Wilson Freeman, Photographer

Alexandria, VA - 703-380-3786

Driftingfocus Photography Photography from Wilson Freeman

Why you don’t need or want a DSLR: Part II – They’re more camera than you want.

Whereas Part I of this series focused on how your education as a photographer can be at the root of many of the problems with your photos, Part II focuses on how having a DSLR doesn’t necessarily help you any, and in some cases may actually make it more difficult for you to take better photos than the ones you take now.

So, let me continue with why you don’t really want a DSLR:

1.  It’s expensive. Or rather, it’s expensive to do a DSLR right.

The lowest-end DSLRs are still in the $800 range, and that’s without a lens. And the lowest level of DSLRs are generally worse in quality than the top-end PNS cameras, so what you’d really be looking at is $1200 for the camera, and at least $300-$400 for a basic lens, and that’s the bare minimum. Want to do wide angle shots? There’s another $400-$1800, depending on how crappy of a lens you’ll tolerate. Want to take photos of animals or birds from far away with a nice telephoto lens? Be prepared to shell out $1500-$8000. By comparison, the Lumix FZ70 has a 60x optical zoom lens by Zeiss (the top lens manufacturer in the world) for a mere $350. Is the quality lower? Absolutely. But not 10x lower.  For the money, PNS cameras are a much better deal.

Likewise, a DSLR is only as good as its lens. A great lens can make a mediocre camera look amazing, but a mediocre lens will make a great camera look like a piece of crap. If you can’t afford good glass for your DSLR, you’re really and truly better off with one of the alternative options that I’ll write about in Part III.

Taken with a $150 point and shoot.  Edited in Lightroom.

Taken with a $150 point and shoot. Edited in Lightroom.

2.  DSLRs are complex machines that can take quite awhile to learn.

Think your camera’s 3 menu screens are complicated? Try having 15. Don’t know what all 5 buttons on your camera do? Try having 5 dials, 10 buttons, and a few random unidentifiable ports to decipher. I actually carry around my own, handwritten, butchered version of my two cameras’ manuals because even I can’t remember how to do everything.  If you’re not willing to read (and learn!) the manual for your simple PNS, are you sure you want to try and figure out something far more complex?

3.  As professional equipment, DSLRs assume a basic degree of competency in their usage.

If you wanted to learn how to drive race cars, would you start out with a Formula 1 car? No; you’d start out with a souped up Honda. By their nature, professional tools are often fairly unforgiving, and I find that DSLRs are generally no different. A DSLR doesn’t really do any thinking for you, while a PNS does, because the makers of the PNS are assuming that you don’t necessarily know what you’re doing, whereas the makers of the DSLR assume that you do. I’ve found that the Auto mode on most DSLRs is not nearly as intuitive as the Auto mode on many PNS cameras, and I strongly suspect that that has to do with the fact that, well, DSLRs are not meant to be used on Auto. It’d be like using that Formula 1 car only in a neighborhood where the speed limit is 25mph, to continue my metaphor.

4.  They’re an old staple in a world with lots of newer, more innovative options.

In an age where people are comparing a Sony mirrorless camera to medium format quality, and where companies like Lytro are bending the physics of photography itself, where do DSLRs stand? In my opinion, they’re essentially systems that you have to buy into to access the high end lenses produced by Canon, Nikon, and Zeiss. For some of the truly tricky photography (like sports photography or high end portraiture), you need some pretty epically fancy (and expensive!) lenses, and those are only made for DSLRs. When you apply for jobs as a photographer with various agencies, they expect that you will have certain gear, and they will sometimes even ask what gear you have before they ask to see your work. Professionals like me often have DSLRs simply because every other professional does. Some people, like my mother, are trying to change this trend – she recently shot much of a book that has national publication on a Sony mirrorless camera instead of her professional Nikon set up. Do you want to contribute to a pointless trend or buck it?

5.  Last but not least, PNS cameras are less of a pain in the ass – sometimes literally.

PNS cameras, even the larger “advanced” ones, are considerably smaller and lighter than pretty much any DSLR out there (especially with good lenses – good glass is often very heavy). My camera bag, for instance, weighs 30+lbs when it’s fully stocked. PNS cameras also tend to attract less attention and are thus less of a target for theft (and are cheap enough that they’re covered under most renters/homeowners insurance, unlike many DSLRs).

So, that’s pretty much the end of my arguments as to why you don’t need a DSLR.  In the next day or two I’ll be posting Part III, in which I’ll tell you what you should consider buying instead!

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Wilson Freeman: