Although cameras don’t really have the biggest influence in Street Photography, there is a lot of changes going on at the moment. Traditional manufacturers, who were successful in just producing DSLRs are now seeking out to develop mirrorless cameras. The camera world is changing fast and were film cameras the ruling superiority once, now mirrorless cameras are seeking to take the reign.
But what are the differences between these types of cameras, how do they work and what are the specific advantages?
In the following article, the characteristics of the different types of cameras will be explained and if You have no idea, which camera is the most suitable for You, this article will help You out. Or if You are just interested in the background of the cameras and how they work, the cameras will be explained in more detail also.
Although film cameras were the first popular cameras, that have reached the mass market and were available to consumers, they weren’t the first cameras to be manufactured. Long before the typical 35mm film cameras reach their popularity, there were pinhole cameras and different mediums where the pictures were captured on.
Nonetheless, the popularity of photography can be attributed to the success of the typical 35mm film camera. Those were the first type of cameras, that were affordable for the public and made it possible to take pictures of Your friends and families.
Nowadays, film cameras may be in the minority, but they are still used and for very good reasons. They are very sturdy workhorses, that work even in the most difficult situations. The film also has a very characteristic look which is very difficult to imitate through digital means.
How Do Film cameras work
The analog camera is one of the most simple ways of creating a photograph. Without any much electronic parts, the analog camera is mostly based on its optics. There are four parts in an analog camera, that are responsible to create the final image.
First, the light enters the lens, which sits on the front of the camera. The lens focuses the light and directs it to the film. If You buy a lens, usually You will find multiple numbers that explain the characteristics. First, there is the focal range, which describes the perspective and the perception of the image and the aperture.
The aperture is also the second crucial part in the analog camera. With its mechanical elements, the aperture regulates how much light the camera enters. The more open the aperture is, the more light can enter and vice versa. On analog cameras, the aperture can be changed on the lens directly.
In the back of the camera, You can find the third important element in creating the shutter. The shutter opens up, depending on the defined shutter speed. The longer the shutter is opened, the more light hits the film and the brighter the image will be. On analog cameras, the shutter speed usually can be set on a dial on the top of the camera body.
The Film captures the light and starts a chemical reaction under which the negative will be “saved” on the film. To view the photograph correctly, the negative has to be developed, which happens in a dark room. Today, there are also more simple means available, for example, small boxes under which the film negative can be also developed, without having the need for a big dark room.
Current Situation of the Analog Camera
Analog photography has been said to die out after the rise of digital photography. Of course, digital photography has a lot of advantages and is a lot faster, but nonetheless, there are a lot of fans of analog photography still out there.
Just like vinyl had a big revival and more people are buying vinyl now, analog photography has seen a rise in popularity as well. It isn’t only the “older” generation that already grew up with analog photography, that finds its way back to the roots, but there are a lot of younger photographers who like the slower approach in photography.
Although a lot of films have been discontinued, Kodak has announced to re-introduce some of the classic films. This includes the Kodak Ektachrome, which was one of the most successful films ever produced.
Analog photography has been said to be dead many many times, but every time it showed up and this type of photography seems to survive any digital revolution that is out there. This special kind of photography will always have its niche and photographers, that value its characteristics.
So if You are interested in trying out analog photography Yourself, You shouldn’t hesitate. Grab a cheap analog camera, or ask someone in Your family who might have an analog camera and order some film. The experience You gain will also help You in Your digital photography.
Advantages of the Analog Camera
First of all, having an analog camera in Your hand really feels good. It makes You feel as if You were Robert Capa himself and the weight of some of the analog cameras is almost unbearable, but the haptic is so great, You don’t want to put the camera away.
There is a reason modern cameras are going after the classic look again. Look at the FujiX100F for example. When I walk around with that camera, some people even ask me which film I use. Then there is the Pen series by Olympus. A series of cameras that have been introduced in the 1950s and recent digital models like the PEN-F are resembling the original analog models even more.
