Mirrorless Isn't All It's Cracked up To Be

Mirrorless Isn't All It's Cracked up To Be

Mirrorless cameras have been taking over the photography scene for quite a few years now, and they're widely heralded as the next step in photographic innovation. But there are quite a few reasons why they're not the game-changer we were expecting.

I'm all for adopting new technology to help make my life as a photographer easier, faster, or to improve the quality of my work. However, I find it difficult to accept the mirrorless movement as this huge step forward in camera evolution. There are several things that need to be addressed in order for me to acknowledge its prerequisite of being "essential for my kit bag." So I've decided to compile a few of my main gripes with them and explain a little about why I'm not so sure it's the wonder pill for photographers that it's meant to be.

Viewfinder Woes

Call me a traditionalist, but I love an optical viewfinder. Looking through a portal into the physical world free of distortion and other optically hindering stumbling blocks is something that I take great pleasure in, so much so that when comparing my Nikon F100 to the Nikon D750 I had for years, I was rather disappointed. The F100 had a larger field of view, and it was considerably bigger (at least to my eyes). It felt like I had a real connection with the world in front of me. However, my point is that I could live with it.

EVF viewfinder

The biggest display on the device is a rear LCD screen, but pop your eye into a mirrorless viewfinder and you'll find... another mini-screen!

Take that a step further with the latest mirrorless cameras, and I struggle to remain tolerant. Not only do I now have to peer into a small box with another screen in it, but now my access to the world is limited by frame rate, color gamut, brightness, and resolution. If I open both eyes (as you should if you're a pro, check out my other post on that), then my view of the world feels imbalanced. The only consolation is that because I'm peering into an electronic viewfinder, I can now ramp up the exposure brightness when shooting in low light, which helps me see (and focus) in the dark.

It Means New Lens Collections

Are you ready to sell all your old kit and lenses and start afresh? Because that's what you'll want to do to take advantage of what mirrorless brings. Let me clarify. There are many of you out there right now about to head to the comments and tell me that there are lens adapters; yes, I know! But it rather negates the advantage of mirrorless systems. However, mirrorless systems outperform their DSLR brothers and sisters due to improved flange distance and high-quality engineering in the lenses.

Mirrorless and DSLR lens comparison

Mirrorless cameras and their lenses are comparatively smaller and lighter than their DSLR counterparts, and often have higher quality optical characteristics

So, yes, you can use a lens adapter with your older DSLR lenses, and that should work perfectly fine, but you're keeping the same old larger lenses and now introducing an adapter, which almost negates the point of having a smaller body in the first place. Plus, the newer mirrorless lenses have special features such as customizable rings on the lens to adjust specific camera settings.

Overheating Issues

Hot warning sticker on camera

Maybe there's a reason that warning labels exist on some of the mirrorless cameras?

Unfortunately, because of the smaller form factor that comes with the mirrorless cameras, they are more prone to overheating, that is, getting so hot during operation that they need to be turned off and/or cooled down before using again. True, this only affects certain models and under specific operations (such as 8K video recording), but it's still enough to put me off. Did my DSLR ever overheat? No. Did my film SLR ever overheat? No. For me, I'd like to feel the flexibility of being able to shoot as much as I want, wherever I want, without limitation.

As Limited as a DSLR

I outlined in a recent post that although mirrorless cameras are the next step in the "proper camera" lineage, we will have to wait for the improved integration of these cameras into our everyday lives. For example, their connectivity to our existing devices is sub-par for now. Why do I need to download an app, get it to sync with my camera, have it lose connection a few times (in my experience), and then have to edit on my phone before uploading to my favorite social media? I think it would be far better to do some editing on the camera itself that integrates with my Lightroom catalog and then automatically share it via the camera to social media, rather than having to introduce another step and get it to my phone, tablet, or laptop.

