Mirrorless, DSLR's et al - Truth and Consequence


Above - Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED Lens zoom on Nikon D750


Above - Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED Lens zoom on Panasonic GX8


Above - Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED Lens zoom on Leica T (Typ 701)

Last Spring I bought the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED Lens zoom. I wrote about how sharp it was, used it a lot and then because of other gear arriving, I basically stopped. Lately, due to my new fast internet connection I've been editing a lot of images and uploading them. It was while doing this I worked on some images shot with the zoom. I was amazed at just how good they were and decided to give the lens a try with some of my other cameras, via adapters. Since doing that I've actually realised that I probably gave my lens of the year award for 2015 to the wrong optic, because this unassuming and little written about zoom is seriously good. You can see for yourselves in the samples above. 

I shall certainly be rectifying my 'mistake' in the future and use this lens a lot more. I also thought that this illustrates a point I've made often in this blog. A lot of noise gets made about headline grabbing features in cameras and lenses, which often turn out to be disappointing and gear gets talked up when it doesn't deserve it. For example a lot of mirrorless writers and users (not all I would point out) talk up their cameras and lenses all the time and seem to live in some kind of bubble where nothing else exists. DSLR cameras and lenses being particularly excluded. There's also a lot of fuss at the moment about the Fuji X-Pro 2 and upcoming Olympus Pen-F. And I actually can't believe the rumoured prices. Almost £1400 for the Fuji and just over £1100 for the Olympus plus the 14-42mm kit lens. Are they serious? Considering that if you shop around a Nikon D750 can be had for just over £1000, this is ludicrous. In terms of speed, features (Useful ones not fluff) and image quality the FF Nikon will easily outperform the mirrorless newcomers. And you pay more for less with these CSC cameras and lenses. Smaller and lighter should be cheaper and these are smaller sensors after all. Plus again and again we get power hungry cameras with small low powered batteries, the mirrorless shutter delay which negates any advantage from improved AF, poorer noise performance and cluttered over complicated bodies and menus. Is it any wonder mirrorless hasn't eliminated the DSLR yet. Plus with the introduction of the amazing Nikon D500 it might just be the reverse. (Though I have to say that camera is seriously overpriced as well) 

The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED Lens zoom also demonstrates something else. This lens doesn't get pages and pages written about it, because this is what DSLR users expect. They assume, in most cases rightly, that companies like Nikon and Canon will turn out high quality and affordable lenses without making a song or dance about it. I have the Olympus 7-14mm and 12-40mm f/2.8 zooms and while they are undeniably very useful, the Nikon 18-35mm is significantly sharper than either of those.

Now all of this will prompt many I'm sure to assert that I'm becoming very anti-mirrorless. And, even though that may have some truth in it, it is mainly because I'm disappointed at where mirrorless interchangeable is headed (and perhaps more importantly not headed) with the exception of the Leica T (Typ 701) and its stylish look and simplified operation, this scaled down copying of other (and usually older) cameras just doesn't excite me anymore. Much of the mirrorless marketplace is populated by underperforming, overpriced rangefinder and film SLR copies. And for me the cost / performance equation is just getting worse and worse. Surely the whole point should be that these are smaller, lighter, cheaper, cameras that are easy and simple to use and deliver decent images. But in many cases they are not. They are being trumpeted as genuine DSLR replacements, when in fact they are nothing of the sort. And considering you can buy a Nikon D5300 + 18-55mm kit lens for £400-450 in the UK, which will give results in most cases superior to the bulk of mirrorless camera, how on earth do the mirrorless manufacturers have any right to believe that we will all flock to buy their products? Incidentally it's worth pointing this out this comparison below

Nikon D5300 24MP APS-C  Body Dimensions (WxHxD) 125 x 98 x 76 mm - 530g - £389

Fuji X-T1 16MP APS-C Body Dimensions (WxHxD) mm 129.0 x 89.8 x 46.7mm - 440g - £805

Prices above from current Jessops website.

So a saving of 90g and loosing 8MP will cost you £416. These are crazy economics. Personally, this isn't isn't an issue for me, I make a decent living, plus I get tax breaks on buying gear, so I'm not that concerned. But as regular readers will be well aware, I have sold all my Fuji and Sony gear and while I'm still using my Panasonic GX8's, more and more I'm picking up a DSLR to go out shooting with. The exceptions to this are my Leica Q (Typ 116) and the aforementioned Leica T (Typ 701.) And I like those cameras because of the simplicity and well thought out ergonomics. But how much longer I'll be doing this, who knows. 

But there is still one area where DSLR's could learn from mirrorless. Design and aesthetics. For me the ugliest cameras ever made are current Nikons and Canons. The D5300 is a lot of camera for the money, but boy is it ugly. A nasty little polycarbonate eyesore. Both Canon and Nikons film SLR's and indeed their rangefinders particularly, were good looking cameras. But that all stopped when they went digital. The EOS range has looked the same for decades and it was never particularly attractive when it came out. Nikon also seem to have sacked their design department years ago as they keep churning out the same camera shape over and over again. To be honest I've never liked Sony cameras for looks and any company that designed the NEX range has a lot to answer for, but Fuji have mined the retro look successfully and the X100 series is particularly nice. Panasonic, after their bridge camera design ethic have finally come up with the GX8,  a very good looking camera, which is hopefully a sign of things to come. But the real stars of the 'retro revival' trend in mirrorless cameras are Olympus. Surely the best designs for any cameras on the market. The Pens have always been a personal favourite of mine and the OM-D series cameras are beautiful to my eyes. 

So maybe we could hope for some kind of combination of the two. For me it makes no difference whatsoever whether a camera has a mirror. In fact since I prefer OVF's anyway and like the increased battery life of cameras not running small TV screens, I have no problem with DSLR's. But I would like to see some development from a long term boring and unimaginative look. And for me, this is to a large extent why 'proper' cameras are loosing out to those sleek smartphones, which are lighter, smaller, simpler and cheaper and in many cases pretty close in terms of images quality. Certainly in terms most peoples requirements anyway. And the Panasonic CM1 is a stylish, very decent decent fixed lens camera in it's own right, though somewhat handicapped by it's terrible battery life. But then, I'm not alone in complaining about the constant need to recharge mirrorless cameras, smartphone owners are always banging on about that as well. And perhaps this is where some serious R & D needs to happen. Where are the small, light, powerful batteries that we all need? At least with cameras you can carry spares, but with many smartphones the only alternative is to charge them up, since the battery is not accessible. 

As ever this is my personal view, but I'm sure many would agree that any notion of a 'perfect camera' or anything close to it isn't on the horizon and that most manufacturers, no matter what kind of camera they turn out, seem to be locked into some kind of loop where they continually make the same mistakes over and over again and don't seem inclined to sort out what really needs fixing. Instead, we get the constant talking up of 'fluff and bloat' features. And I guess that's no better than many current products, but that doesn't make it right. Style AND content, is that really too much to ask for?