Many people have known me to be very passionate when it comes to mirrorless camera system, particularly anything to do with Micro 4/3 system or Olympus PEN series. I have been one of many photographers out there who believe that the mirrorless system is the future, and soon the DSLR will soon be a thing of yesterday. However, I also believe that the time has not yet come for mirrorless to fully replace the position of DSLR especially amongst the professionals. Many blog readers as well as friends I have known have questioned me on why I still stick to Olympus obsolete DSLR system, since the promise of the mirrorless future is bright, and as the technology progresses further at the rate faster than ever before, I should be using a PEN with assortment of newer and capable lenses, right?
Well, the answer is not so simple.
All images in this entry were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko Digital lenses: 11-22mm F2.8-3.5, 25mm F2.8 pancake and 50mm F2 macro. External Flash used for most shots.
Selected photographs from Wedding Dinner Reception of Zhen Bing and Huei Yien in November 2011.
Yes I do believe the the latest incarnations of mirrorless cameras from many manufacturers are breaking the barriers of what mirrorless system can do, as opposed to more traditional and conservative approach from DSLR offerings. Olympus PEN E-P3 provides extremely fast autofocus, and does extremely well if coupled with their newer lenses such as the 12mm F2 and the 45mm F1.8. Take a look at Sony NEX-7, they have set yet another record of maximum resolution/megapixel, leading the race at a whooping 24MP at the moment, far from many other DSLR even the full frame versions. Fuji is fighting aggressively with their premium newly launched interchangeable mirrorless system, with their flagship X-Pro 1, promising good performance targeted at professional photographers, not just enthusiasts. The promise of better image quality (only a matter of time when mirrorless image quality will fully surpass all DSLR, or possibly medium format, but lets not go there for now), yet at a smaller, lighter, and easier-to-carry-around package is quite hard to overlook. Performance wise, the smaller cameras that could are surely catching up, though at the moment still not quite at the same level as super cameras such as Canon 1D series or Nikon D3 (or the newly announced monster, the D4), but who is to say one day soon, mirrorless cant match those top performers, or even surpass them?
If I were shooting purely for hobby and personal leisure, surely the mirrorless system of any brand would have sufficed. In fact, just slap in a 24mm or 35mm lens would have been a good all rounder to cover most of my shooting needs. However, from time to time, I do take in paid assignments, mostly actual day weddings, reception dinners, event coverage (such as corporate annual dinner, or events), portraitures, etc. Shooting for paying clients, I do feel that DSLR can be a game-changer in many ways.
At the moment, I am still staying faithful to my Olympus DSLR E-5, and the beautiful Zuiko lenses that I have slowly collected over the years.
While shooting on assignment, sometimes I need to run around places, and everything is moving so fast, that you have to act very quickly. As I fly from one spot to another, the camera that is hanging around my neck or shoulder may accidentally knock on whatever obstructions that are coming my way, may it be that old man’s elbow, or the edge of a wooden chair, or worse, clash with another photographer’s camera equipments. It is difficult to stay graceful and fluid when you are in the rush and all that matters is capturing the moment that is unfolding right in front of your eyes. Olympus E-5? Not much to worry about when it comes to minor knocks and hits, its body is after all made of magnesium alloy, and the construction is solid and very rugged. Well, lets put it in simpler terms. Take an E-5, and clash it head on any mirrorless cameras (PEN, NEX, etc). Now who do you think will survive? I need my equipments to be robust. I need not worry about small bumps and tiny accidents. I need the camera to be able to withstand a small amount of abuse. And If I stumbled upon some annoying videographers or other non-paid/non-invited photographers who block my line of sight, I can, without a doubt, use my camera (E-5) and knock the brain matter out of their skulls. And still be able to shoot happily after that. Ok, kidding.
People have the general consensus that the smaller, the lighter, the better the camera system is. I choose to disagree. Perhaps for travel, or street shooting, and photojournalism, this concept applies relevantly, but for a full day event shooting, say, covering motorsports, or a concert, I still think that you need larger grip and a bit of heft on the camera for better handling. You need the weight on the camera to counter balance the weight of the lens you are using, or else the off balance of the weight shifting on the lens would kill your left wrist after hours and hours of shooting. Not having the large and substantial enough grip for your right hand to hold the camera will also strain your elbows and shoulders.
