Why I Can't Use a Mirrorless Camera Professionally

Why I Can't Use a Mirrorless Camera Professionally

Here's the truth. Until recently, I thought professionals using mirrorless cameras were a joke. I grew up in the days of film. Got my hands dirty in the darkroom. Had a Canon A1 and F1 in my camera collection, plus learned on others like a Pentax 35mm as well. Feeling the weight of the camera in my hands and hearing the sound of the mirror slap was part of the joy of photography for me. Pun entirely intended. 

There is something about the sound of that shutter click that so many photographers love. Not only do we love the sound of the shutter, but we can often identify it with a certain brand of camera. To take that away from me in a mirrorless camera is taking away a part of the fun for me.

I do have a Sony a7S in my possession, though I use it for recording my AdoramaTV series much more than I use it for photos. I like the small format of the Sony camera, particularly because I travel so often and it is perfect for stowing in my carry-on. The first time I tried to take pictures with it though, I was not in my element. To be honest, the pictures were awful. I really think learning to shoot with a mirrorless camera system has a different learning curve than shooting with a DSLR. So much so that there are classes specifically dedicated to learning portraiture with a mirrorless camera.

Let's break it down and talk about some of the big things that are important when discussing mirrorless vs mirrored camera systems.

Perception

The mirrorless cameras, in my opinion, have always left something lacking. Yes, they're convenient in size, but because they're so small, consumers and therefore my clients, don't see them as professional. At least not as seemingly professional as a nice, hefty, meaty DSLR like my Canon 1DX. The bigger the better in their eyes. Not that our clients should be dictating what kind of cameras we use because obviously they don't know enough about them to do so, but their perception of them is important. It reflects on us and gives them an opinion about our work potentially before they even see it.

The way a client views a photographer shooting with a mirrorless camera, as opposed to one using a (D)SLR, is not to be taken lightly. For me, branding is a huge part of why I’m successful in my business, and much of that has to do with my perceived value. I charge a premium for my clients to hire me to come shoot their luxury weddings. In some level, if I show up with a little, mirrorless camera, I feel like I'm not meeting their expectations. Having a less-than-professional looking camera is the last thing I want, especially when side-by-side with guests who so often bring their own (D)SLRs. It's going to make me appear less credible as a photographer and potentially cause my client confidence to drop. When photographing these events, I feel that my equipment and I should in a way match the grandeur of the event.

Perspective

Fellow Fstoppers guest writer, Miguel Quiles, is a colleague of mine who primarily uses the Sony A7RII for his portrait work. Miguel is a phenomenal photographer and shoots a mirrorless camera system both for his studio portraits and recording video for his AdoramaTV series. He is teaching an upcoming course on CreativeLive on mirrorless camera systems that I’ll likely check out so I can become more familiar with it even if I don't use it in my own photography business.

In regards to the client perspective, Miguel once photographed me in his studio using his Sony A7RII. While he was doing an amazing job and certainly knows what he's doing with posing and lighting and getting expression, I couldn't help but be on the other side of that itty bitty camera thinking, "Oh my gosh, how cute." "Oh my gosh, how cute," is the last thing I want my clients to feel on the other side of my camera. The final image was nothing short of amazing of course.

Photo by Miguel Quiles

I want my clients to feel like movie stars and 110% confident in me in my ability; and that includes how they feel and what they think when see me from their side of the lens. Regardless of what the truth actually is about the quality of the camera or the quality of the photos coming out of it due to the photographer’s talent and expertise, how a client feels plays a huge role in their experience and ultimate opinion of you and your photography.

More and more, I photograph weddings with the videographer standing next to me using an iPhone as their main camera. Granted it has some attachments and accessories on it, but there’s a part of me that dies inside watching a professional use their phone to capture a wedding. An iPhone is obviously not comparable to a Sony A7RII, but the exaggerated comparison of how the client perceives both as opposed to a DSLR can be argued.

Photo by Miguel Quiles

Would I love my camera to be lighter on a wedding day after carrying around with a heavy lens on it for eight, ten, or twelve hours? Absolutely! But, I can't get past my biased view of the mirrorless cameras enough to validate the drop in weight and transportability. For me, there's always going to be a fine line between what I do for ease of use and what I do because I know it's better for me professionally.

Do I think photographers like Miguel Quiles that shoot with mirrorless cameras produce work that’s any less professional than others like Moshe Zusman who uses and teaches with DSLRs? No, absolutely not. They're both professionals producing beautiful imagery. It’s a personal business decision for me; I don't think I'm ever going to be able to use a mirrorless system for professional use.

