Why I Didn’t Switch to Mirrorless

In Gear by Kevin D. Jordan38 Comments

A little over a year ago I decided it would be beneficial for me to switch camera systems.  At the time, I was shooting with a Canon 6D and focusing primarily on night sky photography.  The 6D was not a bad camera for night sky photography by any stretch of the imagination.  However, since I had bought the camera without much knowledge of what was available from other camera manufacturers at that time, I eventually realized that there were other cameras that better suited my needs and allowed me to get higher quality photos with less time and effort.

To say that I’m a Type A personality when it comes to making decisions is an understatement.  Throwing around phrases such as “analysis paralysis” and “obsessive researcher” would probably illustrate my decision-making process a bit better.  As a result, I considered plenty of options before making the switch.  Do I go switch to Nikon?  What about another brand?  What about mirrorless?  Do I actually need to switch, or are the new cameras that I do not have just shiny and enticing because I don’t have them?

While going through this process, the idea of a mirrorless camera intrigued me.  I had heard people rave about how much lighter they were, and Sony had just become a go-to brand for night sky shooters such as myself due to their sensors’ abilities to offer a high dynamic range and produce a file with low noise at high ISO settings.  This was enough to send me down the research rabbit hole reading all that I could on mirrorless systems.  Eventually, I learned that (for now at least) that a mirrorless camera was not the right choice for me.

For those who have not already slipped into a blind rage in defense of their mirrorless cameras, keep a few things in mind before reading on.  First, if you know how to use the gear you have, you can take great photos with just about any camera on the market right now—mirrorless, crop sensor, micro four-thirds, and others very much included.  My decision to switch from my Canon camera was not because I could not capture a night sky photo with my 6D; I had just reached a point with my photography that there were other cameras that could help me do so much more efficiently.  In addition, this is not necessarily an argument for why you should not buy a mirrorless camera.  I am hoping the decision-making process I went through may be able to help someone who may be trying to navigate through the same time of research.  With that said, here are the things I considered that ultimately led me to stick with a DSLR for my photography.

The mirrorless Sony A7RII (Image courtesy of Amazon.com)

 

Battery Life

The battery life on mirrorless cameras just is not yet on the same level as DSLR cameras.  At the time of this writing, the best battery life I could find on a mirrorless camera was the newly released Sony A9, which is rated at 640 shots (and costs about $4,500 new).  Don’t get me wrong, a rating of 640 shots is a battery life I could work with, but it is not at all in a price range I could work with.  For a night photographer looking for a full-frame camera with low noise at high ISO settings, my options were mostly cameras such as the Sony A7R, Sony A7RII, Sony A7S, or Sony A7SII, the batteries for which are rated to get about 370 shots at their best.

Some of you may be thinking that you would never shoot 370 shots over the course of a day before getting to a place where you could recharge.  First of all, keep in mind that capturing a photo is not the only thing that drains your camera battery.  Things like examining your photos on the LCD can cause a hefty drain on battery, and shooting in cold temperatures (as I often do with night sky photography) means an even shorter battery life.  In addition, if I plan to shoot a time lapse sequence or a series of long exposures, that battery life will most likely drain before I am finished capturing the shots I need.  Yes, I can carry extra batteries with me.  However, I can’t afford to have to switch batteries during a long exposure or a time lapse sequence.  And the possible need to carry additional batteries ties directly in to our next topic.

 

Weight

My camera bag weighs a lot.  This can present problems when I want to be in good enough shape to haul it up a mountain at night, but I am very much not in good enough shape to do so comfortably.  On top of that, my knees have always been about 30 years my senior.  After hearing all of the buzz about mirrorless systems being lighter and better for long distance hikers, I eagerly began my research, blindly hoping that I would be able to fit my new mirrorless system in a stylish, ergonomic fanny pack and ditch my large camera bag forever.  The more I researched, the more I learned that, while mirrorless systems are usually lighter than similar DSLR systems (“similar” being an important word there), the difference really is not all that substantial.

