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The mirrorless camera invasion

New tech is bridging the divide between complicated DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. Smile!

brunch Updated: Jun 06, 2015 13:26 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times

Meet the DSLR junkie: goatee, tattoo, long unkempt hair, ugly green vest with more pockets than God intended a garment to have, huge Lowepro bag plus a bigger bulging backpack, mouthing jargon like "shutter priority" and "ISO settings".

He lugs a giant, black, very ugly DSLR camera and is dismissive of anything less: "Not for my line of work, dude. I need something professional". The photos are excellent but he spends 10 minutes on each image to explain how his trusted DSLR achieved such perfection!

Now, meet the Selfie gang. They’re usually a self-obsessed clan, 80 per cent of them almost always dressed in black. They’re at a drinks and dinner place but when Chittiyan Kalaiyaan plays, everyone dances and gyrates.

How to capture this epic performance? A passing waiter is kidnapped, a phone is thrust into his gravy-smeared hands and he’s commanded to take their ‘selfie’ (oblivious to the fact that if he’s taking the picture, it’s not going to be one).

The group huddles, 75 per cent pout, the rest swivel 90 degrees and then pout. The waiter takes the picture and everyone gets a quick ‘dekho’. The dark background, harsh strobe lights and the bodies in black together make for a truly horrible picture.

But within seconds the image has been uploaded, shared, commented, liked and loved by thousands.

Beating the odds: Once criticised for various reasons, mirrorless cameras have evolved to doing some things that even DSLRs can’t.

The two extremes

DSLR cameras are the holy grail of photography, but are looked at in horror by non-professionals. A lot has to do with the big bulky bodies and the complicated, unfriendly technical controls.

But if you can master DSLR technology, the output is shockingly good. On the other hand, cameraphones are everywhere, with ever-improving technology, they are completely idiot-proof but need perfect lighting conditions to deliver the perfect picture.

Now there’s an alternative to these extremes. And it’s about to unseat the DSLR as the king of photography. I’m not saying it, the arrogant professional photowallahs are!

The focus has changed
For years, whenever I’ve suggested to professional photographers that the reign of DSLRs may be coming to an end, I’ve been summarily dismissed. But in the last year, things have changed. Dramatically.

Mirrorless cameras have started becoming the choice of the professionals too. Many have confessed that they haven’t taken out their DSLRs for a while and that most of the work that they do now is on MLs.

So what is a Mirrorless camera? What’s the difference between them and DSLRs and which one should you buy? If those are the top questions on your mind right now, then you’ve come to the right place.

What are we talking about?
I’m going to spare you the technical details and get basic. A DSLR looks like a DSLR because of what’s inside. There is a mirror to bounce light from the lens up into a pentaprism that inverts the image right side up and shows it on an optical viewfinder.

This mirror sits in front of the lens. Thus, when you click the shutter release button, the mirror mechanically flips up (that’s the ‘thwack’ sound), the shutter opens, the image is captured and the mirror falls back into place.

That’s why the optical viewfinder blanks out completely when the picture is taken. Now take the mirror, its flip-up-and-down mechanism, the pentaprism and the optical viewfinder out of the equation and you’ve eradicated 70 per cent of the bulky components of a camera. That’s exactly what a mirrorless camera is!

New game, new name

This isn’t a new category. But, with its current technology, it’s on a whole new level.

It confusingly has many names like compact interchangeable lens cameras, hybrids and compact system cameras. Regardless of what they are called, mirrorless cameras have evolved to do things even DSLRs can’t.

For years, they’d been criticised for being slow on burst-speed shooting and action pictures, for not being able to focus fast enough, not having enough interchangeable lenses and not having a viewfinder. Those are things of the past. MLs today have all of that and a whole lot more.

Mirrorless reflections
Join me next week as I take you through the best mirrorless cameras to buy if you are just starting, are on a budget, want the best-looking one, the smallest and thinnest one or the one that can beat the pants off any and all DSLRs.

It’s time to bring the arrogant DSLRians down a peg or two and more importantly to take the selfie-stricken gang up a peg or two in the optics world.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

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First Published: Jun 04, 2015 17:14 IST