Camera size and Ergonomics

There is a lot of talk about camera size these days. Photographers have myriad choices for mirrorless cameras, “enthusiast” compact cameras and even tiny DSLR’s. I don’t think there is […]

Written By Rob Knight

On August 25, 2015

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LUMIX GX8 and LUMIX/Leica 45mm Macro lens. 6 image focus stack. ISO3200

LUMIX GX8 and LUMIX/Leica 45mm Macro lens. 6 image focus stack. ISO3200

There is a lot of talk about camera size these days. Photographers have myriad choices for mirrorless cameras, “enthusiast” compact cameras and even tiny DSLR’s. I don’t think there is anything wrong with cameras getting smaller, to a point.

I think it’s great that there are so many different sizes and shapes to choose from when buying a camera. I’m sure people with small hands are stoked that they don’t have to use a big bulky DSLR to make great photos any more. The thing about a camera is that you have to be able to hold it in your hand and operate the controls. When cameras get so small that they are difficult to use, I think we’ve gone too far.

In my experience…

The Olympus OMD E-M5 was the micro 4/3 camera that allowed me to completely switch from my full-frame Nikon kit. The image quality and small size made me (like a lot of people) enjoy photography again instead of dreading lugging around my giant camera bags.

I was happy with the E-M5 until I picked up a LUMIX GH3. It was still a small and light camera, but it was actually big enough to hold onto and operate the controls. The buttons weren’t too small or too close together, and it just felt great in my hands. Once I got the GH3 I don’t know if I ever used my E-M5 again. My little Oly felt cramped by comparison. I hadn’t realized how many compromises I had been making to shoot with it.

It was an “A-HA” moment for sure. I realized that the main benefit of the micro 4/3 system isn’t the small cameras, it’s the small LENSES. Adding a slightly bigger camera to my bag didn’t change anything at all. I could still pack a pile of small, high-quality glass into my camera bags. And if you travel light and use just a few lenses, all the better! You can use a bag the size of your average lunch box.

The “big” deal about the LUMIX GX8…

LUMIX GX8I suppose I’m writing this post in response to some of the early reports about the recently released LUMIX GX8. Many bloggers are freaking out because it is a larger camera than it’s predecessor, the LUMIX GX7. I didn’t read anything about the fact that it is still smaller than the flagship LUMIX GH4. I read very little about the fact that the larger size makes it possible to have a better grip, easier to use controls and a new larger EVF.

I will not name names, but I read one “hands-on preview” that lamented the new larger size. The author thought the GX7 was the perfect size camera, so the GX8 was a big (pun intended) disappointment. This particular blogger mentioned that he didn’t see the increase from 16mp to 20mp to be significant, and that the image quality was only marginally better than the Olympus E-M1. If you don’t think that a 25% increase in resolution WITH an improvement in image quality is a big deal, maybe you shouldn’t be a photography blogger. Sorry… just sayin’.

LUMIX GX8I think the GX8 is a fantastic size and shape. My pinky finger doesn’t hang off of the bottom of the grip. I don’t feel compelled to buy some additional accessories to make the grip comfortable. Don’t get me started about cameras that feel great as long as you purchase the extra grip. Shouldn’t you just design the body to be comfortable in the first place? Anyway, the GX8 feels good in my hands and I think the control layout is great. Even the placement of the strap lugs makes sense. when you pick one up, notice how the strap on the right side is out of the way of all of the controls. So many cameras I’ve seen lately seem to slap the lugs on the side without considering that you need somewhere to put your fingers (cough*FUJI*cough).

And full frame?

I think the “full-frame” mirrorless cameras are backwards. YES, there are advantages for some photographers to use a 35mm sensor. That’s not my point. My point is that a full-frame sensor requires bigger lenses, even on a mirrorless camera. Some of the Sony FE lenses are smaller than their Canon/Nikon counterparts, but some aren’t. How many Sony full-frame lenses are highly regarded and get stellar reviews? When I look at that system I see big mediocre lenses attached to smallish camera bodies with nice big sensors. I much prefer a (relatively) bigger camera and smaller lenses. If I’m going to need big lenses I would rather have a big camera too. At least then I have something to hang on to.

