Model Photography

Photo taken with the Olympus mirrorless OM-D, E-M! system.

WYSIWYG Is Better Than Chimping

For those that follow my photography blog, you know I’ve written two articles that explored the mirrorless camera paradigm shift. I wasn’t the first photographer however to enter the mirrorless camera discussions, you can find them all over the Internet, from forums to blogs, and with those discussions you’ll read everything from a paradigm shift to the claims that DSLRs will always be here. While the later is probably true, there is one thing no one can debate, mirrorless cameras are ever evolving for the better.

In fact most people, even the staunch DSLR diehards, don’t even realize that if they posses a smart phone, like an iPhone or Android with a built-in camera, it’s a mirrorless camera system. True that! Hence why I wrote this article for Americano Dream quiz section, to educate you with the differences and improvements instead of an argument of which system is better. The idea is to inform you so you can make your own decision based on the differences between DSLR and mirrorless cameras today—oh, and there is a quiz at the end that will not only challenge you, but help you see this ongoing debate in a different manner—please pass it on to others, thanks!

Now each system has it’s pro’s and cons, but I will tell you, some of the top photographers and camera reviewers are consenting recently that mirrorless cameras have gained ground on matching almost everything a DSLR camera provides—some are even calling it a “draw.” In fact mirrorless cameras have some advantages you can’t find, at least in equal match, on a DSLR today—like face and eye recognition tracking at the sensor.

Let’s look at why new mirrorless cameras are better at face and eye (the newest and upcoming technology) tracking than DSLRs. First, the focusing is being done at the sensor, not through a mirror reflection sensor combination, as is in the case of phase detection focusing DSLRs where there are two mirrors in the camera body. Yes, DSLRs have the traditional mirror that blocks the sensor and allows you to see what you’re capturing, aka the main mirror, but they also have a “secondary mirror” used for phase detection focusing. In DSLR cameras, a secondary mirror passes light entering the camera through the lens and reflects it back to the phase detection sensors “at the bottom of the camera chamber.”

Most top pros don’t even now this little known fact, especially those that shot film before transitioning to DSLR cameras because they “grew up” with one mirror in film SLRs. We just assumed that the noise the DSLR camera makes is from that one mirror that has to rise and fall, or slap, which also creates movement of air and dust with each shot taken. The secondary mirror requires calibrated alignment to the phase detection focusing sensors at a distinct angle and any misalignment, which can happen over time, will cause some of the focusing points to remain sharp, but others to mis-focus.

This is the main reason when photographers complain to support technicians about DSLR focusing issues with a specific lens that the support department asks for both the lens and the camera body—they must check alignment both in angle and distance of the phase detection sensors to the secondary mirror plus lens calibration. Mirrorless cameras don’t have this issue, as there are no mirrors!

Phase detection is the most accurate and quickest form of focusing in camera systems but in the case of mirrorless cameras, the phase detection sensors on the newer camera models are on the sensor itself. Do your research though, as not all mirrorless cameras come with phase detection focusing systems and instead use contrast detection for focusing, however, that is fast becoming a thing of the past and some newer mirrorless cameras use a hybrid form of both phase and contrast detection. While once upon a time this was the “original” main drawback about mirrorless cameras, it’s fast becoming a thing of the past and a great example is the Olympus OM-D, EM-1, which uses a hybrid focusing system that on the fly utilizes either phase or contrast detection focusing, or both, depending on the lens and camera settings used during capture.

So before we move on to other differences between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, let’s be clear, focusing is fast becoming a non-issue when it comes to speed and accuracy between both systems and with mirrorless, you actually have extremely accurate face recognition and face tracking at the sensor that you can’t match with DSLRs. Thus, the argument of DSLRs having better focusing systems than mirrorless cameras is out the window as long as you do your research between the different mirrorless camera models.

My first mirrorless camera system was the Olympus OM-D, EM-1 and I immediately fell in love with how it “recognized” my subject’s face. Basically the green focusing square turns to white when it “locks on.” If I keep my finger slightly depressing the shutter release button, regardless whether my subject or I move, the camera keeps tracking on my subject’s face (the white focusing square moves instantly to show you this) and gives me dead-on focusing accuracy—probably ten times better than “focus tracking” found on high-end DSLR’s. There is a difference between focus tracking through a mirror before it hits the sensor and face recognition focus tracking directly on the capture sensor.