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239 Comments

Anonymous's picture

I'd have to agree with you. Being on the younger side of the Industry I feel like presenting a professional appearance is very important on sets, that being said, I love my smaller cameras for everyday use.

Ben Silverstein's picture

Wow. That has to be one of the worst reasons for choosing a particular type of equipment ever. I think your work is terrific, but I never wondered about what you shot it with. When you meet with prospective clients, do you show them your gear or your work? They choose you based on your output, not what you use to produce it. I understand your rationale, but I don't think it's warranted. If you want the camera to appear bulkier, put on a battery grip. You're not using smaller strobes, modifiers or light stands, just a camera body and some lenses. I hope you reconsider; your future body will thank you for it.

Vanessa Joy's picture

My future body WOULD thank me for it! And I do have clients that mention and ask about gear, and appearance and specifically have mentioned photographers they've seen at other weddings showing up with "smaller cameras" and how they judged them before seeing the pictures. It's crazy but real. :)

Benjamin Thomson's picture

Something that hardly anyone mentions is migraines, evfs are much much worse for eye strain than ovfs. If I'm doing an extended shoot, I'll always grab my d800.

Luka Žanić's picture

Well i guess this is individual too. EVF is something i miss very much when shooting dslr. I love to see a nice and bright image when shooting in the dark.

I recommend you use the diopter dial to set up your EVF optics so you can view it with relaxed eyes. If you misadjust that, you'd have migraines with SLR, too.
Technically, there is absolutely no reason for eye strain with EVF.

This is certainly not true as far as my clients are concerned Vanessa, and I'd go as far as to suggest the bias is all in your head!

My clients judge me by the photos I produce, not what gear I use to produce them and the vast majority of them wouldn't know a DSLR from a CSC without Googling! I've been using Fuji X-Series (X-Pro 1 and X-T1) since they came out. The comments I get about image quality and colour rendition from clients are always very positive.

I did a wedding a couple of weeks ago where my second shooter, a seasoned pro with over 40 years experience, was using a D800. NONE of the guests showed a preference for him to me and another important thing came to light when doing the post processing in Lightroom. Both of us were shooting RAW, with camera clocks synchronised to ensure correct sequencing of shots throughout the day, so as expected, they ended up mixed up Nikon and Fuji. In Lightroom, it was just SO easy to see the very flat NEF files from his Nikon, all in dire need of colour, contrast and saturation help from Lightroom tweaks, against the RAF files from my Fujis which needed very little post work. The other thing that was apparent was how poor the D800 was in terms of noise, even at just ISO 800, compared to the Fuji's performance at ISO 1600 or even 3200. My Fujis are not just smaller and lighter, they considerably speed up my workflow by producing far cleaner, far more "finished" RAW files. As for my second shooter, he has bought a Fuji X-T1 and is in the process of selling his Nikon gear!

Thomas Starlit's picture

What you are highlighting is basically that Lightroom isn't a very good RAW processor for Nikon high end cameras, which I think is a fact (hence I use C1). So I think you are mixing up camera performance with RAW converter performance

Lightrom is well known for being very bad at handling Fuji raw file...

Leigh Miller's picture

That may have been true in the past but most of the issues with color smearing etc have been addressed. Sharpening requires a different technique from the default of the application which is geared towards Bayer files.

That said Captor One, Lightroom, Silkypix all yield different results, which has nothing to do with client perception.

Matt Sweadner's picture

I moved to Fuji 5 years ago and never looked back. Some people get it, some people don't lol.

Jacques Cornell's picture

To be fair, comparing rendering of RAW files from a particular RAW processor says more about the processor than about the RAW files. A different processor may well produce the more vibrant results you're looking for from NEFs. Some complain that my brand produces "blah" colors, but I have no problem getting the look I want from LR, DxO or Aperture.

You probably compared at 100%, neglected the overstated Fuji ISO setting, the tweaking of raw files that manufacturers including Fuji perform (when I look at the high ISO Fuji files I can see the water color like strucures, giving me the impression of excessibe noise reduction. No way is an XT1 APSC sensor 2stops better than a D810/D800 FF sensor with 2.25 times the area. I owned the XT1 and have the D810, too, so did my own comparison. You are furthermore talking about RAW converter settings. Import the files with a different preset or profile.