As an example, compare the full-frame camera body I currently own, a Nikon D750, to one of the full-frame mirrorless bodies I had been considering, the Sony A7RII.  The Nikon D750 with a battery installed weighs 755 grams.  The Sony A7RII with a battery installed weighs 625 grams.  For reference, the difference between the two is about the weight of a baseball.  Now take into account that the D750 has almost 4 times the battery life of the A7RII, and that the Sony batteries weigh 42.5 grams each, you add 127.5 grams to the setup to make their battery life equivalent.  Now the Sony setup is only 27.5 grams lighter, which is about the weight of three house keys.  If I really needed to save that 27.5 grams, I could always just leave my keys at home and go live in the woods forever…

Similar to the weight difference between the camera bodies, the difference between full-frame compatible DSLR lenses and full-frame compatible mirrorless lenses are fairly similar.  The weight differences are found less in which type of camera the lens is made for, and more in which features the lenses have.  Zoom lenses generally weigh more than prime lenses with similar focal lengths.  Wide aperture lenses weigh more than narrow aperture lenses.  Lenses with vibration reduction weigh more than those without.  And, to be fair, many mirrorless cameras boast in-camera stabilization, negating the need for stabilization in the lens.

 

Lens Selection

Lens selection among mirrorless cameras systems is an “issue” that steadily continues to improve.  I put the word issue in quotations because, depending upon your lens needs (or desires), you may or may not have an issue finding the right lens.  For me, however, I was on the hunt for an ultra wide angle, fast aperture zoom lens similar to the Canon 16-35 mm f/2.8 or the Tamron 15-30 mm f/2.8.  Unfortunately for me, such an option for Sony mirrorless cameras, for example, was only just announced recently.  In addition, the lens is listed at around $2,200 new, which is $1,000 more than the Tamron 15-30 mm lens I now own for my D750.  The third-party lens manufacturers have not yet broken into the full-frame mirrorless game like they have for Canon, Nikon, and Sony A-mount.  This means less competition in the market for buyers, and potentially no incentive to try to keep costs down.  Further, it means that I would need an adapter if I wanted to fit my DSLR lens (adding slightly more weight to the system) to a mirrorless camera, which can sometimes cause issues with autofocus.

 

Why DSLR Versus Mirrorless Was Not the Correct Decision for Me to Consider

The classic DSLR versus mirrorless debates typically mention the ideas above, while also throwing in things like autofocus speed and “I don’t like how the mirrorless camera fits in my hand” for good measure.  For me, autofocus speed was not a concern since I primarily shoot landscapes (and with the improvement of autofocus in mirrorless systems, it has started to become moot anyway), and while I do like the size of the D750 in my hand, the size of a smaller camera is something I am sure I could get used too if all else were equal.

What I eventually realized during my research is that if I really wanted to save weight in my camera bag when hiking, DSLR versus mirrorless was not really the thing I needed to be considering.  Instead, I needed to see where the weight in my bag came from the most: fast aperture lenses, zoom lenses, and, to an extent, a full-frame camera body.

While my love of versatile lenses gives me the ability to take most of my shots with two lenses (a Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 and a Nikon 24-120mm f/4), that versatility does mean additional weight, especially with regard to the 2.5-pound beast of a Tamron.  So, when I started venturing into the mountains more often for Milky Way photography, I decided that I could get by with a 15mm prime lens that weighs half that of the Tamron.

Further, since crop sensor cameras and micro four-thirds cameras and their associated lenses are typically lighter than their full-frame counterparts, that was another area I could look to.  However, since these bodies usually have a tougher time producing files with low noise, I decided that I would rather have the heavier camera bag and make concessions on which lenses I was carrying on hikes to save weight.

