Digital photography took off in the last decade and everyone rushed out to buy themselves a nice little digital camera. I’m talking about the point and shoot cameras that we are so used to today. The interest in P&S cameras is still present, but it's not to the same extent as it was back in the earlier half of the decade.
Are DSLRs on their way out?
These days, everyone wants to buy a DSLR. They’ve always portrayed the image of being the serious photographer’s tool. Everyone who spots you sporting a DSLR around your neck considers you to be a serious photographing enthusiast, no matter how little or how much you really know about photography. I think it’s become fashionable to carry a DSLR along with bag full of lenses at large social gatherings. It works both ways – at social occasions such as weddings, you automatically assume the role of a photographer.
DSLRs have always been superior to point and shoots, when it comes to performance and quality. Even the cheapest of DSLRs will always be superior to the majority of point and shoot cameras in the market. And if you’re wondering, phone cameras don’t come close to any DSLRs or even point and shoot cameras. Point and shoots have always had somewhat lower quality and performance which is primarily contributed by the lack of a large sensor that you typically find on a DSLR camera. Point and shoot cameras are however smaller, lighter, easier to use and are more practical.
Large sensors, small cameras
There has been a change in trend recently. Large camera manufacturers have started designing and manufacturing cameras that fall somewhere in between the DSLR and a point-and-shoot camera. They manage to tie performance of the DSLR to the ease and practicality of a point and shoot. There have been attempts by manufacturers where smaller sensors have been used. These were popularly called Micro Four Third system cameras, and these spawned a range of new lenses and accessories. However, to keep costs down or to increase margins, the quality of the product itself was lacking. The trend didn’t quite pickup and enthusiasts stuck on the ultrazoom and prosumer cameras because they had large optical zooms, tons of features and reasonably good image quality at an affordable price.
I, personally, was particularly impressed by the recent Sony NEX-5, which was one of the better cameras I've reviewed. It isn’t a Micro Four Third camera and uses the same APS-C format sensor as a conventional DSLR and performs like one. Canon also has a PowerShot G series which is a prosumer class camera, but one of the features missing is the interchangeable lens. The NEX-5 has a few interchangeable lenses that you can buy. The price of the camera isn’t all that high either. It’s priced at a little more than an entry-level DSLR camera. Being one of the few of its kind has its drawbacks - Sony demands a price.
But what if these cameras were to cheaper and drop under the Rs. 20,000 mark? Shouldn’t a lot of people just give up their DSLRs and move to the new mirrorless system cameras? There are a few things stopping us from doing so. The first is most likely its price today. I wouldn’t spend Rs. 30,000 on a camera that performs like an entry-level DSLR. With DSLRs priced at under Rs. 30,000, I'd much rather one of those.
Electronic Viewfinders are annoying
The other reason I’m not very keen is the fact that there isn’t an optical viewfinder like the one you find on DSLRs. An electronic viewfinder I’ve found on every camera I’ve reviewed has a poor resolution, gives barely average quality and the frame rates fluctuate drastically when you play around the ISO settings or shoot in low light. If there’s one thing I didn’t like about the Sony A55, another decent camera, it was the electronic viewfinder. The on-screen display is more comfortable and is fine for most uses, but more serious photographers might agree that the EVF is an annoyance. Every brand has their lens mount, but a new format means there are even fewer options in the market. If I spend on a DSLR, I still have the option of selecting from a much wider variety of lenses in the market.
What I want to see
Here’s what I think is needed for mirrorless systems to be accepted (mostly my wishlist). They need to be cheaper than a basic DSLR. A good market price would be somewhere between Rs. 15,000 and Rs. 25,000, which should include an 18-105mm lens. Camera manufacturers should develop an adapter that lets you use lenses from traditional DSLRs. The processing power of the camera should also increase to eliminate the lag and poor performance while shooting photographs in low light.