I’ve written pretty extensively on the merits of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. In the early days, these cameras were good for saving space, but lacked the performance and image quality of a DSLR, which limited their usefulness to professional photographers. That’s not as big of a problem anymore, however, with technologies like Panasonic’s Depth from Defocus AF system and Fuji’s excellent X-Trans sensors. In fact, there are so many great mirrorless cameras available today that it has never been easier to make the switch from a DSLR.
So why am I still shooting a massive Nikon D4 whenever I have a paid gig?
The short answer may simply be familiarity; I grew up with SLRs. They were the cameras taught in school. But that’s not all it is. On a recent second-shooting job covering a corporate event in Las Vegas, I found myself lugging around a D4, 24-70mm f/2.8, and 70-200mm f/2.8 for twelve hours a day, three days straight. It was exhausting. My hands, shoulders, neck, and back ached constantly after the first day. My feet hurt so bad by the end of the second day that I actually went out and bought a new pair of shoes (which, to clarify, was the fault of my shoes, not the camera, but still). In short, I had plenty to complain about, and yet, I wouldn’t have chosen any other camera for the job.
A pro-level DSLR, like the D4, gives me one thing that mirrorless cameras simply don’t, and it’s not something that shows up on a spec sheet: confidence. The weight of the body and lens in my hands is tiring, yes, but it is also reassuring. That camera would go through hell and back to get the shot. I trust it to endure everything I have to endure, plus more (and it won’t complain half as much as I do). This trust of the equipment is, again, based somewhat on experience and familiarity, but it’s also based on some facts that I simply can’t ignore for this type of photo shoot: high ISO sensitivity, good autofocus performance in low light, and perhaps most importantly, all-day battery life.
You can get one, maybe two, of these features in a mirrorless camera, but you can’t get all three—not yet. The Sony A7s has the ISO sensitivity to match the D4, but the autofocus and battery life pale in comparison. Panasonic’s GH4 has great AF speed (at least in decent light), but that Micro 4/3 sensor won’t handle ISO 12,800 like the D4 will. Given that I needed to shoot thousands of pictures a day, many of them in a dimly-lit theater, a full-frame DSLR was the only thing that gave me the confidence to get the job done well.
All of this still hasn’t changed my mind on mirrorless cameras being the future of photography. In fact, I’m at somewhat of a crossroads right now as there are two cameras I would consider purchasing for myself: the Fuji X-T1 and the Nikon D750. I like them both equally, and actually for many of the same reasons, but they each have advantages over the other that make it difficult to choose just one. I never thought I’d go back to owning a DSLR, but that D750 really impressed me, so now I’m torn. Mirrorless cameras make a lot of sense for personal use, but I’m still not willing to trust one with a big job (at least not for still photography—the Panasonic GH4 will beat just about any DSLR for video). One day I might get there, as many photographers have, but for right now, and at least for the immediate future, I know that I won’t be heading into a job without a trusty DSLR at my side, even if it’s a rental, and not one I call my own.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Pro Photo Supply, which strongly encourages you to buy both a DSLR and a mirrorless camera. 😉