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Mirrorless Is About More Than Just Being Small & Lightweight

By Anthony Thurston on February 14th 2015

If you walk into a room full of photographers and ask them what the advantages of a mirrorless system are, 9/10 will probably mention size/weight in the first 1 or 2 answers they give. But is mirrorless a one trick pony? Is that the only advantage that mirrorless holds over traditional mirror-based SLRs?

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No, its not, and the funny thing is, if you ask me, the size/weight savings of mirrorless rank near the end of the list of reasons that I decided to buy into the mirrorless system that I did (Fuji). Coming from Canon, if it was really just about size/weight, I would have just bought an SL1 and called it a day.

[REWIND: Fuji Announces Updated Lens Roadmap]

It is a common theme I see though from people who do not own a mirrorless camera yet: the assumption that mirrorless is all about size/weight. Whenever a new lens is released, you hear “That is huge, you might as well still own an SLR,” or something along those lines, demeaning a great optic because of its size. Sure, for some people, maybe the size/weight is the primary reason for switching, but I would hazard a guess that if you actually asked, the percentages would be much lower than you think.

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I mean sure, I like the size/weight savings, but I look at them as more of a side benefit, rather than a reason for me using the system. I made the switch because of the versatility of my lens choices. I am able to use virtually any lens I want (via adapters ofcourse), and the advantage here over an SLR system is enormous.

I have an entire fast prime lens kit right now that cost me less than $250. They are all vintage Canon FD, Nikon F, and Olympus OM mount lenses that I have come to love. Having the ability to use them without any quality loss on my Fuji X-T1, and going further, the ability to manual focus accurately & easily, far outweigh my affection for the size/weight of the camera system.

Is A Mirrorless System's Size/Weight Its PRIMARY Advantage over an SLR?

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In fact, I would say that I actually may prefer slightly larger mirrorless systems. I say that for one reason, battery life. I would be perfectly happy with an X-T1 that was .5-1 inch thicker if it meant the camera could support a larger battery. But that is just me, and as I have said, the size/weight means little to me.

Other reasons to go mirrorless (that aren’t size/weight related) include features like being able to see your image in the EVF (complete with exposure, white balance, depth of field, etc), before snapping the shot. Frequent firmware updates to improve or add functionality are another advantage not usually seen in the SLR world. I could go on listing other advantages, but many would be camera specific and thus not super relevant to the mirrorless segment as a whole.

Don’t get me wrong, the size/weight of my Fuji system is nice, but it is not the be all-end all of a mirrorless system. So can we please stop acting like it?

Do you own an mirrorless camera system? If so, was the size/weight savings a primary factor in your decision to switch? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think!

Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

28 Comments

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  1. Andy Martin

    Thanks Scot, I went and got a few acupuncture treatments. Got the swelling down in my right hand wrist. I took off January and February. Went to Costa Rica and brought my Sony A6000. I have never enjoyed shooting more.

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  2. Andy Martin

    I am a physically strong male @ 5’11” and 190 pounds. I carry two cameras on me when I shoot. Canon 5DII with the 70-200 and the 24-70. For the last 5 years I have shot over 55 weddings per year. I Love Shooting Weddings.
    I first developed issues in my neck. Doc says bulging disks. That was when I went from straps to a spider holster. Then I developed injuries in my shooting wrist. Lots of pain from shooting with my favorite 70-200 lens all day.
    I really hated the idea of changing systems, but it was something I had to do. I switched to Sony A6000 & A7II.
    The weight difference is less than half of what I had been used to. The image quality did not suffer at all. My post production time has improved by 1/3 because I am better with my exposures, white balance and I don’t find the need to crop level my images.
    Because of a slower auto focus I had to change the way I shoot. Because the auto focus has more of a delay with mirrorless, I started shooting with “continuous auto focus” + “lock on target” and that made focusing incredibly easy.

    I have friends who shoot weddings that are developing the same injuries that I am now living with. I tel them that going to mirrorless has saved me.

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    • Scot Tumlin

      Andy,

      Thanks for sharing your story. Are the injuries u suffered now manageable?

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  3. Felipe Garcia

    I shoot mostly aviation, so an OVF is way better in my opinion and experience. I have a Fuji X-E1 for general stuff (so I don’t have to carry a 7D or 1D body around), and I’ve gotten a few good shots at the airport, but it’s just not the same.

