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So you want to get into photography and are looking for a decent camera that you can build a system around?
A few years ago that was easy question to answer – you had to buy a DSLR. But then in 2008 Panasonic launched its first mirrorless camera, the Lumix G1, and everything changed.
Like DSLRs, mirrorless cameras (also known as CSCs or compact system cameras) allow you to change lenses, but as the name might suggest, the don't feature a complex mirror system like DSLRs do.
This means that they can in principle be smaller, lighter and mechanically simpler. They can also be just like super-sized compact cameras to use, whereas DSLRs are a bit of a jump from a regular compact.
Enthusiasts and pros, however, have taken a bit of convincing on the merits of mirrorless cameras. With no mirror, there's no optical viewfinder, with models either relying on the rear screen or featuring electronic viewfinders, while there have been concerns over image quality, features and handling in the past.
Perhaps most importantly, compared to established DSLR systems, the lens ranges of these mirrorless systems isn't quite as extensive.
With a raft of new mirrorless cameras and growing lens ranges, have mirrorless cameras done enough to be genuine DSLR rivals or, more to the point, are they already better? To help you decide, here are the key differences and what they mean for everyday photography.
- DSLR: Can be big and bulky, though this can be a help when shooting with big telephoto lenses (and big hands)
- CSC: Yes, they are generally smaller and lighter, but the lenses in some cases can be just as big as a DSLR's
Small size is one of the big selling points for mirrorless cameras, but it doesn't always work out that way because what you actually have to take into account is the size of the camera body and lens combination.
This is a problem for mirrorless cameras with either full-frame or APS-C sized sensors because you can get a nice slim body but a fat, heavy lens on the front. Some models now come with retractable or power-zoom 'kit' lenses, but that doesn't help when you have to swap to a different type of lens.
Panasonic and Olympus cameras have an advantage here. The Micro Four Thirds sensor format is smaller (which many photographers don't like) but this means the lenses are smaller and lighter too (which many do), delivering a much more compact system all round.
Interestingly, some higher-end mirrorless cameras are now growing in size as they take on more features and manufacturers respond to feedback from photographers who want larger grips, while entry-level DSLRs are shrinking to compete with the smaller footprint of similarly priced CSCs.
- DSLR: Both Canon and Nikon have a massive lens range for every job
- CSC: Olympus, Panasonic and Fujifilm have good and growing ranges. Sony is doesn't have quite the breadth, but is catching up quickly
If you want the widest possible choice of lenses, then a Canon or Nikon DSLR is possibly the best bet thanks to their huge range of optics - they both have an extensive range of lenses to suit a range of price points, as well as excellent third party support from the likes of Sigma and Tamron.
While Canon and Nikon have both had decades to build-up and refine their lens line-up (Nikon's lens mount is unchanged from 1959), while the first mirrorless camera only appeared 10 years ago. However, mirrorless cameras are certainly gaining ground. Because Olympus and Panasonic use the same Micro Four Thirds lens mount and have been established the longest, the range of Micro Four Third lenses is the most comprehensive, offering a broad range of optics, from ultra wide-angle zooms to fast prime telephoto lenses.
Fujifilm's lens system is growing all the time, with some lovely prime lenses and excellent fast zoom lenses. Even the 18-55mm 'kit' lens is very good. There's still a few gaps in the range, but Fujifilm's definitely working hard to deliver a comprehensive and high-quality range of lenses.
Sony offers some really nice high-end optics that are designed for its full-frame line of cameras, but it could do with introducing more glass, especially at focal lengths beyond 200mm, though a 400mm f/2.8 is in development.
- DSLR: Many photographers still prefer an 'optical' view for its clarity, natural look and lag-free viewing
- CSC: Others though prefer to see a digital rendition of the scene as the camera will capture it
All DSLRs, even the cheapest, come with an optical viewfinder because it's an integral part of the DSLR design. However, quite a few entry-level mirrorless cameras don't have viewfinders at all, so you have to use the rear LCD to compose photos, which doesn't always work so well in bright light.
Mirrorless cameras with viewfinders cost more, and these are electronic rather than optical viewfinders – they display the image direct from the sensor readout and not via an optical mirror/pentaprism system.
Electronic viewfinders are advancing in leaps and bounds, so the latest rarely show any pixelation or 'granularity' that was an issue in earlier generations, though there can often be a slight but visible 'lag' if you move the camera quickly.
The advantage of electronic viewfinders is that they can display a lot more information than an optical viewfinder can, including live image histograms, for example. They can also simulate the digital image the camera will capture, so you don't get any horrible surprises when you review your image.
This simulation is not always perfect, however, and many photographers prefer to see the world with their own eyes as they compose the image and check the digital version on the LCD straight after it's been captured. They're also easier to use in low-light.
This will come down to personal preference - get one of the latest high-end mirrorless cameras with a large magnification, large resolution electronic viewfinder, and you'll be hard pressed to find fault with it.
- DSLR: Used to have a clear advantage, but not quite as clear-cut now. On the whole they're better for tracking fast subjects, but can be weak in Live View
- CSC: Live View AF performance is generally very good when using the LCD screen, while latest models can have excellent overall AF performance when using the EVF
DSLRs use fast and efficient 'phase detection' autofocus modules mounted below the mirror in the body. This system can be incredibly fast at focusing and tracking subjects, with camera's like the Nikon D850 featuring incredibly sophisticated system.
