No more reason left for buying an APS-C DSLR?

A few years ago, the main reason to buy and use DSLR where mainly the following:

Better images quality

Optical view finder
Great control of the depth of field (thanks to bigger sensor and faster lenses)
Better controls and ergonomics
Faster AF and many images per second
Access to a full photographic system of lenses, flashes and other accessories

Nowadays, thanks to enhanced sensors, mirrorless cameras, miniaturization, specialized cameras for every kind of photographers, most of these reasons have become less and less true. Of course it still makes sense for some professional photographers, of course I and many amateurs still prefer shooting with a DSLR but as a matter of fact, I like to say the main reason to still go for such a camera is: “I don’t want to compromise”. “I accept to pay a lot, to carry a heavy bunch of gear, to have several bodies and many lenses and accessories, because I will also accept to spend hours on post processes of my images. All I want is the best gear available to let me have the pictures like I want to”.

comparison full frame APS CThis means an  APS-C sized sensor (DX for Nikon) DSLR does not make sense any longer but for those who never tried beforeap one (like a Nikon D3200 which costs less, by far, than a mirrorless whereas able to make really excellent images). Frankly – I own a Nikon D7000, I don’t see the point having nowadays a DX DSLR when you are an “experienced” photographer. Full frame (FX for Nikon) cameras are becoming really affordable and are somewhere, the only consistent option for a DSLR given the present competition of great mirrorless cameras and excellent compact cameras. Back to before 2000, at this time, only such cameras existed!

It does not mean the manufacturers will stop developing lenses for DX, nor will stop releasing new cameras (Nikon refreshed its D7000 recently by the D7100), I just don’t recommend investing into a DX DSLR system. If you have one – like me – you can still use it a secondary system, or because it still works very well but the DX time, basically, sounds to be over to me. Buy FX DSLR cameras if you want no compromise, and middle format should you be able to afford it. Again, if you are on budget, a DX DSLR could be your first DSLR, but it will just be “temporary”. And don’t forget mirrorless, compacts and smartphone as complementary but “mandatory” cameras.

Nowadays, it does not really make sense to own just one camera. And certainly not a DX DSLR!

Further reading:
Why DX has no future
Full frame war
Full frame goes mainstream

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Some thoughts about the future of DSLR and cameras market

Two critical shifts

The two main shifts of this industry look to me so clear I have no doubt the DSLR market will evolve significantly soon, and actually may have already started to: smartphones & mobile device are making many point & shoot cameras obsolete, if not many entry level DSLR. Not because they can challenge them in terms of image quality or performances & controls, but because they are proposing something unique: having always with oneself a camera, and sharing the pictures so easily, two things the other cameras can’t do.

Simultaneously, the mirrorless products are invading the markets and are a fast growing market. Not only they are smaller and as good as DSLR, but they are so innovative that many will continue adopting them. They are not only refreshing the market, they actually fit better with many photographers specification. DSLR was not for many want they really wanted, but only a way to take better pictures, or hoping taking better pictures. Both the reality and the dream now belong to mirrorless. DSLR just mean “being a Pro” or “living his passion whatever the price and the weigh”.

Why DSLR (and Point and Shoot) will continue to exist

However, writing articles about “why smartphones have killed the other cameras” or “DSLR is dead” look irrelevant but to attract readers to the journalist’s stuff.  High end Point and Shoot are very promising, but need to adapt their publishing services and DSLR are certainly not dead. They indeed propose something unique too, unchallenged so far by both smartphones and mirrorless: an optical view finder. As it exists so far only one full frame mirrorless (awfully expensive and quite specialized, the Leica M9), the full frame DSLR also propose bigger sensor, a must for shallow depth of field. DSLR have other advantages but I am not sure they will last (performances are now similar most of the time, if not overcome for some features by mirrorless, and low light advantages of big sensors are becoming less important as the other sensors are becoming so good).

