Would I Go Mirrorless? Should I Go Mirrorless?

This is something I’ve been considering for quite a while. After all, I’ve heard reports of photographers, who shot with Nikon all their lives, making the switch to Sony. Sony has truly seized an opportunity with it’s full frame mirrorless offerings, and that’s good for them. Although stories of the demise of Nikon and Canon are a bit over hyped and exaggerated because photography is much more than the technology we use. Believe it or not, photographers 50 years ago we able to create some awesome photographs with, what we would consider, antique equipment. Photography is about more than the technology you use.

Just because a company develops better technology, doesn’t mean it’s worth switching to their system. A camera body with newer tech is pretty much at the bottom of the list of reasons why a professional photographer chooses to buy into a company’s system. Photographers choose Nikon or Canon because of their commitment to photographers, their customer service and support, because of the quality and variety of lenses and other system components available, and because of their commitment to their system. Camera bodies come and go, and new technology changes, and that’s not what attracts serious photographers.

I love photography for many reasons – part of the reason I shoot film is to have a break from the fast paced digital work, and focus on photography’s artistic elements. I’m not so much interested in mirrorless for artistic reasons – but I am interested in the technology, for how it is changing, and for testing how well it works. I am, among other things, an art history enthusiast. I love learning about, and studying the history of art. Specifically photography because I’ve seen it change dramatically in my lifetime. I also work in the technology field, so I love to experience how we use technology to solve problems, and make our lives, and jobs, easier/better. Photography is just one area where I love to see how the digital age is changing the art – but I like to teach people, especially kids, that have never seen or experienced film, or older cameras and techniques, how to keep some of the artistic elements of photography alive. It’s about understanding how to do things, like focusing or setting exposure, manually. I like to think about what I’m actually doing when I capture images – whether on a sensor, or on film – and I like to share that experience with others. And, by the way, learning to set exposure and focus manually are good skills to at least understand. Contrary to what people think, technology doesn’t always work – it is getting pretty good though.

Now, all that being said, there are some very compelling features of mirrorless cameras. And, I should say, I think mirrorless will do to the DSLR what digital did to film. The DSLR will eventually be an antique. I’m not quite ready to give up my DSLRs, but then again, I’m not ready to give up my Nikon F2 (or my Canon 5D Mark IV). I’m a collector, and I’ll probably always have a DSLR in my collection of camera equipment, right next to a Brownie box camera.

One of the things that interests me most about mirrorless is that it eliminates the mirror (thus the name) in our current DSLRs. The image is previewed, focused, and captured directly from the sensor – allowing the user to see exactly what the image will look like before the photo is taken. One thing that this impacts greatly is focus. Being a sports photographer, I’m always looking to produce sharp images. With a DSLR, the mirror box is a very precise mechanical part of the camera that can be problematic. When you focus a DSLR, you use the mirror to view the image through the lens and projected onto a focusing screen. When you take a photo, the mirror moves up, and the sensor, or film can be exposed to the image. Because of the mechanical nature of the mirror, sharp focus is dependent upon the distance from the back of the lens to the focusing screen being exactly the same as the distance from the back of the lens to the focal plane – where the film or sensor exists. Tiny changes to the mirror box mechanism can make the slightest focus inconsistency. This potential issue is completely eliminated in mirrorless cameras – because they are mirrorless. You use the same surface (the sensor) to focus and capture your image. Ken Rockwell has a great review of the new Canon mirrorless camera (Canon R) where he talks about this very issue/feature.

Just to satisfy my curiosity, I will get a Canon R to test with all my EF lenses – and determine how well it works – and to compare things like focus to my existing DSLR cameras.

Update: I received my Canon EOS R yesterday, and used it to take some photos last night in San Antonio.

The image at the top of this post is a photo of Dr. Jordan Peterson and Dave Rubin at a talk Dr. Peterson gave in San Antonio. I was very impressed with both the exposure, and the low light focusing abilities of the EOS R. This image is cropped slightly, and was shot at ISO 1600, 1/250 sec., f/3.5 with a Canon 50mm f1.2 lens.

I will take some other photos soon, and share them in an upcoming post.