DSLR vs Mirror-less Cameras

As many readers of this blog know I have been going on about the virtues of going “mirror-less” and how good the Micro 4/3 (MFT) system is when general weight and bulk are an issue. And whilst I still believe this for the majority of photographic subjects for me this has caused problems but not the ones that initially I thought I would have.

The problems are that the MFT system (which is the most featured mirror-less system out there at the moment and probably will be for some time) still does not the have the capability to do everything that a DSLR can do today. Will this always be the situation? Who knows, the predictions that the DSLR will go the way of the dodo has been voiced quite a bit by some professional photographers over the last 2 years and although some of these have switched either fully or partially the Mirror-less cameras are not outselling DSLRs. In fact their market share is reducing.

Lumix GH3-Front

The market share is not the problem though. My (photographic) subject of choice is Nature and Landscape and for some of this the camera that I had (the GH3) was fine. To progress further I need to invest in some glass to fill the gaps in the system and then we come down to the issue – cost. The lenses that I need (want?) simply cost a lot of money, two of them are around or over £1K each (7-14mm f4 and 35-100 mm f2.8), the other ones that I would like to finish my system are around £500 each (25mm f1.4 Leica and 45mm f2.8 Leica Macro). There are still some major omissions too such as an appropriate Macro Flash Ring Lite (Nikon and Canon have some excellent choices here). And when you look into 3rd party devices they still major on Nikon and Canon first with some tepid product launches for MFT and/or other mirror-less systems if anything; even the poor DSLR cousin Sony is supported better. I don’t see this changing soon.

Hartsholme Park

Before I continue further I better explain something here to cover the “It’s not the gear it’s about the photographer that matters” phrases that are probably being shouted at me. I always like to take this statement with a large dose of reality, to a certain point this is true but sometimes certain subjects require certain gear. Try and take a picture of a Heron diving at Hartsholme Lake with an iPhone and then try again with a 600mm lens on a fast DSLR with appropriate stabilisation (gimble head on a tripod)and I think that you would get more keepers with the appropriate gear. Yes learning to use the gear to its full potential and learning some relevant techniques will increase the numbers of good shots but when something is really far away or really small you need the right gear to shoot this. Try a model shoot with the on-camera flash and then compare with 2 or more off-camera flashes with a range of flash modifiers (I hate the term light-shaping tools BTW) and its obvious which will give the better well-lit image; again this assumes that the photographer knows how to use the lighting gear.

I like to take pictures of various animals; from birds (preferably in flight) and sometimes the really tiny ones such as spiders. I have researched using the MFT system to take these pictures and apart from a very small minority there are not many pro’s doing this; so getting some ideas of where to start and what to try is difficult – contrast this with what’s available from Canon, Nikon and lots of training companies (Kelby training is a good example). There is a large wealth of information available a lot of it is free or relevantly low cost if you use Canon, Nikon and to a lesser extent Sony.

Fuji X-Pro1 with 35mm f1.4 lens

I will also mention a great photographer here “Zack Arias” who is a no nonsense pro photographer who has almost fully transitioned to a Fuji based system (X100s x2, X-Pro1 and X-E1) but still uses a Digital Medium format camera for certain assignments and still keeps his Canon DSLR system for others. He has a training class on Kelby Training where he build a photo kit for under $5K and this is based on you guessed it the DSLR (granted on older 5D Mark 1).

This brings me to a post on Zack’s blog a few months ago you can read it here:

It’s rather amusing, he basically says that Fuji is the new Leica, OK I don’t really want a Leica as it is not suited to the photographs that I want to take. Manual focus, manual exposure and the dreaded dials on the lens and the body with an antiquated way of determining focus that only works for relatively small focal lengths, forget anything from 150mm upwards.

One of my good friends has 2 Leicas, an M4 and an M8 – he loves them. The big difference here is that he does a lot of different types of photography and Street Photography is one of them, these cameras are ideally suited for this. I don’t get the same buzz that he does from street photography and I have a problem with taking candid shots of total strangers especially when they are looking at me.

So on one hand we have photographers declaring the death knell of the DSLR as it has now doing stuff it was never intended to do (digital and now video) and on the other hand we are told that we need to use Range finder style bodies instead. These are even older than the DSLR – they can’t both be right!

Canon EOS 70D with 18-55mm lens

However, I do think that what was considered to be a DSLR a few years ago has already gone. As much as the non Nikon/Canon crowd might think, these companies are not standing still (although at the moment Canon seems to be out-innovating Nikon). The first example of this new breed is the Canon 70D, this has most of the bells and whistle from the higher end models as well as some of the usability aspects of the lower models and has a sensor that with its dual pixel technology can focus really fast in Live View and Video. If you use one of the newer STM lenses the focusing is smoother and silent too. The 70D has a touch-sensitive flip out screen that makes getting video and pictures child’s play. This is combined with all the good stuff that a proper DSLR can offer coupled with a lot of great Canon technology and Support – oh I didn’t mention this much.

Canon have a fantastic support network in the UK and routinely offer special free events to their customers and the local Camera Stores find them easier to deal with too. Although Canon gear is typically more expensive than the Nikon stuff, when you factor in the support I think that it is worth it; to a Pro photographer this is essential.

As an example; one of my all time favourite photographers – Andy Rouse switched back to Canon after initially switching to Nikon when the D3/D3x/D3s/D300/D300s came out. Although some of this was the problem with the gear D800 and D4 from what I can gather it wasn’t helped by the lack of support here in the UK. Nikon doesn’t have UK offices like Canon and run everything from Nikon Europe HQ somewhere on the continent.

So to summarise, the DSLR isn’t dead yet and I will believe it will continue to evolve (as it has already proven). Yes the DSLR of tomorrow will look different (it may even loose the mirror and move to an EVF) but it will still be a DSLR (or without the mirror a DSL?).

Sony Alpha A7 with 28-70mm lens

I would also state that whilst the mirror-less cameras are still getter better; look at the A7/A7R and the OMD EM1 for example. They need to offer complete systems to properly compete with the Canon and Nikon systems (note the word systems here). They still need to improve the quality and responsiveness of their EVF and focusing systems – although the level of improvement in the last couple of years has been impressive.

Olympus OM-D EM1 with 12-40mm lens

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  1. Pingback: Why shoot a Leica | Richard & Caroline's Blog

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