The second advantage of analog cameras is that they are easy to use. Modern cameras have so many dials and buttons, You might feel like You are steering a race car. But analog cameras don’t need all that. You put in the film, set the shutter speed, adjust the aperture and are able to take the picture.
On the other hand, there is the downside that You need to manually find Your settings. The camera doesn’t help You and You have to survive Yourself in this harsh environment that Photography can be. There will be a lot of rolls that are going to be “wasted” because the exposure wasn’t right, You didn’t hit the focus, or something else was just off.
But wait, that isn’t really a disadvantage in my opinion. Yes, analog photography may be less forgiving and very harsh. Yet, this is one interesting aspect and why it is such a powerful tool for beginners in photography. Instead of just going out and clicking the shutter button on full-automatic mode, You really have to learn photography.
Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR)
The DSLR is the digital version of the analog camera and its direct successor. Whereas film cameras were very popular in the past, the DSLR is now the most common camera type. You may be wondering why the name in addition to the hint of being a digital version, also has a note on having only a single lens.
This is due to analog cameras sometimes having two lenses. One was for taking the picture and leading the light onto the film, while the other lens’ purpose was to act like a viewfinder. Popular versions were the Rolleiflex, which has been also used by Vivian Maier.
The rise of the DLSRs began in the early 2000s and have been quickly replaced most analog cameras. But will the DSLR also remain that popular, or is that type of camera simply superior to all of its opponents?
How does the DSLR work?
As the name already suggests, the camera is not based on analog film anymore, but on a digital sensor. The digital sensor has replaced the film, which has lead to many changes in the camera and its functions.
The main principle is the same though. Light enters the camera through the lens and will be redirected by a mirror onto the digital sensor. This kind of procedure is very similar to analog cameras.
What is not very similar are all the additional functions that now have been added thanks to the digital design of this type of camera.
There are many new dials now and DSLRs can feature many different modes. From the fully automatic mode, where the camera does try to expose the picture automatically and also can find the focus automatically.
With these functions, the photographer doesn’t have to rely on its own abilities anymore, but can “outsource” some of his work to the digital camera. To some degree, DSLRs are also a lot more forgiving and beginner friendly because of the added functions.
Modern DSLRs also have the capability of capturing high-resolution in 4K and can also be used to record sounds. Therefore, the DSLRs is much more versatile and not simply a photography camera anymore.
Compared to film cameras, DSLRs rely now on electronics and electrical power, to capture pictures. They need batteries and a medium where they can store the pictures, which is commonly an SD-Card.
DSLRs also feature an image processor, which can have an influence on the characteristics of the picture and how it looks like. Different processor technologies can have a slightly different look.
For that matter, there has also been a processor developed, which is specifically for Black & White images and has been used in the Leica M Monochrome.
Current Situation of DSLR Camera Types
The DSLR is the most popular cameras as of today. It rose quickly to success after being ready for the mass consumer market in the early 2000s. Although a lot of photographers were skeptical at first, DSLRs have been established very quickly.
Some of the skepticism was justified and the image quality of the first few generations of DSLRs was clearly lacking. Nonetheless, there was a steady investment and the technology has improved a lot every year.
Right now, DSLRs are still used in a lot of types of photography, although they are around for so long. In photojournalism, portrait photography or other professional professions, DSLRs are still the most popular type of camera. They are reliable, high-quality and work very well for most genres.
In technical terms, there seems that there has been a limit reached. Were megapixels one very important characteristic, that had a very high influence on the image quality, megapixels have pretty much become irrelevant for the average consumer after reaching 16 megapixels. Anything beyond that doesn’t really have an influence on normal images and 42 megapixels, that are now have been implemented in newer cameras are for very specific professional fields, where the resolution is of importance.
Other than that, there is still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to other aspects of image quality. The dynamic range of digital sensors for example still is a little behind compared to film. The film also has its very unique characteristic that can be reproduced with filters and other post-processing effects, but it is never really the same.
With Nikon and Canon now pushing for mirrorless full frame cameras, it is also questionable, if DSLRs will still be that popular in a decade. Sales are suggesting, that mirrorless cameras are going to get a bigger stake of the cake, while DSLRs are declining in sales.
