It’s common today to find professional photographers eager to embrace new equipment offerings from manufacturers. I remember a time when things were different and pros were content to stick with gear that suited their current needs.
Back when I was in college, I bought a Minolta Maxxum 7000, one of the first consumer cameras to implement a usable autofocus system. Professional photographers I knew were skeptical of this new technology and showed no interest in even trying it. In their minds, amateurs were the ones who needed the camera to handle the heavy lifting of making sure the picture was sharp.
Years later I switched to Nikon when the F4 came out and loved the look, feel and performance of this camera. It was the first professional Nikon body to offer autofocus, but F3 manual focus remained in production as many pros weren’t enthusiastic about a camera that offered new features since the camera they were using worked great. It should be noted that the F3 remained in production even after the introduction of the F5.
Even today you’ll find that there are professional photographers out there who don’t rush out to replace their equipment just because a camera or strobe manufacturer promises that their new product is so amazing we all have to immediately throw away the previous version. One of those people is an event photographer friend who hasn’t changed gear in 8-10 years. We had a few quick conversations while we waited for an event to start about why I think it should go without a mirror, but he wasn’t convinced. He regularly organizes concerts across the country and is well paid for his job. He sees no reason to change. I wrote this article with him in mind.
I was hesitant to switch at first because my Nikon D3 and D810 worked well for all my projects. It should be noted that even though my mirrorless cameras are not considered professional offerings from Nikon and both have since been superseded by updated versions, these cameras are still superior to my DSLRs in every way. . Below are some of the specific reasons why I prefer my mirrorless cameras to my DSLRs.
Silent / silent shutter
The one feature that inspired my switch from DSLR to mirrorless was my need for a quieter shutter than my Nikon D3. I had always felt that the shutter on the D3s was noisy, but at the time I bought the camera almost all cameras were noisy. Over the years, more and more photographers have switched to mirrorless cameras, which are inherently quieter than their DSLR counterparts. Whenever I was next to a mirrorless shooter, I was aware that my shutter was significantly stronger than that person’s camera. Over time, as mirrorless cameras became more common, customers got used to cameras that didn’t make a lot of noise.
I was once shooting an album release party for rapper Lil Peep who had died of a drug overdose the year before. The music had been turned off and young fans were giving intimate testimonies of how Peep’s music influenced their lives. More than one person has spoken of how Peep’s songs have helped them deal with suicidal thoughts. It’s the kind of personal moment I’d rather not photograph, but since I had been hired by his record company to document the event, I felt compelled to take pictures while the fans spoke. I was aware that the sound of my shutter could be heard over the sounds of sobbing fans. I pressed the shutter sparingly, but it wasn’t long before someone from the record company approached me and said, “We’re good at photography.
On other occasions, when I was photographing corporate meetings, I would wait for the person speaking to say something funny and the audience to burst into laughter before pressing my shutter button. Since I tend to shoot more frames than other photographers I’ve worked with, this approach went against my shooting style. Switching to the Nikon Z6 and Z7 with their much quieter shutters allows me to shoot as many images as I want without drawing attention to myself.
Eliminate the need to review photos during shooting
My goal is to nail the exposure as correctly as possible at the time I capture the image. I shoot in manual mode about 90% of the time and every time the light changes in my scene I have to visually check that the exposure is correct. Since my Z6’s viewfinder can be set to preview the actual exposure before taking the shot, there’s no need to review the image afterwards. If the scene looked okay before I pressed the shutter, I can be sure the actual photo also looks good.
A DSLR shooter’s process of ensuring the exposure is correct is tedious compared to the process used by a mirrorless shooter. The DSLR shooter should raise the camera to their eye, press the button, lower the camera to press the play button, and repeat the process as many times as necessary until the correct exposure can be determined. Even when using strobes in the studio, the image review process is effective on the Z6 and Z7 (which I use interchangeably). I have auto review enabled and can review each image after it is captured without removing the camera from my eye.
Ability to instantly switch from photo mode to video mode
Video is becoming more popular than ever, and it’s common for clients to expect a photographer to be able to capture both formats. Before owning the Z6, my video camera was the BMPCC 4k. The camera was unwieldy and flawed in many ways, though it produced a beautiful, film-like file. For most of my paid photo work, it was inconvenient for me to bring along this camera, its dedicated lenses, and the dozen or so batteries the camera needed. Even though I brought the BMPCC, I was unlikely to have the camera on me as I walked around taking pictures.
With the Z6, I can flick a switch and switch from photo mode to video mode. This ability to change modes exists on DSLRs but is poorly implemented. If I was using a D3s to take pictures of a person speaking at a podium and my settings were at 250/4 at ISO 2000, I would find it necessary to change shutter and ISO when switching to video mode because these settings would not be ideal for a moving image. After shooting a clip, these settings had to be changed again when I switched from video mode to photo mode. However, the Z6 stores different settings for video and photos. When I switch between modes, the image in my viewfinder looks identical in terms of exposure for both modes, but my video can be set to a more logical combination such as 50/4 at ISO 400. This allows me to instantly create stills and videos without having to constantly change my camera settings.
The Z6’s IBIS also serves me well for shooting videos. For short clips of people talking, I can hand-hold the camera and produce a shot that looks like it was filmed on a tripod.
Better overall color and exposure
It always bugs me when someone says their new camera has better files. We don’t all want the same things from our files; the term “best” is subjective. Every digital camera I have ever used has produced files of its own and I have never sent files without making some adjustments to the images. When I started importing Z7 files into Lightroom, I realized I couldn’t find anything to edit. I was making such minor adjustments to shadows or highlights that it didn’t matter. I wouldn’t say Z7 files are better because the term is so subjective. Files straight out of the Z7’s camera are comparable to processed files from my Nikon DSLRs. Note, I am referring to event photography images that are used for a brief period by the client before that client focuses on their next event.
Better autofocus performance
Over the years of using Nikon DSLRs, I had become accustomed to bracketing all the shots I took at wide apertures. I know these cameras offer a focus calibration feature, but I’ve never bothered to learn how it works. Every time I shot with my 85mm 1.4G lens wide open, I would trigger a lot of frames and move my body a little closer or further from my subject while I was shooting. I was also aiming for the focal point on different parts of the eye itself in hopes of acquiring a few sharp images. This process only took a few seconds, but it shouldn’t have been necessary.
When I acquired the Z6, the only native lens I had was the 24-70mm F/4 kit lens, so I used the FTZ adapter to use my older lenses on the older body. recent. The adapter is larger than I would like and adds noticeable bulk to the system. It’s not okay. Adapter performance is superb, however, and my old lenses focus more accurately on the Z6 than they ever did on DSLR bodies. Although I want to replace all old lenses with the newer versions, there is at least one lens that I cannot replace. A 70-200mm lens is one of the main lenses that many photographers use on a regular basis and I can’t imagine not owning this focal length. Still, it’s a necessary evil for me. I don’t like to photograph anything far away and my preference is 35mm or 85mm. Because I so rarely use the 70-200mm focal range and the lens I currently own focuses precisely on my Z6, I’m unlikely to spend the money to replace my old lens with the latest one. version.
These differences between mirrorless cameras and DSLRs that I have detailed here are not necessarily the most important distinctions between these 2 systems. Rather, it’s the differences that have had the most impact on my photography and these are the aspects that I think would have the most impact on my friend if he ever decided to change. If you’ve made the switch from a DSLR to a mirrorless system, what do you think is the biggest effect this change has had on your photography?