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
Sean Molin's picture

Ryan Brenizer would like to have a word with you. He's one of the top wedding photographers in the world and photos almost exclusively Sony mirrorless now.

With that said, I just feel like they're slower in handling and I feel disconnected.

Screw on the vertical grip and the A7 series becomes plenty hefty. It doubles the battery life of the camera by providing space for two batteries. The only Sony mirrorless cameras that do suffer from excess cuteness are the APSC 6000 series.

I've heard some pretty lame reason for the Cannikon set why their cameras are so much swoopier than the Sony Mirrorless series but "Sony is too small" is one of more sillier reasons I've heard. Better to point to the relative dearth of Sony primes, that is much better reason to stick with Cannon or Nikon. Or you can bitch about how the menu system has such a high learning curve. But "I wish my camera was bulkier and heavier" is something no photographer said ever after carting their gear around for an extended time.

Michael Rapp's picture

Nice write up, and you adressed the issues here nicely: The gear you NEED to do the job vs the gear you need to SHOW for the job.
A client's expectations are not to be underestimated, just like a company sales rep needs to show up with a shiny Buick instead of a VW Beetle - both get the job done, but one leaves a client irritated.
Shooting luxury weddings is a different ball game, and show- and- tell goes a long way here.
A compromise may be that the "official" photos get taken with the big whopper camera everybody's sure to notice and the candid shots are done with a mirrorless camera.
Of course, it might be a whole different ball game if you shot "normal" weddings and did a more journalistic candid approach.
Just my 2 cents...

This article is garbage for the simple fact that the only difference between a mirrorless camera and a traditional slr IS THE MIRROR.

If you don't like Sony's color science that is perfectly fine.

If your clients know and love your work the size of your camera is the last thing they are concerned with

Totally a click bait article.

Are you reading this horses**t, Kevin Mullins?

Thats idiotic reasoning , its all in your head man, what size of a Camera did Henri Cartier Bresson or Robert Capa use?
Don't let shallow people make decisions for you be your own man and shoot away with what ever you want.

Jonathan Brady's picture

That headshot isn't great work to me. Pose appears tense and pupils are enormous. A modeling light and more/better interaction with the subject (author of the article) would likely have gone a long way. Now, can we come to any conclusions about the image from the fact that a mirrorless camera was used? Maybe. Would/could they be wrong? Absolutely. But that won't stop the conclusions. Was the photographer too busy fiddling with the mirrorless to interact properly? Does the photographer make poor gear choices (no modeling light)? Etc...

Rick Stufflebean's picture

I really hope this article is meant to be tongue in cheek. If not, I feel very sorry for the author living their life so short sighted.

Jim Falgout's picture

When you're good, it doesn't matter what you shoot with. Silliest reason ever, worrying about what people think. http://www.diyphotography.net/watch-annie-leibovitz-shooting-sony-mirror...

I thought the same thing about my a7rII until I put on a battery grip. Looked every bit as professional as my 5DIII. Using 2.8 glass, which is usually much larger, also solves this very real problem.

The funny thing is that my favourite move at a shoot is to bring out my X100T. Clients, bystanders, random photographers in the crowd - they all drift over to admire the camera.

The other funny thing is that I created an account just to comment on your article, so it definitely did its job. My feeling is that the perception of DSLRs as the truly professional option will erode significantly over the next few years (anyone remember 2011 and the howls of derision over mirrorless? What a difference five years makes), but if it's part of your brand, then it's part of your brand.

One question, Vanessa - what do you like to use for everyday walk-around shooting?

I have read several responses regarding perception and I thought I would add to the subject. If Vanessa is correct it wouldn't be just the camera these customers would be judging ,people like that would most likely be judging the photographer's looks, attire, workshop etc,etc. Now what if the photographer they were thinking of choosing was one of the most renowned photographers in the wedding industry and when they met the photographer in person for the first time, the photographer showed up in jeans, tie dyed top , ring in the nose and multi coloured hair, would they be turned off or just accept what a real quality photographer could possibly look like and want the best possible pics. Now ones looks, that is something one might get turned off about , but how they look doesn't mean they can't take the best shots possible, but to say folks get turned off because of the size and looks of her camera, never heard of such a thing ever. I would say that 99% of folks don't have a clue about your camera and they don't care, well maybe if its a Iphone .

