For more than 40 years, I looked forward to the “thunk-click” that came with each and every press of the shutter – first with my SLR film cameras, and more recently, with my dSLR (digital) cameras. It let me know either that the film was being exposed, or that the digital sensor “saw the light.” Photographing weddings, portraits, sports, nature or a myriad of other subjects, I always knew from the sound that something was working correctly.
With the film cameras, experience guided me, but I really had to wait to get the negatives back from the film labs to judge the quality of my work. With the digital SLR cameras, I could review each image after pressing the shutter for that assessment.
Enter the mirrorless world! In short, what you see is what you get. Subtle exposure adjustments can be seen through the EVF (electronic viewfinder) or on an LCD screen in real time. Better yet, there is no longer that “thunk-click” when using the electronic shutter, and some cameras have eliminated a mechanical shutter altogether (Nikon Z8/Z9, with more manufacturers following suit soon). For bird and nature photographers, or in cases where even the slightest noise might startle a subject, a totally noiseless camera can make the difference in capturing previously almost impossible-to-get images and abject frustration.
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I had serious reservations about using an EVF after years of looking “through” the taking lens. “How could anything be better?” I thought. The ability to see a bright image in a very dark environment did much to address some of those reservations. But it is the ability to get that perfectly exposed image, with the addition of focusing aids such as focus peaking (a highlighted color on area(s) in sharp focus) that completely sold me on this new technology.
Depending on the camera model, many other features are made possible by eliminating the mirror mechanism and/or a mechanical shutter. Shutter speeds up to and exceeding 1/32,000th of a second and insanely high frame rates of 30, 60, 120 and even 240 frames per second are now possible, making capturing hummingbirds and dragonflies in true stopped motion relatively easy, with a bit of patience in the mix.
Another truly great feature of almost every new mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, although not new technology, is in-body camera stabilization. For my aging hands, being able to still hand-hold a camera without always relying on a tripod to avoid camera shake, assures me of tack-sharp images at shutter speeds far slower that I was previously able to use.
Are my SLR and dSLR cameras obsolete? Hardly. They are still capable of capturing beautiful images. However, the major camera manufacturers are stopping production of almost all current models, with no announcements of future dSLR cameras. Newer isn’t always better, but in the case of mirrorless, interchangeable lens cameras, the technology greatly enhances our ability to capture images faster, more accurately and better exposed.
Are they better images? That still depends upon the photographer!
Dr. Photo – AKA John Keller – operates a full-service photography studio, #5, and art gallery in the Mission Arts Building at 124 S. Ninth St. in Lincoln. Keller teaches introductory and advanced courses in digital photography, cell phone and tablet photography and editing/post-processing and scanning slides, negatives and prints at Doane University in Lincoln, and SCC Continuing Education. He also offers private and group digital photography lessons. Email your digital photography and computer questions to: [email protected].