In Camera Tips – Part 1 we discussed the move from analogue to digital photography, camera function basics and different formats aka sensor sizes. In Part 2 we will describe the advantages and disadvantages (if any) of modern digital camera systems and compare cameras with mirrors and mirrorless cameras.
Different Digital Camera Systems
What does different digital camera systems mean? Today we are in the lucky situation that we can find complete systems built around all different sensor sizes we discussed in Part 1 like 1”-, 43-, m43 (micro 43)-, APSC-, FF-, and MF (medium format)-sensors. We will get into some more details about these systems soon, but what are the major decision criteria for a specific system or better sensor size?
We already got out of the way in Part 1 that sensor size should not be the major determining factor when it comes to decent image quality even in low light situations. Sensor and processing technology have come a long way and that means that even smaller sensors can achieve great IQ today for the average shooter, that is more than enough for most of the photographic situations we can find ourselves in.
Sure enough there will always be arguments for professional usage like resolution combined with best high ISO capabilities that would make the choice of larger sensors preferable. But I can tell you from my experiences that even with the prior generation of m43 sensor based cameras I was already able to master the most demanding situations and get great results and with the latest incarnations of these cameras it is only getting better.
While we see that final IQ will not necessarily get noticeably better with bigger sensors the significant advantages of a smaller sensor based systems are generally lower price and smaller cameras and lenses. Again 43 or today m43 (micro four third, that is using the 43-sensor but without the mirror) allows cameras and lenses to be built smaller delivers today 20MP resolution with stunning low noise at high sensitivity up to ISO6400 and even sometimes ISO12800.
So why choose a FF camera system, if already an m43-based system can deliver what we want with the benefit of lower weight, smaller size and considerably lower price? The true answer besides higher resolution is how the system (sensor and lenses) renders out of focus areas in our images often also referred to as bokeh that is the visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image, especially as rendered by a particular lens. Now to make even this argument melt away it is worth to mention that all modern smaller than FF camera systems offer at least one or most times even more very fast lenses that are delivering beautiful and dreamy-soft bokeh.
I am using primarily an APSC as well as an m43 system besides my FF system and especially when travelling for example on safari a smaller and lighter camera system is a real advantage. Just think about carry on luggage in airplanes or also the weight you constantly have to lug around with a FF system. And on top of that a smaller sensor based system becomes increasingly cheaper compared to what you would have to invest in a FF system. Finally also updating cameras to the ever-newest models is reasonably cheaper whenever you need or desire to do so.
DSLR (Mirror) versus CSC (Mirrorless)
What is now the big hype about a mirrorless based on a so-called CSC (Compact System Camera) versus a mirror systems based on a so-called DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex)? If you consider that there is a senor in each digital camera that produces the final image (or video) one of the big benefits is that the final image can be visualized in real time during the photographic process. It is a be big benefit for the photographer to view the image in the viewfinder exactly the same way as the final image would look like – exposure, exposure compensation, colour (what white balance you use), how good one can see the shadows and highlights (controlling the dynamic range), any black and white setting etc. already before taking the final image.
This is only possible when using a screen that shows the image the camera and sensor sees in real time. This screen could be the back screen of the digital camera, but we all know how cumbersome this can become when you have to work in bright sunlight. But the screen is put into the viewfinder, the disturbing influence of external light is gone and you can view a high-resolution image in the so-called Electronic View Finder (EVF). Today EVFs have become so good that many photographers including myself prefer them compared to the old-school Optical View Finders (OVFs) of DSLRs.
But there is another big benefit of mirrorless and this is the lack of the mirror. This allows not only to build the camera much smaller, as you do no longer need the mirror and mirrorbox, but you also get rid of any shake introduced by the swinging mirror during the picture taking process. And this is actually the most sensible part of the whole photographic process, as any camera shake should be avoided during that phase as good as possible.
While all this pros and cons can easily result in religious discussions about the benefits of one concept over the other I would recommend you just try it yourself if you can live with an EVF or not. I definitely can and now use all the advantages of seeing any of my dialled in parameters already before and while I take the picture. This means I have to do much less control after the shot in reviewing the result on the camera back screen. That is a huge advantage especially in dynamic situations like safaris can easily become.
Learn more about cameras and wildlife photography with our Specialist Safaris.
Peter Tomsu for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa