Mirrorless vs DSLR Revisited:  Would a DSLR pro photographer *Really* shoot with a mirror less camera?? The answer is:  YES!

About 18 months ago I made a video and posted on HybridPhoto.Pro and You Tube that posed that very question.  At the time, I was fairly new to the whole mirror less camera world, and the mirror less camera was pretty new to the world of photography (relatively speaking).  The video was not conclusive — I was still unsure if I could make the move full-time —  at the time I was still testing the GH3 and seeing if it was a real fit for me.

This has been a post that has been over two years in the making — from that time I first saw a mirror less camera (and that was a Samsung NX20).

Since that time (and especially recently), my photographic world has been turned on it’s proverbial head as I have tried, bought, sold, rented, borrowed and tested a variety of systems.  

With the goal in mind:  getting a smaller and lighter form factor camera system that doesn’t ask me to compromise function over form, still giving me a look that I love and makes me stand out.  AND it has to be great for video and easy to use for video.  

That’s a pretty tall order and for the first couple of years I was always excited about the possibilities that each pending new release would offer, but then once I had the camera in my hand, I would be disappointed and a little discouraged.  Close, but not quite there yet.  

Until the other day.

The two years of growth through trial and error I believe I have found a system that is going to take me forward with my photography and my business.

Here’s the Cliff Notes version of the conclusion:

I’ve selected the Sony mirror less system and specifically the a6000 and the a7 series of cameras for my professional work

Whew, what a relief and I hope that the more detailed writing below will help any of you out there reading this who are going through the same situation:  you just want to scale down without compromising image quality, speed and handling — and you want great video that doesn’t take a DP and a focus-puller to use.  I had almost given up hope, but then along came a surprising and surprisingly inexpensive camera — the a6000.

A side note and a disclaimer:  ALL of the cameras out there in the market are capable of doing fantastic work — the digital cameras on the market today simply spoil us for choice.  It’s all about which one of them will do the job for YOU and YOUR needs.   The choice I have made is based on my needs and is my opinion and these aren’t necessarily complaints about the other systems, just pointing out why they weren’t a fit for me.  

Your needs and mileage may vary.

The Criteria

1)  Video is the future. The camera has to have great video with the ability to manually control it with full HD at 60p. And it has to be quick and easy to operate and allow me to shoot video like I shoot stills — by looking through the viewfinder.  I also don’t assume that having video on the camera makes me a cinematographer, but having a camera that allows for easier video (than a rigged out DSLR) makes me really want to do more of it.

If the rising stats about youtube and the growth as both a video player AND search engine won’t convince then you just notice the habits of your young children.  

I know mine are seated 20 feet from me as I write this and what are they doing?  They’re watching a cartoon (video) on the iPad as they have lunch.  I notice that everything the children of today do — it all revolves around images that move :  from youtube training, to movies, to mine craft — everything involves motion.

I also look at my own habits.  

I watch a video to learn something and prefer it to reading a book (or reading a long blog post — ahem — to learn).  It grabs it compels and it teaches.  And, from a business standpoint, it converts browsers to buyers and builds a sense getting to know the person in the video.  Is it any surprise that the most popular figures in our world today are movie and TV stars and political figures that are prominent on television?  BTW I’ll be doing a video to accompany this — I finally “got it”

I want to shoot professional quality video with minimal support tools and I also want to be able to shoot video while still shooting like a still photographer.  I think the Sony will best allow me to do both without getting into excessive rigging or huge production values needed when working with DSLRs and bigger cinema rigs.  

I see this type of system will allow for a true hybrid type of storyteller — similar to what Dirck Halstead had in mind when he was talking about the Platypus back in the mid 90s — stills with video and audio.  

When the Canon brought the world the 5dm2 in 2008 it was a truly revolutionary camera in that regard and set in motion (so to speak) the future direction of photography.

The above video was shot with the a6000, a lavalier microphone into a Zoom H1 and the 70-200 f4 on a tripod.  The Sony AF worked great staying on my face for the video.

Choices based on this criteria:  Sony and Lumix

2) I want AND NEED a small form factor camera and lens system.

After 30+ years of carrying SLR and DSLR cameras, I am feeling it — especially when covering a marathon event like a wedding.   But also for the day to day work both personally and professionally where the small camera makes it easier to bring along and less intimidating to subjects.

After an 8-12 hour day shooting a wedding with DSLRs and large fast zooms and primes,  I feel like I have been put through a meat grinder.  Working this way, I know how I will be feeling after the wedding — kind of like knowing you’re going to be a bit sore and stiff after running a marathon.  With a smaller profile rig, I look more forward to a wedding because I know I won’t need my own personal chiropractor.

I want to avoid any type of shoulder or neck surgery which is very common for photographers who have carried heavy cameras and lenses for several decades.  There is a price to the body over time and I am trying to be kind to my body.   My goal is to come home from an 8-10 hour day and feeling excited and relatively fresh contrasted to coming back from a long day feeling I need a good soak in the bath and a massage on Sunday.

