Summary: the average difference across all examples leaves the Nikon outfit 45% heavier than the Sony (with up to a one kilo/two pound difference), which is a far fry from the 112g difference the Photography Life article reached when comparing its Noah’s Arc packing lists.
If we take the best four results for the Nikon (against the heavier Mk II Sony), the Nikon is still 27% heavier, yet lacks In Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS) that ensures every shot you take is stabilised, regardless of lens. This has great relevance to many photographers.
It should also be clear that the more zoom lenses you take, the less benefit you get from going mirrorless, but that cuts both ways: The smaller the outfit you take along, the greater the benefit of going mirrorless. In other words, simplifying your kit has huge benefits for mirrorless shooters, whereas FF DSLR shooters have a significantly higher ‘base weight’ due to the relatively heavier bodies.
I have left out the three zoom kit option! Yes, aren’t I sneaky? So lets look at a triple zoom outfit with the A7 Mk II body, which should give us the worst-case real world scenario. To save weight for the Nikon, I have selected the non-premium 24-85mm lens (but not opted for the super light Sony 28-70 kit lens) and I have included four batteries for the A7 II, which is more battery power than I managed to go through in a day shooting landscapes in Iceland in the middle of winter (I took six as a precaution, but never got though them).
A7 II, 4 batteries, 16-35 f4, 24-70 f4, 70-200f4 (2512g)
D750, one battery, 16-35 f4, 24-85, 70-200f4 (2835g)
As you can see, it is closer, but the Nikon remains 323g heavier (13%). Nonetheless, by going for all zoom lenses designed to cover full-frame, the Sony loses some of its advantage. Throw in a second body for each (as I always would on a significant trip, to cut down on lens changes in windy dirty conditions as much as anything), and the difference in weight becomes more obvious again (617g or 20%).
Some readers may cry foul because I have included options for the MK I A7 series bodies, which give the greatest disparities, but there are reasons why I have done so:
1. The A7, A7S and A7R are all available both new and second hand at the time of writing. In fact there are truckloads of A7 and A7R cameras available at discounted prices from major retailers, or at giveaway prices on the used market. You can buy them and use them, so they count. Besides, the A7S has not been replaced yet.
2. Mk I bodies vs. Nikon/Canon DSLRs is the only apples to apples comparison, because none have IBIS and this feature is a game changer for many people. At least Pentax has been smart enough to implement it on their APS-C DSLRs, but we’ve seen no such movement from Canikon. IBIS can mean not needing to take a tripod for some people and its much more effective than a monopod, both of which add weight.
3. There is likely to be an entry-level Sony FE body coming in the not too distant future. This has been rumoured for some time and I suspect it will hit when new Mk I stock is gone, in order to provide an extremely light and compact alternative to the larger Mk II bodies. I’m guessing that it will be even smaller and lighter than the A7. Yes, this is speculation, but I wonder how many people would be willing to bet against this?
Verdict: If you want to build a Full-Frame mirrorless kit that weighs almost the same as a FF DSLR outfit, you can; however, this should come as no surprise to anyone. There are optically superb, fast and large lenses arriving in the FE system (such as the Zeiss 35mm f1.4 Distagon) to give FF DSLR-alike shallow depth of field and high shutter speeds, but if your goal is to save weight substantially, while benefitting from some of the other features commonly found in mirrorless equipment, you can do that too. This is especially true if your photography does not revolve around fast aperture optics, or lots of zooms.
What about bulk?
Its harder to measure, but I suspect that here the benefits are even more glaring than in weight. While this may not seem as persuasive an argument in favour of mirrorless, the fact that you can fit compact mirrorless and rangefinder kits into much smaller bags can make a huge difference to what it means to travel with and carry it. For example; I can fit a four lens Leica kit in a Billingham Combination bag for Leica M bag and that’s without using zipped front pouch. On the other hand, my Canon 5D III would take up the entire bag. You just cannot fit a body plus lens in there, although the 40mm f2.8 might make this possible.
I can fit my Sony A7 bodies in the lens cells inside my Domke F6 bag. My 5D III will fit into the bag if the four cell insert is affixed hard up against one side (as shown), but quite a few of my Canon lenses won’t fit in the cells…
The Sony A7 is not quite as compact as a Leica M due to the prism-eque lump on top that houses the EVF and somewhat larger prime lenses, but its much closer to the Leica M than to a FF DSLR outfit in volume as long as one stays away from lenses like the Zeiss 35mm Distagon and Sony G 90mm f2.8 Macro.
Why does this matter?
Well, maybe it doesn’t to you, but this is my take: Small bags don’t get in the way as much. They don’t scream ‘I have loads of expensive camera kit in here’. They don’t clonk into people as you walk down busy streets and they can easily be fitted inside other bags, when travelling (for example: inside your carry on bag, when travelling by air – with larger bags, the camera bag is your carry on).
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