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Yet another DSLR vs. mirrorless question

Hello. I've searched through many previous posts giving camera advice, but I'm not finding enough information specific to my situation. I'm sure all of you can give me some good advice.

I love taking pictures when we travel; they are my main souvenirs. I use them to create photo albums and also to do framed wall prints; I have enlargements as big as 16 x 20 and wouldn't rule out wanting future larger prints (if only I had more wall space!!).

I love my current DSLR; it is a 6-year-old Canon that works well for me. I am not a camera geek and don't play around much with individual settings, and the Canon gives me great shots using its many auto features. I generally travel with my 18-55mm lens. I also have a 55-250mm telephoto that sees a lot of use close to home, but it's just too heavy to travel with. I don't take any video when we travel, just still shots.

My only issue with the DSLR is of course the overall weight. I have been considering switching to a mirrorless camera for a long time now, but I'm not convinced it would deliver on the photo enlargements. Even though I'm not a camera geek, I do like good quality prints, and anything grainy or less clear or less saturated would really bother me.

This summer, we are planning to travel to Switzerland, the land of big, beautiful photo opportunities. I am again considering switching to a mirrorless, but I'm worried that I'd bring home shots that I couldn't use on my walls. I'd rather hoof the DSLR than risk no enlargements at all.

Feedback from those of you who use your photos in the same way? Would you bring just a mirrorless and be happy with the results?

Thanks so much!

Posted by
441 posts

Retired photographer here.
Short version: Since retiring, my best camera has been my iPhone.

MUCH Longer version:
Photography separates itself from snapshooting not with tools and toys but rather with skills and craft. It is not difficult to learn how to use your existing tools to shoot better stuff without thinking about the actions required. Just takes time, practice, and careful deconstruction of what went wrong. This is best accomplished in a formal classroom situation.

If you do not know how to use the controls of your DSLR (f-stops, shutter speeds, advanced focusing automation, much more, all those things on the endlessly scrolling menus), there is no reason for you to either pay for them or carry them around in a massive machine you simply do not need. Large prints do not require the total megapixel resolution you are carrying, either. Print quality is an interactive and multiplicative function of exposure, focus, lens quality, presence of sensor dust, the system’s digital noise, sensor size, and your post processing/editing skills. If you know what you’re doing and your system will deliver clean, sharp images, six to eight megapixels is all you really need to produce marvelous, uncropped 20” prints. But, if you’re relying on 20-40MP sensors to crop much or often, two things: you don’t own the lens you need and your composition skills need a boost. Learn to shoot the image you want, not the one you’ll crop later.

A mirrorless machine can offer interchangeable lenses, and a case hardened against some environmental elements, while providing a remarkably long list of incomprehensible options and features in a lightweight package. Still, it’s much more camera than most can ever hope to use well. A travel kit usually includes a super wide (for those cramped interiors and selfies), a normal-range zoom (that turns out to be either rarely used or never removed), and a super telephoto or long zoom (for mountains, wildlife, scenics, and candids). Add some spare batteries, tripod, spare cards, backup drive, protective cases, filters, auxiliary lenses, and more toys, you’ve got a large investment in mass and money.

When I was working, efficiency was an economic factor (time required to adapt the camera to the situation was time I was not shooting) so I carried three identical—and identically formatted—Nikon machines, each fixed with a different lens. IMpractical for casual shooters on vacation, of course, but swapping lenses is inherently dangerous: dust and moisture penetration, hassle, missing the shot, and risk of damage from dropping components or twisting together misaligned bayonets. Maybe two less expensive cameras fixed with the two lenses you know you need is actually a more practical package.

Shopping for a new travel camera system is a long list of major and unnecessarily difficult decisions. The marketplace is full of beautiful cameras. DPREVIEW is still among the better reliable review sites. I wish you a lot of luck and I hope you will have fun shopping. I strongly urge you to support your local camera shop first, Costco second, and an online store last. You will find the differences in prices are only about 10-15% and establishing a relationship with a local shop is how you will meet other shooters like yourself.

