By Erick Lirios
There are many more choices now in photography. The voices talking about mirrorless cameras are ever so loud that you have to wonder if there truly is still another choice.Mirrorless cameras are light; that’s obvious enough. All major manufacturers have made their entry in the mirrorless game and some people have even begun to talk about the end of DSLRs. For people interested in trying their hand photography, the choices now include at least four: small compact cameras, more full-featured compact cameras with non-removable lenses, mirrorless cameras, and DSLRs. In such a landscape, does it still make sense to get DSLRs?
If you’re buying a camera and you only have the budget for one camera, what should it be? This question applies to people who already have an armory of different camera equipment or those who are just starting out.
DSLRs have the main advantage of age. They’ve been around for more than 16 years as a cost-effective alternative to film SLRs. It was around the mid-2000s that DSLRs began to unseat film cameras (small or medium format) as the preferred option for magazines and even advertising agencies. When the prices began to drop (the Canon D60 was sold for more than P120,000 in 2001 but the 80D goes for around P40,000+ now), people started using their film cameras less and went digital.
How then is this an advantage? DSLRs took so much from SLRs to the point that they share lenses and flash units. For Canon and Nikon DSLRs, the camera feel is even the same. Sony DSLRs don’t look like the Minolta cameras from where they got their mount, but they do remind one of the classic Nikon F3 or the Canon F1.If you, therefore, want a connection to all that heritage, DSLRs have a definite advantage.
The other is more practical: You have all the lenses of the past available to you as long as you can find them. For example, you can easily mount any EOS lens on any Canon DSLR. Nikon and Pentax go one better: You can take lenses even from their manual focus days and use them on a DSLR—with some limitations, of course. The best lenses are also made and designed for DSLRs especially because DSLRs are still the bread and butter of camera manufacturers.
Another issue (which, admittedly, is already being addressed by teams designing mirrorless cameras) is autofocus speed. Generally speaking, DSLRs will be faster though the gap is narrowing. We’re not talking about comparing perhaps a Nikon D5 with a Nikon 1 J5. That would be unfair. What we’re talking about here is perhaps a Nikon 1 J5 versus a Nikon D7500 or a Canon M50 and a Canon 800D or the newly-released 1500D. You will also notice that we did say the Canon M5 autofocuses quite well.
The usefulness of the prism
Mirrorless cameras, by virtue of the physics behind them, don’t have a pentaprism—that bump on top of the camera. Yes, some have the bump but it’s not the same as those you have in DSLRs. DSLR prisms have mirrors inside allowing a photographer to see what’s in front of the lens at any time even if the camera is powered off relying on nothing but actual light. That’s one of the best things about DSLRs. You really do get a chance to look at what the lens has in front of it, thus allowing you to compose your shot in real time. Won’t electronic view finders (EVFs) work the same way? Some of these electronic viewfinders are exceedingly impressive. They will show you what the scene will look like and, with a custom function, allow you to see what your current exposure settings will do. That is undoubtedly a big help for shooters who have a difficult time visualizing how a shot will look. The issue, however, is that the prism, using only existing light and not relying on any electronics whatsoever will, more often than not, be a much better tool especially in low-light situations. In those instances, an electronic viewfinder or the LCD will struggle to give you the image just in front of the lens. The mirrors of a prism will perform in the same way regardless of whether there’s a lot of sunlight in front of it or just a solitary candle.
Sensors facilitating autofocus will struggle in low light and even DSLRs suffer from that. However, it may well be easier to just shift to manual focus using a prism because light will still reflect the same way. Things are slower when you have to rely on some sensors getting what little light there is to create an image to give you an idea of what’s in front of you so that you can compose and then shoot.
Additionally, one way you can also extend the battery life of your camera is to shut off the autofocus system (pushing groups of glass inside your lens can take its toll on a battery) or not have your LCD playback an image right after you shoot it. DSLRs allow those emergency options.DSLR batteries generally last longer especially when you only deal with your camera manufacturer’s stuff, but you may find yourself in a bind at times. It’s a little harder to come up with something like this using mirrorless options because manual focus relies on your being able to see what the lens sees. Thismeans you can’t turn off your mirrorless camera’s LCD at any time unless you have an EVF and use that exclusively since smaller screens use less power than those big LCDs.
But perhaps one thing that is really still an advantage for the DSLR camp is price. You normally will get a better-specified brand-new camera for the same amount of money as compared to the mirrorless option. Add to that the reality that with DSLRs having been around for more than a decade, there are hordes of very good condition secondhand stuff around. Can you shoot photos decently with the Nikon D100? Definitely. What about that bargain deal Canon 1Ds? Sure, assuming you want to carry that heft around.
Is there still a market for DSLRs? Yes, there is. Will DSLRs eventually be overtaken by mirrorless cameras? Perhaps especially because of the weight factor but that won’t be happening anytime soon. For now, relax and know that an investment in the DSLR direction won’t be putting down money on a losing investment.