Anyone that knows me is aware that I am bothered by the disproportionate amount of attention that camera gear gets versus the “how hard and smart are you willing to work” portion of the discussion.
Camera are mostly light tight boxes with lenses and your gear of choice has little bearing on how good the images are that you are producing or how successful your business is.
All that being said, there have been some advancements that lend themselves to some attention for their ability to do things other cameras can’t.
I wasn’t first on the mirrorless camera bandwagon. I wasn’t even 2nd or 3rd. I rememeber reading a blog post 2 or 3 years ago that said mirrorless cameras would render DSLR’s obsolete, I laughed and figured it was written by someone with a horse in the race.
I had tried mirrorless cameras a few times over the years and kind of hated them. But I kept going back to see what they had improved upon. These are tools of my trade and when the equipment can do something truly different and ground breaking that allows you to work in ways you couldn’t before, it’s worth discussing.
Here are 3 (maybe 4) reasons why I think mirrorless cameras are the future:
1.True Silent Mode:
I was schooled in the newspaper and wire photo business and when you want to be a fly on the wall to capture an image without drawing attention to yourself, being quiet (or silent) is a big advantage. Some of the newer Sony A7 line cameras finally have a true silent mode, which is a huge advantage for many lines of work. I happen to do a lot of documentary photography and work behind the scenes of TV shows. Operating without being noticed or heard is a huge advantage. I have been using a Sony A7s for much of this work and not only are you less noticeable which makes it easier to create more authentic images, but being silent keeps you of the shot list of TV cameramen, film camera operators and audio technicians. The lack of a mirror flapping up and down in your camera is significant in both noise and camera shake. Anyone that has worked on a TV set and has been forced to use a camera blimp for your DSLR knows what I’m talking about. It’s about the worst photo experience ever. Camera blimps suck. They are big and clunky and you have limited access to the camera functions etc. It’s a photo mojo killer and your arms hurt from carrying a cider block size camera for a whole day. Yeah, a silent mode on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III is pretty good, but it’s more of a quiet mode than a silent mode and some audio technicians think that is not enough and demand the blimp. Now you can just get a mirrorless camera with a silent mode and fire away and leave the blimp at home. This is ground breaking for set photographers, documentary photographers and even wedding photographers.
2. Low Light/High ISO
Yes, all cameras manufacturers are making shooting at high ISO more achievable every day, but the mirrorless cameras seem to be leading the pack in quality. Real world shooting at ISO higher than 10,000 for things other than web/digital is happening now. This is a range unheard of previously and the opportunities it presents are wonderful. Shooting images in places where the light is so dark shooting there used to be otherwise impossible. We’ve all seen the 4k videos shot by moon light and the documentary photography in places that only have neon signs. It’s a remarkable change in the way we gather images. In short, this was just not possible previously and will only continue to get better with both mirrorless and cameras with mirrors.
3. Wifi/transmit without a computer
Why this isn’t a feature in every pro camera is beyond me. Truly no reason for a working pro not to have the ability to send our image to a smartphone/app, edit and send. Canon and Nikon are you listening? Sony has a very neat system I used for almost a week, on assignment, that worked nearly flawlessly. For convenience and detail sake, I’ve pasted a blog post I hadn’t published before below that details how I use this professionally.
Here is a breakdown of the A7s and why this camera was such a good fit for me and one job in particular.
Game Changer: Sony A7s
Driving along highway 101 near San Francisco its hard not to see the billboards. One after another, giant photo after giant photo, with a small caption at the bottom.
Shot with iPhone 6.
Many professional photographers, myself included, have a love/hate relationship with camera phones and their place in the photo world. Yes, they are good, but they rarely offer the control over an image than camera systems do .
For me, as a professional photographer, this was a game changer.
Working at big media events and getting images out quickly has always meant either having an editing station close by at all times or a photo editor working exclusively with you to take your cards, edit and send images.
For much of the past decade I have been shooting documentary stories behind the scenes at WWE’s landmark yearly event, Wrestlemania. This year was a little different as it was strictly photo based, with short captions and time codes to accompany the images to be displayed on their web site that would be a running photo journal of the week.
