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Why I'm Not Switching to a Mirrorless Camera Yet

Why I'm Not Switching to a Mirrorless Camera Yet

This has been the year of mirrorless! There have never been so many attractive options for DSLR shooters to make the transition as there are now. But should we?

Okay, despite the hopefully catchy opening lines, I’ll bury the lead and give you the short answer. Maybe. How’s that for taking a definitive stand?

But before I am accused of dodging the question, I think I should also mention that for me personally, the answer is more like “probably not.” Let me explain.

Like many of you, I have watched the seemingly endless stream of new mirrorless camera announcements from Nikon and Canon with high levels of anticipation. I am a longtime Nikonian. I cherish my beloved D850 enough that I wrote an essay about it. And the only real negative I’ve ever found to be consistent with my current setup is that paired with my preferred 24-70mm f/2.8, carrying the combination around can offer as much of a workout for my bicep as for my creativity.

So, for me, the real appeal to the new mirrorless systems would be the decrease in weight. Notice I said “weight” as opposed to sheer “size.” I’ve had the good fortune of shooting with the excellent Sony a7R III and loved the image quality. I also loved the lighter weight. But for my own personal taste, the body of the Sonys were almost too small. Perhaps it is just because I’ve been shooting Nikon for the better part of the last two decades, but the ergonomics of the Sony just didn’t work for me personally. I stress again that I am making a subjective judgment based on my taste, and that is not intended as a knock of any kind on the camera itself.

So, when Nikon announced that it would be making a mirrorless camera, I was super excited. Perhaps I could finally get the best of both worlds. The ergonomics of a Nikon with a weight closer to that of the Sony or my beloved Fuji X-T2. I love that camera. And, looking over the specs, Nikon pretty much nailed it.

The two cameras have identical 45.7MP sensors. Identical ISO sensitivity. The two are basically comparable in almost every way. The Z7 has a slightly better burst rate. The D850 has the advantage in much talked about number of card slots. And, as it was my main motivator, I definitely took notice that the Z7 body comes in at 585 grams versus the 915 grams of weight provided by my D850. When you consider that my current 24-70mm f/2.8 comes in at 1,070 grams as opposed to the new Z-mount 24-70mm f/4 at 500 grams, the difference in overall weight would be significant (acknowledging the loss of one stop). Even as I write this now, I’m tempted to switch from “probably not” to “maybe.”

But still, even despite definite advantages, I am choosing for the moment to stick with what I’ve got. But why?

Well, let's start with a couple of simple facts. Whether it will be five years from now or fifteen, mirrorless is the future of the camera market. Just like you can buy many types of legacy cameras and lenses to this day, DSLRs won’t completely disappear anytime soon. But, you’d expect that the majority of manufacturers' R&D budgets will go towards the mirrorless market for the foreseeable future. So, it’s highly likely that I will also make the switch to mirrorless at some point.

It is also a fact that for NIkon and Canon, these new cameras are their initial entry into the mirrorless market (at this level at least). Just like comparing the first iPhone to the just-released iPhone XS, companies tend to have a kink or two with their initial product launches, which they refine and improve as time goes along. So, as cool as the Nikon Z7 may be on paper, I’m pretty sure the Z7B or Z7 II or whatever they will call it will be that much better.

Also, since Nikon and Canon are just entering this market segment, it’s fair to acknowledge that Sony has a leg up in mirrorless, at least for now. However one may feel about their cameras, they have already had time to work through a number of early issues and refine their product while defining what consumers expect in the mirrorless market niche. Again, regardless of how you or I may feel about the current result, it’s clear that they have the most experience. And experience counts. Given my experience with both Nikon and Canon through the years, I don’t doubt they will produce quality products. But it is a consideration.

But, all those things aside, before deciding to invest in the Z7 system, I would first have to answer a series of questions. First, is it appreciably a better camera than my current D850 DSLR?I would say no. It’s lighter, for sure. Otherwise, they are very similar. Had Nikon not done such a good job of getting my money just about a year ago for the D850, this may be a different decision. If I was instead trying to decide between my older D800 body and upgrading to either the D850 or the Z7, it might require more consideration.

