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Budget Canon lenses for serious shooters - Part 2

Budget Canon lenses for serious shooters - Part 2

Introduction
So you've bought a Canon Rebel, probably with a kit lens, or have gone for a mid range camera like the 80D. You are searching for a few lenses that will satisfy your requirements but which won't put a hole in your pocket.
This is two part article to help you find your lens requirements as per your taste and type of photography, especially if you're on a budget. This isn't an article about the cheapest lens you could buy, but rather about lenses which give you better image quality and artistic value while still being relatively inexpensive. It's about lenses you would be buying when you start feeling your kit lens isn't fulfilling your demands.




It goes without saying that, this being an article about budget lenses, the focus would be on lenses for APS-C/crop sensor Canon DSLRs as the idea of budget shooting seldom goes along with full frames. So any full frame lenses discussed would be from the persp…

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Baby Steps into Photography - part II : APS-C crop sensor DSLR and mirrorless



In the previous article we discussed different types of camera systems ranging from superzooms, bridge, MFT to DSLRs and APS-C mirrorless. We also discussed how the sensor size becomes the major deciding factor of a camera system, its design and working.

If you haven't read the first part then please read it here:

Baby Steps into Photography - part I : Superzooms, Bridge and MFTs

In this article we will be focusing more on APS-C crop sized interchangeable lens camera system. We will discuss its mirrored version (i.e. DSLRs) as well as shed some light on mirrorless. I won't be focusing too much on the lens part as focus is on the camera body. For a detailed discussion about lenses, I have dedicated a two part series for DSLR lenses which you could find here:

A Lens for every need : An Introduction to DSLR lenses : Part 1 - Zoom Lenses

A Lens for every need : An Introduction to DSLR lenses : Part 2 - Prime Lenses

Where to start? : Zoom or skip to a DSLR

There are certain advantages to starting photography with a superzoom. As I had mentioned in the previous article, one may feel satisfied at start with using small sensor superzoom cameras, and gradually demand more quality as artistic capabilities take a center stage. A very important aspect of choosing a camera system is to know what one needs. Figuring out what kind of photography interests you, will be key in choosing a camera system which suits you; else it will be very confusing and you'll often get torn between many camera brands and types.


Courtesy: Source - pixabay.com Author - JESHOOTS

Superzooms, or rather their shortcomings, helped me realize the significance of a camera with large sensor, its lenses and the feature packed body built around the sensor.
Superzooms are better for high telephoto reach, but they clearly lack the image quality and dynamic range of an APS-C (DSLR or mirrorless). They are slower than DSLRs when it comes to focusing thanks to slower lenses (i.e. lenses having smaller apertures), they have smaller sensors which collect less light, and things get worse as you zoom in due to the aperture getting even smaller, while focus speeds also slow down when there is less light available e.g. indoors or at night. They also lack the extra buttons, dials and other advanced features. They don't have an optical viewfinder and rely on the data captured by the sensor to show on the electronic viewfinder which often has low resolution. Since this is processed data and not direct light, there exists an inherent delay. This doesn't work very well with action shots like bird and sports photography.

As you shoot more with your superzoom, you soon will realize you want something more, Say, for example if you are shooting at night, you would want to have a noise free picture even as you dial up the ISO. Increasing ISO in superzooms (with their small sensors) rapidly increases image noise. A superzoom camera won't be performing very well in this.

Another example is sports photography. Here you will need to dial your shutter speeds higher in order to freeze the moment, which will result in darker images but the scope for compensating this using aperture (the lens is already slower) and ISO is limited on a superzoom. Also focusing system won’t keep up well as mentioned above.

So why not skip superzoom altogether?

You can do this – If you have an idea about what you really want & what will satisfy your needs.

Having said that; there are the obvious advantages of superzooms. The zoom range and reach of superzooms is something which DSLRs cannot feasibly reach & even when they come near this, they will cost you a fortune & the weight issue is another concern. Even when people buy a good featured DSLR, many still prefer the reach and convenience of a superzoom along with the sheer simplicity of not having to change your lens every now and then, not to mention its weight and size advantage.

So if you end up owning a superzoom you will have certain advantages which DSLRs will always lack, and it will have its applications even after you have invested in a DSLR system.

While opting for a DSLR there are a few questions you will be facing:

  • Which level of DSLR should you opt for, and so which price bracket should you be considering?
  • Which brand or company is better?
  • Should you consider any alternatives to DSLRs like mirrorless, which fall in the same price bracket and have similar features?

Let's discuss all of these step by step.

Note: Although we will be discussing mirrorless cameras and comparing them to DSLRs, this article is primarily focused on DSLRs.

Price brackets: Entry level, Upper Entry Level, Mid-Range

When choosing your first DSLR, one question always strikes – which category and price bracket should you consider.

Entry Level DSLRs:

Entry level cameras like the Nikon D3400, D3300, D3200 or Canon 1100D, 1200D 1300D are good value - they are very inexpensive, but can make you feel restricted after some time. They don’t have articulating screens, have less autofocus points when using OVF, limited bracketing options and have less buttons/dials (very important for advanced shooting modes). Also many other options, customization and functionality are disabled.

The advantage that a pure entry level DSLR has is that it comes with the lowest price tag in the range. Other than this it's generally very light weight, has many in built guides which may be helpful to absolute newcomers. They also have an elaborate set of scene modes which you can dial in for the appropriate scene to help you get optimal results. A very important point to note is that DSLR manufacturers don't compromise on megapixels in their APS-C lineup. So even with an entry level offering you are getting the same megapixels as high end offerings.

This is very attractive for casual shooters who don't want to invest too much into a camera system but still want what the DSLRs have to offer i.e. good image quality, ergonomics, speed and flexibility - something which your average smartphone lacks.

Coming from smartphones, inexpensive entry level DSLRs are often the first step casual shooters or newcomers take into advanced photography.

