For the last couple of years, I have yearned for a camera. And, as usual, my tech-writer’s brain told me to begin researching, reading, and observing on the topic before I made purchases. So, over the years, I have developed an opinion. But first, some points for the premise:
- I am an amateur photographer. That said, my Canon IXUS HS 300 is enough to do the job for me. In fact, I am now able to explore the limits of the hardware. And, that’s why I want an upgrade.
- I realize that it is not the hardware, but the creativity that makes great photographs. So to say, the thoughts/vision, and not the camera, make for a good photographer.
- None of the big/small camera companies have paid/will pay me to write this post. My opinions are my own, and right/wrong, the interpretations are entirely mine. You may please feel free to disagree.
Right so, here are those reasons that made me make up my mind in favor of a mirrorless camera:
Past vs. Present and Future
The story of cameras dates really-really long back in time. Once upon a time, there were those double-lens reflex cameras (also called the twin-lens reflexes or TLRs). Over time, the SLRs replaced the TLRs to make for the parallax errors. And, since then SLRs and eventually DSLRs have been waiting for their time to pass. Roughly for the last fifty years, the basic concept of capturing image has remained same: SLRs and later DSLRs have helped users see through a prism or mirror to view and capture images.
The DSLRs have a mirror, which reflects light from the lens to the viewfinder. When you click, this mirror flips out of the way to let the light (and hence the image) pass through to the sensor to capture the image. The mirrorless cameras do not contain the flipping mirror. This is a step ahead of the long-followed conventional DSLR style. And, I’d like to invest in a technology, which has a future. Mirrorless, therefore, rightly sounds like a choice.
Photography is not what I do for a living, so it is kind of obvious for me to NOT spend on the gear, unless I have money lying around in my account. Think about it: Would you, as an amateur, go for a camera that costs 70-80 thousand bucks in India? Hobbyist-level DSLR cameras are expensive in India in comparison to many other countries. Mirrorless are priced more so at par.
But, how is that a point in favor of the mirrorless cameras? Well, that’s so because the features that you get with even the entry-level mirrorless cameras, such as a higher frames per second (FPS) rate, come in the rather expensive full-frame DLSRs, which are quite an investment. So, you get the same output, but you pay only about half the price. Though not all amateurs will use such features, but I’d certainly like to experiment.
Size and Weight
Wait! But, you said you are an amateur. So, why would you talk about weight when you would carry the camera and its accessories for barely about a couple of hours across a week? The answer is: I am not the only one who will use it. And, I don’t expect my wife to carry a heavy gear when she’s capturing any precious moments with our daughter. Neither of us is a photographer by profession. In fact, professional or no professional, smaller cameras are easier for anyone to carry.
There’s another perspective to this point. Why does anyone get a DSLR? Let me give a hint: It’s to do with the oomph factor (of being one techy-geeky person in the room). Sadly, people’s opinion about technology in cameras is directly proportional to the added bulk in those cameras. The bigger, heavier the camera, the longer people’s oohs and aahhs are. And, if you buy a DSLR just for the seeking a longer ooh, please think again.
Let’ me get into the details now:
Live View and EVF
Almost all those professional photographers that I’ve met so far, have failed to understand the ease of using an electronic viewfinder (EVF) or the live view. I realize that it may be subject to habit as much as it is to choice. But, when you take your eye to it, you’ll see what you’ll get – much like the WYSIWYG editors in technical communication.
As an example, try capturing a picture with a DSLR with the sun glaring into your eyes. And, then try doing that with the electronic viewfinder. I’ve tried that. The electronic viewfinder shows only what the camera is about to capture. So, the viewfinder doesn’t let the extra light pass through to the eyes, because it intelligently shows only what the final picture will look like. It’s like viewing the picture before clicking it.
Another point: For a conventional DSLR, there will always be a time lag (usually in milliseconds) between taking the picture and getting it displayed on the live view of the camera. This time lag is on account of the flipping mirror. After you take a picture, the mirror takes some milliseconds to get back in the position. This time lag is not there on the mirrorless cameras, because there is no mirror.