Shallow depth of field and optical sensor can make your photo experience unique. So as long as the other cameras won’t challenge them for these two things, DSLR will resist for the long term. For the short term, Pro and wealthy amateurs will continue buying DSLR for many other reasons.

Long term future

However, the two main advantages of DSLR may not last forever. Nothing prevent manufacturers to release full frame mirrorless. And it would be dangerous to believe EVF (Electronic view finder) won’t be able to challenge if not becoming better than OVF (optical viewfinder) eventually. Or rangerfinder-like camera (dominated so far by Fuji) combining altogether OVF and EVF features are just proposing the best of two worlds. It looks however unlikely to convince many demanding photographers as the rangerfinder ergonomics certainly not fit everyone requirements.

What does it means for us

Unless you are investing for the long term in photography – either as a Pro or a serious amateur, I don’t really see the point for newbies to invest in DSLR. For those who must for their job or want for their passion, DX DSLR look uninteresting but for a pricing motivation, which unfortunately, overcomes everything else as usual. Therefore, concept like the rumoured new Nikon D600 looks great, as it will allow to make a kind of bridge between the “entry-level” DSLR world, and the real one (Full frame bodies), by working easily with both systems. That’s why I believe DSLR DX is dead but for entry-level, or rather should die as I find it not very attractive nowadays. OMHO, it would make more sense “learning” photography with mirrorless or high end Point and Shoot and invest in full frame bodies later, but whenever possible. By the way, the price of some excellent full frame cameras is rather going down, so this is not an option now impossible to consider for many people.

The final words

My bet:

Smartphones will become better and better cameras, introducing zooming, low light enable sensors, and better autofocus to replace definitively most of the point and shoot. This market will not disappear, but will get specialized (megazoom, waterproof, fully customizable& RAW capabilities, …).

Mirrorless will continue to destroy the entry level DSLR market, too bad for Nikon and Canon who have preferred milking the cow rather than surfing the wave, and some mirrorless will become excellent second body for those who will continue to love the full frame DSLR, or other medium format cameras.

And you, what do you think?

Do you really need a better camera? Episode 4: everyday life

I am comparing a DSLR and a compact, both modern and famous for their excellent quality images (Nikon D7000, Canon S100), in order to evaluate when we really need to get one or the other, or both together. Sometimes, I am also comparing the pictures with those taken by a smartphone (Samsung Galaxy SII).  I am also doing this as I have noticed this kind of comparison is seldom done. Most of the time, people are comparing cameras of the same kind but don’t ask themselves whether they really need this category of camera. Previously, I have noticed that outdoor/landscapes shots during the day may not really require the big and fat DSLR. I mean I have been surprised by the performances of modern tiny sensors as soon as there is enough light. However, I have also noticed that for Macro, the DSLR was still much better.

So now let’s come to a very basic kind of pictures: portraits done inside. Everybody is taking some, of friends, family, … I have chose to shoot at the end of the afternoon, my little baby, either when she was playing, or in the arms of her mother but with back to the light. These two kind of pictures are actually technically quite challenging for the cameras, and this time, again, thanks God, the DSLR is again much better, as expected:

The very compact camera cannot be fast at 120mm equivalent (f/5.9). I had to shoot at 1600 ISO, and the speed was from far too slow (1/8 s). The stabilization does not help so much as a baby is not always standing still.

With a modern DSLR and a fast zoom (70-200 VRII f/2.8), everything works as expected, thanks God. This gear (body + zoom) is 8 times more expensive and 10 times heavier than the compact!

With back light, the light evaluation was not as good with the compact than with the DSLR. Further more, I had to shoot at 3200 ISO and whereas the speed was almost fast enough, the back light underexposed it so much I had to post-process the RAW to get an acceptable picture. But the noise is pretty much unacceptable! Last and not least, you can compare the depth of field (DOF). f/5.9 and a small sensor is making more or less any picture with too often too much  DOF.

