For the past few weeks we have been travelling with a pair of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs). This is in place of our usual full frame DSLRs with several lenses. The reason for the change in camera selection is that we were to be spending most of our time in a couple of European cities, on foot and on public transport. This was not to be a “serious” photographic trip and the thought of carrying around heavy camera gear day in and day out was not attractive.
Nonetheless, every photographic opportunity should yield usable images, so we wanted to be able to capture data for processing into expressive images, if the situation arose. So, the choice was made and after nearly 3 weeks of use we have come to some conclusions about our choices of equipment:
Lightness. The complete kit of camera body and two lenses weighs less than the DSLR body only. This is a big difference for day in, day out walking around.
Image quality. The data captured with the cameras processes into good images, most of the time. Occasional slow focus in less than ideal conditions meant a few out of focus shots, but generally, the results are more than acceptable. Low light sees the systems start to struggle at 1600 ISO and higher, however.
Convenience. Having a small camera and consequently a small camera bag is very easy to carry and handle over a long day on foot. There would be times when I would just not bother taking the camera because of the size and weight of a full size system would be unbearable.
Cost. Compared to the equivalent DSLR, small ILCs are less costly to buy and lenses are cheaper and smaller than the full frame equivalent. A full frame Sony Mirrorless system, whilst lighter and more compact than the equivalent Canon/Nikon offerings is no cheaper, at least at the time of writing. We have been using the smaller NEX series bodies and lenses.
Electronic viewfinders are still not as good as an optical viewfinder. Granted, our bodies are a few years old, but the image through the viewfinder is of lower resolution and higher contrast than the captured image when reviewed. This meant that often we thought the scene was too contrasty to capture, when in fact it was quite usable. Low light is another matter, with a very grainy image in the viewfinder.
Response time/Shutter lag. For someone used to a DSLR, even a short lag between pressing the shutter and the capture is quite disconcerting. Trying to follow the action at a sporting event was very hit and miss.
Image quality. Whilst the output from the APS-C format sensors is good, the combination of smaller size and less sophisticated lenses means that for “Serious” photography, my go to system would still be a full frame DSLR. For most situations, the smaller camera is adequate, but for challenging lighting situations it just can't match the full frame body.
High ISO Noise. Whilst the dynamic range of the APS-C mirrorless system is pretty good, it is still not at the level of full frame DSLR, at least not the Nikon system we currently use.
Battery life. Driving an electronic viewfinder and rear screen uses up a lot of battery power. Combined with a smallish battery we would just get a day’s shooting out of one battery. Still adequate for the type of trip we are on, but well short of the 3-4 day’s heavy use the DSLR can handle.
There seem to be more Cons than Pros, but all in all, this type of system is ideal for the type of use we had planned. Whilst there are some compromises, the convenience factor alone outweighs most of the disadvantages and the results we have obtained are more than satisfactory.
So, in the final analysis, is it Mirrorless or DSLR ? For us, the answer is BOTH. For travel and everyday shooting, the mirrorless system is a great option, but for the more challenging situations of low light, critical quality and overall performance, the DSLR still reigns supreme.
These comments are purely a result of our experiences and expectations. Your situation may be different and I know of several serious photographers who are committed to the mirrorless system, although at the higher level than the system we have been using.