… or why mirrorless systems don’t work for me.
For those who don't want to read the preamble, just scroll down to the Top 5 Reasons I Still Use a DSLR.
Today’s post is inspired by the TWiP #386 podcast. TWiP is the podcast that I hate to love. I often disagree with the headline story, get frustrated by their bias and wish, like the Supreme Court Minority, I could offer a visible opinion in descent. Yet with all of my consternation, I dutifully tune in because the production is among the best on the web, and the host, Fredrick Van Johnson, knows how to keep the dialog moving. Titled “What’s up with Nikon & Canon,” I expected TWiP #386 to discuss the merits and shortcomings of the new offerings from these two established companies. With the introduction of the Nikon D750 and Canon 7D mark ii, there has been a lot of web-hype, and TWiP always seems to introduce a unique spin. Surprisingly, rather than a thoughtful discussion about these DSLR’s, I was “treated” to a familiar rant… DSLR’s are dead, Mirrorless cam’s are cool and if you haven’t switched, you’re a dinosaur. While these sentiments may be a bit of hyperbole, I don’t think that I’m too far off. So with this in mind, I felt the need to offer a counterpoint to the mirrorless “trend.”
Before I list the Top 5 Reasons I still Use a DSLR, you need to know a few things about me. I am an amateur photographer and have been photographing all things nature since 1987. I began with film and reluctantly moved from medium-format roll-film cameras to DSLR’s in 2003. Furthermore, while I sell and publish the occasional piece of work, I am a biology teacher first and rely on this income to fuel my passion for travel and nature photography. This September I made a huge transition from one camera system to another. Huge because, with over $12,000 “invested” in cameras and lenses, a switch between brands is rarely an economic gain but more likely a loss. Living within the confines of a teacher’s salary (albeit an experienced teacher), this type of loss is not trivial. In hindsight, I now recognize that I struggled with a multi-dimensioned cost/benefit analysis before making my move.
Less important than knowing if I moved from Nikon to Canon or Canon to Nikon, is the fact that I purchased a high-end mirrorless camera in October 2013. The black Fuji X100 is my companion during travels abroad and on the street here at home. Having had a bit of experience with a quality mirrorless camera, the move from a DSLR’s to a Fuji system would have been easier than the transition I ultimately made. However, I quickly realized that the “trendy” move to Fuji would have had a huge negative impact in my photographic output.
Alas, the following are the Top 5 Reasons I Still Use a DSLR... listed in reverse order of importance:
- I Don’t Shoot Video. It appears that mirrorless cameras benefit the videographer more than those who prefer to shoot stills. Video enhancements are a zero-sum gain for me.
- Full Frame System with High Resolution & Large Pixel Sensors. In the mirrorless world, only Sony offers a full-frame series of cameras. If you are not a fan of the ergonomics and suite of lenses offered by Sony, then being mirrorless becomes much less important.
- Optical Viewfinders. Call this one a personal preference, but I just can not get accustom to the “TV-like” view of a mirrorless camera. The live-view viewfinders in mirrorless bodies seem flat and two-dimensional, while a large DSLR pentaprism has a bright 3-D feel.
- Autofocus Speed. While Olympus and Fuji cameras focus rapidly with short focal-length lenses, their AF speed diminishes with increasing focal lengths. Furthermore, the ability of mirrorless bodies to accurately track movement with telephoto lenses does not rival the AF system in a typical “prosumer” DSLR.
- Long Fast Glass. Canon and Nikon make numerous fast telephoto lenses. Ignoring the seamless ability to use legacy manual focus super-teles, both companies have made long and fast autofocus lenses since the late 1980’s. The used market and continuing development of these lenses by Canon and Nikon is important to nature photographers seeking to include wildlife imagery in their portfolio. All of the mirrorless manufacturers have been very slow to introduce even one lens for the sport or wildlife photographer. To date, only Olympus has displayed a potential long-lens offering. Shown at recent trade shows, the pre-production 300mm f4.0 (600mm µ4/3 equivalent) may be compelling to Olympus fans, however this focal length has been a multi-decade long mainstay for Nikon and Canon users.
There is no doubt that this is an exciting time to be an amateur photographer. Clearly, there have never been so many excellent and affordable ways to pursue one's own aesthetic vision; however, to declare that Nikon and Canon's DSLR's have been "Kodaked" is, I fear, a tad premature.
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