Why Professionals Should Shoot DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras at the Same Time

Why Professionals Should Shoot DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras at the Same Time

When shooting assignments in the past, whether portraits, weddings, or journalism, I’ve always been one to carry two bodies to give myself options. I like to be able to access two different focal lengths at a moment’s notice. In the past, it would not be uncommon that those bodies would be two DSLRs of the same brand, usually Nikon or Canon. But now it’s something that is uncommon for me. You see, I now roll with a DSLR and a mirrorless body to allow myself maximum flexibility. And perhaps it’s something you should try, too. Here are a couple of reasons why.

Autofocus Accuracy

I was debating about starting with the weight benefits of shedding a DSLR, but let’s be honest, even mirrorless bodies and lenses have put on a few pounds over the years. The weight savings is minimal. I usually carry a Nikon D750 and a Fuji X-T1. Another D750 wouldn’t add much to the package (a little over a half pound).

No, the reason first and foremost I carry two different styles of camera bodies is the autofocus. Why is that a thing? Because mirrorless cameras have an inherent advantage in autofocus accuracy by design. Generally speaking, mirrorless cameras (such as the Fuji X-T1) use the imaging sensor to autofocus. This means even if your lens is just slightly “off” in some way, the sensor is doing both the focusing and the imaging, so there’s no calibrating or microadjusting or fine-tuning needed. It all just works. The tradeoff, of course, is that you can’t get that through-the-lens view in the viewfinder without the extra autofocus sensor and mirror system in DSLRs; You must use an electronic viewfinder. This used to be a drag, but the Fuji system has made great strides in this area, and the new Sony a9 electronic viewfinder is a cut above the a7-series finders. It barely makes a difference anymore.

I came to this realization about autofocus when shooting for fun at a friend’s wedding with a Panasonic GH3 and Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens. I dropped the lens on the ground and it broke into three pieces. I pushed everything back together (it held) and then put it back on the camera. It focused perfectly, and still does to this day, because it’s all being done off the sensor.

Microadjusting lenses on my DSLRs is an exercise in frustration, and so having a system that just works without the fuss of calibrating a body to a lens is nothing short of magic.

Autofocus (and Other Forms of) Speed

But if mirrorless systems have the secret sauce of autofocus accuracy, why even bother with a DSLR? Speed. Primarily with the autofocus, but just about everywhere else, too.

I’ll explain. The phase detection systems on DSLRs have had years to mature, and coupled with sophisticated metering systems on the latest Canons and Nikons, these styles of camera can easily track a moving subject. In fact, DSLRs are so much better at this, that sports shooting is about the only time I’ll insist on two DSLRs instead of a combo. My mirrorless bodies (both Fuji and Panasonics) have trouble with my son on a swing.

Sports is one of the few situations where I don't use a mirrorless/DSLR combo - the fast autofocus and tracking ability of DSLRs is crucial to getting the shot (this was photographed with a Canon 5D Mark IV).

Sports is one of the few situations where I don't use a mirrorless and DSLR combo. The fast autofocus and tracking ability of DSLRs is crucial to getting the shot (this was photographed with a Canon 5D Mark IV).

While we’re on the topic of sports, there’s speed and handling as well. While some newer sports-dedicated bodies have tons of dedicated controls and fast responses to button pushes (looking at you, Sony a9), many (in my case, Fuji X-T1 and Panasonic GH3) make taking a photo a more deliberate act as opposed to a reflexive move.

And that’s why it’s key to take both the mirrorless and the DSLR on something like, say, a wedding shoot; During slower moments, such as portraits, hair and makeup, or a cake-cutting, a mirrorless body will generally nail the autofocus for crisp, sharp shots each time. But it’s probably not the best choice for a fast-moving dance floor, where I’ll take a DSLR’s focusing system and response time any day. In short, I worry less about critical focus with mirrorless cameras; I’ve been able to consistently hit focus on the Fuji at f/1.2, something that isn’t so easy on a DSLR (at least in my experience with an equivalent Canon lens, the 85mm f/1.2 on a Canon 5D Mark III).

Color

Everyone has a preference for one brand’s color over another. Maybe you like the skin tones on Canon cameras. Maybe Fuji’s film simulations do it for you. Now you can have both at your fingertips. It gives you more options in editing when you deliver the finished files to your clients. I know I love having Classic Chrome handy just by lifting up my other camera to my eye.

Lens Options

There are lenses photographers lust after in every system. In my case, the Nikon and Canon systems bring workhorse 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 lens options to the table. In the case of the Fuji, the 56mm f/1.2 and 90mm f/2 lenses are fantastic (as are some of the native Zeiss lenses for the system, such as the 12mm f/2.8). Now you can use them all.

