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Can Mirrorless Camera Replace DSLR?

Compare Nikon D600 Sony A7

Mirrorless camera technology has a relatively short history, compared to other imaging devices such as DSLR, compact cameras, and even phone cameras, but I must say its development is the fastest among them. In Jan 2009, I experienced my first mirrorless camera in the market, the Lumix G1. It was the beginning of the end – slowly but surely – of consumer DSLR. Throughout the years, I have been reviewing mirrorless cameras of several brands at length. And every time after I reviewed one model, I tell myself: it’s not there yet.

Olympus OM-D EM5

Indeed, each brands engineered bits of imaging technology that seemed impressive. Like Nikon 1’s 15fps continuous AF and 30fps fixed AF still images, or Olympus OM-D SLR-like body construction and high-resolution high refresh-rate EVF. Yes, these technologies surpassed the DSLRs of the same generation, but they still could not beat the imaging superiority of DSLR.

Then in Oct 2013, Sony leapfrogged the mirrorless development with a full-frame mirrorless camera no larger than micro four-thirds. Sony further updated this full-frame mirrorless series in Nov 2014 to make it a more serious contender to traditional DSLR.

I had the opportunity to borrow the Sony A7 from Peter, and had used it for my recent Sentosa staycation. Although I didn’t put it through rigorous shooting conditions, I can feel its shooting responsiveness, spectacular image quality, and robust body design.

Universal Studios Singapore Sony A7
200mm (cropped) F/11 1/320s ISO100

Having tried the A7 in a leisure shoot setting, I decide to put the mirrorless camera system to the test: wedding day photography. In this article, I will address the question: is mirrorless ready to replace the DSLR?

Thanks to Bryan van der Beek who lent me the latest Sony A7II and the 70-200mm F4 OSS FE lens. Pitting against the A7II is my trusty and rusty Nikon D600. I always shoot wedding photography with 2 camera bodies so that I do not have to switch lenses.

Sony A7II 70-200mm and A7 24-70mm

What Works

The A7II is literally a load off my shoulders. The setup is compact and lightweight compared to the D600.

Compare Nikon D600 Sony A7

The A7II is slightly larger than A7 but for good reason. Its grip is thicker and provides better balance.

Sony A7 A7II

The startup speed is relatively slow compared to the D600, so I had to anticipate my shoot by turning it on before actually taking the shot.

As a conventional shooter, I set the main screen to show shooting data while only the electronic viewfinder shows the live view. The A7II electronic viewfinder did not handicap me when doing the shoot. The refresh rate is great, it does not lag and shows the actual exposure before taking the shot, so you practically do not need to check your image after shooting, though I still do that out of habit. But during extreme low light conditions, the EVF will lag, so nothing beats optical view.

Bridal Bouquet Sony A7II 70-200mm
130mm F/4 1/160s ISO640

The AF speed on the 70-200mm is fast (not lightning but comparable to DSLR) but there are instances of hunting which made me missed my shots. That is probably a lens issue so I shall not criticise much. To credit Sony, the A7II seems to have better AF performance than A7, especially AF-C object tracking, a mode I relied when snapping the wedding couple walking down the banquet hall aisle.

Sony A7II 70-200mm
70mm, F4, 1/100s, ISO2500

The in-camera sensor and in-lens stabilizers work together to allow me to shoot 200mm at low handheld shutter speeds. In addition, the high ISO performance adds to the stunning image quality that made the A7II a darling for low-light event shoots. I have never felt so comfortable shooting images above ISO3200.

I am also happy with the shutter response and shot-to-shot speed, even when I am shooting with RAW+JPEG. I completely forgot that I am shooting with a non-SLR camera.

Sony A7II 70-200mm
158mm F4 1/80s ISO4000

So what exactly is a “SLR feel”? For me, it is the weight, the rock-solid large lens, the optical viewfinder, the motor movements of lens seeking focus, the flapping of mirror as one presses the shutter. In short, the feel of a living mechanical hardware, like wearing a traditional timepiece as opposed to a digital watch.

Nikon D600 24-70mm

What Does Not Work

There is still a part of me that does not completely trust a fully electronic camera for mission critical shoots. The startup sometimes took longer than expected, the EVF occasionally had display glitch moments (like going dim for brief moments), the battery consumption is higher than DSLR. There is slight lag in adjusting shoot settings, and the adjustment clicks are closer to one another compared to D600, so I had to turn in smaller movements to prevent overshot.

Sony A7 24-70mm

The ability to capture images on the A7II rests on the 2 digital screens and the internal computer. I know DSLRs are also running on computers, but throughout my decades of experience, they never failed me, whereas I have had plenty of negative experiences with compact and mirrorless cameras.

Yet, when 5 professional full-time photographers, 2 of whom are close contacts, have endorsed the Sony A7 series cameras and been using these cameras for the majority of their assignments, I am confident that Sony mirrorless cameras are more than adequate to replace DSLRs.

Verdict

If I am not shooting events that require split-second shooting responses or extreme lighting conditions (where EVF may not perform optimally), I am thoroughly satisfied with the Sony A7 series cameras. They match and even outperform most entry-level DSLR build and response. The image quality and depth-of-field is on par with DSLR due to the same-size full-frame sensor. It is amazing how mirrorless cameras have progressed at such tremendous speed.

Sony A7II 70-200mm
155mm F/4 1/160s ISO5000

I am quite certain that the next time I upgrade my photographic equipment, it will be to a professional-grade mirrorless system, because my shooting demands have changed from environmentally demanding (weddings, commercial) to a more leisure style (portraits, events). Until then, I will continue to use my Nikon system which has been working exceedingly all these years for professional assignments, and Samsung NX system (sponsored) for most other casual events, including the bulk of my blog photos.

Are you still using DSLR, and if so why? Have you already converted to mirrorless, and is it working better for you? Share your thoughts with me under the comments below.

Summary
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Can Mirrorless Camera Replace DSLR?
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I pit the Sony A7 with Nikon D600. Is Mirrorless good enough to replace DSLR? You will find out in this article.
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