Photography offers a broad choice, making it difficult for beginners to select their appropriate gear to begin the lessons. Recent technological advancement in optical engineering is providing an opportunity for camera manufacturers to offer a plethora of options. The recent addition is the mirrorless digital cameras.
Photography has come a long way from the film cameras to the digital single lens reflex cameras. The innovation and technology are helping close the gap between the human perspective and digital processor. It is possible to generate amazing photographs with any of the cameras, and each has both pros and cons.
Mirror-less camera uses a micro four-thirds sensor, which the developers say is the future of photography. Nonetheless, DSLRs are still useful and quite handy in capturing different scenes. In fact, professionals recommend DSLRs as they provide an excellent opportunity to utilize the available lenses and accessories to produce compelling images.
Acquiring knowledge about these cameras is important. They offer a chance to narrow down the models and select suitable equipment that will serve the primary purpose – shooting pictures. This article explores the history of cameras, DSLRs, benefits, drawbacks, and the new technological entrant – mirror-less cameras.
It is noteworthy to get a camera that suits the requirement. Relying solely on the technology is not a good choice for an amateur or a beginner who desires to begin a career in the competitive field of photography. Therefore, it is essential to understand the importance of technology used in the camera to decide whether it will be suitable equipment or not.
Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras
Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras from different manufacturers follow the same principle of optics and industrial design – light enters the camera through the lens and bounces of the reflex mirror, directing towards a pentaprism and reaching viewfinder. Shutter button on the camera flips the mirror up, allowing light to travel directly onto sensor. Image sensor captures the light and other information to process the picture and produce a picture that is in close resemblance to the original view.
This process of the digital camera functioning is similar to that of film cameras. This method helps light to travel to the viewfinder, giving an option to view the scene before capturing. However, further advancement and research helped manufacturers to eliminate the mirror altogether from the path of light. Absence of mirror introduced the term ‘mirror-less’ and the new breed of digital cameras.
Models available in the mirror-less category are numerous. A few have interchangeable lenses, a few arrive with built-in lenses, and others have different image sensors and features. Models available suit various needs of the photography world. There are also quite expensive models that cater to the niche markets or for the professionals. Irrespective of the construction, change in sensors, and characteristics. One thing that is common across all the models is the absence of the mirror.
Mirror-less cameras are not new to the market. Everybody is using them. Yes, camera in a smartphone is a mirror-less camera. The only difference is absence of the tiny viewfinder, as the preview is available right on the screen of the phone.
Another interesting factor is that using the ‘Live View’ mode in a DSLR transfers it into a mirror-less camera. It is because the mirror remains in the ‘up’ position allowing the light from the lens to fall directly on the sensor. The mirror remains in that position until the user exits the ‘Live View’ mode.
Weight and Size
A regular DSLR is bulky due to presence of the mirror and the pentaprism. The weight varies from one model to another and from one manufacturer to another. However, there is hardly any difference.
Total weight, which now includes the lens, defines the overall weight of the camera. Again, the weight changes according to lens mounted on the camera. For instance, a prime lens of 85mm weighs less than 70-200mm telephoto lens. Material used in the construction of lens also varies the overall weight of the camera. Older lenses have a metal body whereas the present generation lenses use high-quality plastic material.
Clear winner in this section is mirror-less camera. Absence of mirror and prism helps in reducing the thickness of construction, which further helps in bringing down the overall weight.
Speed of auto-focus is of critical importance. DSLRs have upper hand here as they use dedicated auto-focus sensors that respond quickly. They use phase detection mechanism to focus faster and with high accuracy. Phase detection mechanism measures the convergence of two light beams. Mirror-less cameras use contrast detection system, which is similar to that of a point-and-shoot camera. This method involves movement of lens to find a position in the scene with the highest contrast and coincide it with focus. This functionality of system is slow and becomes slower in case of low-light conditions.
Advantage of DSLRs will phase away slowly, as manufacturers are trying to incorporate the phase detection system along with the contrast detection into the image sensor. This combination increases the auto-focus achievement to near accuracy, providing precise results as required by a photographer.
Mirror-less cameras are fast catching up with DSLRs due to the incorporation of phase detection characteristic. For instance, Sony a6000 has 179 phase detection points embedded on the sensor. Therefore, it is evident that both camera technologies offer abundant speed when required. While shopping for a mirror-less, it is important to check the specifications and look out for phase detection or hybrid detection system.
Image preview is excellent and accurate in DSLRs. Reason is the presence of mirror, which stands up in its position while displaying the composition or the final picture on the screen. However, focus of the system during such a stage is slow because of the absence of the hybrid onboard detection sensors. They use contrast detection system, which are slow.
While shooting using a mirror-less camera, users receive preview of the image on screen and sometimes through the electronic viewfinder. Electronic viewfinder displays preview that is close to the final image when shooting in abundant lighting conditions. However, the camera struggles to produce similar results in low light conditions, where it undergoes a series of compromises to display a real-time image.
Winner in this section is clearly a DSLR. Presence of the optical viewfinder is beneficial, making DSLR a perfect camera to capture images even in low light conditions.
Image stabilization is a promising invention for the digital photography. Technology calculates the shakes observed while capturing and straightens the image accordingly by shifting a part of the lens or the image sensor in the opposite direction of the movement. Most DSLRs have built-in image stabilization technology. A few manufacturers are offering the technology in the lenses. In case of mirror-less cameras, a few models have a shift in the movement of the sensor and the lens element in synchronization.