Mirrorless camera body

I'd like to see a vast improvement in connectivity and sharing with the ability to edit using Lightroom-style features and share with my

In this respect, my mirrorless camera is about as useful as the DSLR, which can do pretty much the same thing. I appreciate that camera manufacturers are trying to introduce new apps and integration software, but I think the communication between camera manufacturers and software manufacturers needs to be stronger and that connection between platforms much more smoothly developed to make it a paradigm shift for the user.

When Will I Upgrade All My Kit?

Mirrorless cameras are great, useful, and serve to be the next step in camera evolution in terms of size and weight, and there are plenty of cameras out there that have exciting new features that DSLR cameras will probably never have. The almost-standard five stops of in-body image stabilization is awesome for doing all kinds of things, such as shooting in low-light conditions and shooting handheld video with smooth, dolly-like tracking. But are they the "holy grail" that many people appear to be purporting? Should you swap all your gear and buy into this system just because it's the latest iteration of the technological generation? Well, I personally don't think so. It'll take a little bit more to convince me that it's the game-changing step that others have us believe it is.

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166 Comments

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Craig Bobchin's picture

It's really thin, essentially flush with the flange of the camera body.

Here's one example, there's others that are less expensive.

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/673977-REG/Pentax_30120_Mount_Ada...

stuartcarver's picture

Ah yeah that is thin, I guess the tolerances are really fine with the DSLR flange distance.

Dave Haynie's picture

Canon EF cameras can adapt Nikon F, Olympus OM, and a bunch of other lens formats... that 44mm flange focal distance was one of the shortest in DSLR land. And not an issue if you're adapting manual lense. But curiously, Canon FL and FD were shorter still -- they did not support adapting those old lenses.

00rob00 Rob00Rob's picture

Pentax have DSLR with IBIS

N A's picture

yep. Minolta 7D also had IBIS. I could have been more specific. IBIS is good for Canon/Nikon DSLR users who want to stick with those platforms or don't mind adapting lenses to Sony and now Fuji. I don't know anyone who switched to Pentax but I'm sure there's a few.

Rich Umfleet's picture

Nice of you to remember that. My ancient Minolta a7D has IBIS and it also has the same menu system to what's in the pre-a7SIII Sonys. I was still using the camera until the original battery gave out a couple years ago.

Rob Gatson's picture

Absolutely! The 135/2 was so difficult to use on my 5’s and 6’s, that despite it being a beautiful lens, it was rarely used. The R5 has given it new life and has become used more in the past 6 months than the 6 years before that

Michael Clark's picture

I've never found the EF 135mm f/2 L to be finicky. It's been one of my favorite lenses for a long time.

N A's picture

Great lens for sure. For some folks, me included, can be tricky to get sharp shots at <1/200 or even 320-500 depending on how steady the hands are. I stuck with my 70-200 specifically for that reason. OIS & IBIS go a long way for a lot of photographers.

00rob00 Rob00Rob's picture

Pentax DSLR have IBIS

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I wouldn't have a problem with purchasing 2 R5 bodies today if Canon came with a version that is not video oriented and dropped $800 or more per camera. Strictly a business thing for me. Probably close to 95% of my photography income would not improve just from moving to mirrorless. I would take the 45mp, the rest has little value and is not worth the cost. No rush.

Michael L's picture

Do y'all photo fetishists not know how fixed and variable costs work? It costs canon nothing to keep video features in the camera once designed. They're not going to strip those out and give you a price break. And they're not going to design a camera that doesn't have those because they'd only sell to the 10 of you internet peeps who claim to want that. Y'all are like the manual diesel station wagon in brown of the camera industry.

I guess you could buy a Leica. Good luck getting a price break from that factory.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Honestly, I have no clue what they plan on doing, but my plan is already in place and it is to extend my cameras purchases cycle by 2 years. With the number of digital cameras and lenses I have purchased over the last 20 years, I know 2 years won't hurt me. If I'm not valuable to the manufacturers, it's okay by me, I sure can wait.
Do you remember when the 5D came out and knocked the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II by $2500? Then came the even cheaper Canon 6D for just $2K, a $6k difference. What I have learned over the years is that a lot of clowns have told me how manufacturers work, only to witness how far those guys were off. If you know the cost and profit margin for Canon, Nikon or Sony please keep it to yourself, I sure know you don't.