Working with new equipment at a big event is not typical for me. This year in addition to my usual haul of Canon EOS digital cameras and lenses, I brought with me a new Sony A7s camera and 3 Sony/Zeiss lenses. I have been using them for a couple of months, but not in high pressure, time sensitive work environments.
I did this for 2 reasons. The first is that the A7s is considered one of the best (if not THE best) low light cameras on the market and I knew I was going to be shooting in challenging lighting environments. The second is Sony has built in WIFI transmission from the camera to your smart phone or tablet through their Play Memories app and it work easily and beautifully every time.
Wresltemania is the Super Bowl of sports entertainment and this year it was held at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, where the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers play their home games. It’s a cavernous modern day stadium and there is a lot of ground to cover on show day.
For our Wrestlemania Diary, which we have called the project for many years, I was tasked with producing photos of the week that happen behind the scenes. The little things that happen off stage that help tell stories of how the show was produced or an emotional connection that might be part of the story behind the event.
I was shooting all my images to a 64GB Sony SD card as RAW files and then making edits of the one or two frames I liked best from each situation and sending them to my iPhone. The transfers took less than 10 seconds and then I would make conversions to black and white and tone and exposure adjustments with Lightroom mobile. From there I texted each image to a content editor at WWE at the show, but not with me and to a photo editor at wwe.com working back in Stamford, CT. After an image was approved, I emailed a higher resolution file to the photo editor for use in the running gallery.
The entire process from shoot time to sending a finished file was about 90 seconds, with images getting posted to the site very soon after. Some of these images were multi-purposed to WWE’s Instagram and/or twitter feeds as well.
While shooting with Sony’s A7s cameras and lenses took some getting used to, especially with the electronic viewfinder, this was a huge advance is what I can do for my client and how quickly I can provide quality images nearly as fast as someone shooting with a camera phone. You can sing the praises of the latest iPhone and what kind of file it produces, but it doesn’t shoot RAW for future publishing needs and under challenging lighting conditions, shooting with an iPhone can be downright awful.
This technology leveled the playing field for me in a way I didn’t realized existed. Shooting at unthought of high ISO ranges and getting professional quality images that I can send out nearly immediately is something that merges my skills and vision as a professional photographer with quality and speed of Instagram.
I’ve always felt like technology combined with photography has been a mixed blessing. I was not on the bleeding edge of the changeover from film to digital and for many years I resented being a photo industry guinea pig as we all struggled to get the newest digital equipment used to it’s potential.
The cameras and lenses have long produced impressive quality files under challenging and even terrible lighting conditions, but for me there was still a disconnect in work environments that demand ever quicker turn around of quality photography.
I have always had mixed feelings to the “social media producers” that I often see in work environments. I understand their place in the world of modern day marketing but I feel like they mostly sacrifice quality for the sake of immediacy. Images that are supposed to support a brand are posted as quickly as possible without thought to whether it supports the brands visual mission and consistency.
Ok, I’ll admit it. I used to like big cameras, especially when I was first starting out. It made me feel important. Boy has my philosophy on this changed. Mirrorless cameras weigh MUCH less. Is that ever a disadvantage? I’d say no, but this is just my opinion. I suppose some people still might think that a big camera makes a big impression and can create some kind of aura around you. I prefer to do this with confidence and great images, not gear. Yes, the mirrorless cameras do look like toys sometimes, but they are big on performance. Anyone that has carried cameras around all day long for one or several days knows that physically it can be draining. Small gear=less strain on your body. Short and simple. I find no real downside on the size of the gear.
Here are some notable exceptions and considerations to my mirrorless/mirrored debate:
- Viewfinder: Getting used to a electronic viewfinder is a huge adjustment from an optical viewfinder in a DSLR. There is not getting around it. It’s a tough adjustment and it takes time. I’m not going to sugar coat it. It was the toughest adjustment for me.
- Sports/auto focus/follow focus: One category that will continue to be ruled by DLSR’s is sports. The auto focus /follow focus of mirrorless cameras is not there yet and the lens offerings are not enough for a pro sports photographer.
- Lens selection: This is rapidly getting better, but Sony, Fuji and other camera manufacturers have a long way to go in offering the wide selection of lenses needed by many professional photographers.