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

So, is the premise of this article, "size matters?" Funny thing is that we are shooting digital now because of the evolution of the photographic industry. Witness that demise of Kodak to understand what happens when you fall behind. Personally, I was willing to experiment with the digital medium in the early 90's when Logitech first offered their Fotoman simple B&W camera. I've had well over fifty different digital cameras from different brands since then, some large and some small. Since I'm hearing the argument a lot lately as to why even use a camera when everyone has a smartphone and some actually capture decent images.

I've heard the argument before for keeping the large, bulky D-SLR's, but feel that with acceptance of the ubiquitous cam-phone and shrinkage of size (miniaturization) going on with all tech, why on earth would we actually want to carry something larger (and heavier) for the sake of our clients perception? If you meet with your clients before a shoot (and I'm sure you do) wouldn't your portfolio stand on its own, regardless of equipment used? I don't feel it's really any business of the client to be admiring the size of your camera, rather than being willing subjects with confidence in their photographer. Viagra for digicams, anyone? ;-)

Mark Richardson's picture

You're portfolio may get you the job, but the perception and experience a client has during the job will determine if they hire you again, recommend you to their friends, and how quickly they sign the check.

Nechama Leitner's picture

Interesting read. However, cameras are about what you feel comfortable with and it is so completely personal since in reality if you know what you are doing the results can be the same - whether you use Canon, Sony or whatever you use. It is like discussing what flavor Ice-cream you think people should buy and why. For me I only fully understood camera settings (ISO, F-stop and shit) once I had my first SONY. When I was using canon I simply could not wrap my head around the settings. My mirrolrrless is what got me going in my photography. I have also been thinking a lot about what "Professional Photographer" actually means, I am learning how it is simply someone who earns money off their images - no matter what kind of camera or how good their images are... since it is all art and what can look terrible to you can look incredible to me. Plus SONY looks pretty professional with a 35 1.4 lens or 85 Zeiss. If you are a client and don't see cameras every day they are quite bulky and honestly kind of sexy. They look expensive, and yet they are not as intimidating as most DSLR cameras - which is another way to look at it - if you photograph children, or humans who are a bit uncomfortable.

Edward Porter's picture

Why hasn't anyone pointed out the huge dynamic range advantage when composing with an optical viewfinder? An EVF only shows the limited dynamic range of the sensor (13 stops), but the eye can interpret beyond 20 stops. I shoot architectural interiors all day and the difference is massive! With a mirror, I see bright interiors and crystal clear windows. With an EVF, you only get to pick one of those...

Yes, well it may be an advantage to some extent to see the dynamic range of the actual scene, but that range is interpreted by the imaging sensor in the end. With film the maximum dynamic range captured was 1:32 and when we printed that dropped to 1:16. The eye has a much enhanced dynamic range interpretation over a digital sensor. So, an optical viewfinder, providing light from the scene directly to the eye, is not an advantage in what the sensor will "see." With an EVF you can turn on zebra to actually understand what will be out of gamut for any given exposure. I see that as more of an advantage. We need to keep in mind that the "real" scene values are limited to what the eye sees and not the digital imager, film, etc.

Edward Porter's picture

I can understand the scenarios where knowing the sensor's limits on a single exposure would be more valuable. However in architecture, we aren't normally bound by these limits. Bracketing and luminosity masks take the image much closer to what the eye can see, so I don't see DSLRs falling out of favor in our field anytime soon.

I am not a professional photographer, but using this logic, shouldn't a photographer also buy/lease a lexus, inifiniti, range rover, or other luxury brand car? After all, you want your client to think you're so successful you can afford those.

Anonymous's picture

In certain professions, people will buy certain cars or wear certain clothing to impress their clients, and not always to show success but rather competence. If I hired a guide to take me into the Australian outback and he showed up in a limo, wearing a tux, I'd ask for my money back.

In the high end luxury wedding market this is true. You might even go a step further and buy a certain kind of watch.

