What DSLR Cameras Get Wrong

For as much as DSLR cameras get right, they get a few marks in the negative column too. These are all symptoms of the DSLR being stuck in the past. The DSLR is a carry-over from the SLR days, and while that makes it an incredibly tried-and-true device, it also means it is tied to its roots.

  1. Mirrors make DSLRs too big. The mirror in the DSLR needs space, and space is a precious commodity in a handheld device like a camera. In the DSLR recipe, its the one ingredient that can never change (otherwise it wouldn't be a DSLR), it can never get smaller, it can never get closer or further from the lens or the sensor - it is essentially unchangeable. And guess what, it largely dictates the minimum physical size of the camera. So as long as a DSLR will be defined by the mirror reflecting light into the pentaprism, furthering the light into the photographer's eye, and flapping up to get out of the way when light needs to hit the sensor, the physical size of the DSLR can only ever change so much.
  2. Mirrors are loud. First world problem, I'm aware. But hear me out anyway (no pun intended). As the photographer at James Madison University, as well as running a business where I photograph weddings in Harrisonburg and surrounding areas, I'm involved in situations where the mechanical shutter of the camera is very distracting. We've come to accept this sound by now, but its time we revisit accepting how loud DSLRs are so we can push the line forward and make them quieter. Board meetings, wedding ceremonies, musical and theater performances, etc. As someone who shoots with available light for these types of scenarios, I'm always conscious of how disruptive I am to whatever engagement I'm attempting to photograph.
  3. Full Frame sensors were necessary to push digital forward, we don't actually need them anymore. BLASPHEMY? Well, that might be what some photographers think about that statement, but I stand by it, and let me explain. When cropped-frame sensors were the best that could be produced in the infancy of DSLRs, they had very low megapixel counts and horrific low-light performance. Fast-forward to the Nikon D3 (which is now...7ish years old?), they kept the megapixel count at 12 and boosted the crud out the low-light capabilities of the sensor. Today, we can get nearly-identical high-ISO performance out of a cropped-frame sensor. Its incredible, and that's what we all love about the advancement of technology - things get better, faster, and less expensive. The one and only thing a cropped-frame sensor can't do that a full-frame sensor can do is achieve a shallower depth-of-field. This has nothing to do with ISO performance and everything to do with physics. The larger the sensor, the greater potential for shallower depth-of-field. In fact, sensors that are larger than DSLRs have the potential to capture even shallower depth-of-field than a full-frame sensor. So lets not pretend that DSLRs are the king of shallow DOF, they are just the standard we are accustomed to at this point in time.
  4. DSLR manufacturers seem to hate wifi and radio triggers. We are seeing a slow trickle of new DSLRs that are building wifi connectivity into their camera bodies. Some still require an additional external chip (oddly enough, the more expensive the camera, the less likely it comes with wifi) and the software they make for smartphones to connect is horrific. The Nikon version is one of the worst apps I've ever used. And the lack of native radio-triggered iTTL/eTTL is astounding to me. Third-party radio triggers are very good, but they're never perfect, and when problems arise, the photographer doesn't always know if its the camera, the trigger, the receiver, or the flash. It doesn't always 'just work' and we're left to figure it out for ourselves.

I hope these two posts explained my the positives and negatives of DSLRs today from a balanced perspective. I don't want to beat-up on them, I just want them to be better.