Ending Mirrorless Myths

 The Sony a7R Mark II.  Super high resolution, full frame sensor, good speed and works in low light

The Sony a7R Mark II.  Super high resolution, full frame sensor, good speed and works in low light

I recently wrote an article for a local camera store about blowing apart myths around mirrorless and it generated a lot of comments.  So I decided to include the longer, perhaps less politically correct version here for reader interest and feedback.

Time to Stop the Myths About Mirrorless

Do you know which is the fastest growing space in dedicated cameras these days?  As you’ve likely guessed it’s mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras.  In fact outside of North America, mirrorless is killing it, we appear to be more conservative here, and part of that may be the number of completely invalid ideas about mirrorless.  Time for an episode of Mythbusters, The Photo Video Guy style.

Mirrorless sensors are not as good as the sensors in a DSLR and are all small

I wanted to get this bunk off the table first, because it is complete BS.  In fact many mirrorless cameras have higher resolution sensors with superior dynamic range to those found in DSLRs.  The majority are in the popular APS-C and Full Frame sizes, but also include the innovative and very high quality micro four thirds size.  Point of fact is that if you look really closely you may ind the same sensor in one maker's mirrorless and another maker's DSLR.  A sensor does not need to be different to be used in a mirrorless body or a DSLR.

 Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II mirrorless body with Micro 4/3 sensor

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II mirrorless body with Micro 4/3 sensor

There aren’t enough lenses for mirrorless

Not so.  How many lenses were you looking for?  More than a dozen?  Six?  How many?  Ultra wides?  Check.  Fisheyes?  Check.  Macro?  Check.  Wide zoom?  Check.  Telephoto?  Check.  Telephoto zoom?  Check?  Super fast primes?  Check.  They are all available.  Not just slower kit lenses either but also fast pro grade glass.  Noted eagle photographer Scott Bourne switched from his proven Canon 600/4 and 1Dx to an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and the Olympus 300/4.  Same look and feel.  Same great prints.  And sufficient weight loss that he can still shoot despite a debilitated shoulder from hauling around heavy gear for decades.  Looking at studies of what focal lengths average photographers use, every range and lens speed is covered by what’s in market today.  We are also seeing new announcements from the OEMs and the third party every month or so.  An exploding marketplace means a significant focus by makers on lenses to fit the space.

 Some of the mirrorless lenses available today from Olympus

Some of the mirrorless lenses available today from Olympus

Mirrorless images are noisy

Really?  Which ones?  Crank most any camera past ISO6400 and digital noise is going to show up.  Shoot a great image and you know who notices noise?  No one other than a pixel peeping photographer.  If you want to know what noise really looks like ask an older photographer for a 4x6 shot on Kodacolor 1000.  That’s noise.  Actually it’s grain but you get the point.  If you notice the noise, the photo is boring.  As the great Rick Sammon is known to say, "if all you see is the noise, it's a bad photograph".   Dorothea Lange's incredible image "Migrant Mother" is full of grain, the chemical equivalent of digital noise, and no one cares because it's a brilliant photo.  I've shot at ISO 25600 on mirrorless and no one noticed or cared, so long as the photo was interesting.  

 No noise here.  Shot at medium high ISO on a Fujifilm X-T2 which uses an APS-C sized sensor

No noise here.  Shot at medium high ISO on a Fujifilm X-T2 which uses an APS-C sized sensor

Mirrorless cameras are hard to use

Today’s mirrorless cameras are no harder to use than any other digital cameras.  They have different layouts depending on the manufacturer, but everything available today has a very high level of usability, you just need to find the body that best fits your hands and needs.  You will love the layout on some, and hate it on others.  Just like on a DSLR.  

At the core though, there will be a power switch, mode controls, settings dials or wheels and a shutter release.  Sound familiar?  It should because that's just like a DSLR.

 So easy to use, you may never crack the manual.  Fujifilm's X100F, one of my favourite pocket cameras ever

So easy to use, you may never crack the manual.  Fujifilm's X100F, one of my favourite pocket cameras ever

I need a viewfinder not just an LCD

Fair enough.  Me too.  I am much happier with a viewfinder, although I do like that most mirrorless have a tilting LCD for Live View when shooting from low or high angles.  The big difference is that mirrorless viewfinders are like small TV screens because there is no optical path in a mirrorless camera that goes to the eye.  Is this a big deal?  No, it’s not.  Using an electronic viewfinder is a good experience and on some cameras, it can even show you exposure simulation so you will see what the image will look like before you press the button and even show the effects of picture styles and exposure compensation.

There once was a time when electronic viewfinders were a challenge in low light or in the studio where the only illumination would come from a strobe at time of firing.  Those issues have been solved for a while, and some users actually find the EVF easier to see than an optical viewfinder.

The current crop of LCDs are way better across the board than older ones.  We see better glare control, higher resolution and faster response.  This is true regardless of whether the LCD is on a mirrorless camera or a DSLR.

 Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III with both EVF and tilting LCD

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III with both EVF and tilting LCD

A mirrorless camera looks like a toy, real pros don’t use mirrorless

Frankly if you are spending a lot of time worrying about what people think of you when they see you with your camera, you’ve got a whole different set of issues.  Like worrying about pointless crap.  Lots of pros shoot mirrorless.  You can find them on the sites of many mirrorless makers. In any case, it really doesn’t matter, because you’re the one making your images, not someone else.  I promise that buying a Nikon D5 will no more make you Joe McNally than buying an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II will make you Scott Bourne.  