Posted by
574 posts

I have been considering switching to a mirrorless camera for a long time now, but I'm not convinced it would deliver on the photo enlargements

I have a micro 4/3rds camera which is what I think you are referring to. It is jacket-pocket size and takes great photos that can be enlarged with good quality. The reason is the sensor size. You can see the size of various sensors at http://photoseek.com/2013/compare-digital-camera-sensor-sizes-full-frame-35mm-aps-c-micro-four-thirds-1-inch-type/

I'm not an expert but from what I've read online a bigger sensor is better for taking low noise pictures. The sensors in a phone or pocket camera are tiny. They can take decent daylight pictures but when you blow them up you can see some noise, and in lower-light situations such as a church or museum they will have a lot of noise when enlarged.

You can find more about the effect of sensor size on quality online such as at https://www.davemorrowphotography.com/camera-sensor-size-guide

Posted by
1091 posts

I am a Canon DSLR user in the same situation as the OP. I recently switched to the Canon M Series mirrorless camera. The camera and its lenses are very light and small compared to their DSLRs. I find that it takes good photographs acceptable for enlarging. The only drawback I find is that it is a crop camera and therefore you will miss the very wide angle lenses of a full frame DSLR. Also as a crop camera, the sensor size is smaller (but is still much larger than a phone camera) so there is additional noise in low light photographs. I have looked at the Canon full frame mirrorless camera. The cameras themselves are smaller than the DSLRs but the lenses are still large so there is no big size/weight savings.

Posted by
20624 posts

That was the most sensible response to that question in decades. Summary -- it is the shooter, not the camera. For years I shot with a Contax set up (range-finder) with Zeiss lens for many of the above reasons. Tried to stay out of the single lens argument. The only photography prize I won was shot with an old Olympus RC with a Zeiss lens. Now shooting with a Panasonic DMC-Z550 (Lumix) that matches or exceeds your DSLR in performance on the auto settings and it fits in a pocket.

Posted by
4686 posts

Yes, a bigger sensor is generally lower in noise, and the lower the noise, the better the quality your picture will have (especially in low light) when enlarged. 16x20 isn't really that big. I've 24x36 prints on my wall shot with my Canon 5D 12MP camera (Venice and Paris), and they look amazing. Megapixels aren't the end-all be-all; low noise is more important.

For a travel camera, I'm now using a Lumix DMC-FZ1000 "bridge" camera (same idea as a 4:3 but I'm not sure it really is one). This camera is a good few years old by now, but it still works fine. It looks like an SLR but has an attached, non-removable lens. I haven't actually enlarged anything yet that I've shot with it, but I can see looking at the raw image files that they will look great. The camera has some limitations, for sure, but it has worked great for what I need.

Sony has a popular, more expensive version of this type of camera called the RX10. It is not a little compact P&S but like my Lumix has a real lens. I'm not saying you can't get away with a more compact camera, but the lens will not be the same, and you will lose even more of what you are used to with a DSLR. On the upside, cameras like this are lighter than a DSLR with a lens; my Lumix is about 1/2 the weight of my 5D Mark II with a 24-105mm lens attached. And of course, I don't have to carry any other lenses, which makes my bag a lot lighter.

If you are worried about picture quality when enlarged, the obvious thing to do to alleviate your concern is to try a new camera and make some enlargements with it. When I got my Lumix, I really tested it out - mostly shot in low light with a tripod. (It was tough getting used to; much harder to focus in low light than my Canon is.) Most cameras will excel in good light but suffer in low light, so I would test it in different conditions.

Posted by
4686 posts

"It's the shooter not the camera" is kind of a cliche that only goes so far. A good photographer learns the limitations of any piece of equipment and knows how to compensate...but superior equipment gives a good photographer even more tools to use to create better images. I wouldn't use a fancy camera as a crutch, but having one superior will still improve the images I shoot.