Among entry level DSLRs, the Nikon's entry level offerings - D3300, D3400 deserves a special mention. While still being entry level cameras, their image quality is comparable to class leading DSLRs like D5500/D5600 & D7200 thanks to their refined sensors without any low pass filter (which is an anti-aliasing filter which basically deliberately blurs your pictures to reduce the effect of moiré). These are the best ways to get near pro grade image quality from a very cheap body.

The entry level Nikon D3300. Entry level cameras generally lack most advanced functions like articulating screen, twin control dials, touch screen, dedicated buttons.
(Image Courtesy : Author - Henry Söderlund, Source - flickr.com


So if image quality is your prime concern but have a low budget, you can opt for these and spend the money saved on good quality lenses (which actually is the bottleneck for image sharpness), flashes and other accessories. Also with the advent of the Nikon D3400 and Canon 1300D, we now have Wi-Fi in entry level DSLRs.


Upper Entry Level DSLRs:

On the other hand upper entry level cameras like Nikon D5600, D5500, D5300 the Canon 800D, 760D/T6s, 750D/T6i and the Pentax K-70, K-S2 have many advanced features (especially the Pentax) which give ample scope for growing from a casual photographer to something more serious. Also by then the transition from APS-C to full frame (more advanced with larger 35mm sensor) becomes much smoother.

The Nikon D5500 is known for its excellent image quality and a light compact body.
(Image Courtesy : Author - Henry Söderlund Source - www.flickr.com)

Some of the characteristics of Upper-Entry level DSLRs not found in entry level offerings are:

  • Articulating screen - eases shooting from awkward angles - when the camera is placed too low or too high. Also helpful when shooting videos.
  • Touch feature - makes changing settings much more intuitive & faster especially the in-menu settings. This helps a lot when there are lesser buttons on camera body and you need to often browse through menus to change settings. Touch to focus on a particular area when in live view.
  • More buttons - more buttons for changing settings fastens things, making the whole photography experience a lot less frustrating since with dedicated buttons you will need to go in the menu less frequently as more functions can be accessed by just a click or two of a button.
  • More bracketing options - exposure bracketing options let the camera shoot with varied levels of exposures, so you can choose the best one.
  • More autofocus points - more AF points means more places where you can focus your image when using your Optical Viewfinder (Phase detection Autofocus), so you don't have to recompose to adjust the point of interest to the nearest available AF point. Also upper-entry level cameras have more cross type AF points which are more accurate.
  • Better for wildlife and sports - Along with having more AF points, these cameras also tend to have faster continuous burst and a deeper buffer.

The T6i aka KissX8i aka 750D is an upper entry level camera from Canon. Typical for its class it has an articulating touch screen, single command dial, Wi-Fi etc., but lacks mid-range features like weather sealing, top LCD and twin dials.
(Image Courtesy : Author - Morio, Source - commons.wikimedia.org)

  • Better connectivity (Wi-Fi/NFC availability) - make sharing pictures very easy and fast. Also a phone app can be used to control the camera for remote shutter release and changing settings. This had been an advantage of upper-entry models over entry level offerings, but now Canon and Nikon provide these features in their entry level offerings too.
  • Better build & grip- a good grip gives the photographer more confidence when holding & doesn't feel awkward. Entry level DSLRs often lack enough rubberized grip and are less firmly built in comparison with their higher end siblings.


Mid-Range DSLRs:

You can also skip the entry level offerings and opt for a mid-range crop sensor. Such cameras like the Nikon D7100, D7200, Canon 80D, 70D or the Pentax K-3, K-3 II, provide many pro level features, but as a newcomer things could be a little too overwhelming, also such mid to high end cameras assume that you are well versed with advanced features & usually provide fewer automatic functions like scene modes (sports or night photography etc.) which might be helpful for the novice user, but which are a waste of real-estate on the camera to advanced/professional users.

Canon EOS 80D - the successor to the very popular 70D. Lens attached is EF-S18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM. The 80D is a very capable wildlife/sports camera thanks to a 7fps burst speed, 25 frame RAW file buffer (~3.5 seconds of continuous shooting before slowing down) and a wide and denser array of 45 AF points and a weather sealed body. It's as much a capable video camera as wildlife thanks to excellent live view dual pixel AF, range of live view functionality, 1080/60p shooting, focus pulling customization, headphone & mic jack and a fully articulating touch screen. Due to this screen, it's also a very popular vlogging tool.
Image Courtesy: Source - flickr.com Author - Pascal Volk


Some of the characteristics of Mid-range which aren’t in upper-entry level are:
  • AF micro-adjustments - Lenses sometimes miss focus (they front focus or back focus) when using OVF; can be corrected.
  • More dedicated buttons - These have even more dedicated buttons than upper entry models, so you have to access the menus less frequently.
  •  Additional dials - eases the process of changing camera exposure settings.
  • More AF points - a higher number of AF points increases your chances in getting your subject in focus while reducing the need of recomposition.
  • Faster continuous shooting - more FPS in burst mode - useful in fast paced action and sports shooting and bird/wildlife photography to capture the right moment.
  • Dual memory card slots - more storage capability with 2 cards, also doubles up as fail-safe if one card fails. A required feature among professionals.
  • Larger RAW buffer - roughly large enough for 3-4 seconds of continuous bust shooting at maximum burst rate before slowing down. This increases the chances of a successful shot of a fast subject like a bird or a fast moving car. A large RAW buffer is needed for sustaining RAW burst speeds for longer duration. The focus is on RAW buffer since the target audience will often shoot more in RAW than lossy JPEG.
  • Having much more advanced features being unlocked (e.g. AF fine tuning, set white balance by Kelvin scale, fine-tune autofocus behavior etc.)
  • More battery life - High end models use a high capacity battery which gives more shots per charge so you don't need to change batteries often or take more spare ones for a long outing.
  • User settings memory - often 2 or 3 user settings. This helps in quickly switching between settings which are fine-tuned for specific types of photography by storing them into user modes accessed via the mode dial. For example you can fine tune all camera settings for bird photography and save it in a user mode, while other modes can be used for landscapes and stills.
  • Pentaprism viewfinder - This type of OVF as opposed to Pentamirror, is brighter, larger and has almost full coverage of the image frame.
  • Metal chassis - A body with metal chassis will help the camera survive tough conditions, rough usage and even survive many falls. Better for durability in the long run.
  • Weather sealing - most mid-range bodies provide a level of environmental sealing. This means they can take the light drizzle (some can take even heavy downpour), work in extreme temperatures like in below freezing environments and snow. With this you can take that photo in rain or cold without using external housing. A weather sealed body makes sense only when used with weather sealed lens as far as protection is concerned.
  • Auto-focus customization - With many mid-range bodies, you can customize the behavior of the auto-focus system, i.e. you can customize how it will react to a particular situation like subject tracking. This grants the user the ability to tune the focusing system to reduce focus misses depending on the nature of subject's movement. E.g. the Canon 80D has customization like adjust tracking sensitivity, acceleration/deceleration tracking and AF point switching speed. This gives the user more control over how well the AF system will respond for a specific situation or subject like say wildlife or bird or sports.
  • Top LCD - A top LCD usually found in mid-range cameras helps in quickly viewing essential information like exposure settings, drive mode, metering, battery life etc., without looking at the LCD screen. With this it minimizes the use of back screen which consumes much more power than the LCD. It's also useful in outdoors where daylight can make the back screen difficult to read or at night where the same is too bright, which is not the case with top LCD.
  • External Grip - A mid-range body has electrical and mechanical connections for accommodating an external grip. With a grip you can shoot in portrait mode with ease. Also the added weight makes a body balance well with heavy telephoto lenses. Along with this you have the provision to add extra battery and memory cards to the grip, thus increasing battery life and storage.