With the DSLR, the picture is not perfect. The back light made the picture under exposed too but the post processing of the RAW file is providing a much more acceptable results. The speed (1/125 s) was what I wanted (I respected the rule 1/f equivalent FX) and the DOF is much more adequate too.

Comparing the grain of both cameras, after applying some noise reduction during the post process, the difference is not obvious, which mean that you should more take care of the dynamic of the sensor than just the MP (which is a little bit a surprise to me by the way). That said, difference between the two sensors is not that big (12 MP and 16 MP):

(Canon S100, crop 1:1)

(Nikon D7000, crop 1:1)

Conclusion:

To make a long story short, there is still room to improve compact cameras for what they are supposed to be good at: family pictures. Whereas not liked by many photographers, and whereas I am still waiting for a Nikon mirrorless which I could use, you can understand the “raison d’être” of the Nikon 1 bodies: a fast autofocus and a much better sensor than compact can provide decent family pictures, which a high end compact camera like the S100 still cannot do really so often.

Do you really need a better camera? Episode 3: macro

So I am continuing my genuine tests between the best pockable compact (Canon S100) and a good DX DSLR (Nikon D7000). Basically, the idea is to understand much better when to use the tiny camera and when the big guy is really demanded:

During the last two episodes, here and here, I have been quite naughty with the great D7000. But as a matter of fact, for still daylight pictures, the small S100 is just a match whatever you are using with the DSLR.

So to go a little bit further, this time I tried to compare macro’s performance of the two beasts. I am using the Nikkor 105mm VR f/2.8 + D7000 versus the small S100.

This time, the clear winner (Yeah, good to spend so much money and carry such an heavy camera) is the DSLR! I took pictures with the S100 at 24 mm equivalent and 120 mm equivalent at the closest range possible.

Apart from a much longer distance to the subject, the macro lens of the DSLR can provide a 1:1 picture, which really makes a difference.

On a side note, the DOF is really bigger with the small sensor of the S100. Both an advantage (Easier to focuse well a picture) and a constraint (some, like me, are enjoying a reduced DOF).

So, to summarize, a compact camera can make some decent close range shots, but cannot compete anywhere with a DSLR… If you know compact cameras which can, please let me know!

Do you really need a better camera: Episode 2 – Landscapes (again)

In the episode 1, I have been surprised to have excellent pictures from a compact camera (Canon S100) compare with an excellent DSLR (Nikon D7000). Of course, I did not push them to their limits, that was not the point. I just wanted to check how a light and small high-end compact could replace efficiently a DSLR either as a second camera or for shooting which don’t required the performances of a DSLR in low light or fast autofocus. So just to be sure, I did additional tests, first at 24 mm (equivalent full frame) with three cameras: a Galaxy SII, the S100 and the D7000. Then with just the last two of them at 50 mm and 120 mm. The 35mm f/1.8 (equivalent 52 mm) of the D7000 has the reputation to be quite sharp and for the 120 mm, I used a 70-200 VRII f/2.8, not a cheap lens! I would assume much better results with the DSLR + great lenses compare with the high-end compact. But again, the tests are saying something different.

At 24mm:

Two pictures taken with the S100 at f/2.0 and f/2.8:

Obviously, the Nikon D7000 does not really provide better image (you can click on the images to see them at their actual size). And again, the smartphone may be smart, but is nowhere a camera able to challenge the two others!

Crop images:

Galaxy SII

Canon S100 – 24 f/2.0

Canon S100 f/2.8

Nikon D7000+Tokina 11-16 at 16mm f/2.8

At f/2.8, the Canon can show much more details and better contrast but, again, I am finding the Tokina and the D7000 somewhat disappointing compare with their tiny and much cheaper competitor…

At 50 mm:

Crop images:

Canon S100 – 50 mm f/4.0

Nikon D7000 + Nikkor DX 35mm f/1.8 at f/4.0

OK the Nikon and the Nikkor will show more details but the difference is nowhere dramatic as we should have expected. We are comparing a fixed lens and a APS-C camera with a compact zoom!