In slower moving situations, such as this election night rally, it doesn't matter whether you're shooting a DSLR or mirrorless. This was a Fuji X-T1 shot, where I parked a 12 mm lens on for the entire night in addition to the 24-70 lens on my DSLR.

In slower moving situations, such as this election night rally, it doesn't matter whether you're shooting a DSLR or mirrorless. This was a Fuji X-T1 shot, where I parked a 12mm lens on for the entire night in addition to the 24-70mm lens on my DSLR.

In most cases, I’m walking around with a zoom lens on the DSLR and a long-ish prime on the mirrorless body, which leaves me ready for most situations. This is not unlike the kit I carried 90 percent of the time when shooting weddings or news events — a 24-70mm lens and an 85mm lens on separate DSLR bodies — only now I can choose the best lenses for each system and situation, and gain the advantages of both a DSLR and a mirrorless body.

Do you shoot with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras at the same time? Do you find it liberating or limiting? Sound off in the comments below.

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41 Comments

The trouble with us professionals carrying two types of similar camera bodies. Yes I just called the D750 and the X-T1 Similar... is now you're introducing a host of workflow and equipment issues. There are a lot of fantastic reasons why professionals don't do exactly what you're suggesting.

1.Like you pointed out... the cameras don't have the same color. This is a negative. This means extra time in post. Your client might not notice Nikon or Canon color but you start interleaving photos in their album without fixing them and they'll know something is weird and now because you're using two totally different systems you have something to fix and that's time.
2.You're now buying two speedlight systems, two lenses, two battery types, two chargers... and so on. This is a mess. A very expensive mess.
3.You now have to build muscle memory for two systems that are almost the same but work differently and then do your thing under pressure. This is a serious dis-advantage and can dramatically affect your keeper rate.
4.Your post production may have to be different for two different brands to achieve optimal results once more hurting your workflow and costing you both time and actual money. A great example is if you're a Capture One user and you get a Fuji GFX. You have to use lightroom for the Fuji Files.
5.Your cameras can't act as proper backups for one another unless you carry a lot of gear. what If your Nikon with it's 24-70 broke and you only had your Fuji and it's 55-140? Now you can't do those group shots unless you were carrying a wide for your Fuji as well. This isn't a little extra weight this is a huge amount of gear... that you had to buy... to duplicate your nearly functionally identical systems that aren't interchangeable.

I'm not a Nikon user so I don't really have a horse in this race but if you're not able to focus properly at night with a modern DSLR of any make but especially something like the D750 something is wrong and there is probably no light to speak of. Use a little more depth of field, look for contrasty edges, have an assistant bring a light, send the camera in for an inspection, something. I don't even remember having difficulty with focus on the original 5D and that thing was downright awful compared to everything that has followed.

I think the last comment is a bit of a low blow, but other than that, I do entirely agree with this. Multiple systems introduces far more problems than it solves.

Sigh... you're right I'm sorry that was low. I removed it.

I agree on the focusing comment. Heck, I don’t remember having auto focusing issues going back to the last film camera I owned.

Jacques Cornell's picture

I had front/back-focus issues with some Canon lenses on my Canon bodies.

Sorry to hear. I did great with my lenses, including a really nice Tokina.

I'm not a Nikon or a Fuji user. I think both systems are excellent, but that this article is silly. If he can get by with an XT1 but sometimes needs faster focus then the obvious answer is an XT2. Or even an XT20. For all the reasons JT gave, running two systems is not smart. Not unless they're much more different than this - eg packing a Sigma Foven compact in your bag for the leaf shutter and high resolution while shooting with an XT2 could sometimes make sense.

Jacques Cornell's picture

I agree that mixing dissimilar bodies can be confounding. It's why I used to shoot with a 1Ds and 1D (Mk1,2,3) - identical controls make it easier to switch between bodies while relying on muscle memory to access controls. Now I shoot with three GX7s. As for flash systems, this is no longer the issue it was, as Godox offers a full lineup of speedlights and larger lights that are TTL compatible with most camera brands and use the same radio trigger system. In fact, you could have a Fuji-compatible Godox speedlight on the X-T1 and put your Nikon-compatible Godox flash on a stand and use it off-camera with the X-T1.

I appreciate your arguments but once you calibrate your lenses, you won't have to worry about autofocus accuracy with a dSLR. There's nothing you can do to make the mirrorless faster. Everything else is either/or. There are a lot of reasons to shoot mirrorless at times and a dSLR at other times. I can't think of any to bring them both to the same situation except perhaps one for video and the other for stills, which you didn't even mention.

