According to internet hype and opinion, the latest MILCs are absolutely squeezing Canikon with their latest slim, sexy and futuristic cameras. Of course, according to that even higher authority named Cosmic Reality, solely trusting opinions and statements on the internet could well lead to major regret. MILCs may be the future of cameras, but are their current forms truly uncompromisingly superior with little shortcomings?
I am quite unique in that I am one of the few who ditched a NEX in 2013 to pick up a Nikon D610. Having used both an MILC and DSLR for extended periods of time, I understand their relative strengths and weaknesses. The 2013 switch was based on reasons that are too lengthy to describe and not the subject of this article. Besides, 2013 was long ago in technology years and one should not reminisce so much about the past. Many things have changed since. At the time of writing of this article, Sony’s A7x series and Fujiflm’s newest X-Pro2 and X-T2 are generating a lot of positive opinions on the internet. Especially since the image quality they can create are on-par with what the best cameras from Canikon can produce. Have the latest and greatest MILCs evolved to the point where I will reverse the decision I made 3 years ago?
If I am not going to just solely rely on internet opinions, the only way is to have a personal hands-on experience. An advantage of living in a small country is that everything is quite easily within reach. The Sony flagship store and a new Fujifilm demo store are right in the city, within two train stations of one another. So off I go for a visit to get some first-person hands-on evaluation. 30 minutes in each store, actual hands-on testing with A7 II, A7R II, X-Pro 2 and X-T 2!
What are the results?
Let us get the obvious out of the way. Battery life is obviously going to be shorter on MILCs. A user will just have to make a conscious decision on whether he is willing to juggle N number of batteries and M number of battery chargers every day and work out a logistic plan on how to get them all recharged for tomorrow.
EVF latency is another obvious point. In short, I don’t believe Canikon will stop making DSLRs anytime soon. I saw moments of lag while trying out the X-T 2. Both X-Pro 2 and X-T 2 also displayed obvious and repeatable scenes of intense flicker when I pointed them in a particular direction in the store. Perhaps there was a florescent light source coming from neighbouring shops outside? But I am just guessing here. When these jarring moments did not rear their heads, the Fujifilm EVFs do seem to have a lower latency than the Sony EVFs. Of course, the Sony EVFs were more consistently well-behaved. Perhaps in ten years’ time EVF technology will advance to the point where even sports and wildlife photographers will be satisfied with their latency response.
The advantages of MILCs are hard to ignore though. Immediate image feedback via EVF nearly eliminates the need for chimping. Smaller and more portable, enabling photographers to do their things without drawing so much attention to themselves. This is a fact – security have approached me several times when I was taking pictures of building facades in public space with a DSLR. (Security and building management are generally uneducated about public laws regarding recording rights in public spaces. But that is another topic for another article.) However no one has ever approached me when I was still using a NEX. (Although things could have degraded even further since 2013.)
Still, the most obvious advantage to MILCs are their small size and light weight. This is the biggest advertising weapon the other camera companies drum up against Canikon frequently.
However, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Ironically, it is precisely with regards to the MILC’s small size and my hands-on experiences in the Fujifilm and Sony stores that I encountered the ergonomic contradiction: The cameras are smaller and easier to carry around, but they become more difficult to work with than a DSLR. And there is a corollary: Reducing a camera past a certain size makes them more difficult to work with.
If you buy a compact car, you get more space in your garage but you can carry less people and stuff in it.
If you buy a smaller phone, it is easier to carry it in a pocket but you will have to deal with the inconvenience of looking at and typing on a small screen.
In the same way, MILCs are smaller and more portable. But you will never find the grip and handling as comfortable as a DSLR’s. Your fingers will be squishing against one another trying to find, press and manage buttons and dials that are too narrowly spaced. This is the inevitable price you have to pay when you shave real estate off the camera body past a certain point. There is also another thing that puzzles me – who thought that those metal dials and metal bits are easier to control and work with than the modern DSLR’s smooth plastic buttons and dials? If pressing tiny knobs and rotating little dials somehow qualify as “easy and convenient”, then changing exposure on any recent DSLR must be described as “heavenly pleasure”. Leave those silly metal bits to the hipsters – we’re only interested in helping the photographer take the picture. The Hasselblad X1D looks like one of the few MILCs to have this done right – smooth buttons, dials and layout with a modern UI. (Ironically at this point one can’t help but recall Hasselblad’s troubled history with the ridiculous Lunar.)
The small MILC will never be as comfortable and easy to hold and control as a DSLR. It is a price you have to pay in return for a more discrete and portable package. To many people, it is an acceptable trade-off. In my case, as much as I desire a lighter camera body, I dislike the cramped controls just as much. The advantages and disadvantages just end up cancelling each other. So I am still holding off from making a switch, until something happens that really makes doing so worthwhile.
Before I end, I would like to point camera manufacturers to the Hasselblad X1D again. No hipster-vintage nostalgia games here. The result appears to be highly functional. There is a good grip, spaced-out and comfortable controls, well thought-out layout and a modern touch-screen UI. It seems that the designers really asked themselves, “how do we design a modern camera that does not need a mirror box, has a significantly reduced surface volume and is an operational and ergonomic pleasure to use?”
For now, back to taking pictures. Perhaps someone would create an MILC next year that could make me think about switching again. –WY