Posted by
50 posts

I have a Sony a6000 mirrorless I have used for several years. I travel quite a bit and love this camera for travel. Most of my travel pictures are in auto setting because I’m often shooting on the run on a tour. I’ve been very pleased with this camera and the quality of shots. My favorite lens is my Sony Zeiss 16-70 mm. Ninety percent of my travel photos have been taken with this. This camera and lens combo does very well In low light conditions, such as in a cathedral. It takes outstanding landscape photos. I do take a longer zoom along usually. An investment in a good quality all around lens is just as important, if not more so, than the camera.

I did a lot of research and read reviews from professional photographers who sang the praises of the Sony mirrorless. I have not regretted buying it.

Posted by
643 posts

It's not 'just the shooter', or just the sensor, or just the lens, or just the type of camera. It's all those things.

An iPhone camera has a small sensor, virtually no zoom, and no viewfinder - which will all combine to mean the majority of photos taken with it will not be as good as with other cameras. I sometimes get some great shots with my phone, but I would not rely on just an iphone for a trip.

I also have a canon DSLR which hasn't even been out of the drawer for years. Just too heavy and the results not worth it. I have mostly shot with a 'Bridge' camera - most recently the Panasonic FZ 300 which I love, but in low light it really sucks. However, with good conditions I've gotten many results that I've had printed 16x20 that look fine, more than fine. It's successor, the FZ2500 is even bigger and heavier (almost as much as a DSLR) and while it's sensor is larger (1") I decided to replace it with a micro 4/3 mirrorless. I just got the Panasonic G7, it's considerably lighter than the FZ2500 bridge camera, and much lighter than a DSLR. I also hate changing lenses when I'm traveling (and the weight of carrying two) so I got it with an equivalent 28-280 zoom. Have not taken it on a trip yet but testing it out I like it, and even in low light it seems to produce good results.

I also shoot with a 'back up' camera, lately a Sony RX100-V, which also has a 1" sensor and a viewfinder. So theoretically that would produce better results than a camera with a 1/2.3 (like the Panasonic FZ300). And sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't. Which is my point that just the sensor size alone doesn't tell the whole story. But if you are thinking about a new camera a 4/3 sensor is probably what you are looking for.

Posted by
267 posts

Another (happy) Micro 4/3 shooter here. I love my iPhone and I love my full frame Nikon d750, but m4/3 really hits the sweet spot for me for travel. It's versatile. On days when I am visiting cathedrals and churches, I can pack a tiny wide angle lens; if I am hiking, I can pack a superzoom lens. It's weather sealed (if I pack the right lenses). I don't worry about rain or extreme dust or geyser spray. It's small. I can fit a generous kit under the airplane seat; I can carry it all day without killing my shoulder; and I can often take it into museums when my dSLR-toting companions have to check their camera at entrance. Finally, it's just plain fun to shoot, with plenty of manual dials and controls to keep me from having to menu-dive.

I don't think you will see much, if any, difference in image quality between m4/3 and an APSC dSLR --- especially with a six year old dSLR. In fact, the only time I can tell a noticeable difference between m4/3 and my full frame camera is when I am shooting moving subjects at night --- something I tend not to do on trips to Europe. Last year I took both m4/3 and a full frame camera to Yellowstone, and I was hard pressed to tell which image came from which camera.

The weight advantage with m4/3 comes more from the lenses than from the bodies. My lightest m4/3 lens, a 12-32mm, clocks in at just over 2 ounces.

Finally, although I love to shoot with my iPhone, I find it a little too restrictive to be my only camera on a major trip.

Posted by
287 posts

Thank you all for taking the time to share your information and experiences. I really appreciate it.

You have given me a ton of leads to follow, so I will continue researching. I am enjoying the learning process.

Posted by
30951 posts

Deb,

I'm an amateur photographer and have been since about the mid '60s. I always pack along a full size DSLR on trips, as I find that's the only way I can get the results that I want. It's a bit of a hassle but photography during travels is important for me, so I tolerate it.

