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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242 Comments

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Will Neder's picture

Yep. Dave is dead on. What about those who take very good care of their bodies, are in exceptional shape, and ALSO have repetitive strain and injury on their bodies due to lugging around the gear. And again, forget about those who have any sort of injury.

Jonathan also assumes that all professional photographers will be of perfect health, without injury or genetic defect, and be males between 17 and 32 years old. Because anyone outside of there may not be able to be in peak physical condition (and it's also a myth that those in peak physical condition will not be adversely affected by lugging around too much dynamic weight for long stretches of time).

Jonathan Brady's picture

My contention is that .6 lbs shaved off either side won't make a difference.

Will Neder's picture

For every 1,000 grams of gear, you get about 2.2lbs of weight.

A DLSR bag with excellent optics may get to about 5,250+ grams. Multiple canon bodies and L glass will be quite a bit more. That's more than 11.5+lbs.

That same bag for a smaller mirrorless option (more Fuji than Sony) will be about 3,000 grams or so for the same basic kit. That's about 6.6lbs.

The difference between them is is not .6lbs, but more like 6 full pounds. Multiply that strain on a back or shoulders over a 12 hour period in a day, and then over the course of years, and you see the real picture.

These numbers, by the way, came from my own gear. My Canon bag for weddings with dual bodies and L glass, flash, batteries, and etc was still smaller than what most take to high end wedding assignments, but it was 12+lbs. My current bag, with equal access to a range of quality optics and two to three bodies is now about 7lbs. The difference between them is incredibly noticeable.

This isn't about mirrorless vs. DSLR. I'm only referring to weight, regardless of what you carry. More weight on your back and shoulders, as you stay on your feet over a 12 hour day, creates more strain. "Eating better" doesn't address the physics of the situation in any way.

Your contention was that "if someone can't handle this difference, they're clearly not taking care of their bodies". And yet it has been shown to be not true at all. .

Jonathan Brady's picture

When it comes to capabilities, you're comparing apples and oranges. FF vs APSC. My .6 lbs per side argument was FF Canon vs FF Sony E.

Ben Silverstein's picture

I didn't mean to start off this posting war, I was just contending that carrying less weight was a good thing. It also matters HOW you carry things. Cross-body straps are better then shoulder straps. Personally, I switched to a belt system and saw a real decrease in neck and shoulder discomfort. I'm not a gym rat, and agree that everyone needs to be more responsible for their health. I've been a vegetarian for 20 years and eat well. My point is that if you carry two full-size DSLRs on the straps that came with them (which most people seem to do), carrying lighter equipment will make a difference. Countless pro photographers agree, and they are mostly in the 17-35 age range. Keep Calm and Carry Mirrorless.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Apparently, you've never experienced the crippling pain of bursitis. Exercise can help but not eliminate it. Telling people with physical ailments that all they have to do is "take care of themselves" and they'll be able to carry a he-man kit just like you is really not helpful.
I shot with Canon 1-series for 10 years, and a Pentax 67 before that. I strongly suspect that contributed to my getting bursitis in my right shoulder. For two weeks, I could not lift my right arm. At all. After some PT and switching to mirrorless, I'm back in business.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Some folks, like me, have chronic conditions that no amount of exercise or nutrition will resolve. In my case, a bout of bursitis for two weeks made it excruciatingly painful to raise my arm even a few inches. I credit three decades of carrying 10-20lb. camera bags on my shoulder. With small & light mirrorless cameras, I can work 10-14 hour days without ruining my body. I've heard this he-man "you need to work out" attitude from DSLR advocates many times, and it's frankly arrogant and insulting.

Jonathan Brady's picture

You're the exception, not the rule

Jacques Cornell's picture

Apparently, there are a lot of exceptions. Also, your suggestion that all one has to do to avoid the typical injuries arising from long-term carrying of heavy gear is to work out is simplistic and wrong.

Jonathan Brady's picture

Of course there are a lot of exceptions. That doesn't mean the rule doesn't apply the majority of the time. You're arguing that the majority of people would be better off with a smaller lighter system times 2 cameras/lenses and not working out, than with a slightly larger heavier system times 2 cameras/lenses and working out. That's ridiculous.

Jacques Cornell's picture

That's NOT what I'm arguing. Your reading comprehension dropped to zero the moment I challenged your simplistic and wrong prescription. Go figure.

Jonathan Brady's picture

You said a large system gave you bursitus (self-diagnosed) which implies a small system wouldn't have, especially because 2 weeks of pt and a mirrorless system fixed everything. Sure, I probably took that a step too far with my conclusion. But here's a little nugget of info for you before I depart for good from this conversation... The injury I sustained took 3 months of PT with a therapist and has been on-going at home ever since and I'm still only about 90% of the way there. If you fixed yours in 2 weeks I say 1) congrats and 2) it couldn't possibly have been from a decade+ of carrying equipment too heavy for you.
Bye.

