Many compare the rapid rise of mirrorless cameras to the days when digital overtook film. But how different are DSLRs and mirrorless cameras? Well, not that different when compared to the change from film to digital photography. Let's see what changes were made from film to digital and how they compare to the current "giant leap" in technology.
I must say, I am confused a bit when people claim to be better photographers by having a newer camera. What makes me very confused is when someone claims that the DSLR-to- mirrorless transition is like film to digital. While those are my personal emotions at play, when speaking seriously, I do believe that there is too much hype around mirrorless. I won't buy a mirrorless camera, not because I am a diehard DSLR connoisseur, but because what I have gets the job done. Had I been shooting film and saw the digital era on the rise, I would be first in line for the new and better cameras. However, comparing digital to film is not the same as comparing DSLR to mirrorless. Digital offered much more than mirrorless does. I can't say that there is no difference; however, it is not as huge as some would like it to be.
Yes, I Just Bought a DSLR in 2021
I just bought a Canon 5DS system. I bought them for $900 a piece, which is a bargain for a camera that used to cost $3,500. It is a DSLR from 2016 that I intend to use for years to come. While some may see this as an investment in a dying range of cameras, it makes a lot of sense when I consider what I need from a camera. I won't go into that, but I will say that I need a lot of detail, good autofocus, and a lens range with the best optical performance for 35mm cameras. Price is also a huge factor for me, meaning I don’t have $50,000 to invest into a medium format system. Nor do I have $8,000 to buy two R5 bodies. To anyone worried if DSLRs are a dying breed, they’re not (at least not that quickly). It’s not as if the method of image capture has changed as it did with the rise of digital and the demise of film.
What Was It Like Shooting With Film?
Film was the only way of capturing any imagery, stills or video. As with any photography product, there were two major competitors in the consumer market: Kodak and Fujifilm. Most consumer-grade films had maximum ISO speeds of 800 and could only capture 36 images. People took fewer images and didn’t have as many possibilities with low light. Another drawback was the inability to see what you were doing. Printing photographs was also quite difficult, as it required a very precise darkroom. If you wanted to have detail in your images, you were better off shooting medium format, which would cost you a fortune to buy. To be fair, old Hasselblads are still way overpriced for what they are. In general, the process of film photography made photography less accessible to beginners and amateurs.
How Was My Experience With Film?
When I started photography, all I had was film. That was because I happened to get a film camera and decided to give it a try. Buying a digital camera seemed like a useless purchase, as I didn’t see a point in investing $500 into a better camera. I loved the film, and the film loved me. That was right until I was asked to take pictures of an event, and the film wasn’t good enough. The ISO 200 roll and a very limited number of exposures restricted my creativity by a lot. The client wasn’t too happy. I decided that should this happen again, I would be using a digital camera, I went ahead and bought a Canon 1D Mark II that was some 15 years old. The difference was huge.
Digital Versus Film Specs
My first digital camera was a big departure from the film camera. I suspect that this is what many pros feltd back in the day too. Let’s see what the mighty beast had to offer:
- 8.2 megapixels of glorious digital resolution
- ISO 50-3,200 with much less grain at 1,600 compared to film
- USB 1.1
- 8.3 fps continuous shooting
- 45 AF points
- Good price: $150 on the used market
What Was the Real Difference?
But let us look beyond the spec sheet. Digital made jobs a lot easier. I could see what I was doing on the small 2” TFT screen, and I wasn’t limited to 36 exposures. The sky was the limit (I found it hard to fill up a 64 GB SD card on that camera). In a way, the Canon 1D Mark II started my career as a professional photographer. I’ve shot everything from races to portraits with it. It was a fantastic camera. I am sure that I couldn't have the same progress had I stuck to film.
The ability to evaluate my work, change ISO speeds, capture a higher number of images, and post-process and print with ease made me a better photographer by giving me much more creative ability.
Mirrorless Versus DSLR
I need to admit that I haven't switched to mirrorless yet. And I won't for some time. I have, however, shot with it a few times. Often, the benefits of the mirrorless system are attributed to the size, weight, autofocus, and video specs. All of them are just better than the DSLR, not different from the DSLR. The technology is better, but it is not different.
But, will mirrorless change the industry as much as the digital camera did? I don’t think so. It does not offer a completely new way of interpreting what an image is, nor does it change the definition of a camera. It just does a better job at all the things I talked about.
The Role of YouTube and Hype
I think this is where many people go wrong with interpreting what mirrorless is. There is a huge marketing effort with every camera release. A lot of R&D goes into every new camera. They must sell to make that money back.
To compare the whole argument to something dead simple: film to digital would be like cars to flying cars. DSLR to Mirrorless is like old cars to new cars — safer and faster, not revolutionary.
I wrote this article to clear up some misunderstandings that photographers may have. Mirrorless cameras are the future, mostly because DSLRs are being discontinued, but that is normal with any product line. It just happens to be that camera technology advanced to be able to become cheaper to produce and smaller to carry.