Likewise, if I were just entering the full frame market or buying my first camera, this may also change the calculus. I still think the D850 is currently the better camera. But if I wasn’t already heavily invested in F mount lenses and other support gear and were more free to chose without financial concerns, then the Z7 could be more appealing. As we said, the mirrorless wave is coming. So, if investing from scratch, it may make more sense to start with mirrorless to give you a cleaner growth path in the future. Then again, in that scenario, you would also have more options to consider like Sony or Canon or even Fuji if you don’t need full frame.

As I’ve stated many times before, there is no such thing as a perfect camera. There is only the perfect camera for you. So, I can only base my decision on my own particular needs.  And while I expect many of you may be in a similar boat, it is also clear that many of you will be in completely different situations.

You notice, for instance, that I haven’t spent a lot of time talking about the dreaded single card slot on the Z7. And while I can definitely see the point of wanting two card slots, it simply doesn’t make much of a difference to my own workflow, as I shoot mostly tethered now anyway. The files go straight from the camera to the computer, bypassing card slots completely. I don’t shoot weddings where a redundant card slot would be a major advantage. So, for me, that’s not a deciding factor.

The other advantage of mirrorless is that it can give you a preview of your settings when you look through the electronic viewfinder. It’s very close to being WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). But, as I am using strobes a large part of the time, which only go off for a split second and wouldn’t be visible before I click the shutter, the live preview is not as useful to me. Again, if I were a shooting more natural light or continuous sources, that would be a big upgrade. But in my situation, this would fall into the nice to have category as opposed to a necessity.

As I said, I am fully aware that mirrorless is the future. And hopefully, this article can’t be read as a condemnation of one particular camera model or brand. Within 3-5 years, I expect that I will have at least one full frame mirrorless camera in my bag. If history is a guide, it will likely be a Nikon. Although, since regardless of brand, entering full frame mirrorless would likely lead to me re-buying a number of lens ranges, the fiscal need for brand loyalty is somewhat less decisive.

But, whatever is the right choice in the future, I can sleep soundly knowing that I still have the right camera for the my own peculiar process. And I am more than happy sticking with what I’ve got. For now.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

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Lord have mercy....another one of these.

I swear FS must write a "why I'm Switching to (insert BS here)" or "why I'm not switching to (insert BS here)" article every other day.

Are we out of ideas for new articles or something??

Actually, what article needs to be written that hasn't already?

If writers at FS were doing their jobs (better), you likely wouldn't need to be asking that ;-)

literally just start your own website or don't read this one. Or just stop complaining. Its a free site with free content

LOL ya...that's a stupid solution. We could just ask FS to step up their game??

And with these articles, the inevitable comments bitching about the articles, presumably, by people who are incapable of reading titles of articles yet fully capable of reading the articles themselves and wasting their own time commenting on them.

Do you think that it is valuable to see an article like this from the perspective or a wedding shooter, studio photographer, landscape photographer, sports photographer, etc.... ?

And then there will articles like "why I switched back to a DSLR" and "why I'm switching back to mirrorless".

I've yet to work in a studio where AF was an issue, and even if there was one, it wouldn't be anything that manual focusing couldn't rectify. A mirrorless offers zero advantage in a studio.

I've yet to work in a studio that would remotely care about mirrorles, let alone eye AF. Perhaps an individual studio owner may somehow think this may be an advantage, but most production studios have tried and true setups. Most are typically tethered as well, making eye AF that much more a moot issue.

How on earth did you manage to get a sharp image before the eyefocus AF anything era?

It seems that you can't use a camera on manual...

If so, you really should learn the basic of photography first, including how to operate your camera in full manual mode...

It is as if photographers never got sharp images before your beloved Eyefocus AF come out...?

Good for you, but I really do not care...

The way you wrote was as if you never had hold a manual focus lense before...

