Best light digital camera choices to replace your smartphone for landscapes and wildlife
More and more travelers are opting to go to rainforests, deserts, savannas, polar regions, volcanic archipelagoes, and other areas to view the natural world rather than ruins and big cities. As a result, I’ve been hearing from travelers who ask me what kind of light digital camera they should purchase.
They’ve begun to realize that while smartphones are wonderful to photograph cites and many everyday scenes, their capability is less than optimal to capture memories of great natural expanses, detailed wildflower close-ups and portraits of animals at a distance, due to their timidity or fierceness. They’ve found that large prints of their smartphone images for display at home or at their workplace are not as good as desired.
Three years ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated to recommend a digital single lens reflex camera (DSLR) plus lenses. Now, with the releases of the new Nikon Z series and Canon EOS R mirrorless interchangeable lens digital cameras (DMIL), along with Sony’s Alpha DMIL series and others, I’ve reconsidered that recommendation.
In order to make the choice between a DSLR and the light digital camera (DMIL) there are seven key areas to consider.
Size and Ergonomics:
One of the significant advantages of DMIL cameras for many people is their light weight and smaller size, compared to DSLRs.
I often hear photographers, particularly older photographers, complain about their DSLR’s weight. Pro DSLRs, which often have built-in vertical grips, are heavy and can be tiring to carry all day, especially if coupled with a long lens for shooting wildlife at distance. DMILs decrease the overall load. For example, the light digital camera Nikon Z7 (DMIL) weighs just 1.5 pounds, including the battery, half the weight of a Nikon D5 (DSLR).
Unfortunately, the smaller size of DMILs can be a problem for users with larger hands. I’ve found most of today’s DMIL light digital cameras have too little surface area for my hands to comfortably hand-hold them and keep them steady. A vertical grip accessory for DMILs can alleviate hand-holding woes and due to their built-in shutter release button, eliminate the awkwardness of rotating the camera to make portraits.
Electronic Viewfinder (EVF):
The viewfinders on DSLRs are optical, while DMIL viewfinders are actually mini TV screens. Their views of the scene you’re photographing are different. Current EVF views are not as subtle and may often have some distortion, but the EVF “what you see is what you get” can be wonderfully helpful.
Current EVF technology has some problems when shooting in low light conditions. Some complain that the smaller dynamic range in an EVF, compared to an optical viewfinder, can be a problem in exposure choices. I found you can get used to it quickly when I’ve tested DMIL cameras. If you’re panning your camera to shoot subjects moving at speed or erratically, it’s easier with an optical viewfinder, but that isn’t much of a problem for most travel photography.
DMIL autofocus has improved dramatically. While DSLRs remain superior for autofocusing on fast-moving targets, important in sports and wildlife photography, for travelers, the latest DMIL cameras’ autofocus can be sufficient. For example, Nikon’s Z series cameras use an autofocus hybrid technology which includes phase-detection, standard on DSLRs.
DMIL cameras continue to need plenty of power. If you purchase one, invest in several spare batteries and keep them fully charged. The reason is the EVF coupled with the smaller batteries found in DMILs, mean shorter battery life. While it may be annoying at times, it’s not a reason to ignore DMIL light digital camera choices.
Having the widest possible choice of quality lenses is critical. That has been a problem for some DMIL lines in the past. With the new Canon and Nikon DMIL cameras, that’s been corrected. With their lens adapters, these cameras can use their full line of current DSLR lenses. Eventually, the cameras will have a full line of native lenses.
Both DSLRs and DMILs are capable of fantastic image quality. They use the latest and greatest sensors on the market. Sensor size is a major determiner of image quality, particularly in low light conditions. When considering image quality, compare sensor size and the number of pixels on them to compare them fairly. Full size sensors are generally better in low light than smaller ones.
For those shooting in low light conditions, DMIL heat build-up at the sensor, which can cause noise, can come from running a mirrorless system continuously. That can be mitigated by photographers by periodically shutting down their camera if shooting in low light.
While the top DSLRs were among the first to offer professional quality HD and full HD video, coupled with their huge stable of lenses for all kinds of situations, a light digital camera has an edge shooting video with equal quality and superior video feature sets.
For most travelers, you can’t go wrong purchasing a DMIL light digital camera. Find the DMIL camera with a feature set that meets your needs and go for it. If you’re primarily shooting in low light, and have a yen to shoot fast or erratically moving subjects, then you might want to purchase a DSLR. For most travelers, I’d recommend going DMIL because they’re lighter and smaller, therefore easier to pack and still produce great photos.