 

Other Thoughts

This may sound like a strange thing to say at the end of an article musing about which type of photography gear is the best, but I think it is important to stress that if we all spent more time thinking about and researching aspects of photography other than gear, we would probably all be better photographers.  I spent a ton of time researching which camera system I wanted to switch to.  And, while I am happy with my choice, I have no doubt that my time and money could have been better spent studying light, composition, and post-processing techniques.  My hope is that my decision-making process for deciding if a mirrorless or DSLR camera was right for me might be able to help someone else move through that process much quicker.  If you are looking to make a gear switch, decide first if it is something that will truly improve your photos.  If you think it will, and you know for sure that you are not just lying to yourself, go to a camera store, try out a few different options, see what feels best, and then go to the library and read a whole bunch of books on photography.

Remember libraries?  Apparently, they still have those.  And everything in them is free.  Oddly enough, free books cost much less than a mirrorless OR a DSLR camera.  So, you know, case closed.

Good luck, everyone.


About the Author

Kevin D. Jordan

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Kevin D. Jordan is a landscape and night sky photographer based in Boston, Massachusetts. You can normally find him staying out all night chasing the Milky Way, capturing scenes around New England, and/or eating a truly gratuitous amount of pizza. You can follow his work on Facebook, on Instagram @kevindjordanphoto, and at www.kevindjordan.com.

Comments

  1. About a year and a half ago, I switched to mirrorless. And, I’ve grown to regret it. As you have pointed out lenses are just more expensive on the mirrorless side. I call it the mirrorless tax. With my tax return next year, I am planning on switching back to a DSLR. I can no longer justify the extra expenses for mirrorless gear.

    1. Author

      Sorry to hear you regret it, Tim. I do think prices on things like lenses will improve as mirrorless takes a bigger and bigger market share as they become more popular. I think I lucked out a bit specifically because I was looking for a versatile lens I could use for Milky Way photography, and I just didn’t see one out yet. That, and the A7RII was just more money than I had to spend :-/

    2. Regardless of the type of bodys I use/own I would like to thank you for being honest to yourself and us readers. The big questions are always, “What lens is best?” “What body is best?” or now the past few years…”Mirrorless or not?”
      Everyone’s needs are different. YOU read the articles, get educated, and choose wisely. (yes, I quoted Indiana Jones)
      A lot of money is being invested through the years for your gear and to just jump into the so called “up and greatest” is a tough thought also…Well unless your name is Peter Lik and you can have a close friend buy a picture! (oops did I say that out loud?)
      Keep the great articles coming … I now have to get back to my DSLRs 🙂

      1. Author

        Thoughtful words, William. And I like that you brought up that really good business man who happens to have an interest in photography and sold a common view of Antelope Canyon privately for an absurd amount of money… 🙂

  2. Thanks, found this oddly reassuring. Even though I’m not thinking of buying a new camera I like your overall thoughts about the skills we develop as photographers.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Melanie. Happy to reassure! I’ve been noticing recently that all the ways I want to improve and advance my photography are technique and business-related, so I think that is probably fueling my writing. The question I always try to ask is if the new gear I want to buy will actually improve my photos, or get me photos I couldn’t get otherwise, and it normally keeps me in check.

  3. Oh yeah, well my Fuji takes some pretty awesome pictures. So there!

    Seriously, though, very good article, Kevin. There are definite advantages to each type of camera. While the mirrorless offerings keep getting better, DSLRs still outperform in many ways. The competition between the manufacturers is good for all of us.

    BTW…what is a library? 😉

    1. Author

      Hahah thanks Rusty! They do seem to be polarizing cameras. I know friends to have bought mirrorless and returned them, and I know people who have bought them and never looked back. I think having the knowledge to know what fits your photography the best is extremely valuable.

      And, I don’t know about those libraries…and old person told me about it. I think they were just confused. It doesn’t sound like a real thing 🙂

  4. ” I spent a ton of time researching which camera system I wanted to switch to. And, while I am happy with my choice, I have no doubt that my time and money could have been better spent studying light, composition, and post-processing techniques. “—-

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Thought of upgrading my old 7d but I don’t think it would make me a better photograper. I’m guilty of pixel peeping when I process my photos.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Chris. I’m a fellow pixel peeper, which is actually one of the things that spurred me to switch to the D750. I’ve been getting cleaner shots at night and it’s been a good switched, but I also acknowledge that I can pretty much turn my brain off to news about new cameras for a loooonng time since what I have no will basically do what I need it to until it breaks.

