I have been teaching photography since 2009, and the most common question I receive from my students is, “What kind of camera should I buy?”
That is a loaded question, so I’ve decided to break up my blog into five different posts to address this question. This is Part 2 in the series on purchasing a new camera. Read Part 1 here.
Below are the five questions you should ask yourself:
- What is my budget?
- Should I buy a DSLR or a mirrorless camera?
- Should I buy a full-frame camera or one with a cropped sensor?
- Should I buy a used or new camera?
- What type of photography am I interested in?
This blog post will cover item 2: Should I buy a DSLR or a mirrorless camera?
There are three types of cameras:
- Point-and-shoot or phone cameras
Mirrorless cameras have caught the attention of many wedding and travel photographers due to their compact size. There are many advantages to the mirrorless system as well as disadvantages. The shopping experience for a new camera can be much less stressful and complicated if you learn and understand what these are.
Long story short, the mirrorless camera does not house a mirror like the DSLR camera, and because of this, the camera is smaller and easier to hold for long periods of time. I know many photographers who have sold their Nikon or Canon systems for a Panasonic Lumix or a Sony camera. Many experts within the industry project that the future of photography will be only mirrorless. I do not have a crystal ball, so I own both a DSLR (Canon 5d Mark 1V) and a mirrorless camera (Sony a6000). Which one do I like better? It depends on what I am photographing.
A couple years ago, I went to the Dominican Republic for a family vacation.
I was nervous to bring my expensive and bulky full-frame Canon camera. I purchased the Sony a6000 upon receiving many recommendations for it. It has all the same functionalities of a DSLR camera, such as selecting a shooting mode, adjusting white balance, ISO and picture style. The added bonus of this camera is the electronic viewfinder, where you can view the image live on the LCD rear screen. You can see the live result of increasing or decreasing the exposure, a live histogram, and any other adjustment made. I realized immediately that this was an incredible tool and a big advantage over a DSLR, where you can only see the final result after the picture is taken. With the EVF (electronic viewfinder) technology of a mirrorless camera, you can see the result before the picture is taken. On a traditional DSLR camera, the image in the lens comes through the camera and is bounced up into the viewfinder by a mirror and a prism. So what you see in the viewfinder is an actual, optical view of what the lens is capturing. There are no electronics in this process, much like if you were looking through binoculars. An EVF, however, is used on a mirrorless camera. On a mirrorless camera with an EVF, the light from the lens goes straight to the imaging sensor, which records the data and shows a preview of what the sensor captures on a tiny little TV screen viewfinder. It’s basically just a tiny version of the LCD screen on your camera when shooting in live view mode.
The other advantage that I loved was the fact that I could easily carry the camera with me wherever I went on the beach or on trips around the resort. I could even carry it in my purse. I created many awesome images that rival the images I could have created with my DSLR. What I couldn’t make was a full-frame photograph. Because of the smaller sensor size, there is more noise when using a high ISO. Like everything else, it is a trade-off.
There are disadvantages to a mirrorless camera vs. a DSLR camera, such as:
- smaller image sensors
- shorter battery life
Many of the newer mirrorless cameras that emerged in 2018 have overcome many of the obstacles in the past such as less lens choices and inferior video. Sony just released the A7iii which has a full frame sensor and many new improvements for under $2000. It is definitely worth checking out.
I use two cameras for my work and play. I use my full-frame Canon mainly for professional use in the studio and outdoors. I often have photography sessions close to dusk and have to shoot in higher ISOs. I can shoot at ISOs up to 1600 without much noise on my Canon camera. I use my Sony a6000 for travel and short excursions. Day-time shots are fabulous when you can use a low ISO. Often times, I carry both cameras with me so I don’t have to change lenses. I realize that is a luxury most people cannot afford; therefore, I recommend you learn more about the mirrorless system before you make a decision. You can rent a camera for a week for as little as $100.
Your decision should be based on what is appropriate for you.
I always believe in making educated decisions, so do your research. There are many articles on the topic. My favorites are:
Mirrorless cameras are becoming more popular and sophisticated, and by this time next year, there will be more improved models on the market. I predict that more and more photographers will be opting for a mirrorless camera over a DSLR.