How to pick the best interchangeable lens camera system


The classic digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera comes with an optical viewfinder. A mirror sends the light captured by a lens to the viewfinder. — dpa

The classic digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera comes with an optical viewfinder. A mirror sends the light captured by a lens to the viewfinder. — dpa

With or without a mirror? Finding the right camera isn't always a straightforward process. High-quality models don't come cheap, so decisions shouldn't be made lightly. But the good news is that these days it's almost impossible to make a disastrous mistake when it comes to choosing one of the two camera systems with interchangeable lenses.

The classic digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera comes with an optical viewfinder. A mirror sends the light captured by a lens to the viewfinder. Many photographers prefer optical viewfinders to the electronic ones of mirrorless cameras, which come with a display that receives image information from the image sensor. And unlike electronic counterparts, optical viewfinders don't require any power.

"That's why the battery life of SLR cameras is significantly longer," says camera tester Sascha Ludwig. The range of DLSR lenses is also somewhat larger than for mirrorless system cameras. "That's why beginners should be able to buy good used cameras and lenses cheaply."

The fact that DSLRs are always somewhat larger in size due to their mirror box doesn’t have to be a disadvantage: According to Ludwig, many photographers appreciate DSLRs because they are easy to handle.

But in most cases, buyers of a mirrorless system camera won't have to do without a grip either. This design has other advantages: Mirrorless cameras display the image in the electronic viewfinder exactly as it will be taken later. This makes it a little easier, especially for beginners. "You'll be able to spot incorrect exposure or white balance before taking a picture," says photography expert Andreas Jordan.

Furthermore, tools such as a magnifying glass function or the highlighting of the edges of in-focus image areas (focus peaking) in viewfinders make manual focusing much easier.

However, there's a chance you won’t be able to benefit from the more compact housing and lenses of mirrorless system cameras: "If a camera is equipped with a large image sensor, the lenses become as large and heavy as the DSLR ones," explains Jordan.

Another deciding factor can be the video function. "Mirrorless models are very well suited for creating videos of professional quality," says Sascha Ludwig. The reason: Because their autofocus system is located in the image sensor, mirrorless cameras focus as quickly when filming videos as they do with photos.

In terms of quality, mirrorless system cameras have long been playing in the same league as DSLRs. "It's only a matter of time before mirrorless systems surpass them," says Ludwig.

Photographer Sophia Zimmermann goes even further: "DSLRs no longer lead the pack. The mirror is a crutch," she says. Even owning an existing DSLRs lens collection doesn’t mean you'll have to stick with your DSLR. Most manufacturers have released adapters, allowing you to use your DSLR lenses on mirrorless cameras – in most cases, without sacrificing image quality. The range of mirrorless camera lenses offered by manufacturers also keeps expanding.

But how do you find the right interchangeable-lens camera for your own needs? The first criterion is your budget. Beginners should look for models within the US$500 (RM2,092) range, Zimmermann advises. "But beginners should be able to get a DSLR camera with a lens for about US$350 (RM1,465)."

The general rule is: "The trend is towards larger sensors and thus better image quality," says Ludwig. In the case of high-quality models, you quickly get into the four-digit price range. Before buying, you should consider and plan for follow-up costs and investments, such as additional lenses.

If you want to start by getting a feel for the hobby of photography, you can also get started with a second-hand SLR camera. Then you can decide at a later stage, if you end up buying a new camera, which of the two concepts to go for. – dpa