The trouble is that these systems only work while the mirror is down. If you're using a DSLR in live view mode, composing a picture or video on the LCD display, the mirror has to be flipped up and the regular AF module is no longer in the light path. Instead, DSLRs have to switch to a slower contrast AF system using the image being captured by the sensor.
The latest Canon DSLRs (such as the EOS Rebel T7i / EOS 800D, EOS 80D and EOS 5D Mark IV) though include the company's Dual Pixel CMOS AF that uses phase-detection pixels built into the sensor. This is designed to give faster autofocus in live view mode to close the gap on CSCs.
Mirrorless cameras have to use sensor-based autofocus all the time. Most are contrast AF based, but these tend to be much faster than equivalent contrast AF modes on DSLRs, partly due to the fact the lenses have been designed around this system.
More advanced mirrorless cameras have advanced 'hybrid' AF systems combining contrast autofocus with phase-detection pixels on the sensor, with the likes of the Fujifilm X-T2, Panasonic Lumix G9 and Sony Alpha A9 really impressing with not only their speed, but with the accuracy at which they can lock on and follow a moving subject – the one area where DSLRs have, until now, had a clear advantage.
- DSLR: The best DSLRs can no longer match the speeds of the best CSCs
- CSC: The mirrorless design makes it easier to add high-speed shooting
You need a fast continuous shooting mode to capture action shots, and mirrorless cameras are streaking ahead here, partly because the mirrorless system means there are fewer moving parts and partly because many models are now pushing ahead into 4K video – this demands serious processing power, which helps with continuous shooting too.
To put this in perspective, Canon's top professional DSLR, the EOS-1D X Mark II, can shoot at 14 frames per second, but the mirrorless Panasonic Lumix G9 and Sony Alpha A9 can both shoot at a staggering 20fps.
You have to be a little careful though when looking at the spec. Some mirrorless cameras will boast even higher frame rates than this (in some cases, up to 60fps), but will have to use an electronic shutter to achieve this and focus will be fixed from the first shot.
You've also got to be realistic about what kind of burst shooting speeds you are going to need - shooting at 60fps means you'll fill up a card pretty quickly, while you'll have to spend a lot of time trudging through a multitude of images to find that 'one' shot.
- DSLR: Once massively popular with pros but getting overtaken by mirrorless rivals
- CSC: 4K video is becoming more common, better live view AF – this looks like the future
DSLRs were the first to offer professional HD and Full HD video, together with a vast range of lenses and other accessories, and pros prefer systems with solid, long-term support.
This means that initially most pros shooting video used a DSLR, but that's changed as mirrorless cameras advance and offer a wealth of video features that most DSLRs can't match.
4K capture is a more common feature for starters on mirrorless cameras, while DSLRs have been slow to offer this functionality. There's also the efficient live view autofocus and processing power offered by mirrorless cameras, while there's a growing range of adapters and accessories out there to offer users a complete system.
Panasonic has carved out a niche for itself with the Lumix GH5, offering a hybrid stills/video camera that's loved by enthusiast photographers and professional cinematographers, while Sony has opted for a similar approach with the Alpha A7S II.
- DSLR: Even entry-level models have full manual controls, and DSLRs are powerful cameras
- CSC: They match DSLRs feature for feature, often going a step or two further
In terms of photographic features and controls, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are hard to split here.
They all offer full manual control over exposure and focusing and can shoot raw files as well as JPEGs, allowing you to get the best image quality possible. In any one sector, such as entry-level cameras, enthusiast or pro models, the control layouts and capabilities are pretty similar. Entry-level DSLRs tend to hide away the manual controls under a layer of automation, but it's the same for mirrorless cameras.
Keep in mind the point about viewfinders, though – all DSLRs have viewfinders, but often cheaper compact system cameras don't.
- DSLR: DSLRs use the latest and best state of the art APS-C or full-frame sensors
- CSC: They use the same sensors, but there are also smaller formats for even smaller cameras
It's not just about megapixels, though, because the main factor in image quality is sensor size. Full-frame sensors are the biggest and offer the best quality, while cameras with APS-C sensors are almost just as good and much cheaper – and you can get either of these size sensors in both DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.
But the compact system camera market offers smaller formats too. The Micro Four Thirds format used by Panasonic and Olympus is smaller than APS-C, but so are the cameras and lenses, so you need to weigh up what's most important to you - size or ultimate image quality.
Overall, then, there's no intrinsic image quality advantage in a DSLR, given that the same sensor sizes are available in mirrorless cameras too.
- DSLR: 600-800 shots is average, better models can shoot over 1,000 shots on a charge
- CSC: Much weaker, and typically around 300-400 shots. You'll need spare batteries
Battery life comparisons might not be exciting, but they are important when the differences are as great as this. The Nikon D7500 DSLR, for example, can take 950 shots on a single charge, while the Fujifilm X-T2 mirrorless camera, a close match on paper, can only shoot 340 photos before the battery expires. This pattern is repeated across the range of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.
It's not clear why. DSLR batteries are sometimes larger, though not always, and you might have thought that driving the mirror up and down for each shot would consume more power, and that that LCD display would be used just as much. However, mirrorless cameras will have to power and EVF in most cases as well.
Apparently not, though, and this is one area where DSLRs do often have a substantial practical advantage. You'll certainly need an extra battery or two with most mirrorless cameras.
