A mirrorless guy buys a new DSLR

High School Lacrosse – Austin, Texas

Around these parts, I’m known as a mirrorless guy. A photographer that uses the newer, non-DSLR interchangeable lens cameras. With good reason. The Olympus micro 4/3 cameras are my primary system. I shoot with a Fujifilm X100S and other compact cameras. I loved shooting the streets and in the trains of Japan with the tiny Pentax Q7. So it may be noteworthy, to some, that I recently bought a new Nikon DSLR.

Before I talk about my latest Nikon purchase, while true that I’m primarily a mirrorless shooter, I never got rid of all my DSLRs. I still bust out my Canon 6D a couple of times a year. I actually own 5 film SLRs and two vintage Olympus DSLRs, the E-1 and the E-300.

So why buy a new DSLR? Several reasons:

1. It’s always fun to shoot a different kind of camera from another company. I know Canon but haven’t used a Nikon DSLR in a while. Actually, back in 2006, my first DSLR was a Nikon D50, which I owned for 2 weeks. I didn’t like that model and ended up going down the Canon path with a purchase of a Canon Rebel XT.

2. I wanted to compare a current model DSLR against its mirrorless competition. DSLRs still sell in droves and I wanted get the feel of one, to see how the other (mirrored) side lives.

3. In the U.S. consumer retail sales orgy called Black Friday and Cyber Monday, last year, these Nikons were sold dirt cheap. I opted for an entry-level D3300 with two kit lenses. The typical two lens kit sold for a blowout price of $500. I actually found an even better deal — a factory refurbished D3300 with 18-55mm VR and the beefier 55-300mm VR lens, in like-new condition, for less than $500.

4. Finally, I’m shooting sports again, albeit as an amateur and a parent documenting his son’s high school games. I was curious how a low cost D3300 would do compared to the latest mirrorless Olympus.

High School Lacrosse - Austin, Texas

Before dropping some bucks on yet another, arguably unneeded system, I did research. Research is fun, especially if it means justifying new gear purchases, of course. To handle my sports photography requirements, I had several options. Most of all, I wanted about a 80mm to at least a 400mm equivalent focal length to get good coverage of the Lacrosse field. Here’s a summary of my analysis.

1. Stay with what I got: The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with a 10 fps burst and fast focusing did a decent job for casual sports photography. My Panasonic 45-200mm zoom had a nice focal length but I disliked the image quality, especially in the 150mm to 200mm range. I tried to like it, but it just didn’t meet my image quality requirements. I also have the Olympus 40mm-150mm zoom which seems optically superior but the 300mm equivalent focal length wasn’t long enough.

2. Buy a new Olympus lens: I explored getting a new Olympus lens for the E-M5 Mark II. For $449, I can get the Olympus 75-300mm, which gives me a 150mm to 600mm equivalent range. The downside, the starting 150mm focal length was too telephoto, I wanted something wider. There’s the even pricier, but highly regarded, 40-150mm f2.8 Pro and with the extra 1.4x teleconverter, I could get a very usable 112mm-420mm range. But this will be a $1650 option.

3. Buy a new Canon lens: I considered buying a new lens for my Canon 6D. The 70-300 zoom lenses starts at about $650, but on the full frame 6D it only reaches 300mm. This is when a cropped frame APS-C camera is a benefit over full frame. I have a 70-200 f4L zoom but even with a 1.4x converter it would still fall short. The Canon Pro L lens options would be even more expensive. Plus the Canon 6D is hardly the ideal sports camera.

4. Buy a APS-C Canon camera and lens: I could get a new Canon APS-C camera since, unfortunately, I sold my 7D a few years ago. I could get a late-model new or used Rebel models for $300 – $800. These would be entry-level models. For lenses, I could either pay $650 and up for a 70-300mm or about $200 for a 55-250mm. Conversely, I could also use my current 70-200mm lens and get a 1.4x extender from $200 – $450 depending if it’s used or new.

But honestly, I wasn’t too excited about the Canon options. Based on my research, Canon have fallen behind Nikon in APS-C sensors. Canon have continued to use their own sensors for their DSLRs and while class leading, at one time many years ago, the Sony sensors that Nikon use are the current leaders. Also, even on my 7D, which was an action oriented camera from a few years ago, I was never impressed with the continuous focusing performance. I didn’t expect the current Rebels to be any better and I wasn’t willing to spend $1500 to get the 7D Mark II.

5. Buy a Nikon APS-C camera and lens: Given the reasons listed above, and the aggressive Nikon pricing, buying into a new system wasn’t as crazy as I originally thought. But which model? The D3300, D5300 and D7200 use the same 24MP Sony sensors, though their image processing engines and metering may be different. The D7200 was clearly superior for action but I didn’t want to spend $1500 for the kit. For my needs, I didn’t see much of a benefit paying for a D5300, so I opted for the entry-level D3300. As mentioned above, after a bit of searching, I found the camera and two lens kit for $487. Sold!

How would an entry-level Nikon DSLR work for high schools sports? Quite well, actually. I’m very happy with the results, and amazed by the performance I got with this basic DSLR, with a consumer zoom lens.

I’m planning a post about using the D3300 for sports and how it compares with a mirrorless Olympus system. Beyond sports, I think it will be interesting to compare this camera to its mirrorless equivalent. Is the DSLR really a dying breed or is the shift to mirrorless overhyped? I’ll give you my perspective in a future post.


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17 thoughts on “A mirrorless guy buys a new DSLR

  1. Pretty amazing what you can get on the DSLR side for less than $500……what you be your best option on the mirrorless side for an equivalent budget? (answer in your future post?).

  2. I bought the 14-150 Olympus lens. Not as long or nearly as fast as I would like, but it’s the closest thing I could get to a “walking around lens.” It’s f4, so it’s slow … but since I only use it outside anyway, it does okay. It’s sharp, too. Sometimes, there’s no perfect choice available.

  3. I love the lens and body sizes of the M43 system but whenever I’m concerned about image quality I’ll do the chore and carry the Nikon DSLR. As long as there’s no airplane travel involved though …
    Also, Canikon kind of shot themselves in the foot by not having many APS-C primes available.

    1. I generally don’t have image quality concerns with the Olympus but there is no doubt, as dictated by physics, that a larger sensor will yield better image quality, if all other factors stay the same. Yes, the lack of APS-C primes is a big limitation for Canon and Nikon. I was going to mention that in a future post.

      1. I have to say I’m quite jealous of what you manage to pull out of the M43. It takes a lot of discipline I guess. In my experience … anything over ISO2000 doesn’t look too good to put it mildly.

  4. Olympus E-PL5. It has pretty much the same sensor as your bunch. I like the results I get from the Lumix pancakes (14mm f2.5 & 20mm f1.7), especially for the size. Only sometimes it’s hard staying below ISO 2000 indoors. Even at f1.7. If I didn’t have anything to compare it to, i would probably be very happy with the results. But I do 😉

    1. Feri Naf, yes the image quality should be about the same. A lot depends on how picky one is and the size at which you want to display the images. My images may not be any better than yours but at these web sized, they look decent.

      1. I’ve thought of that, sure. Your shot discipline is waaay up there, though. At least that’s what it looks like in those images with super low shutter speeds. You’re putting IS to very good use 😉

      2. Thank you, Feri. Keep in mind, though the sensors haven’t improved too much, the image stabilization has. Part of the trick of getting the slow shutter speeds may be more technology than discipline or skill.

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