However, I don't think the camera matters all that much and using a mirrorless system does have its advantage. For one, its small and less obtrusive allowing you to captures special moments that would be lost with a DSLR. When someone sees you coming with a big camera like Canon or Nikon, they react. When someone doesn't see you with a Fuji or Sony, they are completely unaware.

This is a terrible argument.

I've never not once had a client, or potential client say anything negative in regards to my camera.

I shoot with 2 sony a7ii's and if anything clients are more interested in them than they were my big bulky canon 5d mkii's.

When you've got the sony's with the battery grips on them the size isn't all that much smaller. Especially coupled with the 35 1.4

I think if your clients are busy looking at your camera body and judging it based on its size you've got bigger issues. Maybe you need to have better interaction with your clients and have them more into each other than looking at your camera?

This is a poor click bait article. Which has certainly done its trick at getting people to comment.

I'm surprised the most obvious reason (to me) for silent DSLM professional wedding photography hasn't been mentioned or do clients these days just prefer their wedding video sounding like the paparazzi are there?

Martin Moore's picture

Bizzare reason to not choose mirrorless. I for sure thought you would bring up the fact that mirrorless eats up batteries, just doesn't have the buttons that allows instant access for all of the the things that need to be adjusted in a moments notice to capture an image, dual card slots, real view finder and reliability.

There's a lot of arguments that the customer should be looking at your work and not your camera. And that's absolutely right, of course. But the reality is that customers (and other non-photographers) perceive big cameras as more professional, and showing up at a wedding with a mirrorless is seen in a negative light. As photographers, we know its fine, the problem is they don't, and that's an issue when you're trying to present your business as high end. Photographers see you shooting an A6300, clients go "that guy they hired brought a point and shoot to a wedding?"

Ryan Brenizer's picture

To paraphrase Portlandia: Put a grip on it.

Nomad Photographers's picture

I read all your article with great attention but I was taken aback when you said you witness more and more videographers shooting weddings with their iphones. Just out of curiosity, with how many iphones ? I shot a video for a wedding for the first time this year, I am a photographer and never did that before. Anyways, I drained no less than 6 batteries for Nikon D800 and 2 batteries for Nikon D4s...

I can see this being confusing for people.

With a lot of videographers using devices like the Osmo that you connect to your iphone. People just take notice of the iphone. I had a friend shoot me a message the other day while he was at a wedding and made comment that the videographer was using an iphone. I shot him a picture of the Osmo and asked if he had that attached to the phone and he said yes.

So I can see people being confused by that.

Nomad Photographers's picture

Ok thanks for explaining mate !

Your reasoning doesn't hold water, because of several things you yourself admit. First, if you grew up in the film era, showing up with a Canon or Nikon 35mm made you look like a beginner, as all the pro wedding photogs lthat were concerned about their image were using Hassy's. There are always gonna be folks out there with a bigger camera. Get over it. Second, you mention all the soccer mom's and uncles showing up at weddings with their own DSLRs. So you look just like them, and are not differentiating yourself. If you embrace new, modern technology, you will stand apart from the crowd and since branding is so important to you, you will look like an innovator, as opposed to a follower. Besides, all those DSLR wielding wedding guests think my Fuji is a Leica, and act jealous. Oh, and it does have an optical viewfinder.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

In a couple years those same people will ask why are you stuck using DSLRs when Mirrorless are the "best"?

I bring a van load of stuff to my gigs, usually between 8-10 pelican cases of various sizes so having a couple small cameras is hardly noticeable. Some of the work I do now is better, faster and easier than with my canon.I now use Sony mirrorless for 85% (10% Canon 5% other) of my work and most of that is with Fortune 500 corps or ad agencies for those companies. In a couple years two people have asked about the camera because they were curious about it. I took a minute and explained the huge sensor, the Zeiss, Canon, Nikon, and Sigma Art lenses I use and some of the other gee wiz things and they were impressed not distressed.