I don’t know about you, but I generally travel with two camera bodies and 4-8 lenses. I’d rather have 2 small cameras and 4-8 small high quality lenses that 2 small camera bodies and 4-8 big heavy lenses every time.


  1. Levi

    Bingo! I don’t understand people raving about how much smaller their mirror less bodies are when they still have to carry big lenses. Not only are my GH4 and GX7 (soon to be GX8) bodies and lenses smaller, but the lenses are also phenomenal–literally the best lenses I’ve ever shot, and I’ve owned hundreds of lenses. I love the Lumix camera size, and I love the lens sizes. Kinda makes me want to shoot large format bodies where the lenses are all very small, and the bellows on the camera changes size for longer focal lengths.

  2. Paul Schleif

    Sometimes the choices about cameras steer the review comparisons. I started with the Oly…EM1, and found it far superior to the EM5 in so many ways, as well as the Panny GH series…only with the 4K on the GH4 jumps Head (and $300 ). I also picked up a used Gx7, like the one you, yourself) showed me a couple years ago and added a 17mm 2.8 pancake for street shooting (with great success I should add). The size of both choices was perfect…small, but ergonomic. Thanks for the good example that you set.

  3. Florian Freimoser

    I agree with you that the bigger size of the GX8 is not at all a disadvantage and the grip is certainly better (only my children prefer the size of the GX7). However, for me the biggest difference to the GX7, and the one that makes me long for the GX8, is the viewfinder and the screen!

    All the best,


  4. Rich Ball

    Rob – Your comments and impressions on the GX-7 are greatly appreciated. I guess I could be called a Lumix fan boy. I have owned five of them and three are still in my possession. I have more lenses for them than is rational. Although the GX-8 increase in size was a bit of a surprise. Until I actually have one in hand I’ll reserve judgement. The camera and lens that most often leave the house with me is the GX-7 and the 14-140/f3.5-5.6. Some might regard this as front heavy and clumsy. I find the weight and size easy to carry for hours without fatigue and the image quality is just fine.

    More importantly is the change to resolution change is almost irrelevant it equates to 12% per side. Except for possibly really large prints not noticeable. I’m not really sure even then most people would see the difference (except for gear head photographers). Honestly the difference between my Canon 5D Mark III and GH4 is almost unnoticeable.

    The biggest pluses are the weather sealing and the new exposure compensation dial (I really dislike that little push to activate cheesy plastic dial). Bummer is the new battery – I have several spare batteries for the GX-7. I really am not fond of paying $50 for a battery.

    I’d really like your assessment of the image stabilization using both the lens and body.

    In closing if you have any influence on the Panasonic engineers tell them not to mess with the GH3/GH4 size and interface with the GH5. I think it is as close to to perfect as anything can get.


    • Rob Knight

      Thanks for the comment, Rich.
      Just a note about the resolution… It is not so much the size of the file that’s different. “12% per side” doesn’t sound like much. The benefit is in things like detail for landscape or wildlife shooters. 25% more pixels makes a big difference there. 25% more pixels for things like color gradients and highlight/shadow transitions is nothing to sneeze at either. I suppose you might not see the difference depending on your subjects, but I see a big difference for what I usually shoot.

  5. Bob Fairbairn


    I use both the EM-5 series and the now the GH4. I love both cameras for differing reasons but the GH4 handles so much better. I also have a GX-7 which is an interesting cross between the different models of cameras. The IBIS is a nice feature. I still think that the GH4 handles better than the GX-7.

    I have been looking to get a really small camera like the Sony RX100 IV to be on me all the time. But the GM1 or GM5 look to handle better making this harder!

    The GX-8 is VERY tempting but I am thinking that just having a second GH4 may be a better decision as having the same UI on your cameras is more natural.


