ORE Mining Frigates (Venture) and Expedition Frigates (Prospect, and Endurance) are a relatively new addition to EVE. While Mining Barges and Exhumers have been around since forever, their non-Empire frigate counterparts came out only a few years ago. These ships are substantially better than the original Empire frigate mining ships, and their mining bonuses, ore hold capacity, and role bonuses put them in a league of their own. The value and throughput of these Mining and Expedition Frigates should not be underestimated!
It is my opinion, and it is in adherence to the recommendations of Lotek Doctrine, that everyone interested in mining should master the use of Mining and Expedition Frigates before Mining Barges and Exhumers.
Overview of Mining Frigates
The Venture (T1 Mining Frigate) excels at operating in extremely hostile environments; as a low-risk high-reward vessel, a single haul of ore can more than pay for itself. It is also one of only two ships (the other being a Prospect) that has bonuses to gas harvesting. The Venture has built-in +2 warp strength to help mitigate against warp jamming, and can carry two drones to either help with mining or warding off rats. In other words, the Venture is fully capable of operating solo if necessary.
The Prospect (T2 Expedition Frigate) is employed when failure is not an option; it uses a Covert Cloak to ensure it can cloak AND warp to safety simultaneously at the first sign of trouble. With twice the ore hold of the Venture and even more mining throughput, the Prospect always brings a worthwhile haul. While the Prospect does not have the +2 warp strength or drone bay the Venture offers, its Covert Cloak more than makes up for these omissions. Like the Venture, the Prospect is one of only two ships with gas harvesting bonuses. The Prospect can hold more ore than the Covetor and Hulk, and almost as much as the Procurer.
The Endurance (T2 Expedition Frigate) combines the best that three mining barge series have to offer downsized into a frigate: A huge ore hold, formidable defenses, and high mining yield. It has three times the ore old of the Venture (more than the Covetor, Hulk and just as much as the Procurer and Skiff), high defenses (bonuses to shield and non-covert cloaks, able to use drones similar to the Covetor and Skiff), and high yield mining (mining bonuses comparable to the Procurer and Hulk). Like the Mining Barges and Exhumers, the Endurance also has bonuses to Ice Harvesting. While it cannot use covert cloaks, it does not suffer any velocity penalty for non-covert cloaks (so it can quickly align with and move away from ores) and has only a 5-second targeting delay on decloak. The Endurance is also 2SWO capable.
All three mining and expedition frigates are cheaper than both Mining Barges and Exhumers, have superior agility (and therefore have substantially higher chance of escaping (ie. aligning and accelerating to warp), are much faster at jumping between systems), require fewer skillpoints to master, and can travel through any wormhole (whereas Mining Barges and Exhumers cannot travel through small wormholes). They’re substantially safer to use in any mining operation (especially in hostile territories when mining rarer materials) and make decent ore transports (for when a Miasmos is unavailable or too risky to use).
Choosing a Mining Frigate or Mining Barge
There are a few things to consider when choosing to train for or fielding a Mining Frigate or Mining Barge. Considerations include but are not limited to: Cost, Skillpoints, Risk, Fleet Defenses, and WH Size (if applicable). In general, the choice of mining vessel depends primarily on the ability of the mining fleet to defend itself: when defenses are high, the high-risk high-reward mining barges and exhumers may be used with a relative degree of comfort, and when the defenses are low, then the low-risk medium-reward mining and expedition frigates should be used. When in doubt, using a Mining or Expedition Frigate. Mining Frigates and Expeditions may be the only option available if trying to enter a wormhole too small for Mining Barges and Exhumers to enter. Whether you choose to field a Mining Frigate or a Mining Barge, you must be vigilant with respect to situational awareness to ensure you can take the appropriate action if ambushed.