This blog is by the photography enthusiast for the photography enthusiasts. There will be articles about basics of photography and also about the current happenings in the photography world.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Which mirrorless camera should I buy?

        This is a tricky question. When you buy any interchangeable lens camera then it is assumed that you will stick with the same camera system for many years until something revolutionary happens in the camera market. So, you need to decide this once and for all and that is pretty difficult. Choosing a camera system requires a prior knowledge of some basic specifications and thereby the pros and cons of different systems. In the last article I explained the most important difference between a DSLR/Mirrorless and point & shoot cameras lies in the sensor size and in the lens interchange ability. Unfortunately all  mirrorless cameras do not host the sensors of same size and hence you cannot make a fair comparison between them. But, if you know what properties you want in your camera then it is fairly straight forward. So, let's look one by one.

1. Olympus/Panasonic micro 4/3 cameras:

        These two companies started all this mirrorless business and hence they are surely the market leaders. Their cameras are fairly tiny compared to DSLRs but they host a smaller sensor than the DSLR sensors. But, the sensor is quite big compared to the point and shoot which is a benefit in low light performance and some other aspects like the ability to defocus backgrounds though it is not as capable as DSLRs. So, the image quality is in between of compact point & shoots and DSLRs but it is more close to DSLRs. There are some very advanced cameras like Olympus OM-D EM-5 which are very well received by the reviewers and photography enthusiasts. OM-D EM-5 is by far the most capable camera of this system and is also pricey (priced at 1.5-2 times that of entry level DSLR) but most beloved camera. Olympus has Pen series of cameras and Panasonic has cameras with G series in this section. The other advantage of these cameras is that they host in body stabilization system which compensates for the hand shake to get sharp images. The autofocus system is by far the best among other mirroless cameras (except Nikon). This camera system has wide range of lens collection with some very fast, optically sound prime lenses which makes this system very much interesting for street photographers.

Pros: small and lite, lenses are also small compared to DSLR lenses due to smaller sensor, best and fast autofocus system, best in body stabilisation
Cons: small sensor size and hence not so good low light performance

2. Sony Nex series:

            This is the second most well received and beloved camera system after Olympus. And the biggest advantage of Nex series over micro 4/3 systems is the sensor size - they host a DSLR sized sensor in small bodies. The bodies of Nex cameras are very much similar in size to the micro 4/3 cameras but the lenses for this system could not be made as small as the lenses of micro 4/3 system. The Nex cameras use very latest Sony sensors and hence their low light performance is extremely good and it even beats some entry/mid level DSLRs in that domain. The sensor market is completely dominated by Sony now i.e. almost every camera manufacturer now uses Sony sensors and hence Nex cameras get added advantage of their latest technology. The other advantage of all the mirrorless cameras in general is that almost any lens made on Earth can be used on mirrorless cameras using adapters in manual focus mode and Sony's Nex cameras have better functionality like focus peaking which is very useful with these manual lenses. The cameras have / can accept the best electronic view finder in the market.

Pros: large sensor and thereby good low light performance and better background defocus, better functionality for manual lenses, best electronic view finder
Cons: The native lens collection for this system (that is the lenses that work without adapter) is not as good as micro 4/3s and autofocus is a little bit sluggish but is is supposed to be better in the latest models such as Nex 5R and Nex 6

3. Fuji X series - X-Pro 1 and X-E1:

            Sony was the first camera to make large sensor mirrorless cameras which is followed by Fuji and Cannon. Fuji made enthusiast/pro centered cameras which are very great in their own respect. They used lots of control buttons and dials with their first mirrorless X-Pro 1 which makes it very capable camera. Fuji came of with some very innovative features in this camera. They used a different colour filter array on their sensor which delivers very sharp images which is unbeatable by any DSLR/mirrorless on the market (except few pricey cameras like Nikon D800E). They used a hybrid view finder which is unique and very well received. They came with lots of prime lenses which are very good in image quality. So, in all they centered this camera around photography enthusiasts/pros which already know photography tools. They have came up with a cheaper and less complicated system X-E1 this year which is direct competitor to Sony's Nex 7. The biggest flaw in their system though was very slow autofocus system which is claimed to be improved by the latest firmware update of the camera. The other advantage of these cameras is that they can produce photos which look similar to photos taken by film cameras which is liked by many established photographers.

