Why I switched to mirrorless from a DSLR: A year in review with the Sony mirrorless system | Grace Elizabeth, Colchester, Essex Alternative Wedding Photographer
Ah the popular debate at the moment amongst photographers... Should I switch to the mirrorless system?
I for one, can right away say that mirrorless cameras have changed my life and career as a photographer.
I am in a few photography forums and just recently (more so than ever) I have seen this question being asked time and time again, and quite rightly too! The most common query I see is that they are considering getting rid of their DSLR's to move over to the mirrorless system, but don't know whether they're any good. I usually write very lengthy replies to people about why I love my Sony A7rii's and the mirrorless camera systems, and then I thought, why not just put all of my thoughts into one concise blog post?! I know they might not be for everyone, and my intention with this post isn't to persuade you one way or another, but I just wanted to share my thoughts! Therefore, be prepared for a long post! If you want, you can get the lowdown in the 'A roundup of reasons' section, below.
My camera journey (2012-2018)
So, let's take a quick look at my camera background. I have had every camera brand going, it seems! At age 10, my dad lent me his old Canon (I think it was a 20D, something like that) and that is where I count my first introduction to photography. Of course, I wasn't using it professionally at this age nor did I know anything about cameras, so my thoughts towards Canon are rather indifferent! I was never a Nikon vs Canon fangirl anyway - they're tools to do a job, and whatever suits you, is fine!
When I became a young teenager, my dad bought me a Canon G12 bridge camera, and it was ALWAYS in my hands. I could control the aperture, shutter speed, and I got to grips with Photoshop, so it was an amazing little decent introduction to photography for me. At 15, my parents could see I was getting into photography (mostly as a way of taking photos to use as references to draw from for my art GCSE) and decided I might benefit from something more, so they bought me my first DSLR: a Pentax K-5. I loved that camera, and was quite happy with it. I have folders and folders of photos of flowers, animals and goodness knows what else with that camera. I documented EVERYTHING!
With my first wedding coming up at age 16 in December of 2012, and having started my first year of college in the September of the same year, where I would be undertaking my A Levels in photography, my dad started telling me a bit more about cameras, and it became apparent that having a full frame DSLR was the way to go... So I ended up with a Nikon D700...
And here, is where my journey with cameras really begun.
I won't make it hidden that I am just 5ft tall, and small in stature. My Nikon DSLR was something I loved to carry around with me: the image quality was BEAUTIFUL, it felt so professional, and, at age 15/16, it was amazing to have the support from my parents in helping me to get the photos I wanted (even if they were all of dogs!) But it was quite cumbersome too, especially when you're little, like me. I loved my D700, and shot my first wedding on it with a 50mm f/1.8 and a 24-120mm f/4 lens, but it was just a little bit too big for me. So, I looked into the newly released Fujifilm X-T1 system and fell in love - but I was 16, with no budget!
My dad actually surprised me with purchasing a Fujifilm X-T1 as an early Christmas present in 2015, and I have to say, I fell a little bit head over heels. The colours were beautiful, it was small enough to carry around, the lenses were so quick, sharp and just generally wonderful (the 56mm 1.2 and 23mm 1.4 were my weapons of choice), the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) was a dream, and really, I can probably say that that is where I began to get my absolute passion for wedding and lifestyle photography. Just a few months later, I saved up my money from my first few shoots, and bought another... It had to be done!
But I didn't have the second camera long until I found out about the Sony mirrorless system... Oh dear, what a money pit this career is! My dad's friend is a fabulous photographer, and, one evening after spending some time with him last April, my dad came home with one of his Sony A7rii's: a full frame mirrorless system. 'What are you doing with that?!' I asked. 'You should give it a go!' he said, 'They're amazing cameras!' - brilliant, I thought, I am sure they are, but I've just spent all of my money on another Fujifilm X-T1 only to probably now fall in love with the Sony A7rii I had been lent! And of course, that's exactly what happened! However, I have no regrets!
