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

Can nearly hear the author patting themselves on the back.

Jay Jay's picture

I read this twice (because i couldn’t believe someone actually wrote this). So if i understand this right, the only reason you don't/won't shoot with a mirrorless is because.... you'll feel silly/embarrassed being seeing with a smaller camera? That's hands down the most ridiculous reason i've ever heard in my entire life (Fstoppers editors, how did this get approved?)

So it's not about quality of someone's work, but how you're seen by other people? Would you feel embarrassed if you were shooting with a $7,000 Leica M digital rangefinder? Probably not, right? It's all about perception over abilities.

When a client inquires about my services, i show them my portfolio of wedding photos- i don't bring out a big bag and put my camera gear on the table and tell them, 'hey check out what i shoot with! Is this enough to impress you to hire me?" I have never once had a client ask me what camera i use or even care what i shoot with on their wedding day- all they care about is that i'm there getting the photos and shots we discussed beforehand. (While there's nothing that will pry my Canon 5D 3 and 4 from me, the logic in the article has me baffled)

I'm throughly saddened a member of the photography industry wrote such a vapid article. :/

JUSTIN SISSON's picture

I'm right there with you on this one! As an avid reader of fstoppers.com, This has to be the LEAST helpful article I've ever read on here. I couldn't imagine an editor ever looked this over unfortunately.

Now, now, be nice😋. The 'perception' is there it's just interesting to see how different people perceive it and deal with it. I am not a professional photographer (unless you count $28 of sales on shutterstock over the last two years; l posted a dozen or so photos just out of curiosity!). I shoot car crashes as part of my real profession and class myself as a 'theoretical photographer' as l read more than I shoot (l need to get out more!). I use Nikon DSLR's both at work (as it is provided) and at home, with all the heavy lenses. A friend in a similar occupation has done the swap from Nikon to Fuji (xt-1, now xt-2), but initially held on to his Nikon when working for clients. The Nikon body is now gone. As a species, we elolve. Will be intering to see what this thread will be in ten tears? Not sure what I will be using? But then again cars will be driving themselves and won't crash?

Jay Jay's picture

You're completely missing the point of the article and the responses- this has nothing to do with what camera you shoot with- according to the author, it has EVERYTHING to do with how "professional" you look in the eyes of your clients (which according to her, means using a camera that looks expensive and fancy to said clients, and nothing more). It's a really ignorant article- so ignorant, that the author hasn't responded to anything anyone has said about it. Maybe like she describes in the article, she feels embarrassed to respond. :)

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Justin, I get the impression that all of the writers on FStop are their own editors as the quality of writing runs the gamut from "great!" to "barely readable". There ain't no grizzled editor with a blue pencil telling the writer to redo something

Michael Yearout's picture

Those tiny cameras do not fit my hands! I don't care if they are light weight, they just don't work for me. I figure hefting a good-sized DSLR gives my arms, shoulders and back a good workout. And I like the way it feels.

Throw a grip on it and its perfect. I can't really use mine without the grip.

Okay, y'all can call me a bigot. I've been shooting full frame since 1980 when I bought my Canon A-1, which I still shoot with; I added a used New F-1 and a 5D Mk III in 2013. But I talked my wife out of buying me a DSLR in 2011 when I found that her budget was a T3i. With the F-1, she asked if that was Canon's flagship and I answered "Yes, for the 80's"; she said "Buy it". I've been researching Canon's DSLR models and comparing their lineup with the A-1 and F-1; the closest match for full frame with the FPS was the 5D Mk III. She asked me about a 5D package on Amazon and I asked "You buying me a 5D?" and she answered "Yes". I said "Let me check B&H" and I found a similar package for $500 less.

The 1Dx is a beast of a camera. I would love to own the II for its blazing fast FPS, but I imagine that there is a price to pay, not only in the cost of the camera, but also in the weight of carrying the camera.

"Oh, how cute!" July 2011, I was at a post Space Shuttle launch party and a woman came up to me "You shooting film?" I answered "Yes" and she said "Cool!" and we exchanged fist bumps.

