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

Previous comments

i also think that some folks are used to shooting machine gun style. i look forward to when i can fully transition to mirrorless.

Appearance and perspective could be some of the reasons, but to see them as THE reason not to use a mirrorless system is quite narrow-minded and deceiving to undecided people reading an article titled "Why I Can't Use a Mirrorless Camera Professionally."

Now, I'm not a full-time professional, but I've been shooting for many years and have a small client base with a couple of paid gigs monthly. I switched from a full frame Nikon system to Fuji 6 months ago and I can give you dozens of reasons why a mirrorless system is just not up to standard if you do photography full time as your sole source of income. How it looks is not in there at all.

As a matter of fact, I experience quite the opposite. I've done many different paid gigs since I have had my Fuji (portrait sessions, fashion studio shoots, food, weddings, events) and whenever the topic of my gear came up, it was always a fun chat about how amazing technology is now-a-days and how you can achieve great quality with such a cool, non-intimidating and affordable camera system and not depend on pro Canons or Nikons.

I've even had clients come to me weeks later saying they've bought themselves a Fuji or Sony after being inspired by the results I sent them and having never thought they could achieve that without a big pro DSLR.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Dozens of issues? Please share at least 20. As a full time photographer for a very long time as my sole source of income I am dying to know where I went wrong by using Sony for the vast majority of work for the last couple of years.... ;)

It was just a figure of speech, geez... no need to take it personally. If you're happy with what you got great for you, so am I. Honestly I rather spend time doing anything except writing down a list of why this camera that works just fine for me would not be suitable for someone else with other needs

I think Vitor meant to imply that each system has its quirks. Each have those that you have to work around. Biggest issues for mirrorless are the battery life but that is to be expected. Canon and Nikon also have the some of their own quirks. We just learn to work around them.

Jonathan Reid's picture

The title should end 'as a wedding photographer', because for almost every other genre, it's irrelevant.

Jacques Cornell's picture

I shoot weddings with Micro Four Thirds. No problem. And, my clients love the images. One family even flew me abroad to shoot a second wedding for them.

Flemming Jensen's picture

Trust me, it's irrelevant for weddings to

Should we assume mirrorless really has come to the quality level of a professional-grade DSLR though? I don't know that the jury is settled on that by any means. And if that's the case, why would you opt for mirrorless except for your own convenience?

I think part of it, if you are choosing to go mirrorless, is to bite the bullet and then actually be an advocate for the format, not an apologist.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Do you consider a Canon 1Ds MkII a "professional-grade DSLR"? My Micro Four Thirds cameras give me the same IQ as my Canon 1Ds MkII did. They focus faster, more reliably, and in lower light. They shoot with total silence. They give me a WYSIWYG preview of exposure and WB in the viewfinder. They lock onto a face behind a microphone. They shoot at 8fps. In short, in terms of handling, features, and performance, they equal or exceed the 1Ds MkII. And, they cost & weigh a whole lot less. After shooting with Canon 1-series for 10 years, I switched to MFT three years ago and haven't looked back.

I'm not advocating for anything. I own a Nikon D610 and a Fuji X-T1. To be honest, the X-T1 had a lot to be liked but in terms of autofocus speed, the D610 was still faster. This has probably prevented me from switching completely. But now the new generation is pretty close and with the added functionalities vs Dslr, the switch is not a question anymore (for me). Innovation is on the mirrorless side definitely. And I really loved and still love my D610....

Jacques Cornell's picture

That's Fuji. Panasonic has S-AF speed that rivals anything out there.

That's also Fuji's previous generation. The latest cameras are whip fast.

You need to work your confidence, the problem are not your clients but how you feel.

sounds a bit like he's overcompensating :-)

Wow,.. as a professional my camera and lenses are just tools. It doesn't matter what brand you use. If you need a big camera to feel professional then you have little self esteem or need to grow some confidence.
In Germany/Austria we have the say: The bigger the lens, the better the photographer. //sarcasm

Edit: Does a prof. guitarist need to play on a Gibson to look like a professional? I think the only thing that counts is your skill and creativity.