After a month of trialling it (something I am extremely grateful for because my dad's friend never lends his equipment out to anyone!) he offered to let me buy that little camera, and he suggested a great price to buy it. I saved up EVERY penny I had and bought it.
So, that was it, job done... Except I didn't have a lens! I was able to borrow my dad's friend's Zeiss Sonnar 35mm 2.8 and shot my first wedding with it (and my Fujifilm's as back up) just a few weeks later... It was life changing. 'You shot an entire wedding with one lens?!' you're thinking? Well, yes, because these cameras are a game changer, and the ability you have to crop in is INCREDIBLE. The Fujifilm X-T1's were sold shortly after, and I have been Sony mirrorless ever since!
So, fast forward to 2018, and I now shoot solely with two Sony A7rii's (my second was purchased earlier this year), a Zeiss 35mm 1.4, Zeiss 85mm 1.8 Batis, and Sony 24-70mm 2.8. My creativity, image quality, and adoration for photography has grown ever since. I would never go back to a DSLR, both for the Sony's technical capabilities, and for the way it has changed my perception towards photography. I can only sing the praises of the mirrorless system I have!
So without further ado, here is a quick summary of why the mirrorless Sony system works well for me (it may not be your weapon of choice, but these are just my thoughts!)
A roundup of reasons!
1. It's Size.
As I mentioned, the Sony mirrorless system is smaller than a DSLR. Okay, as these are full frame cameras, paired with a lens, they become much bigger, but they're still a good size and certainly smaller than a DSLR. If size worries you even more, the Fujifilm system tends to be smaller in lenses as they're APS-C (crop) sensor. Mirrorless are generally lighter, too, which is great if you're carrying them around (I pair both of mine on a fabric harness strap system by Shyzuka Straps.)
2. Image quality
My lord, have they packed some serious sensors into these guys! The A7rii (which I am quite happy with and won't be switching from or upgrading from anytime soon) has 'the world’s first back-illuminated 35mm full-frame CMOS image sensor with 42.4 megapixels.' I know that for some people, there can be too many megapixels, but I honestly adore the quality of the images. A RAW file for me is typically 85mb, and, edited is typically 25mb. This means, should one of my wedding clients want, they could theoretically print their images as big as wallpaper - should anyone want to do that! It also means I have no worries about delivering photos to my clients, suitable for as much personal use as they want!
3. The Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)
At first, admittedly, the Electronic Viewfinder does take some getting used to, but after a short while, it becomes pretty second nature. I love the fact that you can physically see the difference that changing settings will make, and the fact that you can peek through the viewfinder or look at the screen (since with auto eye detect on it can work out where you are - this can also be turned off to save on battery power) which makes shooting a lot easier, especially for me when I have to hold the camera up high to get a shot, for example. I know a lot of people who don't get on with the EVF, but for me it has really been a huge game changer. I loved it with my Fujifilm X-T1 and I love it with my Sony A7rii's. I also think it would be great for those trying to learn how to shoot manually (something I couldn't really do easily on my Fujfilm X-T1 because of the knob placement) as you can directly see the output of the final image from changing settings.
4. Lock on autofocus: Face recognition and eye detection
I have to admit, I only recently discovered the amazing capabilities of the combination of face and eye detection on my A7rii's. For portraits, this is INCREDIBLE. I can literally choose for the camera to lock onto an eye as soon as it sees one, and, even with moving the head around, it still locks on a large majority of the time. This means you can fire away in continuous autofocus mode, knowing that what you've taken will be in focus. This means no more out of focus 'oops I accidentally focused on the hair' shots, and no more 'I totally mis-focused!' issues! I have even got it to work on my dog a couple of times, although their faces are mostly black, which has meant, due to contrast detection, that it hasn't coped so well in this situation (although it's not built for animals of course!)
