Thursday, January 12, 2012

Why DSLR?

Many people have known me to be very passionate when it comes to mirrorless camera system, particularly anything to do with Micro 4/3 system or Olympus PEN series. I have been one of many photographers out there who believe that the mirrorless system is the future, and soon the DSLR will soon be a thing of yesterday. However, I also believe that the time has not yet come for mirrorless to fully replace the position of DSLR especially amongst the professionals. Many blog readers as well as friends I have known have questioned me on why I still stick to Olympus obsolete DSLR system, since the promise of the mirrorless future is bright, and as the technology progresses further at the rate faster than ever before, I should be using a PEN with assortment of newer and capable lenses, right?

Well, the answer is not so simple.

All images in this entry were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko Digital lenses: 11-22mm F2.8-3.5, 25mm F2.8 pancake and 50mm F2 macro. External Flash used for most shots.
Selected photographs from Wedding Dinner Reception of Zhen Bing and Huei Yien in November 2011.






Yes I do believe the the latest incarnations of mirrorless cameras from many manufacturers are breaking the barriers of what mirrorless system can do, as opposed to more traditional and conservative approach from DSLR offerings. Olympus PEN E-P3 provides extremely fast autofocus, and does extremely well if coupled with their newer lenses such as the 12mm F2 and the 45mm F1.8. Take a look at Sony NEX-7, they have set yet another record of maximum resolution/megapixel, leading the race at a whooping 24MP at the moment, far from many other DSLR even the full frame versions. Fuji is fighting aggressively with their premium newly launched interchangeable mirrorless system, with their flagship X-Pro 1, promising good performance targeted at professional photographers, not just enthusiasts. The promise of better image quality (only a matter of time when mirrorless image quality will fully surpass all DSLR, or possibly medium format, but lets not go there for now), yet at a smaller, lighter, and easier-to-carry-around package is quite hard to overlook. Performance wise, the smaller cameras that could are surely catching up, though at the moment still not quite at the same level as super cameras such as Canon 1D series or Nikon D3 (or the newly announced monster, the D4), but who is to say one day soon, mirrorless cant match those top performers, or even surpass them?

If I were shooting purely for hobby and personal leisure, surely the mirrorless system of any brand would have sufficed. In fact, just slap in a 24mm or 35mm lens would have been a good all rounder to cover most of my shooting needs. However, from time to time, I do take in paid assignments, mostly actual day weddings, reception dinners, event coverage (such as corporate annual dinner, or events), portraitures, etc. Shooting for paying clients, I do feel that DSLR can be a game-changer in many ways.

At the moment, I am still staying faithful to my Olympus DSLR E-5, and the beautiful Zuiko lenses that I have slowly collected over the years.

1) Ruggedness

While shooting on assignment, sometimes I need to run around places, and everything is moving so fast, that you have to act very quickly. As I fly from one spot to another, the camera that is hanging around my neck or shoulder may accidentally knock on whatever obstructions that are coming my way, may it be that old man’s elbow, or the edge of a wooden chair, or worse, clash with another photographer’s camera equipments. It is difficult to stay graceful and fluid when you are in the rush and all that matters is capturing the moment that is unfolding right in front of your eyes. Olympus E-5? Not much to worry about when it comes to minor knocks and hits, its body is after all made of magnesium alloy, and the construction is solid and very rugged. Well, lets put it in simpler terms. Take an E-5, and clash it head on any mirrorless cameras (PEN, NEX, etc). Now who do you think will survive? I need my equipments to be robust. I need not worry about small bumps and tiny accidents. I need the camera to be able to withstand a small amount of abuse. And If I stumbled upon some annoying videographers or other non-paid/non-invited photographers who block my line of sight, I can, without a doubt, use my camera (E-5) and knock the brain matter out of their skulls. And still be able to shoot happily after that. Ok, kidding.