Hans Rosemond's picture

I think this is a little simplistic. It has nothing to do with self esteem and everything to do with the brand of the photographer. If she feels that having smaller camera would hurt her brand, who are we to say she's wrong? She's obviously successful, so shouldn't we trust that she knows how to run her own business?

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

If the article was titled "how switching to mirrorless hurt my business" I would agree with you... The thing is, she doesn't know if that is true, even though she may believe it.

Mark Richardson's picture

This exactly - too many "photographers" worried about what they want and too few worried about their brand, business, and how to make the most amount of money.

These comment sections are always so divided because you have real pros making a living vs complete amateurs who have no idea how to run a successful photography business.

So most argument are based of "What will people think of me???".

Deep!

Kendrick Howard's picture

What people think of you when you own your own business is everything assuming profit is one of your motives. Like it or not its just the way it is. That's why certain businesses require you wear a nice suit - to present an image that they want to portray. Many people perceive professional gear by its size - they are uninformed obviously but that's something that goes into the decision of what to buy when you are photographing for profit and not a known photographer.

Mark Richardson's picture

Exactly. You can dress however you want and shoot with whatever you want if you are not worried about giving the best possible experience to your paying client.

Perception and image is incredibly important. I shoot events that regularly have Gala dinners. I know full well that images of people eating will never be used and are not faltering. However we're being paid to cover this part of the event, so I try to give the perception that I'm still busy and making images during these slower times.

Is it frustrating that you have to do this kind of perception management occasionally? Not if it means higher profits, repeat business, and a happy client.

Hans Rosemond's picture

I think it's a valid point to make, not only in wedding photography but commercial work as well. Perception is big. Not only that, but if I'm at a wedding or shooting headshots or whatever and I have to take time to educate/justify/rationalize why my gear is just as good as another professional and it's all about the work, something is off there. If someone thinks the camera I'm working with is interesting, great! But to be challenged on my professionalism because of my gear in the middle of a gig is undesirable to say the least.

I don't get paid to be an advocate for mirrorless. That's not a knock on the quality of the gear at all, but fighting perception while you're working isn't a good thing.

I use both, high-end cameras and high-end cameras with a flapping mirror. ;)
If someone asks me where the mirror is I just ask back, if his phone has or needs any buttons. Then I'll add: thank to technology my camera doesn't need a mirror.

Garrett Reid's picture

This topic is so incredibly subjective I believe hardly anyone will be able to find useful information for their individual camera needs. Small cameras have merit and large ones do too. Great, mission accomplished. I'm convinced. I will now not buy camera X and buy camera Y instead.

Sincerely,

A Subjective Reader

Anonymous's picture

This has nothing to do with your comment but, rather, why would you vote down someone (E Port) for expressing what works for him, and what wouldn't, in his situation? Maybe I don't understand the purpose of voting someone down!?

Garrett Reid's picture

Because I don't see his method as a very good argument for this article or against Mirrorless cameras (with an evf). David Everett already beat me to it in his response to E Port. It is more important to see how the camera sees than how we see since we are concerned with what the camera produces rather than what our eyes produce. However, for composition I totally agree with E Port, seeing as much as possible at once is better. That said, I think you have a point, I don't know his workflow. I haven't been to the interiors he's shot. I don't know his workflow with those images after exposure. For those reasons I have removed my negative vote.

Anonymous's picture

I really appreciate someone willing to revisit their positions.
While I agree we need to know what our camera sees, I guess I don't worry about it, having a pretty good idea based on experience and I don't trust the back screen/EVF, anyway. I have a lot more faith in the histogram, which is also imperfect.

Garrett Reid's picture

Thanks! And thanks for not jumping all over me on the outset and leaving the door open for me to elaborate.

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