavier guitars.

Tony Clark's picture

I have owned Pro bodies going back to the film days with the Nikon F4s and loved the balance it offered. Once I transitioned to medium format, I utilized the L Grip with the Mamiya RZ67 ProII and AE Prism to handhold but wouldn’t recommend doing that all day. Remember the Pentax 67II? I liked it but not like the RZ67. After owning every Canon 1 Series body, I finally replaced them with a couple 5DIV’s.

Tom Beckman's picture

I love having the prism on my rb. Just feels right.

If someone handed me 20K worth of gear to play with I suspect it might result in the most fun and engaging time I'd have too. Seriously, I know what you mean. I've been shooting MF film lately and while the weight is much greater than my Olympus, I enjoy the experience more.

Motti Bembaron's picture

If I was in the financial position to sell all my DSLR gear and go mirrorless (Sony or Nikon), I would do it in a second. If I could use only my 50mm lens, I would use only that. At almost 60 years young, I want things to be as light as possible. It does not tire me as quickly and helps me focus on my work instead of my back pain :-)

The days of carrying a D3 with a flash on a bracket, an external battery pack and a radio trigger for off-camera strobes (before my Godox days) are over I am glad to say.

Thank you Godox for built-in radios, Li-on batteries and the AD200's.

Motti Bembaron's picture

No back problems really :-). Just not thrilled about carrying unnecessary weight. There is no need for heavy equipment unless you use medium format and higher.

Years ago, I used to be like most people here, feeling good about my bulky and heavy rig. Doing events, walking around with 5kg of equipment around my neck. It felt professional, you know what I mean.

Not anymore. I don't really do events any longer, two or three a year, but even when going on location with families or clients, it is as light as I can be.

Even my Manfrotto light stands stay behind, they are strictly for the studio use. I use compact thin 7 footer stands when on location. No more Alien Bees with their huge batteries either, thank God.

But to each his own and whatever helps you get the job done.

Age also an issue with me... I did adopt the "Spider" holster system about two years ago (not a product advert!), and that made an exceptional difference and improvement. Now there's no weight on my neck/back/torso when ambulating... just on my hip. Holding and shooting, I prefer the weight? Along with the camera body (and controls) design and my familiarity with same; I just don't like the lighter options.

Martin Van Londen's picture

I love heavy cameras. I shoot with a 5D mark iii and a 1DX mrk II. I think the 5D is to lite.

Carlos Teixeira's picture

You'd love a Phase One XF with a 150mm then. Would like to hold the RZ67 Tony Clark mentioned though, for comparison. My favourite was always the D3 and now the XF.
I also share the love for weightlifting while working philosophy.

I hauled my GFX100 to Norway back in September, and lugged it everywhere without a second thought—including up some steep slippery climbs where a lighter camera might have made more “sense” but now I have 16bit, 100 megapixel images to work from, no complaints. And at this point my “little” camera is an X-H1 with the grip and usually a 100-400 for longer reach situations.

Everything I carry is “heavy” by modern standards, but I want cameras that really fill my hand, add stability by their heft, and have a button layout that doesn’t cause contortions every time I need to adjust a setting. Command dials and back button focus matter.

So I’m with you. Save the Lilliputian cameras for someone else.

Adriano Brigante's picture

"Heavy is good, heavy is reliable. If it doesn't work, you can always hit them with it."
:)

Graham Taylor's picture

Came here to post this comment. Will not leave disappointed.

Marc Bee's picture

I like big cameras and I cannot lie...

Jay Turner's picture

While I'm not a pro, the greatest experience I have had with a camera is with my current one, a D3s. Built like a tank and fits my ham hands really well. I like carrying it, a lot.

Mark Sawyer's picture

Pfff! Pocket cameras...

Robert K Baggs's picture

I knew someone would take my point to its logical conclusion! Well played.

Ha ha ha, that's an ultimate weapon

Imagine taking this camera to an NFL game! OMG! Ok everyone freeze! Ok got it, continue playing! LOL. While this is funny, I think it has to be done!

Dana Goldstein's picture

I’m also a GFX100 shooter though mainly with the GF45. I’m sure if I were shooting weddings it would be a lot over the course of 12+ hours, but for a few hours at a time, the incredible image quality is worth it. And overall I prefer the weight, the grip of the larger bodies. The Sony’s are clearly amazing in many ways, but it felt like shooting with a TV remote to me. So, no, you’re not alone!

Different strokes... I absolutely prefer the smaller, lighter and less obtrusive equipment.

With all this talk about mirrorless cameras and smaller bodies I thought I was in the minority going for the heavier camera over a lighter mirrorless. I had a choice between the Z7 and the D850 and choose the D850 because it’s weight and size just felt better. Glad to see that there are other people out there who share my appreciation for larger & heavier equipment.

I don't mind the mass of my A7II. I am not a fan of using big, heavy lenses for extended periods. I do like pancake lenses.

I was in a similar situation last year except my choices were the Canon EOS R or the 5d mk iv. I went with the the 5d.

David Pavlich's picture

Nope. 5DIV w/grip. This in combination with the 70-200 f2.8L is THE dream combination for me.

I've heard a few wedding photographers complain about the weight of a 70-200 lens and I still don't understand why. I thought the versatility of that lens alone (but also the sharpness and speed) is enough to make anyone get used to the weight

Physical pain should be quite understandable.

I think it's an appeal to us avid enthusiasts, not to the professionals. If I was getting paid gigs I'd love a nice full sized rig to go make money with or to get really creative with, and something dinky and light for a knockabout/travel camera (I travel light: weeks on end with only a 25L pack and a 5L messenger bag) As it stands, I've had to strike a balance between portability and capability to fit in my budget, bag and desired feature set.

I think the avid enthusiast crowd is a dying market, and I'm glad the camera makers are still courting us but I think it's a fools errand. I think phones are going to continue to peel us away, while the pro's will always need/want the full sized rigs.

Ryan Davis's picture

I heartily agree with the first paragraph. The second? I'm not so sure. I would describe myself as an avid enthusiast, and I really can't see giving up an ILC for a phone. That being said, a lot of folks said that about film, once upon a time. Betting against the advance of technology is never wise.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Conversely, I started my career with a Contax RTSIII and Pentax 67, then moved on to multiple Canon 1-series bodies festooned with large lenses, large speedlights and often flash brackets as well. When I'd go for a day hike, I took my advanced compact because my "pro" gear was simply too punishing. Been shooting Micro Four Thirds for the past six years and loving it. Image quality equals or exceeds what I got from my 1Ds MkII & MkIII, I can carry three tiny bodies with tiny primes through a week of 10-14 hour days (conference work) without undue fatigue, and the bodies are much cheaper, enabling me to assemble a broader arsenal of lenses.
Those big Canons were wonderful at the time, but I don't miss them a bit.

I am using a iPhone for 95% of my photography and it is liberty compare to by equipment!

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