2) Handling

People have the general consensus that the smaller, the lighter, the better the camera system is. I choose to disagree. Perhaps for travel, or street shooting, and photojournalism, this concept applies relevantly, but for a full day event shooting, say, covering motorsports, or a concert, I still think that you need larger grip and a bit of heft on the camera for better handling. You need the weight on the camera to counter balance the weight of the lens you are using, or else the off balance of the weight shifting on the lens would kill your left wrist after hours and hours of shooting. Not having the large and substantial enough grip for your right hand to hold the camera will also strain your elbows and shoulders.

Furthermore, more issues will arise when changing lenses. Many people may not agree with my style of shooting, but I devised my own technique and preferences, and they work perfectly fine for my shooting needs. I change lenses often, and I really mean often. My main lenses used on my E-5 are the super wide angle Zuiko 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 (oh my, such a beautiful lens) and of course, my favourite Zuiko 50mm F2 macro. Having those two lenses cover most of my shooting needs, ranging from super wide to medium tele-photo, delivering superb sharpness across all focal lengths even at widest aperture of F2.8 and F2. This combination is very versatile, enabling decent low light performance, and very good macro capability. However, to be able to bring out the best, it is either I shoot with two bodies with one of the lenses attached to each camera, or just one body but with the need to change lens. I have no issues with changing lens, and I can do it very efficiently now. But I need a larger body for better gripping, and as I yank the lens out of the mount I do not have to worry too much about it. This would not be the case for smaller lenses such as the ones from the micro 4/3.









3) Optical Viewfinder

Nothing beats the experience of being able to see exactly what is happening out there, without the interference of the camera processing. There is a huge difference when you see through the optical viewfinder, in comparison to both the LCD live view at the back of the camera, or any variations of the Electronic Viewfinder. I even find the latest high resolution (over 2MP) LCD electronic viewfinder on the Sony Alpha 77 to be rather “fake” and not as real as I have liked. I do not know quite how to explain this, but the user experience is just so much better when what is out there as seen with your naked eyes, is exactly the same through the optical viewfinder, allowing you to compose the scene as is. The optical viewfinder itself is a good enough reason for me to stay faithful with a DSLR, any DSLR in fact.

4) The Crowd is Not Ready

We cannot expect everyone to be educated about the latest technological developments in the world of photography, which is happening at a rather crazy pace. Not everyone knows about what mirrorless system is, and to be honest, not many people care. To the general public, it may be a stylish camera that takes good quality pictures, and they do not “look professional”. DSLR has been around the market for so long, in fact, the SLR line of cameras since the film days have been dominating the general opinion of what typical standards of “professional” equipments should look like, when a photographer is in question. Imagine you show up at your client’s wedding, and whip out a cute Olympus E-PM1 and the tiny 45mm lens. Anyone would have thought that it is a compact point and shoot camera !!

I know that clients will choose the photographers, and engage them based on their impression seeing the photographer’s work, most likely through digital portfolio or prints. Nonetheless, not having the “aura” of a working professional photographer will surely put you to a disadvantage, when you are up against the big boys using monster full frame cameras. Size matters, it is a fact that everyone knows, and people respect, whether they understand the logic behind the camera size difference or not. You may outperform other photographers with your experience and skills, though you use smaller size camera by optimizing its output, but you cannot change the general crowd's mentality that leans towards “larger camera is better” and “longer lens is more powerful”. When its business, its business, and when you shoot, you demand instant response and you need that respect going on. Unfortunately, having cute, tiny, shiny cameras will not earn you that kind of immediate respect. If people wonder why the official photographer is not using a big black box instead of that small silver sparkly toy, then you are in serious trouble.

I am not saying that larger cameras will forever be in the mindset of the crowd. For now, they are just not ready yet.








I have a lot more reasons why I still prefer DSLR for my paid assignment, but those are just minor points, such as shorter battery life, less shortcut buttons for quick access to important settings, less optimized for external flash use, etc etc, which many of you may have known already.

