CAMERAS IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS
By Roman Martin
It is difficult to write an article about cameras that satisfies all those that read it. Why? Because as photographers we often develop an attachment to a particular brand and take negative comments and criticism about the equipment we use personally. However, it’s easy to be unbiased when we write about the technological advances that have occurred in the last 5 years, which from our viewpoint has been much more rapid than in the 20 years prior.
Some people will say that a DSLR camera is just an SLR with some electronics and a sensor. While we can think of it this way, there are a lot of technological advancements that have happened in the last few years, and I will try to cover them all. One of the biggest technological leaps forward in DSLR’s is the increase in quality of those sensors. When we compare sensors from 5 years ago to those we use today, there is a significant difference. The pixel quantity has increased tremendously, as well as the ability of taking photographs in dark conditions which helps a lot of photographers in the field.
The Pixel Race
For years, camera manufacturers actively competed to produce cameras with higher and higher pixel dimensions. The quality of a camera was usually judged on just how many pixels the sensor contained, with more pixels meaning higher quality. 10 years ago, a camera with an 8mpx sensor would have been a high-quality DSLR, and you can still take very good photographs with it today. But progress isn’t judged solely on pixel counts. Although more pixels is generally a plus, in the past it was not always that way. In older sensors, adding pixels sometimes made the pixels smaller (size in nano millimetres), thereby increasing the occurrence of noise. Increased noise is a side effect in high sensitivity of sensors (ISO scale), appearing as a small color spot along with lower color contrast and sharpness.
We could really have an entire post dedicated to the advancement in quality of image sensors and how much noise occurs, but there has been a lot more going on than just that. There are other significant improvements in cameras, for instance autofocus speed is much faster. In some pro series of cameras, high-speed continuous autofocus has progressed to the extent that you can track moving objects in sports and shoot up to 12 fps. And every image will be sharp.
This may not sound significant, but in order to reach such results it is necessary to make large advances in the development of software and processors to implement such technology. Of course, as time passes this technology is implemented in cheaper camera models, too. After a few years, technology once reserved for expensive pro cameras will soon show up in less pricey consumer cameras.
Probably the biggest advancement in technology is the growth of what is know as mirrorless cameras. When ML (mirrorless) cameras started to appear about 5 or 6 years ago, most professionals were quick to say that ML would never replace the Pro Series of DSLR’s. But this wasn’t exactly how it turned out.
Why? Because in today’s market there are ML cameras which can shoot up to 20fps in continuous AF mode, without any darkened sequences among the shots. You can also shoot a video and take photographs at the same time. This is today’s technology and it will only get better.
What does all this mean? It means that professional photographers will watch technology progressing rapidly in ML cameras, while DSLR cameras stagnate. The only advancements that can occur in DSLR’s at this moment is to increase the number of pixels, or perhaps to add some fps (frame per second). It is mechanically difficult and expensive to develop the mirror system moving up and down when we take photographs, and thus limits the ability of camera manufacturers to make many more improvements in the future.
When it comes to cameras, the size and weight is really a personal preference. But when people hire photographers, many would rather see large cameras than small ML cameras, because the perception is that it is more professional. In my personal opinion, one more advantage of the ML camera is the inclusion of a high-quality EVF (Electronic Viewfinder). It allows us to see our composition and exposures exactly. This is a huge advantage over a DSLR, where we must use our knowledge and experience to fully understand what our composition and exposure will look like after we take the photograph.
To add more complications, there is also a new segment of expensive professional Medium Format cameras that are now mirrorless. They have large sensors at reasonable price, with huge advantages over the larger, slower and ungainly MF DSLR cameras. Some people might say that everybody can now be a good photographer, because the camera helps you so much, that all you have to do is point and shoot to obtain the desired photograph.
In today’s world of technological progress, we all aim at faster, better, cheaper and higher quality. We buy cars equipped with lots of advanced technology, knowing that soon they will even drive automatically. Even our household devices are remotely controlled through our computers. Yes we aim at an easier life, but that does not mean that a camera produces unique and wonderful photographs by itself. Regardless of which camera we use, it’s still us that creates the photograph. But we shall talk about that some other time.
And of course, Smartphones
We are also witnessing an era of big progress in Smartphones. In the last few years, Smartphones have taken a huge piece of the camera market. This is such a massive industry shift that some cameras manufacturers are in serious financial problems. The entire segment of small compact cameras that was once the largest part of their business is completely gone because of Smartphones.
Compact cameras are no longer being produced today because Smartphones with larger and high-quality sensors are capable of creating excellent photographs. In today’s era of technological progress and fast living, 95% of photographs are placed online, and with Smartphones this can happen immediately. With a few clicks, we can process, crop, and add text, then post to various social network platforms etc. Small compact cameras simply could not keep up with Smartphones and this resulted in their elimination from the market.
You can read my previous post about photographing and processing photographs with Smartphones here: SHOOTING WITH IPHONE.
In addition to DSLR and ML cameras, some manufacturers have put out hybrid models as well, such as the Sony SLT system, but this will be covered in a future post with specifications and details.
Ultimately, it all comes down to our personal preferences, in response to how marketing companies promote their products, and how we use the equipment professionally. Selecting equipment at a time when new products or models are released every few months is not easy, especially for amateurs and enthusiasts. It’s difficult to guess where the market is going, or how fast it will get there. Some people are already officially announcing that ML cameras will flood the market and become the standard for professionals. We can all wait and see, only time will tell what the real situation is in the future. And the future is not that far away.
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