  5. I switched to mirrorless a couple years ago and I am still torn on it. There is a lot I really love about it, but I occasionally get to shoot sports and it doesn’t work well for that and the lens selection (Fuji) is not great.

    1. Author

      Sorry to hear that, Brent. I feel like it’s a lot easier to know what I need for gear since I only shoot landscape. If I branched out to other genres the decisions would admittedly get more difficult. I bet that Fuji setup is nice for all your travel photos and can fit in a smaller bag than mine.

      1. I do love it for travel and it is good enough for landscapes and that covers 90% of my work so I am happy. Guess I just need to be okay renting gear when I get to shoot college sports.

  6. You are quite correct in saying you can take perfect pictures with any camera if you know how to use it, I bought a mirrorless because it was cheap , for two weeks I struggled with it before deciding to sell it, however I never got around to it, I kept picking the cameraup and playing with the settings , you know what? I am gradually getting to like it, even though the extra lenses are a rip off price wise, when our awful weather improves a trip to the Zoo will be the decision maker for me, of course iI am not getting rid of my other cameras, I am hedging my bets. regards.

    1. Author

      Hi, John. I have heard from friends who went mirrorless that it took a lot long than they expected to adjust to them. It sounds like you have options either way. I hope the weather improves and the zoo shoot goes well!

  7. Ditto Kevin, good article and excellent point, i am not switching entirely, battery life suck on mirror-less which is very frustrating. Only bought one to play with and experiment, bought a lens adapter that fits my current lenses and its fun to take landscape shots manual at times. Kudos.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Alex. Sounds like a nice easy way to transition the way you’re doing it. If you want to stick to mirrorless, that adapter is a nice way to use other lenses until some other ones are released for mirrorless!

  8. I’m a wedding a portrait shooter, so the appeal of mirrorless to me is speedy The EVF and LCD back is WYSIWYG -which is something we don’t have with DSLRs. If I were a landscape and architecture photog already in the Nikon environment I’d be looking at the d850. But I’m a Canon shooter, and my workhorse is the 5DM4, which I love for paid work. However I also have a Sony a6500 for family and travel and I can’t help thinking every time I use it, how much faster (efficiently) I’d be able to work a wedding or portrait shoot with a FF Mirrorless like the Sony A9 (and the 7rii for couples Portraits). Come 2018 I’m very likely going to switch to Sony unless Canon offers me some hope -which is unlikely.

    1. Author

      Good points, Frank. The EVF is admittedly a really intriguing concept to me. I’m honestly not at all tempted by the D850. I think the D750 will do all that I need for a long, long time. I always tend to be on the back end of technological advancement though. It will be interesting to see what Canon and Nikon do in the coming years with regard to mirrorless. They might make it so that you wouldn’t even want to switch brands.

  9. You took the words out of my mouth Kevin. I’m curious to see what Canon and Nikon do in the mirrorless world. I would even consider switching over to a Nikon mirrorless system if they did it right. I think if it was full frame, used the same F Mount glass, and they kept the camera a reasonable size so they can fit larger battery’s in it, that EVF tends to use a lot of juice. I think for both Nikon and Canon if they want a successful mirrorless system they need to make sure thier customers don’t have to go out and invest in a whole new lens system. I guess only time will tell. For now my D7200 has been good to me and I’m still getting great results out of it, and I don’t plan on switching for at least another 3-4 years.

    1. Author

      I’m really curious to see how Canon and Nikon respond to Sony, Fuji, Olympus, etc. The Nikon president said recently there’s a full-frame mirrorless in the works. Agreed I probably wouldn’t ever consider if it didn’t jive with the lenses I have now. I’m like you though. The D750 doesn’t everything I need it to do and more. I don’t see myself switching or upgrading to anything anytime soon.

