Gear cannot make you a better photographer. This statement is said over and over and I actually really believe it. But despite believing this statement to be true, I also believe that switching to mirrorless has made me a better photographer.
When I first got into shooting on a mirrorless system it was with the original Fuji X100. While this is now a historic camera for Fuji and has arguably opened the door for all mirrorless cameras, it left a lot to be desired. It was a great camera for its time. It was small, silent, and had great image quality, but it was also slow. For me it was a great carry around an everyday type of camera but nothing I could use on a paid job except for some very rare occasions.
Later down the road, Fuji released the Fuji X-Pro2 and again, I bought this camera to be my everyday carry around camera. But this time things were different. Now the camera was fast, had two card slots, and was even more fun to shoot then the X100. So I decided to use it as a second body on a bridal shoot and couldn't put it down. I instantly went out and bought a couple more lenses and then later bought the Fuji X-T2 to compliment my setup.
One of the main reasons why I feel shooting a mirrorless camera has made me a better photographer is because of the EVF. More specifically, the EVF in combination with the overall speed of the camera. We need to get specific here because most cameras these days have some type of live view mode where you get a preview of what your image will look like before you click the shutter. The problem here is that you have to sacrifice speed when using these live view options found on a DSLR in comparison to a mirrorless system. But with mirrorless, you get the benefit of seeing what your image will look like while shooting, and at the same time, you still have the speed you need to keep up with a constantly changing environment. So now it doesn't matter if you are using the viewfinder or the rear LCD. The camera will perform at its best no matter what and still give you the live image preview as you are shooting.
This is where things really changed for me. During a wedding, I am almost always shooting aperture priority and auto ISO. I know, what a "noob" way to shoot, right? But hear me out. With a minimum shutter speed set to 1/200th of a second, I know I will always have a sharp image. Then with auto ISO set, I know I will always have the cleanest image possible while still maintaining my desired shutter speed (auto ISO will always use the lowest ISO possible in order to maintain the 1/200th shutter speed). From here, I just adjust my exposure compensation to fit what I want. I don’t even have to look at my exposure meter anymore because I don't really care what the camera is telling me. All I really care about is that my image is coming out the way I want and I can instantly see that through the EVF or rear LCD screen now. This setup alone has cleared up so much of my brain space while shooting. I no longer need to think about what ISO to set my camera to for different parts of a room. Now I can walk into a room and just see the light I want to use and let my camera do the grunt work.
Seeing light is also one of the biggest changes I have seen in myself since switching to mirrorless. The way the human eye sees a space and the way a camera sees a space are two completely different things. We can look into a room and see details that are in bright highlight while also seeing the details in the dark shadows. With a camera, you pretty much have to choose one or the other. When shooting with an EVF, it takes away a lot of the guesswork when it comes to fine-tuning your exposures. It has also helped me really dial into some of the intricacies of what light can do. Dappled light is no longer something to avoid but has now become something I look for. Small kisses of light on someone's cheek are easier to pinpoint and dial into. It’s almost like having a special pair of superpower glasses that help me see light in an entirely new way.
One more key difference between mirrorless and DSLR has to do with autofocus. In the beginning, the DSLR had a huge one up on mirrorless cameras when it came to autofocus. But now, mirrorless has basically completely caught up and, in some circumstances, passed the DSLR. One of the main differences has to do with autofocus coverage. When shooting a DSLR I hated always having to focus and recompose. But this was always a necessary evil because it was pretty unlikely that you would have an AF point exactly where your subject was. But with the newest mirrorless cameras, you get almost 100 percent autofocus coverage. Not only that, but all the AF points are fast and accurate. No more needing to rely on those few and sparse cross-type AF points of a DSLR. This larger coverage also means much more flexible and accurate subject tracking! Which comes in handy when using the new eye-AF that can be found on some new model cameras such as the Sony A7 series, Sony A9, and the new Fuji X-T3.
Another contributing factor comes with the actual size of the kit. While it’s possible to get huge fast lenses for a mirrorless system, it's also possible to get small and light lenses. These small and light lenses coupled with a small and fast camera make you almost unnoticeable. When someone sees me pull a big DSLR up to my eye, they stop and stare like a deer in headlights. When they see me pull a small mirrorless camera up to my eye, they hardly take notice. This means that I can get closer to those special moments without becoming a distraction. The lighter setup also means I’m a little less worn out after shooting a 12 hour day.
At the end of the day, I believe that you don't need new and fancy gear to take great images. But I do think that new gear can change the way you shoot and also change the way you see. Which in turn, can make you a better photographer. In my case, mirrorless has done just that. It has helped me be more present in my scene so that I don't have to think about camera settings and at the same time, helped me see light in a new more powerful way.
Do you think any of your gear has helped you become a better photographer? What was it and what did it change?