Oh brother, someone has a complex.

Sorry but this has to be one of the worst arguments/worst takes on shooting quality work I've ever taken the time to read. The tired cliched: "oh my how cute" to the Big Camera = Big Impression dynamic all leaves me just shaking my head.

I understand where the writer is coming from but I have to disagree. I think most dslr shooters are just refusing to embrace change. I'm pretty sure when digital cameras were introduced into the professional photography realm, pros were protesting against using digital instead of analog film. The same can be said for gearheads being upset about paddle shifting gearboxes vs the usual analog manual shifter, but I digress. The dslr eventually became the standard of pro photographers and mirrorless will be that in the future. The reason why I don't get the rational for the perception of the gear due to size is that mirrorless cameras are about the same size as a pro film camera from back in the day such as the Nikon F series or the Olympus OM series. Besides, I think you can get great results whether you shoot film, mirrored or mirrorless digital, the importance is the skill level of the photographer.

It doesn't matter what gear you use. Your work should speaks for itself. When clients contact you for a potential job, first thing they see is your work. They don't care what you shoot with the capture that one special moment at wedding, a portrait session or any job you're hired for. Times change and people adapt to new technology. There is a change going on and it is moving towards mirrorless. Much like film, there will come a day when DSLR cameras become obsolete.

If potential clients don't want to hire you because your camera is too small, your work is obviously not good enough. If your portfolio is stunningly good, they will hire you regardless of what kind of camera you use.
I have seen pictures of really good photographers taken with really old or cheap cameras and they will always look brilliant because the camera is a tool and it is really the talent that is most important.

If you can't take a decent picture with an excellent camera as the Sony a7s, you lack talent and don't blame the camera. Blame yourself.

I don't work in photography but in education and I really don't give a toss about how students and parents perceive me when they first meet me. I know I am damn good at my work and after a couple of weeks, both student and parents realise this and they don't care if my shoes shine.

Your work has to impress people enough. If it doesn't, start learning some new skills.

Will Neder's picture

I'm sorry, I have to agree with others that this is just a bad piece. The bias is most certainly in the author's imagination. I've shot professional work for a long time, and I've done it with gear from Leica film cameras to full sized canon rigs with 53 pounds of L glass. I've never once had the size of my equipment impact their response to my work--good or bad. In fact, anymore, I tape over the logos just to give the equipment a smaller profile.

Here's a pic of Annie Liebowitz with a fuji x100--maybe one of the smallest mirrorless cameras you could imagine.

http://cdn.thedailybeast.com/content/dailybeast/articles/2014/11/20/anni...

I say this politely, but I think the author has bough into--and is repeating--much more of a marketing message than a photographic one.

It's kind of funny when the reason to pick a DSLR these days is a matter of perception and perspective, and not things like image quality and camera features. Dear Vanessa, I like your work, but frankly this article validates even more the switch to mirrorless that I and a lot of other fellow professional wedding photographers have made towards Fuji or Sony. And let me say, if you're sincere, then you must be the unluckiest wedding photographer in the world, getting all those clients who care so much about your cameras and not so much about your images.
Are you sure this has absolutely nothing to do about with your involvement in the recent release of Canon 5D Mark IV? Just saying...

I'm sorry, but their arguments make no sense. My clients never judged me by the type of equipment or gear that I use, but about the results I offer them ... Customers are concerned about the results in eternalize their happy moments and, therefore, will seek and evaluate our portfolio and not our gear. Sorry for my English.

Unfortunately far too many play into perception whether it's real or internalized. How many professionals balked at the idea of digital when that came about? I shoot FF DSLR, and could care less what someone shoots with. Mirrorless is a fad, just like the internet, right!?

Ha!

The iPhone 6s Bikini Shoot from Fstoppers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nT6eaBm82bQ

I guess all those leica shooters should go get a "proper camera" to feel more "pro". Piffle, but then I should know these aren't well thought out articles rather than polarising rubbish to instigate debate, i'll bite though as there are impressionable people that read this kind of thing.

If you aren't confident enough in your ability to provide a product regardless of what you shoot that is a personal issue of confidence - a truly competent and confident individual will radiate this regardless of what he holds in his/her hand.

