Some thoughts on working with mirrorless and DSLR cameras
This past month was busy. So busy, that I rarely picked up a camera for pleasure. I did pick them up for work. A lot.
In April, I shot over 20 work events and a handful of personal gigs. It was all work and no play. However, it was good for me to shoot day-in-and-day-out because it brought into focus some thoughts that have been bouncy around my head regarding equipment choices.
The best camera for the job
As the saying goes, it’s the camera you have with you. Those of you who read my post regularly will know that I have embraced mirrorless cameras in general and Fujifilm X-cameras in particular. That is not to say that I don’t shoot with anything else. In fact, this past month, I used one or another of the Nikon work cameras and lenses for many events. Sometimes alone and sometimes with my X-cameras. Picking up the DSLRs again, after a long break from them, was an interesting experience. If you want to stop reading now, here is my conclusion. You can make good images with either type of camera. I was able to do my job with a DSLR or a Fujifilm X-camera. I prefer X-cameras for a number of important reasons, but I did find that, for now, DSLRs still have one advantage
Advantages for some…
Size and weight are definitely advantages of using Fujifilm X-cameras. There is nothing as burdensome as hoisting a DSLR with a fast zoom attached. Oh, unless you are carrying two DSLRs with fast zooms attached. They are heavy and CONSPICUOUS. Toting those monsters around removes any ability to blend into a scene and capture images inconspicuously.
Noise can also be an issue when I use DSLRs instead of the X-cameras. Depending upon the model, the Fujifilm cameras can be silent or nearly silent. Ah, what a nice, soft click when you press the shutter release. The most modern DSLR is quieter than the older models I have access to, but it is loud by comparison to the X-cameras. In general, I would rather not sound like a machine gun firing rounds when I shoot an event.
Image quality is not an issue when using either type of camera. Having used a great variety of gear, I know which cameras I think produce great images. I am fortunate, no matter which system I use, that I will get good quality photos. There is a difference in the look of the files produced by the X-trans sensor and the Nikon models I use. I am happy with both, however, there is a big difference in producing the image quality, that is not down to sensor technology. That difference is in the processing of the images in-camera and what you see when you look through the viewfinder.
What I miss most
When using the DSLRs again, I was struck by the difference in the shooting experience. In particular, what and how I see subjects, when using the cameras. I use film rangefinders, DSLRs and Fujifilm X-cameras. I find that each has advantages and disadvantages when you look through the viewfinder.
A major advantage, upon which I have come to rely, with the X-cameras is seeing what the exposed image will look like when shooting in available light, BEFORE I press the shutter release. I can’t emphasis enough what an advantage this is to making photos for me. Seeing the exact exposure and white balance in the viewfinder is fantastic. Coupled with the half-second review image popping up in the viewfinder, after I make the photo, makes the shooting experience so much more fluid than when I use DSLRs. Shooting in difficult lighting situations, means more experimentation with the DSLR and then I have to chimp, over and over, to know if I got the shot. What a huge waste of time. With exposure preview turned on in the X-cameras, I shoot less, more quickly and with more assurance. All of which means less post-processing as well.
Another advantage of the X-cameras are the manual focus aids. I normally shoot in MF with the X-cameras and use focus peaking to highlight the in-focus areas, the AF-L button to activate focus and the Focus Check button to zoom in to confirm focus. Sometimes I use all three, sometimes I use just the back button to focus and note what is highlighted in the viewfinder. I so missed having this type of view with the DSLRs, where I have to rely upon AF 100% of the time. Not sure if I would have gotten those missed DSLR shots if I had been using the X-camera, but I suspect that I would have had a better success rate. I would much rather see that I have focus in the viewfinder than to assume that I have correctly focused and find out in post that I missed the shot. I really miss having these aids with a DSLR.
Yet another advantage is having the distance scale and the horizon level in the viewfinder with X-cameras. When shooting stage events, where I need to focus on the same spot over and over, a quick glance at the distance scale to confirm the distance and a wiggle of the camera to level the horizon and I can shoot away. It’s fast and accurate, which means I know that I have the shots without having to chimp and hope.
Finally, another difference in the shooting experience, is being able to rely upon the excellent X-camera JPEGs in most circumstances. I never, ever use JPEGs from the Nikons. I always shoot RAW and I’m happy with the results. However, shooting with Fujifilm X-cameras affords me the opportunity to frequently use the OOC JPEGs and forego any RAW post-processing. This makes for a much faster workflow and delivery, which is often critical.
The one area where I found a benefit to using the DSLRs is when I need to pop a flash on the camera. For studio photography, I use off-camera flash in manual mode, so the type of camera I use is irrelevant. For shooting events, when I need to use flash on-camera, having a dedicated system flash to pop on the camera is a big advantage. Since the camera controls the flash exposure, it is seamless to switch between using ambient light to using flash. Being able to shoot with flash in burst mode and to shoot above the max flash sync speed is also a great feature of using a DSLR.
This is an area that I hope Fujifilm can quickly close the gap. When they do, they will have removed any advantage that DSLRs might have for my work.
This month will continue the trend of shooting a lot for work and not so much for pleasure. And, I will continue to use the work DSLRs along side of my X-cameras. It’s probably good for my brain to switch back and forth occasionally. However, it certainly won’t be for my back and shoulders. After this month, I am looking forward to doing more shooting for myself, which also means I can leave the DSLRs in the cupboard and once again, enjoy the pure X-shooting experience.
Images captured with Fujifilm X-T1 and X-E2, fronted with XF lenses, and Nikon D600, D700 and D7000, fronted with Nikkor f2.8 zoom lenses.