I'm old so it has been long time since my equipment was questioned by clients. And rich wedding people are 1% folk who have opinions on the best this or that (but a surprising number buy RangeRovers...go figure)

Canon = Ford F-150 best selling vehicle in USA, great truck. Very reliable until it throws a shutter.
Sony Mirrorless = Tesla hi-tech, cutting if not bleeding edge, amazing files and features. Battery issues. Reliable TBD?

JUSTIN SISSON's picture

This article actually has ZERO facts of what a mirrorless camera can do. Much of this is your own personal views & thoughts which is in the title of your article. You basically want to carry heavy gear so people THINK the quality will be that much better. As a PROUD Fuji XT2 user, I can say that this camera IS pro ready. Outside of tethering, everything is there for the camera with great glass options. You should spend more time with your own mirrorless camera and learn the system, you may actually enjoy it. There are plenty of professionals using mirrorless that would completely disagree with this entire article. There's nothing wrong with being comfortable with your current set up, but your views for mirrorless being a less than system is entirely off. I'd challenge you to rent a Fuji XT2 and shoot it for a month besides your current gear and come back with a new article of that experience.

Alex K's picture

A well chosen subject - agree or disagree, got you and me to click!

If we take it as "Can't Use a (typical) Mirrorless Camera" (as they exist today), it makes sense in some situations on some levels.

If we take it as broad as stated (got you to click!) i.e. "Can't Use (any) Mirrorless Camera (in principle)," that view is ignorant of the imminent Hassy X1D-50c in particular and also the general notion that, gimmicks aside, rifle stock and ski boot sizes ultimately cater to an optimal interface with the human anatomy for the task at hand, so does pro gear of every ilk.

When the mirrorless tech is ready, and enough pros are sentimentally ready to say goodbye to the mirrorbox, I fully expect mirrorless pro bodies with full-size grips.

There really isn't anything in the article about the tech. Its just her worrying about what a person may think of her slightly smaller camera.

Its a poor article.

Alex K's picture

A poor article, but successful "content" - we're on here talking about it. It's like, one photog can toil writing about all aspects of location monolight use, from ND filters and batteries to ensuring they don't tip over. Another photog can take 10 min to spit out "Here's why I never shoot thin women anymore - and it will amaze you".

I don't need to tell you which one will get all the clicks.

Pat Black's picture

i own the A7rii and the a7sii and i 100 percent agree with you, while the images are amazing the cameras dont look the part. i really want someone to make a kickstarter that just takes a a7rii and puts it into a fake medium format body to use just to give that impression to clients!

Robert Holloway's picture

Like your work, but strange post. I have engaged photographers and don't think their brand / gear has ever been a consideration. it's all about the portfolio, them as a person and their price. The idea that I'd reject a pro because he used lens x or body y is to be honest, a little strange.

corrado amenta's picture

show up with a couple of Leicas, combine that with a bit of vintage/hipstery brand/messaging and all of a sudden you've flipped the perception of a small camera around. now you just have to be able to afford leicas LOL!

That is just silly. You can always slap on a battery grip if you feel the need to make it bulky and heavy. Thank God I am not a slave to my F5 any longer. Mirrorless has replaced all my cameras, even my medium format. Love the freedom and the adaptability of the E-Mount system. Have not seen any discernible drop in quality for anything printed less than 16 x 24.

Nick Schreger's picture

"I charge a premium for my clients to hire me to come shoot their luxury weddings." My clients pay me for the results I deliver, not the gear I carry. They book me after evaluating my work, not my gear. This guy has no confidence in his work and hides behind a hefty DSLR. There's so many of this kind and, honestly, that's fine with me...

So, the wedding photographer goes with pro-sized DSLR because the customer expects highly paid pros go with pro-sized gear. What would make these same customers consider pro videographers use iPhones?

I noticed the other day that my old Canon A1 SLR is about the same size as my Fuji X-T1. With the advent of AF, it is amazing how big everything got over the years.

Anonymous's picture

If it helps you maximize your profits for your business then it's the right choice as that is the only goal of a for-profit business. Well done! I always say, if Mercedes would make more profit by producing t-shirts tomorrow, they would. But then again, I'm a financial controller, not a photographer ;-)

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