Most of the above feature set is exclusive to higher priced mid-range cameras. But there are exceptions - the Pentax entry-level DSLRs e.g. the K-70, K-S2 whose prices are comparable to the D5500 & 750D but provide weather sealing, 2 command dials, full pentaprism with 100% coverage, and a host of features & customization found in mid-range and higher end cameras offered by Canon & Nikon. This makes them an excellent value product at the price of upper entry-level.


The Nikon D7100 is a mid-range Nikon camera and the predecessor to the D7200. Nikon cameras are known for excellent image quality and dynamic range and also for good performance in subject tracking which is useful in sports and wildlife.
(Image Courtesy : Author - JPRoche, Source - commons.wikimedia.org)

Mid-range cameras are an excellent tool for capturing fast paced photography. While a larger network of autofocus points increases your chances of getting your subject in focus while it's in frame, a higher burst increases the chances of capturing the best moment. A larger buffer helps maintain this bust speed for a longer duration. All these are crucial for fast paced action photography like sports, bird and wildlife.

Disadvantages of Mid-Range cameras

The main disadvantages of mid-ranges are the weight & size constraints - A mid-range body is often loaded with features like weather sealing, pentaprism viewfinder, full/semi metal chassis for a stronger build quality, all which add to the body weight. This could be an issue if you plan to take it for a long journey or have it handheld it for longer duration. It's also larger than lower end bodies, so storing while travelling could be an issue, although they're significantly smaller compared to full frame bodies.
And obviously the prices shoot up as you go from basic entry level to mid-range.
With many buttons and dials, it can be an overwhelming experience and a steep learning curve for someone new to photography. A mid-range camera also does not have advanced auto and scene modes meant to assist a newbie since it makes no sense for an advanced photographer.

Complementing a pro body

Another point to consider while choosing your first DSLR body is that in future one may go for something much more serious option like a full frame camera e.g. Canon 5D or Nikon D8xx, D7x0 series. These have even more advancements, but being full frame, come with much more weight, bulk & in many situations of photography it may seem to be an overkill, you may find many people on photography forums complaining of back pain after a day’s shoot using such a cameras, even when going for a trip you may prefer something much lighter. Here using an upper-entry level body seem to strike the perfect balance, making it a good candidate for a backup body.

Such cameras being lightweight, less bulky & simple, cover-up the inherent disadvantages of full frame bodies i.e. size and weight hence complement them well. A full frame and lighter crop sized body makes your whole photography kit more complete.

One may even have a mid-range camera complement the full frame instead of lower end models. They are heavier than entry level models but significantly lighter than a full frame body. This is an advantage in wildlife photography as midrange offerings are better equipped to handle fast action photography for reasons mentioned above.

Non Canon-Nikon alternatives:

Well, sometimes your choice of system depends more on you and the regional limitations you may face when buying, which might translate into lack of availability (lenses & even body itself) and a higher price. For example, I’m from India & no other camera maker has the availability & presence like Canon and Nikon.

Pentax:

Here you have Pentax which is the next obvious contender in DSLR market share, but has been traditionally lagging behind Nikon and Canon as far as availability and release of newer lenses is concerned. (Although after the release of its long awaited first full frame DSLR - the K-1, things have somewhat started to speed up. But even then Pentax has catching up to do, especially in worldwide reach). Pentax as a camera manufacturer also seems to lags behind Canon, Nikon (and most others) in case of autofocusing speed, due to the AF system lagging behind the competition in both camera body and lens. It has had fewer fast autofocusing lenses with many current lenses (at the time of writing) being screw drive. But it is now catching up thanks to the introduction of PLM lenses. PLM (pulse motor) a lens AF system which uses stepper motor technology for fast, silent focusing and better subject tracking and is equivalent to Canon's STM (stepper motor) and Nikon's AF-P.

If you can get hold of older Pentax lenses then it would be great since as far as compatibility with older lenses is concerned it fares much better than both Canon and Nikon.

The Pentax K-70 is a very interesting camera. It's surprisingly very liberal as far as feature set is concerned, while still retaining a price tag of an upper entry level camera. It's got weather sealing, twin dials, focus peaking, pentaprism viewfinder, electronic level, 3 user memory, 4.5 stops in built image stabilization so any lens is stabilized on it. To avail most of such features, rival companies like Canon & Nikon ask you to invest in a more expensive mid-range option like 80D or D7200; this makes the K-70 a perfect bang for buck.
Image Courtesy: Source - commons.wikimedia.org Author - Joergens.mi

Pentax chose to have In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) rather than having stabilization built in lens (Optical Image Stabilization), hence even if you use older lenses, the image gets stabilized, add to this the in body focus motor to focus older lenses (which don’t have an inbuilt focusing motor) and you have a very cost effective used older lens solution (Nikon also has maintained compatibility with older lenses using in body motor, but has crippled its support in entry level models like D5x00 and D3x00).