I am sure, sooner rather than later, all those issues will be addressed in the newer releases of mirrorless camera systems. It is rather clear at the moment most of the mirrorless system are designed to cater for hobbyists and photo-enthusiasts only. We have not really had pro-level mirrorless cameras yet.

Do you shoot with a DSLR or a mirrorless camera? Or both? Do share your thoughts ! What do you see in the future of photography equipments?

17 comments:

  1. Agree with you, should have to own both then.. LOL

    Batteries, quick access settings, flashes usage is truely the benefits of a DSLR..

    But handling really that much effect on taking a photo? Hmm.. but I do agree better handling = longer shooting period.. a photographer should compare the specification of a camera to choose the suitable one for own use right? Is handling really a problem when using it for long period of shooting? Heavier vs Handling = which worse? Using a heavier camera but better handling is better than using a light weight camera but bad handling feels?

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  2. Have to agree with you why DSLR is still required especially point 4. I uses Pen system 99% but if there is any events or weddings shoot which is paid. I will rent a DSLR just for "show". But a DSLR with a external bounced flash however is still important and DSLR in this view has a better balance. Most laymen will prefer to see their paid photographer has a big black camera. For my voluntary church event shoots when flash is not allowed, my pen with the bright lens does the job well:-)

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  3. Hello Anonymous,
    Thanks for agreeing and the support.
    For the handling vs weight part, I apologize for not being more specific. Perhaps, the heavier body is required to balance heavier lenses, such as tele-photo zoom lens. On Olympus PEN, even the native micro 4/3 lenses such as 14-150mm and the 75-300mm feel out of balance when coupled with any PEN body.

    Hi James,
    Thanks for agreeing, also, I must say the mentality of "DSLR as professional system" will be phased out, just that for now, it is not the case.
    You were right, coupling with fast lenses, non-flash photography is now very good on mirrorless systems.

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  4. I just like to add, that I do not think DSLR will be phase-out especially to the true professionals. There is a great need of super fast ZOOMs and "full frame" requirements. However, I am always wondering why novices and hobbists are still using DSLR for leisure shoots, print smaller than poster size and putting into web sizes photo into the computer. I believe one day DSLR will be made for Pro only.

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  5. Hello James,
    For now, mirrorless system cannot match the capabilities of the higher end DSLR system. But with the advent of electronic shutter (promising greater FPS) and more and more reliable AF system, the potential for the mirrorless to grow is still unknown. DSLR has reached its peak, and it does seem like the progress cannot be pushed that much further anymore.

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  6. It's not the tech or the mechanism, it's what the thing does. Robin's right, DSLR tends to be sizeable due to the pentraprism, the mirror, width came from old film roll span. And lenses were about like that as well, no limit on size and f/2.0

    When Mirrorless came out, the focus was on pocket size and market price - body and lens. This limits the size of the body and the lens. However, mirrorless does not have to be small - the tech does not need it to be small, you can make a full frame mirrorless with f/2 zoom but it is the request of the marketing dept that mirrorless does not get into that. Plus Canon and Nikon seriously want their DSLR body and lens to sell forever - making a mirrorless of the same size to compete with their income stream does not make sense

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  7. Thanks Ananda for elaborating further. Yeap, the big players want to squeeze out as much as they can from their still profitable DSLR business. The fact is that Mirrorless is a real threat, and is quickly evolving and getting more attention than ever before. Exciting times ahead !!

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  8. I agree with you, as I shoot professionally with an E-5 and some amazing lenses. I do use my E-PL1 for fun but have impressed friends and family with the quality images and camera abilities. I don't think I could do what I do with the lenses I need to use with a mirrorless camera. BTW, some fantastic wedding images, great stuff with the FL-36 flash too!

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  9. hello Carl,
    Thanks for agreeing, and this is important coming from a fellow shooter who uses E-5 and the lovely Zuiko lenses !

