Changing from DSLR to mirrorless?

Well, I guess I am late to the party since the mirrorless cameras are now a long time on the market. But after many, many years of using SLR & DSLR cameras for my photography it took me quite a while to read all the technical reviews, analysis and user-comments of this “new” system in order to take an educated decision. Let me explain:

Canon AE-1 – Copyright: Kristian Peetz

I´ve been using Canon gear since the beginning of my photography career. It was not a clear decision for this brand, it was just that this was the camera (the venerable Canon AE-1) my parents had at home, so I got my hands on it and took my babysteps with it. I had this camera until the first digital devices came out and my first digital camera was the Canon G2. It was a compact cam with fixed lense and “just” 4 Megapix , so the quality (at least as for todays standards) wasn´t extremly high… but it opened a new world of how to produce the images. No more darkrooms, no more waiting, no more scanning, just click and you had your image. Open the file from the CF-card in Photoshop and presto!

Suddenly the analog SLR wasn`t sexy no more… but I still have her standing on my shelve 🙂

Camera Line-Up: Canon G2, Canon AE-1, Canon 350D and Canon 40D – Copyright: Kristian Peetz

I used (or misused) this camera a LOT… if I am not totally wrong, I think I made more then 60.000 pictures with it. Ok, this was an overload of images but I just had really fun just pressing the shutter and knowing I wasn´t generating extra costs like before! This camera also introduced me to the “new” era of how to process the images (noise, sharpening, CA and yaddayadda). I must confess this were “problems” I just did not have before the digital time. Or at least they were not so imminent.

And then Canon came out with the 350D. Wow… a digital SLR with exchangeable lenses!! And 8 Megapixels!! Just after it was available I got one and really, really enjoyed having this “big” mashine (compared to the G2) in my hands. It was very pleasant to look again through an optical viewfinder and I got myself many lenses (wide, fixed, tele, fisheye) and filters and was happy to have a wide choice when going out to the field. It felt so “SLR”, so similar to my old AE-1. I had a really good time with this baby.

After 30 or 40.000 shots the next camera was the Canon 40D. It wasn´t a really big step in puncto Megapixels (the 40D had 10 Megapix), but the noise behaviour and the autofocus were just another world in comparisson to the 350D. Also, the interpolation needed for most of the stock agencies (to achive the standard size of 48 MB) wasn´t as extreme as it had been before. The camera was also much bigger and heavier than the 350D. When I got out to shoot I had something solid in my hands. But this camera had a short life in my bag… after 10 or 15.000 shots the end was near.

Open the curtain for the Canon 7D. Man, I was excited when I got to the store and brought back this gem. Autofocus snappier as can be… video functions… and solid, heavy. In the meantime my lense-park had also grown, so I had all fields covered from 10mm to 300 mm and many fixed glasses. They all fit in my bag and I was a happy camper. This camera survived snow, heat, sand, bumps and even a sudden wave (yep, salty water!) when I was shooting on the Seychelles Islands. I just have kind words for this friend!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Canon 7D – my companion for the last 5 years – Copyright: Kristian Peetz

But then came the mobile revolution… the smartphones had began to have some better (I do not say good) cameras built-in and the whole ray of modern communication possibilities was just a tap of your fingers away: wanna share? Tap! Wanna have the GPS coordinates? Tap! Wanna see real time panorama? Tap! Want to review the pics directly after you took them on your tablet? Tap!

Sure, many of this new functions were available to the Canon 7D… just gotta buy several accessoires. Wanna GPS? Buy it! Wanna share via WiFi? Buy it! Wanna review on the tablet? Buy the devide for downloading the pics from the cf and transfer them via USB-To-Go.

This were some details that bugged me a bit… if the “cheaper” and non-photography-specific devices like the mobiles had them already built in… why did the big camera brand not implement them in the new series? Please observe that I am talking about some years ago. Today they have it. But at that time I just had the feeling they were ignoring this “new” needs. I am not sure if it was because they wanted the profits of me buying all the “extra” accessoires or if they thought this needs were just for the players and not the serious photographers.