But again, I actually dont care, and if you get upset by someone questioning your comments, then you should stop writing.

ooh, and just so you know, i didnt read more than the first sentence of your replay... I didnt find it of any interest... sorry

Retouching, actually. I freelance in various places. The studio I'm in now shoots with Canon, Nikon, and Phase One cameras, typically tens to hundreds of shots in a day. Occasionally, dependent on post requirements, I may supervise a shoot.

Rarely do I see an image out of focus, and if there may be one, the product is simply re-shot. Most shooting is done tethered, so eye AF is really moot in a studio environment.

A mirrorless offers zero advantage in a studio environment.

Well, you're free to continue to make as big a mountain out of a molehill as you like, but the reality is that AF is simply not an issue in daily professional studio production.

However, I think that if you and Mr. Petrenko have not done so already, then you need to run out and get yourselves the latest eye-tracking mirrorless cameras out there, because I'm sure they're better than the ones you already have. If you have indeed done that already, then congratulations! You both have been liberated from all those horrible AF issues that plague those pesky DSLRS. Life is short, right? Enjoy!

OK, I'm a retoucher first and foremost. However I shoot studio work part time. I've been shooting since '73. Been in pre-press since '79. Been digital since '90. Shot digital in the 2000s. Shooting on location is a whole different ball of wax, but you're in control of the light in the studio.

"Try shooting at f1.4 on a moving target and tell me AF doesn't play an important part..."

How much of this industry do you think is doing that in the studio? Like I said, buy the latest eye-tracking mirrorless, and be happy. I honestly hope all that hype delivers for you.

Umm... a lot of moving shots are done in a studio. Studio doesn't just mean product shots and portraits.

At f/1.2-1.4? What are you shooting at speed? I shoot moving models too, but they're usually wearing makeup and/or fashion that damn well better be in focus, not the model's near eye.

Dancers? Athletes? It depends on what you're looking to do and Eye-AF is just another option that is now available. If you don't want to use it, that's fine, but don't discount its usefulness across the board just because it doesn't fit into your personal workflow. I know plenty of people that shoot in studio only using manual focus and would say that all auto-focus is useless in a studio environment and I'm pretty sure that we can agree that this isn't really a sensible point of view.

Eye-AF is basically like automatic Focus Stacking or 51-point dynamic tracking. It's useful to whoever it's useful to and the rest of us just shrug our shoulders. The more tools available to you, the better.

Fair enough.

I too am a very satisfied D850 owner who’s not switching... the burst rate of 9 FPS is identical BTW (with a battery grip). I like the weight/feel of the D850, and most of the weight is in your lenses anyway. Plus the single card slot is a deal killer ( not just failures- I shoot events where I hand off 1 of my cards to a runner for processing/upload). Next gen mirrorless might just get me!

Stop beating A7 series for ergonomics, you can ALWAYS go bigger with battery grips, grip extension or L-Bracket, many people including me prefer smaller camera anytime.

Small hands? Just kidding! ;-)

"You know what they say about men with small hands.." ;)

They become president? LOL

Owning the A7RIII and coming from a Nikon D850, I would say that the ergonomics aren't nearly as good in my hands and I don't have large hands. The grip merely extends the length of the body so that your pinky doesn't awkwardly hang out, but it doesn't address the issue of grip depth (or lack thereof), which is my main gripe.

The size of the body itself is rather compact which works well on the street with smaller lenses, but feels cramped and unbalanced when paired with some of the thicker lenses such as the f/1.4's. The button placement feels similarly cramped as a function of body size.

In the end it will always come down to personal preference, but those are my thoughts on the ergonomics having used the camera for a while now. It's an improvement over older models, but Sony would do well to release a slightly larger line of bodies for those of us who want something a bit more robust.

Well, at least, finally, a well thought out and levelled article about this theme I've read. Just by not beating down/cheering up a product one still haven't used, it's already better than other ones around. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, obviously you thought more about your own use of a camera than camera specs.

There would be no real reason for a user of a Nikon 850 to get a mirrorless today or anything else to be honest.

