As a photographer this is a question I get asked A TON. It’s usually people looking for cameras that’ll give them better image quality than their phones and maybe the occasional photography as a hobby or travel camera.
The most common camera we see people with (besides their cell phone) is the DSLR. These are those big, interchangeable lens cameras that you’ve probably seen while being a tourist. I’d like to think that they’re what most people think of getting when they want high quality images. These are actually not what I would recommend for the consumer looking to get a good camera.
This past July I traveled to Indonesia and New York City. Both trips required lots of walking around and being out of my hotels/hostels for most of the day. Of course, I brought my DSLR camera, a Nikon D600. It weighs almost 2 pounds without a lens. That actually doesn’t sound like much, but add a lens and a camera bag and you have 5-10 pounds hanging off your neck/shoulder for 3-6 hours. Not to mention the DSLR is huge and moves around a lot, having the potential to hit things like walls or other surfaces.
The biggest complaint I hear for why people don’t use their DSLRs is weight and size, so what I would tell people who want a good quality camera is to get a mirrorless camera. These cameras are small cameras that allow you to change lenses like a DSLR, but are smaller. This is because there is no mirror to take up all this space in the body. The picture below explains it better than words. DSLR on the left and Mirrorless on the right.
These cameras are just as great as DSLRs. They have most of the same features, are quick, and can be easier to use for the consumer. There are a number of professionals who strictly use mirrorless cameras for their work because of the size and weight convenience. Olympus in fact just released the OMD EM1, a mirrorless camera built for professionals. New mirrorless cameras are released just about each year. Because of this, mirrorless cameras can drop in price pretty quickly as in they don’t hold their value as well as DSLRs since DSLRs are updated about every 3-4 years. Olympus’s standard mirrorless camera, the EP5, currently goes for $999 USD. The generation before that, the EP3 which is still very good, currently sells for about $450. This can be both good and bad depending on how you look at it.
So why even buy a DSLR? I still have my D600. It’s my workhorse. It fits my hands well, it has a viewfinder, it’s weather proof, I can depend on it to work, it can survive a drop better, and it gives me the best quality images. There’s a common rule for digital photography: the bigger the sensor, the better the image quality. Cell phones have tiny sensors, so they rank lowest in image quality. Next are the point and shoots, then mirrorless cameras, then cropped sensor DSLRs (consumer level), Full Frame DSLRs (professional level), and finally medium format (super pro level). But don’t let that mean that you need to get a DSLR. To the regular person, he/she won’t be able to tell the difference between the image quality of a mirrorless camera and a DSLR. Mirrorless sensors are only a little smaller than the cropped sensor DSLRs. Some mirrorless cameras like the Sony NEX line even have the same size sensors as consumer level DSLRs.
Since my trip to New York, I got a Fuji X100s (pictured below). It’s a fixed lens camera that has a cropped sensor in it. How I wish I had this small camera with me for my trips rather than my DSLR. It’s small, quick, and gives great quality images. Plus I can carry it around with me every where I go without the weight and clunkiness. I’ll save my D600 for my jobs and personal projects.
At the end of the day, this is just my opinion and thought. If you aren’t looking to get totally serious into photography but want good images and advance yourself more than the average person, then a mirrorless camera would be great. Then you can carry your small camera with you every where and enjoy photography rather than lug a DSLR around. Hope this post helps!