Recently companies like Sony have released relatively compact cameras that use DSLR-like lenses. Two of my friends have a camera like that (They're beginning photographers). I know eight other people who use DSLRs.

I'm not that good right now but I would like to improve in the future — would an SLD work for me, or would it be better for me to carry the extra weight of a DSLR and choose that instead? (Future-proof, more lens/peripherals, ...?)

  • 1
    There's a blog dedicated to the NEX series.
    – Evan Krall
    Apr 3, 2011 at 10:34
  • While the several new mirrorless cameras can often use SLR lenses with an adapter (usually with limitations), they primarily use their own specialized interchangeable lenses. This is a strength, because the lens designs take advantage of the new mirrorless format, and a weakness because the lens lineups to date are quite small.
    – mattdm
    Apr 3, 2011 at 12:35

2 Answers 2


A foreword: I don't have a NEX 5 or NEX 3, so take this with a grain of salt. I might be wrong about something, just let me know.

Technically, either would work fine if you want to learn about photography. Sony's NEX 3 and NEX 5 have manual control over shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. To quote from DPReview's review (which I would highly recommend reading - DPReview is very thorough),

Sony has made clear that it is aiming for compact camera users who wish to upgrade (a market it estimates at around 10 million potential buyers), rather than trying to offer a second camera for existing DSLR users. And the NEX models have more in common with compact cameras than DSLRs - including very few buttons and a resolutely unconventional interface.

It looks like you can get access to the most important functions — shutter speed, aperture, and ISO — through the dial and maybe a button press or two, which is good. To me, the dial looks awkward compared to an SLR's wheel(s). However, the less-frequently-adjusted-but-still-important options like AF mode, white balance, metering mode, shooting mode (P,A,S,M), etc. seem to be buried in menus. Once you start to learn the technical aspects of photography

Other downsides:

  • There only seem to be 3 lenses available now for the NEX series. Since these are all still in production, and have only been out for a few years, it will be difficult to find used lenses. You can get adapters for several mounts, including one that supports autofocus, auto-exposure, and auto flash for the Alpha system, but that's one more thing you have to buy. DSLRs, especially Nikon, Pentax, and Sony, have a wide range of used lenses which can be much cheaper than the new models.
  • No upgrade path. If you want to move up from your consumer-oriented camera body into something with a few more buttons, dials, and features, you'll have to switch to a DSLR line and buy a whole new set of lenses.
  • Doesn't have a standard hotshoe. It does have a "Smart Accessory Terminal" to which you can attach Sony's small external flash. You might be able to find an adapter, but there doesn't seem to be one yet.
  • Contrast detection autofocus. This is the autofocus system that most P+S cameras use, as opposed to the phase detection autofocus system used by most SLRs. Generally, contrast detection AF is slower than phase detection.
  • With a zoom lens attached, too big to put in your pocket, but still smaller than a DSLR.

The upsides:

  • Fairly pocketable with the 16mm f/2.8 lens attached. This is somewhat fast and very wide angle. This might be appropriate for parties and other dark, crowded social gatherings. With a DSLR, there's always the risk that you won't have your camera with you when you want to take pictures because it's big and heavy; this might get around that, to some degree.
  • People won't be intimidated when you ask them to take a picture for you — it looks like it handles mostly like a point and shoot.
  • They actually seem to have decent build quality — the lenses are metal-cased, and the NEX-5 has a magnesium frame, something you don't usually see on sub-$1k SLRs.

If I were just starting out in photography now, I'd probably go with an SLR or a hobbyist's compact like the P7000, G12, or LX5. To me, the NEX series has the inflexibility of a compact camera, combined with the lack of portability of DSLRs. That's just my opinion, though.

  • 1
    And, of course, SLD cameras lack that satisfying kachunk that SLRs make.
    – Evan Krall
    Apr 4, 2011 at 7:35
  • Perhaps you meant Canon instead of Sony DSLRs having a wide range of used lenses available?
    – Imre
    Jun 7, 2011 at 20:43

The cameras you referring to are called SLD which stands for Single Lens Display (or Single Lens Digital or Single Lens Direct View, depending who you ask). They are far from being point and shoots as they all feature full-manual controls, interchangeable lenses and plenty of advanced features.

SLDs offer similar quality to entry-level DSLRs and their controls let you learn photography just as well. The primary differences are:

  • Much fewer native lenses exist but when they do they offer reduced weight and bulk. There are adapters to use SLR lenses though, so you are not limited in terms of capability from the perspective of lenses.
  • Most SLDs are slower at autofocus. That is because other than the Sony Alpha SLT-series, they all use contrast-detect autofocus rather than the faster phase-detect autofocus.
  • A number of advanced features have not been implemented yet in SLDs. No SLD is weatherproof for example.
  • SLDs do handle video very well and let you shoot video at eye-level, contrarily to all DSLRs.
  • All SLDs offer 100% coverage viewfinders (electronically, off course) but DSLRs with 100% viewfinders cost a lot more than those with partial viewfinders.
  • The Sony SLT-series offer full-time exposure-priority displays which lets you preview exposure before taking a shot (except when using flash). This advantage is huge even though it can seem subtle. After a few days of using the A55, I came to the wonderful realization that I no longer needed to check my shots after taking them. No more chimping!
  • Depending which system you go for, the size advantage can be quite significant. A number of Micro Four-Thirds lenses are much smaller than lenses with equivalent coverage.
  • 1
    SLD is a fine term (better than "EVIL"), but I don't think the industry has really settled on what to call these things.
    – mattdm
    Apr 3, 2011 at 16:02
  • @mattdm - It's pretty much settled but the term is young so has not propagated everywhere yet. We already had a question about it: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/7219/…
    – Itai
    Apr 3, 2011 at 17:18
  • 1
    I dunno, man. None of Olympus, Panasonic, Sony, or Samsung seem to use the term....
    – mattdm
    Apr 3, 2011 at 18:12
  • I'll try to dig up the press release when I have time. IIRC Olympus coined the term.
    – Itai
    Apr 3, 2011 at 21:06
  • FWIW, a dpreview blog post / survey as of April 2011 declaring the whole thing up in the air: dpreview.com/news/1104/11041505mirrorlessvote.asp
    – mattdm
    Apr 18, 2011 at 2:19

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