My DSLR Is Broken. Is It Time to Finally Get a Mirrorless Camera?

My DSLR Is Broken. Is It Time to Finally Get a Mirrorless Camera?

It happened again. My DSLR has failed on set. While being used to it and calling in for repairs right away, I caught myself thinking whether the time has come to buy a mirrorless. Here are some points that I brought up while having this debate with myself. 

I am perhaps somewhat famous for being a naysayer when it comes to new tech. Don’t think I reject technology, I love it! The new Mac Studio is on my wish list already. But I use a simple principle for my purchases: if it’s not broken, don’t fix/buy it. A purchase for me should fix a problem, whatever it may be. This applies to buying cameras. When I write about camera bodies, I often say that I will only buy a mirrorless camera if my DSLR breaks. Well, as perhaps the more critical reader would desire, my DSLR is now officially broken.  

Shot on one of my DSLR cameras @illyaovcharphoto

What Happened? 

It all happened so fast: I was on set, shooting two test shoots for an agency, and was already on the last look of the day. With plenty of excellent imagery captured and six coffees had, I was ready to call it a day after a few more photos. Being not that different from any other test shoot, I got ready, focused, and started shooting. A few clicks after, the mirror locked up, and the camera said “err20.” Turn on and off? No. replace the battery? Also no. Google for a quick fix? Also, and again, no. Noticeably upset about this, I requested a minute of silence for my Canon 5D Mark IV, which has served me like a king for two years. Perhaps somewhat anticlimactically, I grabbed a backup and continued shooting like before. The lesson here is that you should always have a backup camera body, hard drive, and probably a lens similar to what you have. Lenses also fail, but you can get away with shooting slightly wider or slightly telephoto if your 24-70mm fails. As for cards, storage, cameras, and the rest of it, having a backup is vital to the overall success of the shoot. Sure, planes don’t crash that often, but when they do, it is nice to have a medical kit, an emergency slide, and perhaps even a vest. As my Ukrainian grandma would say, it is better to take extra care than to be careless. 

What's Next?

Once calling it a wrap, I began thinking whether it has finally become appropriate and justified to switch to a mirrorless system. After all, it is the future, and the camera tech is going in that direction. Who knows, maybe after a few years, it would become impossible to service my camera, and I would be stuck with a useless bit of kit. Yet still, some reservations are holding me back from the upgrade: cost and need. So, if you are reading to find out whether I will be upgrading to mirrorless, the answer is no. But you made it halfway through the article already, so please be so kind to read on before commenting. 


Being a money-conscious photographer, I live and abide by the principle and a penny saved is a penny earned. I find it better to have an extra thousand in the bank account than an extra thousand in camera equipment bought. Gear depreciates a lot faster than money does, at least if you’re earning in a stable currency. 

The cost of upgrading to mirrorless, even if I decide to buy used and get a ridiculously good deal (30% less than the original price), I would still be looking at north of $5,400 in camera bodies. Even if I decide to buy only one R5 and keep my DSLR as a backup, it would still be around $2,700.  At which point, I will be stuck with using an adapter with lenses, that will add to the size and weight, and somewhat defeat the reason I got the R5 in the first place. 

Shot on one of my DSLR cameras @illyaovcharphoto

To truly upgrade, I would need to also replace my aging lens fleet. With birds from the early 2000s, you’d wonder why I haven’t bought the newer versions. I may be blind, but I frankly don’t see a difference in what an image with a lens from 2016 and 2005 looks like. For me, the main difference is in autofocus, size, weight, and feel. Sure, if you put a chart in front of it, there are differences, but for the work I do, I’d rather get medium format and call it a day. If anything, the light I use has more effect on the image quality. I digress. Getting even one RF lens would bring the overall upgrade cost to almost $7,000, and adding an extra one is already $9,000. At which point, if I want to replace everything I have with mirrorless equivalents, I would be in for a $10,000 investment. Buying everything new would be even pricier, at $15,395 from B&H at the time of writing.  

Repairing my DSLR would cost $300 and take a week. Then my camera would be good for another 150,000 shots, and probably a few more years until this happens again and I go the full cycle. I am getting it repaired since it costs a lot less. I didn't get my Profoto B1 repaired, because it cost $700, at which point I could get a used B1X for $900, which I needed as well. 


Suppose I had that money kicking around and would absolutely not want to buy more lights or modifiers, or a car, or anything else, would I need the gear? Sadly, no. 