Sony SLT:

Sony has SLT (Single Lens Translucent) offerings which uses a pellicle mirror. This mirror, unlike in a DSLR, doesn't move during exposure and is fixed. It reflects some of the incident light to a phase detection system to continuously provide phase detection AF. Rest of the light is incident on the sensor whose data is used to feed the live view and EVF. So what we have here is a mirrored system but like a mirrorless, uses an electronic feed for viewfinder in place of direct light. Sony SLT uses the Minolta Alpha mount.

Since the advent of on sensor phase detect sensors, the requirement of such a setup for continuous phase detect AF has ceased but with the Sony a99 series has shown a few pros of such a setup. Here the SLT like the a99II has both dedicated phase detect sensors as well as on sensor phase detect points and both contribute to the AF system. The advantage here is that while the shutter is released; the AF system is still in play thanks to the dedicated AF system and is supposed to improve autofocusing during fast bursts. Also since we don't have the added complications of moving a mirror, achieving large bursts is easier, as it is in the case of mirrorless systems.

The Sony SLT a 99II
Image Courtesy: Source - flickr.com Author - yollstory


Due to the mirror, an SLT's size, weight, aesthetics and looks resemble that of a DSLR. The inherent disadvantage of an SLT is that since the mirror doesn't move out of the way (and is in fact reflecting some of it); there is loss of around 1/2 stop. This could be an issue in low light situations.

Sony also has an established mirrorless solution which uses the Sony E mount system, but again the lens cost and choice is a factor. One solution for this could be that one can use Lens adapters, but here there may be some focusing issues and/or loss in quality.

Sitting in between....

Recently a trend has emerged where we see camera bodies blurring the gap between standard categories. These bodies fit right between the upper entry level and mid-range as far as features and capabilities are concerned. The same is reflected in their pricing. Examples include the Canon 77D which sits right between the mid-range 80D and T7i/800D. Its predecessor, the T6s/760D also bridged the gap between the 70D and T6i/D750.


Canon EOS 77D/9000D is a successor to the T6s and sits between the 80D and T7i.
Image Courtesy: Source - commons.wikimedia.org Author - Morio

Both these cameras have mid-range features like dual control wheels, top LCD and more advanced settings than their lower end siblings. This distinction gets flipped when we compare them with mid-range cameras which have weather sealing, better battery life, larger and brighter pentaprism viewfinder vs. lighter and dimmer pentamirror, faster burst speed and deeper RAW buffer.

We have seen this happen even with Pentax. With the arrival of the KP, Pentax has given us a retro design body with custom grips and which surprisingly has many features from the mid-range K-3 II and even the flagship full frame K-1. It has the same AF system as K-3 II, a partial metallic chassis, 3 dials, 5 user modes and 5 axis IBIS like the K-1. On the other hand the KP has the same weak battery as entry level K-70, less dedicated buttons than K-3 II and slower and much shallower RAW buffer for burst shooting.

The Pentax KP is a DSLR which falls between the mid range K-3 II and the upper entry level K-70.
Image Courtesy: Source - it.wikipedia.org Author - Joergens.mi

Mirrorless Systems

Mirrorless cameras i.e. cameras which don’t have a mirror in front of the sensor to bypass light to OVF, are the main competitors of DSLRs and are becoming quite popular. In fact many photographers have completely replaced their DSLRs with mirrorless counterparts. When we talk of mirrorless cameras competing with DSLRs and being their counterparts, we are talking about mirrorless which use 1.5x crop sensors or full frame sensors almost all of which have an interchangeable lens system. Technically MFTs (micro four thirds), 1 inch and superzooms are also mirrorless but the phrase "Mirrorless" is almost always used with cameras whose sensor sizes match that of DSLRs since the four thirds 2x crop sibling is better known as MFT; same goes with 1 inch sensor bridge and superzooms.

Common mirrorless systems are:
  • Sony alpha with Sony FE & E mount
  • Fujifilm XF with Fujifilm X mount
  • Canon EOS M with Canon EF-M mount
  • Leica L & M mounts


The A6300 is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera from Sony. As most mirrorless systems, it is lightweight and compact thanks to the absence of mirror and prism assembly. The A6300 has many video features like 4K resolution video, log profile, clean HDMI out. It also does 11fps burst with 21 RAW+JPEG buffer with 425 on sensor phase detect points which helps in subject tracking. It competes with upper entry level as well as mid-range DSLRs.
Image Courtesy: Source - commons.wikimedia.org Author - JürgenMatern
The Sony Alpha line of camera comes in both full frame and APS-C flavors. The a6000 series is the interchangeable lens system with APS-C sensor whereas the a7 series cameras bear the full frame sensor. The A7 series has 3 types of offerings:

  • A7 - An entry level full frame with medium resolution. It's the least expensive in the series.
  • A7R - Highest resolution, great for sports with good AF. Feature rich video.
  • A7S - Lowest resolution, low light beast thanks to large pixels. Better for video than stills.

On the other hand, Fujifilm (at the time of writing) doesn't offer full frame solutions. Fujifilm uses a different approach towards making their sensors than the rest of the herd. They use the X-Trans CMOS sensor which uses a different layout for distribution of red-green-blue photosites over its sensor as compared to the Bayer system. The primary advantage here is that it's supposed to reduce color moiré which is an issue with Bayer system (the reason why we need AA filter with them).
Another highlight of Fuji sensors is the color quality. Some photographers like it a lot and prefer it over the rest. This is purely subjective and taste varies from person to person. Fujifilm also differentiates itself from others as far as aesthetics and looks are concerned. They design their offerings with a much more retro look and build; very similar to older film cameras.