We bought tickets to a practice round of The Masters Golf Tournament. I wanted to reduce weight. I removed the AE Motor Drive FN from my F-1 and removed the battery grip from my 5D (the spares were in pockets). I used a shoulder harness to carry both cameras F-1 with FD 28mm f2.8 and 5D with EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 II.

PS: I enjoy photography. Photography is a release for me. I am not a professional photographer.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Have you actually polled clients on their opinions? If not, this narrative is all in your head. I hear this speculation all the time from amateurs. But in my 15 years as a pro using all kinds of cameras, no client has ever once expressed reservations about my gear or results. Since I switched from Canon 1D/1Ds MkIII to Micro Four Thirds, the only comments I've gotten from my corporate clients have been about how nice it is that I can shoot in total silence.
If your clients are judging your work on the basis of your camera, you're not selling yourself properly. When I'm in action at an event or wedding with my three small cameras on a harness under my sportcoat, and I'm moving about, picking angles, staying out of the way, and shooting up a storm, nobody is in any doubt about who in the room is the professional photographer. My clients care about 1) service, 2) professionalism, 3) price, and 4) results.

I'm not using one until sony makes one with a dual cards.

Thomas Starlit's picture

Wow. So many offended/puzzled/annoyed mirrorless shooters in one thread :) Come on, the writer is (rightfully) expressing her views and thoughts on a topic that is critical to anyone who is trying to sell a service: Customer perception. She is not saying mirrorless are, well, any less but that in her customers eyes (and her own) smaller cameras somehow dont convey a message that rings the right bell. I agree with the writer that camera size somehow influences how some customers think, and that is something I take into account as well when purchasing kit. If *your* clients never made a remark on kit size, type, brand or anything similar that's just great and carry on what you are doing. Some of us *do* get remarks on it, and react correspondingly. I think that is a perfectly valid view point

JUSTIN SISSON's picture

There's some offended/puzzled/annoyed Full Frame shooters in this thread as well.

Thomas Starlit's picture

Indeed. It is puzzling to me how a simple topic of preferred camera size and potential side effects thereof can stir so much emotion

Jacques Cornell's picture

What is the basis for your assumption that "camera size somehow influences how some customers think"? Sure, it SEEMS to make sense, just as it SEEMED obvious that the world was flat. Have you asked customers or had them actually express a preference?

Thomas Starlit's picture

In short: Yes. I have had several customers express things along the lines of "I have a camera too, but it is not nearly as big and professional as yours" or variations thereof. Not because I asked, but because they asked interested questions about my gear

Jacques Cornell's picture

That observation does not prove the converse: that customers will judge you negatively if your camera is not bigger than theirs.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

People don't judge camera size. If they decided to pay you $5-$10k, last thing they will worry about is what equipment you are using (or its size...). If you will try to shoot with iPhone that may raise some concerns.
There are some other, better reasons to stick to dSLR though...

Jay Jay's picture

You got it. It's hard to think of the author as a "professional" with her type of reasoning.

Hans Rosemond's picture

Yes and no, I think. When I'm at a wedding, it isn't the bride and groom I'm marketing to, it's the wedding guests. They are the ones that come up to me and ask me about gear. The bride and groom are sold. Marketing to them is no longer an issue, but as a businessperson you're constantly looking for the next sale. Not saying that mirrorless is invalid as a tool (I've shot many weddings with mirrorless) but just playing devil's advocate. Perception isn't just about the client you've already landed.

Jacques Cornell's picture

The problem with encouraging this idea that the camera makes one a pro is that folks will conclude that if they just hire the camera you have, they don't need to hire you. I get this all the time when I'm marketing to new prospects: "We have a staffer who has a good camera." OTOH, if you're shooting with little cameras but doing things that set you apart in the guests' eyes - like using off-camera flashes, picking interesting angles, and generally working in a professional manner - they'll realize it's YOU and not your CAMERA they want to hire.