Shot on one of my DSLR cameras @illyaovcharphoto

When I started photography, not so long ago, I upgraded because the camera I had could not do something I needed to do. For example, when I shot events, I always needed higher ISO abilities, because the 5D Mark II gave a very dirty image at ISO 6,400. Luckily, the 5D Mark IV solved that problem and even enabled me to crop with comfort. Yet now, things have changed, and I never complain that my camera can’t do this or that. Now, I complain that I don’t have a modifier or a light I really need (but actually just want). So, with this said, I will definitely not profit from any improvements that the mirrorless system brings along. Fashion photography is first of all about styling, then light, then everything else, and then the camera. If phones get good enough to replace my DSLR in the studio, I’ll be using them. 

Closing Thoughts 

Upgrading is very individual, and sometimes, if you want to do it, you don't really think about the need and cost. Of course, this is no way to run a business, as most of your decisions need to be cold-hearted. It's the same reason why airlines are not run by pilots, but by skilled managers. So, if something is broken, getting it fixed is a better option, at least in my case, and probably in yours too. 

Illya Ovchar's picture

Illya aims to tell stories with clothes and light. Illya's work can be seen in magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire, and InStyle.

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Although I'm only an amateur, and only recently started playing around with lights and modifiers, I already figured out:

You can always use an extra light, and an extra modifier. 😳

(And an extra lens 😉)

Oh, there is always use for extra light on set haha.

Whether you have insurance or not, I'd get the camera repaired. If the repair is above $750, I would seriously consider buying a clean used 5dIV. You can always fix the camera, sell it and upgrade to an R5 but I'd try to recover something from the 5DIV. I bought two new 5DIV's about the time the R was announced, I am invested in EF L's and the R wasn't a pro system. The EF/R adapter is a viable option but the R5 isn't at a price point that I can justify yet.

Agree with you! It seems to me now that the repair cost will be below $200 so that's good :)

To paraphrase some advice that I read from a pro (can't remember the source): If I can't make additional money with new gear; I don't need it.

I think it really comes down to getting the job done and providing what the client needs.

I agree. I upgraded from my canon 7d mark I to the canon R5. I have been using my 7d for 10 or 11 years now. I only upgraded it because the technology has greatly improved since the 7d mark I came out in 2009. I am still going to use my 7d as a back and debating if I should replace with the R7 if the rumors are correct about that camera. Only reason is because the R7 is the mirrorless version of the 7d series.

If you shoot a lot of studio work with strobe I don't think ML is the way to go. ML is great for continuous light but if you are shooting strobe at 1/125 @ f8 ISO 200 the view finder will be pretty dark at least with Sony. Shooting tethered might make it easier.
When I shoot strobe in a studio, I keep my 5d2 on set just in case I get fed up with the Sony exposure emulation....

--- "If you shoot a lot of studio work with strobe I don't think ML is the way to go. ML is great for continuous light but if you are shooting strobe at 1/125 @ f8 ISO 200 the view finder will be pretty dark at least with Sony."

False. I can't speak for other brands, but, I wouldn't be surprised if the other brands have the same capabilities as Sony. If you have a [brand] compatible device, Live View Display (or whatever it's called by other brands) will automatically turn off when the device (trigger, flash) is turned on.

Here's an example of Sony: (

Otherwise, you can just turn off Live View Display: (

RE: ML = dark viewfinder (Sony)... Just go to settings, Live View Display > Setting Effect OFF. Then it'll always be an appropriate brightness, just like a DSLR.

You could also set that to a custom button/quick setting/etc.

John- I've done it that way, but in a dark studio, with moody lighting from modelling lights, the screen is just brighter, noisier and sort of useful IMO, I use a a7r2 so maybe the live view is better with 3 or 4. It's better with live view when tethering to a laptop.

Black Z - Not using a Sony compatible speedlight, I am using Hensel or Norman studio strobes with modeling lights...

I use a7iii, a7r2, and even tried on my a6000. Turning off Live View works as expected. Acts like an OVF, if not a little brighter.

Just for the heck of it, have you looked at your Viewfinder and Monitor brightness settings?

Curious: in the dark studio, is the OVF of your DSLR still bright enough then?

I know that the EVF gets noisy in the dark but at least it can still show a bright picture. Focusing is harder though when the EVF is so noisy.

