I needed to replace my dSLR and decided that I would get a mirrorless camera instead of another SLR. I wrote this post as a way of organizing my thoughts and research on my way to buying the replacement.
I would say I’m a practical photographer now. I started out a long-long time ago doing things like shooting water drops falling into buckets, but now I shoot for the memories – to capture and freeze time, as much as that is possible – and my subjects are mostly friends and family doing ordinary things in ordinary places.
I’m a staunch supporter of the maxim that the best camera is the one you have with you. I can stand grainy/noisy photos (in some circumstances, I actually like them), but not blurred or visibly smoothened ones. I hate using flash, I hate missing the moment (I rarely have people pose). I don’t earn money from the pictures and I don’t want a camera I am so afraid to lose/break/damage that I don’t take it with me everywhere.
All things considered, my main criteria for a daily use camera now are that:
- It should be light in the hand (not a burden to bring with me all the time)
- expendable (cheap),
- focus fast and
- have usable low light shots/video (good for web, may be 5×7 prints).
(Actually while we are at it, what I would really like is a still camera and image format that allows you to embed a short (say < 1min) audio into the image. The camera would let you select a photo and then record a memo to go with the photo. It would be easy to store this audio in an exif tag and have extensions to operating systems that would allow you to play back the recording as you preview the photo. But that is neither here nor there, but should serve as prior art, in case some company wants to patent it.)
My first digital camera was a canon point and shoot (A510), which I still have somewhere and which we kept using until the lens cover started to malfunction. It was small and went every where with me – I kept it in my pants pocket. The only complaint was the shutter lag. Movies were grainy and tiny – BUT IT TOOK MOVIES! This made me lust after DSLRs – which were rumored to have instant on and no shutter lag, just like my film SLR – but they were too pricey.
Until I got a refurbished D40 for a very decent price. I used the D40 daily – discovering DSLRS were all that they promised to be – until I found a refurbished D5100 which I bought because of the video and better high ISO. Both the D40 and the D5100 are small for DSLRs, but for the kind of things I wanted to do, I wanted even more portability, hankering back to the A510 which I carried unobtrusively with me all the time.
After my D5100 got lost/stolen I started a search for a camera that would combine the speed and effectiveness of those DSLRs with the small compact size of the A510. Surely the 10 years that elapsed since I got my Canon A510 was enough for those creative engineers to come up with something that answered this description?
I had heard rumors that there was a new category of camera, called mirror-less cameras, that used the same principle as compacts, but with upgraded sensors and optics, many of which supported interchangeable lenses. I hit dpreview (which I read for their detailed descriptions, and sometimes personal write ups of usability) and imaging-resource (which I read mainly for their “Timing and performance” section) to see what was available.
At one point, I was down to a mere 7 candidates, many of which were well out of my budget. From there, looking at price, features and usability, I ended up oscillating between the Olympus OM-D E-M10 and the Sony A6000. In reality the Sony was way out of my budget, but it is such a tempting camera. Phase detect ON THE CHIP. Wowza, that puts it in DSLR class! I was also very surprised that the price ($700 with kit lens) was so high despite it having come out three years ago, and with a replacement (the A6300) just out.
I considered the Sony A5100 but discarded it because of the lack of EVF. I think I would need an EVF. The lack of additional controls, while forgivable on the A6000 was going to be too annoying on the A5100. Basically the E-M10 seemed like an awesome deal at $425 on Amazon. What made me hesitate was the smaller sensor and the contrast detect AF.
I was worried that this was going to be a compact class camera and I would get flashbacks from my A510 days, when I would have the camera with me, but I would miss my shot because, between pressing the shutter and the picture being taken, the world had changed, and the moment had gone. I also worried that indoor and night shots would come out blurry, or just missed. There was also unflattering things said about the video.
Reading the specs on imaging-resource (“Timing and performance” section), as well as the narrative on dpreview (section 7 “Experience”) and the sample videos gave me some confidence this wouldn’t be so bad. An interesting, very personal, opinion with a bunch of low light shots (Robin Wong’s blog), suggested that the high ISO performance was enough for my taste.
What clinched it, was this direct comparison from CameraLabs between the A6000 and the E-M10 in an A6000 review, which stated:
So the A6000 is the better camera, right? Only in some respects. In its favour, the Olympus EM10 features built-in stabilization that works with any lens you attach, and while its sensor has 50% fewer Megapixels, the real-life resolving power is similar if you’re using the kit lenses. The A6000 may have far superior continuous AF, but the EM10 is quicker for Single AF and it continues to work in much lower light levels, while also offering better face detection too. The EM10 has a touch-screen which lets you simply tap to reposition the AF area instead of forcing you to press multiple buttons.
The highlighted bit was interesting enough for me to stop vacillating and go forward with the Olympus. (Even though the A6000 was out of my price range, if it looked like the A6000 was THAT much better of a camera, I might have waited for a price drop, a deal, or gone and bought second hand – which I never do for cameras, because of the risk – camera repair is expensive, and I can’t do it myself – not for these electronic ones)
I guess we’ll see in a month or so if I took the right decision in stepping away from my Nikon DSLR and into the mirror-less world. Interestingly, I will be able to use my Nikon lenses, albeit only in full manual, with a fairly cheap and clean (no optics) adapter.
In case you wondered, the featured image is a full size crop of a shot from a water drop shooting session in 2013. It was taken with my late, lamented D5100 and the 50mm f1.8, on manual focus on this body. The D5100, which I LOVE, along with the 18-55mm kit lens, was lost and then stolen (because no one returned it to the lost and found) at the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport security checkpoint. It’s serial number is 3580262. More valuable than the camera, though, is a set of precious family photos with our daughter and her grandpa stored on the SD card in the camera.
It was this incident that prompted me to look into mirrorless cameras. Not only because I needed a new camera, but because I wanted to be able to throw the camera into my pocket, or at least into a stuffed backpack – we lost the camera primarily because we couldn’t consolidate all our bits and bobs and lost track of that one bag in the confusion of security check.