Mirrorless cameras are taking over, DSLR's are dying. Everybody says so, it's inevitable. Well, maybe. But even if it's true, there are still some issues with mirrorless cameras that have yet to be solved. I had a day out yesterday with my Nikon Df and several advantages became apparent.
By their very nature, with EVF's and constantly running view screens (Though they can actually be turned off) mirrorless cameras consume more power. But in the light of this, the camera manufacturers (and I would single out Olympus and Fuji particularly for this) seem to deal with this by ignoring it completely. They add ever more power hungry features and keep the same old underpowered battery. And Panasonic with the GH3 / 4 seem to be the only ones to take account of this.
This pretty much ruins any full professional camera aspirations that cameras like the OM-D E-M5 II or the X-T1 might have. It leads to missed shots and a slowing down of the shooting process. Sure, you can turns all sorts of things off, including 'high performance' in the Fuji's, but then reducing the capability of your camera in order to save power is hardly top of a professional photographers priorities. In terms of actual figures, I'm lucky to get 300 shots per battery from any of my Fuji or Olympus cameras, My Nikon Df will give me 1000+ shots on one battery charge.
DSLR's are still faster
Even with the improvements that have been made with mirrorless cameras, my Nikon Df still 'gets the shot in the can' faster. Some mirrorless cameras have fast AF, but then this gets held up by the peculiar 'double action' shutter. Presumably this is because the shutter is 'open' to let the EVF and screen run and then has to be closed, then opened again to take the shot. Whatever the reason it's a slower process than the instant reaction of my Nikon, which is so fast at focusing and capturing the image, it almost seems to be anticipating what I want. So if you really need to 'get the shot' DSLR's still do that quicker.
I addition to this, because there's less to start up, DSLR's still turn on and are usually ready for shooting in an instant. Some cameras, particularly my Sony FE's, take an age to start up. Again, unless I keep my mirrorless cameras constantly 'fired up' (and therefore of course drain the power even more) I will miss shots. Personally with what I shoot, it's hardly ever an issue, but just occasionally it is.
Mirrorless over complication and over population
The Leica T is a shining example of how to avoid this, but all my mirrorless cameras seem to be unable to exist without pages and pages of menu options and god knows how many dials, wheels and buttons dotted about the cameras 'real estate.' And they always seem to position at least one in a position where I'm constantly hitting it by mistake. It's often difficult to find a comfortable way to hold these cameras that doesn't occasionally trigger something I don't want. And then there are these endless customisable function buttons. Many mirrorless cameras just seem unnecessarily over complicated to me. And often they have options that I don't understand and therefore never use and probably don't want anyway. Certainly I can't remember any 'I wish my camera would do this' moments. For me Leica have always got this right. Cut out the 'fluff,' it just gets in the way.
The supposed wi-fi, app advantage
Mirrorless manufacturers are always pointing out how tech. enabled their cameras are. And I've seen lot of comment about how useless DSLR's are in this regard. Well, that might make sense if the wi-fi and communication software in mirrorless cameras was any good. But the problem is it isn't. And in some cases it's a downright hindrance. The Panasonic camera app. is unique in that its's very good. Easy to set up and use and with lots of functions that enable the photographer to control the camera from a phone or a tablet. But this is the exception. All of the others are terrible, with Sony taking the ultimate accolade for their efforts. That accolade incidentally is for being completely useless and rubbish at wi-fi. And Leica, believe it or not, have a wi-fi connection that requires going through an external 'in the air' network. It's impossible to connect camera and phone / tablet directly. Whoever thought that brilliant idea up needs an 'accolade' as well. The Nikon Df neatly sidesteps this of course by having nothing to do with wi-fi.
The Nikon Df
The more I use this camera, the more I like it. It's fast, it's efficient, it's unfussy and it takes great pictures. It's a stills only camera of course, no video and as indicated above no apps. and wi-fi. (Though you can add a Nikon adapter if you need that) Though it has a lot of knobs and dials, these are designed to be out of the way and almost impossible to change by accident. And yes this is a camera for people who know what they are doing and can set it up how they want and then just concentrate on taking pictures.
The menu makes sense, the optical viewfinder is refreshingly uncluttered and the live view mode, though a bit clunky, works well enough and certainly is fine for tripod work. I usually pair it with my mint but ageing 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6G zoom, which I love because of it's small size and light weight. No AF motor, No IS, so a small footprint lens. Not Nikons crispest lens certainly, but with a bit of post-processing sharpening it allows me to upsize the images to 24MP with no problem.
So an 'old-school' pleasure, not in terms of what's inside the camera which is standard Nikon digital camera functionality, which is of course excellent, but in the fuss-free way I can use it. I use a lot of mirrorless cameras, but I've never been a fan of the geeky, gadget driven, tech head ethos they often seem to promote. Some mirrorless technology is great, but much of the rest of it and in particular how it's implemented leaves me cold. Leica and / or smartphones could teach a lot of them about how to make touchscreens easy and useful for example. And I wish the mirrorless manufacturers would stop promoting their cameras as some useful wi-fi, connected, social media type devices. Because they aren't. In every case, apart from the Samsung Galaxy NX, the files have to be transferred to a smartphone to upload them to social media. And I'm still amazed that they think this is a selling point. Because if you want to upload images to social media, smartphones do it much quicker, easier and better, so why not use them in the first place?
So what happens next with mirrorless?
That's a good question and I wish I had the answer to it. Because even after all of my 'adventures' with mirrorless camera and all the articles I write promoting them, I'm still not sure this is the way I want to go. For example, the camera I'm most interested in trying next is the Nikon D750, a DSLR. I've also just got a quote from a camera dealer on ebay for the bulk of my non-Leica mirrorless gear. And since it would be sold 'privately' and I would be paid via bank transfer it's actually a very good quote and I have to say I'm sorely tempted to just dump the lot and go in a different direction for a while. I haven't decided whether I will do this or not, but my day out with the Df has certainly made me think. Nikon DSLR's, Leica T and smartphones, now that's an interesting set of camera choices.
Because for me mirrorless is, as I always end up concluding in my 'Are CSC's / EVIL / Mirrorless cameras pro?' articles, almost professional, but not quite. And to be honest I thought we'd be there now. Better batteries, faster shutters and start-up times, less fussy layouts and menus and a decent set of communicative options would have been standard now, or so I thought. But they are not. And some may think that I'm being somewhat 'hard to please' about this. Well yes I may be. But it's my living, I'm shooting pictures every day and I know what I like and what I want and what I don't.
And to be honest and somewhat surprisingly DSLR's are actually having a bit of a purple patch. The Df is a very manageable camera size and weight wise, with a superb sensor and after having an opportunity to try a Nikon D750 at my local Calumet store, I've been thinking about buying one ever since. And you only have to see the reviews to realise what a superb camera that is.
So will I persist with mirrorless? The simple answer to that is I don't know, but with what I perceive as a time when the DSLR is moving forward again, there are for me other non-mirrorless options to consider. For example, I have to say, that despite my better judgement and my general antipathy towards the brand, those 50MP Canon 5D Mk III's are interesting me more than I thought they would. And Canon do seem to have woken up again. This looks really interesting.
So watch this space. I may well be loading up the car with lots of camera and lens boxes and coming back somewhat richer and with a Nikon D750 to try out. But then again I could just as easily carry on as I am now. That's the beauty of doing what I do. all these choices, all the time.