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From film, to DSLR, to mirrorless. My camera journey

When digital cameras were introduced into the market, they quickly replaced film and caused a disruption in photography. It made photography available to just about anyone regardless of their skill level. What the Digital Age ushered in was the availability of affordable consumer electronic devices which anyone can use. What followed was the Computer and then Information Age which led to the development of digital cameras. Film cameras became obsolete due to the more advanced features that digital cameras provided.

The DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera became popular for its ease of use and high quality. Although they can be quite expensive, a DSLR provides great quality and lower cost for imaging. Since images don’t need to be captured on film, it lowered costs with the use of reusable digital storage. Photographers also could see in their camera display an approximation of their exposure, thus giving them an idea of how the image will appear without having to develop it first which you have to do with film. Most DSLR functions were also electronic and customizable, offering photographers more features to use. The DSLR had maintained the 35 mm format from film cameras along with the viewfinder and detachable lenses, but the camera body was the main difference. Instead of film to capture the image, the DSLR uses electronic sensors. The image is then saved to digital storage (e.g. SD Card) that can then be transferred to a computer for further editing and retouching.

The introduction of a digital workflow saved photographers not just money, but also time. It often takes a long time to process images from film since it requires working in a dark room. Digital images are instant and immediately available so that photographers can take as many exposures as they need with their storage size the only constraint. It still had more advantage than film since you can typically shoot hundreds of images to digital storage (even thousands depending on the capacity of the storage device). With film, the photographer can only shoot up to 36 exposures per roll of film (35 mm) and even less with medium format film cameras.

While a DSLR is electronic-based, it still makes use of mirrors. The mirror forms a part of a camera’s optical system. That means that there are plenty of moving parts in a DSLR that has to deal with the camera’s optics. Having to move the lens to focus properly on an image so that it is aligned to the sensor requires complicated mechanical parts. This can also limit or affect the speed at which a camera can capture frames of a scene, like in video or for slow motion captures. To address this, electronic sensors were designed to overcome issues with optical elements of the camera. This has led to the introduction of mirrorless cameras.

Mirrorless cameras are also called MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera), allows the light to pass through the lens and directly to the camera’s sensor. Whereas the DSLR followed the same principles of using mirrors like in traditional film cameras, a mirrorless camera uses electronics to view the subject without using mirrors. Mirrorless cameras show the image directly on the rear LCD display. Early generation of mirrorless cameras did not have a viewfinder, but now camera makers have added a feature called the EVF (Electronic Viewfinder). You would normally take the shot by using the camera’s LCD display rather than placing it to your eye like with a viewfinder.

Mirrorless cameras also have a lighter and smaller form factor, since it doesn’t contain mirrors. With less moving parts, mirrorless cameras also have the advantage of being faster than DSLR. They are great for capturing slow motion since they have the capability to capture more frames per second. It also shoots exposures much more quieter than a DSLR. Other than having no mirror, DSLR and mirrorless are actually still based on the same design that use electronic sensors that replaces film. Mirrorless are no more superior than DSLR are to film. They are all cameras and what they do is create images. In terms of quality, you cannot really say that just because it is mirrorless that it will be higher quality than DSLR. Much like you cannot really say that DSLR has more quality than film. Their main differences are in their construction and features. (credit: https://medium.com/hd-pro/dslr-vs-mirrorless-dee15eb5d7e)

So, my journey

Way back in time, circa late 1980’s, I got interested in photography. Back then, there were only film cameras. And you could choose from colour, or black and white film to use in your camera. Photography was my hobby. I moved to the Bristol area, and whilst there joined a photographic club. My interest in photography grew. And it grew to the point that I ended up studying photography in Bristol, and came out with a professional photography qualification. After a few years, I moved back to my hometown of Truro, and took up professional photography.

I have owned and used many cameras over the years, mainly 35mm size, but have also had medium format cameras too. Most of the cameras I have had, I have sold, as I progressed to the next best thing. But I have kept some. I thought it might be interesting to show three of the cameras I have, which show my journey, and also the technological journey, from film, through DLSR, to the current mirrorless cameras.

Firstly, the Nikon F3. Introduced in 1980, it was Nikon’s third professional SLR film camera. A fantastic camera, that did everything that was asked of it. Built like a tank, it could handle any situation.

Next up is the Nikon D750. Released in 2014, this is a professional FX format DSLR. I had owned several DSLR’s before this, but this was the best I had used. An optical viewfinder, and an electronic rear screen. The only thing I didn’t like about it was how bulky DSLR’s had become.

And lastly, the Nikon Z7. Released in 2018, the Z7 is a professional FX format mirrorless camera. With the Z system, Nikon has a system that to me is nearly perfect. The camera body size is more like the F3 in size, and feels so much better in my hand than the D750. Being mirrorless, the viewfinder is digital, rather than optical, and that means you are seeing exactly what you are going to take, in terms of exposure. With the Z system, Nikon brought out a new lens mount. Previously, it had been the F mount, which was launched in 1959. Whilst adapters exist to mount F mount lenses to the new larger Z mount, Nikon have brought out dedicated Z mount lenses, which are superior to the older F mount lenses in speed and optical quality. For me, that has basically meant investing in a complete new system. I now use Z mount cameras, and professional grade Z mount lenses for all my work.