The Fujifilm X-T2 is a retro styled mirrorless with looks of that of a film camera. Notice the dedicated dials for ISO (right), shutter speed and exposure compensation (extreme left).
Image Courtesy: Source - flickr.com Author - Kārlis Dambrāns

The Canon EOS M series is Canon's attempt to have a place in the mirrorless market. Canon is currently the only mirrorless camera producer which is primarily a DSLR maker. It could be that Canon's proven live view technology made it easier to get into mirrorless market. The EOS M series cameras use the same 1.6x Canon APS-C sensors found in DSLRs. The big advantage here is that the EOS M series has access to Canon's own well established DSLR lens lineup using its own optional adapter. This should mean better compatibility with Canon DSLR lenses than in case of Sony bodies with Canon lenses.

The Canon EOS M 6 mirrorless camera with 24MP sensor with dual pixel for faster autofocus. It can do 7fps bursts, has a touch screen and 5 axis in body image stabilization which can work in tandem with the IS lens stabilization.
Courtesy: Source - commons.wikimedia.org Author - Morio

Mirrorless cameras have certain advantages over DSLRs thanks to their design:

  • Size: They are much slimmer, since they don’t have to house the bulky pentamirror/prism and mirror assembly.
  • Low profile: With a slimmer body you can maintain a low profile and avoid unnecessary attention. This is useful in street photography or shooting where photography is prohibited e.g. in museums.
  • Weight: Lightweight for same reasons as above. Many professional photographers complain of back pain after long sessions of shooting with their bulky professional DSLRs. Going mirrorless is clearly the solution for them. This is also useful when you're travelling or doing some casual photography where you'd like something lighter in your hands and back.
  • Live view AF: Faster live view autofocus (Contrast detect AF being better implemented here than in DSLRs, also some have hybrid AF with on sensor phase detect system, DSLRs traditionally have inferior live view performance)
  • AF points coverage: In a mirrorless, with its on sensor phase detect system, you can get almost edge to edge autofocus point coverage. This is a huge advantage over using OVF in DSLRs since here you don't need to recompose your shot in case your subject isn't falling in the AF points coverage area. This is a typical issue with DSLRs where AF points are concentrated at the central position and seldom reach the edges. This is due to limitations in phase detect system which makes it harder to have AF points at the edges in DSLRs.
  • Hybrid AF vs. PDAF accuracy: Phase detect autofocus is fast but has issues with accuracy since there are many factors involved and their registered alignment is critical. E.g. the secondary mirror which reflects light to phase detection system, moves and any change in its resting position will cause focusing errors. Then you have the focusing imperfection which come with many lenses for which we need the in camera focus micro adjustment feature. Such problems don't plague the hybrid AF system since both its phase detection and contrast detection occurs on the sensor plane. Plus with Hybrid AF, you have the advantage of both worlds - Speed of phase detection and accuracy of contrast detection.

    The Electronic ViewFinder (EVF) of Panasonic Lumix DMC-G85/G80. With EVF being an electronic display, you get much more information overlay over the viewfinder, which can also be switched on or off. The Optical viewfinder does not enjoy such flexibility and most of the information is stuffed at the bottom and sides of the OVF.
    Image Courtesy: Source - commons.wikimedia.org Author - Petar Milošević

    • EVFs: electronic viewfinders found in mirrorless systems have the ability to show extra information like histogram, focus peaking, blown out highlights (zebra stripes) than what is shown on an OVF. With this information we could avoid blowing up highlights (clipping). With an OVF, we have an exposure scale but nothing much sophisticated.
    • Burst speed: Since they don't involve complications of mirror mechanism, it's easier to attain a higher continuous burst rate at lower cost. So we have even entry level mirrorless systems giving very high burst rates only seen in flagship DSLRs (Sony A6300/6500 vs. Nikon D500 or Canon 7D MK II).
    • Mirror Bblackouts: Due to the lack of a mirror, EVF in mirrorless system don't suffer from mirror blackouts the way DSLRs do. This issue gets aggravated in DSLRs as burst speed gets higher.
    • Operational noise: No mirror noise, DSLRs can get very noisy with the mirror movement. Plus most mirrorless offerings have a fully silent electronic shutter.
    • WYSIWYG: EVF have the advantage of showing what ultimately the camera sensor sees, unlike OVF which just reflects incoming light to your eyes. This is significant since the image would be captured only by the sensor, and EVF gives you a better idea of how the sensor “sees”. Also when we change exposure & other settings, those same are reflected back on the EVF. An advantage of this is that with a mirrorless, you don't need to review your images to check the exposure on the back screen after you've taken them. This is needed in case of an OVF or you need to shoot your DSLR in live view mode. With mirrorless, it's continuously being "previewed" to you in real-time through your EVF. 


        • Viewfinder adjustments: EVFs can be made brighter in darker and dimmer in brighter environments so it's easier to frame a shot and know what's in the scene, OVF simply fail here.
        • Video in viewfinder: With mirrorless systems, one can shoot movies while using the viewfinder. This is very helpful for videographers. Using a viewfinder for video also helps in bright sunny condition where display screen visibility is compromised.
        • Effects: Mirrorless bodies can show effects and filters added to the picture right in the viewfinder, with a DSLR you need to use the live view for this.

         The Canon FD 28-55mm mounted on a mirrorless Sony Nex-3 using an adapter.
        Courtesy: Source - flickr.com Author - David Wright
        • Adapting lenses: With mirrorless systems you get a practical and working solution when it comes to adapting lenses made for other mounts especially the DSLR mounts. This is due to the fact that the flange distance in mirrorless is much lesser than that of DSLRs as you don't have to make space for a mirror assembly. This gives enough space for a smart adapter to fit in which has electrical connections and command translation needed for autofocusing and aperture control. This gives you access to range of DSLR lenses from manufacturers who have a strong established lens lineup since decades.