>> I appreciate your arguments but once you calibrate your lenses, you won't have to worry about autofocus accuracy with a dSLR. There's nothing you can do to make the mirrorless faster.

Actually, that's dependent on the model of the DSLR. Read the Autofocus Realities article at LensRentals. And in this case he could speed up mirrorless AF hugely by buying a current model and using faster focusing lenses on it - in the Fuji line, the f2 lenses are usually especially speedy.

I'll take your word for the vagaries of various camera models. I have no problems with my Nikon D810. Your arguments about AF speed also apply to dSLRs so the speed disparity would still apply.
Sorry. I'm definitely biased. I HATE mirrorless cameras! ;-)

Well, other people HAVE had a lot of problems with AF on some Nikon 800 series cameras.

>> Your arguments about AF speed also apply to dSLRs so the speed disparity would still apply.

Not really, no. Current mirrorless and DSLRs in the same price range now tend to focus at the same speed overall. DSLR focus speed is improving at a much lower rate than mirrorless focus speed.

Having no experience with mirrorless cameras, much less new ones, I can only go by what's reported. My impression has been, mirrorless AF speed is improving at a faster rate because they have a long way to go to catch up. The assumption is they will. Maybe.

>> Having no experience with mirrorless cameras, much less new ones, I can only go by what's reported.

You mean forum gossip. Where you will select the rumours that most confirm your biases. Not a great strategy.

>> My impression has been, mirrorless AF speed is improving at a faster rate because they have a long way to go to catch up.

That's certainly true - ie it is true that it is your impression.

Whether it is good logic is another question. It probably isn't. Firstly because in a lot of ways mirrorless already do focus faster - eg my old tiny GM1 probably has faster single focus than your DSLR, and an A6500 tracks better than most DSLRs. A cheap Panasonic will focus in light too low for any DSLR, and I've not heard of any DSLR that will track a moving human eye like an A7Rii or an A9.

The real reason that mirrorless focus is overtaking DSLR is that mirrorless automatically gets better with Moore's Law - more processing power, better focus. But DSLR limits are mechanical, due to off-sensor focus.

Forum gossip? confirm my biases?
Sometimes I don't like to tell people I'm a photographer because their impression is, we're a bunch of egotistical a-holes. It's difficult to argue that's not the case. Good day to you. :-/

So that would be a yes, that was exactly what you did... Back in reality...

http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/NIKONV1/NIKONV1A6.HTM

The Nikon V1's full-autofocus shutter lag in single-point AF mode (center AF position) was incredibly fast, at only 0.097 second with the 10-30mm kit lens. That's faster than most professional DSLRs we've tested! In auto-area AF mode, lag more than doubled to 0.234 second, though that's still quite fast for a CSC and competitive with most DSLRs

...And things have improved a lot since the V1. Which you wouldn't know if you sit in a circle with a bunch of people who bought the same camera as you and tell each other what a great decision you made.

Yes. You're an egotistical a-hole but, no, that's not what I did.
And looking at your photos, I'm guessing you're about 25 years old but don't have to guess that any camera is a waste in your hands. Just sayin'. You can have the last word.

Have shot mirrorless alongside SLR's since the late 1960's. 4x5 and 8x10 and even up to 20x24 film mirrorless View cameras. Work great. Then SLR's for sports, phojournalism and editorial work.
Nothing new here.

jean pierre (pete) guaron's picture

Interesting, Wasim. I don't rate as a "pro", but I guess I'm a serious amateur. And I've had heaps of probs with AF on my DSLRs - so I mostly shoot MF. Easy for some, but it's not practical with a moving subject.

I can see why the cam manufacturers are flogging the type of AF they incorporate in digi cams, but I don't find it as handy as the split image range finder I was used to with my main analogue 35mm cam. When you NEED AF, because the subject is moving, you don't have too much time to fiddle around with AF choices and methodologies. All those things are fine, up to a point, otherwise - but the two don't collide, they pull in opposite directions.

Something else that gets up my nose - almost literally! :) - is touch screens and their interraction with AF on a DSLR. Put the cam up to my eye, to use the viewfinder - almost set to fire - my nose touches the screen, and the AF points shift. Sigh! - stop, turn off touch screen, try again - hopefully the subject is patient enough to wait for all this.

Colour is a matter of taste - ie, personal choice - what is it you're doing? It can't matter much, the way everyone fools around with the image afterwards in post processing. Apart from which, we shoot RGB and print CMYK; which doesn't produce anything like the range of colours there are in front of the camera. So the end result is rarely going to replicate the "real" colours anyway - and the tonal range is so compressed, going from "the real thing" to a paper image relying on reflected light.

