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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Which Camera Should I Buy?

We look at the age-old question in the light of new offerings in full-frame, mirrorless and big-sensor point-and-shoot models

Labels: CamerasD-SLRsGear
This Article Features Photo Zoom
Who Needs A Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Camera?

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF5, Sony NEX-7, Olympus OM-D E-M5, Samsung NX210

The mirrorless category is growing by leaps and bounds, and many pundits think these sorts of cameras represent the future of photography. There's a lot of variety in the mirrorless interchangeable-lens group, from models that look like retro-35mm film cameras to sleek designs that compare in size to point-and-shoot compact cameras and from Four Thirds sensors to APS-C sensors to CX sensors (from Nikon) to Q sensors (Pentax). It can get a bit bewildering. Looked at as a single category, the mirrorless models offer a lot of choices for nature photographers.

The key advantage to mirrorless cameras is their size. The body is small and the lenses are small compared to conventional DSLRs, yet because of the interchangeable lenses, they give the options of multiple focal lengths and, as a whole, quite good image quality.

Who Needs A Mirrorless Camera?
Traveling photographers who want a full-featured system that can be carried on airplanes easily
Hikers who want a lightweight system that still gives the options of multiple lenses
APS-C mirrorless systems are a good fit for someone who wants near-DSLR performance and image quality in a lighter system
Large-sensor mirrorless cameras are especially interesting for nature photographers who want to lighten the load without sacrificing image quality. There are several models available with APS-C and Four Thirds/Micro Four Thirds sensors, and these have proven to be capable of very good image quality.

Because they don't have mirror systems, the mirrorless cameras rely on electronic viewfinders (EVFs) or just the LCD panel for composition. Nature photographers probably will find that an EVF system is a necessity, whether it's built in or an add-on accessory. The LCD panel is just too limiting in some situations like snow or other very bright conditions.

One other thing to consider about the size of a mirrorless system: the entire system—camera, lenses, accessories—is smaller than a DSLR system, which makes them very attractive for travel, in particular. A number of photographers like having a mirrorless system in addition to their DSLR. If you're traveling with two systems, things do bulk up considerably as you add multiple battery chargers or lens adapters.

Who Needs An APS-C DSLR?

Canon EOS 7D, Nikon D300S, Sony SLT-A77

As the price of full-frame DSLRs drops, you might be tempted to think that APS-C cameras are on their way out, but we think these DSLRs still have a future.
For one thing, APS-C sensors still make for less expensive DSLRs, which is obviously of some benefit. Beyond price, there are other clear advantages. Sports and wildlife photographers have found that the magnification factor advantage inherent in APS-C DSLRs is valuable because of the boost at the telephoto end of the range. The magnification factor is a tricky point. It's not really a strict "something for nothing" arrangement, where a 300mm lens magically becomes a 450mm lens, but because of the reduced angle of view from the APS-C sensor, the crop of the image circle looks more like that 450mm. Photographers argue this point constantly, but the fact is that using your 70-200mm zoom on an APS-C camera creates images that look like they were taken with a 105-300mm lens. Add a 1.4X teleconverter, and now you're looking at a lens that acts like 420mm at its most telephoto.

Who Needs An APS-C DSLR?
Wildlife photographers
Action photographers
Anyone who finds that they do most of their shooting at the longer focal lengths
Photographers leaning to the price side of the price-to-performance ratio
Beyond magnification factor and price, APS-C cameras have some other enticing advantages. Midlevel models tend to have a lot of high-end features and technology taken from the top pro cameras. Many pros who have multiple bodies complement their full-frame camera with an APS-C model that has professional AF performance. In essence, one might be the camera for maximum image quality and wide-angle while the other is set up for speed and longer focal lengths. Not everyone has the luxury of having multiple bodies, and if your photography leans to action, the APS-C DSLR is a good choice.


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