        There also exist certain disadvantages of Mirrorless - where the DSLR triumphs:

        • Viewfinder lag: There is an inherent lag between the time something is captured on the sensor and when it is shown on the EVF. This might not mean much when capturing stills, portraits and landscapes, but its effect is seen when shooting fast paced events like sports, bird and wildlife.
        • EVF dnamic range: The dynamic range of an EVF is limited i.e. in case of a high contrast scene like say landscape, an EVF would only be able to show a limited range of brightness, this isn’t the case with an OVF, although with EVFs we can increase gain & make the scene look brighter or darker.
        • Idling: The fact that in a mirrorless system, to get a view the sensor must be continuously working results in continuous battery consumption. Hence mirrorless cameras fare very poorly in battery life. This has consistently been one of the gripes against mirrorless by their users.
        • Backup batteries: A weak battery life means you need to charge it more frequently than DSLRs. So if you're out in the wilderness for many days with no source of charging, this is a bad option. Even in normal situations, like a day's shoot, it's common to change batteries once or twice.
        • EVF consumption: The electronic viewfinders are electronic systems and consume battery just like the back screen (only lesser, due to their size and brightness).
        • OVF advantage: The OVF will ultimately always show you the real thing – as what is seen by your eyes, here the EVF can only get more near to reality than be it, while the EVF will better tell what the sensor sees it.
        • EVF performance: What EVF shows and the quality of the image will depend on the sensor. EVFs tend to show noise/grain when shooting in dark (due to reduced signal to noise ratio of sensor in dark).
        • AF performance: Mirrorless tend to focus slowly in low light compared to DSLRs, but they have been improving.
        • Frame rate: EVFs also show reduction in frame rate of its live feed in low light conditions.
        • Handling: The mirrorless system, with the mirror and prism removed is basically a very slim system. This means, in many cases it will lack the large, deep and curvy grip which is kind of a signature of the DSLR. This for many users makes camera handling awkward and cumbersome.
        • Surface area: Being small and compact means there is less real estate for placing buttons, dials and rings. The result is that they are crammed in; have small sizes especially making it kind of awkward to use them, especially the thumb rings. Closely placed buttons could also result in the wrong button being pressed occasionally. This is more of an issue among smaller APS-C mirrorless than full frames.
        • Body balance: The small size and weight advantage turns into a con when using large and bright long telephoto lenses or even some fast prime lenses making the whole body-lens unit front heavy. Here a larger, bulkier DSLR body will better complement such lenses.
        • With an OVF of a DSLR you can frame the subject even without turning on the camera. This isn't possible with a mirrorless as it needs the sensor readout.

        One more point where DSLRs have an advantage is that they, along with an electronic display system (aka. Live view) also enjoy the advantages of Optical view finder, whereas in Mirrorless both EVF and Live view are electronic, hence one doesn’t benefit from the advantages of optical viewfinder system in a mirrorless.


        The successor to the Sony A6300, A6500 is the mirrorless rival to the upper-entry level DSLRs – Nikon D5600, Canon 800D, 77D as well as mid-range cameras like 80D and D7200, it is very slim & light (even its kit lens is very slim), gives bursts at 11fps, has focus peaking, touch screen and a 5 axis image stabilization, 4K but suffers from low battery life and will feel front heavy while using large lenses.
        Image Courtesy: Source - commons.wikimedia.org Author - Miguel Discart

        Lens support for mirrorless is currently expanding, but still lacking when compared to DSLRs which have decades long legacy of lenses and you can get many old lenses much cheaper as compared to their current counterparts.
        Nikon and Canon on the other hand have very strong, well established and consistent base with good range & availability of lenses.


        Advantages and Downsides of Camera manufacturers

        There are certain advantages and disadvantages which come naturally when you buy a camera of a particular brand. Let's have a look:

        Canon:

        Pros:
        • Canon traditionally has provided excellent video features throughout its range from low end to high end.
        • They have an excellent range of lenses some of which are much more affordable (especially the consumer grade lenses) than offerings from their counterparts, take the example of its affordable ultra-wide angle Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM. Also its nifty-fifty; the 50mm f/1.8 is significantly cheaper than its Nikon counterpart.


        The Canon 80D in live view. The 80D not only focuses instantly, but it even can do fast continuous bursts in live view, all thanks to the Canon's efficient Dual Pixel AF system.
        Video Courtesy: Source - youtube.com Author - llib29

        • Canon's live view performance is one level above the competition when it comes to speed and responsiveness thanks to its hybrid CMOS AF technology which uses combination of Phase and contrast detect AF. You can have excellent auto-focus performance as well as continuous burst with focusing in live view.
        • Canon's live view functionality is also very good with touch to focus, complete exposure preview, aperture simulation, live view histogram and zebras.
        • Canon's 1.6x crop although is a disadvantage at wide angle, it provides some extra "zoom" at the telephoto end when compared to same resolution sensor with 1.5x.
        • Canon was the first to implement a fully electronic lens mount - the EF (electro focus) as early as 1987 with the birth of its EOS (Electro Optical System) SLR system. This resulted in one of the most refined lens mounts with an all electrical lens-mount interface while others (Nikon, Pentax including) were busy accommodating electrical points in their existing mechanical mounts. This arguably made lens manufacturing comparatively less complicated and easier for Canon mounts and hence less costly. It also gave Canon a single lens type with uniform compatibility; unlike Nikon which has at least 3 types of lenses based on lens-body interface - the G, D & E type. This complicates compatibility issues and capabilities between bodies and lenses.
        • Canon has generally been the first among DSLR makers to implement latest lens technologies. Take the example of Canon's lens based image stabilization - IS introduced in 1995 vs. Nikon's VR in 2000 or the more recent Canon's STM (stepper motor) in 2012 while Pentax and Nikon would not be having it till 2016.
        • Canon has the largest market share among DSLRs; this translates into 3rd party support generally coming first for Canon than others.

