1.09.2017

It's not about size, weight or form factor. No, the reason to use mirrorless cameras is for the features, the video and the EVFs. Forget about the whole size distraction.


My favorite "mirror-free" cameras are not grotesque little feather light waifs. I'm not choosing a camera because I am too wimpy to haul around a stout machine. No,  I choose my cameras based on the performance and feature sets they offer. And, unless you are medically impaired, you should too. 

It's been really annoying for the past few days to read what the sallow forum dwellers have been writing about the Panasonic GH5. There is a contingent of supposed camera users who are eager to dismiss the GH5 out of hand because....."It's as big and heavy as a DSLR!!!!!" (Imagine added whining and posturing).  As I understand it the value proposition of the GH5 has very little to do with trying to achieve a midget-sized camera and everything to do with just beating the crap out of the competition when it comes to the raison d'ĂȘtre for its existence. Video high performance coupled with photography core competence. So, in a day and age when Canon and Nikon can barely manage making 4K possible in their camera bodies (even the really expensive ones) the GH5 can shoot 4K at high bit rates, up to 60 fps. And it's been announced that the camera will be able to do 4K 10bit 4:2:2 when it's finalized. Plus, when you are shooting video the camera will still be able to auto focus like a bat out of hell. Red "Disney" eyes blazing. And all this without the 29.99 minute time limit or even a hint of overheating.

Then, on the still side, there's 9 frames per second with full AF between each frame. And a super high res rear monitor. And, and, and. Even the battery life is in the same ballpark with the traditional DSLRs.

So, you get the state-of-the-art in video technology combined with fantastic specs for still photography, along with a giant warehouse full of features and all these dolts can think about is that the camera is almost as heavy as they cameras they profess to love. I guess we are now really living in a fact-free, rational thought-free society...

Yes, dear readers who have Nikons, Canons, Pentaxes and Mirandas, I get that you don't want to do video with your cameras and that you feel as though your cameras are still highly capable of making pretty pictures. I agree. There is no need for anyone who is happy with their status quo to rush out and make camera manufacturers wealthy. But many, many, many of the new features do help working people make better images, better movies, better corporate videos and so much more. 

I would understand a carpenter in 1982 having little use for a word processor but you have to understand how excited we copywriters were when we started using WordStar 1.0, mastering the necessary 2,035 keyboard commands and all. It meant that we could write and re-write, and correct our re-writes, with an efficiency and speed we had never experienced before. Without White-out and without carbon paper. The mirrorless deniers are basically saying, "What the hell is wrong with a Remington type writer? It worked for Ernest Hemmingway, it'll work for me!" But now look. No one I've met has used a typewriter to write a blog. Or typed a post A.D. 2000 report. Or a letter (do other people still write those?). 

People who have $2,000 to spend on a new camera shouldn't really make their buying decision on whether or not their two year old can pick the camera up and carry it around all day. It's not the cleverest part of their astute decision making process. They should look at the tool and sum up how well it does the things they need to get done and then add in the new features that might make their work more efficient (auto focus stacking anyone?). 

I owned and used the GH4 a year or two ago and it was a great camera. Judging by the things I've read about the GH5 it should deliver video performance that rivals dedicated $10,000 video cameras while also providing a very high level of still photography ummmph. 

I've found that when I have purchased a few mirrorless cameras they had one design flaw. I'll use the Olympus EM5.2 as an example. It was fun to shoot and the images it takes are pretty darn great but it was just too damn small. So small that Olympus couldn't even fit a headphone jack onto the body. So small that even my small to medium sized hands spent most of their time with the camera looking for something to hold on to. My workaround was to go out and get battery grips for all EM-5 cameras in my possession. Only then was the camera nearly perfect for everyday use. 

I've railed before about people who want a camera that fits in the pocket of their pants. I don't understand their strange point of view. Why not just stick an iPhone 7 in the pocket and be done with it. But no, they are on a crusade to find an interchangeable lens camera that's truly pocketable. We call that insane. 

