Nikon D800 with the 85mm f/1.8G lens
With all the fanboy bluster being posted these days about photographers ditching their DSLRs for mirrorless, I thought I'd post a counterpoint blog article in defense of the good old trusty DSLR. Just so you know, I do shoot mirrorless (i.e. Lumix GH3) but my go-to cameras are my Nikon full-frame DSLRs. I took a look in Lightroom and found that almost 90% of my images dated 2015 and on have been made on my Nikon DSLRs.
I got my first micro four-thirds mirrorless camera in 2010 and now own three of them, so I am no newbie to mirrorless. An interesting paradox is that when friends ask me for a camera recommendation, I usually recommend a mirrorless camera. The reason for this is a bit non-obvious. Many people who are stepping up to an interchangeable lens system camera are coming from a smartphone or point and shoot camera, so they have grown comfortable composing images on the LCD rather than through a viewfinder. Mirrorless cameras have the advantage over DSLRs in that scenario, and it's not a small advantage. The autofocus performance of my Nikons when composing an image on the LCD in LiveView mode is terrible. This has to do with the type of autofocus technology used in LiveView mode. It's different than the autofocus technology used when composing through the optical viewfinder. I won't bore you with the technical reasons for this, but suffice it to say that the snappy AF performance you get on a DSLR when using the optical viewfinder isn't there when you use LiveView. So for those friends who took my advice and got a micro four thirds camera, don't think I gave you bum advice, I gave you advice that was geared at your specific situation. Pretty much all the mirrorless cameras out there are capable of good image quality.
Setting all that aside, I still prefer shooting my Nikon DSLRs (D800 and D4s). Here is the list of seven reasons why I prefer my Nikon DSLRs to mirrorless.
- Optical Viewfinder: I still prefer a nice big and bright optical viewfinder over an electronic viewfinder. There is no lag with an OVF and when shooting in burst mode, the mirror blackout is negligible. I prefer to see the scene in front of me as it is, without any image processing applied to the image. Another side benefit of an OVF is battery life. EVFs are a big battery drain.
- Lenses: Over the years, I've built up a valuable collection of Nikkor lenses. For zooms, I have the 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII and 28-300mm lenses. For prime lenses, I have the 28mm f/1.8G, 35mm f/1.8G, 50mm f/1.8G and the 85mm f/1.8G. I'd pay thousands to recreate this lineup of lenses in another format.
- Responsiveness: When I'm shooting street photography, I want to be able to bring the camera to my eye and know that it will be ready immediately, with super fast autofocus and no lag in response. I get this with my Nikon DSLRs. I don't with the GH3. With one button reset on the focus point on my Nikons, I always know exactly where the focus point is going to be--right smack dab in the middle of the frame. There is no such function on the GH3, so when I bring the camera up to my eye the first thing I have to do is find the darned focus point. That wastes valuable time. There is also always a bit of a lag for the EVF to kick into gear on the GH3. That also wastes time.
- Mobile Workflow: This one will seem counterintuitive, since my GH3 has builtin WiFi and none of my Nikon cameras do, but hear me out. I find builtin WiFi to be a clunky way to transfer images to a mobile device such as an iPad or iPhone. First you have to put the camera into WiFi mode, then you have to go into the mobile device settings and sign in to the WiFi hotspot created by the phone, then you have to select the images to transfer and then finally you can transfer the images. The actual transfer process is quite slow from my GH3 using WiFi. I'd much rather pop an SD card into a card reader and import images that way. It is much faster and doesn't drain the camera battery. Using the Camera Connection Kit, I can easily import images from my D800 into my iPhone or iPad. When working mobile, I write a RAW file to the CF card and a small JPEG to the SD card. I then import the small JPEGs into my iPhone. This goes super fast. The GH3 only has one SD card slot, the same as the latest Sony A7 series cameras, so the RAW file and JPEG get saved on the same card. Reading those thumbnails in during the import process is significantly slower because of the larger RAW files. If you have hundreds or thousands of images on the SD card, the process of reading in all those image can take a terribly long time. The actual import process is also significantly faster when you're only importing the small JPEG.
- Image Quality: The image quality of my Nikon D800, a four year old camera, is still competitive with the best full-frame mirrorless cameras just coming on the market. Compared to the smaller format mirrorless offerings, such as micro four thirds or APS-C, the D800 has superior image quality. If you're never going to print your images large and only share your images on the web, then perhaps you this won't matter to you, but I do a lot of printing at larger sizes, so for me it's a big deal. I love the quality and look I get from my D800 images.
- Size: If I were to try and go after equivalent image quality in mirrorless, I'd have to venture into full-frame mirrorless. Yes, I'd save some weight on the camera body, but I'd save nothing on the lenses, and the lenses make up the majority of the weight in my kit. When I'm shooting an event, I'm typically carrying six pounds in lenses (24-70 f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8) and three pounds in a camera body (Nikon D4s). So going from a nine pound kit to a seven-and-a-half pound kit would be nice, but it's not worth the thousands of dollars it would cost me to convert to Sony full-frame mirrorless.
- Battery Life: When I walked the Camino de Santiago this fall I took my Nikon D800 outfitted with the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G prime lens and one extra battery, that was it. I made it six weeks on just two batteries and no battery charger. The weight I would have saved in bringing the GH3 instead of my D800 would have been chewed up in extra batteries, and the GH3 has among the best battery life in mirrorless cameras.
So there you have it, these are my seven reasons for preferring my Nikon DSLRs. I know this won't stop the mirrorless bandwagon, but at some point you start feeling like a neanderthal for still preferring to shoot DSLRs. Perhaps this has some therapeutic value for me, telling the world that I'm not a dope, that I do have reasons for preferring my DSLR gear. On one blog comment thread I was basically accused of sticking my head in the sand when it comes to innovation. I'm as big into technical innovations as the next person, and probably more so, but I guess the lesson is that one person's innovation may be another's limitation.