I shoot with both Canon & Nikon, and there are noticeable differences in the tones their sensors produce. Personally, I chase "accuracy" - but I can't claim it's achievable - just that some ways of getting there are better than others.

>> Something else that gets up my nose - almost literally! :) - is touch screens and their interraction with AF on a DSLR. Put the cam up to my eye, to use the viewfinder - almost set to fire - my nose touches the screen, and the AF points shift.

This problem is not inherent to touch screen AF. Either you bought a badly designed camera or don't know how to hold it. Or possibly you're deformed - but hopefully not. But sensible touch screen cameras either move the EVF to the side or they have a viewfinder hump that protrudes backwards. I've not had a problem with any of my touch AF camera.

...A badly designed camera is just a badly designed camera. Its problems are due to bad design, not touch AF.

>> can see why the cam manufacturers are flogging the type of AF they incorporate in digi cams, but I don't find it as handy as the split image range finder I was used to with my main analogue 35mm cam.

Really? You never want the focus to be something not exactly in the centre of the screen? (Focus and recompose is *not* a good answer here - google for the reason why.)

>> When you NEED AF, because the subject is moving,

No, moving subjects are not the only time you need AF. If you have to nail focus on a succession of still subjects quickly - eg if you are event shooting - then AF is a huge benefit. And otoh if something is moving, you can pre-focus.

>> Colour is a matter of taste - ie, personal choice

Not really. If one camera reproduces a colour card better under a variety of lighting, it's a better camera. Tweaking colour to match your taste is something you should do in post or using in-camera film sims. Perfect accuracy may not be achievable, but excellent performance is - and Fuji AWB is outstanding. This may not matter to you, but an event shooter with hundreds of images to complete may cry with joy.

jean pierre (pete) guaron's picture

Unfortunately for that line of thinking, opinions are an oddity - they can either agree or disagree, but they are inherently devoid of any validity - of any ability to be either right or wrong. You are entitled to yours, but so am I entitled to mine. And I also don't make rude remarks about other people's noses, when I send contributions to groups like this.
Don't bother retaliating - I won't be reading any further reply from you anyway.

You seem to have a problem with the fact that there is an objective reality. Once again, ***accurate colour reproduction is measurable***. If one camera measures as significantly more accurate than another, which is equal in every other way, then it is better.

And even if you prefer a heavily manipulated tonality, this is better done in post than via a biased camera sensor.

Again, this may not matter to you - but to most people who are serious about their work, it does. And to event shooters with hundreds of images to get out, the better colour accuracy in difficult lighting is a huge bonus.

>> You are entitled to yours, but so am I entitled to mine.

Yes, but yours don't make any objective sense.

>> And I also don't make rude remarks about other people's noses,

Well, I suppose if you can't have a sense of humour, that's the next best thing...

E Port's picture

I shoot with both. DSLR for the 'HDR' viewfinder, as the eye (optical viewfinder) can see a much greater dynamic range than what a sensor interprets. I bracket everything (architecture) and hand blend exposures to recover the detail. With video it makes a lot more sense to use mirrorless - no point in seeing what you can't recover.

Jacques Cornell's picture

My EVFs let me see things in the dark that would just be muddy blobs through an OVF.

E Port's picture

Glad you've discovered an advantage of using an EVF. My post is not meant to say they have none. I'm simply pointing out an incredibly underappreciated advantage they have in normal lighting situations.

I think you mean disadvantage.

However, there is a nifty trick you use with a mirrorless, which is to take your eye away from the viewfinder and look at the scene directly. That way you can compare the "HDR" view with exposure your settings will produce. Or you can shoot with a XPro2, which will toggle between OVF and EVF.

E Port's picture

Thanks for the tip on the XPro2, sadly it's not full frame and I only use tilt-shift glass.

ofcourse the fuji 56 @ 1.2 is going to hit focus more than canon 85 @ 1.2, because of crop factor it behaves more like an 1.8 lens so its in unfair comparison. also, get reikan focal pro, it takes the guesswork out of focus calibration.
mirrorless cameras have all sorts of things going for them but autofocus isnt one of them.

You are deluding yourself if you think that the Fuji's AF isn't inherently more accurate - or at least more robustly so. On-sensor focus simply avoids the two major accuracy problems of DSLR focus systems.

(You are also assuming that he shoots each lens wide open all the time instead of matching dof. And for that matter sharpness - the Fuji is VERY sharp at f1.2.)

Wouldn't it just be simpler to buy a GOOD mirrorless camera with faster AF? The XT2 is hugely faster focusing than the XT1. Or there's the A6500.