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  10. I believe the big players like Canon and Nikon could be vulnerable to someone that dares to make a full frame professional mirrorless camera. Perhaps not now, but soon. And it could really be disruptive, with the big players clinging tight to their DSLR despite the fact that everyone suddenly stops buying them. That has happened before.

    As for me, I love my E-P3. I'm very new to photography and I have deliberately avoided to learn some stuff that are pretty essential, like flash. Or rather, I'll learn that later. But I already have a lot of lenses. The 45mm/1.8, the 7,5 mm Samyang fisheye, the 14-42 and 40-150 kit lenses and the Voigtländer Nokton 25mm/0.95.

    The great thing is that it all fits in one small bag that almost weighs noting. I can walk with it the whole day without problems. So I'm always ready to experiment with lenses.

    On the other hand, it seems like so far not too many of the lenses for Micro 4/3 are top-notch. I like the Nokton and the 45mm, they are fast and tack sharp and the colors of the 45mm are lovely. The Samyang is also pretty nice if one likes fisheyes. But I still haven't seen a telephoto that really makes me drool. I'm a windsurfer so I want to shoot windsurfers, I want longer than 150 mm. And my impression so far is that the choice stands between sharp but slow Olympus and faster but not as sharp Panasonic. Ok, I left the tripod at home when I tried them both but I still got the impression that the Olympus produced sharper pictures. I still have the feeling that the Zuiko Digital 50-200 leaves them both in the dust. Not to mention the big and super-expensive primes.

    But then, both lenses seem capable of way more sharpness than I have achieved in my pretty short test sessions...

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  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  12. I used to shoot Nikon DSLR, and it was a very polished system. Nikon has been making SLRs for decades, and during that time their engineers have ironed out all the rough little edges. What remains is a system that works, and does so without getting in the way of the photographer.

    Mirrorless cameras have only been around for about four years. During that time, mirrorless design has progressed tremendously, but but there are still a few irritating little bugs to be ironed out. These include solving the viewfinder problem, making lenses that interact properly with camera bodies (Panasonic primes make "rattlesnake" noises on Olympus bodies), better battery life, and improving the ergonomics.

    Mirrorless is the future, though. No doubt about it. Why carry 5kg when you can carry 1kg?

    The best approach for consumers, I think, is to buy the best lenses you can afford. Bodies go out of date very quickly these days, but a good lens can last decades.

    I've invested heavily in Olympus's M. Zuiko line - the 45mm f1.8 (my best lens), the 12mm f2.0 (fairly sharp), the 14-42 IIR (quite good at the short end) and 40-150 ED (good value).

    My E-P3 will be an old camera by next year, but those lenses will last until I'm an old man.

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  13. Hello Rasmus,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insight about the development of mirrorless system.
    And you have such great set of lenses !!! I am sure you are loving what that F0.95 can do, and oh my, the fisheye must be darn gorgeous.
    I agree with you that Micro 4/3 still lack top quality zoom lenses, and I know first hand, because I own that awesome 50-200mm lens, which I love very much. I am sure sooner or later such lenses will be made for mirrorless systems, the only question is how small can they make it, and at what compromise?

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  14. Hello Newzild,
    Sorry, the double posted comment was deleted.
    I agree that Nikon is technically very superior, and they did polish the edges and smoothen the rough ends of their camera system very well. I really admire them for that.
    And what you mentioned about investing in lenses more is true. Lenses will last very long, and if they can deliver the image quality, they will continue to do so even with the change of sensors on different cameras. That is also the reason why the price of lenses never drops !!

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  15. Hello Robin,

    Have u heard? The new olympus camera is called OM-D equipped with a 16MP sensor probably from the Panasonic G3/GX1. Can't wait for Feb to come. Hopefully you'll be testing this camera for us once again.

    Eric form Edmonton Alberta

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  16. Hello Eric,
    Yes I am following the news closely. Hopefully I can get my hands on them too !! If I do, you guys will hear it in this blog first.

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