Mirrorless cameras in railway photography

Mirrorless cameras in rail photography: The mirrorless camera revolution might be the biggest conversation in photography since the introduction of the digital camera over 45 years ago, but the technology of Will the mirrorless camera evolve into the new standard, or will it just give photographers more options? ?

CSX Transportation’s Q370 train approaches the top of Sand Patch Grade in Keystone, Pennsylvania in this low-light view captured in January 2021 by Ben Sutton’s Canon EOS R5.

Brief history of mirrorless cameras

Mirrorless technology was introduced to the market in 2008 with the release of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1. Fujifilm entered the mirrorless arena with its X series in 2011, as did Nikon with its Nikon 1. Canon entered the market in 2012 with its EOS M line.

At first, the convenience of a mirrorless camera made them attractive to amateur and amateur photographers, while serious and professional photographers stuck with the DSLR. But as mirrorless technology has improved, some DSLR-dependent shooters are branching out and embracing the electronic viewfinder, lightweight design, and portability offered by mirrorless cameras, produced by mirrorless brands Fuji X, Nikon Z and Canon R, among other brands.

To better respect the relationship between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, we have summarized the main features of each type of camera below.

DSLR Features and Benefits

• Optical viewfinder
• Image stabilization minimizes camera shake
• Manual placement of parameters
• Longer battery life
• Durability in adverse conditions
• Wide choice of interchangeable lenses

Mirrorless Features and Benefits

• Electronic viewfinder
• Compact and lighter design
• Continuous live view features
• Fast autofocus, shutter speeds
• Simplified lens mount adapters
• Superior video quality

Opinions of mirrorless cameras among rail fans

TRAINS recently interviewed regular contributors and rated several well-known railway photographers who have gone mirrorless. In our conversations, it was clear that many were initially drawn to the mirrorless camera for its lightweight and compact design.

“I do a lot of hiking for my photography so keeping the weight off is helpful… In early 2014 I sold all my Canon gear and took the plunge with Fuji. I haven’t looked back. This made photography fun again,” says Scott Lothes of Madison, Wisconsin with the Fujifilm X-T20.

“What made me change was quite simple: form factor…I do a lot of hiking to spots, so the lighter the load and the more room in my camera bag is very beneficial,” says Ben Sutton of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with the Canon R5.

Image quality and autofocus are comparable with no definite winner

After interviewing photographers, the consensus was that image quality with mirrorless cameras is comparable to that of a DSLR. But advances in technology may give mirrorless cameras a long-term advantage, as newer models further improve autofocus, image resolution, and high ISO sensitivity. In some cases, some photographers believe that mirrorless quality may already be superior. But in summary, it’s a draw.

“I would say [mirrorless] image quality is comparable or slightly better. The Fuji files are sharper straight from the camera than anything I’ve seen from my Canons. I sometimes see the Fuji’s smaller sensor struggling to resolve large areas of extremely fine detail, like blades of grass in a distant field, but it takes a serious pixel peek and only shows up in this kind of heavy-textured situations,” says Lothes.

“Image quality is about the same…and I’ve benefited from faster ISO speeds and cheaper image stabilization features [compared to the Canon 5D Mark II]says J. Alex Lang of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with the Fuji X-2 Pro.

“The [Canon] R5 is basically a mirrorless version of the 5D series,” says Sutton. “The migration went smoothly.”

Mirrorless cameras in railfan photography: Embracing the electronic viewfinder

Replacing the optical viewfinder, the new electronic viewfinder may be the most noticeable change. Some of the benefits of the EVF include real-time live image preview that lets you change settings without leaving the viewfinder. In other words, no more test shots waiting for the train to appear, as the end result is displayed in real time, all in the viewfinder. For some, this is welcome.

“Being able to change exposure in the viewfinder, in the moment, was a game changer for me. I find I have more ‘gatekeepers’ with the EOS R than I ever had with a DSLR. digital,” says Jeff Terry of Newport, Minnesota, with the Canon R. “Even better, I can display the histogram for me in the viewfinder itself, so I know right away if I’m going to cut the highlights.”

“The electronic viewfinder is great if you run and shoot a lot, because you don’t have to adjust your exposure, edit the shot and adjust. You can see the changes in front of you,” says Justin Franz of Whitefish, Montana, with the Canon R.

But Sutton cautions against relying too heavily on mirrorless technology.

“The EVF is something to get used to. It can do a simulated exposure, but you can really mess up an exposure if you’re not careful with your meter,” Sutton warns.

DSLRs come out on top for durability and battery life

While the small, compact design of a mirrorless camera is appealing to many rail photography consumers, the bulk of a DSLR makes its heavy design feel like it’s capable of withstanding more abuse at the time. wayside compared to its lighter successor. And when it comes to battery life, the DSLR is far superior.

“Battery life was noticeably better with my DSLRs; it’s the Achilles’ heel of mirrorless cameras,” says Lothes.

“My [mirrorless] Canon R consumes batteries like you wouldn’t believe,” says Terry.

“I haven’t had any situations in terms of falls or anything like that, but the [Canon] The 5D Mark III feels like it could handle crash situations a bit better,” says Sutton.

Mirrorless Cameras in Railway Photography: Who Prevails in the Lowest Light?

Railroading is a 24/7 sport and low-light photography is a dramatic time to capture trackside action. Knowing which camera is competent in the darkest hour is crucial for most semi-serious shooters.

“The grittier, darker, rainier and muddy the better,” Sutton says. “The 5D Mark III was great in that regard, but when I added the R series, especially the R5, to my arsenal, my style kicked in tenfold. I knew mirrorless technology and updated Canon sensors could handle higher ISO and lower light pretty well, but when I started shooting with it in those conditions, I was in another realm.

“For low light, I might give a full-frame DSLR a slight advantage over my APS-C mirrorless cameras, but honestly, that’s a slight advantage. Mirrorless is definitely as good or better than APS-C DSLRs I’ve used I haven’t tried full frame mirrorless cameras so I can’t speak to their capabilities I don’t hesitate to shoot up to 6400 ISO with my Fujis, and that’s the highest I’ve ever reached with any Canon I’ve owned,” says Lothes.

“Low-light conditions are evenly matched, although I give my Canon 6D a slight edge in that area,” says Terry. “I still use [the DSLR] for night shots.

Photographers still have the option of choosing between DSLRs and its vast collections of interchangeable lenses or taking the plunge to mirrorless, but camera makers’ emphasis on mirrorless technology will eventually take consumers’ purchasing decision in favor of mirrorless cameras in railway photography. Manufacturers are devoting more research and development to the mirrorless field. It was announced in early 2022 that Canon’s 1D X Mark III would be the manufacturer’s latest DSLR, with the company focusing on mirrorless cameras in the future.

“I thought the end was near for the Canon SLR – finally – but I didn’t expect it to come so soon,” says Franz.

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