        Cons:
        • Canon's image quality has been consistently lagging behind the competition; Canon sensor noise performance and Dynamic range haven't been up there with the class leaders. Although it's latest APS-C offering - the 24mp sensor found in T6s/T6i (760D/750D), 80D, 77D shows visible improvement from its predecessor.
        • Canon uses 1.6x crop whereas every other APS-C camera manufacturer (including mirrorless) uses a larger 1.5x crop. This means Canon has to spread its pixels (photosites, strictly speaking) over a smaller area. So for a given resolution, say 24MP, the Canon's photosite will be smaller, gathering less light than any of its APS-C counterpart. This results in (slightly) reduced dynamic range and ISO performance.
        • Canon's 1.6x crop also means that the out of focus background will be slightly less out of focus. It also means that any Canon lens for a given focal length is a bit more zoomed. This is a slight problem in wide and ultra-wide angle photography.
        • Canon has been very stubborn as far as anti-aliasing filter (optical low pass filter) is concerned. This is used to reduce the effect of moiré, but at the cost of image sharpness due to induced blur. But with increased resolution it isn't much of a problem and almost all manufacturers of APS-C cameras have got rid of it except Canon. This means Canon's images, for the same lens sharpness will be slightly less sharp (when viewed at 100%) as compared to others especially when shot with a very sharp lens, although most people won't notice it. Plus the job of ruining sharpness is done largely by the lens itself.

        Nikon:

        Pros:
        • Nikon sensors have been providing class leading image quality, dynamic range and high ISO noise performance, even its sensor in entry level D3300/D3400 as mentioned before beats many higher end offerings from its counterparts. This makes it ideal for post-processing when it comes to recovering shadows, after shooting portraits or landscapes (which need high dynamic range).
        • Nikon's continuous tracking (3D tracking) perform very well compared to its competition.
        • After Canon, Nikon comes close second in my opinion when it comes to lens range and availability.
        • Today's Nikon cameras are compatible with most of its older lenses (although D5x00 and D3x00 won't autofocus with lenses which don't have inbuilt motor inside the lens since these bodies don't have in body motor).
        • Nikon cameras generally provide high battery Life.

        Cons:

        • Live view performance - Nikon has been lagging in case of live view performance. Even in its newer offerings like the D5500 the live view performance is average to below average. Nikon is yet to implement on sensor phase detect points (for hybrid focus) in any of its offerings including the flagship D500 and D5. Hybrid focus eliminates hunting and improves focusing speed. This means your every Nikon camera will hunt while focusing. This is especially a problem when autofocusing in video


        The Nikon D5500 in live view. Notice how it hunts while attaining focus. This is due to the lack of hybrid focus and dependence on only contrast detect AF. Due to this there is larger delay before focus is achieved making it unsuitable for fast moving subjects. Such focusing will make videos look unprofessional and you may need to rely on live view. But also note that Nikon has very fewer tools to assist in live view, e.g. it does not have focus peaking (helpful for manual focusing), live histogram etc.
        Video Courtesy: Source - youtube.com Author - DIGIPHOTO fans

        • Live view features - There is no real-time aperture change in live view in Nikon's entry level and midrange offerings unless you are using an "E" type lens which has electronic aperture control instead of mechanical lever (aperture change actually takes place when you are taking the shot and not when making adjustment). Also there is no live histogram, also very importantly there is incomplete & non intuitive implementation of exposure simulation/ preview which is only available in movie mode (but even here in Nikon's APS-Cs in movie mode we cannot change Aperture in live view) Aperture Preview in my opinion is a very helpful & important feature for newcomers to photography and is a very helpful tool in correctly exposing your photos.
        • As mentioned above, Nikon lenses don't have uniform compatibility with all bodies across it's lens lineup. This is the cost Nikon is paying today for keeping lens compatibility with older mechanical and electric cum mechanical lenses. So you now have lenses which need in body motor for focusing and won't focus with bodies which don't have one. Nikon's mid-range and entry level bodies won't support real time aperture change in live view with lenses having mechanical aperture lever; instead need the E lenses which have electrical aperture control. Canon simply doesn't need to deal with this mess.

        Pentax:

        Pros:
        • Pentax have been traditionally very liberal when it comes to providing large feature set. Unlike Nikon & Canon which provide pentamirror OVF (that are dim and don't have full coverage) in their lower end models, Pentax provides pentaprism OVF even in its entry level models like K-500, K-S1, K-S2.
        • Pentax unlike Canon and Nikon employs in body image stabilization so each of their lenses doesn't need to be stabilized - thus reducing lens cost. Also it doesn't matter if we use older lenses since the image still would be stabilized; this isn't the case with Nikon & Canon. This is especially an advantage for Pentax over Canon and Nikon when it comes to fast prime lenses, since almost all primes made for Canon and Nikon lack image stabilization and will need a higher shutter speed to avoid blur.
        • They are known too for their weather sealed bodies and lenses and many other advanced features which other manufacturers hesitate to put in their lower end offerings.

        Pentax K-S2 weather sealing test.
        Although this isn't recommended, torture tests like these and many others is a testament to the tough build and weather sealing of Pentax cameras. This is one brand whose bodies and lenses you can take on a rainy day or in snow, bump around a few times and not worry much about its durability. And unlike other, you don't need to pay a fortune to get this in a Pentax.
        Video Courtesy: Source - youtube.com Author - Albert Siegel

        • Pentax provides some unique modes other than the standard PASM. It has Sv i.e. sensitivity value where ISO is given priority, and also TAv where both shutter speed and aperture are given priority.
        • Pentax cameras have some very interesting and useful tricks under its belt. For example it uses its image stabilization system to shift the sensor to adjust composition without moving the camera. It can also tilt the sensor to have the effect of tilt shift lens (perspective correction). It can also be used to tilt the sensor for auto horizon correction or have the sensor move in synchronization with the earth's rotation using GPS-astrotracer function to eliminate star trails during long exposure astrophotography.

        Cons:
        • Pentax lags behind the competition when it comes to video and many of its lens offerings are noisier and slower.
        • Its OVF autofocus (PDAF) also has been lagging behind the competition (Canon/Nikon).
        • Pentax also lags behind Canon and Nikon when comes to lens range, although it won't be a big problem for the non-professional and there are 3rd party solutions from Sigma, Tamron, Samyang. But even here 3rd party manufacturers are biased towards Canon and Nikon as far as support is concerned as together have been controlling the largest market share since a long time.
        • Pentax uses in body image stabilization, where stabilization takes place at the sensor level and not the lens. This means the view in OVF is not stabilized.
        • Pentax fares very bad in case of battery life considering it's a DSLR.

