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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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.