I suppose the biggest question on whether to upgrade to a mirrorless camera will depend on your budget. If you buy an interchangeable lens model, you'll not only have to invest in the camera but also all the accessories and lenses that go with it. That could be a significant investment! You'll have to determine if the "cost/benefit" ratio is worth it.

In my case, I'm on a pension so will stay with my present camera. I'm "comfortable" with it and even though it's large and heavy, I can't imagine travelling without it. I also pack along a Panasonic Lumix long zoom P&S camera as a "backup", and for use if I'm going out in the evening and don't need the larger camera.

Good luck with your decision!

Posted by
287 posts

Ken, yes, cost is definitely a consideration, or, as you more accurately describe it, cost/benefit is a consideration. I am perfectly happy with my old DSLR 50 weeks out of the year; it does everything I need, takes great photos, and is comfortable and familiar to me. Truth be told, I usually intensely dislike new technology because the learning curve initially slows me down (yes, I worked in IT for 20 years and hate new technology, go figure). So I am one to hang on to cameras, phones, TVs, laptops.... forever......

But by day five of any trip, I am usually giving my old trusty camera the stink eye because it just weighs so much and is a pain to carry around.

So, I’m willing to spend some bucks on a smaller one, but only if I know I can get the results I like (including educating myself on its use and being patient with the learning process). But I’m not willing to spend thousands on a replacement when the camera I already have is fine for the majority of the year.

So, yes, cost to benefit ratio is definitely a factor. Thanks for bringing it up.

Posted by
132 posts

I have a Sony a6000, with the standard lense and a Sony telephoto to 200. Except for a recent safari trip, I use the standard lense and get great pictures. While in Africa my wife used her IPhone for video and pictures. Both gave us great shots and the flexibility to do both closeups and distance.

We are not even good amateurs, but we get pictures that are great, for us using both.

Downsize and enjoy the results of carrying less gear.

Posted by
30951 posts

Deb,

I've had many examples of times when I've been able to get some really good shots due to the fact that my DSLR is able to power up and focus quickly. If I had to wait for my P&S to power up, extend the lens and think for a few seconds before it's ready to take a picture, I would have missed a lot of good shots.

As far as the weight of the DSLR, I hardly even think about it as it's just one part of my usual gear. I would feel that something was missing if I left the hotel room without it. When out touring for the day, I also carry an extra lens, additional memory cards and a spare battery along with a bottle of water and some personal items, so that adds to the weight. I have found that my shoulders are aching a bit at the end of a long day.

Posted by
118 posts

Deb,
I am a photographer, and I just upgraded to a Nikon Z6, which is a mirrorless camera. With a lens made to be used on the camera, the whole setup is significantly lighter. This camera takes betters pictures than my DSLR. You are not sacrificing quality for less weight. It really does boil down to cost. A good, mirrorless camera with a kit lens is not cheap.

I do love taking pictures when I travel. Sometimes my companions become impatient with me :)

Beth

Posted by
345 posts

I have a Sony a6000 mirrorless I have used for several years.......My favorite lens is my Sony Zeiss 16-70 mm. Ninety percent of my travel photos have been taken with this. This camera and lens combo does very well In low light conditions, such as in a cathedral.

This is also my travel setup. A few comments:

  • While the A6000 body is relatively small and inexpensive, the mentioned lens is not. It is big and heavy on the body, and is twice the cost of the body. IOW, when it comes to size and cost, the lens rather than the body is the problem.

  • Focusing in low light is not good, hunts a long time and misses.

  • Camera battery lasts ~200 shots. Need spares.

  • The constant aperture is only f4. But a f2.8 lens would be huge and cost a fortune.