    As far as firmware goes, I love my X-E1. By the time I was done opening the box, there was a new firmware update and I had the camera up and running the next morning (battery charge delayed me). The kit lens on the X-E1 is fantastic too.

    Do I want to shoot one coupled to a 100-400, 70-200 or 300/400/500 prime? N O W A Y.

    Once I have money I might splurge on a Touit 12mm or the XF 14mm to have an ultrawide walk around camera for some big events (i.e. EAA Airventure) so I don’t have to lug a bag with 2 pro bodies and assorted f2.8 / f4 glass unless I anticipate the need.

    One of my friends was thinking about buying a good P&S, but during his search he ran across the a6000 and I told him that if he wanted mirrorless, the X-E1 was a solid choice, he looked at some options and said he might get the X-E1. He doesn’t shoot too much airborne stuff but wants to do a lot of museum things, and he was fairly impressed by the ISO1250 shot I showed him.

    Now that there are some pretty advanced mirrorless options (X-E1/2, X-Pro1, X-T1, a7 series, OM-D), I can see DSLRs becoming less popular for people who don’t need every function of a DSLR, or who don’t want to carry one (to avoid drawing too much attention, if weight/size can be a problem, etc).

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  4. Dave Haynie

    My EOS 6D system weighs in at about 25lbs. If I take out just the 6D and a 24-105 f/4L and a spare battery or two, it’s roughly the same weight as my OM-D E-M5 system, a bag full of primes from 8mm to 300mm (16mm to 600mm in 35mm terms). So it’s pretty much a size and weight thing.

    There are advantages to both systems. A single battery on the Canon will outlast two on the Olympus. That said, I shot 1,850 images over two days last week — while hiking in the Arizona hills above Phoenix and around Sedona — and only went through three batteries total. Naturally, shot estimates for a mirrorless are far more based on actual use than for a DSLR. The Olympus has more useful information in the viewfinder — I particularly use the levels when I’m hand-shooting panoramas. Works good.

    But even with a fairly good 1.44megadot viewfinder, what you see is really only a different kind of hint about the final image from a DSLR. And when they say “dot”, they are saying “subpixel”… what that really means is about 800×600… that’s a standard for measuring electronic viewfinders that comes over from the days of monochrome finders on camcorders, and it’s misleading at best. I don’t know many who’d be happy examining and editing photos on an 800×600 monitor that’s not actively calibrated. I mean the tablet I’m typing this on is 2560×1600… my new laptop is 3840×2160. With quantum dot color. They really need a few more generations of EVF tech before it starts to be better, not just different, than optical.

    Lots of the other things I like about the OM-D are likely to make me buy another some day, but they’re not specific to mirrorless, but to Olympus in this case. Yes, Olympus updates their software more often than Canon does. And they get the lenses, too… well, the one you have on the camera. Line 6 does a much better job with all my electronic guitar stuff… there’s an app that tells me about updates without the need to plug in a guitar or pedalboard. The OM-D in-camera stabilization works as good or better (since it can do the Z axis), but that kind of system can work in DSLRs as well (I think Pentax does that).

    And honestly, there may be a PRO zoom or two in my future, which will shrink the size advantage a little. Well, unless I witched over to Canon f/2.8L zooms as well, of course. You do have to compare like to like in general duscussions, but in reality it’s more about what I actually own. Replace my two Canon and one Sigma zooms with a couple of primes and that bag gets lighter, too.

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  5. Jean-Francois Perreault

    Well explained!

    I too often read people saying that putting a big lens on a mirrorless is useless. It’s not just about size.
    Mirrorless, for me, just means more possibilities.
    I’m not stuck with a big camera when I want to be more discreet. I can simply put on a small pancake lens and be unnoticed.
    Anthony’s point on vintage manual glass is another advantage. EVFs, with focus peaking, make it very very easy to focus properly. Again, another possibility mirrorless offers.

    As for size, some may prefer a DLSR like size. Nothing prevents companies from embedding a mirrorless system into a bigger body to satisfy those who may want it. That’s another possibility mirrorless offers. If the market asks for it, companies will offer bigger sized mirrorless cameras.

    Like I said, mirrorless isn’t necessarily better, it means more possibilities.

