How Shooting With a Mirrorless Camera Made Me a Better Photographer

How Shooting With a Mirrorless Camera Made Me a Better Photographer

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.

This is an image from one of my first outings with the Fuji X100

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.

This bridal shoot is where I fell in love with the Fuji X-Pro2

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?

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Previous comments
Michael Clark's picture

Or add light...

Bibi Haribi's picture

Kat, I don't understand how you can shoot interiors/indoors without flash? How you balance an exposure? ISO is decreasing dinamic range and color depth, how that photos looks like? Is it your payed job? Or you mean shooting concerts by indoors?

Kat Grant's picture

I generally don’t use flash at all. When I do use flash, I rarely get an image I want to keep. I’m new to mirrorless so I’m still discovering what works and doesn’t work for me. If I’m shooting an indoor concert, I also try to not use flash; very distracting to the artist and those around me. Again, I am learning. There’s a lot to learn yet.

Yes, it is also sometimes a paid job. If I pay attention to my ISO, WB, DOF and speed, I generally walk away with a few keepers.

vik .'s picture

Hey if you're better with a fuji, can you imagine with a canon one?

Jason Vinson's picture

I'm actually Sony now :)

Brandon Mount's picture

Love that first pic with the X=T00 :)

Jason Vinson's picture

Thanks a lot Brandon!

Mark H's picture

Thank you Jason, great article! What I don't get: you say you set aperture prio mode (on the camera?) and then a min shutter speed of 200? Would that not rather be manual mode with 200 shutter speed and you are only changing the aperture while auto ISO takes care of the correct exposure? Or does my confusion come from the fact that on Olympus EM1 I cannot set a min SS for auto ISO?

Maximilian Sulzer's picture

It can also go over 1/200 if the light is there.
If you set manual 1/200, the ISO is down to 100 and you select a wide aperture it might overexpose because the shutter speed cannot go faster than 1/200.

00Robb00 00bboR00's picture

What made me better was reading the manual for whatever camera I have, getting out there to shoot(whenever I can and not waiting for someone to come along) , and not gear hopping thinking the tool will make me better when it was I who needed to get the experience on how to properly capture what I envision. Mirror less, DSLR, Shutter less, doesn't matter to me but I definitely don't want the camera getting all the credit, I at least pressed the shutter button and composed.

Tom Thumb's picture

A mirrorless camera saved my life.

Kent LaPorte's picture

A mirrorless camera made me a better parent.... oh yah and a better drone consumer.

Juan carlos Chu Zhang's picture

for me , combination of mirrorless and analog film cameras make me a better photographer
film cameras make me slow down, started with 35mm then medium format
mirrorless camera is basically a built in live lightmeter, after shooting film you have more understanding about highlights and shadows .

marcgabor's picture

This is exactly how I felt when I started shooting with the x100 and fuji xt1. Since upgrading to newest x100t and xt2 i find the preview to be much less accurate than on the older cameras. Maybe i'm doing something wrong but i've tried everything in the menus. I've gone back to shooting with my nikon d750 and i have to say I really notice and improvement in dynamic range that makes it hard go back to the fujis. The nikon seems to have a much broader tonality in the highlights and the shadows. this doesn't matter for all kinds of images though and i am still able to get beautiful results with the fujis especially for how light and compact the kit is. Also i find that medium shutter speeds are much sharper on the mirrorless because of the lack of mirror slap. So both have their pros and cons and it's really hard to choose just one imho.

Thorsten Merz's picture

There used to be a time when photographers drew on their many years of experience to see the light and instinctively select the correct exposure settings. They knew their craft inside out and handling the camera was no different to driving a car or breathing; they did it without consciously thinking about what they were doing. This left them free of any unnecessary distractions so they could give all their attention to the subject they were capturing.

Paul Jay's picture

Gear doesn't make you a better photographer, it changes nothing. Though, occasionally, it will force you to change your perspective, or make it easy to access your vision.

Jason Vinson's picture

"it will force you to change your perspective, or make it easy to access your vision" which in turn makes you a better photographer.

Deleted Account's picture

Having visited your web site, I know you're a Christian. God doesn't make our lives easy because that would get in the way of making us better. Just a thought.

Jason Vinson's picture

It's not about making photography easy, it's about removing obstacles so you can spend more of your mental capacity focusing on the elements that truly make a good photograph. Light, moment, and composition are all I care about when making a photo. When you walk through a museum, you don't care about the settings an artist used to capture an image. You don't care about the brush a painter uses or the stove that a cook uses. But the artist using the tools does care if those tools make his job more or less difficult. If gear had nothing to do with it, professionals would never upgrade their gear. Give a beginner a pro camera and a professional will still outshoot them with beginner gear. But give a pro beginners gear and put him against a pro with pro gear and you have a different story.

Deleted Account's picture

"...make it easy to access your vision..." and then you go on to describe making photography easier.

Paul Jay's picture

No, it doesn't. That doesn't necessarily make you a better photographer.

Bert Nase's picture

I bet on it: ...and it has two card slots ;) All you need to become a better photographer.

James Korn's picture

BAH! I remember when men were men and you had to punch your subjects to get them to hold still long enough to get your analog camera set up. All you digital photographers are a bunch of spoiled rotten, button pushing panzies! A photo isn't a photo unless you've earned it with blood, sweat and developer made with your own urine!

Kat Grant's picture

..... and your firstborn elf.

Apratim Saha's picture

Totally agreed with you. Excellent article with some great images my friend. You are the best.

jean pierre (pete) guaron's picture

Some does, some doesn't.
Some of my gear is used to practice on, and it helps a lot. You can't expect the best results, if you aren't prepared to put some effort into it. Some shots are carefully planned and rehearsed, and doing that with my "baby" cam is a damn sight easier than lugging the FF and heavy lenses & a solid tripod around with me, while I'm working out what I want to photograph, and how.
Some of my gear is technical stuff - unavoidable, if I want to get the job done.
But frankly, a lot of it is quite interchangeable, at the level of "is it necessary, to get the shot?"
Example - there's a lot of comment out there about FF sensors with high MP ratings and a broad dynamic range, with screens that can adjust and AF to kill & die for. But then you get into it, and see what the sports 'togs and the birders & wildlife 'togs are using, and a common response is an Olympus, or a D500 (HF) - because they do the job!