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.

Log in or register to post comments

242 Comments

Previous comments
Gabe Strong's picture

As a cinematographer, I feel the same way when photographers try to shoot motion by using a DSLR or mirrorless. Just something wrong with not using a proper cinema camera to shoot motion. For example, some people use STILLS cameras to shoot their web 'TV series'. 😉

Julie Hunter's picture

I really hope that was sarcasm.

Julie Hunter's picture

I think this article perpetuates the ridiculousness of this industry. We set the standard for what clients expect. If they see your portfolio and love your work, do you honestly think they are checking your bag to see the camera you are working with? After I saw a Sony a7s ii being hand held at a wedding, I immediately went to Aperturent to check one out for myself. I loved it! The internal stabilization is amazing! If I can use a smaller camera to get the job done, I always go with that option. Choosing a camera because "it looks impressive" and then writing that in an article to thousands of photographers honestly gives female photographers a bad name.
I know wedding photographers who shot on Fuji gear and their images are amazing... And never once have I ever thought "how cute!" about their camera choice.
Side note: I work at Aperturent and can use any camera system I want. I've shot with Nikon, Canon and Sony. I choose my camera system based on abilities not looks.

Andrea Re Depaolini's picture

I thought that as a wedding photographer having the possibility to not have the "SLAP" sound would be an improvement. But I understand your point about clients wanting to have something that looks luxurious, even if not necessarily better

I've been a photographer for 15 years, 10 years as a pro. I went from Nikon to Fuji 2 years ago and I haven't looked back since. This is only a perception driven by an IGO! Clients don't really care, they care about service and quality of work. No one in 2 years has said anything to me about the equipment I use, and guess what, they are recommending me to their friends, family and colleagues. And if someone ask me about my "small" camera, i'll ask them about the size of their TV 10 years ago compare to TV. This is just a tool, I know people with top of the line equipment that can't take a pictures. Your article is complete non sense!

Michael Kormos's picture

I once showed up to a portrait session with my iPhone only. The client was alarmed, but as soon as I reassured them that I was using a "professional photographer" app, it was smiles and cheers all around :-)

Korey Napier's picture

As someone who has switched from full frame DSLR's to shooting exclusively with Fuji, I personally will never go back. I can see both sides of the argument regarding the client perception, but ultimately take the stance that the final result speaks for itself. Every client I've ever done work for has hired me based upon my portfolio. They never see my gear until the day of the shoot. However, photography isn't my full time gig so I can't necessarily speak from that viewpoint. Mirrorless isn't for everybody and I think DSLR's are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Each person must choose the gear that's right for them. If someone thinks that having a mirrorless system is holding them back in any way, then so be it. For me though, I couldn't be happier using mirrorless. The Fuji X-system of cameras and lenses is incredible.

Shouldn't it be about confidence in your *work*? If you are working for clients that judge you on what camera is around your neck rather than hiring you for how good your work is, then that isn't the correct kind of client.

Your DSLR sounds pretty unprofessional. You should probably move up to an 8x10 camera if you really want to let them judge you based on the gear you use.

I've seen jobs done with a quiet little Leica. I've seen jobs done with a Hasselblad, with a Fuji X100, and with a plastic Diana Holga Camera. Live up to the expectations you present based on your work, *not* on what kind of camera you use. It's just a tool.

Make the client be impressed with your brain and the creative lobe in your head, not the camera in your hand.

Cheers,
Sid

Big camera = good photographer?
I think this equation is fooling less and less (young?) people these days.

"Why I Can't Use a Mirrorless Camera Professionally"...because you are a moron still holding on to ancient technology. The fact that you feel the need to create such "article" shows how pathetic you really are and insecure about your choices, otherwise you wouldnt post such nonsense.
One day you will realize how stupid you were when you read this again and finally embrace the future which is NOW. Sony is kicking the crap out of Canon and is laughable that after 4 years Canon releases a new camera unable to even match the one year old A7Rii performance and still having an AA filter LOL
And lets not talk about the ridiculous attempt at 4K video which cannot even compare to a $1000 A6300 APS-C.
Still, I cannot blame Canon since why would they bother to offer a REAL competitive product when they still have dumb fanboy zombies like you willing to buy any crap they release?

So yeah....you keep on using your DinoSLR while the rest of the world moves on to MUCH better waters...

This is surely as unsmart as the folks in the 1990s who expected to be taken seriously because of the bulk of their cell phones. Or for that matter, guys who expect everyone to be impressed by the bulge in their underwear.

Bigger is always better is a puerile and deeply flawed (sorry to say, even juvenile) concept. If your work doesn't impress, then I'm sorry but the bulkiness of your cameras won't make up for that. And if it does, the choice of large or small camera bodies will be 100% irrelevant. Why a professional would choose to think otherwise is somewhat baffling.

George Aronis's picture

What ever gear you feel most comfortable and confident with is the best gear..