  10. Hello Kevin:

    Very nice and informative article. I am a Nikon shooter however I shoot with a D700. Since I am an amateur I do not have the need to change however I do find myself pixel peeping like a pevert watching adult movies at night. But, I gain my composure and remember that I have not printed one image with the D700 and the biggest would be an 11×16. I do like the images from this camera and I am not shooting high end weddings or NatGo in a dark area needed for publishing so I can keep my gear list under control. Since I have a battery grip on my I deal with the weight and if it becomes too much I pull out the D90. So, I am taking your advice and use the Google on my cell phone to find that library you mentioned in your article. Because I can afford free!

    Thank you for the article, it was a pleasant read.

    1. Author

      Thanks for the kind words, Sean! You’re talking to a fellow pixel peeper, so I get where you’re coming from. Those pixel peeping tendencies are in part what spurred me to switched from the 6D to the D750, but only because there were a couple of very specific things the D750 could do for me that the 6D couldn’t Even with all of the research, I almost didn’t bother switching. Enjoy the library! You just reminded me I forgot to return a book tonight…crap…

  11. Well – from the other comments, it looks like you were preaching to the converted. It was a good article, but I don’t agree with your conclusion. Overall, your arguments lacked one important word: Olympus.

    1. Author

      I’m actually really surprised there aren’t more critical comments. Photographers in general can get really passionate about their gear (and we’re on the internet…so you know how that can go). And my argument is tailored to my own situation since I don’t think anyone could ever settle a mirrorless vs DSLR debate for all types of photographers. I did mentioned micro four-thirds in the article, but Olympus unfortunately wouldn’t have been a worthwhile switch for me since it wouldn’t have offered improvements in dynamic range and would have been a downgrade in high ISO performance and battery life (the main things I cared about besides weight). That said, something like an Olympus is small enough that the weight savings would be a bit more notable. And I know Olympus owners are a passionate bunch, so they certainly must be doing something right 🙂

  12. Thank you, Keven, for speaking straight talk about the differences between these two systems. I’ve heard so much chatter about smaller, lighter, better mirrorless cameras. But, I also learn that these fabulous cameras work better with grips and other gizmos that make the little bodies easier to hold. Bottom line, if you compare similar size sensors and lenses, the difference in weight and size should not be the most important factor in system choice…

    1. Author

      Thanks, Don! I do a crazy amount of research on my big purchases, so I’m happy to try to pass along what I’ve found in hopes of it helping someone else. That talk you heard about the smaller, lighter, cheaper, etc, was one of the things that almost had me switched before I looked into it more.

  13. Good article Kevin 🙂 For me personally I switched away from Canon to Fuji but landscape is not something I focus much on. I spent about a year slowly buying up used gear and slowly replacing all of my canon stuff before I finally felt comfortable enough to replace it (portraits/events/sports/street/some landscape). I totally agree about the weight in sony-land, but there is a definite difference in the fuji world because of the aps-c sensor and smaller/lighter lenses across the board, which are definitely cheaper as well. I totally get the Sony price tax – I was considering a move to sony before I jumped to fuji – many of your arguments ring true, found the same things myself 🙂 I’m pretty sure it’s the same in MFT-land for weight, but based on your article I’m assuming you were locked into the full frame. In the end, the camera is just a tool to get us to our image making. If you couldn’t find a compelling reason to switch to mirrorless, then that’s research well done in my book 🙂

    1. Author

      Thanks, Bob. Very true about me being locked into full frame. The #1 thing that would reduce weight in my camera bag would absolutely be “stop liking night sky photography so much.” That’s what pushes me towards the full-frame and wide aperture lenses. I’d actually love to switch to crop sensor or micro four-thirds so I wouldn’t have to focus stack as much when I’m up close to a foreground object when I’m shooting. That said, I know a few guys in my area who stick to daytime shooting and they recently ditched Canon or Nikon for Fuji. They definitely make some intriguing gear.