- DSLR: You get more for your money with a cheap DSLR than a cheap CSC
- CSC: Cheap CSCs don't have viewfinders; those that do cost a more
You might hope that the simpler design of a compact system camera would make them cheaper to buy, but that's not necessarily the case.
If you want a fully-featured, 'proper' camera for the least money, then a DSLR is still the cheapest option...but it's getting a lot closer between the two.
For example, the 24MP Nikon D3400 DSLR has just about the best APS-C sensor currently on the market, an optical viewfinder (of course), decent manual controls and 700-shot battery life.
Its nearest rivals on price in the mirrorless camera market can't match its resolution or its battery life and they don't have viewfinders, but for only a little more the Sony Alpha A6000 packs in an almost identical 24MP APS-C sensor and features a built-in electronic viewfinder. You'll still need to get a second battery though. That said, it's only that cheap because it's been superseded.
Once you get into enthusiast and pro market, however, the differences largely disappear – for any given amount of money you get broadly the same features, performance and power.
- DSLR: Sturdy, good value cameras offering old-school handling and top image quality
- CSC: Smaller, technically more advanced and arguably the way forward
The technical differences between DSLRs and CSCs aren't the only things you need to consider, and may not even be the most important to you.
The only way to decide once and for all is to pick them up and try them out to see which you prefer. You might prefer the fat, chunky feel and optical viewfinder of a DSLR, or you might prefer the smaller bodies and more precise feel of a mirrorless camera. It'll really come down to what you like to shoot and what the camera can deliver - and pay attention to the lenses offered and accessories available as well.
For novices and those on a budget, an entry-level DSLR gives you more than a cheap mirrorless camera. Further up the price range, it's a close call, but you'd have to say that while some might prefer their handling and their viewing system, there are fewer and fewer technical reasons why a DSLR should be considered the best option for photographers.
It’s often said that any camera is only as good as the lens you put on the front of it. Recent FX (full-frame) format Nikon bodies like the D810 and D850 certainly set the bar high, with high-pixel-count sensors that draw attention to any shortfall in sharpness. But there’s more to a good lens than just its ability to resolve fine detail.
Handling is a key factor in how a lens performs in real-world shooting. You’ll need fast and accurate autofocus, to ensure you nail defining moments in anything from a fleeting expression in portraiture to action sports and wildlife photography. In handheld shooting, effective optical stabilization can make the difference between capturing images that are fit for a gallery, or just fit for the bin.
Even outright image quality is about much more than mere sharpness. Good contrast is highly desirable, even when shooting wide-open at the largest available aperture. Other attributes we tend to look for are minimal distortion and color fringing, good resistance to ghosting and flare, and reasonably low vignetting (darkened image corners). Increasingly, shortfalls in various aspects of image quality can be corrected in-camera, or in post-processing, but that’s a poor substitute for great optical quality.
Nikon or third-party?
Other facets of image quality are harder to quantify, like ‘bokeh’ (the attractiveness of defocused areas within images). It’s a critical aspect of performance for ‘fast’ lenses that enable a tight depth of field as well as enabling you to retain moderate shutter speeds even under dull lighting without the need to really push your camera’s ISO setting.
It’s certainly not always the case that own-brand Nikon lenses outperform competitors from independent manufacturers like Sigma and Tamron. Indeed, some of the latest lenses launched by independent companies are simply superb, and there are some serious bargains to be had.
Based on our extensive lab tests and ‘real-world’ testing, we’re proud to present our top 10 lenses in a wide range of popular categories, as well as great-value alternatives to suit tighter budgets. Let’s take a closer look at all the winners.
You have to go some to beat Nikon’s legendary AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED ultra-wide zoom, but that’s exactly what Sigma has done with this spectacular lens. Like its predecessor, it boasts a class-leading maximum viewing angle, thanks to an incredibly short minimum focal length for an FX format zoom. However, the new ‘Art’ lens has upgraded optics with an extra-large-diameter aspherical element at the front and five top-notch FLD (Fluorite-equivalent Low Dispersion) elements. Fluorine coatings are applied to the front and rear elements, and the mounting plate gains a weather-seal ring. The autofocus system is revamped and noticeably faster, and the new lens switches to a constant-aperture design. From an image quality standpoint, sharpness and control over distortion are excellent, and represent considerable improvements over the previous edition. As with many ultra-wide lenses the hood is built-in, offering physical protection to the bulbous front element. However, this means you can’t easily fit filters, unless you go for a system like the Lee Filters SW150 Mk II.
Great-value option: Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD
It’s not quite as ultra-wide as the Sigma, but this Tamron undercuts it for cost, while adding optical stabilization and a faster f/2.8 aperture rating.
Sigma’s ‘Art’ lenses are designed to unleash photographers’ creative potential, delivering excellent image quality and fast aperture ratings. There’s a large selection of f/1.4 primes to choose from in the range, including 20mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm lenses. This 20mm lens is not only the widest-angle f/1.4 optic in the group (there’s also a 14mm f/1.8 lens), but is remarkable for combining such a wide aperture with such a short focal length. The no-compromise design and superlative image quality are enabled by an extra-large-diameter aspherical lens; this makes for an undeniably chunky and heavy build, but it’s a beast of a lens.