So look at my favorite "mirror-free" cameras. They are, for the most part, big and bulky, not frail and diminutive. The RX10iii is big. Really big. But it delivers so much. And it works so well. 

Then look at my Olympus EM5.2 in the photo just below. The battery grip brings back competitive amount of square inch space while upping the handhold ability quotient. 





Above and below are two of my favorite full frame cameras; the A7Rii and the A7ii. Once I have them outfitted to match battery life and hand hold-ability of traditional cameras they certainly feel better but they bring with them all the real features that make a "mirror-free" professional lifestyle so enjoyable. Those features would include, easy-peasy live view, the ability to use an incredibly large selection of lenses, instant entry into efficient movie modes (with tons of extras for movie making), pre-chimping via the EVFs and so much more. None of which is predicated on, or makes necessary, small size or lightweight. No, the reason most mirror-free cameras are smaller is the form following function thing. Fewer moving parts makes for better tolerances and greater reliability. The freedom of designing without having to consider a mirror box means that designers (if they were rational) could design their cameras to be optimized for ergonomics. It will just take time to figure out the right sizes now that the steam engine innards have been relegated to the past.


I know it's different for everyone. One reason I don't really care about the size of cameras (having hauled old Hasselblads around on vacation) is the fact that in my working life we're hauling around lights, cases full of modifiers, lots of light stands, tripods, diffuser frames and all the other materials we need to make photographs that sell. If I had a Guggenheim grant and the requisite coolness factor I would love to roam around with just a single camera body and a lens. But that's rarely the case in my day to day work. Even the smallish a6300 blossoms with more and more stuff. 


And neither were the early mirror-free cameras shrinking violets either. My original Sony R1 was as big as most of my "professional" cameras and bigger than some. While it was early tech it showcased something that I've come to like about one of Sony's camera design philosophies: The idea of building a "no holds barred" lens as a permanently attached part of the camera system. It worked on the R1 and it seems to work well for many of their other Cybershot cameras. It's not the way to make cameras smaller. Just better.  And I'm really OK with that. 


14 comments:

George Janik said...

What have you got against Mirandas :) I had a Miranda Sensorex..great camera. Also there was Carmen Miranda, loved her hats.

Rosco said...

I've been using little V1's for my magazine work for about 4-years after using the D300. I had an editor say to me the other day "Funny every other photographer I go out with has a big camera and a bag full of gear; and you always turn up with these little cameras and take great pics!" And; that's even using a red coloured lens (cheap Cameta refurb;-) )

I admit the V1's aren't as ergonomic as I'd like, but they have paid for themselves many times in the last few years (especially as I bought them cheap on Ebay after the V2 came out) I've also printed 20x30" images for gallery exhibitions from them. We're so lucky to have such good gear now.

I have just bought an FZ1000 to use for my mag work and I'm really impressed with it. The controls seem really sensibly thought out and I can shoot from wide to long without swapping cameras as before. However the V1's will still be used for gallery work too, and as back ups on jobs

Anonymous said...

Right on the money. Too many people are more interested in cosmetics than usable features! Are we photographers or fashionistas?

Dave Jenkins said...

For me, the (partial) switch to mirrorless was indeed all about size and weight. And that despite the fact that I'm 6'1" and weight 225 pounds. But I HATE to carry unnecessary weight. And I don't use grips on my EM-5s, even though my hands are large enough that in my playing days I could pick up a basketball by gripping it from the top with one hand. (I did try a grip, didn't like it, and sent it back.)

But my go-to camera is still my full-frame Canon, and if it weren't for the size and weight (especially of the lenses), I wouldn't use anything else. I just find it much less complicated and much more user friendly than the Olys.

However, all this really proves is that we're all different and one size does not fit all.

Meanwhile, I've been picking up a few Olympus OM Zuiko lenses and eventually I'll get a Sony A7II body to use them on when the price comes down a bit. Perhaps that will be the sweet spot for me.