Vanessa, you're putting out good content on Adorama TV which helps out a lot of photographers in different aspects of photography. But I must say that this article is absolutely misleading and full of prejudice. As someone who is teaching you should be more open minded and less judgemental towards gear.

I am a professional wedding photographer who shoots 40+ weddings a year and I got rid of my DSLR gear and I am shooting only mirrorless since almost two years now. For my professional work I use mostly Sony and Leica cameras and I am very happy with the results that I am getting. I've never ever had a client complaining about my gear whatsoever. It's rather the opposite that people come up to me and are curious about my kit.

For me, mirrorless has many advantages e.g. the ability to shoot with a silent shutter and don't make any noise is a huge if you wanna stay discrete when taking candid shots or if you simply don't want to disturb anyone. There are many more points to mention but it would take too long to list all of them.

As a photographer who is confident about his work, I simply don't care what other people think. And that is the most important trade as a professional, being able to go to a shoot (or a wedding) and own it. When people can feel your inner confidence they won't second guess your equipment.

K G's picture

You're an embarrassment to photography if you ask me. Worrying about what people think about your gear.

Leigh Miller's picture

Well said....I've been using mirrorless cameras professionally for a handful of years now and never once has ANY client have an issue with that.

That you know of. Ever wonder if you missed out on a lucrative referral because a client perceived your equipment as less professional?

Client perception is a real and important thing to manage. I am not a full time working photographer, but I am a full time working attorney, and there are two sides to the business (same as there are in photography). 1) Having the knowledge and skill to win a case and 2) making the client feel like you have the knowledge and skill and are fighting hard for them. Some lawyers have #1, some have #2, but those that do both are the most financially successful. Photography is a business like any other.

Leigh Miller's picture

Maybe I missed out because I'm the wrong color or religion, maybe because I didn't smile enough, maybe because my clothes weren't top shelf enough, maybe I'm not connected enough.

NO, I don't wonder why I didn't get a specific contract. I focus on moving forward, making the best presentation I can...making my case why I should be hired.

Working well so far, but thanks for asking.

Mark Richardson's picture

Peter - you are exactly right. Perception is absolutely important, like it or not. If you are serious about being successful in business then you will take how you are perceived seriously. Truth is, I could execute many of my paying jobs with my cell phone. But I don't because I know I can command top dollar if I show up with professional looking gear. Much more difficult for a client to sign a big check if they perceive that you are not as professional.

More expensive-looking gear inspires confidence in clients.

I use a complete Fuji kit with two bodies for weddings and commercial and conferences.. If I think a client may feel he's not getting "the pro look' I'll just leave an old Hasselblad over my shoulder. NOT ONE client has ever questioned this or my work.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

At what point do the clients see your camera?
In my experience they would see whatever I used when I arrived at the job or they arrived at the studio. by that time they have seen my work, exchanged emails, met with me, discussed pricing, fees, what is expected, what deliverables, etc. so justifying the tools I use hasn't come up in many years. Is my 5dmk2 more impressive than my A7R2?
Maybe it's a confidence thing, not necessarily on the client side but with the photographer who feels a bigger camera is a valuable prop.

Mark Richardson's picture

It definitely is a confidence thing, on both parts I think.

Leigh Miller's picture

Definitely a confidence thing...but only for the photographer. No client has ever asked what kind of camera I use. The larger commercial agencies may require images of a certain dimension or output quality. That's the only aspect of the camera gear discussed. I then make my own judgement as to which gear to assemble for the assignment.

The portfolio that shows your ability to output the finished work the client wants is what's key....and references in some cases.

Ben Silverstein's picture

If you throw a battery grip on a mirrorless camera, most people won't be able to tell it from a DSLR.

If someone's body can't handle the weight of a DSLR (or even two with the 24-70 f/2.8 and 70-200 f/2.8 staple lenses) for a single event - or even multiple events over multiple days, they're simply not taking care of their body anyway. I second shoot for a 10+ year pro at weddings and she's a small woman. She carries two 5D series bodies with the aforementioned lenses and she's told me that the weight doesn't bother her at all. But, she takes care of herself. I carry a single 5D series body with a second lens on a Lens Flipper (or up to 3 lenses in a gear bag across my shoulder) and I've never had an issue either. But, I get up at 5am every day and workout for an hour as well. I eat (basically) right as well.
Implying or flat out saying that your body will thank you years down the road for removing a few pounds of gear is pretty asinine. If your body would thank you for THAT, you're not keeping up your body well enough anyway and your body would thank you INFINITELY more for working on strength, flexibility, and stamina and focusing on proper nutrition.

