As mirrorless cameras get better and better, the temptation to lose the weight and bulk of the DSLR is becoming very large for many photographers. Wedding photographers like V Opoku are opting for the smaller footprint of the Fujifilm X-Series, as is famed Music and Editorial Photographer Zack Arias. Humanitarian Photographer David DuChemin also has them in the mix, and much of his beautiful work in northern Kenya was shot on these small and light cameras. I have had a slightly tumultuous relationship with these cameras, but have come to love using them so much that I have found ways to work them from a toy for personal work into business.
I originally purchased the X100S, which like certain other habits, quickly lead to a desire for more and an empty pocket. The X-T1 was the next step, and I initially used it for a documentary project over last summer. Happy with the results, I began taking it with me as my exclusive travel camera. The ability to preview the exact image (exposure, color, flare, etc.) in the viewfinder and excellent built-in color profiles led to a shorter post-processing cycle as well. With the release of the 4.0 firmware, it became clear that Fuji was aiming to make this not only an enthusiasts' camera, but something that pros could rely on.
I began taking it along to my engagement shoots and using it as a second camera, with my D800 still being my primary workhorse. As I did this, I began to find myself liking the results from the Fuji more and more. I found that I was shooting less and disciplining myself more. With the release of the X-T10, I picked one up as a second body for the Fuji system and began shooting my engagements exclusively with them.
Unless I'm using flash, I simply have no need to check anything in the camera anymore. My images are exactly what I saw through the viewfinder at the time of shooting. As I depress the shutter, I get white balance, depth of field, exposure, color, and even things like the exact position of flare previewed in the EVF. I am able to make small adjustments on the fly to get the image even closer to what I want, much more than before with my DSLRs. This means I spend less time checking the back of my camera to ensure everything is going as planned. Sure, there is merit in knowing how things will look before shooting with a DSLR, but the confirmation in the viewfinder is an extra added benefit of shooting the Fuji system.
Size and Weight
I shoot with some beautiful primes on my Nikon system; I count the Nikkor 58mm and 85mm lenses amongst my favorites that I have used, but they are necessarily larger. Getting closer to the film plane and using a crop sensor has allowed these mirrorless cameras to have more compact and lightweight lens designs. The combination of Fuji's 35mm and 56mm primes weighs about two-thirds that of the Nikon kit, and the smaller body means that I can shoot for hours on end without feeling any fatigue. Also, with the tiny size of these lenses, I am able to take a smaller bag with me when working on engagement shoots. My full Fujifilm kit, along with a Nissin i40 and a Westcott Bi-Fold Umbrella, fits into a small messenger bag. Not only do I feel less fatigue, but I'm less obtrusive when working in the city.
I have found that another benefit of these cameras is that it piques my clients' interest in the photography. They are struck by its diminutive size, design, and quiet operation. Once shown an image on the back, they are impressed by its quality and a discussion often begins around photography and their desire for a small camera that performs well. This is a great way to get the guys involved in particular. At times, I've had guys asking to see the back of the camera more than girls. It's a great way to get everyone on your side for the session.
Although this is in quite a few DSLRs now, I haven't had the luxury until the Fujifilm cameras. Being able to transfer an image to my phone and make a quick edit on the way home is a great way to ensure my clients get home feeling good about the shoot. I pick a frame where they both look great and text it straight to them.
It's Not All Good
There are a few trade-offs for shooting these little cameras. First and foremost is speed. Things are simply not as fast as a DSLR. Although the most common controls are on the body of the X-T1, simple things like white balance require you to bring up the menus. Shot-to-shot speed is also slowed down with the slower autofocus system, meaning you need to be ready for moments rather than making them happen as the camera locks focus. Small things like this force you to work in a different way that can be a little frustrating at first. One more consideration is that the small size and light weight can make the cameras somewhat difficult to hold steady. I find that I need to concentrate a lot harder at slower shutter speeds to achieve good results.
There are still many uses for my DSLRs. A good portion of my work is with young children, and I need the exceptional autofocus of my Nikons for the way I like to conduct those sessions. I also use them when I have clients that are impressed by large equipment. There are still times when the bulk of the Nikon kit inspires trust, and that can be crucial to making the session run smoothly. However, for my engagement, editorial, and food work, I am reaching for the mirrorless system straight away now. What are some reasons you do or do not use a mirrorless system for your professional work?