Choices based on this criteria:  All the major mirror less camera companies:  Sony, Lumix, Fuji, Olympus

3) Stills have to be GREAT with few if any compromises. The camera has to focus and fire on moving subjects with AF that matches or EXCEEDS what I’m currently using (5dm2).  Print quality has to look great for large wall portraits.

Sony A6000 with 70-200 G OSS FE

This portrait of Ben climbing a tree was made the same afternoon that I received the Sony a6000 with 70-200 f4 G OSS FE from lensrentals.com.  I wanted to try the camera and lens combination before making any decisions.  The camera worked like a champ finding Ben’s face and locking on focus with the zoom. 

What impressed me even more than it’s tiny size (even smaller than the Fuji X-E1) was when I fired the HS shutter was that the camera took off like a tiny rocket.  11 FPS??? Are you kidding me Sony?  

It fires super fast, but just how accurate is the focus?  That’s the ultimate goal because if it can’t track quickly and easily and NAIL focus then what good is it??

Oh my. And nail focus it does.  So much so and so quickly and with amazing accuracy that I still am shaking my head even after using this camera for the week and still smiling when I put that little tiny camera in my hands to shoot.

Simply put:  I have not had a camera in my hands in my over 30 years of professional photography that works so incredibly well in all areas of size, focus, speed, accuracy and tracking with longer lenses.

I bring the camera to my eye, the focus immediately tracks and finds a face if present using wide area focus points with face detection enabled — no more joy stick to move the focus point on the subject (and being limited in their placement as is the case in DSLRs) and no more center focus point focus and recompose — HALLALUJAH!!!  It changed what I considered “necessary” for a pro-level camera.

For example, if I can be in Shutter or Aperture Priority, have auto-ISO set and ride the exposure compensation on the upper control dial as needed with a small histogram in the lower right corner of the screen, all the while seeing how my image looks right on the screen in real time (with preview settings on).  Everything is at my eye and easily found while still looking through the camera.

This was the camera I have been looking for since I picked up a camera in 1972 and didn’t even know it. 

And, the images out of the camera have to hold up on screen as well as print, and that they do.  Selling large 20 x 30, 30 x 45 and larger prints is not a problem and the color, sharpness and quality from this $650 body holds up to my more expensive and significantly larger DSLR cameras.  It’s there.

Sony has done something for me that I couldn’t even imagine because I was so trapped and locked into my 35mm DSLR paradigm.  

They’ve somehow taken a 1D or D4 series camera and crammed it into the tiny form factor like a Leica. 

Sony A6000 with 70-200 G OSS FE

My neighbor Derek was kind enough to help me test the camera and rode his mountain bike right at me at a reasonable pace (not too fast, not too slow).  These were the 23 images that were captured by the camera (Raw + jpeg mode) and the camera nailed 21 of the images and the other two are useable).  What was especially impressive was how the camera followed and focused on Derek as he went off center.

All the while allowing me to attach telephoto lenses that track focus of kids running straight at me, bikers coming head on and away from the center of a frame and allowed me to find and track birds in flight.  This level of focus point was missing on any mirror less camera I had used previously (I have not tried the GH4 though by all accounts it’s focus tracking is very very good as well).

This is the type of fast action performance in stills that I had only hoped for and it’s actually better — much better than the DSLR that I am currently using in my opinion.  

And the fact that is $650 for the body versus $3500 5dm3 or around $5K of a Canon 1dx in a body that is a fraction of the size of the larger DSLRs is even more shocking.

In my own opinion and experience, I have not had a camera — ANY CAMERA —  in my hands with this level of speed and focus precision since using a Canon 1 series DSLR.  

Sony A6000 with 70-200 G OSS FE

On day two of using the camera, I was at the beach and decided to see how quickly the camera would track and fire on a bird flying overhead.  Seeing a gull, I turned and shot these 8 frames with the High Speed mode and the 3 marked with the fuschia color tag are tack sharp and the other five were useable.  Were I to manually focus, I don’t think I would have gotten this many sharp (maybe one?) and the speed of the motor allowed me to get these eight frames fired.

Patrick Murphy-Racey, I’m going to publicly acknowledge you:  YES, YOU WERE RIGHT.  This camera is everything and more that you said it was and NOW I KNOW why you love it so much (doubting Thomas that I was).

Choice based on this criteria:  Sony


4. I Want One System, Not Two (or more)

I want to standardize on a system that will allow me to use one mount, native lenses (nas much as possible), and the same batteries.  

I just don’t want to carry one system for video and another for shooting stills.  And, if I kept my Canons and Fujis, that would mean three systems (unless I standardize on video with Canon, but I just don’t want to shoot video with a DSLR).

Right now pretty much any digital camera on the marketplace will provide amazing quality and we’re spoiled for choice. But some systems do better, in my opinion, in other arenas than do others.  Some have camera design and a feel that appeals to others on other levels.  There are so many choices for amazing cameras. 

Since those are the four requirements for me. Let’s look at the cameras that are currently out there and see what I used to make my decision.

Choice based on this criteria:  Sony

In my next blog post, I’ll post why I selected Sony over the others

Thanks for visiting!