Thursday, August 1, 2013

Why I Still Use A DSLR

I've noticed a growing number of blog entries of late from people who are ditching their DSLR's for cameras like the Sony RX100 or other pocket sized compacts. I don't have anything against those who like using compact cameras, and for a good reason. It is important to work with the tools that best fit your needs as a photographer. For some that is small and light, for others that might mean using medium format cameras. I have noticed that most of the photographers who have made such a move are event/street photographers. Sometimes I get the feeling from these folks that they believe themselves to be the only photographers in the world, and that all cameras should be made simply to meet their needs. The reality is that there are many types of photography that fixed lens, or interchangeable lens compacts cannot support, at least not at this time. For me, full frame DSLR's work, because they are comfortable to hold for extended periods of time, offer an extremely flexible system and high end performance.

The weight of DSLRs is often used as one of the reasons that people ditch them for compact cameras. There are times when the weight of my D800 or D700 with lenses gets on my nerves, but I come home with the images I want more often than not, which more than makes up for it. I cannot say the same for most of the compact cameras that I've tried over the years. The fact of the matter is, comfort is not just about the weight of the gear, it's also about handling. I find the size of most compact cameras makes me want to leave them in the camera bag, because they flap around too much when on a strap while walking around. I find that my DSLR can flap around too, but not as much in my experience. The very weight of them keeps them closer to my body.

Then there is the issue of comfort in use. I find using compact cameras for extended periods of time harder than a DSLR. What, how can that be? The weight of a DSLR actually can make them easier to hold steady, at least with a setup that balances out well. A light weight compact just kind of floats around in your hands, and can be harder to hold still. In situations where there is plenty of light that's not a problem, but when the light starts to fall off, it can be.

Finally the grip on the camera bodies themselves is an issue. Compact cameras tend to have compromised grips in order to keep the size down. For anyone with larger hands, or even average sized ones, compacts can be hard to use for extended periods of time as a result. Using a strap is the answer in most cases, but as I pointed out before, I find compact cameras flap around more on a strap.

DSLR's, and some mirrorless cameras (M4/3s), have large systems in place with many options. Those systems make these cameras extremely flexible, able to fit the users needs with fewer compromises. By offering different lenses for specific tasks SLR cameras give the user the ability to use the same camera for different tasks. I do not just mean in terms of lenses though. There are issues such as the availability of spare batteries, grips, replacement parts/service centers, and accessories of all types. The increasingly popular large sensor compacts (Fuji X100s, Ricoh GR, Sony RX100) don't offer that, only providing the user with a smaller camera. I'd very much like to see a compact large sensor camera provide 28-300mm equivalent coverage, but due to the optics required it is unlikely that such a camera is on the horizon.

High End Performance:
DSLRs, in some case, still outperform most or all compact cameras on the market. Maybe I'm very demanding of my cameras, but I like to get the most out of the images my camera captures. By demanding I mean that the camera  is fast, reliability and has great sensor performance. For me fast equals the response time of the camera, the controls and auto focus. Those are all areas where I've found high end DSLR's to be unchallenged. Yes some compact cameras have very fast auto focus, or high speed burst rates, but they only really work for still subjects due to limited auto focus capabilities. In my experience DSLR's are still king when it comes to capturing fast moving subjects, although the Nikon 1 series of cameras are very close.

At the end of the day the comfort, flexibility and high end performance of a DSLR still makes carrying around a larger camera around worth while. Not all photographers need what I need, so I understand why some are switching smaller, lighter camera(s) and systems. A full frame DSLR is still the answer to the varying needs of my photography, regardless of what others have chosen to do.