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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

DSLR Performance In A Point-And-Shoot Size?

The new class of cameras—mirrorless, interchangeable-lens models—gives serious nature photographers some interesting options

Labels: CamerasD-SLRs
SLR vs. Mirrorless

Many OP readers use DSLRs. Should you switch to a mirrorless, interchangeable-lens model? Perhaps a better approach is to ask if you should acquire a mirrorless camera to complement your DSLR. The answer likely is “Yes!” But here are a few things to consider:

A DSLR’s eye-level SLR viewfinder provides a clearer view than an electronic viewfinder or an external LCD monitor, especially in dim light and with action subjects (the EVF will flicker when you pan the camera to track the action). But the new generation of EVFs is much better than earlier versions, and a simple device like the Hoodman HoodLoupe can make using an external LCD monitor in bright light much easier (with DSLRs, too!). For long-lens work, a DSLR is better, though—holding a tiny camera with a big lens at arm’s length isn’t the steadiest method.

Have you ever fumbled around trying to set your DSLR for Live View mode while the moment was rapidly vanishing? All the mirrorless cameras are in Live View mode all the time—no need to fumble with anything. Of course, with a DSLR, you can pick the camera up and “scout” potential shots through the lens without switching the camera on; with a mirrorless camera, you can see an image only when the camera is on.

The external LCD monitor can be an advantage for high- and low-angle shooting, especially with the cameras that have tilting LCD monitors (Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-G2 and DMC-GH1, and Sony’s NEX-3 and NEX-5). A few DSLRs with Live View capability have tilting LCD monitors, too (Nikon’s D5000, Olympus’ E-3, E-30 and E-620, and Sony’s
DSLR-A330, A380, A500 and A550).

The phase-detection AF systems in DSLRs are better for action subjects than the contrast-based systems in the mirrorless cameras (although the contrast-based systems in many mirrorless models are quicker than the contrast-based systems employed by DSLRs for Live View operation). If you want to capture birds in flight or sports action, a DSLR—not in Live View mode—is a better choice.

But the mirrorless cameras are much smaller and lighter than DSLRs, meaning you can carry them conveniently where it wouldn’t be easy to take a DSLR, or where having a conspicuous camera isn’t desirable. And thus, the mirrorless cameras can get you some photos that you’d miss if you just had a DSLR.

All of the mirrorless, interchangeable-lens cameras except the original Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 (recently replaced by the G2) provide HD video capability. There are currently only six DSLRs in the same price range with HD video capability (five higher-end DSLRs also offer video, but cost much more than the mirrorless cameras). Video lets you capture the motion and sound of the outdoors, as well as those magical, frozen moments—action at a bird’s nest or watering hole, roaring rapids and waterfalls, a deer scampering across a meadow and much more.

Along with a host of DSLR features and modes, mirrorless cameras offer some features DSLRs don’t provide. Panasonic’s new Lumix DMC-G2 has a touch-screen LCD monitor that makes it easy to operate the camera without searching for buttons and dials. Sony’s NEX-3 and NEX-5 offer Sony’s Sweep Panorama, which allows you to create a stitched panoramic image in-camera merely by sweeping the camera horizontally or vertically across a scene. Panasonic offers the Lumix G Vario HD 14-140mm zoom for Micro Four Thirds System cameras, which is designed for video with a silent focusing motor—and which can’t be used on Four Thirds System DSLRs.

Bottom line: Many outdoor photographers will be best served by having both a DSLR and a mirrorless, interchangeable-lens camera. The mirrorless camera provides the same image quality as a DSLR of equivalent sensor size and pixel count, but in a much more compact package.


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