Not long ago, if you had $500 to spend on a new camera, you bought an entry-level Digital SLR. Even today, your $500 buys a DSLR with outstanding image quality, superb battery life, and modern day luxuries like WiFi and Bluetooth. If you think a DSLR might be for you, check out 5 Reasons you should buy an Entry Level DSLR in 2020
However, the DSLR’s position as an affordable gateway into professional-grade photography is under attack and the DSLR may no longer be the long-term investment you hoped for.
Here are five reasons why you should no longer buy an entry-level DSLR.
1. The DSLR is too big and heavy.
It was once said that the best camera is the one you have with you and in this case, the smaller the camera, the better. However; small is not necessarily advantageous when it comes to operation as a decrease in size can lead to poor comfort and reduced control points making it difficult to operate your camera.
That said, I myself am guilty of leaving my large DSLR at home in favour of my smaller, lighter smartphone and have missed out on good photos as a result. You should be realistic about how much you are willing to carry since a camera that trades image quality for portability may be the better choice for you.
2. Obsolete lens mount and lenses
While it is an exaggeration to say the lens mounts used by Nikon and Canon DSLRs are obsolete – it is absolutely true that both have been succeeded by mounts intended to replace them. Canon themselves have acknowledged as much.
So any DSLR lens you buy today is not necessarily going to work on the camera you want to buy tomorrow unless you are willing to mount it via an adapter adding bulk and further cost.
Even if you tolerate the adapter, the lenses designed exclusively for the new mirrorless mounts have proven to be much sharper and in some cases, more compact than the equivalent DSLR lens.
If you are planning to buy into a camera system and invest in multiple lenses, the smoothest ride is to hop straight towards a mirrorless camera with a contemporary lens mount. Whilst the initial cost may be greater, you only buy once and will likely save money in the long term.
If you are not interesting in buying multiple lenses and are looking for the very best stills camera for under $500, the entry-level DSLR still offers better bang-for-buck than similarly priced mirrorless cameras.
3. DSLRs lack modern features
Developed in the film-era, the optical viewfinder (OVF) is pretty straight forward. As light passes through the lens, a mirror reflects the light upwards towards the camera’s eye piece. When you take the photo, the mirror flips up allowing the light to pass unobstructed towards the camera’s sensor.
Fast forward to 2020 and manufacturers have shown us what is possible when the mirror is removed and the sensor is continually exposed to the scene.
The common workflow with a DSLR is to take a shot, review it and if necessary, adjust the camera’s settings and try again. With many mirrorless cameras you have WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) exposure preview that shows you, in real-time, what parts of your scene are out-of-focus or under/over exposed before you take the shot reducing the need to review, adjust, and repeat.
The real game changer is auto focus. DSLRs focus well but you are limited to using fixed AF points often placed towards the center of the frame making it difficult to acquire off-center subjects. Many modern mirrorless cameras can focus on a subject located anywhere in the frame providing you the freedom to frame your subject anyway you like. Features like eye detect make composition even easier because the camera automatically detects and tracks your subject’s face/eye leaving you free to concentrate on framing the shot.
Some expensive DSLRs perform similar feats by locking up the mirror and exposing the sensor to the scene full-time – effectively becoming mirrorless cameras. Unfortunately, with the mirror up, the DSLR’s defining feature – the optical viewfinder, is no longer operational and you must compose your shot using the rear screen only.
Digital SLRs can record video but must lock-up the mirror and disable the optical viewfinder to do so. If video is a priority for you, buying a mirrorless camera would save you weight and money and give you access to Electronic Viewfinders which, unlike optical viewfinders, will continue to function during video.
5. Optical viewfinder
The optical viewfinder (OVF) is not without its benefits. Unlike electronic viewfinders (EVF), the OVF uses no power, is not limited by resolution, and works at the speed of light suffering none of the lag effecting EVFs. As a result, OVFs remain incredibly popular with professional photographers, particularly those who shoot sports and wildlife.
Unfortunately, the optical viewfinders in models such as Nikon’s D3500 and Canon’s 2000D are the worst of their kind offering small magnification and dimly lit presentation. Many do not provide full coverage so you may only see 95% of the final photos area.
Then there is the smartphone. For many, the smartphone has defined how a camera works and if you are used to viewing, poking and pinching a large touchscreen, you might find the optical viewfinder a rather antiquated experience. Some will find operating a DSLR a more engaging experience but others will long for their smartphone.
Is the entry-level DSLR for you?
If you are looking to buy the best possible stills camera for under $500 and don’t expect to be buying multiple lenses, the entry-level DSLR still offers an awful lot. Check out Nikon’s D3500 or even its now-cheaper predecessor, the D3400. Canon has multiple options, the cheapest being the 1500D and 2000D.
If you expect to shoot as many videos as stills – mirrorless cameras are more compact and capable than budget DSLRs and less expensive than hybrid DSLRs such as Canon’s 90D. You may also benefit from contemporary features such as WYSIWYG exposure preview and eye detect autofocus. Canon offers the M100 or the slightly improved, viewfinder equipped M50 for less than $600. Sony’s A6000 was superb when it was released and remains competitive today and can be picked up for less than $500. If you have a little extra in the kitty, the A6100 features game-changing Eye Auto-focus among other perks.