In recent years, camera technology has been evolving at an extremely fast pace. There are many players with a plethora of options on the market at any given time, so just how do we choose a camera for photography in 2018?
Just a few years ago, I would have wholeheartedly recommended a DSLR to a professional, a mirrorless camera to an enthusiast, and a point-and-shoot camera to anyone wanting something light to slip in their pocket. Now, the lines are blurring more and more. Our phones have taken on the role of point-and-shoot cameras and mirrorless offerings are increasingly closing the gap with professional-level DSLRs. In some cases, mirrorless cameras are even exceeding the capabilities of DSLRs.
So, for those starting out their professional careers or looking to build a portfolio with the goal of starting a business, where should you look? What should you consider when investing in a system? Should you go mirrorless? Get a DSLR? APS-C or 35mm full frame? Let’s look at some advantages and disadvantages of different systems.
APS-C or 35mm Full Frame
If there is a single straightforward reason to go for a full-frame sensor over an APS-C sensor, it is noise performance. By and large, when you compare sensors of the same generation, a full-frame sensor will have better noise performance. However, this difference is so small for many applications that it may not even be relevant to your photography.
One other consideration might be depth of field. You will get a slightly shallower depth of field on a full-frame sensor for a given aperture. It’s up to you to decide if less or more in focus is important to your photography.
Advantages of DSLRs Over Mirrorless Systems
It may seem at times like DSLRs are being usurped by mirrorless offerings, however, there are still several good reasons to pick up a DSLR in 2018. Primarily, these revolve around legacy, usability, and the viewfinder.
DSLRs have been around for quite some time now and are built on the foundation of the decades of experience held by major camera manufacturers like Canon and Nikon. This means that you can count on a wide selection of lenses and accessories being available for your camera. It also means that the dozens of generations of cameras before them have been used as a base for their control system refinement. You can also (almost always) count on these cameras being finished products at release time.
For many, the size and heft of DSLRs make them more comfortable to use. For some, the grip gives them space to put large hands. For others, the weight reassures them that the camera is built well enough to withstand the tortures of professional use. Although mirrorless camera build quality is getting better with every generation, DSLRs like the Nikon D850 and Canon 5D Mark IV have a decidedly more solid feeling to them than most mirrorless cameras.
Due to simple physics, DSLRs have much better battery life than mirrorless cameras. With a mirrorless camera, the sensor needs to be always on and a high-resolution EVF needs constant power. Therefore, if you need to go all day on one battery, perhaps a DSLR is a good option for you.
The final point about DSLRs that really helps them stand out from mirrorless cameras is their viewfinders. The prism system of SLR cameras gives you a direct view through the lens. For some, this feels right and an electronic viewfinder can never replace it. After all, a camera has to be comfortable and convenient or you won’t enjoy using it.
Advantages of Mirrorless Systems Over DSLRs
Mirrorless cameras are being developed from the ground up by manufacturers who are innovating in a space that hasn’t been around for very long. These companies are pushing the boundaries of what is possible and trying new approaches to advance the machines we use to make photographs.
The first reason you might consider a mirrorless camera as your tool of choice is the electronic viewfinder (EVF). This replacement for the mirror and prism setup that has served SLR cameras for so long brings about several benefits. First, much more information can be displayed on these high-resolution screens. Not only are your current settings able to be displayed, but features like 3D spirit levels, double exposure previews, histograms, and 100 percent zoom previews can be incorporated into the viewfinder. You can even review your images inside there, which is a huge benefit in bright situations. Probably the biggest benefit of these screens, however, is the real-time preview of exposure and color that is possible while you shoot.
It was only a short time ago that a blanket statement of “mirrorless cameras for size and weight” would have made sense. However, Sony’s full-frame mirrorless options and even Fujifilm’s X-H1 are now getting closer and closer to DSLR territory in terms of size and weight. However, if you are looking for a smaller, lighter body with great performance, there are still some excellent offerings in the mirrorless space that will save your back and some space in your bag. Take the Fujifilm X-E3 or X-T2 for example. These are both capable cameras in a very small package.
One interesting benefit of making many of the functions of a camera software based is the ability to enhance functionality through firmware updates. Companies like Fujifilm have had no reservations in updating their existing cameras with the best software they have even years after release. While one might argue that this is simply an approach to releasing cameras before they are done, you can guarantee that the camera you bought will gain some additional functionality over time.
Recent cameras like the Sony a9 have shown the potential of mirrorless technology clearly. By making use of a stacked sensor and the lack of moving parts, the a9 is able to achieve 20 frames per second at in raw at its full resolution of 24 megapixels. This is all while focusing in between shots and providing an accurate representation of the exposure and colour of the final image in the viewfinder. There is potential for quite amazing technology to be implemented over time in the mirrorless space.
Upcoming Nikon and Canon Mirrorless Systems
What will make this choice even more interesting in the coming months are the developments Nikon and Canon are making in the mirrorless realm. These have the potential to truly change the way many people shoot. If both companies can maintain their lens mount and accessory system but produce a mirrorless body, I believe we’ll see a huge shift in the market.
Both companies have a history of producing consumer-grade mirrorless cameras, but a professional-level body that supports their existing ecosystems would make things very interesting for the industry over the next couple of years. I believe that it will push even Sony and Fujifilm to make huge developments in their own systems. As such, if you’re looking to go mirrorless and are already heavily invested in Nikon or Canon glass, it may pay to wait until the companies make their announcements.
As you can see, the gap has shrunk between technologies that used to be so far apart. APS-C sensors are now an excellent choice, as are mirrorless bodies. Developments in all fields have brought us to a place where it is mostly preferences that are going to make us choose between brands, technologies, and systems. Decisions need to be made now on specific features or available lenses more than one brand or category having significantly better technology. I hope that this has been helpful for you.
For those who’ve already made their decisions, it would be great to add to this discussion in the comments and make this a great resource for those looking at purchasing a new camera. What were your considerations when investing in your current system?