And then came a very interesting moment in my photography-career: I planned a tour to Berlin. The idea was to choose a fine weather day (which is not always easy around here…), take the morning train and stay the whole day there. I packed my tools in the bag: 11 Kg + tripod. Ok, here we go!

I had marked all the places I wanted to visit on my mobile GPS map and arrived in Berlin at 10 am. After 10 hours I took my train back home at 8 pm. I had taken all the pictures I wanted and was happy about it. But…

MY BACK :-((((… carrying all the gear the whole day just made me feel like if I had ran the marathon. I was totally sweated, had a terrible pain in the back and the last 2 hours of the trip, just when the nice sunset and blue-hour light comes out… had just been no fun at all. I remember having even dismissed a spot, just because I was to tired to get there. And sharing a picture I just made was just so clumsy… had to sit down, get the cable of the bag, stitch into the cam, into the tablet, open the App, transfer it and then send it. Detach everything and walk on.  Did that only once.

So, you just may say… hey man, make more sports and don´t cry 🙂

You may be right… but in the same week I made 3 more day-tours to other cities and after that week I knew: it´s not me (or my fitness)… it´s just too much weight that I have to carry! And no, I did not carry gear that I would not use. Those times are over. Every single item was used at some point. That´s when I decided I had to change something. And as I cannot change my physics…

I began to research and found out, that my till then “favorite” brand did not have any remarcable alternatives. Lenses were just heavy. And the cameras, too. Big and heavy. And so I found this word:

MIRRORLESS

I must confess, at the beginning I just did not believe that seeing and composing through an EVF (instead of an OVF) could be any good. I was wrong. It was not only good, it opened an array of new possibilities! I suddenly had my histogram right before my eyes (yeah, you can have it on the DSLR in the live view mode… but only on the screen, not on the viewfinder). No more chimping 🙂 And the size & weight… hmmm… what a joy to my eyes to read: soooooo much lighter and smaller! Cameras were smaller, lenses were smaller… and cheaper.

But… were they able to produce enough quality? Or were they just toys?

Well, I am not going to make a technical review (this has been done amazingly well by others, check google). I am just going to tell you what my experience has been since I got my first mirrorless camera in last december:

I AM AMAZED. full stop.

Why in capitals? Because I never thought that going from a long-year standard professional DSLR equipment to mirrorless could be so much fun… and efficient. All the things that bugged me are implemented and even new functionalities come handy.

Size and weight? Much less.
Price? Less (if you compare the right items)
Modern communication functions (sharing, GPS, viewing, live-View on your mobile)? All implemented. No extra gear.
Built-in stabilizer? A god-sent gift (click here for post about it).
Rain or snow? Check.
Image Quality? If Getty and Corbis takes them… they are good enough.
New functionalities? Wanna have a black-and-white live-filter through the viewfinder? It´s in.
Focus on the model´s eye (you choose which!) continuously without re-focusing? Got it. Much more keepers than DSLR.
Tethered Shooting? Got it.

So, which one did I choose? Here I have to say that I went completly “brand-blind” into the research. As the two biggies had no mirrorless alternatives (at least no good ones…), there were Sony, Panasonic, Olympus, Fuji and some other in the race. After more than 25 years of owning only Canon gear, I was just used to work with gear that was technically perfect (no bad feelings Canon!), but as I said before, Canon had no serious mirrorless in the pipe. So I began to read and educated myself into the other “smaller” brands, which I actually had neglected all the years before.

And here I have to give a big congratulations to Olympus for their amazing marketing work promoting their mirrorless cameras. It feels just like if they had released a swarm of evangelists all over the net… but they can in no way have instructed so many… so I am sure they are for real :-).

I have red hundreds of reviews for all the different mirrorless cameras out there, from hundreds of different photographers all over the world (perhaps I will post a list of the most important ones). Explaining every single bit in detail, pros and cons. At last I was convinced that the OMD EM-1 was the right choice for me and my style of photography. So, open the curtain for my new mirrorless, micro-four-thirds (M43…whoever came up with the idea of this name should be punished…) camera:

OMD_EM1

Olympus OM-D EM-1 – it even looks abit like the old AE-1, doesn´t it? 🙂

 

I´ve been using this cam on the field since last december and trust me: it´s a joy! Well thought, well designed, extremly (!) customizable, touch-screen, feels very nice in the hand and works like a charme. Does everything exactly as I want it to do and I haven´t found a serious problem yet. Perhaps I will do a review from the cam alone later on. For now I can say: I am very happy with it!