Great-value option: Irix 15mm f/2.4 Firefly
It lacks autofocus, but this is a fabulous manual-focus lens that’s beautifully built and a real joy to use. The ‘Blackstone’ edition adds a couple of extra luxuries, but the Firefly is unbeatable value.
This lens literally dwarfs most standard zooms, but at least the physical length remains fixed throughout the zoom and focus ranges. It builds on the success of its predecessor, adding Vibration Reduction and improving the optical path and build quality. Enhancements include four ED elements, an HRI (High Refractive Index) element, Nano Crystal Coat, fluorine coatings on the front and rear elements, and an electromagnetically controlled diaphragm. Image quality is excellent in most respects, although color fringing can be noticeable if uncorrected, and vignetting is quite severe at f/2.8.
Great-value option: Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2
The G2 (Generation 2) edition of Tamron’s 24-70mm lens combines excellent image quality with a tough build and great handling. The original edition is still on sale as well, and rather less expensive to buy.
Our top choice of ‘portrait prime’ for DX-format DSLRs is also our favored standard prime for FX cameras. Compared to the excellent Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens, the Tamron loses two-thirds of an f/stop in aperture rating, but is a much more manageable size and weight, and gains optical stabilization. You could argue that you don’t really need stabilization in such a ‘fast’ lens, but we disagree. Standard primes are often used in preference to zoom lenses, for their excellent sharpness and minimal distortion, not just for their faster apertures. You might well want to dial in a medium or narrow aperture setting to extend the depth of field, so stabilization can be a big help in handheld shooting.
Great-value option: Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G
Compared with the ‘budget’ Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G, this f/1.4 lens is about twice the price, but still rather less expensive than the Tamron. It’s nice and sharp, but you do forego stabilization.
Superzooms for DX-format cameras are often referred to as ‘travel lenses’ because they deliver a big zoom range, stretching from wide-angle to telephoto focal lengths, usually in a fairly compact and easily manageable package. This avoids the need to carry more than one lens if you’re trekking around the city, or flying to the other side of the world. The travel-friendly theme is somewhat lost in the FX-format camp, however, and this superzoom tips the scales at 800g. Even so, it’s a useful lens for event photography and other times you need to quickly and repeatedly switch between wide-angle and telephoto shooting. As is often the case, the extended zoom range comes at the cost of compromised image quality – in this case it's good rather than great, with mediocre sharpness and severe distortions and vignetting.
Great-value option: Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD
It’s a cheaper option than Nikon’s FX-format superzoom and delivers similar image quality, but the autofocus system is comparatively basic and build quality doesn’t feel quite as good.
There are some fabulous 85mm f/1.4 portrait lenses on the market, including Nikon’s own AF-S 85mm f/1.4G and Sigma’s 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM | A. This Tamron can’t quite compete on aperture rating but adds optical stabilization, which is lacking in the other two lenses. It’s also significantly less expensive to buy. While the slightly narrower maximum aperture might seem to give the Tamron a disadvantage when it comes to blurring the background in portraiture, the lens actually produces a wonderfully smooth bokeh, while maintaining excellent sharpness at the point of focus. For indoor portraiture without flash, or for handheld shooting in low-light conditions, the stabilizer is well worth having, even when using a very wide aperture; it’s even more of a benefit when using narrower apertures for extending the depth of field, to put portrait sitters into the context of their surroundings.
Great-value option: Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G
This Nikon lens is a bargain if you’re willing to stick with f/1.8 rather than stretching to an f/1.4 aperture, although it doesn’t feature stabilization.
Almost as expensive as Nikon’s popular Nikon AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G IF ED VR Micro lens, the latest edition of this Tamron classic includes a revolutionary hybrid optical stabilization system. Essentially, this can counteract shift in the vertical and horizontal axes, as well as angular vibration or wobble, which gives superior stabilization, especially for close-up shots. In our tests, the Tamron proved a little sharper than the Nikon, especially for extreme close-ups, while defocused areas look a little smoother.
Great-value option: Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro
It lacks the Tamron’s hybrid stabilization system and weather seals, but has refined handling and delivers superb image quality.
Nikon’s pre-digital-age 70-300mm ED lens was hugely popular, and the later VR edition has long been a favorite with DSLR shooters. It’s now been replaced by this lens, which features much of Nikon’s latest technology, including an AF-P (Pulse) autofocus system based on a stepping motor. This delivers rapid performance for shooting stills, along with smooth and virtually silent focus transitions for movie capture. It also features an electromagnetically controlled diaphragm, for more consistent apertures in rapid-fire shooting using fast continuous drive mode. On top of that, you get Nikon’s recently introduced Sport VR mode, which makes it easier to track erratically moving subjects in the viewfinder. However, the AF-P autofocus and electromagnetic diaphragm control make the lens incompatible with some older DSLRs, and the relatively expensive price tag stretches the notion of a ‘budget telephoto zoom’.
Great-value option: Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD
As well as being our top pick for DX-format cameras, thanks to its good performance and relatively inexpensive price, this Tamron is also a smart budget buy for FX bodies.
The go-to telephoto for most professionals, a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens gives you good telephoto reach, and retains a respectable f/5.6 aperture rating at up to 400mm when used with a 2x teleconverter. Top tricks include auto and manual priority autofocus options, a Sport VR mode, and an electronically controlled diaphragm, all of which are also featured in Nikon’s new 70-300mm ‘budget’ telephoto zoom. This top-flight lens is supremely well built, however, more suited to professional use. The autofocus system is super-fast and image quality is stunning, with incredible contrast and sharpness.
