JoziFolk - images of everyday life in South Africa


Should you dump your DSLR and switch to a mirrorless system? 


Seascape by Ian McLaren

Seascape shot on Fuji XE-1 mirrorless camera by Ian McLaren

Can you dump your DSLR system and replace it with a mirrorless camera setup? Should you?

It's a question I've increasingly asked myself, as I come to grips with and grow increasingly fond of a Fuji X100 lent to me. But why would I even consider abandoning a system I built up over may years that has never let me down and produced countless images for satisfied clients?

In a nutshell, to simplify my life. Somehow, accumulating, more lenses, newer cameras, fancy flash units and all the bags that go with dragging them around, has lessened the joy I once experienced in photography.

Many years ago, working as a photojournalist on the Sunday Times, I lucked into a great deal on a 50s-era Leica M3 fitted with a 50mm Canon lens. It had no built-in lightmeter, no electronics and a flash-sync shutter speed that was a miserable 1/30th of a second. I could not afford to buy any other lenses and, when viewed against my battery of Nikons and an arsenal of lenses, seemed hopelessly inadequate.

I figured I'd try it for a week or two, decide it didn't work for me, and sell it at a profit. But I got great images with it and found I was not hamstrung at all. If I needed a wider angle than the standard 50mm view, I simply moved back. Tighter and I moved closer. The poor flash-sync speed turned out to be no handicap because the camera had no mirror to flap about and, as a result, sharp images could be shot, hand-held, without a flash, at as low as 1/8th of a second.

It was small and light enough to always be with me and, because I only had one lens, I was free to just get on with the job and not second-guess myself.

There was nothing to get in the way of the shot.

I had to sell the Leica during one of my periods of poverty. I got three times the price I paid but still regret parting with it!

No faffing about

I want to return to those days, where the camera is small and svelte and always with me. Where there is no faffing about when taking the picture.

And so I'm contemplating the viability of going completely mirrorless.

But there a couple of things that make me hesitate. Rightly or wrongly, I've always believed, you need a BIG camera to be taken seriously. This is one of the (many) reasons I prefer to photograph weddings on film. Haul out a Mamiya RB67 the size of a loaf of bread and back it up with two Nikon F3s fitted with six-frames-per-second MD1 motordrives and battery packs and Uncle Bob, with his latest and greatest DSLR that is the envy of his camera club mates, keeps his mouth firmly shot.

Will people take me seriously with a mirrorless camera that looks like an old-fashioned, amateur point-and-shoot?

Fact is, working on the streets, where people have no idea if I am who I say I am, no-one seems to care. The smaller camera has probably worked in my favour, as it appears far less intimidating that the Nikon and subjects seem more relaxed.

Another concern was quality. Surely something so small could not hang with the "big boys".

Image quality

I need not have worried. The image quality produced by the latest crop of mirrorless cameras is nothing short of astounding, as evidenced by the two photos in this article.

Both were shot by Ian McLaren using a Fuji XE-1. If you are still not convinced, take a look at the work done by Neill Sobel and the other photographers mentioned in this article.

It would appear I am not the only photographer considering this route. In an article titled: At Work With the Fuji X-Pro1, Professional photographer, Ed Jones, writes:

"So last week, I sold all of my DSLR gear. I'm an all or nothing kind of person, and I love the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 so much that I wanted to shoot with nothing else. 

"I needn't have stressed, the Fujifilm X-Pro1, with the spectacular XF14 f/2.8 and stunning XF35 f/1.4 did a fantastic job. Having now performed with no safety net, I am more confident than ever in this gear!"

Travel photographer, Trey Ratcliff who, if you add up G+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, has over 11 million followers, has switched completely to Sony mirrorless cameras.

Writing on his website, he says:

"Yes, the NEX-7 is the best for my kind of photography. I’m using it exclusively now and will be in the immediate future, until something better comes along.

"Is the Sony NEX-7 WAY better than the my previous camera, the Nikon D800? No. Is it better enough to switch? Definitely."

 According to Ratcliff the advantages the Sony Nex system has over Nikon systems are:

  • The onboard focus systems. because it is a mirrorless system you get to see exactly what appears on the sensor.
  • The onboard Manual Focus system. The scene in the viewfinder is the scene at 100% and, with Focus Peaking turned on, where a “green” (or any colour) outline of exactly what is in focus, the shot is guaranteed sharp.
  • The size and weight. 6x smaller than a D800, 9x smaller than a Nikon D4
  • Cheaper. Eight times cheaper than a D4
  • Movable LCD

If you wish to see examples of Trey's work with the Sony NEX-7 be sure to check out his website.

I'm still in the contemplation phase but must admit I'm leaning towards making the switch. So many cameras to research!

Seascape by Ian McLaren

Image: Ian McLaren

Visit his Facebook page