Pros: Nice build and good controls, nice set of lenses, unbeatable image quality,hybrid view finder, 
Cons: slow autofocus, large in size, expensive, not suitable for beginners

4. Cannon EOS M:

            Cannon recently came up with their mirrorless camera EOS M which is very similar to its DSLR brother EOS 650 D. The large sensor has same benefits over micro 4/3s as Nex and Fuji's X cameras. The camera can use Cannon's extensive DSLR lens collection via adapter. This is a big advantage for cannon DSLR owners. But, the size advantege of mirrorless camera is lost if an adapter and DSLR lens is used with it. The native lens collection is very much limited for this camera as the system is new.

Pros: large sensor, usability of cannon lenses with autofocus
Cons: native lens collection is very much limited, no view finder, little bit overpriced for its category, autofocus system is not at par

5. Nikon 1 system:

            Nikon came up with their mirrorless cameras in exactly opposite mindset of the Fuji company. Nikon targeted basic point and shoot upgraders who wants a advanced camera with better image quality than their compact cameras but does not want the complexity of the DSLR camera functionality. So, Nikon came up with their 1 system with sensor even smaller than the micro 4/3 cameras but still larger than normal point and shoot. So, these cameras are more close to point and shoot cameras than DSLRs in terms of image quality, low light performance, etc. But, they brought the best autofocus system into the mirrorless market which gives some extraordinary properties to these cameras like object tracking and 10 frames per second burst mode. This is by far the most advertised mirrorless camera.

Pros: Small and light, more like a point and shoot, small lenses, very fast and accurate autofocus
Cons: small sensor, small native lens collection

6. Samsung Nx cameras:

            The Nikon 1 is the most advertised mirrorless camera system and Samsung is the least advertised system. But, they have very interesting cameras and lenses. The advantage of Samsung Nx cameras is the sensor size is same as DSLR cameras. But, Samsung did not made its camera smaller and its size is quite similar to DSLRs and this is probably the most disadvantageous thing for this system. But, the lens collection is very good for this system.

Pros: large sensor, nice and extensive collection of lenses
Cons: Bigger than the other mirrorless counterparts, poor battery life

            I hope I have explained you the pros and cons of each system to you to make a decision. But, it is always better to compare cameras one to one and read lots of reviews about the cameras you are interested in. This article will just help you to start your research about latest cameras in the market. I will recommend to visit following sites to compare your desired camera properties.

Recommended cameras:
1. Sony Nex 7
2. Fuji XE-1
3. Olympus OM-D EM-5

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Buying Guide - DSLR v/s Point & Shoot and What about Mirrorless?

        This question is very common among new camera buyers who does not have in depth knowledge of the pros and cons of these three types. Three years ago, the question was what to buy - a DSLR or compact point & shoot, but a third category has emerged since last three years namely Mirrorless Cameras. There were some advanced compact camera systems, which still exist, and are called as Bridge Cameras which are nothing but the advanced versions of compact point and shoot cameras. The bridge cameras are mainly used by DSLR owners as a 2nd camera or backup camera for everyday shooting and hence they want it to be light and preferably pocketable. So, camera companies started developing these bridge cameras. Looking at the success of these new systems, two companies Olympus and Panasonic came up with the idea of mirrorless cameras which is now taken up by almost every camera manufacturers. So, going back to the main question - which camera do I need and what features should I look in the available cameras to suit my needs. Let me tell you one thing, "There is no perfect camera in the market and it will never be". But, there are plenty of cameras with many good features which could fulfill your requirements more or less. So, let me start to describe the differences one by one.

        The most important part of the camera is its sensor which detects light photons and converts them into electrical signal which is then converted into a digital image by camera electronics. The major difference between a compact point & shoot cameras and DSLRs lies in their sensor size - DSLRs have almost 4 times bigger sensor than compact point & shoots. The sensor size is an important parameter in deciding the quality of images you get as larger sensors have more collecting area which means it collects more light for a given situation. This is a critical issue when you want to capture a good photo in dark conditions like shooting in a dawn/dusk or indoor shooting. So, for such low light conditions, DSLRs are far better than the compact point & shoots. DSLRs collect as much as 13 times more light than the compact cameras as they have bigger sensors.

        Large sensors have one more advantage - they separate the background and the object quite easily. What is this background separation and why should you bother it at all? The advanced cameras can defocus everything except the object on or near the focus plane.This separates the object from background and/or foreground and makes the object more prominent and obvious. This is real boon for photography. If you are shooting your spouce in a crowded market then DSLRs will help you like anything. :) But, of course nothing is perfect in this world and there are some disadvantages of large sensors as well. Big sensors require big lenses which makes the system heavy. And some times small sensors have some advantages in some situations like they provide small field of view which is useful to grab small details (in non technical language - have large zoom) while DSLRs require very large lens for this. Also, sometimes the ability not to defocus the background is useful in some situations like macro photography for which special techniques are required on DSLRs.

