Maybe you’ve just purchased a brand new digital single-lens reflex (DSLR). You’ve been thinking about improving your photography, and you handpicked the perfect lens to accompany it. Well, I don’t want to disappoint, but you might want to reconsider your purchase.
A generation of new mirror-less cameras have arrived, and they’re about to take the photography world by storm.
I’ve been taking photographs for about four years now. But I purchased my first DSLR only recently. Why, you may ask, did I not take a single-lens reflex (SLR) into consideration earlier?
I’ve been shooting with a mirror-less camera since then. It features most of the advantages of a DSLR: a mechanical shutter, 14-bit RAW files and, most importantly, a full- fledged manual mode, and an APS-C sensor equivalent to or better than most DX sensors of the time. The difference: it has no viewfinder or mirror.
What this all meant was that I got supposedly “DSLR-quality” images with a sleek camera that, without a lens mounted, fit in my pocket, for half the price of other cameras with same qualities.
A new generation of cameras are here to make your photographing experience more satisfying
Back in the era of film cameras, a viewfinder was necessary for composition purposes. To oversimplify, the mirror would direct light into the viewfinder when composing and lift out of the way when a picture was taken to expose the photograph.
But this is the 21st century and we now have sensors (“digital film”, if you must draw a comparison).
Output from the sensor can be viewed electronically in real time. An LCD can display this video feed and serves the purpose of the viewfinder; no mirror is needed. What all this means is that the whole camera body can be much smaller.
Now, the backlight of a screen siphons out quite a significant amount of energy from your battery, possibly more than anything else on a camera.
Well, there’s also something called an EVF (electronic viewfinder) around for a while. It’s a tiny screen nestled in the area where the viewfinder used to be. For such a tiny display, power draw is insignificant. The viewfinder-style method also, to be frank, appeals to those clinging to the past.
Mirrors are vestigial, useless elements of the camera; only existing as archaic remnants of the last century.
Mirror-less cameras are the future. Their manufacturers are intent on the design and the user experience as well, almost coming close to Apple’s philosophy.
They’re not annually producing minutely improved iterations of (and let’s all admit it) uninspired, misshapen black boxes. The top-of-the-line Nikon D600 and D800/E use sensors that can also be found in certain mirror-less cameras such as Sony’s. Zeiss makes some great lenses for mirror-less systems.
DSLRs even have live preview, which is where the camera pretends it’s a mirror-less and keeps the mirror up, (along with terribly slow contrast detection autofocus, good for nothing but static scenes). You view what you’re photographing on the screen for composition purposes.
Were there drawbacks to my previous consumer-level camera? Of course! The 18-55 f/3.5-f/5.6 kit lens was not so sharp at anything but f/8, the autofocus was not professional grade nor customisable. So what? I had one lens. I just took photos and didn’t care.
Now, as I wanted a camera with a bigger, full-sized sensor (36x24mm), I had to go for a DSLR. No mirror-less camera at the time offered larger than a sub-frame, 24x16mm sensor.
Then Sony released the mirror-less a7 and a7r, which have full-frame, pro-calibre sensors. To be more precise, the same sensors licensed to Nikon for their FX cameras. These cameras are also much cheaper (by about $400-500), don’t feel as hefty as bricks, and are much better at video for reasons I won’t get into. You get insane images given the price and size.
Having just missed the first wave of 35mm mirror-less cameras, I feel like I got slapped in the face.
My old mirror-less camera has survived all the abuse it has been put through, from shooting in rougher areas of my hometown to ski runs, all the while being discreet. I am pleased by the raw performance of my new SLR, but it doesn’t feel as innovative, nor is it nearly as inconspicuous. Something about it just feels missing.
Now, if you’re a pro, you need your SLR, with its fast phase-detection autofocus, weather sealing, long battery life, and wide selection of tried-and-true lenses. I think we’ll see more durable mirror-less cameras in the future, but unfortunately not yet. Otherwise, go mirror-less. You won’t regret it.
In today’s age, where the rest of the technology industry seems to be brimming with ingenuity and innovation, the camera industry is at an almost pathetic level of stagnation. What we need is something truly revolutionary. With the a7/r, the underdog finally got it right.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 31, 2014