Single Lens Reflex cameras (SLRs) have been the mainstay of professional photographers and enthusiasts for decades. And for good reason. The image quality and shooting capability have always been the best you can get (in a reasonable size and price anyway).
Single Lens Reflex is a nerdy way of saying what you see in the optical viewfinder is a live view through the lens. The image coming through the lens is directed up to the viewfinder via a mirror and a pentaprism (another nerdy word for more mirrors) and then through the optical viewfinder. It's great to know exactly what you are shooting. And it makes composing an image easier because you are not distracted by bright sunshine making it hard to see what's on the screen on the back of your camera, or by everything outside the frame when composing using the screen.
Okay, that makes sense, right? So we're all good? Nope, not anymore we're not. Things change, usually for the better. Disruptive technologies (see my blog post on disruptive tech below!) have a way of making the good old way not so good anymore. And the SLR is the living dead of cameras. Why? I'm glad you asked. Electronic viewfinders, that's why! An electronic viewfinder (EVF), unlike single lens reflex and pentaprism, is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of a bunch of mirrors directing the live image from the lens through the viewfinder, the camera has an electronic image come from the sensor to an electronic viewfinder. So they can look a lot like a dSLR, but smaller, and lighter, and usually faster. And photographers like faster. Who wouldn't want faster?
Why are they smaller, lighter, and FASTER!? Simply because the mirror takes up space. Get rid of the mirror and the camera can be made smaller and lighter. With an SLR, every time you take a photo, the mirror has to flip up out of the way so the light can reach the sensor. Snap! Then the mirror returns. The viewfinder goes momentarily dark. It's called viewfinder blackout. When you take a picture, you don't actually see what picture you took. You see the moment right before and the moment right after. And black in between. Since there's no mirror on a mirrorLESS (get it!) there is shorter screen blackout (or none), depending on the camera design. There are too many other advantages of mirrorless cameras to go into here, so I'll focus on smaller, lighter and faster.
The key here is the electronic viewfinder. They've been around for years. But it's just in the past year or two that they've advanced to be good enough to replace an optical viewfinder on SLRs. And that is the moment when SLRs went from dominant to zombie. It's only a matter of time before SLRs become a niche camera. Here's how I know.
I've always shot Canon SLRs. I have so much Canon gear that I (should) have a special seat at the table at their annual stockholder's meeting. So I'm kind of connected to Canon through my investment in their lenses (cameras are actually only about 1/5th of my investment in camera equipment. most of it is in lenses). I like Canon, but they're living in the past. They don't offer a good mirrorless option, instead focusing on bringing old tech to the market. Confession: I recently tried my first mirrorless camera (I feel like I'm cheating on Canon). The Samsung NX1. The NX1 is an amazing camera. It competes with Canon's new 7D Mark II. The 7D II is a nice camera, but it's already outdated. It was outdated two years before they released it. The image quality is great. But the NX1 beats the Canon at almost every spec. It's much faster frame rate, higher resolution, waaaay better video, smaller, lighter, and FASTER! And the NX1 is cheaper.
Sounds great. But I didn't keep the NX1 and reluctantly bought the 7D II instead. Why, if the NX1 is so much better? Changing cameras isn't a simple as changing the brand of your jeans. For better or worse, changing cameras also means changing lenses. And as I mentioned above, that's a big deal, and Canon knows it. But besides the big lens change, the NX1 came up short in two areas...autofocus and behavior of the viewfinder. The autofocus on the NX1 is very good, probably good enough for 90% of what I shoot and 100% of what most people shoot. But the Canon autofocus is better. The second way the NX1 came up short was how the viewfinder is programmed to function. It's a really nice electronic viewfinder. It's so good it's easy to forget it's not optical. But for some strange reason, during burst shooting, Samsung has programmed the viewfinder to show a series of still images, instead of the live image. So essentially you see a series of photos that you just took. It makes tracking a moving subject (i.e. runner, snowboarder, or misbehaving child) very difficult. I have no idea why they would do this (Samsung...not the misbehaving child), and it's something that could be easily fixed in a firmware update, which to their credit Samsung is doing about once a month. I really liked the NX1 and wanted to keep it. But I just couldn't make it work for what I needed right now.
So I'm not quite ready to switch to mirrorless...yet. But the 7D II will probably be the last SLR I ever buy, and I wouldn't be surprised if in a year I have switched to mirrorless. I get a lot of people ask me for camera recommendations and now I recommend a mirrorless. And I would recommend the NX1 without hesitation. I've also been recommending the Sony a6000. It's a smaller form factor mirrorless camera, but with amazing autofocus, resolution and frame rate.
So the SLR lives on for now. But really, it's just a zombie and will be truly dead in a year or two.
Searching the web for any information is like trying to drink from a fire hydrant. There is so much information available it’s easy to get sucked in and overwhelmed. Then you can get lost down the rabbit hole trying to sort through trying to filter the good information from the bad.
