Traditional DSLRs Continue to Advance with Real World Picture-Taking Performance

Traditional DSLRs Continue to Advance with Real World Picture-Taking Performance


Yes, the great advances in electronic viewfinders (EVFs) and hybrid on-sensor autofocus systems have evened the playing field. Some have even predicted that traditional DSLRs with optical viewfinders and flipping reflex mirrors are an endangered species.

In the long term they may be right, but at the moment it’s significant that every single one of the top-tier professional models from Nikon and Canon (not included here) have mirror boxes and pentaprism finders, as do all but one of the models listed below. In terms of real-world picture-taking performance, they still provide a viable alternative to their mirrorless interchangeable-lens rivals. And their “real” optical view of the world is stilled preferred by some shooters to an enhanced real-time electronic preview, however brilliant it may be. 

Technically, a classic DSLR is a “through-the-lens-viewing” camera. Its angled mirror behind the lens reflects the image formed by the lens up into an optical viewfinder (OVF) for viewing and moves out of the light path at the instant of exposure, so the light can reach the sensor. Therefore, strictly speaking, no camera that uses an electronic viewfinder instead of an optical viewfinder is really an SLR or a DSLR, even if it provides “DSLR functionality.”

Classic OVF DSLRs are available in all price ranges from entry level to pro, but most of those listed here fall into the enthusiast or prosumer class, because that’s where most of the recent innovations and exciting new models have appeared. When customers step up to your counter asking about interchangeable-lens cameras, make sure to show them traditional OVF models along with mirrorless EVF models. You might be surprised which one they pick, and they’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness in giving them a real choice. Heck, you can even demonstrate the virtues of an OVF camera without having to turn it on!

Here’s an array of cool, current DSLRs.

Nikon D810. Nikon upgraded this formidable 36.3MP, full-frame (FX format) DSLR by eliminating the optical low pass filter to enhance sharpness. And it incorporated an advanced Expeed 4 processor for an overall 30% boost in performance. It upped the resolution of its 3.2-inch LCD monitor to 1,229,000 dots and provided a sensitivity setting of ISO 51,200. The D810 inherits Nikon’s Advanced Scene Recognition system using a 91,000-pixel RGB 3D color matrix metering system that works with its 51-point AF system to provide enhanced responsiveness, face detection AF, auto white balance accuracy and i-TTL flash performance. It also captures Full HD 1,920×1080 video at 60/30/24 fps and continuous, full-res bursts at 5 fps. Multiple focusing modes include multi-area FX or DX format with 16:9 cropping, both in Full HD. The LCD provides a live view selector and simultaneous live view output on external monitors using HDMI while shooting uncompressed video. There’s a 20-level audio adjustment with on-screen indicators, external mic and headphone jacks, Linear PCM audio encoding capability and a 46x view for focus confirmation. $2,999.95 body only.

Canon EOS 7D Mark II.
This successor to the acclaimed EOS 7D is destined for stardom among pros and advanced enthusiasts because it delivers “the 5D Mark III experience” in a beautifully balanced, somewhat more compact package—at a substantially lower price. It has an upgraded 20.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor coupled to dual Digic 6 image processors that deliver, among other things, a sizzling 10-fps, full-res burst rate. It provides Full HD 1080p video capture at 60 fps with movie servo AF and Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology with live view for rapid focusing of stills and video. It also features a 3-inch, 1.04M-dot LCD monitor; a 65-point, all-cross-sensor AF system for superior focusing with a wider variety of subjects; a built-in GPS receiver and digital compass; and a native ISO of 16,000 with settings to ISO 51,200. The 7D Mark II retains the 7D’s robust magnesium alloy body construction, and its brilliant, 100% coverage optical viewfinder still sets the standard for brightness and clarity for APS-C-format DSLRs. $1,799 body only.

Pentax K-3.
The top-of-the-line K-3 takes the classic Pentax K line to a higher level with an upgraded 24MP APS-C-format CMOS sensor. Its ingenious user-selectable floating image sensor mechanism emulates the effect of an optical antialiasing filter, giving users the choice to leave it off for superior resolution and detail capture or turn it on to eliminate moiré. Other significant enthusiast-aimed upgrades are: a SAFOX AE/AF system with 27 cross-type AF points and an 86K RGB AE sensor that provides superior subject identification to enhance AF accuracy; an 8.3-fps, full-res burst rate; multi-pattern auto white balance; dual SD card slots; and a 3.2-inch, 1,037K LCD. A sensor-based shake reduction system is said to provide a four-stop advantage in handheld shooting. Support for smartphone and PC connectivity is included, and remote shutter release, viewing and importing of images wirelessly are possible with a Pentax Edition Flucard. Legacy features include a top shutter speed of 1/8,000 sec; Full HD 1080p video recording; an external mic jack; and a sealed, weather-resistant magnesium alloy body. With battery grip, $1,099.95.