  14. Great article. Mirrorless no doubt has some advantages AND some negatives. The EVF is GREAT the first time you see it but then you realize once you know your camera and the dynamic range you can pull – it isn’t a big deal. I think the whole mirrorless rave is just overblown because at the end of the day it is just recording data to a card to be processed.

    A hybrid view finder like the one some hoped for with the D850 would be the best of both worlds and would kick butt!

    1. Author

      Thanks man. That EVF is really what intrigues me the most about them. I’m happy to be at the point to not be tempted by new gear anymore since I’ve done such an exhaustive amount of research. Except for a drone. I want a drone so bad…

  15. Thank you for this article. Good timing for me. I was a Nikon D750 user and then “mirrored” Jim’s switch to the mirrorless Xpro2 100% for weight as I travel every week for work and wanted to have my good camera with me. I also shoot several weddings a year and and have used my Fuji Xpro2; been happy with results except for it not having a battery grip. 🙁 I also seemed to get better depth of field with my Nikon as it’s a FF. And I’m dying to try tilt-shift lens but not offered in the mirrorless family. I just cannot give up the freedom with weight of mirrorless though as I absolutely fell in love with the light weight of the Fuji 100-400mm for bird photography. I may consider “mirroring” Jim and switching to the Sony A7RII because I want a FF for better depth of field (is this true?) which is important to me in portrait photography. On one of the IP podcasts Nick said IP listeners often switch cameras just because Jim switches; I hate to be accused of not thinking for myself. Really appreciated this article on the other side of mirrorless, thank you!

    1. Author

      Hi Shirley! It is true that a full-frame camera can get a shallower depth of field with the same aperture as a crop sensor or micro four-thirds (which is actually a negative for me since I want everything in focus for landscape).
      I’ve actually never looked to see if there are side by side tests showing the difference, but that might be some worthwhile research to do. That actually might be a cool article to write if there isn’t anything out there already. You sound like the kind of person mirrorless can be really good for! The Sony’s are great cameras, but you could also get the shallower depth of field with a wider aperture lens. The Sony full-frame would also give you much less noise at high ISO, but you also would lose some “reach” for bird photography, so it’s all a trade-off.

  16. I have to move to mirrorless because of my eyesight, need to use EVF to review the magnified photos and other infos on location. If one day Nikon will have hybrid OVF/EVF on their body I will go back to them in a heartbeat. DOF is not the case I shoot on cropped or FF since if the system has huge selections of lenes I could pick one from that to suite the technics to get the prefer DOF.

  17. I too was intrigued with the thought of going mirrorless. After much research, I opted to rent a Sony A7RII before buying. That turned out to be a good decision. While I loved the image quality and the features of the Sony, I found that the form factor (size) was just too much of an issue for me. I found that it was just a bit too small for my hands. While it had all the buttons and dials I like in a camera, the size made it inconvenient for me to use. I found that I constantly had to “re-grip” the camera in order to make adjustments. For that reason, I’ve decided to stay with the DSLR for the time being.

  18. Excellent point about the decision shouldn’t be mirrorless vs. DSLR. There are so many other more important distinctions between cameras to consider.

    Just pick the camera that has what you need/want, whether it happens to be mirrorless or DSLR is mostly irrelevant.

  19. Kevin Thanks for a great and very informative article . I also own the nice D-750 and cursed the weight of my gear . I lugged met great 70-200 lens and 4 others . I have tested the Fuji and Sony I agree in the end the weight is not much different and there is some limitations to the gear . I love sports photography and other action things
    thanks for taking the time and sharing with us all

  20. Hey thanks for the article, I was in he market for a camera as I am trying to find a hobby. I used my brother in laws for my sisters graduation a few months ago and it was something I enjoyed doing, taking photos and capturing the moment. Anyway this article along with all the ideas spinning around in my head led me to purchase a later model camera to start off with instead of a mirrorless Sony for many of the reasons you stated. Just wanted to say thanks for that and look forward to reading more material!!!!

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