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  6. Dirk Bouwen

    The photography/camera market is not doing well. The business has to shift from smaller compact ranges to something new, to keep the manufacturing lines affected by the smartphone-industry rolling. Where, here it is, the ‘deus ex machina’, the mirrorless compact. Sure the weight is lower. Form factor smaller. Sold as a premium product, to create the most margin. But it lets me think a bit of bridge cameras. Once, they were going to replace SLRs too. Where I love some brands like f.i. Fuji, in the same time I still experiencing quite a few limitations. It still surprises me that so many pro-photographers are interested in this kind of stuff – it’s all very decent, but not too the level of a pro-DSLR, no way and in particular, not when it comes to flexibility.

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  7. John Cavan

    I think mirrorless have a lot of advantages, but their size and weight isn’t one to me. I actually prefer a heft to my camera, despite the neck pull, and at one point had battery grips on both my K-5s (before switching to Nikon) to add the heft and then wore them both out in the woods (one with a macro and one with a long zoom) hiking. I suspect I may be crazy… Anyways, I’m in the camp that likes the balancing feel of the larger SLR, so selling me on mirrorless by using size and weight is a bust.

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  8. Ralph Hightower

    I know of three members of the local camera club that have gotten mirrorless cameras. Two recently gave a presentation on the pros and cons of the system. Size and weight were a big benefit.
    Hmm, so I can use Canon FD lenses on mirrorless cameras? That’s interesting, I have a few FD primes and zoom lenses ranging from 28mm to 400mm. Okay, the 400mm is a T-mount lens which is a pain to use in remembering to manually stop down the lens.
    My Canon film cameras, A-1 and F-1N, would be less bulky and weight less if I removed their respective motor drives, but I like the convenience and features that they offer. Even when the A-1 motor drive needed repair since the film advance didn’t work, the shutter in portrait orientation still worked.
    But the common disadvantage that I’ve been reading of mirrorless cameras is their short battery life.

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  9. fotosiamo

    I’ve always had mirrorless camera during my time as a photographer (started with the Olympus E-PL1). I now use an a7R. In regards to weight, I’m not a big stickler on weight, either. In fact, back when I started with the E-PL1, I was using 4/3 Olympus Zuiko zoom lenses since fast micro 4/3 zoom lenses were not available back then.

    What I do love about my a7R (as well as the GH3 I had before) is that I can have a battery grip on my camera 24/7 and it still weighs less than a traditional FF DSLR. That is a big advantage for what I shoot, which is portrait, fashion, and commercial.

    In fact, when I do shoot video with the a7R (which I will do when I get the a7S, too), I keep the grip on my shoulder rig since it’s far easier to pop the battery off from the side.

    Lens adaptability is a big reason for mirrorless, and I regularly use Canon lenses on my a7R, including the Rokinon 35mm T1.5 cine lens on Canon mount.

    And I love the EVF because as Anthony said, I get to see exposure and WB in real time. I also get peaking and magnification for focus checking, which really helps. I do wish that the Sony cameras can turn off the exposure preview automatically whenever a wireless trigger/speedlight is attached to the hot shoe. The Panasonic GH3 does that it and makes sense.

    One more thing: Having an EVF when shooting outside is so useful because you can review your images using the EVF and not have to worry about trying to see on a washed out LCD screen or having to carry a loupe around!

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  10. Mircea Blanaru

    Many people think “bigger is better” but I can tell them “less is more”. The full frame cameras are bigger then a an average brick, and weight the same….

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  11. Hannes Moser

    i was sooo close to invest a lot of money (approx. 3000 USD) – but then i saw this video – it’s true what Tony mentions – i own already the olympus stylus 1 – iso 400 – a noise makes me crazy…i was expecting noise problems with this small cam but not sooo intensive – i’m still happy with my fullframe-equipment

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  12. Arnold Ziffel

    I’m rough on my gear and I like cameras built like tanks. I also hate EVFs. So there.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      My X-T1 is die-cast magnesium and weather sealed to high heaven… Can’t think of how much more ‘like a tank’ it could be, other than in size. :P Fair enough about the EVF bit, not everyone’s cup of tea, but I will say that I think many people severely underestimate EVFs and over estimate their dislike for them (not saying you are doing that).

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  13. Stephen Jennings

    Mirrorless is certainly the future but I’m not sure if weight is really that big of a deal. Personally, I love heavy gear, you won’t find me complaining after a day of shooting a d800 with grip and 70-200. I find I shoot better the heavier the gear, steadies my hand. Whereas shooting with a lightweight camera/lens combo I shake and sway more. Maybe I’m weird?