Advantages of DSLRs
DSLRs have a lot of advantages and the design is not that much different from the typical analog film cameras.
For a digital type of camera, DSLRs are very low in energy consumption. They use an optical viewfinder, which doesn’t need any energy, apart from the information that are displayed. Most people also use the optical viewfinder and not the LCD-Screen, so the energy consumption is usually pretty low.
The optical viewfinder is also an advantage if You are coming from analog cameras and have problems adapting to electronic viewfinders. I am a huge fan of electronic viewfinders and in general, I would favor the EVF over the optical solution any day. But for some people, the EVF just doesn’t work very well and they have problems using one. DSLRs have the advantage of the mirror, which lets You look directly through the lens and the frame You are seeing is pretty accurate as the final image.
Holding a DSLR and photographing with it, also feels much closer like an analog camera. The feedback a DSLR gives is much more satisfying and hearing the shutter clicking can be described as a very soothing sound. In comparison to mirrorless cameras, the shutter lag is also very minimal.
The next type of camera is a simplification of the DSLR. Whereas the DSLR had a small mirror, which makes it possible for the viewer to look through the optical viewfinder and seeing the real live view, the mirrorless camera got rid of the mirror.
It may not sound like a big deal, but leaving out the mirror does have a huge influence on how these two types of cameras work.
First mirrorless cameras have been introduced in 2004 by Epson with their R-D1 model, soon to be followed by the Leica M8.
Those first models weren’t commercially successfully though and with the big brand investing heavily in the DSLR market, mirrorless cameras have been very behind in terms of popularity.
It was later in the beginnings of 2010, that bigger camera manufacturers like Olympus, have re-defined the mirrorless camera and were commercially more successful.
How does the Mirrorless Camera work?
Compared to the DSLR, the mirrorless camera is an even easier design. The mirrorless camera simply got rid of the mirror and without the whole mirror system, which reflects the light, the mirrorless camera can be smaller and lighter.
But how can the photographer see the image now?
One drastic change is, that the optical viewfinder becomes useless. There are mirrorless cameras out there, that are offering a hybrid viewfinder, like the X100F. But Hybrid simply means that You can either use the electronic viewfinder or turn it off and look through the “optical viewfinder”. By using the optical viewfinder on a mirrorless camera, You won’t look through the lens though and the final image will be a lot different.
Instead of using the optical viewfinder, mirrorless cameras now utilize the electronic viewfinder. With the electronic viewfinder, the photographer doesn’t look through the lens, but rather see the digital image, that is being captured by the camera sensor. The small LCD-Screen has been the subject of a lot of criticism and it is true, that the EVF, wasn’t very helpful in the beginnings of the mirrorless camera.
The EVF was often slow, sometimes even laggy and the resolution wasn’t very high. With improved LCD technologies though, the EVF has a very high resolution and there isn’t any lag visible anymore. This gives the photographer a very natural feeling as if he was using a normal optical viewfinder.
The current situation of the Mirrorless Camera
In the past, Mirrorless cameras had a rough standing against DSLRs. DSLRs were simply better in most aspects and the EVF of mirrorless cameras were more an annoyance than a feature.
With that said, the current situation looks a lot different. I have stated a lot of times, that I would never use a DSLR in Street Photography and even for other applications, the DSLR isn’t worth an investment anymore for me. I would rather buy a mirrorless camera and work with it, than getting a new DSLR.
The market share of DSLRs is still higher because they have a very good reputation amongst professionals and there is a very broad range of cameras. However, mirrorless cameras are clearly on the rise and the market share increases steadily. While sales of DSLRs are going down, mirrorless cameras are at least stable or are even seeing an increase in sales.
That the mirrorless camera will be the future can also be shown with the recent investment by Canon and Nikon in the mirrorless technology. Although they haven’t focused on mirrorless cameras yet, they are working very hard to develop full frame mirrorless cameras. Otherwise, there could be the risk that they fall behind and never close the technology gap again.