In my situation I was looking to update from Canon 5D2 and 1Dmk2 a batch of 15-20 year old Canon L lenses. So anyway I chose to go I'd spending a lot of money. Buying Sony stuff cost about as much as replacing the Canon stuff and cheaper than going to Nikon.
Since Canon was just making the sensors bigger and not much better and the fact that now I shoot 85% location and 10% studio the EVF was a big winner for me as is the IBIS turning my collection of old lenses into IS.
It ain't perfect but what is?

After Nikon's mirrorless announcement, I traded in my D850 and all of my Nikon autofocus glass and bought an A7RIII. The reason? I'm not likely to go the next 5 years without buying another lens, accessory, etc. and given the way the market is going and the fact that I'm pretty sure that DSLR development will come to a halt, I couldn't really justify continuing to invest in a system that I know that I know for a fact that I'll be switching away from in a few years.

The reason I swapped to Sony over Nikon is simply the fact that despite the promising mount, I found the bodies to be unimpressive values and the lens road map that they released looks uninspired at best. I do hope that I'm proven wrong in the long run as I love Nikon ergonomics, weathersealing, and glass, but as of this particular moment it just doesn't look promising to me and it looks like it will be at LEAST 5 years before it even starts to look interesting for me as a person who primarily uses prime lenses.

I'm not going to say that the switch to the Sony A7RIII has all been peaches and roses. I dislike the ergonomics compared to my D850 and I don't trust the weathersealing at all, which has made me much more careful about carrying around an umbrella. There's obviously the hit of trading in gear that you bought brand new and using the money to buy different brand new gear and it has certainly presented its challenges. There are bits about the menu system and the EVF that I don't particularly like and all of my Nikon muscle memory has essentially gone out the window, so in the short term at least, it's hurt my photography much more than it's helped it.

That having been said, I made the calculation that I was unlikely to get as much money for a D850 trade-in as I was when I did given that it was still effectively sold out in the USA and Sony is likely to continue to stay a healthy ecosystem due to the fact that they are manufacturing the best sensors and they have allowed third parties to access the E-mount specs, which open up a world of third party options (in theory). It's nice to be able to use Zeiss glass that has autofocus.

I accept that there's a very real possibility that I'm going to regret this decision in however many years when Nikon actually start to produce better bodies and Z-mount lenses, but I'll be hanging out in Sony-Land for the interim while all of the other companies find their footing and things shake out properly.

Anyway, just figured I'd add one account of a person trading in his D850 and why.

Wow ! You jumped to SONY for that ? Really ? Could you give us a real life improvment you now have with the SONY MILC system you had to shell out tons of cash on ? really curious, because apart the hype, your portfolio nor website doesn't show urgent need to change a more than recent D850 for anything else.

I really wonder why you even bought a D850 as you were already totally in love with SONY MILC concept whereas you claim it has tons of caveats... Really, are you sure you are a pro making a living with photography ? Or you just have too much money to spent on devices ??

Whether you agree with his reasoning or not, he can do what he likes for any reason he likes. I can't imagine you'd like people second guessing your choices. Don't take offence, I have to remind myself of that every time I'm about to write something similar to your comment. :-)

Hmmm, I agree with you. But Michael and alike should act the same way as you suggested.

Then, they should keep their claim for 'the need of change' because they have bad feelings about that or this device they never used nor barely available... it is only personal and not really unbiased opinions, nor facts. And I don't take offense from sombeody telling he decided to go that or this road because of his own feelings. I just don't bare people touting their personnal feelings like universal and ultimate findings whereas they have little to no roots nor facts to sustain

And why should I not think nor write those people swaping their photographic system on every new release are just astonishing people ?

How can a self claimed PRO tell us he had to change from a Nikon D850 and F-mount system to a SONY alpha system just because Nikon MILC proposal does not stand his personal wishes and will need 5 years to get a wide enough lenses catalogue ? How can't this be just a bunch of dull excuses ? Should not be more than one real culprit or real technical limit of its actual system be the real reason to swap ? How can a pro reverse a recent investment without taking into account the depreciation of its equipment ? just because that manufacturer anouncement has not been well enough welcomed by bored influencers, seriously ?