Great-value option: Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2
This directly competing second-generation Tamron’s 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is very nearly as good as the own-brand Nikon, but costs about half the price.
Despite significantly undercutting the popular Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR for price, this Sigma ‘Sport’ lens delivers 50% more telephoto reach and packs a real punch in terms of performance. Rarely for a Sigma lens, it features a full set of weather seals, and there’s no shortage of high-tech treats. Auto and manual priority autofocus modes are available, and the clever zoom lock mechanism enables you to lock the position at any marked focal length, rather than just at the short end of the zoom range. Excellent contrast and sharpness are retained all the way to the maximum 600mm focal length, distortions and color fringing are very well controlled, and the ring-type autofocus system does well to keep up with even fast-moving subjects.
Great-value option: Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C
Nearly a kilogram lighter in weight, this Contemporary lens retains many of the advanced features of the Sport edition, but is cheaper to buy and less of a strain in handheld shooting.
Spoiler alert! The video above includes the results of our iPhone X vs Red Scarlet-X test, so before watching it read on to learn more about our two contenders, and how we conducted the test.
Smartphone cameras have seriously improved over the last few years, putting high-quality video recording into the hands of professionals and non-professionals alike.
The iPhone X is one of the best when it comes to smartphone video capture, but just how far has recording on our handsets come?
We took to the streets of Cambridge to shoot with the iPhone X and the Red Scarlet-X, an pro-level video camera used to shoot feature films, for a side-by-side comparison in an attempt to find out.
Disclaimer: We’re aware this is far from a ‘fair’ test. The two devices are designed to be used for very different reasons, and the price difference is huge. This test is to see just how far smartphone cameras have come – and you may be surprised by some of the results.
Hardware: phone vs cinema cam
The iPhone X is capable of recording 4K video at up to 60fps, technology that was once only available in professional-level cameras. The 12MP dual cameras around the back have optical image stabilization, which helps minimize camera shake making for a smooth shot. The primary camera has an f/1.8 aperture wide-angle lens, while the secondary camera has an f/2.4 2x zoom lens – both great for allowing more light to hit the sensor, and especially useful in dark scenarios.
The Red Scarlet-X is a professional cinema camera from Red Digital Cinema. Red has been making digital cameras since the original Red One released in 2008, and its cameras have had a huge impact on modern digital cinematography.
The Scarlet-X is one of Red’s older cameras, introduced in 2011, featuring a previous-generation Mysterium X sensor, and shoots beautiful raw video in 4K.
It's a pretty cumbersome, and pretty expensive, setup. It's now discontinued, but a second-hand rig, including lens, batteries and storage, will set you back in the region of $6,000 (around £4,500 or AU$7,500).
Meanwhile, as expensive as the iPhone X is for a phone at $999 / £999 / AU$1,579, it’s a good deal cheaper than the Scarlet-X, and it's a complete and obviously much more compact solution. Perhaps the only accessory you’ll need in addition to a tripod is a power bank to keep your battery topped up.
Red takes pride in the modularity of its cameras, making custom rigs possible, but the downside of this is that you need multiple pieces of kit to make the camera work, which adds to the cost. We kept our setup simple with a 5-inch Red touch monitor, 64GB SSD, V-Mount battery and a Canon 24-105mm L lens.
The Red shoots in a very flat picture style, designed to be color-graded in post-production to draw the most detail from the shadows and highlights. This allows a good deal of flexibility, as the user can completely change the mood of the shot. For casual users posting to social media though, this may be a hindrance, as images straight out of the camera will lack any 'pop'.
It’s clear that the Red camera is better geared for cinema, but that doesn’t mean an iPhone can’t shoot a movie. Filmic Pro claims that with its app, which we used for this comparison, a phone can create video that holds up on a cinema screen.
In fact, some filmmakers have already dived into the world of smartphone filmmaking. Most notably, the film Tangerine was shot entirely on an iPhone 5S, and later premiered at the Sundance film festival. It looked very impressive, although it still maintained a noticeable camera phone aesthetic.
We filmed with both cameras side-by-side, capturing various 4K shots in beautiful Cambridge. The goal wasn’t to prove how the Scarlet-X is better, but more to see how well the iPhone footage holds up in comparison.
Using a magic arm, we rigged the iPhone above the Red’s lens so the two lenses where as close together as possible, then filmed at the same time. Due to the Red’s flat picture style, we color-graded its footage to align more closely with the iPhone's.
Apple’s included camera app has been designed for a basic point and shoot experience. This comes with limitations as it lacks manual controls, therefore a third-party camera app such as Filmic Pro is recommended.
Filmic Pro allows 100Mb/s recording. It’s not free, though – it'll cost you £14.99 / $14.99 / $22.99 to download it from the App Store.
We wanted to see how well the cameras performed in different scenarios. Starting with shots designed to test detail and dynamic range, we shot in bright sun with varying levels of light, and captured wide-shots and mid-shots, and buildings and faces, to make sure the cameras were properly put through their paces.
We also tested the low-light capabilities of each camera, and while this round in particular might seem like a foregone conclusion, don’t count your chickens – the results were quite surprising despite the iPhone sporting such a small sensor and lens combination.
