Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The SLR Market and Photography Part 1

Nikon FE, 35mm Film Camera

There have been many changes in how photographers take photos in the last ten years, mostly due to the advent of digital cameras. So the question is, what has not changed? The SLR system itself has not changed very much at all, at least in the basic function of the interchangeable lens, the mirror box and shutter. The only real change has been what the image has been captured on, in the move from film to memory cards. Much has been said about film or digital images, and I do not really want to get into that, simply because I find digital to be more convenient than film. The real advantage of digital cameras shows up more in high ISO capturing, such as that found in Nikon and Canon's full frame DSLRs'.

Of course the bodies of the cameras have changed somewhat, with size and design being one of the biggest areas of change. Professional SLR cameras used to have very few differences from the entry level cameras, and the price showed that. The change from most cameras looking very similar to the Nikon F / Pentax K1000 in the 1970s and 1980s, to cameras like the Nikon D3s, and Canon D1 Mk IV, where the professional cameras are made to a very different standard from the entry level models. The biggest difference between pro and entry cameras in the 1970s and 1980s was shutter build quality, viewfinder coverage and flash sync speed. Today the difference tends to be between plastic bodies for entry level models and magnesium alloy, rubber grips, along with dust and water sealed frames.

Many of those changes started to appear before the move to digital sensors to capture images though, so what has been the biggest change with the move to digital? One of the biggest differences has been the number of photos one can take on a digital camera. Gone are the days of being limited to 24 or 36 exposures on a roll of film, which forced sports photographers to have multiple cameras and assistants to change the film. Although many photographers still have a backup camera, that is less to do with having more frame available to shoot than a desire to a different lens mounted or just to have one in case of a shutter failure.

I think the biggest change in the SLR system has been in the lenses themselves, which have been improving slowly with time. Technology like image stabilization (IS / VR) allows photographers to capture images at shutter speeds that would not have thought possible before, without a tripod. New coatings on the lenses themselves allow you to capture images with less flare, and fewer colour fringes. There have also been improvements in technology for making the glass itself, which improves sharpness and creates less distortion.  Not to mention the quality of zoom lenses has come a long way in the last 20 years. At one time pros would only use prime lenses because the zooms had such inferior build and image quality.

There also has been the move towards quiet, fast auto focus, which allows photographers to capture action with far fewer out of focus images than ever before. I could not imagine how hard it would have been for a nature photographer to capture birds in flight with a manual focus telephoto lens, considering how difficult it can be to get consistent results with an auto focus lens.

I'll be posting more thoughts on the direction of SLR cameras, and the future of photography soon.