Mirrorless -/+ dslr is a misnomer these days and does not represent capability, it's whether a black box with a hole has a mirror or not, even the smaller m43 cameras can keep up with full frame flagships of less than a decade ago which some would choose in place simply for this daft reason. On the other hand smaller can be an advantage when it comes to obtrusiveness.

If anything completely shattering peoples perception educates, after all if you can provide stunning work which uncle bob couldn't even with his huge dslr, battery grip, flash pointed straight forward then people not in the know will end up realising its not the gear but the artist behind it.

Arturo Mieussens's picture

Why not use medium format cameras then? They're bigger, no one will think you're not a pro with a couple of Phase One's or Leica S's on your shoulders.
What? technology has advanced? you don't need a bulky mid format camera for high quality images anymore? a dslr is more convenient and capable enough?. So is a mirrorless compared to a dslr these days.
Tough there might be customers who pay attention to those things, I think they're a small minority.

As a less experience photographer, I can see why Ms. Joy feels the need to impress her clients with a bigger camera. And it may be true that if she were to use a mirrorless camera her clients would think her less professional. That wouldn't be because of the camera but her sense that she was using less "professional" looking gear. When we get more confident in our selves then props like very large cameras and lenses won't matter. They don't to my clients. Notice that while Ms. Joy, herself, cringes when a videographer uses an iPhone. That person is still getting gigs.

As to keeping yourself in shape to use heavier gear, again I point to age. The eventual wear and tear, of extra pounds, or injury, add up over time and no amount of good eating or exercise can keep that away.

There are legitimate reasons to use DSLRs, like focus speed for action sports/wildlife photography or because of lens selection. I'm thinking of tilt-shift lenses and extreme telephotos. Large camera size is only hiding insecurity.

Abdulaye Sow's picture

So we should worry about the size of our camera not the quality of the work ??? I think clients hire you to make decisions about the best gear for you to use and if that happens to be mirrorless or whatever then so be it. It's kind of showing off showing up with a massive camera knowing that a smaller could do just as well.

I really hope you meant this to be tongue in cheek. It's ridiculous. Whenever has anyone chosen a photographer because they shoot with a particular brand of equipment? Or vice versa. When was the last time you lost work because you shoot with a DSLR and not medium format? Do your clients care if you use speedlights instead of monolights when the speedlights will do the job with a whole lot less hassle? Honestly, your credibility has just lost major points.

Nice

I couldn't disagree more. Your clients hire you because of the pbotos you take. Bigger camera, bigger distractions! If you have a photojournalistic style a mirrorless camera is perfect. Your "branding" isn't a 9 pound camera with a light the size of a small vehicle. That crap means more time between photos, more time setting up lights, more missed moments. No focus peaking so no hyperprime manual lenses less emphasis on natural light. Ive shot my last 7 weddings with x series cameras only using flash for a few reception shots. Many of my shots on manual focus lenses like a 35 f/0.95 something that gives an awesome vintage look I can't get on my 5d4. Also they let me print photos instantly and give my clients a tangle fun keepsake at the reception so they are SUPER excited to see photos which they get sooner because I previsualized them in my EVF. Fuji jpegs look so much better than my canon files. I get better photos, faster turn around, happier clients, less on equipment & maintenance. You can actually be an artist and not just ahoot wide open all the time.

Ugh, this article is how I imagine a 1999 era film shooter ranting about "the passing fad" that is digital photography. I was quite shocked to read this type of nonsense on here. I have NEVER had a client or a guest question me on my gear. My mirror less bodies have a retro look and guests occasionally state how cool they think it looks. Other than that, the wedding day is too hustle and bustle for them or me to notice or care.

Also, mirror less cameras are MUCH easier for new photographers to learn on than DSLR. They see the exposure change directly in their eye and a light bulb goes off and they feel like they are progressing. I teach local classes on occasion and I often see this.

I'm amazed how some artists have such a religious devotion to the style and brand of gear they use to make their art. We should be embracing all of the choice we have. Several brands continue to make large DSLR cameras in all categories - from amateur to pro and the same goes with mirror less. Professional work is being created on both. Professional photographers are admired and referred by their clients based upon the work and service provided and NOT based upon their camera systems, with or without a mirror box.

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