At 120 mm:

Crop images:

Canon S100 at 120 mm f/5.9

Nikon D7000 + Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VRII at 120 mm f/2.8

Nikon D7000 + Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VRII at 120 mm f/5.6

At f/5.6, the difference is now significant, but certainly not at full aperture of the Nikon! I know, the AF of the small S100 and the DOF cannot be compared with an APS-C DSLR and a pro zoom but to make a long story short:

Conclusion
The S100 is a real option as a 2nd camera during a shooting in “normal conditions”, i.e. without low lights and the necessity to have a very fast AF. Of course, the DOF of two cameras are very different and one cannot make same pictures with both. I don’t believe – regarding DXO tests, that the S100 is the only camera able to perform this way. I just think that modern compact cameras can now really be excellent cameras for serious shooters, even if they may not look like pro cameras!

Do you really need a better camera? – Episode 1: landscapes

The cameras’ manufacturers like when we spend money on their new jewels. Of course we can satisfy our desire for consuming and we can just waste our money. It has the reputation to help against being depressive! Fair enough, but I have always been wondering whether technical improvements were so useful and conversely, I am always wondering which camera do I really need for a shooting?

I am genuinely testing very different cameras : a smartphone, a compact camera and a great DSLR with its sharpest ultra-wide zoon :

Samsung Galaxy 2 (cost and weight virtually nothing as embedded into a phone)
Canon S100 (370 €, 200 g)
Nikon D7000 + Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 (1’700 €, 1’300 g)

The idea is to illustrate thanks to different tests which advantage has each camera based on real life pictures. I don’t intend to make any scientific tests there, just to ponder the necessity of bringing with me a heavy camera (The D7000), or even the necessity to buy or not a compact given the improvements of smartphones’ cameras.

The first test will be very trivial : a landscape, on daylight, still subjects. So I could compare sharpness, contrast, colours, … but I decided to just focus at sharpness on this first test.

Similarly, I compare on purpose JPG and not RAW as I would expect the best camera to provide better JPG too. I have worked with A mode (Aperture priority), and wanted to keep the cameras at f/2,8. That’s indeed the fastest possibility of my Tokina 11-16 and again I would expect given the price, weight and size better results at full aperture with the best camera.

So to make a long story short, I was assuming that at this aperture, the Tokina 11-16 and the D7000 altogether – given the reputation they both have, should be much better than the Canon S100 (and of course of the cheap camera of a one-year-old smartphone!).

First the three pictures :




You may not see it on the web, but you can click on each picture to see them as full scale and on my screen (1900×1200), the Galaxy 2 picture has some visible noise, without making any crop. Given the easy shooting condition, I am disappointed. I am sure newest cameras’ smartphones may be better, but I am sticking to my conclusion : you can shoot with smartphone, but the gap is still immense compare with more serious cameras. Looks trivial, but I am now sure !

Then I cropped at 100 % the D7000 and the S100 :

S100 crop at 100%

D7000 crop at 100%

The D7000 and the Tokina are far from showing more details than the tiny S100, that’s more the other way around ! That was a surprise for me. I don’t want to say the D7000 don’t overcome the S100 in many ways but as a matter a fact, for landscapes done at daylight, I may challenge the reason to carry a so heavy camera ! Nowadays, high end compact cameras have really become extremely capable… OK I need more similar tests with landscapes, but again, on these shots, that’s definitively a real surprise.

Conclusion:

I know I cannot come to a conclusion with just one shot, I will do more tests of course, but so far I have to come the following conclusion: a modern compact camera is just great for taking daylight and still subjects, and DSLR are not always so useful then, at least DX DSLR. Last and not least, smartphones don’t seem to be able to challenge high end compact cameras so far.

If you have made similar tests, please let me know.