I photographed NBA basketball of the San Antonio Spurs on the court for five years and the hardest thing any NBA photographer will tell you is following a player running down the court and keeping accurate focus—whether you do it manually or with auto-focus tracking, it’s difficult. While I no longer shoot NBA games, I can attest that this facial recognition focus tracking is by far better than what I’ve ever experienced with any DSLR system while a subject is moving, plus it allows me to move too, which comes in handy if I’m using a prime lens.

Mirrorless Cameras

Mirrorless cameras obviously don’t use mirrors, but they do capture reflections well.

Since the focusing on mirrorless cameras has evolved to amazing levels and is as good or better than top DSLR’s, let’s look at the biggest drawback when it comes to the mirrorless camera systems—battery drain. Mirrorless cameras have a higher battery drain than DSLRs because they use electronic viewfinders and like your smart phone, which is basically a large electronic viewfinder, this drains batteries. Now I can live with that, and this is sure to improve with new technology for cameras and batteries, because the simple solution is to just carry a spare battery. I might add, I don’t do the “spray and pray” shooting technique I see many photographers practice, I do my best to make every shot count, so battery drain is literally a nonexistent problem for me because of my shooting style. This is one drawback any photographer can minimize with better shooting habits and a spare battery if necessary.

Now back to where mirrorless cameras kickbutt—WYSIWYG—yes the old “whizzywig” is something you will not get, at least not in the viewfinder with a DSLR because mirrorless cameras use an electronic, “live view” viewfinder (EVF) not an optical viewfinder (OVF) found on most DSLRs. This EVF allows me to keep my eye on the viewfinder piece as I’m shooting and I can even turn one of the thumb dials on top of the camera to make aperture, shutter speed, or in the case of the Olympus OM-D EM-1, even an over or under exposure compensation adjustment. I can even change my white balance on the fly and see the results “exactly” like the final image outcome in the viewfinder without removing my shooting eye.

Try that with a DSLR—not! Sure, you can STOP shooting, view your changes AFTER the capture on your LCD screen or just claim, “Well I’m shooting RAW.” Well I don’t know about you as a photographer, but I like the quicker-than-Polaroid instant effect as I’m capturing my photos because it will leave no doubt I’ve captured exactly what I wanted at that precise shooting moment. Oh, did I mention, I still have my eye right up to the viewfinder as I see these changes on the fly as I’m shooting—have you ever missed a shot at an event because you stopped to look at your LCD screen on a DSLR, or “chimp?” Chimping is so yesterday with mirrorless cameras and WYSIWYG is in—don’t believe me? Well the test is simple, grab your mirrorless smartphone, cover the display screen with one hand while snapping—then look at your results!

Just like iPhones and iPads, when innovations become popular accessories start to increase and this is diminishing the argument you’ll hear from diehard DSLR’ers that there is a lack of lenses for mirrorless camera systems—yep, that was a decent argument—once! While I only know the camera system I’m using, I’m sure other mirrorless manufacturers are doing their part too, but I can’t speak for them, so I’ll stick to what I know and use the Olympus OM-D, EM-1 system as an example.

First, besides being able to use their original lens line from their first DSLR E-system with an adapter, Olympus has the universal four-thirds camera mount system so whether you want to use a Leica, Panasonic, other third-party lenses, or the Olympus lenses, there are many choices with this universal mount. That’s right, with most four-thirds mirrorless camera systems you are not limited to their own brand, most are interchangeable. Not to mention, today there are lenses to cover just about any shooting situation most photographers will encounter.

As an example, one of the newest Olympus “pro” lenses is the M.Zuiko ED 40-150mm f2.8 PRO lens. It actually becomes, with the four-thirds system, an 80-300mm f/2.8 lens DSLR equivalent. Ever priced a DSLR 300mm f/2.8? A camera brand name one usually starts at around $6,000 and up and that’s without image stabilization! The price of the Olympus version is only $1499 brand new out of the box and since the Olympus OM-D, EM-1 camera has an image stabilized sensor as most Olympus cameras do, it’s technically image stabilized once attached to the camera body.

