Are mirrorless cameras better than dSLRs yet? That’s been my question for the past few years ever since I reviewed the Fujifilm X-Pro1. It was clear that mirrorless cameras were the future even then, and that the companies involved were improving them faster than the traditional dSLR manufacturers.
But at the time, I thought that there weren’t better yet, and bought another Nikon. I wanted to see what the current mirrorless cameras were like. And from the 100,000+ views on the video I also put together on YouTube, it seems that interest in mirrorless cameras is pretty strong.
So this is about helping you decide whether mirrorless cameras can replace your dSLR, and to validate your choice if that last sentence isn’t applicable.
Fujifilm kindly lent me their excellent X-Pro2 camera with the 23mm, 56mm f1.2 and 90mm f2 lenses. I teamed up with world-travelling photographer Richard Hadley for the review and tried several of his Fuji lenses including the 35mm f1.4 too. Therefore, this review will also address the lenses available for the dSLR/ mirrorless systems; and which I preferred and recommend between the esteemed 56mm f1.2 and 90mm f2 lenses.The X-Pro 2 Viewfinder
The immediate difference between dSLRs and mirrorless cameras is, surprise surprise, the flappy mirror. The X-Pro 2 actually has a dual viewfinder with an evf and also an optical viewfinder that looks similar to a rangefinder. The latter wasn’t so useful with the longer lenses I was using so I didn’t use it much.
The benefit of the dSLR mirror and pentaprism viewfinder is that you’re literally looking through the lens. So of course there’s no lag and the colours are limited only by the glass and your eyes; and there’s no battery drain either.
These differences used to be enough to disqualify mirrorless cameras for everyday use. But when I looked through the X-Pro 2 camera’s electronic viewfinder (evf), I immediately saw that things had changed.
There was so little lag that I couldn’t notice any, and the colours were bright and clear. Where previous evfs has been dark and noisy in low light with blocked shadows, the X-Pro 2 was actually better than looking through my Nikon’s optical viewfinder.
And in good light, it was arguably better. Because you can see the images as they will actually look, which makes black and white photography a lot easier. You can also see the pictures you’ve taken clearly without having to find shade so you can actually see the screen.Manual Focussing and Lens Treasures
All of this talk about the viewfinder has brought back fond memories of manual focus with the Fuji Xpro2. Let me be clear that I usually hate focussing manually, mainly because even with the dioptre adjusted, I don’t find the viewfinders on most dSLRs good enough to achieve critically sharp focus at f1.2-f1.8.
But this changed with the Fuji camera. Focus peaking, which accentuates micro contrast (using a high pass filter I think), makes manual focus much easier. And that without sacrificing the brightness that focussing screens built for manual focus [...]
The Sigma 24-105mm f4 OS Art lens could be the only lens you need for a full-frame camera. It’s slightly longer telephoto reach compared to the professional 24-70mm lenses is useful and can save carrying an extra telephoto lens. f4 isn’t ideal, but the optical stabilisation and high ISO capabilities of modern cameras largely makes up for this. It isn’t weather-sealed. It is big and heavy. It is good value, and a recommended buy as a lens to leave on the camera most of the time.Prime vs Zoom lens
Prime lenses (which can’t zoom) are great until you need to get a shot and you don’t have time to change lenses (assuming you even have the one you need). Most professionals don’t rely on a fancy 200mm f2 lens or even a 50mm f1.4; they use a general purpose zoom lens most of the time.What’s the best lens for …?
As photographers, we love the slightly wide-angle to slightly telephoto 24-70mm and slightly telephoto to longer telephoto 70-200mm lens combination. Occasionally, a wider lens like the 14-24mm will join the team, with a large-aperture prime lens added for low light/ shallow depth-of-field photos. Those four lenses are really all the vast majority of photographers will ever need. In fact, just the 24-70mm lens will be fine for most people.Is a Superzoom lens any good?
A super-zoom lens covers from wide-angle to long telephoto like a 18-300mm lens. Are they good lenses? Yes, because they are very versatile. No, because they make too many sacrifices. The Sigma has a 4.4x zoom range; I’ve never heard a professional compare a lens with this #x figure.The Canon/Sigma 24-105mm f4 lens
70mm is okay for a portrait, but 105mm is better. The Canon and Sigma lenses zoom in slightly more than the standard 24-70mm lens, which is often very useful. The Canon lens isn’t as sharp as the Sigma lens, but is weather-sealed. There are also lots of used Canon 24-105mm lenses available so if you can get one significantly cheaper (they’re already cheaper new) than the Sigma 24-105mm lens, it’s a good deal. Otherwise, because the Sigma is a little better at everything else, it is preferred.Vs. the Nikon 24-120mm lens
Nikon has a slightly longer zoom lens. However. the extra 15mm hardly makes a difference so isn’t a big factor in comparing the two lenses. The Nikon lens is more expensive, but it isn’t as sharp. It is lighter and uses 77mm filters compared to the heavy Sigma with 82mm filters; the Sigma feels sturdier.Vs. the Nikon 24-85mm lens
This lens is included with cameras sometimes. It’s lighter, plastic-y and the image quality isn’t as good. But the Nikon can be found cheaply second-hand and may suffice.f2.8 vs. f4
The professional 24-70mm lenses traditionally have a maximum aperture of f2.8. This helps blur the background a little more and lets in more light which allows you to use a faster shutter speed; important when photographing action or in low-light conditions. f2.8 is preferable, though it can make the lenses bigger/heavier. The Sigma 24-105mm lens has [...]