5. Full manual camera control
With my Fujifilm X-T1's, as I mentioned earlier, the knobs were in such awkward positions that it meant that having full manual control was super difficult - and to be honest, back then I shot aperture priority as a result. Since having my Sony's, manual has been the only way I have shot. I have learned so much more about photography and how to shoot, than I ever did before. I also love the fact that many of the lenses you can get for the Sony mirrorless systems, have aperture control rings on them. These are fabulous if you like the old school style of shooting and changing the aperture directly on the rings, although all too often I found myself knocking these at weddings, so I prefer to choose lenses without them.
I've said it a few times now, but I am small in height and stature. I am discreet as it is when it comes to shooting, and hate shooting with long, telephoto lenses, but mirrorless with small, prime lenses, gives me that extra edge I need. I also only shoot nowadays with prime lenses, not just for their sharp quality, but for the way they have changed how I shoot. I like to get involved with people at weddings, to let them know I am present, so that they're less iffy about 'who is the tiny girl who looks like she's fifteen with the camera?' But, despite being so close to guests and people at shoots, the mirrorless system still allows me to be discreet. The cameras and lenses are small enough to look tiny against Uncle Bob's Canon 5d Mark ii, but with equal to, if not superior, quality.
7. Electronic Shutter
This brings me onto my next point; the electronic shutter. I have to say, this thing has it's pros and cons, but mostly, it's pros. The only time I have had issues with it is when it's used under fluorescent lighting, as banding can occur with incorrect shutter speeds, but generally, it's a fabulous tool! It will turn off the 'mechanical' shutter, therefore making the camera silent - you can enter stealth mode, let me tell you! I use it more often than not when I am photographing children at weddings, who might notice me photographing them and turn away in shyness, or with friends and family who are clearly a bit wary of me photographing them, but who I would love to get natural, candid moments of. Paired with an 85mm 1.8 lens I am pretty much set to go when it comes to candid imagery. It's also great for ceremony's where the registrar may be a little cautious of the continual clicking of your camera, although it is generally quieter than the click made from the mirror flip of a DSLR.
8. Lens quality
I absolutely ADORE my lenses. With Fujifilm, I shot only with prime (non zoom) lenses, and had one wide angle and one portrait lens on each camera. When I switched to Sony, I begrudgingly bought a zoom lens, the 24-70 2.8, as I couldn't afford two primes at the time (hence I now have my 35mm 1.4 and 85mm 1.8) and I have to say, I was shocked. Again I borrowed the 24-70 before committing to it, but it changed my perspective towards zoom lenses because it not only offers so much flexibility but it is SO sharp. I know I can shoot an entire wedding on one if I need to, and it's always in my kit bag.
9. Flash system
I have to say, flash was something I was late to the party with, and it would've been SUCH a minefield to understand had the amazing guys at London Camera Exchange not helped me out! I always struggled with a flash system for my Fujifilms as nothing great existed (especially for high speed sync) so I ended up buying some cheap Yongnuo flashes, which did the job, but only in manual. However, since then, with Sony I have discovered the Hahnel Modus 600RT system and it's amazing!! You can shoot TTL, manual, off camera flash - however you like it, this system does it!
So far, my only negative finding:
1. Battery life
The only negative thing I have found from mirrorless, is batteries! My A7rii's EAT batteries! It's fine, because I have bought multiple ones, but for the features included with the A7rii, it's unsurprising. The EVF, autofocus, wifi capabilities and general shooting mechanisms are what munch through them, but by turning off the wifi (you can enable airplane mode), by switching your EVF to screen or eye only (I still have mine on both but it's usually glued to my face so only operating the viewfinder one) and getting some second brand batteries, you will be fine!
Overall, I really can't fault my mirrorless system, with the Sony A7rii. It works for me, and I shoot weddings and lifestyle as a job, so I have to be sure my equipment is right up to scratch. If you're thinking of making the switch, do pop to your local camera shop and give them a go! You never know how you might get on. :)