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Gadget of the Week

Gadget of the Week: Cameras still beat smartphones

If you’re serious about photography, Canon’s entry-level mirrorless camera is a good argument not to go all in with phone cams, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It’s a given that smartphone cameras have killed the camera market. At least, as far as basic consumer point-and-click (“mik-en-druk”, as they say in South Africa) digital cameras are concerned.

But it’s a different story in the world of digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) and mirrorless cameras. These are high-end devices used by professional and serious amateurs who are not convinced by the capabilities of even the best smartphone lenses. The advent of mirrorless cameras in the past 15 years has given the market new life, as these are smaller, lighter and quieter alternatives to DSLR cameras, while still providing high-end capabilities. The key is that what you see through your viewfinder is what you will see on your image.

Initially they could not compete with DSLR cameras, due to having fixed lenses versus interchangeable lenses that provided the traditional category with pro capabilities and performance. That changed in 2013, when Sony released the α7, the first professional, full frame mirrorless camera.

It was like an iPhone moment for system cameras, and by 2022, according to one survey, 73% of pros reported shooting with a mirrorless system. 

According to research consultancy Industry ARC, mirrorless cameras and their lenses also accounted for 73% of the imaging market’s $7-billion turnover in the year to August 2023. Mirrorless camera revenue grew 16.5% over the 12 months, while DSLR sales dropped about 15% over the same period. Canon dominates the category, with Sony the fastest rising.

In short, mirrorless is taking over, and devices with interchangeable lenses are not disappearing. All industry forecasts show system camera sales rising every year for the rest of this decade. Many consumers are tempted to dismiss their users as purists, especially when we see the marketing around smartphone camera power with each new device launch. Phones that can photograph the moon seem to make the zoom and telephoto capabilities of traditional cameras redundant.

Which is a long-winded way of introducing the Canon EOS R100, the company’s smallest and most affordable mirrorless camera. We decided it was the obvious device to test against a high-end smartphone.

It features a 24.1-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, incorporates Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, so that the Canon Camera Connect app can be used to share pictures on social media or with friends or clients. It can record 4K video at up to 24 frames per second and Full HD up to 60fps.

It includes a variety of shooting modes to suit a range of needs, and is compatible with the wide range of RF lenses, the mount system used on Canon EOS cameras. It is almost intuitive to use, with a little trial and error quickly flattening the learning curve.

The controls are conveniently positioned and the camera has a comfortable grip, making it a great device for using on the move, for example as a tourist.

A Dual Pixel CMOS AF system with 143 autofocus points is responsive and accurate, tracking subjects smoothly, although I wouldn’t call it an action camera.

So how does it perform versus that smartphone? We chose a Samsung Fold 5, with a 50 MP, f/1.8, 23mm wide-angle lens, a 12 MP, f/2.4, telephoto lens with 3x optical zoom, and 12 MP f/2.2, 12mm ultra wide lens. It offers up to 30x digital zoom, which in a traditional camera would be up to about a 720mm setting on a zoom lens – give or take, as it is not a perfect comparison.

We fitted the EOS with a Canon RF 100-400mm f5.6-8 zoom lens and zoomed in on the same objects. The first photo here is taken with the Fold 5, and the second with the Canon EOS R100:

At a glance, the Canon photo seems superior, but it is not blindingly obvious until one zooms in on the image itself:

And then, as we zoomed in, we spotted the spiderweb….

This is where it becomes clear what a system camera has to offer versus a smartphone camera: because it uses a large CMOS sensor, versus the phone relying on multiple lenses and software augmentation, it provides an image that does not deteriorate as one comes closer or enlarges it.

On the Canon image, one can see every individual bead on the bird, and even the wire frame running between the beads. On the Samsung image, one must assume those are beads.

Is it any wonder the pro and serious amateur is still a true believer in traditional cameras?

What does it cost?

Recommended retail price on the EOS R100 with 18-45 lens kit is R11,999. RRP on the RF 100-400mm zoom lens is R15,999.

Why does it matter?

The Canon EOS R100 is a great choice for entry-level but serious photographers looking for a compact and versatile mirrorless camera. Excellent image quality, fast autofocus, and multiple modes suit a range of needs. 

Many will baulk at the price, but even in combination, the camera with its own lens kit, with the zoom lens, costs less than many flagship phones.

What are the biggest negatives?

  • No touchscreen
  • Limited 4K video recording without a crop
  • No built-in image stabilisation

What are the biggest positives?

  • Compact, lightweight and quiet.
  • Simple and intuitive controls
  • Fast and accurate autofocus
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx, editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee.

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