Do the math, an f/2.8 technically image stabilized lens at 300mm for only 25% of the cost of a DSLR non-image stabilized lens. Not a bad deal and in the Olympus lens line you can find lenses that start at 8mm f/1.8 and up plus they even have a “body cap” 9mm lens that acts as a camera body cap, or the full-frame DSLR equivalent of an 18mm fisheye lens—for under $100, seriously, a creative cap!

So let’s review for the quiz before we move forward; one, focusing is no longer an issue that separates the fat cats from the slender felines; two, batteries are an easy fix by making shots count and carrying a spare; three, there are plenty of lens choices and some lens choice equivalents come at 25% the price of DSLR lenses—brand new out of the box.

Speaking of price, mirrorless camera systems are less expensive too, for various reasons including the smaller camera bodies don’t require space for the mirrors and the viewfinder prism. This also makes mirrorless cameras much lighter as gone are the complex mirror mechanisms from springs to dozens of other parts. The lack of the mirror mechanism also results in a decrease from the lens mount to the sensor distance, thus lenses are smaller at the same focal length. This is one time that cheaper doesn’t mean built cheap, a mirrorless camera is less expensive because the body is smaller and has less parts making it less expensive to build and this is passed on to you, the consumer. My second mirrorless camera is the iPhone and it’s not the cheapest smartphone available.

This physical camera body and lens size reduction has left a “misperception” that mirrorless cameras are built less rugged, not necessarily true especially when you consider how much plastic you’ll find in a DSLR. The necessary bigger bulk required for a DSLR camera doesn’t make a photographer more manlier, just more tired when you have to carry one all day with a 70-200mm image stabilized lens. In fact, I often find it an advantage that people don’t perceive me as a professional, especially at public locations, because my camera looks like a point and shoot. Not to mention my camera makes no mirror slapping noise, it’s practically silent. People don’t bother me when I’m shooting as they probably think I’m a tourist and I’m good with that.

One thing you will have less of with a mirrorless camera vs. a DSLR, no vibrations or camera shake from the mirror mechanism moving at a fraction of a second when I capture an image—camera shake is no longer built in! Not to mention mirrorless cameras can have a higher rate of frames per second captured, as the camera is not waiting on a mirror to slap up and down through sequential shooting.

Now some will argue I have more megapixels than you. Well I’m not going to argue because for most printed publications there isn’t anything my mirrorless camera can’t match against a DSLR as printing presses, line screens, don’t need all those mega pixels—the rule of thumb is two times the line screen when it comes to resolution and newspapers run from 65 to 85 line screens and magazines run from 133 on average and high-end publications at 150 or 175 line screens. The math says for a top-notch magazine cover I only need 266 to 350 pixels per inch resolution for the magazine size—easy to achieve with mirrorless just like DSLRs. As I tell many photographers at my photography workshops, don’t get caught up in the marketing hype when it comes to pixels.

There is one thing that isn’t hype, mirrorless cameras have more focusing points, from end to end of the sensor, than DSLR’s because the focusing is done on the sensor, not through mirrors. Mirrors in the camera limit DSLR focus points with the sharpest point in the center area—mirrorless cameras are equally sharp at every point. Gone is the old shooting method of focus, slightly hold the shutter release button, recompose then shoot with a possible focus shift.

Mirrorless cameras allow you to compose, focus and shoot. I might add, it’s tough to focus with the OVF of a DSLR in low light situations as you’re brightness is limited by the minimum aperture of the lens and on a mirrorless camera, you can boost the EVF brightness electronically to almost recreate daylight conditions at night.

Now this leads to another argument that DSLRs have higher ISO sensitivity, and while that holds some truth, depending on camera models being compared, I’m an old film shooter so I’m fine with the ISO 100 to 25,600 range found on my Olympus OM-D, EM-1 as I don’t normally shoot in pitch darkness where I have to feel around for my camera body. Oh, and if you’re wondering about video, mirrorless cameras shoot top-notch video too but I’m not a videographer, I’m a photographer so I’ll let the video professionals dwell over that genre.

Finally, the price, mirrorless cameras and lenses cost about a third or less than most DSLR equivalent systems. For under $5,000 you can purchase a brand new camera body, three, four or maybe five lenses, plus a flash, and still have some change for a few capture cards. Well that about sums it up so let’s take the quiz!

Proceed to the Photography Quiz, click the start quiz button below:

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