Posted by
607 posts

I have posted many times about the benefits of having a "real" camera, in particular, with a bigger sensor and a faster, larger aperture lens over a smartphone. My go to camera for the last 5 years has been the Canon S120 (has larger sensor than most point and shoots and a f1.8 lens) which I carry everywhere. I recently dropped it and the flash no longer works. This was the excuse I have been waiting for to upgrade to a 1" sensor camera like the Canon G7X ii or one of the Sony RX100. DSLR and mirrorless are too bulky for me. If it needs a lens cap, it is too big imo.

However, the newest smartphones have made me pause in buying a new camera. My friend's newest iphone takes amazing photos as good as if not better than the same shots with my "real camera" S120. My wife just bought the very affordable Pixel 3a and it has one of the highest rated cameras in a phone. It takes unbelievably noise-free and sharp images in very dim conditions, better than my albeit older DSLR. On a recent trip to Maui, my son's Samsung Galaxy phone took shots with less harsh shadows and beautiful panoramics which put my S120 to shame. I do not shoot raw, but more and more I have been doing post processing of my S120 shots to improve images in order to match the quality of shots straight out of other's smartphones.

The sensor and lenses in the smartphones may be tiny, but the software is so cutting edge that they can manipulate the images to make them look absolutely fabulous. Camera companies sell thousands of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, but phone companies are selling millions of smartphone cameras. The phone competition has really driven up the camera technology. So, my next new camera may end up being a new phone. I am going to take some time to research before I replace the S120. It is a good thing that I usually avoid using flash.

Posted by
622 posts

My wife just bought the very affordable Pixel 3a and it has one of the
highest rated cameras in a phone. It takes unbelievably noise-free and
sharp images in very dim conditions, better than my albeit older DSLR
.. . .I do not shoot raw,

Interesting, funpig! I have the Pixel 2 phone, and as of a few months ago, after a software update, its phone shoots RAW and JPG. I've looked at the Pixel 3a and I assume its camera does too. Last year I took my Sony full frame mirrorless camera + 35mm lens to London, and don't regret it. But? The absolutely best shot I took on that trip, liked by myself and many friends - was taken with my Pixel 2 phone. (At that time it didn't shoot RAW. I've now set it to shoot both RAW and JPG. In case I get a really good shot that I want to be able to edit on my computer and maybe even print.)

Deb, did you ever get a new camera? I know this is an older topic and I've been wondering what you finally decided. I'm oversupplied with camera gear (my bad) and although I own "nicer" (and heavier!) gear, I'm falling in love with my trusty little Sony a6000 all over again lately. If I were hopping a plane to Europe this week I'd leave the full frame camera at home and pack the a6000 + 18-135mm lens + the pancake 20mm f2.8 lens. Lightweight, compact setup, and very capable of capturing excellent images.

Posted by
287 posts

Hello everyone. Thank you for all of the great information and feedback.

We just returned from our Switzerland trip. I decided not to purchase a new camera before the trip; I kept waffling, mostly based on cost, and finally decided to just lug my old DSLR.

End result: I hauled my camera all day, every day for 10 days. It was a bear on my shoulders. BUT I have amazing, jaw-dropping photos, and I’ll be able to hang some beautiful enlargements. And my shoulders recovered after a day or two.

So, for me it can down to just a cost issue and preferring (for now) to spend my money on other things. But boy was I wishing for something lighter on some of our longer hikes in Switzerland.....

I anticipate rethinking this next year as we plan our next trip, whatever that may be. Maybe my lotto dreams will come true and take the cost factor off the table — but then I’d have to start buying lotto tickets.....

Thanks again for all of the great information! It’s been very helpful, and I will keep all of it in mind as I continue chewing on this decision.

Posted by
287 posts

P.S. One of the more interesting takeaways on this subject (for me — because cost is a driver) is the idea of purchasing an older model small frame camera. Which would be less expensive but possibly perform better and weigh less than my old DSLR. And if I wait another year to purchase, this year’s models will be that much less expensive.