Sony Alpha SLT-A99.
The Alpha 99 is not really a traditional DSLR with an optical viewfinder but rather a hybrid that employs a stationary mirror to reflect part of the light passing through the lens to the advanced AF system sensors. The result is that Sony’s flagship Translucent Mirror technology Alpha camera provides full-time AF before, during and after the exposure, which is especially important when shooting HD movies or high-speed bursts of action subjects. Its pro/prosumer performance credentials include: a full-frame, 24.3MP Exmor CMOS sensor; a tilting, 1,228K-dot, 3-inch LCD; an XGA-res OLED electronic viewfinder; a 6-fps maximum burst rate; an advanced Bionz image processor; and an enhanced “Quick Navi Pro” control interface. It also offers a dual AF system that combines phase-detection and contrast-detection AF, a 1,200-zone evaluative metering system, built-in GPS, auto HDR, Full HD 1,920×1,080p video recording at 60p, internal SteadyShot sensor-shift image stabilization, area-specific noise reduction, a quiet multi control dial optimized for video shooting, and a weather-sealed magnesium chassis. $1,999.99 body only.

Nikon D750.
Sliding in between the D610 and D810 in Nikon’s enthusiast/pro, full-frame DSLR line, the D750 has what it takes to establish itself as a contender in this highly competitive neighborhood. Based on a full-frame, 24.3MP FX-format CMOS sensor coupled to an advanced Expeed 4 processor, it delivers continuous, full-res bursts of 6.5 fps, Full HD 1080p video recording at 60/30/24p, and a native ISO of 12,800 with settings extended to 51,200. It also provides a big 3.2-inch, 1,229K-dot, tilting LCD monitor, the Multi-CAM 3500FX II 51-point AF sensor for fast, precise autofocus; a 91K-pixel RGB exposure sensor for enhanced metering precision; and group area AF to enable superior focus tracking with fast-moving subjects. The D750 features built-in Wi-Fi connectivity for easy sharing and remote operation with enabled devices, as well as time-lapse shooting and exposure smoothing functions for expanded in-camera creative opportunities. $2,299.95 body only.

Pentax K-S2. Touted as the “perfect companion for families,” the K-S2 marries a 20MP, AA filter-less CMOS sensor and a Prime MII engine within a weather-resistant body incorporating 100 seals. In-body shake reduction for blur-free images and a SAFOX X AF system are engineered for fast, accurate autofocusing. It also has a vari-angle, 3-inch, 921K-dot LCD with “Air Gapless” construction. Its new self-shot assist mode, tilting monitor and second shutter release button help users capture the perfect selfies. Sharing images is accomplished via built-in Wi-Fi and NFC modules. Using the free Image Sync app, shooters can remotely operate the camera and transfer images to social networks. Other features include: a clarity enhancement function that adds more realistic texture impression; an antialiasing filter simulator for effective moiré reduction that can be switched on and off; ISO 51,200; an optical viewfinder; 5.5-fps burst shooting; custom modes; creative filters; and Full HD movie recording with stereo sound. With smc Pentax-DA L 18–50mm f/4–5.6 DC WR RE lens, $799.95.

Canon EOS Rebel T6i and T6s. These stylish brand-new Rebels represent a significant advance for Canon’s popular entry-level series. They both employ an upgraded 24.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor coupled to a state-of-the-art Digic 6 processor. And their Hybrid CMOS III AF system with 19 cross-type AF sensors delivers faster, more accurate autofocus with action subjects during movie shooting and live view. Also provided are Wi-Fi connectivity with NFC (which enables fast connection to mobile devices as well as the CS100 Connect Station) and a top ISO setting of 12,800 that can be expanded to 25,600. Other features include: a 3-inch, vari-angle, 1.04M-dot touch-screen LCD; a maximum full-res burst of 5 fps; Full HD 1080p video capture at 30 fps; and built-in creative filters. Aimed at more advanced photographers, the T6s is the first Rebel to feature a top LCD panel, horizontal level, built-in HDR movie capabilities and servo AF in live view for continuous tracking of moving subjects. With a Canon EF-S 18–135mm f/3.5–5.6 STM lens with built-in optical image stabilization: T6i, $1,099; T6s, $1,199.