Rhonald Rose's picture

Not really, they need new thermal design, faster processor, etc to handle 4k videos. Video does add additional cost to the camera.

They add those to deliver better value proposition and deliver for today's hybrid use.

Bernie Retallack's picture

Video capabilities is literally just a line of code in the firmware, export the bios and disable it yourself if you're that bloody offended by video. End of.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Offended? Who the crap are you? No use vs offended what is so hard for you to understand smarty pants?

Edison Wrzosek's picture

Totally wrong... To support 4K, let alone 8K video resolutions require faster SoC's, which in turn require different thermal considerations (which Canon botched on the R5), which then also require not just "line of code in the firmware" but also codec updates, updates to the data bus controller, the controller to write data to the SD / CXpress cards, the list goes on and on.

Please don't spout nonsense unless you know what you're talking about.

jim hughes's picture

Some people don't like the EVF, despite its advantages. Ok.

I'd say most of the overheating is due to video hoo-ha that I never use and couldn't care less about. I only shoot stills, but I have to buy cameras burdened with powerful and fast processors for those hours of high res video that no one ever watches.

For me the big disappointment of mirrorless is that its main advantages - size and weight - are being sacrificed in order to push full frame, which hardly anyone really needs, but which gives camera makers bigger profits on lenses.

Iori Suzuk's picture

"For me the big disappointment of mirrorless is that its main advantages - size and weight - are being sacrificed in order to push full frame, which hardly anyone really needs...."

Couldn't agree with you more, which is why I've been shooting m43 the last 5+ years.

Christian Fiore's picture

Check out Sony, then. One of their main goals for E-mount is to keep the cameras small. There are also a bunch of small lenses available, and more about to be announced.

jim hughes's picture

Way ahead of you - I used Sony a6xxx for years. I gave up on it when it became clear they'd dead-ended their APS-C line. I then went back to Nikon and now have a Z6 and a Z50. The Z50 is everything mirrorless should be - but it's looking like Nikon has also lost interest in APS-C.

Matt Williams's picture

" If I open both eyes (as you should if you're a pro"

Utter nonsense. Stopped reading at that point because I've known these types of people. Using both eyes is a luxury if you happen to have a near 1x magnification viewfinder and don't wear glasses. I don't know a single professional photographer who shoots with both eyes open.

Ed C's picture

Not to mention the arrogance of him just assuming pro photographers are at a higher knowledge or skill level. Pro in photography simply does not have the same broad connotation as being a pro in sports. There are A LOT of pros whose work is sub-par. Monetization choice <> skill.

Dan Ostergren's picture

Lol, I came here knowing someone in the comments would have already said what I was thinking. Statements like "you should be shooting with both eyes open if you're a pro" are so ridiculous and completely unfounded.

stuartcarver's picture

Kind of implying someone with an eye missing cant be a pro photographer too, which is also silly.

Dan Ostergren's picture

I myself can only focus with one eye at a time anyways, so it really wouldn't matter if I had both eyes open. I focus with one, and the other goes lazy. But I'm still a professional photographer, and it certainly has zero effect on me being a professional photographer.

Matt Williams's picture

Not only is it impossible for me to do, but there's nothing I would gain from it. And some of the photography I do (wildlife, for example) it would be nothing more than a hindrance.

Tim Ericsson's picture

I’m sure many professional pirate photographers keep their eye patch on when shooting! :)

Venson Stein's picture

What is the reason/benefits of shooting with both eyes open? Short of trying to predict when someone will walk into the frame or something like that.. Perhaps for certain street photography shots it could be sometimes useful. I.e, Plan your background, and wait for people or a bicycle to enter the frame. Any other reasons?

Matt Williams's picture

That's the only reason, really. It dates back to the days of rangefinders, like the M3 which some people (not me, because of glasses) can shoot with both eyes because it's very high magnification. I don't know anyone that shoots SLRs or digital with both eyes open, even if they could.

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