Posted by
607 posts

It has been five months since I last posted. Since that time, I have had a chance to compare more photos taken by my wife with her Pixel 3a phone and by me with my better-than-most-point-and-shoot Canon S120. My wife is a very casual photographer and does not take any time to compose or to take multiple shots to choose the best shot. However, the image quality of most of her Pixel 3a shots was superior those taken by me on the S120.

I came across this article which discusses the Pixel 3 technology (the cheaper 3a has the same camera): https://www.dpreview.com/articles/7921074499/five-ways-google-pixel-3-pushes-the-boundaries-of-computational-photography

I was already familiar with and impressed with the 4. portrait mode and the 5. night sight of the Pixel 3a. The portrait mode allows you blur background bokeh which can only be done in a traditional slr camera if you use a longer or faster lens (ie usually heavier and expensive). And the night sight allows you to take photos in very low light conditions without a flash, or once again a faster lens on a dslr. What I found most interesting in the article under 2. Computational Raw which explains how the camera takes multiple shots to combine them into a photo with very low noise. Effectively, the tiny Pixel phone sensor works as well as a larger crop sensor on a dslr.

The Pixel 3a went on sale at the Google Store for Black Friday/Cyber Monday at US$100/CAD$150 off for the price of US$299/CAD$399. I put in my order and am expecting delivery at the end of the week.

For me, the debate of converting from a DSLR to a mirrorless really comes down to whether you want to carry around a ten pin bowling ball or a five pin bowling ball. There is some size and weight saving, but in the end you will still be hauling a bowling ball. And the cost for either camera system will still be very high. I am really looking forward to going all in and just using the Pixel 3a. At the very least, the younger generation (my kids, nephews, nieces) will no longer laugh at me when I pull out my camera to take a photo at a family gathering.

Posted by
4686 posts

If you can lug it around and have the time to change lenses, etc., the DSLR rig will always be superior to a phone or any P&S-type camera.

If you're shooting something in good light, any decent phone camera will work fine. In low light? Then you will see the superiority of a "regular" camera - at least if you ever hope to enlarge/print or edit the image. If you're going to post snapshots on Facebook, it's mostly irrelevant what kind of camera you are using, really.

My Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000 definitely has limitations over my Canon DSLR + lenses rig, but I know what they are by now. I definitely miss some shots I could get with the Canon setup. Manual focus, when I occasionally need it, is much easier through an optical viewfinder. But I've learned to live without it. The Lumix is far lighter and easier to carry than the Canon rig - I have never regretted taking the Lumix on a trip instead of all the Canon DSLR stuff I used to carry.

I take lots of pictures with my Moto X4 phone too - but I consider them to be snapshots. I HATE taking pictures with it, to be honest. I greatly prefer one of my "real" cameras. Sure, it's another trade-off. I am serious enough about my photography that I would regret relying on just a phone for pictures when I travel - not just because of the quality but because of the frustration of trying to take pictures with a phone.

Honestly, it depends what your purpose is for taking pictures and how serious you are about photography. I'm sure a decent phone is good enough for most people these days.

Posted by
245 posts

If you can lug it around and have the time to change lenses, etc., the DSLR rig will always be superior to a phone or any P&S-type camera.

Yes, but a mirrorless camera isn't a P&S type of camera. It's closer to a DSLR camera, but without the mirror, so it's much, much lighter. I personally can't think of an advantage to a DSLR camera anymore, given the excellent quality of many of the mirrorless cameras out now.......unless you consider longer battery life a worthwhile advantage. Given that batteries are small, light, and easy to change, I don't worry about that "con" of mirrorless cameras, since I carry a couple extra with me. I've got a Sony mirrorless with a 18-135 lens that weighs less than 1.5 lb (just weighed it), and I can change filters, change change lenses (if I want to carry them), and still control the shutter speed and aperture just like I can on a DSLR. The quality and image size will allow significant enlargements (24x36-ish) if you've taken a good, still shot.

I don't think P&S cameras offer any advantages over the camera in a new-ish smartphone, but mirrorless cameras do.