        Another Interesting point where the Pentax is different from "CaNikon" is how it differentiates between its entry-level cameras and mid-ranges.

        Nikon & Canon have many areas where their performance is class leading - Image Quality, weight, battery performance, AF points etc. for Nikon and AF and video performance for Canon.
        But both tend to hold you back when it comes to advanced features or when it comes to features which will ease or enhance your photography experience - e.g. both will not provide twin command dials, pentaprism etc. in lower offerings.

        Pentax does not have a particular area where it is class leading (it is pretty close to the leaders in many areas though). Maybe it leads in weather sealing and few others but these aren't directly related to photography. But unlike Canon and Nikon, Pentax, in most cases will not limit you when you would want to do some advanced level photography just because you happen to have an entry-level camera.
        This is seen by observing how Pentax differentiates between its midrange and upper-entry level, and how Nikon/Canon does it.
        Canon and Nikon will in most cases just remove an advanced feature to differentiate between an entry level and mid-range/enthusiast offering; e.g. pentaprism OVF, weather sealing twin dials, flicker reduction, AF fine tuning, in body focus motor etc. Pentax keeps almost all of these features in its upper-entry level cameras but differentiates by giving higher capabilities or higher performance to these features in advanced high end cameras (more stops of stabilization, more custom settings, more FPS in continuous shooting etc.).


        Conclusion

        In Conclusion I'd say, if you want to buy DSLRs and are picky about details and pros & cons like me then I would suggest:

        For Video:

        If video is my prime concern, I'd actually go with a mirrorless (even a micro-four thirds) solution. Even some of their entry level offerings provide decent video capabilities; including 4K and being able to shoot video through the viewfinder will always be an advantage for mirrorless over DSLRs. Unfortunately, as of this writing no entry level/mid-range DSLR has 4K capabilities. Still one can say that DSLRs have stepped up their game in video department recently. So in case you want to have a DSLR with good video capabilities, here is my finding:


        • Canon, thanks to its commendable live view performance (Hybrid CMOS & Dual Pixel technology) keeps itself one step ahead of competition, and also because of its silent and fast lenses especially the STM Lenses (you get these bundled as kit lenses too). The 80D, 70D, 77D, T6s/760D and T6i/750D are excellent in this regard (minimal or no focus hunting during Live view tracking of moving subjects) while giving touch AF and a rich live view experience.
        Canon 80D's fast continuous focus acquisition in live view
        Video Courtesy: Source - youtube.com Author - optyczne

        • Nikon is good too, but is slightly let down by live view autofocus performance which is achieved using only the slower contrast detect system. This results in focus hunting and you cannot change the aperture in video mode on the fly (with most lenses with mid/lower range bodies).

        Pentax is way behind the competition in case of video especially among its entry level offerings and is okay only for casual videography.

        For Photos: I would like to further categorize this into 2 types of photography - action and stills, since both command different capabilities and feature set from a body.

        • For Action photography:
          • Nikon is the winner here, although just marginally, thanks to its capable autofocusing system which has its AF points much closer, thus reducing gaps not covered by AF system. Nikon's 3D tracking system is also praised a lot. Nikon sensor's incredible dynamic range and high ISO performance means it gives much more scope for post-processing your images and the lack of Anti-Aliasing filter on its sensor will provide that much sharper images. Nikon is clearly aimed towards someone who uses the viewfinder much more than the live view and that's what an action photographer will be doing for the most time.

          Nikon D7200's 3D tracking in action. The 3D tracking system used the AF system in conjunction with the color sensing RGB metering sensor. This is helpful in tracking a fast moving subject.
          Video Courtesy: Source - youtube.com Author - Petr Lunak

            • Canon takes the close second spot with its equally capable AF system. It doesn't have the same dynamic range & noise performance as Nikon does but has shown lots improvement and has made the gap narrower. And although Canon won't let the OLPF go from its sensors, one must not forget that for long telephoto shooting, for the same focal length you are getting 1.6 times zoom with a Canon DSLR vs. 1.5 from the rest. Also another point to note is that Canon's live view autofocus performance is very strong with highly responsive single and continuous focus. You can even do bursts with focus and there isn't much performance drop when you switch from OVF to live view. So if you want to do some action and like to shoot in live view, Canon is by far the best choice for you.

            • For Stills, macro and landscapes:
              • Pentax is the clear winner for me. Its dynamic range and noise performance is virtually same as that of Nikon but where it clearly excels is the rich live view experience which is very much useful in case of landscapes and macros. Pentax as mentioned above provides auto horizon correction, astro-tracer, composition adjustment, live histogram, sensor tilt, live view exposure simulation/preview, focus peaking, zebras; all of which help you in taking stills, landscapes and macros.
              • Canon takes the second place thanks to its good live view functionality (although there's no focus peaking or zebra here) but an even better and fast live view autofocus thanks to hybrid AF and dual pixel and also don't forget the ease of use of the touch screen and touch to focus in live view.

            For Feature set and value for money:
              • Pentax is the clear winner here, with bright Pentaprism OVF, weather resistance, dual command dials, in body focus motor, In Body sensor shift Image Stabilization, unique modes and many others which are a standard with any body from this brand. Pentax is your best bet to get loads of midrange & high end features at the cost of an entry level camera.
              • Canon comes in second thanks to its competitive pricing of midrange and upper entry level bodies. Plus if you consider the consumer grade lenses, they are one of the cheapest. This makes the body+lens combo very cheap. The touch screen and user interface is arguably one of the easiest to use and highly intuitive, while live view is rich in performance.
              • Nikon is third only because of lack of screw drive motor for AF on older lenses and mediocre live view experience.


              Thanks for reading.
              What are you plans for your first camera? Or was your first camera a DSLR or Mirrorless? Or was it an MFT, bridge or superzoom. What are your plans for future as far as upgrading is concerned. Do let me know in the comments section.


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