Lastly, we tested stabilization by walking with the cameras in a straight line. This was to see how well each camera handled the natural shake from the user's hands. The Red camera doesn't have optical image stabilization, but the lens we were using did.
And so to the results. TechRadar’s video producer, Basil Kronfli, reviewed the footage blind, not knowing which images were from which camera. He offered his thoughts, which you can see in the video at the top of the page, and was very impressed with how well both cameras performed.
To blind-test the cameras yourself, watch the video on mute, then play it back with Basil’s commentary. Hopefully you’ll be as impressed and surprised as we were by the capabilities of Apple’s all-in-one pocket camcorder.
Action cameras are unlike any other kind of camera. They're designed to be attached to helmets, surfboards, cars and other objects, and they're small, tough and simple to operate, with a lens that captures the world in high-definition video and in a wide-angle fish-eye perspective.
Their small size and dramatic POV ('point of view') footage has made them popular with extreme sports participants, who capture their adventures by attaching cameras to themselves or their equipment. They're also used by TV production companies where using a regular video camera would be impossible.
GoPro is the market leader with its iconic box-shaped Hero cameras, but action cams also come in a 'bullet' style, like the TomTom Bandit. There's lots of choice now, and you shouldn't just buy on brand – think about what you want from an action camera and how you plan to use it.
If you're helmet-mounting, then a bullet cam will probably be the best choice. For a chest mount a box design will be more stable. And when it comes to features, do you really need Wi-Fi, 4K, GPS or even a screen? These all bump up the price, and while they are invaluable in some situations, you can still get great footage without them.
While it may appear to be a minor update from the Hero5 Black on the outside, a lot's changed on the inside. The Hero6 Black gets a new GP1 processing engine, allowing you to record super high-quality 4K footage at 60fps. Other highlights include an improved image stabilization system, while the Hero6 Black offers a wider dynamic range and better low-light performance than the Hero5 Black. Waterproof down to 10m, the Hero6 Black has a useful 2-inch touchscreen, voice commands and an updated app with QuikStories that automatically transfers and edits your footage for you. If you want the best action camera, this is it.
Read our in-depth GoPro Hero6 Black review
It may have been overshadowed by the new Hero6 Black, but the Hero5 Black still has a lot to offer. Shooting 4K footage up to 30fps, video footage is incredibly smooth, while the ability to shoot stills in raw format brings even more flexibility. Waterproof down to 10m without the need for a protective case, it's also simple to use, while the addition of a rear touchscreen, voice control and GPS make it one of the most feature-packed cams currently available. The great news is that GoPro's just wiped $100/£100 off the price, making it an even more tempting proposition.
Read our in-depth GoPro Hero5 Black review
If you're aquatic-minded, or you need to know exactly where you were, and how fast you are going when you took a video, buy a GoPro Hero6 Black. However, if you're more interested in saving money on features you didn't even want, the Yi Technology 4K+ Action Camera is one of the simplest and best designed gadgets around. Everyone considering buying an action cam should have a look at the Yi Technology 4K+ Action Camera because it's almost exactly the same and, in some ways, even better than a GoPro.
Read our in-depth Yi Technology 4K+ Action Camera review
Bullet shape cams might have fallen out of fashion recently thanks to GoPro and its box-shaped cameras, but the TomTom Bandit bucks the trend. In fact, the Bandit packs features that other manufacturers will need to follow if they're to keep up with this newcomer. Taking years of GPS experience, TomTom has built in a series of sensors that not only record location but speed and G-force too, so that when these sensors pick up that something exciting has happened they automatically tag the footage. Back in the pub and with the app open and connected, a quick shake of your phone and the app will automatically edit your footage ready for upload. It really couldn't be easier.
Read our in-depth TomTom Bandit review
The TG-Tracker's futuristic design is hard to miss with an ultra wide 204 degree lens. Headline video resolutions include 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 60fps and an impressive 240fps at 720p for slow motion capture. This is an action camera ready for anything and even features a small LED video light built in. Sensors are the big news for the Tracker with GPS, compass, acceleration sensors plus a barometer and thermometer all capturing data from inside the compact case. The intel from these can all be displayed when viewing back the footage or in the video edit so you can show just how extreme you are. What's more, it's waterproof to 30m, features built in stabilization and can withstand temperatures down to -10C.
Read our in-depth Olympus TG-Tracker review
How often do you take an action cam underwater? If the answer's not a lot, then the YI 4K Action Camera could be for you. While there's an optional underwater case available, the camera isn't waterproof. There is a large and responsive touchscreen, a big battery and a fast file transfers however, and while it may lack a few niceties – and we would include lens distortion correction and image stabilisation in that list – the YI 4K Action Camera remains a great value addition to any adventurer's kit bag.
Read our in-depth YI 4K Action Camera review
There's not much an Olfi one.five owner is left wanting, despite the unit costing half the price of GoPro's leading camera. GPS, voice activation and the ability to link external sensors, such as Garmin's numerous cycling products, are just a few things missing from the package, but for those who simply want to capture good-looking footage without breaking the bank, there's very little to complain about.
Read our in-depth Olfi one.five review
The Hero5 Session follows on from the Hero4 Session, stripping back the action camera concept to its basics, but sharing many of the same specs as the Hero5 Black. That includes 4K video capture up to 30fps, image stabilisation, voice control and is waterproof down to 10m. The large Record button on the top starts and stops recording so there's no worrying about different modes and options – that's all handled by the app (though it does have a simple menu system if you wish). Back to basics, but still captures the quality of video that you'd expect from GoPro.
