How Mirrorless Cameras Are Changing the Game for Photojournalists

How Mirrorless Cameras Are Changing the Game for Photojournalists

One of the best features of mirrorless cameras is their ability to shoot totally silently thanks to the lack of a mechanical mirror. That feature turned out to be a great boon to a photojournalist at the recent Democratic debate, allowing him to shoot in a position where others couldn't.

The Sony a9 is known for its electronic shutter with fast readout and no viewfinder blackout, which allows photographers to shoot in complete silence. For New York Times photographer Doug Mills, that became a great advantage at the recent Democratic debate. It turns out that the sound of the DSLRs used by other photojournalists was picked up by the broadcast microphones, leading NBC to tell them to only shoot during audience applause. When Mills was brought to the side of the stage for his turn, he was told he couldn't shoot, but he quickly explained that his camera didn't make any noise, leading the NBC tech to remark that such cameras should be standard for all photojournalists. If you've ever listened to any live political event, you've probably heard the constant clatter of DSLRs, so surely, an eventual migration to mirrorless cameras would be beneficial in that sense. Nonetheless, press companies are deeply invested in Canon and Nikon cameras and lenses, so such a change won't happen overnight. 

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Pieter Batenburg's picture

Marc. Where have you been hiding for the last five years. Really, get informed.

David Widder's picture

I'm sorry Marc, but just for reals dude...

Russell Stubbs's picture

You sound like a grandpa that has to ask his grandkids how to use his cell phone!

Dude I have a d810 I use for landscapes. The rest of the time I use 2 XT3s. There is nothing better about DSLRs anymore. There is no lag in my XT3s. The autofocus is better than my D810 there are a ton of features my D810 doesn’t have (same with a D850) and it shoots 11 FPS at almost 100% hit rate on auto focus. You really need to look into this before commenting. Etc, etc etc.

Dan Donovan's picture

I am a commercial photographer who shoots on assignment 5 days a week or more. I switched from Nikon to Sony a few months ago. The Sony a9, a7RIII and a7III cameras have many advantages over other full frame cameras on the market. I will never go back to DSLRs.

00rob00 Rob00Rob's picture

Meh Pentax silent mode works pretty well too albeit in live mode

Yin Ze's picture

My pinhole camera also has a silent mode and works well with my 400mm.

00rob00 Rob00Rob's picture

You don't say? Anyway let's be practical here and as I already commented my Pentax camera's do silent mode. Have you ever tried one? Be really surprised how this small company sort of bridged the gap between mirror less and DSLR.

Yin Ze's picture

my pinhole camera is completely silent whereas the Pentax is reported to be not completely silent. As one Pentax user noted: "Just tried this on my K1. Set the LV Electronic Shutter to ON. There is still a slight whoosing noise when taking shots in LiveView. So not silent. Quiet. But not silent."

Da Beat's picture

So, what's so overwhelmingly important about this debate that a mobile phone camera won't do as a backup unit? Take any modern half inch or one inch pocketcam and you'd still be shooting too. It's not like a wedding where there are all kinds of misconceptions associated with using "inferior" gear.

Jonathan Brady's picture

Ummm... A 28mm AOV for starters.

Da Beat's picture

What do you mean? You're still using a 1990 motorola startac?

Brent Rivers's picture

I would have loved to have seen the faces of all those Canikon tank shooters who were told they couldn't shoot as the A9 shooter grabbed exclusive shots in complete silence.

Yin Ze's picture

Since I've switched I have seen this happen and I am glad i made the business decision to do switch from Nikon to Sony. I had to cover a court appearance for a big case and the Nikon guy was told he could only shoot during the entrance of the subject due to his loud camera. I was able to shoot throughout the proceeding.

MC G's picture

Are they milkshake proof though?

Indy Thomas's picture

I have been arguing the advantages of silent shooting ever since the first mirrorless cameras offered this feature.
It is one of the defining advantages of mirrorless: Not small size or lens adaptability.
This feature actually has some of the greatest advantages for a photographer allowing them to capture images irrespective of size or the lens attached.
I have been using it zealously for a lot of conferences where I am inside rooms with a bunch of VIPs and can get tons of images that would be impossible with the noisy DSLRs I was using at the time.

Anthony Collins's picture

I absolutely 100% agree. Shooting silent images in my Corporate Conferences is a blessing.

Yin Ze's picture

Before a9 the only viable, quiet option for me was the Panasonics. I started with the gx7 and was blown away by what I could do without having a loud shutter mechanism ruining an important moment. Now the a9 solved many of the issues i had with Panasonic: low light iso, af, banding, and rolling shutter.

Indy Thomas's picture

My first mirrorless was also the GX7 as it was the first to offer SS. Shot a wedding with that the same week I got it as a third to my Canons. It was brilliant. Low light was not awesome but I still got some good samples in the evening. My Canons were used for the real challenging stuff but the Panasonic won my heart.
I still play with it. It still holds up against my best DSLRs in decent light.