    I like the idea of no more mirror slapping, and seeing what the image will look like in the evf, and the hypothetical cost savings since they cost less to make. I just hope when Nikon and Canon switch they let us keep our glass.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      That bit about weight not being a big deal, that is all I was trying to convey, so thanks for the comment :)

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  14. David Blanchard

    I voted for the “less weight” option. The caveat is that I get everything from my Sony NEX 7 kit that I was getting from my moderately extensive Canon EOS 7D kit at half the weight. When evaluating such a move you have to take into account who you are and what you shoot. I’m a fine art guy. I am not a bokeh hound. I don’t try to do commercial work. I am a subject focused photographer, not an effects focused photographer. I shoot the occasional landscape, mostly by accident of travel.

    So, “less weight” works for me and I eagerly await an A7000. I’ve gone even further by buying a Sony RM100M3 for everyday/ and walkaround purposes. What a nice piece of work it it.

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  15. Dayna Lee

    The main reasons why I would consider a mirrorless is size and weight. I have a camera with me…always! But I’m tired of stuffing my bulky DSLR into my already overstuffed handbag. A mirrrorless would fit the bill, or should I say ‘fit the bag’ …but it would have to deliver image quality comparable to the DSLR so I wouldn’t regret because I didn’t have the DSLR with me.

    But I’m not too keen on EVFs. Sure they are more practical when shooting video, I hate having to use the viewscreen as a viewfinder. And EVFs are great when shooting in low light situations where it might be hard to see what I’m shooting with an optical finder. But generally I’m not too pleased with the characteristics of an EVF viewfinder. It just looks unnatural to me.

    It would have to be compatable with my regular lenses so I wouldn’t have to buy a whole kit of lenses for it.

    The quietness of an electronic shutter would be good when shooting in places where the mirror slap might be disturbing to others, and the high FPS might be useful on occasion. So there are a few small advantages to mirrorless, but not enough that I would repalce the DSLR with one. I can’t see myself using one as my primary camera, only as something to use when carrying the big DSLR isn’t practical.

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  16. Greg Silver

    I switched to the mirrorless Sony a6000 primarily for the Autofocus, FPS and the low cost. The small size wasn’t a factor at all. In fact, I almost passed it up as I found it too small. But have since gotten use to the smaller size.

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  17. Holger Foysi

    Size and weight is usually less than what we know from DSLRs but the least important factor for me, since you can have a lightweight DSLR package, too. Often times, cameras with differently sized sensors or different, non-equivalent lenses are compared, to make mirrorless look better. m43 should be smaller anyway, for example, due to the smaller sensor than APSC or FF DSLRs. So people happily look at their 25/1.8 lenses, forgetting you get less light or less shallow DOF if needed due to a FF equivalent f-stop of f3.6, when comparing to a 50/1.8 FF lens wide open. If you look at the recent lens introductions, you see that there is not much difference with fast lenses in terms of size and weight when comparing to DSLR lenses (Sony’s 35/1.4, 90mm/2.8 macro, 70-200/4, 24-70/4; Samsungs 16-50/2-2.8 or 50-150/2.8, Fuji’s 16-50 and 50-140, 56/1.2 etc., when compared to 24-70/4 or 70-200/4, 85/1.8 DSLR lenses). This will be even closer, when looking at upcoming tele options (Samsungs 300/2.8, Olympus 300/4 (which is equivalent to a FF 600/8 (!) lens)). Sony’s new lens introduction show only a minor benefit of the smaller flange distance. The mirrorless bodies are still smaller, but you have oftentimes tiny buttons with awkward controls, small batteries (Samsungs NX1 being an exception I like). DSLRs can be made smaller, too, such that differences are there but minor, when comparing FF systems (D750 with 1.8G lenses). What are the benefits? WYSWYG is not amongst them for _me_. The simple reason is it is because the preview is due to the chosen jpg settings, which determining the histogram, too (instead of building the histogram from true raw data). Additionally it distracts me a little, as I focus less on the scene, but already try to judge colours. The exposure indicator in a DSLR is all I need to judge exposure. In backlight scenes experience and spot metering on the brightest spot lets me easily adjust it. But mirrorless is appealing because of focus accuracy and reliability, focus magnification when doing macro work or in manual mode, third-party lens adaption, EFCS, faster potential fps, video work with peaking (peaking should be improved ,too. So far I need magnification to double check for critical focus and fast lenses). If now the histogram would be more reliable…

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  18. Scot Tumlin

    Hi Anthony,

    Nice Article, thanks. Responding to your question…”Do you own an mirrorless camera system? If so, was the size/weight savings a primary factor in your decision to switch? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think!”