Read our in-depth GoPro Hero5 Session review
All action cameras are now promising 4K at 30fps, but Sony’s effort is about a lot more than just resolution and frame rate. The diminutive FDR-X3000R's biggest claim is Balanced Optical SteadyShot (B.O.SS) image stabilization, which works across all resolutions and recording modes. It also includes an underwater housing – a rarity in the action camera market – and comes with a wearable, mountable live view remote, a smartwatch-sized contraption that allows the FDR-X3000R to be operated from afar, and its images previewed in real time.
Read our in-depth Sony FDR-X3000R review
The SJCAM SJ7 delivers some good-looking footage, especially when shooting in 4K. However, this budget GoPro Hero5 rival doesn't boast the sort of professional features offered by the biggest name in the action camera game, such as voice activation, GPS and the ability to make quick and easy video clips via a smartphone app. If you want a action camera that delivers strong footage at a fraction of the price though, then the SJCAM SJ7 Star is worth a look.
Read our in-depth SJCAM SJ7 Star review
After all, they think, bigger must be better – and these cameras, with their super-sized sensors, are what all the top professionals seem to use.
Switch to a full-frame camera and your pictures will automatically be better – or so the hype goes. But this is only partly true; a full-frame sensor camera just takes different – not necessarily better – shots compared to DSLR and mirrorless cameras with the more standard APS-C-sized sensor.
So, what exactly do we mean by 'full-frame'? A full-frame camera uses a sensor that's the same size as a single frame of traditional 35mm film, measuring 36 x 24mm. The more popular APS-C sensor size found in most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras measures 22 x 15mm. This means a full-frame sensor has more than 2.5 times the surface area of an APS-C sensor.
Sure, size has certain advantages, but there are also distinct drawbacks to making the switch up to a full-frame DSLR.
In most cases, if you want to upgrade to a full-frame DSLR or mirrorless camera, prepare to pay a premium. For starters, the added production cost of the bigger sensors (and the lower volume of production) is one area that forces cost up.
That's not the only reason though. Because full-frame cameras are primarily aimed at professionals and keen enthusiasts, there's a certain expectation as to the level of performance, features and build that these cameras should have, which again all comes at a price.
Not everyone wants (or can afford) all of these advanced features, which is why we've seen some relatively affordable full-frame cameras in recent years, with the Canon EOS 6D Mark II, Nikon D750 and Sony Alpha A7 II standing out right now. These all offer full-frame sensors, but don't have quite the same ultra-rugged build and top-line performance as their stablemates offer. Don't get us wrong though – these are still very capable cameras that can achieve some brilliant results.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of going full-frame is image quality.
While APS-C and full-frame cameras can now share an almost identical resolution – Nikon's APS-C 20.9MP D500 and full-frame 20.8MP D5 is just one example, full-frame sensors are crucially more than two-and-a-half times bigger, which allows for much larger individual pixels (or if we're getting technical, photosites) compared to an APS-C sensor that shares the same resolution.
This means full-frame sensors typically produce better quality images at higher ISO sensitivities, as the larger individual pixels can capture more light, resulting in less unwanted electronic noise encroaching into images.
The larger physical dimensions of a full-frame sensor mean it's also possible to increase the number of pixels on the chip without seeing this high ISO performance suffer. Both the 45.4MP Nikon D850 and 42.2MP Sony Alpha A7R III are brilliant examples of this, managing to deliver excellent high ISO results while featuring densely populated sensors.
In a lot of instances however, if you were to shoot at low sensitivities with both full-frame and APS-C camera that shared the same resolution, the amount of detail recorded would be very hard to tell apart. However, full-frame cameras have another trick up their sleeve: dynamic range.
Full-frame cameras, thanks to the larger pixels, have a broader dynamic range in general (though other factors do play a part), making them better equipped to capture the full brightness range of a scene that features both extreme areas of dark shadows and bright highlights, as well as midtones.
The size of the sensor also changes the amount of the scene captured by the camera. Although APS-C and full-frame cameras can share many of the same lenses, the visual effect they provide is different. It's the angle of view that actually changes, as smaller APS-C sensors cover less of the image projected by the lens.
This is known as the crop factor, which compares the angle of view with that of a traditional full-frame 35mm film SLR. With full-frame DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, because the sensor is the same size as a 35mm negative, that's not an issue; a 24mm lens gives the same angle of view as a 24mm lens before the age of digital cameras.
An APS-C sensor, however, sees a smaller angle of view, with a crop factor of 1.5x (Canon APS-C sensors are ever-so slightly smaller still, with a crop factor of 1.6x). This means the same 24mm lens on an APS-C DSLR or mirrorless camera actually captures the angle of view of a traditional 36mm focal length (24 x 1.5 = 36). So if you want to capture sweeping wide-angle vistas, a full-frame camera allows you to take in more of the scene in front of you than an APS-C model with the same lens.
The flip-side is that the crop factor effect of APS-C cameras becomes an advantage when shooting distant subjects. For instance, a 300mm lens is 300mm on a full-frame camera, but on an APS-C model it becomes a much more desirable 450mm – great for getting close to the action in sports or wildlife photography.