I continue to hear about photographers afraid to show up for a professional gig with a mirrorless when Uncle Bob is likely to show up with $20K worth of kit, and their clients thinking that they are less pro.  Photographs are made in the mind of the photographer, not in the camera.  This sentiment is exactly the same as telling a successful brain surgeon that he or she must have a really good scalpel.  Serious photographers use their images, not their gear to win and keep clients.  I have a friend, who is an extremely.

It's the quality of your work, not the gear and certainly not what you look like holding the camera that matters.  To think otherwise, frankly, qualifies for the "Shallow and One Dimensional" Badge of Foolishness.

 Sony's a9 is a professional grade camera body.  No question at all.  Note the full frame sensor

Sony's a9 is a professional grade camera body.  No question at all.  Note the full frame sensor

Mirrorless cameras are cheap

A good camera is a good camera.  The first mirrorless cameras were inexpensive, but not more inexpensive than entry level DSLRs that they were designed to compete with.  A top line mirrorless costs about the same as a top line DSLR.  Don’t assume that the absence of the mirror makes the camera less valuable. 

Serious mirrorless cameras will cost as much as, and sometimes more than a feature equivalent DSLR.

Moreover, just as with DSLRs, entry level units will have more plastics than metal and as the price goes up, so will the quality of the construction.  This is plainly a general statement, so consider the importance of durability in making your own purchase decision.

You have to spend too much time in the menu system

Clearly this statement comes from some folks who have never picked up a modern mirrorless which typically has more customizable buttons and functions than a comparable DSLR.  Different layouts?  Yes.  Deprecated functionality?  No.  That said, some manufacturer's menus are horribly designed, but that has nothing to do with whether the camera is mirrorless or not and more to do with the manufacturer's skill at user interface design and the level of importance that they place on user experience.  Suffice to say that all menu systems have lots of opportunity for improvement.

Mirrorless cameras have terrible battery life

This was once very true but is changing all the time.  Smaller bodies have less space for a battery, and a camera with no optical viewfinder has to replace it with something electronic, which consumes power.  Recent releases have significantly improved battery life, albeit at the cost of an increase in physical size and weight of the battery.  I recommend the same for mirrorless as I do for DSLRs.  Know your anticipated shooting volume and carry one more battery than you think that you will need.  Some cameras can only charge the battery when in the camera,  In this situation buy yourself a dedicated charger because while charging in camera might have some conveniences, such as topping up in the car via USB between locations, in general it's slow and massively inconvenient.

Mirrorless cameras are bad for video

Sadly, most still camera owners never use the built in video, but it is factually true that today’s mirrorless cameras kick mirrored cameras to the curb when it comes to video capability.  4K is readily found in mirrorless, rarely in a DSLR and nearly never with the same bandwidth and framerate support.  You also won't find wide LUT support in a DSLR, autofocus in video will be a joke on a DSLR excepting Canon's awesome Dual Pixel AF and the ability to output full clean 4K out the HDMI port is more uncommon on a DSLR than it should be.

 Panasonic Lumix GH-5 shoots 4k 10 Bit 4:2:2 video internally

Panasonic Lumix GH-5 shoots 4k 10 Bit 4:2:2 video internally

Mirrorless doesn’t hold its value for resale

This is another untruth.  Mirrorless makers tend to update their models more often in some cases, but that does not mean that used mirrorless is a loss game.  Check pricing and you’ll see straight away that a good used mirrorless is the same price as a good used DSLR with the same level of functionality.

You cannot use mirrorless in the studio

According to who?  Some people have said that in dark places they cannot see anything on the LCD or in the EVF.  Remember exposure simulation?  Turn it off, and surprise it’s actually easier to see in darker places than with some optical viewfinders.  We’re also seeing big studio strobes not only working as general flashes for mirrorless but also seeing full TTL integration with mirrorless bodies.  Not only can I use my Profoto B1, B2 and D2 strobes in TTL with Canon and Nikon, I can also use them in TTL plus manual and HSS with Olympus and Sony.  I just use the matching AirRemoteTTL controller.  It's not just Profoto either.  There are other makes that extend the functionality of mirrorless as deeply into the studio as a DSLR can go.

 Profoto's Air-TTL Remote for Sony.  No issues for TTL or Manual in the Studio

Profoto's Air-TTL Remote for Sony.  No issues for TTL or Manual in the Studio

Busted, as Promised

Ok, the myths are just that.  But if the big camera players are Canon and Nikon, where are their mirrorless offerings?  Both Canon and Nikon have had mirrorless for years, unfortunately none of them sold well, mostly because they could not use the native lenses without adapters or at all.  Since folks were having to buy new glass anyway, they looked at the feature for value matrices and went for the new players.  Today, you can get outstanding mirrorless cameras from Sony, Fujifilm, Olympus and Panasonic.  They all have a wide range of glass available.  Choice is a good thing, and perhaps at some point we will see Canon and Nikon get in the game seriously with bodies that can use their DSLR lenses directly.  By the way, I have shot multiple cameras and lenses from every maker, and while I liked some more than others for my use cases, I have yet to find a bad mirrorless camera.  Just like DSLRs.

When the time comes to look for a new camera, don’t be afraid to look into mirrorless.  They are often smaller in the body, lighter in weight and deliver at least as good if not better images than a comparably priced DSLR. 

What do you think?  What would prevent you from choosing a mirrorless these days, given that these myths are just that?  Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

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