Should you go for a mirrorless camera system?
Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (MILCs) entered the market in 2008 with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1. Since then, the market has grown, with the success of the Olympus PEN series and Sony NEX series. These were small cameras with good image quality and the ability to change lenses. Small being the operative word, as it allowed the freedom of changing lenses, without having to lug a bulky DSLR around with you! However, they did not really peak my interest until October 2013 when Sony launched the A7, a full-frame camera in a smaller body.
A smaller body. That pretty much sums up the appeal of MILCs to me. The ideal situation of having the function of a DSLR without the bulky form. The desire for smaller yet functional cameras can be seen in the market Data. MILCS sales value increasing by 16.5% and DLSR sales value decreasing by 15% in the Americas according to an NPD group report on data collected between April 2014 until April 2015. In the rest of the world it has increased by 26% over the same period.
So what is the difference between a MILC and a DSLR in terms of capabilities?
Well, not so much these days.
- Sensors of all sizes produce comparable image quality between both systems.
- Prices are comparable too, with maybe the MILC being slightly cheaper at the higher end (Sony A7RII pre-order price is 3200 USD, and the Canon 5DSR being 3900 USD).
- Lens selection in both systems are now great, with a lot of MILC specific lenses coming on the market from great glass makers like Zeiss. Not to mention you can pretty much adapt any lens, old or new, to fit your MILC system due to the relativly small flange distance.
- They have all the same mod-cons like wifi, HDR, RAW shooting, video...
But there are differences and these differences might be crucial to you.
This is the most obvious difference.. MILCS are obivoulsy smaller, which is great for street/travel/landscape/portrait as it is more discreet and takes less room in the bag, but I think it is a moot point for wildlife, sports or any photography where you use large lenses is needed... When you add on a massive lens, the difference in camera body size becomes negligible. The MILC being smaller means nothing when you attach a 50cm long lens to it! In fact, it could even be considered a disadvantage. Having a large, bulky grip to hold means manipulating a large lens easier and more comfortable.
The Autofocus system on MILCs is fundamentally different and is slightly slower than in DSLRs. For studio/landscape it does not matter about the speed of the focus so much, and probably not so much for street or travel either. However, for wildlife and sports photography where you need super fast focus otherwise you miss the shot, this slight perturbation could make the difference between getting a money shot or a blur, and that might be unacceptable.
So which one is best?
There is no easy answer. A camera is a tool, and each tool has a job. MILCs are excellent and are becoming truly competitive options for all disciplines of photography. DSLRs still have the edge for wildlife and sports in my opinion, and for everything else, it is purely personal preference. I know my 'large handed' friends don't feel comfortable with the smaller MILCs, and the inverse is also true. For me, and for my work, I do not see a major shift YET! And yet is the key word. The technology on both sides of the fence are leaping forward, so who knows what the situation will be in a year from now!
With upcoming release of the new Sony A7RII offering fantastic ISO performance and high megapixel images and with the new firmware update for Metabones mark IV adapters boasting that "Canon lenses are almost as fast as on a Canon body" (check out this interview of top sony engineers), the differences are becoming smaller and smaller!
My "solid opinion" is this:
- Get a MILC if you want smaller more compact system for discreet use like travel and street. They have the image quality and glass to produce fantastic results. Casual or 'home' use is also a big market for a MILC system for the same reasons.
- Get a DSLR is you want the fastest autofocus e.g. for wildlife or sport. There is plenty of glass for these systems, and the results are fantastic. They are also extremely tough, so anything that requires tried and tested extreme capabilities (humid/heat/cold), a DSLR and their lenses is probably wiser.
- Either will work well in the studio where neither AF or size have a big impact. So i suggest get a system that works well with the lenses you have. If you have no lenses, get a system that will work well with your friends lenses! ;)
No matter what system you get... remember it is a tool, so learn how to use it properly! :)