Full-frame cameras used to offer a real advantage when shooting landscapes or indoors in tight spaces. However, lens makers have combated this by developing both prime and zoom lenses with shorter focal lengths exclusively designed for use on APS-C-sensor cameras.
The typical standard zoom bundled with a lot of APS-C camera offers 18mm as its widest setting, roughly equivalent to the view given by a full-frame 28mm lens. Super-wide lenses offer settings of 10mm, equivalent to, or with an effective focal length (EFL) of, 15mm. These lenses can't be used with full-frame cameras (as they would produce dark corners), so in some ways APS-C users actually get a wider choice of optics.
It's worth considering this compatibility though if you're thinking of investing in a full-frame body down the line, as you might have to trade in some or all of your selection of lenses if you've bought dedicated APS-C glass.
Portrait photographers love full-frame cameras, as the larger the sensor a digital camera uses, the shallower depth of field (DoF) you get. This means you can throw backgrounds and foregrounds more out of focus, for artistic effect and to draw strong attention to the subject.
The reason for this is that the amount of depth of field depends on three different factors: the aperture, the subject distance, and the focal length.
In practice, this means wide apertures on full-frame cameras provide noticeably more defocused backgrounds than on APS-C cameras. It's not by much – about a stop – but it does make a difference. If you're shooting a portrait for instance, using the same angle of view, a full-frame camera at f/4 produces a seemingly similar amount of depth of field and background blur to an APS-C camera at f/2.8.
APS-C cameras are better, however, if you want to maximize depth of field, which has advantages in studio and landscape photography. For example, when using the same angle of view, on an APS-C camera you'll be able to get away with using, say, f/11, whereas on a full-frame camera you may have to use f/16 to ensure your scene is sharp from foreground to background.
Originally unveiled at CES 2018 in Las Vegas, Panasonic is now bringing its latest video-focused mirrorless camera, the Lumix GH5S to the Middle East.
If the comprehensive video specification of the Lumix GH5 isn't quite enough to satisfy your needs, then the GH5S could be for you.
Designed primarily for professional filmmakers, Panasonic believes that the Lumix GH5S will deliver the highest-ever video image quality seen in a Lumix camera.
For the Lumix GH5S, Panasonic has ditched the 20.3MP Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor found in the GH5 and replaced it with an all-new 10.2MP sensor. This has allowed Panasonic to improve on the maximum ISO of 25,600 on the GH5, with an ISO ceiling of 51,200 in the GH5S.
To reduce the risk of background image noise in low-light conditions, Panasonic has also included its Dual Native ISO Technology – we'll bring you more detail on this when we have it.
The Lumix GH5S also gives those shooting stills the option to shoot 14-bit raw files, while the newly developed multi-aspect sensor provides sufficient margin to get the same angle of view in 4:3, 17:9, 16:9, and 3:2 aspect ratios.
Cinema 4K at 60/50p
While the Lumix GH5 was the first mirrorless camera capable of shooting 4K footage at up to 60/50p, the Lumix GH5S takes this one step further and shoots at a world-first 4K 60/50p recording in Cinema 4K (4096 x 2160).
That's just part of the story, as the GH5S is capable of internal 4:2:2 10-bit recording, which should deliver even stronger color reproduction, while V-Log now comes pre-installed on the camera – something that was an additional cost on the GH5.
You can record both Full HD and 4K video for as long as you want – there's no time limit, while the Lumix GH5S complies with 4K HDR video with Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) mode in Photo Style. The GH5S also records 4:2:2 10-bit 400Mbps All-Intra in 4K (at 30p/25p/24p) and Cinema 4K (24p) and 200Mbps All-Intra in Full HD.
The Lumix GH5S is also compatible with Timecode In/out, making it easy to synchronize multiple compatible devices when filming, for pain-free post-production editing. A bundled coaxial cable for a BNC terminal connects to the flash sync terminal of the camera, allowing the camera to be used as a Timecode generator for other GH5S cameras and professional camcorders.
Design and operation
Apart from a flash of red round the collar of the mode dials on the top of the camera, and a red record button (and of course the 'S' designation on the front), the design of the Lumix GH5S is unchanged from the GH5.
This means it also gets the same magnesium alloy full die-cast front and rear frame, while it's also dust-proof, splash-proof, and freeze-proof down to -10C. Like the GH5, it's equipped with dual SD memory card slots, compatible with UHS-II and Video Speed Class 60 SDXC cards, while there's a HDMI Type A terminal as well.
There's also the same electronic viewfinder, with a large magnification ratio of 0.76x (35mm camera equivalent) that delivers a smooth display at 120fps, and a 3.2-inch vari-angle touchscreen with a 3,680K-dot resolution.
The Lumix GH5S also promises to make composition and shooting in poor light that much easier. Live View Boost increases the sensitivity just for Live View, while there's also a night mode that features a red interface.
The autofocus system has also been tweaked over the GH5. The 225-area AF arrangement stays the same, but the GH5S can now focus in light levels as low as -5EV (on the GH5 it's -4EV).
As far as burst shooting speeds go, it matches the GH5's top burst rate of 12fps (12-bit raw files in AFS). This drops down to 8fps if you're in continuous AF (AFC), while if you're shooting in 14-bit raw it's 11fps (AFS) and 7fps (AFC).
The Panasonic Lumix GH5S will be available from the end of March priced at AED 9,899 (body only). Panasonic will be bundling a 64GB SD card for consumers pre-ordering the camera.
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