That's when tethering comes in handy :^)

Just a hobbyist but when my $800 2010 T2i disappeared from Canon's site and a few years of no firmware updates I studied options in Magazines (yes paper). The 2013 newbie Sony had options using adapters to use my old film FD and EF-S lenses, on camera apps, the A7S with bracketing 5 @ 3ev(I was using the Promote Control for HDR), high ISO settings also Capture One software for $30 when LR was $800 and for each new version and back then you used Canons software for post processing. Even at $2500 all the extra option made for a great buy without a lens but bought the 16-35 f/4 OSS just to start. The cost today for a Sony newer version stay in a good range still after 9 years and lens selections are great now. It is easy to sell old today to get added $ for new.
Old Glass, first shot of Milky Way 2015 with 16-35,second 24-240mm bracketed 5 @ +/- 3ev for in focused moon with bright foreground before PS blending (ISO/SS125, f/6.3 @ 100mm SS Center..5s) in 2015, Oct. 8 2014 Blue Hour Lunar Eclipse Canon FD 80-200mm f/4. @ 135mm 2s.

I really need to take photos of my film cameras so I can sell them; thanks for the reminder.

You know want to buy mirrorless. Go on... Do it.

I have a Nikon D780 which has features that I like. However, Last year I bought a Z6 because I am shooting more video. I am liking the Z6 for still photography also. Seems like I get better photos with a mirrorless camera. I will still keep the D780, I think, but the Z9 is tempting.

As others have said, if you shoot strobe in the studio, stay with a DSLR. I've got both and prefer my D800 over a Z camera. Mirrorless is not a game changer. The lenses can be better, but doubtful you or anyone else will notice unless you go deep into the corners, shot wide open.

Now outside, walking around the city or doing landscapes, I do prefer mirrorless on a tripod. Makes me shoot slower and more careful when doing landscapes. City photography I do appreciate that I can set the camera viewfinder to reflect the exposure I'm going for, and then just crank out three quick bracketed shots with no noise.

If you can fix it cheap do it. Camera's will only get better and more new used equipment will become available.

If you like a certain DSLR now might be the time to buy a spare. Like a friend of my dad's did when Lincoln stopped making giant 4 door land yachts, he bought a couple of the older models, he died with an extra.

No, do not switch it's to costly. You'd have to purchase new lenses, flashes and more. Get another Canon

Not true. You can get adapters to use older lenses on a mirrorless camera.

That's very true. Although I found not all work as they should, and they add length to a lens. I use the L mount system at the moment and although I do own adapters I find I prefer the L mount lenses over the adapted ones.

Canon, from the reviews, probably have the best seamless adapter compatibility. It's almost as though they built it for long term use instead of just a short stop-gap.

I've heard this about the Canon adapters, but I do not use Canon at this time so I can't say yes or no.

Although adapters add length, mirrorless bodies are thinner to begin with, so you end up around the same total size. If your lens collection is entirely adapted (as the writer of this article's would be) then just leave the adapter on the camera.

Of course it's a personal choice. I will say this. I shot professionally with 5 series DSLRs for years and loved them. I decided it was time to change to the R5. Never looking back. I have a 5D3 that I keep as a backup. Never gets used. The old lenses work as good or better with the adapter than they ever did so there is no hurry to change the lenses out for RF lenses. You can do that over time as needed or wanted. The benefits of mirrorless far outweigh the cons. If you make money shooting you will be switching eventually. It's just a question of when. If you just don't want to spend the money then I get it. Stick to what you have. If you want the best shooting experience, image quality, autofocus, etc then there is simply no comparison. R5 > than any Canon DSLR hands down.

I have shot a friends R5 and it's a nope from me. Just don't see the need to spend that kind of money on a camera.

Plenty happy enough with the 5DsR, 5D4, 5D2 bodies. They just work and are far more comfortable to use than the R5, at least for me. If any fail I will just repair or replace most likely.

But then beyond medium format which i can not afford I just do not care about new cameras these days.

I'm not buying any F glass for video capture, and will go mirrorless for that purpose. I just had a $320 repair on my D810 as it stopped reading and controlling the aperture with af-d lenses. After 3 weeks in the shop, I have a camera that's been totally cleaned, adjusted and checked. Only time will tell if I've gained a few more years of excellent still captures. I am looking at adding another Z camera, but I still enjoy and benefit from using my DSLR cameras. If the repair is more than 75% of the replacement price, get the replacement and sell yours for parts. Invest in mirrorless when your DSLR's no longer allow you to be effective. Remember, it's the painter, not the brush!

Another aspect I have yet to see mentioned is repairability of mirrorless v. DSLR. Mirrorless is still pretty new so we probably haven't seen too many that have needed replacement shutters, but the longevity and repairability are important. An R5 might be great but if replacing a shutter in it is ridiculously difficult or expensive, that could keep me on DSLR too.

mirrorless has been around since 2008. But has been seeing an increase in sales the last 5-8 years now.