If you are a professional photographer, you are most likely to fiddle with the camera settings for almost all pictures you take. On conventional DSLRs, such operations will have to be done using the live view screen. This makes it a little time consuming. I found that I could view the same things on the EVF. This means, I can do all the settings without taking my eyes off the EVF. Faster, isn’t it? But, for an amateur-level photographer that I am, I may not even need the viewfinder to take pictures. Some mirrorless cameras do not come with viewfinders. Perfect space and money savers for amateurs like me.
My friends who own DSLRs find it difficult to capture videos. Their DSLRs fail successfully especially in situations that demand continuous tracking of moving subject or changing of the focus. But, I’ve tried capturing videos on mirrorless cameras. The autofocus is a lot faster and accurate. The new mirrorless cameras can even capture 4K videos.
It is also to do with the focus systems. Most DSLRs have limited focus points. Also, by design a focus point guides the system to adjust the focal length of the camera based on the horizontal and vertical alignment of the subject and its closeness with the focus point. So, any change in the position of the subject will demand the photographer to readjust, track, and peak the focus. It is challenging in situations when a distraction comes between the subject and the camera. Mirrorless cameras are equipped with predictive, hybrid focus systems, which can help track subjects frame-by-frame, moment-by-moment. Chances are, you will never lose the subject even when there are distractions between the subject and the camera.
Try capturing a fast moving object using the burst mode. If you are a pro photographer, you’ll know that most of the great picturesque moments lie between the shutter clicks. And, DSLRs can never match up to the burst speeds of the mirrorless rivals, which can impressively produce as many as 12 frames per second – In absence of the flipping mirror, the sensor can produce more images in the same time.
Mirrorless cameras, as I said, are a newer technology. The advanced sensors can accommodate more pixels into an image. This does not translate as a plus point. But, the additional zoom sure sounds like a deal. I am an amateur, and I’d like to zoom and print my pictures, assuming that I might not always get the right subject in focus. The added pixel count will mean that I can zoom in a little extra before printing my stuff.
I am not a professional. I do not do photoshoots that last 8 to 10 hours a day. But, I do understand that because everything in the mirrorless cameras – including the viewfinder – is dependent on the battery, the performance of battery goes down. Consequently, the cameras fail to get anything above 300 shots on an average. But, this doesn’t bother me as an amateur. I anyway don’t take more than 300 pictures in a day. Also, I can always switch entire to the viewfinder by shutting off the live-view mode, and save the battery for some extra pictures. Or, I can just carry an extra battery, if required. On these justifications, I count this point in favor of both the mirrorless cameras and the DSLRs.
Those DSLRs that fit into my budget do not offer connectivity options like NFC or Wi-Fi. And, those DSLRs that have those options are out of my budget. But, that’s not the thing with mirrorless cameras. The mirrorless cameras in my choice are social-media friendly – much like cell phones (only with a better image quality).
Some of my friends, and well-wishing shop sellers have suggested me against my wish of going for a mirrorless camera. Reason? Lack of lenses. But, that doesn’t bother me much. I am not a professional. So, even though I would want to learn about this artistic skill of photography, I will hardly use more than four lenses across the lifetime of my camera.
This brings me to the following choices: 18-55 (regular, daily use lens), 55-250 or 210 (for zooming), one prime lens (35 mm or 50mm), and one telephoto zoom (something like 70-400mm). But, that’s not only what I think is suitable. Most of the professional photographers I know, use the same lenses in their kits. I am not sure about what they mean by not having enough lenses available. Despite what the companies continue to offer, these four lens lengths will continue to be there.
Some of the professionals take this point in the light of the kit lens configuration with cameras. But, then I am not a pixel peeper. I can never poke my nose into the tiniest of spot to see if the zoomed part will be worth printing or if it will provide me the most natural colors out of the box. I can always use computer applications to adjust the colors.
The truth is, I just want a nice interchangeable-lens camera that gives me some added capabilities on top of a point-and-shoot camera; is nice enough to make room for the future; is light in weight and easy to carry; is easy to handle and operate; and will be tough enough to stand the test of time. And, that’s – precisely – why I’d go for a mirrorless camera.
I’ve started a new thread on the blog: Photography Basics. In this thread, I write about what I’ve learned on photography.