Anthony Collins's picture

I used a Z6 to shoot a Corporate Conference recently. I LOVE the ability to shoot absolutely silent. The "quiet" mode on my D850 is good but "silent" is better by a long shot. Image quality and high ISO response is similar with both bodies.
There is a problem that Conference shooters should be aware of: If you shoot against video screens, which many of my corporate conferences use, you will get "banding" with a mirrorless camera. I've done my research and this is a thing.
I'm attaching images from the 1st day of a conference which I used the Z6 and then Day 2 I used the D850 from almost the exact same position. (I have lots of Day 1/Day 2 images to compare)

Yin Ze's picture

Hi, I have shot against similar background with a9 but did not notice this. Could it be the slower electronic shutter readout on z6? I recently examined a z6 demo unit at Adorama and there were thick alternating bands of dark due to the flourescent light from the Nikon display. i have never seen this type of banding on the back of my a9 screen and i have shot under many lighting conditions. i do notice that the color may change from frame to frame but I have not seen anything as intense as the z6 onscreen banding.

Anthony Collins's picture

I'll have to take an a9 to my next conference. The frame-to-frame color change could simply be the cycling of fluorescent lights. It happens when I shoot dancers indoors sometimes.

Yin Ze's picture

I was just surprised how prominent the dark bars were from just fluorescent lighting FROM THE NIKON DISPLAY. You would think Nikon or whoever put that booth up would at least install a light in the display that would not make the camera look bad.

Indy Thomas's picture

While sensor readout has some effect, the real issue is the shutter speed being too high and freezing the scan of the lights. Same as shooting a TV. Happens with a regular shutter too. That is for displays.
For artificial light, fluorescent tubes and SOME LEDs will show banding with SS. The banding is more apparent when the shutter speed is above 1/60. Below the phenomenon should not be apparent.

Patrick Carosone's picture

Ive been using mirrorless silent cameras for over 50 years, their called Leicas. Its about time your all catching up.

Eric Salas's picture

*They’re - They Are
*You’re - Your Are
*It’s - It Is

I caught you up on some English

Yin Ze's picture

I’ve been using pinhole cameras for 60 years so there.

Indy Thomas's picture

My Toyo view is quieter.

Brent Soule's picture

You all crack me up. Mirrorless is great and has it place in the camera world, but it's not the end all and be all. Mirrorless has some great advantages and disadvantages. Yes even the Sony's (que the hate from the in-sony-cure).

(Real) Silent shooting is eventually going to be the standard and required for press journalism and golf. But rolling/banding electronic shutter (with a low fps mechanical), evf lag and shutter lag means that for fast sports and wildlife, makes it a no go for many.

Let me explain because not everyone really understand these issues. Electronic shutters scan speed across the sensor are way slower than mechanical shutters travel speed across the shutter. This causes the rolling jello effect that occurs with fast moving objects and high shutter speeds. The a9 has come close to the mechanical but not quite. The banding caused by flickering LED lights and those stupid banners right next to courts/pitches are a bigger problem. With the increase use of both that is a problem that is going to have to be addressed.

EVF and shutter lag are another that all mirrorless and the a9 needs to address. The evf has a measurable lag from real life that optical don't. That only increases with more load that is put on the processor. All, I repeat _ALL_, mirrorless cameras at high frame rates do not show the sensor read, they show the last 1, 2, 3 or more pictures back that was taken. The longer the burst the farther back it is actually displaying.

At 20ms the a9 has one of the lowest shutter lags of any camera,... in single frame and prefocused (which is were all cameras are fastest and marketed as). The Canon 1dxii is 50ms. On continuous AF the 1dxii is 70ms. The A9,... 200-300ms. That is 1/5 to 1/3 of a second! The Canon and Nikon has already shot 3 frames.

What this all means is for long lenses and fast sports/wildlife that means you end up losing your subject out of frame cause you can't keep up with them.

On sensor phase detect AF is not great for long lenses because of the angle of incidence from super telephotos and I am shocked on how well Sony has done with their 400 and 600mm. That is probably were the linear stepping focus motors come into to compensate. Way to go Sony.

Phase detect focus points works with paired sensors, crossed type have 2 paired sensors and dual-cross has 4 paired sensors. Higher level dslr AF sensors uses small lenses in front of the AF sensor board to be able to separate the pairs to increase the angle of incidence. This increase the speed and accuracy for long lenses. The lack of this even the Dual Pixel AF of the Eos R means that it SUCKS with super telephotos.

Almost every high level working sports photographer that does an objective review, put focusing systems at D5, then 1DXii and then the a9 (even after firmware update). Keep in mind that Canon has market share and they put Nikon first. A system is more than just one piece of equipment.

That doesn't mean you can't shoot sports with the a9, but it means that most working sports photographers (with a side hussel of other editorial) will stick with their d5's and 1dx's and get the pro mirrorless of their system whenever they come out so they can use silent when it calls for it and dslr when it is the better choice.

NO camera is perfect and is the best for every given situation. So stop acting like it people.

Yin Ze's picture

I have to use strobes with a9 and really miss my Nikons when I have to use strobe. The a9 momentarily freezes the last image on the viewfinder during a burst. Is there a way to not have that show up? The a9 also automatically cancels live display of the ambient exposure to a balanced auto-iso type view. Very annoying.

Indy Thomas's picture

The auto live view mode is actually useful in flash mode as most flash use is in dark venues where the bright EVF really helps. Also, so many amateurs use these cameras if they had to manually switch they would freak out. Your Nikon NEVER shows the exposure in its OVF.

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