a bit confused: practicality of DSLR vs non DSLR cameras

Started 8 months ago | Discussions thread
Ido S
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Re: a bit confused: practicality of DSLR vs non DSLR cameras
In reply to Sandy70, 8 months ago

Straight off the bat, I want to declare that I have never used a DSLR for more than five minutes. I was considering purchasing the Nikon D5200 as my first system camera late last year, but eventually turned to the mirrorless market and bought a used Olympus OM-D E-M5, with which I am very satisfied.

The principle of SLR cameras, and DSLRs of course, is the mirror box. It makes the camera bulkier, but shows the world optically, through the lens. Light travels through the lens, hits the mirror and gets to a prism (or mirror, in low-end and mid-range Nikon and Canon models with APS-C sensors), which thens directs the light correctly to show an exact optical presentation of what the lens "sees" through a viewfinder. That's the one single thing that differentiates DSLRs from digital interchangeable-lens cameras without the mirror, aka mirrorless cameras.

That has both advantages and disadvantage. One advantage that's talked about most is the autofocus performance, because the light the hits the mirror is also redirected to a dedicated AF sensor. Another one is the quick response times and the dynamic range visible when using an optical viewfinder, because it's only limited to what our eyes are capable of, and those limitations are far from an LCD or OLED screen's limitations. It's also typically brighter (though it depends on the lens used), and does not consume any power, so battery life is much better.

However, technology has advanced far enough that electronic viewfinders have much fewer cons than they used to have, and actually provide some serious advantages. For starters, it has all the perks people tend to attribute to Live View in DSLRs: you can enable a live histogram, or even warnings of blown highlights and dead shadows; you can magnify the view to check critical focus, and on most recent models you can also use focus peaking, which makes it very easy to obtain accurate focus when focusing manually (for use with legacy lenses, or when shooting video); focus points typically cover the vast majority of the frame, and are very accurate; etc. You get all of that with much faster autofocus than Live View in most DSLRs (excluding the Canon EOS 70D, which is on par with the latest mirrorless cameras), and much better ergonomics. Many offer all of that in an electronic viewfinder, in addition to the big display on the back of the camera.

It's a tradeoff. For me, the electronic viewfinders' pros greatly outweigh their cons. It's all a matter of personal preference, and familiarity plays a big role as well. If one has already used SLRs for years, he / she would probably be more comfortable with the through-the-lens optical viewfinder that DSLRs provide.

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