That guy already wanted a SONY MILC and his claimed opinion is just a nice excuse to justify a swap.
But the reality, whereas some neat features like focus peaking will serve him properly, the final workflow, the way he take photos have little to zero improvments coming from the hardware he just bought.

Ok, his new camera can give him some convenient features, like focus peaking for his manual focusing legacy lense, but I thought we had to get better and latest lenses in order to grab all that 40+M photosites sensor resolution... So what is the point in finality ?

Funny how it can be possible to use F-mount lenses onto a SONY body but a heavy failure using F-mount lenses on a Nikon Z body... Does that justification make sense ? (not in Michael situation, but read in many article trashing that new Nikon system).

Funny how it is a shame the "still to be fully demonstrated Z7 autofocus" does not sport EYE-AF but guys rave about manual focusing adapted lenses. Many claims are not coherent.

Funny how he can drop a fully working and appreciated system for a system that finally does not be as marvellous as it has been touted ? Does that really make sense to have to step down just for one or two more or less convenient features ? I really hope it was an absolute need and the cost is worth the swap.

I understand many buyers are seeking the best bang for the buck, but coherence is usually lost in the struggling excuse to shell out money on that or this latest but well marketed device.

Nikon is crappy at marketing, it is a well known fact and it last for so many years. Just remind Thom HOGAN rants on that subject !

Z system is just a newborn system, and thinking it could be a fully mature and heavily reliable system in less than an ILC generation (2 to 5 years?) is a heavy mistake. Same goes for EOS R.

A pro should be able to understand that simple fact.
Even enthousiast or aware 'photographers' should have enough brain to understand that simple fact.
If ever you absolutly need such a device that have caveats, you just pick it and mitigate them.

And sorry, i cannot understand how swapping a Canikon dSLR system for a SONY MILC system now is a clever move. Even the F-mount system will not totally die/disappear in the next 10 years, until a new really revolutionary sensor technology arise and trounce what we have so far ! (but display systems have to get a huge leap to be able to serve us better results, and it is already an actual problem).

Betting SONY is the right horse to ride now is just a bet, not a tangible fact. Until you already think you will swap system again in 5 years. But then your only problem is having too much money and don't know what you are searching for.

You want a real revolution in photocamera ? SONY, or whoever should better give us a new sensor tech. I would rave for a 100M photosites, that would spit 25M real RGB pixels. It will be the end of the heavy resolution loss in quasi monochromatic situation, we'll get better accutance, and noise control even better controlled with 4 photosites feeding (Red Green Blue and Luminance).
That will be a photographical innovation. EVF or movie capabilities are just convenient evolutions, period.

Well, "passion" is definitely a benefit to any creative endeavor and you have more than the average photographer! :-)

Aside from my first camera, a Leicaflex SL that was gifted to me and a Canon EOS 1V that I got for a ridiculously good price, I have only ever shot Nikon cameras. I'm not saying that the Sony camera has given a "real life improvement". If you actually read my post, you'd realize that the reality at least short term has been the polar opposite of that. I made the decision based on what I am likely to want to continue to invest in for the next 10 years. As of this moment, given the information available about Nikon's mirrorless system, aside from the Z-mount size, there's nothing about it that is giving me confidence and their rather strange decisions such as electing to release slow glass first while releasing their premium body first makes me feel like they're currently very out of touch in terms of their decision-making.

I am not in love with my Sony camera at all. It frustrates me quite a bit and I do often miss the D850 was really a joy to use and there are a lot of things that I have to worry about now that I didn't have to before (such as rain). As I said in my post, I am well aware that I might look back on the day I brought all of my Nikon gear to trade-in and conclude that it was the incorrect decision long-term, but this would require Nikon's mirrorless offerings to improve quite a bit and for them to release prime lenses that get me excited.