Oz Photo's picture

I agree the DLSR is king for now, until the image in the viewfinder matches the optical viewfinder which will happen it's only a matter of time.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Image in EVF gives WYSIWYG preview of exposure, WB, and even show-shutter blur. Plus, I can see in the dark. In some ways EVFs are BETTER than OVFs, in other ways not.

Mark Kitaoka's picture

You present an interesting perspective. I am a full time commercial photographer who specializes in publicity and performance photography for the arts; dance, music, theatre, etc. I tend to be brand and gear agnostic using medium format for portraits and publicity, 35mm for live action/dance and mirrorless for symphonic live performances when I have to be absolutely silent. My belief is I should use the right tool for the right job. And in cases where I have used my Fuji X100 clients lovingly refer to that camera as "Mark's Little Instamatic" and don't mean that in a derogatory way at all. I once had a new client ask me about the brand of gear I use and asked the VP "why do you ask?" He stated that he wanted a certain level of 'quality' in the final images and wanted to ensure I was using "High level gear." I told him that he may wish to investigate other photographers who use his preferred gear and thanked him. I walked away from him initially. Then once he saw work I did for his competitor, he recanted and approached me again without questions. We have had a great relationship since that time and we both laugh about that interaction now. I can appreciate why some clients may be interested in what type of gear a photographer is using, but with my clients they are much more interested in the quality of the results and my interaction with the talent.
http://www.markkitaoka.com/latest-news/fuji-x100s-commercial-use/

If you cant make your clients feel like movie stars without a big camera then maybe thats your fault and not the camera's. Its up to you to make them feel great. What a terrible reason for camera selection. Seriously I cant even believe a professional would even write this. Maybe the bias is in your mind and not theirs. They probably dont have a clue what the difference is. Does your reasoning mean that you turn up to site with 25 staff and a truck load of lighting Gregory Crewdson style. I cant imagine

Imagine shooting high profile client and your MUA shows up with a white plastic shopping bag full of make-up stuff. Can be all professional products and really top shit work but the first look and feel your client gets would probably not be: Well she/he is really top of the line.
In comparison of showing with nice metal roller case with compartments, etc.

Sometimes it's the same with photo equipment and no matter how you advocate for excellent mirrorless image quality and all other things the client would still think that this could be his kid taking photos with his compact camera.

Mark James's picture

How very sad.

Flemming Jensen's picture

Good read, and i can see it comes Down to Your perception Of your clients perception Of you and your gear. The client doesn't give a hoot about your gear, you just Think so. And as you mention yourself, it is your bias towards mirrorless vs Pro. And i Can tell you that one Day, you Will change, because the development Of mirrorless is catching up så fast that the dslr become obselete ( not tommorrow, or in a year, but fast ). I shoot weddings, went from a fullframe Nikon with grip, to shooting mirrorless. The only Think that ANY client noticed?, they love the looks and not seeing that huge Black box looking at Them. Of course that is also Down to the abilities af the photographer, but a camera half the size helps.

Art Altman's picture

I find this article a little strange. Personally I LOVE smaller cameras but my experience of mirrorless camera bodies is that they are not quite as responsive, robust and reliable as DSLR's. The Sony A7RII, for example, which produces extraordinary images with the right glass, bogs down writing images to the SD card. I usually miss some shots when I shoot with it. Mirrorless also use inherently a lot more power than DSLR, so your workflow is complicated by having to keep an eye on the battery level. And they mostly lack dual cards (no backup if a card fails). Mirrorless uses a hybrid autofocus system of PDAF (fast) with CDAF (slow) vs DSLR are usually PDAF primarily.

Mirrorless systems tend to be less complete, running the risk that a professional will need an accessory that is not available.

There are legitimate reasons to remain with DSLR, just as there are legitimate advantages to mirrorless. Mirrorless is closing the gap fast. I especially love seeing the actual photograph in the viewfinder with mirrorless prior to shooting, and also find that the "live view" in the LCD AF is more robust than any DSLR. There is much less need to do micro-autofocus adjustment for every lens with mirrorless, since the autofocus sensor and photograph sensor are the same sensor.

Complex decision, no simple answers, but I am always a little surprised to hear that someone is shooting an event with mirrorless given today's technology.

Ryan Graham's picture

This article begs for at least a single data point, wherein an actual client expressed a negative perception of mirrorless equipment. As is, it's completely lacking any external validity in its conclusions.

"I'm a professional photographer, and I see mirrorless cameras as 'less-than-professional, so my clients likely do too," is a very poor substitute for actual client input. To assume that clients' perspectives about gear will match those of a professional photographer, is more than a little preposterous.

Absent actual expertise in camera gear, a client is likely to completely overlook the size of the equipment, as they don't have a professional photographer's background in exhaustively comparing various camera systems. The 'look' of the gear, is much more likely to get a client's attention. Mounting a manual-only Voigtlander lens on my EM-1, I am regularly mistaken for a professional photographer (full-time shrink actually). Nobody notices the size of my little m4/3 camera, because they lack the exhaustive history of personal comparisons. They just see lots of fancy knobs and arcane-looking distance scales. Thus, this is truly much ado about nothing.

