Take photography seriously? Don’t buy a DSLR
Thanks to fairly capable smartphone cameras and easy-to-use editing apps, photography has become accessible to anyone with even a little interest in the hobby. Everyone wants to be the next social media star with an #Instapic. The fact that photography is going mainstream is further corroborated by the sudden rise of photography pages on Facebook. Digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras are still the go-to option for many aspiring photographers and remain the weapon of choice for professionals. And rightly so, since they are designed to capture images with great detail thanks to the presence of larger sensors. For the camera industry, which was reeling after smartphones all but replaced point-and-shoot cameras, the DSLR and a growing interest in photography was cause for relief.
Now, however, the DSLR’s dominance may be in question – and this time the camera industry is getting disrupted. Today, if you’re a hobbyist looking for a professional camera to satisfy your urge to take high-quality photos, you don’t need a DSLR. Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens (MILC) cameras give enthusiasts the tools they need to take high-quality photos with great versatility. And when you consider how many advantages mirrorless cameras have over regular DSLRs, you know it’s time to start taking these cameras seriously.
Before understanding the reasons for choosing a mirrorless camera, it is important to know the difference between a mirrorless camera and a DSLR. A DSLR is constructed in such a way that light passes through the lens and then hits a mirror. This mirror is placed in front of the image sensor, blocking it. Once the light hits the mirror, it’s reflected up towards a pentaprism, which flips the image so you can see it the right way up in the viewfinder (see the image below for reference). When you press the shutter button, the mirror is raised and the shutter is opened to let light hit the sensor to create the image. This is why (if you are observant enough) you will notice that the viewfinder darkens very briefly when the image is exposed on the sensor.
On the other hand, as the name suggests, a mirrorless camera has no mirror. When light travels through the lens, the only obstacle is a shutter curtain, before it reaches the image sensor. Even vanilla compact cameras and smartphones are mirrorless cameras. That’s why the “interchangeable lens” part of the name is also important! This means that the same camera can be used for macro photography or telephoto shots, if paired with the right lens. The other thing to note, as we mentioned earlier, is the sensor size – DSLRs often use full-frame sensors. “Full frame” is nothing but sensor size. The size of a camera’s sensor is very important, as it determines the quality of the image that can be captured.
(Also see: More than megapixels – what really matters in a smartphone camera)
Most mirrorless cameras use what’s called a Micro Four-Thirds sensor, which is a slightly smaller sensor than a full-frame sensor; these are exactly equivalent to a roll of 35mm film. Some mirrorless cameras also use an APS-C sensor, which is one of the most common sensors used by DSLRs. Hence, there is no shortage of sensor size options either. This means you can take photos that could be printed or even professionally published without worrying about image resolution.
One of the most exciting innovations in camera technology over the past decade is the five-axis Image Stabilization (IS) system. This was one of the advantages of DSLRs over mirrorless cameras. However, Sony recently introduced a sensor-shift IS system for the first time in a full-frame mirrorless camera – the recently launched Sony Alpha 7 II. Similar technology is also used by Olympus and it was first available in the OM-D EM-5 Mark I and later in the new Mark II. The five-axis IS allows users to capture incredibly stable video, an area that even some very high-end DSLRs struggle with a bit.
And there are many advantages to using mirrorless cameras. Since mirrorless cameras don’t need a mirror, manufacturers can take advantage of all the tricks in the book to make them more compact than DSLRs. This makes it easier to transport them for a shoot. In fact, you might even be able to slip one into your pants pockets. Moreover, even the lenses of these cameras are much smaller. So a camera bag that can normally hold a DSLR camera with a kit lens will be able to hold a mirrorless camera and two lenses. However, please note that not all mirrorless cameras are compact. You can find full-frame mirrorless cameras like the Sony Alpha 7R, which have the same bridge design as DSLRs and superzoom cameras.
One of the problems with mirrorless cameras was that they consistently depended on the inferior contrast detection autofocus system, but now even that is no longer a problem as there are so many camera options mirrorless cameras available in the market that can perform phase detection. auto focus. The difference between these systems is that phase detection has traditionally been used by DSLRs, is faster of the two, and provides much more information to the sensor than contrast detection focus. Additionally, it is well known that due to the mechanical moving parts inside DSLRs, they are generally noisier during operation compared to their mirrorless counterparts.
Frankly, the DSLR vs. MILC debate has now reached a point where DSLRs can’t really claim to be the best option for hobbyists who are willing to go beyond their phones. Mirrorless cameras have their flaws, in the form of fewer lens options and poor battery performance in general. Dedicated professionals would probably still prefer to stick with DSLRs, especially if they’ve already invested in lenses and other gear. These issues will be resolved over time, and for enthusiasts buying their first real camera, mirrorless cameras are the most attractive choice today. They are more compact, quieter and, more often than not, cheaper too.
Our current favorite mirrorless cameras are both quite expensive; the Olympus OM-D EM-5 Mark II, particularly for its video capabilities, and the Sony Alpha 7R. The former is available in India for Rs. 74,990 (body only) and the Alpha 7R can be purchased for Rs.115,500 (body only). But these are the more expensive options, and if you’re looking for budget solutions, we suggest you take a look at Nikon’s 1-series of cameras that use a 1-inch sensor. The Nikon 1 V1 is available for Rs. 19,999 (note that the V1 doesn’t include an EVF), while budget DSLRs like the Canon EOS 1200D will set you back at least Rs. 25,000.
So before you make the decision to buy a professional camera, weigh your options. Don’t just pick up a DSLR camera because of peer pressure, but make an informed decision; try mirrorless cameras.