Chances are, you really don’t need something as bulky or expensive as a DSLR if you just want to take photos as a hobby. In fact, mirrorless cameras available at fraction of the cost of their DSLR counterparts are already starting to match (if not exceed) the quality and feature list of the larger mirrored cameras.
There are a few compelling reasons to go the DSLR route, especially if you intend to take your hobby to a more professional level down the line. DSLR bodies are easily upgradeable while lenses and other accessories carry over between one body to another very easily.
In this article, we’ll a quick look at the reasons you might want a DSLR as well as some of the reasons you really don’t need one.
Before I get into it, I’d just like to state that I’m writing to the amateur hobbyist and not the professional. Professional photographers generally leap past the entry-level DSLR market and stick to mid-range and high-end selections such as the 5D Mark III and Nikon D4. This comparison is largely based between mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras and entry-level DSLRs.
Why You Would Want a DSLR
DSLR cameras of any level (entry to professional) offer an extremely good feature set to the user. If you’re tired of the simplicity of point-and-shoot cameras and would like to move up to something more professional, then you’re likely considering a DSLR.
Five years ago, I would have considered the line between mirrorless cameras and DSLRs to be well-defined. Interchangeable lenses weren’t a feature you’d see on small-frame mirrorless cameras except for rare exceptions. A DSLR is large enough to house a full frame sensor. This enables you to take full advantage of your lenses and capture a larger and more detailed photo.
Manual controls have long been an advantage almost exclusively offered to the larger and more advanced DSLR. Whether you prefer to shoot in aperture priority or full manual mode, even the most cost-efficient DSLR would likely suit your needs just fine. Even today, only a handful of point-and-shoot cameras offer full manual control, and it’s rarely particularly accessible to the user.
Mirrorless cameras also don’t gain the advantage of a true viewfinder. At best, you get either a pass-through optical window or a digital version that replicates what you would see on the screen in a viewfinder form. DSLRs have mirrors or prisms in them that gives you a near-exact view of exactly what the sensor sees in the viewfinder. You don’t have to worry about bright lights behind you making it hard to see what it is that you’re taking a picture of.
DSLRs still have better battery life than smaller cameras. This means more shots and a longer stand-by time when you need it most.
As a blogger, I know that one noticeable difference between shooting with a DSLR and a standard smaller camera is that people seem to take you a bit more seriously when you have a more professional looking camera. It’s a funny thing, but just try asking for an interview from someone using a point-and-shoot versus a DSLR with a sizable lens. The old saying among photojournalists is that by perception: The bigger the camera; the more important the photographer.
Why You Probably Don’t Need a DSLR
If you really want to step up from your point-and-shoot cameras and just want to capture excellent photos, you’ll probably find a mirrorless interchangeable camera more to your liking. The Sony NEX 5R, Canon EOS M, and Nikon 1 each offer exceptional photo (and video) quality that matches that of some of the best entry-level DSLRs.
In the case of the Canon EOS M, the sensor and internal components are pretty much an exact match for the Canon T4i (650D) that costs more and takes up considerably more room in your camera bag. In addition, the Canon EOS M (like many other mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras) can use the same lenses as its DSLR cousins with a simple adapter. It might be a bit front-heavy, but it works and looks just fine.
You also gain the advantage of having a camera people don’t mind having their photos taking with quite as much. When shooting in public people tend to avoid folks that have massive cameras and ignore the ones shooting with something roughly the same size as a point-and-shoot.
If you travel a lot, then you’ll appreciate not having a large camera with extra lenses in your bag. The fatigue of holding a DSLR sets in much faster than it does with a lighter and smaller mirrorless equivalent.
If you shoot a lot of video, there are still plenty of advantages associated with using a traditional digital camcorder. Even with some of the best lens stabilization options, DSLRs don’t typically respond well to camera shake during filming. CMOS sensors in DSLRs are also a bit more susceptible to rolling shutter than mid-range camcorders which have been optimized to shoot video.
You might gain the advantage of having better low-light performance and more interchangeable lenses at a lower price, but for the average user an equally priced camcorder will make life easier for you in a wider range of usage scenarios.