Hans Rosemond's picture

Oh, I agree that it's not the camera that makes you a pro, but what I'm talking about is perception and not the realities of talent or skill. First impressions are a hard thing to shake off, and we live in a world where it's not uncommon for many guests to have full sized SLRs, mirrorless cameras, or smartphones that take great images. Having a camera that can initially be seen as "less than" because of ignorance can be damaging to your chances of scoring additional gigs.

That said, it's probably not the main determining factor in getting new work. It's one of many factors that will contribute to landing a gig. You don't have to be in the business of trying to cater to every single person at the wedding. That's silly. But that doesn't negate the reality that SOME people will be turned off by a small camera. Are they significant enough of a number to be concerned? Not to me, but I'm not running her business.

For me, if I want to shoot mirrorless, I'll shoot mirrorless. If I want to shoot film, I'll shoot film. But that doesn't make me right or wrong about my choices. The author has said what makes her comfortable and uncomfortable. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. It's not her job to be an advocate for mirrorless.

Jacques Cornell's picture

When I meet with a prospective client, I don't bring my camera. I bring an iPad to present my images.

Hans Rosemond's picture

As above, im referring to the first impression of you by guests at the wedding, not clients you've drummed up by traditional means

Jacques Cornell's picture

Please see my original comment about creating the right impression through action. Guests come up to me all the time saying "Wow, you got some great shots!" even though they haven't seen my photos yet. Why? Because they can tell by the way I'm working, not by the camera I'm holding.

Jay Jay's picture

The author is basically saying she's more concerned about being embarrassed over the size of her camera than her actual skills in front of people. She needs to be in another line of business with that attitude. And while i've shot many weddings and an incredible amount of events and festivals over the years, the only people who have asked me what camera i use (all i can count on 2 hands), were from people who own a dslr and wanted to know what i shoot with in comparison with theirs.

Every person i shoot in public, i immediately show them the photos on the back of my camera- and that's when you hear the "ooh's" and "ah's", and, "that's a great photo!"- a camera doesn't mean jack to someone at an event- but when they see how good they look and how professional the photo looks.... THAT'S when they inquire about your business card and ask if you will shoot their wedding/party/etc.

Luka Žanić's picture

I was really surprised that the only reason you have is the worry about having a small camera. I shot pro work, weddings and real estate for two years with Fuji and i would never let myself choose a gear only to look professional. The final product shows how professional you are. With that said, i could give you a lot of valid reasons why now after two years i chose to add a Nikon d750 for my weddings instead of the Fuji. Few of them: battery life suck, ergonomics is terrible for me, small buttons, always changing the drive lever to the terrible ADV setting, aperture ring loose and easy to turn by accident...

I think this starts to get to the heart of how the perception of photography has changed. If you take wonderful images how many of you have heard this "wow you must have a really expensive camera"? No wonder some expect to see you with big gear. To many clients big gear = professional = they know what they're doing. If mirrorless works for you then the only thing that matters is the result. I hope they'll never look back at their wedding pics and wonder about the size of the camera.

I have been shooting mirrorless professionally for two years now (Nikon to Fujifilm convert) and I have never once had someone mention a piece of gear to me. My first couple of weddings I shot with a Nikon D5100 and I heard a few comments then but only because they were saying they owned the same camera haha.

I like what my cameras produce and that is why I use them. In fact, I actually shot a wedding once and the groom was very impressed with my Fuji cameras. In this day and age of "throwback" and "vintage" styling, I would assume an rangefinder style camera would be more appealing than the normal-black-box-looks-like-every-other-camera DSLR.

Dennis Murphy's picture

I always ask clients why they hired me. They never say they liked the look of my photos. They always say that it is because they saw a behind the scenes video of me shooting, and the size of my camera really impressed them.
Many of them go on to say that the sound my camera makes when I press the button thingy really makes them feel confident that I will take good photos. I actually have a .wav file of the mirror flipping up and down that I play to prospective clients. It wins them over every time. In fact my sales have skyrocketed since playing them a sound of the shutter release.
My next marketing idea that will increase sales is to actually hide my DSLR inside a large format camera, because even a DSLR just looks too small to be honest.

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