As for why I bought a D850, I bought a D850 because it is a great camera and I was financially capable of purchasing one. I enjoyed using it and I like to stay up to date with the latest bodies simply because it's keeping my RAW files as future-proof as possible in terms of resoution, DR, etc. Whether I "need" it or not is rather irrelevant as I believe I am free to spend my money the way that I want to. I'm sorry if you feel that people should only purchase equipment that they are somehow "worthy" of using. I can assure you that the camera industry as a whole would collapse pretty quickly if this principle was actually followed. I'm well aware of my limitations and I'm also well aware that I don't actually "need" the vast majority of gear that I own. Then again, how many of us can really say that we couldn't get away with less (or inferior) gear if we wanted to?

My switch was not because of any lack of love for the D850 as I still think it's the finest DSLR currently on the market and if I had the money to have it all, I would still own one. It was because I see this as an awkward juncture in the future of photography and I believe that investment in DSLR technology and lenses on the part of manufacturers will decrease from here, making them a poor long term investment at this point. This, coupled with the high prices of Nikon's more recent lens offerings has made it more difficult to continue to sink money into a system that I believe is on the road toward stagnation (or will be in the very near future much like Sony's A-mount).

One of the primary reasons that I did want a mirrorless system regardless is the fact that I enjoy using vintage manual focus lenses and they are much easier to adapt and use on MILC's than DSLR's due to the EVF and focus peaking. This is pretty much the only thing that has improved for me since switching. If the Z7 was essentially a D850 with an EVF, I would have put a pre-order on it. The problem is that the Z7, to me, is an inferior camera for more money than the D850 and Nikon seems to have no plans to do anything meaningful with that huge Z-mount for the next half a decade or so, which makes the superiority of the mount rather moot. Yes, I know all about the NOCT, but I'm not going to be paying $5000+ for a 58mm manual focus lens.

Thanks for looking through my work, I guess (my portfolio on here happens to be entirely scans from 35mm film). You're entitled to your opinions about it, of course. I don't believe that I've ever claimed to be a great photographer. If you read my bio on the website, you'll see that I freely admit that I'm just a guy with a camera (but not a GWC). I do make income from photography, but it's primarily from real estate photography and corporate headshots, which I don't have any particular desire to do (which is why I don't feature any of it on my site) but somewhere along the line I got roped into it and money is money, right? I don't advertise my services, but I'm not dumb enough to say "no" if someone's willing to pay me for fairly simple work.

BTW, I haven't abandoned Nikon completely as I still have my AIS lenses and Nikon remains my choice of film camera. So there's that...

And as far as the cash I supposedly shelled out on it, So far I have spent about $1000 total on the switch since I didn't re-buy the equivalents of much of the gear that I traded in as a lot of it was just sitting on my shelf anyway. It really wasn't a financial hit so much as the emotional hit of knowing that I no longer have a bunch of lenses on the shelf that I pulled out once every few months, but I knew were there as options despite their lack of regular use. Now I'm pretty much pared down to the essentials.

I also thought that i would add that I've done nothing but defend Nikon and apologize for them right up until their disappointing and tone-deaf mirrorless announcement.

Until that point, I had utmost faith that they would release a truly competitive offering. Perhaps they still will, but it looks like it will be some years since it's not as if you can so easily design a new camera and put it out to market quickly. The Z7 and Z6 will likely be the offerings in their respective price brackets for a few years.

Did you actually trade in your D850? If not I'd be interested in buying it!

Traded it in at Adorama. I would have sold it personally, but I didn't feel like meeting a potential serial killer or dealing with eBay

If writers eschewed the redundant word “personally”, they would avoid cliché, and save pixels! Less typing too!

I pre-ordered a Z7 but as soon as I saw how few images a battery gives I cancelled it. It's not just Nikon though, none of the mirrorless DSLR's have decent battery life.

It's bizarre that these weekly pro DSLR articles don't mention the biggest advantage of using an optical viewfinder - seeing things with your own eye. EVFs have their advantages (and I'm sure others will remind me) but I constantly deal with high dynamic range scenes (interiors photography) and trying to compose on an EVF is comparatively a terrible experience. You can either expose for the interiors and have the views completely blown out, or expose for the views and have the interiors super dark. Meanwhile an optical viewfinder allows you to compose seeing both well exposed - because our eyes are leagues better at dynamic range.

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