Jacques Cornell's picture

I never said recovery took 2 weeks. I said I was in excruciating pain for 2 weeks.

Mark Cort's picture

Ben. I do get what you're saying, but you're still seeing it from a photographer's perspective. Most non-photographers do judge a person by equipment and how they look whether we like it or not. If I were to turn up at Wimbledon with a D5 & 200mm f2, I'd be chucked out for being a pro. If I turned up with an A7r, they wouldn't bat an eyelid.

Also, how many times have you been rejected for work because Uncle Bob has a camera and you're too expensive. It's the same thing. Sad, but true.

william mitchell's picture

Put a V Grip on your mirror less camera Sony A 7 series or XT -2 and it will look bigger and you will have an extra battery in the camera. Use the best tool for your work and educate your clients, to why you use what you use. i use a Sony A77 II and love the EVF for exposure preview and grid lines, focus points etc.

Vanessa Joy's picture

Ooooooo that's a very good idea.

We use the A7rii with battery grip and all the fast 1.4 glass (which is as large as the Sigma Art stuff). Include the new 24-70/2.8 and 70-200/2.8 which are the same size as those of Canon and Nikon. The difference in appearance is negligible, in my opinion.

Ben Silverstein's picture

Good point. I was also going to mention educating your customers about how the technical advancements in cameras have shrunk the size and weight so that it's not necessary to lug around the big cameras anymore. That will have them seeing the big rigs in a different light. Have you ever seen the size of a Black Magic video camera after all the attachments are removed?

Yes, I always use the battery/vertical grip and the extra battery capacity means that I can easily shoot a wedding from preparations right through to the disco without changing batteries!

That's what I was thinking as well. An X-T1 or 2 with the battery grip has a form factor very similar to a high-end Dslr just smaller. But if I were a pro photographer, I'm not sure l'll be willing to risk loosing clients because of my camera. I can understand Vanessa's point.
I like to take (what I think are) nice pictures of my 9 months old son and show them around to friends. I cannot count the number of times I had this kind of reactions: "You take really great pictures, I suppose you have a great camera". People need to be educated...

Todd Tucker's picture

I agree with Ben's comment below. Not using a mirrorless because of being afraid of how your are perceived is like having to buy the most expensive clothes to try to fit in. Doesn't matter what you are wearing, your still the same person. Customer should be looking at your work and deciding based on that.

Mark Richardson's picture

They should be, but they don't always. If you're serious about business you should be serious about reducing friction to the sale. If you have to educate the client as to why it's okay to shoot their project on your iphone... You're facing an uphill battle, one that stands in the way of paying the bills.

Patrick Hall's picture

Just to play devil's advocate here, wouldn't this argument push you towards using medium format cameras? I remember Peter Hurley saying he had to use medium format because of the high end perception it gives him (ironically he now shoots Canon). Obviously medium format isn't a great choice for reception work or the pro/precessional but it would be perfect for just about everything else.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

But is he now a brand ambassador / influencer / exploreroflight / spokesman / shill for Canon

Andrea Re Depaolini's picture

I get you point and I agree somewhat, but I think that if a client judge you based on the look of your camera, they don't even know of the existence of MF cameras. They just want the "big D/SLR look" and a MF camera has a pretty different look that they don't know so they can't "judge" if it's good or not

Patrick Hall's picture

But that's my point Andrea. The second they don't recognize the camera you are using and then they ask about it and you say it's "$20k for the body and $10k for the lens" they are going to think you are the shit. You are shooting on something NO ONE has in their mind. Even adding a vertical grip to your DSLR does this and to some degree an on camera speedlight. I've had lots of guests bring 5D and A7s cameras to weddings I was shooting. I think I have only seen 1 medium format film Hasselblad at a wedding.

Mark James's picture

If you can't convince them with your portfolio than that is on you. I'm no pro, but I've only had one client question my gear and they brought in a guy from Hong Kong for a shoot and we both shot and we both had images they ended up using.

Andrea Re Depaolini's picture

Yeah, I was probably being even more rude implying they wouldn't even ask about your camera. Also I'm not a wedding photographer but I've seen people bringing DSLR when attending a wedding, I really never understood why, I'm already uncomfortable for being in a suit let alone have to carry around a camera. (stupid side note: I can see a new niche "hipster wedding photographer" going full on large format photography)

Joe Black's picture

Completely agree. And for this reason I will now only use my 8x10 Deardroff wooden view camera for wedding photography to ensure people know I am professional and so they can feel special.

I actually plan to buy a Fuji GFX kit for wedding portraits and advertising work. It made moving to Fuji X for my documentary work easy.

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