Anonymous's picture

Unfortunately a lot of things in life have become far to shallow. Being superficial at times is a way to protect your future income, whether one likes it or not. And with others not understanding what the little cameras can do does make it kind of tough. I was looking at this xt-2 today at the expo in South Africa, and well (according to sales rep) that thing will out shoot my 5D Mk III on ISO and Dynamic Range and Dynamic Range especially is a big thing for Canon shooters, because it is something Canon unfortunately always seems to lack compared to competitors

Jay Jay's picture

Question to author- if you put a grip on the new Fuji XT2 mirrorless and use either the stock kit zoom or the bigger version of said zoom, it now resembles a large dslr. Would that be enough to fool customers into thinking you have a super expensive large camera when in reality, you've really got a less expensive mirrorless camera? I think i've just solved your problems.

Drew Pluta's picture

When the client knows nothing about photography and they will be watching you do your work, it matters. We live in the lowest common denominator reality Letting your work speak for itself isn't even in the discussion. I'll bet you take your portfolio/web site layout seriously, don't you? What about your editing? How about your personal appearance? Oh and don't forget the constant beating drum of Instagram followers. No self respecting bride would let a photographer with less than 50K followers shoot her wedding. Of course you have to contend with the opinions of mouth breathers, this ain't the 70's.

So you exclusively shoot "luxury" weddings, but often witness the main videographer using only an iphone? Either you're exaggerating, or you've disproven your own point. If it's true that you stand side-by-side with videographers using an iphone, doesn't that suggest that the client isn't focused on equipment so much as end result? This is such a meritless argument. "Back in my day we only shot with tintype!" One would expect that a person with as much experience as you would have moved on from such a shallow viewpoint.

Think Kevin Mullins sums this up perfectly!
"Grrrrr. Nothing makes me more grumpy than this statement. YOU.ARE.THE.PROFESSIONAL. You choose your gear. It may well be that a Canon 5D Mark III is what you choose but never, ever, let the decision of what equipment you use be dictated over your fear of perceived professionalism from the client (note: I’m talking about weddings here remember).

I can honestly, hand on heart, tell you that the only people to ever ask me about what clients think of the size of the camera is….other photographers.

I’ve never once had a client ask about it. Not once. Occasionally a guest might ask me “is that a Leica” or “wow, you are using a film cameras”…. but not once has a client queried the camera. And neither should they as using a smaller camera, be it a small DSLR, a Fuji CSC of Sony or indeed a Leica M9 should actually make creating documentary style pictures easier.

Had to create an account to comment on this. The concepts outlined in this article are absolute rubbish. I shoot weddings professionally and have shot a Canon kit for the last 9 years. Just switched to Fuji's mind blowing X series and would never in a million years go back to the canon dinosaur. If you are worried about your clients perception of 'how big your camera is'...you're not doing it right lol.

Technically speaking my images out of my Fuji are consistently more in focus, more vivid, sharper, etc. than anything I've done with Canon in the last decade (all using 5D series with L glass). Not only can I produce images that easily Rival my Canon system, the sheer portability allows me to blend into the wedding and shoot the most wonderful and emotive documentary captures possible; which in turn allows me to provide a better product to my client. What is more important? Better images or looking all fancy and cool with your big DSLR and 70-200?

Crazy talk folks!

Mitchell Sargent's picture

I think this article would have been more relevant a few years ago. I've grown very confident with my A7rii, which translates to confidence as a photographer, which then translates to the customer as someone that really knows what they're doing--at that point, what's in the photographer's hands becomes irrelevant.

I wonder how many people disagree that your feeling on perception by the customer is a crazy idea when it comes to your camera, but for every wedding they go to they dress in a suit & tie, or a fancy functional dress, or when they meet with their clients they make sure to have a shirt with a logo on it, or a jacket to wear representing their brand? If the perception of the camera doesn't matter, show up to a wedding in jeans and a t-shirt with a mirrorless camera and shoot (if the couple, or the venue, lets you stay that long). ;)

(I'm sure that there needs to be some kind of disclaimer that in the past at least one person has shot a big fancy wedding in ripped jeans and a tee)

Jose Luis's picture

Get battery grips and zoom lenses for your mirrorless systems and really neat shoulder and waist straps if you are worried about looks and professional presentation. I assure you an A7RII with a grip and a 24-70 G Master lens is no less impressive to a non pro than a Canon 5DMk4 with a 24-70 L Mark II. It looks the same. Another way to impress is try using a trek pak in your camera backpack or pelican cases- all of those look SUPER impressive. Honestly- there is so much benefit from using mirrorless especially in a scenario like shooting a wedding where WYSIWYG shooting, face tracking, etc would be invaluable I think you owe it to your clients.

A well modified Small Rig cage system on a small A6300 looks LEGIT as heck too when shooting video.

Honestly, though, I think your attitude and how you carry yourself and confidence speaks a lot more to how people perceive your competence and professionalism than the size of your camera. Be amazing, care about your clients, deliver for them, engage them, etc- I don't think I have ever had a client think twice about the small size of my cameras.

More comments