And yes, I have almost exactly the same gear (wide angle lense 7-14 is still missing, release date should be in the coming months. Can´t wait!) in the bag. It weights far less and has more capabilities. Tripod? Because of the IBIS In Body Image Stabilization System the little guy has been since then more at home than outside. Hand-held pictures .6 seconds… no prob, sharp.

 

Deutschland, Hamburg, Hafen, Blick auf die Elbphilarmonie bei Nacht.

The port of Hamburg at night – 0,6 sec; f/2,8; ISO 200 – Copyright: Kristian Peetz

But the camera is only one part of the equation for good pictures… the most important (´cause the body may be changed in 2-3 years, but glass stays forever) are the lenses. And this is where I really got impressed with the quality: the Olympus 12-40 2.8 PRO and the 40-150 2.8 PRO.
OMD_EM1_12_40

Olympus OM-D EM-1 with 12-40 2.8 Pro attached – Copyright: Kristian Peetz

OMD_EM1_12_40_40_150

Olympus OM-D EM-1 with 12-40 and 40-150 2.8 Pro – Copyright: Kristian Peetz

OMD_EM1_40_150

Olympus 40-150 2.8 Pro Lense – Copyright: Kristian Peetz

 

Both lenses are of superb quality. Not only are they built nicely and solid, but the performance is extremly good. Sharp from the beginning at 2.8 you don´t need to step-down in order to achieve sharpness, it´s already there. Chroma Aberrations? None that could not be fixed with software (and I really have seldom found some in the images). Flares? Very well controlled. Softness in the corners? None that would bother me. You may ask… what? No critics? Well… they weren´t cheap, so I expect them to be good and technically up to the other nice lenses out there. And they are.

But there is one thing you may have to take into account: the DOF is different from the one you get from a FF or even a APS-C camera. This has something to do with physics and the size of the mirrorless system. That´s a compromise you get into when you use this system. You wont get the same separation of your motiv from the background as you would get with a 1.4 or an 1.2 FF or APS-C lense. So, if your aim is to only get the point of the nose of the model sharp and everything else blurry… you´re out of luck. Or he/she would have to have a very long nose 🙂

But, if your photography-style isn´t going into that direction, then I promise you, you´ll be happy with this lenses. And not only are they technically very good… they are SMALL and LIGHT, too. Normally I would leave the house with my whole yaddayadda in a relative big bag… now I can even put one of the lenses in the pocket of my jacket (not the 40-150… my pockets aren´t that big… but still much more smaller than the equivalent 70-200 2.8 lense of FF or APS-C).

But now I can use a relative small Rucksack which doesn´t yell “Hey, thousands of dollars in here!!” and when I get the cam out, nobody doesn´t even bother about my presence. By the way… that´s a positive point, too. I´ve experienced many times that when I got the DSLR with the mighty 70-200 2.8 out of the bag… not only many people got aware… it almost kind of intimidated them. I have not experienced this reaction with the mirrorless system yet (hint for street photographers).

To be clear: I wont ditch the DSLR-System. My Canon 7D has been a very good friend over the last 5 years and I can only find kind words for it. It still has some positive properties (specially in the fields of Autofocus and DOF) which the mirrorless cameras haven`t achieved… yet. I have not sold the gear and I am sure I will use it sometimes more (mostly for studio or sports).

But I can assure you: whenever I will make my local city-trips or travelling around the world, when size & weight matters… the one who will be in my bag won´t be the DSLR :-).

So, to get back to the title of this post:

Changing from DSLR to mirrorless?

Nope… but INTEGRATING mirrorless into my workflow and utilizing it for the tasks, where the DSLR doesn´t fit the bill.