Furthermore, more issues will arise when changing lenses. Many people may not agree with my style of shooting, but I devised my own technique and preferences, and they work perfectly fine for my shooting needs. I change lenses often, and I really mean often. My main lenses used on my E-5 are the super wide angle Zuiko 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 (oh my, such a beautiful lens) and of course, my favourite Zuiko 50mm F2 macro. Having those two lenses cover most of my shooting needs, ranging from super wide to medium tele-photo, delivering superb sharpness across all focal lengths even at widest aperture of F2.8 and F2. This combination is very versatile, enabling decent low light performance, and very good macro capability. However, to be able to bring out the best, it is either I shoot with two bodies with one of the lenses attached to each camera, or just one body but with the need to change lens. I have no issues with changing lens, and I can do it very efficiently now. But I need a larger body for better gripping, and as I yank the lens out of the mount I do not have to worry too much about it. This would not be the case for smaller lenses such as the ones from the micro 4/3.
3) Optical Viewfinder
Nothing beats the experience of being able to see exactly what is happening out there, without the interference of the camera processing. There is a huge difference when you see through the optical viewfinder, in comparison to both the LCD live view at the back of the camera, or any variations of the Electronic Viewfinder. I even find the latest high resolution (over 2MP) LCD electronic viewfinder on the Sony Alpha 77 to be rather “fake” and not as real as I have liked. I do not know quite how to explain this, but the user experience is just so much better when what is out there as seen with your naked eyes, is exactly the same through the optical viewfinder, allowing you to compose the scene as is. The optical viewfinder itself is a good enough reason for me to stay faithful with a DSLR, any DSLR in fact.
4) The Crowd is Not Ready
We cannot expect everyone to be educated about the latest technological developments in the world of photography, which is happening at a rather crazy pace. Not everyone knows about what mirrorless system is, and to be honest, not many people care. To the general public, it may be a stylish camera that takes good quality pictures, and they do not “look professional”. DSLR has been around the market for so long, in fact, the SLR line of cameras since the film days have been dominating the general opinion of what typical standards of “professional” equipments should look like, when a photographer is in question. Imagine you show up at your client’s wedding, and whip out a cute Olympus E-PM1 and the tiny 45mm lens. Anyone would have thought that it is a compact point and shoot camera !!
I know that clients will choose the photographers, and engage them based on their impression seeing the photographer’s work, most likely through digital portfolio or prints. Nonetheless, not having the “aura” of a working professional photographer will surely put you to a disadvantage, when you are up against the big boys using monster full frame cameras. Size matters, it is a fact that everyone knows, and people respect, whether they understand the logic behind the camera size difference or not. You may outperform other photographers with your experience and skills, though you use smaller size camera by optimizing its output, but you cannot change the general crowd's mentality that leans towards “larger camera is better” and “longer lens is more powerful”. When its business, its business, and when you shoot, you demand instant response and you need that respect going on. Unfortunately, having cute, tiny, shiny cameras will not earn you that kind of immediate respect. If people wonder why the official photographer is not using a big black box instead of that small silver sparkly toy, then you are in serious trouble.
I am not saying that larger cameras will forever be in the mindset of the crowd. For now, they are just not ready yet.
I have a lot more reasons why I still prefer DSLR for my paid assignment, but those are just minor points, such as shorter battery life, less shortcut buttons for quick access to important settings, less optimized for external flash use, etc etc, which many of you may have known already.
I am sure, sooner rather than later, all those issues will be addressed in the newer releases of mirrorless camera systems. It is rather clear at the moment most of the mirrorless system are designed to cater for hobbyists and photo-enthusiasts only. We have not really had pro-level mirrorless cameras yet.
Do you shoot with a DSLR or a mirrorless camera? Or both? Do share your thoughts ! What do you see in the future of photography equipments?