Michael said...

I am old enough to know how spoiled we are by the new tech. I still love my Rollei TLR, but the modern features really do make a more creative experience possible.

Possible but not infallible! It has taken me nearly a year to make all the features useable on my A7rii but nonetheless things to go wrong. I really did accidentally leave the setting on Super35 after filming deep in the back country of Capitol Reef last year, without the benefit of review on my computer, and primarily using just one Sony 35mm lens, such that my still frames there after over several days were compromised by low resolution and the wrong focal length.

I admire your preparedness and willingness to share the your professional experiences. The huge number of features requires lots of practice to get it right, but then again, I did load film incorrectly more than once in the Rollei on a critical project.

Kirk Tuck said...

Michael, I screw up all the time but I always try to have a back-up plan. And a plan to back-up my back-up. Mostly failure is down to my own human error...

Edward Richards said...

I am still using optical viewfinders - Nikon D610, 4x5 ground glass. But I do a lot of available light photos of church interiors where seeing to compose and focus is hard. How do current EVFs work in this sort of environment? Nothing is moving, so I am not worried about streaking. It would nice to be able to see what I am doing. This seems a huge potential value of a mirrorless camera.

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Your comparison with a Remington typewriter is time- and priceless Kirk - thanks for that!

Oh, and the grip on the E-M5.2: you need only the first part of it to get headphone outputs, right? I'll look that up - my wife is into video much more than me, and she prefers Oly to Panny bodies (colors etc.).

To Edward Richards: yes, using an EVF in dark surroundings is an eye-opener, so to speak. But no, they don't really make you see in the dark, because if lights go really low, the view gets noisy. But noisy still beats black... the important thing is that for studio flash photography, you can turn this "live view boost" (as it is called by Olympus) off. Hope that helps; you should try it.

Nigel said...

Sometimes it is about the size - the EM5ii is about perfect for me to carry around all day - but otherwise, I agree completely with your comments.
The feature set of the GH5 includes just about everything I've been waiting for, and in that context, the extra weight really is of little consequence.

Paul Gero said...

Edward, you would love the EVF with focus peaking and the ability to magnify your viewfinder as you work...it's like putting a loupe on your 35mm chrome to see in close.

Jason Hindle said...

Very much agreed. Mirrorless allows cameras to be smaller. As cameras like the GH5 and Leica SL demonstrate, that doesn't mean they must be smaller. The mirrorless body is a platform for lenses and other accessories, some of which are rather large. When I tried the 12-40 on my smallest body, the Panasonic GM1, the setup looked, and felt, rather comical.

Michael said...

Kirk,

A quick technical question. I would like to use my A7rii for landscape videography. I would like more color depth. I do not want to spend $2k to tote a heavy Atomos around (the fact that I do not have $2k in my pocket aside). I would like to capture 10 bit 4:2:2 color ( oh, why not raw - don't get me started on how Sony and Panasonic dumb down their DSLR video output to protect their other products). I am looking for a storage device that will just capture the higher color output at a reasonable cost. Maybe I would buy the Aputure monitor, or maybe not to keep the gear simpler. Do you know of such a storage device? Does the data need to be encoded on the device in a readable format for the video software? By now it should be obvious from my questioning that I am a video novice?

Your understudy, Michael

David said...

People are stupid and that's never going to change. Just because the Gh5 was anouced, doesn't mean the Gm5 ceased to exist. The Gm5 is a perfect for me pocket camera with either the 12-32mm or the 14-42mm pz len. The small 35-100mm I also fit in a pocket, the f5.6 one.
Panasonic also announced an other small camera with the Gh5. So small option is not dead, nor are stupid people. We just have to live with it all.

Joe V said...

Great thoughts, Kirk. Now, as for the manual typewriters, people ARE blogging on them (myself included) precisely because they're no longer being used as mainstream writing tools by the professional. Just like with old film cameras, people now use them in their personal work because they want to, not because they have to.