    I switched from a Canon 5Dmk2 to a Sony A7r and Canon 7D to a Sony A6000. Weight was the catalyst for researching mirrorless cameras, especially when I (90%) shoot outdoors (landscape and wildlife) and spend many hours hiking in the field. But image quality and other factors were the primary factors that made mirrorless a viable replacement strategy for my needs.

    Simply put, I was able to get the same or better, quality shots with lighter gear, which lets me spend more time shooting :)

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  19. Stan Rogers

    You speak truth. But you also point out why mirrorless “ain’t there yet”. I can’t think of a single circumstance under which I would want my viewfinder to have a white balance or an exposure bias (and concomitant exposure range limit) other than what my brain provides. But that is very probably an attitude born in the studio, where the “taking” light hasn’t had much at all to do with the “viewfinding” light since the days when I stopped toasting my subjects under tungsten fresnels, blondes, redheads and Tota-lights back in the ’80s, and I understand that it doesn’t reflect the needs of all shooters. Most of the time, I need a straight optical pipe, or at least something that can act exactly like one. (And parallax is bad, m’kay, so a hybrid finder similar to the one in the Fuji X100 isn’t the answer, either.) And yet there *are* times, though few, when I wish there was a bit more WYSIWYG (I do shoot the *occasional* picture in the wild). I still hope, though, and I’m sure that it won’t be long before we’ve got a system that can be more-or-less unbiased, with a wide enough range to “act optical” when that’s what you need, while still offering all of the great features that make an EVF desirable when the ambient light makes a much greater contribution to the picture. Perhaps it might mean looking at pellicle mirrors again (more along the lines of the old Canon EOS RT than the Sony SLT), but I’m rather hoping for an all-electronic solution. And, of course, a global electronic shutter to go with it.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      See, we just have a difference of opinion, I like that I can see -more or less- what my image will look like via the EVF. I could care less what it looks like it reality, what is important to me is the image I am capturing.

      That said, this is just one piece of the mirrorless puzzle, and yes they do have a ways to go before being where they need to be, but my point in the post was just focusing in on the idea that the only reason to shoot mirrorless is for size/weight savings, and how I greatly disagree with that.

      PS – Also worth noting, on the X-T1 you can turn off the exposure and WB preview on the EVF, making it perform much more like a standard OVF. So since you don’t like it, you could use the camera without that feature.

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    • Holger Foysi

      @Anthony: It is true that you can turn off exposure preview. But the problem I have with most mirrorless is that the histogram is not working anymore in that case (right now it is the A7ii). The histogram in the VF is the most important advantage for me, but it is only build using jpg settings.

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    • Stan Rogers

      Well, you can *sort of* turn off the exposure/WB preview; what that actually gets you is auto WB and autoexposure. The auto WB mostly works (it’s usually in the ballpark, so a tungsten-lit scene doesn’t look bright orange and so on). The AE may or may not leave you with a useful viewfinder image, and only being able to see one end or the other of the brightness scale isn’t always useful (particularly when your subject is dark and your not-tripping-over-things lighting is as brighht as an old man needs it to be). That’s only because there’s an electronic camera and screen, with their limitations, in the way. Again, this is all about rather specific types of photography that really aren’t the average use case, but which I hope are never forgotten with all of the “progress” coming down the pipe. The image I see in my viewfinder generally has nothing whatsoever to do with the image I’m capturing; that won’t exist until the flash goes off.

      Back in the day, I had rangefinders, 35mm SLRs, 6x7s, a 6×8 with movements, 4x5s (a monorail and a field camera) and an 8×10, and I had reasons to use all of them. I can see why an EVF can be exactly what’s needed in a lot (probably the majority) of situations, but it’s the wrong tool for me most of the time — even if I like what I see when looking through a good one at the store these days (the Samsung is especially good). Perhaps in another year or two or three.

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  20. Austin Swenson

    I would have to agree here. I just recently bought into a Sony a77ii to use with my 70-200, and battery life is noticeably better.

    While I originally thought that the weight of my A7 was an advantage, I realized that it’s not THAT heavy, and my A7 could be a little bigger in terms of height to fit a bigger battery and I wouldn’t have a single complaint

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