  6. Paul

    I’ll be honest, I’ll always love the feel of a big “bulky” DSLR. They’re just so satisfying to use imo. Obviously smaller cameras are better when it comes to portability but I’ll always be fond of the bigger sized ones.

  7. Kevin Barrett

    Recently, I was bound and determined to get the G7 with the 14-140 lens bundle until I held the GX8 and then capitalized on a one day sale for the GX8 body.

    Coming from a happy GX7 owner, the size of the GX8 just makes it so much better for me personally. I have normal sized hands and find the bigger / deeper grip to be great. The viewfinder is tremendous and the LCD flip screen is simply fantastic.

    The GX7 remains in the fleet as my back-up, but the GX8 goes with me first now.

    As ‘huge’ as some make the GX8 out to be, it still isn’t a big camera by any stretch of the imagination. I do believe it’s the size the GX7 should’ve been to begin with, but that’s yet another opinion.

    – Kevin

    • Rob Knight

      I couldn’t agree more, Kevin!

  8. Tom

    You’ve made some excellent points- I agree on the Sony A7 series. The A7 II though is MUCH better over the first one. Still, I’d like to see the same effort Nikon has put forth in it’s line-up (deeper grips).

    It’s about real estate along the side- not just deep grip though. It’s also the angle of the grip from the front. Older SLR’s got it right- mold the interior of the grip on a 45 degree angle. This allows the hand to rock back making it much more comfortable. You take a relaxed position while holding the camera- take a look at a Minolta 7000.

    Lastly, 20MP is not a 25% increase over 16MP. In order to double the resolution you have to times by 4. 24MP cameras are only twice the resolution of 6MP cameras. This makes sense when you think about it. Plenty of pro’s where able to print 20×24 in prints with 12MP cameras no problem back in the day- and that is why. The biggest misconception online is how resolution increases via MP count. The new A7RII is only a 5 percent increase over the A7R, etc.

    Anyway, ergonomics is EVERYTHING. I salute you bringing the topic up.

  9. Ethan

    I’ve just got myself a D7200 after using a D700 and D800, and to be honest the D7200 doesn’t actually feel much more compact or lightweight. I think the lens has a lot to do with it. Stick a big or weighty lens on almost any camera and you’re going to have an unwieldy lump in your hands.

    Even the 18-140mm kit lens on the D7200 makes it a bit lens-heavy and cumbersome. So just looking at a camera’s profile will tell you next-to-nothing about its handling.

  10. Loren

    While IQ is certainly important, the differences between brands or all but the most significant upgrades (monetary, format, generation… whatever) are too subtle and/or objective. Technology these days is already beyond good enough for most people’s needs. Subject matter, photographer skill and post processing are far, far more noticeable factors of a good image.

    But, we still obsess over gear IQ, and thus critics will try to nitpick and then wonder why they don’t see massive IQ improvements in the latest cameras.

    Definitely, portability and performance features that make it easier to get a shot are far more important considerations in choosing a new camera, which is why I think M4/3 has struck a good balance in the compromise between size and IQ.

    I will say, though, that Mirrorless technology, compared to DSLRs, has more to like than just smaller gear. There is so much wonderful innovation happening in the companies putting out mirrorless systems that make them a very different shooting experience. In that light, I think full frame mirrorless systems have their place too. We just don’t have much of a sample size.

  11. BasketballScan

    I will say, however, that Mirrorless innovation, contrasted with DSLRs, has more to like than simply more modest stuff. There is such a lot of superb development occurring in the organizations putting out mirrorless frameworks that make them a totally different shooting experience. In that light, I think full edge mirrorless frameworks have their place as well. We simply don’t have a very remarkable example size.

    • Rob Knight

      Please note that this article was written 6 years ago! The full-frame mirrorless market is completely different these days.

  12. Fred

    Any plans to write an article for new models?

    • Rob Knight

      I don’t have any plans around the OM-1


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