        The second important part of the camera is its lens - rather lens is "The Most Important" part in photography. As you might be knowing it already that the DSLRs have ability to change their lenses while compact cameras come with a fixed lens. One would argue why at all one would want to change the lens of a camera and indeed many entry level DSLR holders have only one lens with them and they do not use the ability of their DSLRs fully. One can certainly take good photographs with the kit lens that comes with the DSLR camera, but it is not the ideal lens made on Earth. Lens and sensor have some of their features common - like camera's ability to separate the object from background is decided by both - the sensor and the lens. Also, the camera's ability to capture good photos in low light is decided by both. You can't change the sensor, but you can change the lens. So, if there is possibility to change the lens in your camera then you have more control over these two parameters. And no lens is perfect - lenses have some defects of which some could be minimised at the expense of others. So, quality of lenses vary a lot and you will require different lenses for different situations. And there are some lenses made for special purposes. So, again DSLRs are more versatile than compact point and shoot in terms of usability of different lenses.

        There are vast majority of other differences like good quality optical view finder, more control over differet camera parameters like ISO, Aperture, Exposure, Flash, focussing mode, autofocus technique, etc which are somewhat less stricking than the Sensor and the Lens (apart from this, the compacts now provide many more controls than they usually did few years back). And there is one stricking difference which is on the negative side for DSLRs and obviously on the most positive side for compacts is the size and the weight (and for that matter the price). So, we see, there are huge differences in two camera systems. Camera companies came up then with a new idea - "Let's develope a compact DSLR". It sounds great and simple but, it was a challange to make DSLRs small and yet make it efficient enough for the use of professional camera users. The companies invested huge amounts money in research and developement for this and the new camera system was born and that is "The Mirrorless Cameras".

So what is the mirrorless camera?

        The autofocus technique of compacts uses sensor information to focus on the object. It uses iterative process to achieve the focus. This works quite well for small sensors, but takes a lot of time to focus for large sensors. So, DSLRs don't use this system. They use a mirror to split the light - one part goes to the view finder and one part to the dedicated autofocus sensors (which are small). This autofocus technique is out of the scope to explain in this article but, I can only tell you that it is very fast as it tells the lens exactly how much it should move to get the focus (does not require any iterative process at all). This mirror and autofocus technique takes huge amount of space and it is bulky which makes DSLRs heavy and big. So, companies came up with an idea to use the autofocus technique used in compacts for DSLR sensors. This was not possible until the computer processor technology got advanced. So, mirrorless cameras have all the prominent features of DSLRs i.e. big sensor and lens interchangability in much smaller and lighter bodies. This revolutionised the DSLR world. Mirrorless market is growing day by day and at some time it will surely make entry level DSLRs disappear from the market.

        So, I would definitely suggest anyone now to buy a mirrorless camera than entry level DSLR because there lies the future. Now, let's come to real world situation. The mirrorless camera system is comparatively new and hence does not have some of the prime features of DSLRs yet though they are on the horizon. For example, the lens selection for mirrorless system is limited but is growing rapidly. But, this may not bother you at the initial stage for sure and by the time you will require one - there might be one available by then for your needs. The other drawback of some mirrorless cameras is lack of view finder. View finder is important for photography and is critical for day time shooting when LCD screen is barely visible. But, there are new mirrorless cameras in the market that have an electronic view finder which is in my opinion better than the optical one in DSLRs. The other real life situation that might bother someone is that the big shots in DSLR market i.e. Cannon and Nikon have very recently came up with thier mirrorless cameras, but they are not at all competative with the mirrorless cameras made by companies like Sony, Olympus, Fuji, Panosonic, Samsung, etc. The leader companies in mirrorless market are Olympus and Sony which have great camera systems in the market.

        To summerise,

Compact point & shoot:

Pros: Cheap, light, small
Cons: Small sensors, less controls


Pros: Large sensors, adaptable to various lenses, good controls over paramters, fast autofocus
Cons: Heavy and big, pricy


Pros: Large Sensors, adaptable to various lenses, controls better than point & shoot, light and small
Cons: autofocus speed between DSLRs and compacts, less control buttons/dials than DSLRs, bigger and heavy compared to compacts

        It is not possible here to describe pros and cons of one mirrorless system over other and I would write a separate article to describe it in comprehensive manner. But, I hope, I have made my point clear that mirrorless cameras have clear advantage on entry level DSLRs and I will explain you in my next article that there are some mirrorless cameras which compete even with pro level DSLRs. So, keep tuned with my blog for next articles. Comments and critics are welcome.