As both the cameras have sufficient technology and systems to control vibrations, selecting any one is tedious. Both cameras respond quickly and with perfection to deliver stabilization, which is a critical aspect and advantage of digital photography. However, it is important to learn that the sensors or technology have limitations to vibrations that they can correct. Therefore, it is preferable to minimize the shakes beforehand. Using a tripod is an excellent way to avoid vibrations altogether.
Image stabilization is equal for both DSLR and mirror-less cameras. As the differences are minimal, producing sharper images is possible by the two.
Image quality relies solely on the picture sensor embedded in a model. Both DSLR and mirror-less cameras have high-end sensors that are capable of processing images with accuracy and precision. They equally process the images and have the same noise at different ISO settings. Originally, mirror-less cameras had smaller image sensors, which made it difficult for them to process pictures, as it was difficult for the sensor to capture required light.
Today, manufacturers have mastered the manufacturing of sensitive chips that are equivalent in terms of functionality with that of a DSLR sensor. Furthermore, Sony and Samsung are now offering APS-C sensor mirrorless cameras, which is the same sensor as found in a standard DSLR range.
Manufacturers are also offering mirror-less cameras with full-frame sensor, which fulfills the requirement of the professionals. With both the cameras and sensors providing equal production of high-quality images, choosing a winner in this arena becomes difficult.
Digital cameras not only capture images but also are capable of recording high definition videos. A DSLR offers impressive settings to shoot high definitions videos. The best example of this setting is auto-focus system that uses phase detection system to keep the subject in focus while shooting the video. This system adjusts the focus according to the movement of subject, delivering a constant focus at all times. Only a few models offer such an option, making it easy for video lovers to capture HD videos.
However, as they use contrast detection system, auto-focus system begins to hunt after a few minutes of capturing the video. Nonetheless, not all manufacturers offer the high-end system that is capable of delivering constant auto-focus in video mode. These models use the contrast detection system, which makes recording the video a bad experience.
Absence of mirror in the mirror-less cameras makes it easy to capture videos and deliver best results in its category. For instance, Panasonic and Samsung mirror-less cameras are capable of shooting 4K or Ultra HD videos, which no DSLR is capable of performing. Technology is likely to transfer to low-end models given the decreasing cost of the 4K technology.
Selecting a winner in this category is difficult because both the cameras offer decent and in fact, the choice to shoot videos in HD. The availability of lenses makes it easy for a DSLR user to record the video in HD irrespective of the distance from the subject. On the other hand, professionals are capable of using a DSLR in the manual mode, as they have the experience and understand the movement of the subject in the scene.
Mirror-less and DSLR cameras are both capable of shooting pictures at faster speeds. However, mirror-less cameras are leading the competition because of the absence of the mirror. Nonetheless, a few models, such as the Sony a6000 is capable of capturing 11 frames per second. Reason is the use of translucent mirror that directs light to viewfinder and sensor at the same time.
Mirror-less cameras contain no mirror, which take full advantage of capturing images at faster speeds. Although many cameras use a mechanical shutter, choosing the electronic shutter is also possible. Selection of electronic shutter achieves higher speeds and shoots the images in silence.
Clear winner in shutter speed is the mirror-less camera. Absence of mirror gives a better opportunity for mechanical or electronic shutter to capture images at a faster rate and higher frames per second.
Battery life of a DSLR is longer than a mirror-less camera. Reason is their ability to capture pictures without using LCD. Electronic viewfinder and LCD consume a lot of power, reducing the overall images that a single recharge of battery delivers. Number of shots produced by a camera depends on specifications and the capacity of the battery. However, both DSLRs and mirror-less cameras have removable batteries. Carrying a spare battery fulfills the need for capturing more images.
A clear winner in the battery life segment is DSLR. DSLRs offer a number of shots for a single battery.
Lenses and accessories
Lenses and accessories available for a DSLR are plenty. They offer complete flexibility and tremendous assistance in shooting images at different locations and under different lighting conditions.
Mirror-less cameras have few lenses and accessories. However, capacity and availability are growing slowly. The other reason is that the recent introduction in the market. DSLRs have decades of history and presence, making it easy for them to find from a cheap to expensive lenses and accessories. Mirror-less cameras that use micro four-thirds sensor benefit in terms of lenses and accessories. Panasonic, Olympus, Tamron, and Sigma are manufacturing lenses suitable for mirror-less cameras belonging to different companies.
Selecting a preferred camera in this category is quite cumbersome. While mirror-less cameras are receiving a steady attention, DSLRs have access to wide range of lenses and accessories.
Mirror-less cameras possess benefit of being lighter, compact, and with faster shutter speeds. However, lenses and accessories that arrive with it are less, making it a thoughtful investment for a beginner or a professional.
DSLRs, on the other hand, have the advantage of being in the field for a longer time and with a broad range of lenses and accessories. They further take the advantage of the optical viewfinder, which gives a greater control in capturing images in low light conditions. The only disadvantage is its bulkier construction, which becomes accountable and convenient after a few uses.
Mirror-less cameras are useful for casual photographers who are interested in just capturing some images. Using a mirror-less camera for a serious and professional use is clearly not an answer. The only area where both the systems are equal is the image quality. They deliver exceptional pictures and fulfill the requirement of the photographer.
For now, DSLR belongs to category of people who are exploring photography and take it seriously. Mirror-less camera is suitable for a casual photographer who likes to take pictures and have an all-day camera.