I’ve spent enough time drinking from that hydrant and know where to go to get good information. The business model for photo based websites has changed. Everyone (including me!) is trying to pull viewers in with free content. There are different ways that this is accomplished, but in the end, there is a lot of good information to be had out there at no cost (and a lot of crap that they charge for). The one rule I had for this list is that everything had to be available for free (at least the first time it is available). Many of these are webinars. The great thing about webinars is if you miss them when they’re live, the hosts will almost always make them available to watch later.
So here’s my list of sites I find useful for learning about photography.
1. Photoshelter – yup, Photoshelter. And I’m not talking about using it for hosting stock images. Photoshelter has some great downloadable pdfs and tutorials on the business side of photography. Sometimes what I read helps me to affirm that I’m doing the right thing to attract clients. Sometimes what I read makes me think I am stumbling blind through the photo business. Either way, it’s good stuff.
2. Creative Live – Creative Live has some fantastic courses/workshops online covering both the creative and business side of being a photographer. They’re free when you watch live. If you want to watch it again later, the courses are usually about $100. They’re usually 2-3 days long, all day, and often over the weekends. I rarely have time to sit through (or sit still) for an entire course. Often I’ll work on my desktop and have it playing on my laptop. As a working professional photographer, I still often learn a lot of new stuff. And other times I get validated in my way of shooting/running a business by hearing it from other pros. There’s a wealth of good information to get learned from Creative Live, if you have the time.
3. Accidental Creative – Articles and podcasts on maximizing creativity and overcoming creative roadblocks.
4. X-Rite Photo – Yes, the makers of X-Rite monitor profiling equipment have great photo tutorials also. Here’s one on post-processing for landscape photography that I found worthwhile.
5. ASMP – The American Society of Media Photographers. Even if you’re not a member, ASMP will have webinars and tons of great information available.
6. Livebooks – This is my web host. Yup, my web host has tutorials, information, and great blog posts with information to help photographers. Here’s one I’m reading now about social media for photographers.
7. Freelancers Union – Not geared specifically towards photographers, but some very helpful information about making it as a freelancer.
8. Agency Access – Agency Access is an agency that also provides email, direct marketing and consulting services to photographers. But, of course they also have some good ideas about working with clients available through their blog posts, The Lab.
Notice a pattern here? Almost all of these sites are creating content (in this case trying to educational content) to bring potential clients to their site. Once you’re there, they hope you’ll buy something from them. Clever. But there’s a lot to be learned from these sites without spending a dime. Of course, they hope you’ll like what they have and buy some service or product from them.
We’ve all seen lists of gear that photographers use when shooting. It’s a myriad of lenses, filters, camera bodies and lighting equipment that can be mind boggling. Smartphones are now an essential piece of gear for photography. And I’m not talking about using your phone to shoot photos. I’m talking about all the apps that I regularly use when I’m shooting. Many of these have replaced old hardware and put it all in one portable device. Below is a list of my favorite apps. FYI I’m using an Android phone (I managed to achieve escape velocity from planet Apple) but all of these apps are also available for iPhone.
1. Easy Release – Model Releases are important to get the most out of every photo I shoot. Easy Release has been around for a few years and is accepted by stock agencies. Forget paper model releases, this is the way to go. The model, photographer, and a witness all sign the release on the phone. It can add a photo of the model in the release then email a PDF to the photographer and the model. It’s so easy that I’ve done model releases in the tent at the end of a day of shooting in the alpine. It just makes getting a model release so much easier. Android version here.
2. DOF calculator – This app will give you precise depth of field information for the camera, focal length, and aperture you are using in a quick look up table. Android version here.
3. Smart Compass – When shooting landscape photos, I need to know where the sun will rise and set to anticipate the light. Android page here.
4. Angry Birds Star Wars – just kidding. This one is for my kids. Really.
5. Dolphin browser – I like this better than the native browser app for Android. It has tabs and I like the swipe motion to bring up favorites. As an outdoor photographer, accessing weather information when I’m shooting is essential. Android version here.
6. Avalanche Forecast – I haven’t used this one in the field yet since it just came out for Android. But this will be a very useful tool when I shoot in the backcountry…which should be very soon. The app aggregates avalanche forecast information from all avalanche centers in the US and Canada. Check it before you head into the backcountry, then it will cache the information when you lose your data service. Android and iPhone.
7. Instagram – of course. No explanation necessary. Android version here.
8. Photo Editor – I rarely will edit anything on my phone, but if I do, this is what I use. Android version here.
9. Sundroid – Great for landscape photography. It will give sunrise/set and moonrise/set information for any location in the world on any date. I use this all the time. Android version here.
10. Tide Chart – Again for shooting landscape images, it will give tide information for any number of locations and date. Android version here.
11. Swiftkey – This isn’t a photo app but will increase your productivity if you use your phone to email or text a ton. It’s a keyboard app (not available for iPhone!) that not only predicts the current word you are typing but will suggest the next word you want. It learns your typing patterns and words you use a lot and it’s an incredible time saver. It also has swipe option. Android version here.
12. Aurora Buddy – Do you want to photograph the northern lights? Then it helps to know when the Aurora Borealis will be making an appearence! This app will tell you how likely it is to appear in the Northern sky. Android page here.
13. Google Earth – A great tool for trip planning. The smartphone version isn’t the full version of a desktop but still is great to have handy. Android version here.