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Is time up for bulky DSLRs?

Smaller sensors can give great results. Is full frame redundant? Picture by Ivor Rackham.
Smaller sensors can give great results. Is full frame redundant? Picture by Ivor Rackham.

My Dad gave me a copy of How To Make Good Pictures by Kodak.

Published in 1946, it mentions ‘miniature cameras’. These were any camera that took a 35mm film.

Back then, some photographers derided miniature cameras, sticking to their medium and large formats. Meanwhile, Henri Cartier-Bresson danced around the streets recording life with his 35mm Leica.

Then, to the disgust of the establishment, David Bailey, Terrance Donovan and Brian Duffy – dubbed the ‘Black Trinity’ – revolutionised fashion photography, snapping the 1960s with miniature 35mm SLRs.

Photography became alive, sweeping away the staid images of the bulky studio cameras.

As my Kodak book says: “With modern fine-grain films, the smallest negatives will give perfectly satisfactory enlargements up to any size you are likely to want.”

When digital SLRs arrived, Canon and Nikon coined the phrase “full frame” when describing the 35mm sensors. The technology was such that a bigger sensor was necessary to achieve a resolution and dynamic range good enough for commercial use.

This assertion that bigger is better meant expectations grew that a photographer would need equipment resembling a breeze block. Professional cameras got bigger.

Technology drives forward and a new revolution hits photography. This year the sales of mirrorless Compact System Cameras (CSCs) outstrip DSLRs.

As usual, I took both a DSLR and a CSC to a party for a client. I ended up using solely the CSC. A party-goer challenged me about the CSC’s size, saying the image quality would not be good enough. He was wrong; it’s outstanding. The person who employed me loved the album and it led to more commissions and sales of prints.

I’ve since sold my DSLR and bought a second mirrorless camera. The image quality is fantastic and it’s the fastest focusing camera I have owned. The in-camera image stabilisation (IS) is good enough to hand-hold a 50mm shot at two seconds, over six stops slower than I can achieve without IS. It has many other advanced features.

Lots of DSLR cameras are sitting in cupboards, untouched by their owners who don’t know how to use them. Sales of cameras with interchangeable lenses are dropping. This might result in a narrowing of the ridiculously excessive choice of cameras.

Nikon offers 17 camera bodies and Canon 14. They hold just under 50 per cent of the DSLR market.

Olympus, which stopped producing DSLRs a couple of years ago, is now the mirrorless market leader. It sells nine different CSCs over two ranges.

Sony has followed a similar mirrorless-only route, but has a bewildering choice of 19 models, some of which are ‘full frame’ and are so big they can’t be called ‘Compact’. Canon and Nikon are rumoured to be following suit.

The DSLR is dead, long live the CSC?

It’s a new month, switch your camera into manual mode and take time to get the shot just right. It’s easier when you have time to set up the shot, but give it a go with dynamic, moving subjects. Also, pick a single focal length and work with that. This week’s words are Antics and Empty.