Will Neder's picture

Not really. Body wear and tear is cumulative. Pounds do matter. Should it be the top concern? Not in my opinion. But you shoot two or three weddings over a period of two or three days and you will understand the havoc that slinging photographic equipment can have on your body. Any one day can feel that way depending on what you do, but string a few together....

I promise you my 1 hour workouts are cumulatively far more stressful on my body than even a 12 hour wedding (how do I know? I've done them both). And I do those workouts every... Single... Day. Even combining them with shooting weddings and throwing my kids all over the house onto furniture, up in the air, etc. My body feels great. Why? Because I take care of myself and eat right.

Will Neder's picture

Yeah, I mean sorta. Taking care of your body is great. I hope we all do it. But it isn't a substitute. There's actually a huge difference, physiologically, between long term strain and short duration athletic training. One may be more strenuous than the other, but they simply wear the body differently.

Further, you're assuming a base position of health. Whether working out, playing sports, or just on the job--try getting an injury to the shoulder or the back.

Point is, weight shouldn't really be the driving concern for most people, but there is no real scientific argument to be made that lugging heavy camera gear, for 6 to 12 hours at a time, can't wear the body and bring certain types of body stress. That's not really even a debate.

Dave Melges's picture

Wow, you REALLY don't know what you're talking about, lol

Take it from someone who taught fitness for almost 25 years, and who has been a professional photographer for almost 20.

Repetitive stress is something you can mitigate with fitness...I'm in excellent health, and I'm 6'1" 200 pounds and strong for my size......but a 12 hour day with a huge DLSR and pro glass is hard core hard on your body.

If you do it for years, it leads to wrist, hand, elbow, and even shoulder and back problems. And that's not even considering the 5'3" 110 pound woman trying to do it.

You're not helping anyone with your truly misguided advice. Eat right? good grief are you full of it.

Get fit...you're right...AND reduce the weight of your system, particularly if it makes you a faster more creative photographer. Because the repetitive stress problem is REAL...and no one will remember you 20 years from now when they try to figure out who to blame for having chronic pain.

So your contention is that I have no idea what I'm talking about when I say that if you can't handle dual cameras with dual f/2.8 lenses then you're not taking care of your body? Here is the World Health Organization's recommended levels of physical activity for those aged 18-64 (which I think would be the vast majority of full-time pro photographers)...
1. Adults aged 18–64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.
2. Aerobic activity should be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration.
3. For additional health benefits, adults should increase their moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or engage in 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.
4. Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.

I can agree that carrying 2 cameras with a lens attached to each is more physically demanding than sitting at a desk all week to earn your living, so let's tack recommendation number 3 on and let's say that a pro photographer who would be considered to be "taking care of themselves" would exercise (beyond their job's requirements) 300 minutes per week OR exercise vigorously for 150 minutes per week. 300 minutes per week would be an hour per day, 5 days per week with 2 days off to rest/recover. 150 minutes would be 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week with 2 days off to rest/recover. To put that into perspective, the second scenario would be like doing the at-home exercise program "Insanity" (at least the first month's portion).

So, your contention is that based on WHO recommendations (which, regardless of your experience, they know more than you), a person with recommended fitness levels would be harmed by carrying 8.99 lbs of gear throughout the day (2 x 5D Mark IV with the 24-70 f/2.8LII on one and the 70-200 f/2.8LII on the other)? Really? And your further contention is that they would be less harmed by switching to a lighter alternative? Let's consider one which will not reduce image quality, the A7R series from Sony where 2 x A7RII with the 24-70 f/2.8 GM on one and the 70-200 f/2.8 GM on the other weighs 7.78 lbs. You recommend switching systems to shave off 1.21 lbs?

How about this instead... How about people who aren't taking care of themselves, who never workout, who eat like s***, how about they workout and eat right, shave 10-30 lbs off their frame, build some muscle, feed their body properly, and they can eliminate MORE than the weight of their system from their body and feel the benefits ALL THE TIME rather than shaving off 1.21 lbs and only feeling the "benefit" (if it would even be noticed) some of the time? And those that do take care of themselves aren't going to notice .6 lbs shaved off of each side of their body in the form of a switch to an equivalent (in image quality) mirrorless system so they can just stick to what they're doing.