Advantages of Mirrorless Cameras
Leaving out the mirror gives a lot of freedom to the camera design. The overall design can be a lot smaller and the camera can be lighter as a whole. With a more compact design, the mirrorless camera can be even carried in the pocket of Your jacket and is more mobile as a whole.
Has been the EVF often been named as one of the disadvantages of mirrorless cameras, this is not true anymore. EVFs, not only in my opinion, have a lot of advantages compared to the optical viewfinder of DSLRs.
With the EVF, You are able to see the final image, which would be captured by the camera sensor. You are able to see the exposure and the depth of field more accurately. You don’t have to wonder anymore if the picture will be too dark, or if there will be any blown out highlights. You can simply look through the EVF and adjust the settings if the final image doesn’t look good to You.
Another advantage is, that You can use the burst mode and are able to continue to use the viewfinder. With DSLRs and the mirror technology, the light will either hit the sensor, or the optical viewfinder. This means, if You are shooting with a high burst mode, You will be shooting blindly.
The smaller design also allows for much more variations. DSLRs are looking more or less the same and are very bulky. They just look very professional and sometimes even intimidating.
Mirrorless cameras are much more “friendly” and are resembling old analog cameras much more closely. So if You are a fan of the design of analog cameras, mirrorless cameras are the right type to choose.
DSLRs and Mirrorless Cameras are the most popular types of cameras when it comes to professional and ambitious amateurs. There is a huge market for compact cameras though and they definitely have an interesting place in the photography world.
Their image is kind of negative and often they are seen as cheap alternatives to “real” cameras. While this may have been true to some extent in the early 2000s, when digital compact cameras became affordable and really popular, their role has quite changed now.
There are compact cameras out there, that can deliver images, that come very close to professional image quality. There are a lot of different types of compact cameras and to say that they are a cheap solution for a digital camera would be quite ignorant.
It is true though, that compact cameras are in general simpler. One characteristic is, that they only feature a single lens, that can’t be changed. Instead of having the option of changing lenses that are more suitable for different situations, compact cameras often have a single zoom lens.
The sensor is also smaller and overall the image quality might not be the same level as most other DSLRs or mirrorless cameras. But compact cameras have a place in the current photography market.
They are great for traveling and although they are so small, they can still deliver very high-quality images, depending on the compact camera model that is being used.
Most of the times, compact cameras don’t feature a viewfinder, but only have an LCD-Screen that is being used to compose the image. With the LCD technology improving a lot, compact cameras have also seen a strong leap in image quality.
The Ricoh GR, for example, is a compact camera, that is widely regarded as one of the best cameras for Street Photography. It features an APS-C sensor, but still fits in the palm of Your hand. Although a missing viewfinder is a little bummer, it doesn’t detract from the fact, that compact cameras deliver an image quality, that can be viewed in galleries without a problem.
Recently, compact cameras have also employed very strong zoom lenses. With megapixels not being a deciding factor when it comes to the specifications of the image quality, some manufacturers now try to out-do each other, by integrating lenses with crazy zoom lenses. Combined with the smaller sensor, zoom lenses that have the equivalent field of view of a 960mm telelens can be acquired.
It will be interesting to see how compact cameras can keep their position though, with mobile phones becoming more popular as well.
A very new type of camera is the mobile phone. Apple, Samsung & Co are trying their hardest to implement new features with every new generation of mobile phones.
This is also true when looking at their lenses and camera technology. Were early lenses and sensors not much more than a small gimmick, the current generation of mobile phone cameras delivers a very high quality that shouldn’t be disregarded when talking about photography and cameras.
Mobile phones aren’t longer only a means for posting a quick image to Instagram, but they can be a very creative and powerful tool. The biggest advantage of mobile phones is, that most people have them readily available. Where a big DSLR or mirrorless camera can be difficult to carry all the time, the mobile phone is a great alternative.
It will be interesting to see how mobile photography can be integrated in the world of photography, or if they will be always regarded as some expensive toy, that can’t be used for “serious” photography.