Mirrorless camera hype
I have a confession to make. For the last two years I have owned, and used almost exclusively, a mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Olympus camera, specifically the OM-D E-M5 Mark II. No big deal, I hear you say. Why does that warrant a confession? Let me explain…
Prior to switching to the Olympus mirrorless system, I had been a very happy SLR shooter for 30 years. So why did I feel the need to the switch? Well, to be honest (and I’m almost ashamed to say this) I bought into the mirrorless “hype”. It seemed that every podcast I listened to, and every video I watched, was extoling the virtues of mirrorless cameras. Worse still, many of these “experts” were saying things like: “If you use a DSLR then you’re a dinosaur!”, “The DSLR is dead”, “Mirrorless is the wave of the future” and “I’ll never buy another DSLR”.
Many of the people making these claims were photographers I admired and I fell for the mirrorless argument 100%. I had utterly convinced myself that if I wasn’t shooting with a mirrorless camera, then I was somehow going to be creating inferior images. I weakened, sold all my DSLR gear and purchased the OM-D E-M5 MkII.
I’m not going to lie (this is a confession after all) – it’s a very good camera. Maybe even a great one. But after two years of using the E-M5 MkII, I’ve also come to realize that the initial “hype” surrounding the mirrorless wave was just that - hype. And that rather than being a “dinosaur”, a DLSR system is still the better option for me – and maybe for a lot of people?
6 reasons why a DSLR is better:
I’ve now made the switch back to a DSLR – a Nikon D7100, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve only had the camera for a couple of weeks, but even in this short amount of time I’ve been able to establish exactly why it is I find the DSLR more user-friendly. What follows are my top six reasons why I prefer the DLSR camera system to the Olympus mirrorless (and most other mirrorless systems by association). Hopefully some of this may resonate with you, and maybe save some of us from going down a path that may not suit our photography and objectives.
Reason 1: Form Factor
My number 1 reason for preferring a DSLR is its form factor and size. I just like it. I like the solid heft, the weight, the volume, the mass that you get with a mid-range DSLR and battery grip attached. They have evolved over the last thirty years into ergonomic masterpieces of design and engineering that fit the hand (mine at least) perfectly. I pick one up and it just feels “right”. It feels like coming home, all warm, snug and cozy. OK, maybe that last one was a bit too much – but it’s also pretty much exactly how I feel about it. The OM-D E-M5 MkII on the other hand…
I’m just going to come right out and say it; it’s too small. I don’t have very large hands, but even so, I found it “cramped” as a camera, sans battery grip. Attach the two-part grip and things do get better – but still nowhere near as comfortable and ergonomic as a DSLR. Having said that, the higher-end mirrorless Olympus OM-D E-M1 has a much better handling than most other cameras, as do the mini-DSLR styled Panasonic DMC-GH3 and DMC-GH4. So it’s not necessarily a failing of all mirrorless cameras, just most of them.
Before I finish with the size, weight and ergonomics part of the equation, I want to clarify some things. My sense of “comfortable” when holding a camera may not equal yours. As I’ve said, I have 30+ years of using the molded polycarbonate style form factor of an SLR, so my muscle memory is geared up to respond to this type of camera design. If the new wave of “retro” styled cameras, like the OM-D E-M5, Fuji X series or the Panasonic rangefinder styled GX series of cameras is your first introduction to a serious camera, then you may not have any issue with the size, weight and ergonomics at all. In fact, what I consider being negative about them may very well be to your liking.
Photographers the world over are reveling in the experience of moving to mirrorless and drastically reducing the weight they carry with them. This is a good thing. But it also needs to be tempered with a touch of practicality. I do think that there is such a thing as “too small”.
Reason 2: Lenses
Number 2 in my preference for a DSLR is lens choice. No matter your allegiances to brand, there are way more choices for your lens arsenal with a DSLR. There just are. This may or may not get better in the future, depending on how many more lenses get rolled out for the different mirrorless systems. But as it stands, DSLR’s offer considerably more lens choice, no matter what your budget.
Reason 3: Bokeh
Keeping with the lens theme for a moment, my third reason is “bokeh”. For more information on the concept of creating beautiful backgrounds with bokeh, see the Nikonians articles “Bokeh revisited” and “What a lens can teach you”. If you are, like me, a fast aperture f1.8 or f2.8 guy (or gal), who likes to use those apertures to create a creamy, out-of-focus backgrounds, then you’re going to achieve this more easily with a DSLR. Again, you just are. Notice I said “more easily” with a DSLR. It’s not impossible to get a creamy, pleasing out-of-focus background with a Micro Four Thirds camera and lens combo, but it is more difficult. This is because the camera, in one sense, is working against you. The smaller sensor in the OM-D’s (and Panasonics) means that the depth of field is effectively doubled compared to the sensor of a full frame DLSR. An f2.8 lens on a full frame is really working like an f5.6 on Micro Four Thirds in terms of creating background bokeh. This is also true with an APS-C sized sensor, which is again smaller than a full frame sensor – giving you about one aperture in difference, so it’s not all roses there either. If bokeh is of prime (excuse the pun) importance to you, shoot full-frame, then APS-C, and then Micro Four Thirds.
Of course, what some see as a negative, others may see as a positive. If you are a landscape photographer, then you are going to get images with everything in crisp sharp focus, from edge to edge, very easily. Shooting at f4 with a Micro Four Thirds system is like f8 on full frame. Because of this, lenses on the OM-D are super sharp. The sharpness of a standard kit lens like the 40-150mm f4/5.6 on the OM-D is absolutely astounding. Even shot wide open, there’s just no image softness to speak of. A plus, or a minus depending on your wants and needs for your images.
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