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Camera Talk With Saville

The Three Biggest Reasons Portrait & Wedding Photographers Should Switch to Mirrorless (Eventually)

By Matthew Saville on November 26th 2018

I never thought I’d see a day when arguments like Film vs Digital, or Nikon vs Canon, would be made to appear tame in comparison to something else. And yet, here we are in 2018, and the “Mirrorless versus DSLR” debate is turning out to be the hottest fire of all. It doesn’t help that a third player, Sony, entered the scene 5 years ago, and is shaking things up with both “prosumer” cameras and serious professional mirrorless full-frame cameras.

Here at our photography studio, we’re all working photographers. We don’t care about the latest online bloodbath of camera spec sheet comparisons, we’ve got real clients to photograph! And, we’ll use whatever gear gets the job done! We’ve been doing this for 10+ years, going all the way back to the earliest full-frame DSLRs, and crop-sensor DSLRs. Some of us even did our earliest jobs on film.

However, make no mistake, we’re paying very close attention to the latest cameras, as well as the general consensus about the latest tech. We realize that no camera or system is ever going to be perfect, and new technology could always improve our shooting.

Our job, here at SLR Lounge, is to sift through all the arguments, all the fanboy praise, the nay-saying, bashing, …and get to the truth of the matter so that you don’t have to worry about all the nonsense, and can just go take pictures with whatever camera gear is best suited to your own personal needs.

The Three Biggest Reasons To Switch To Mirrorless
For Portrait & Wedding Photography

The world of photography is extremely diverse, and one photographer may see one camera system as having many great advantages, while another photographer may see the same system as having unacceptable disadvantages.

So, it’s important to consider the exact type of photography you do, and the style which you shoot it with, when discussing camera gear.

For this reason, we’re focusing this entire article on portrait and wedding photography. Do you really need extreme FPS (frames-per-second) for weddings and portraits? Not really. Also, everybody’s talking about flange distance and lens mount diameter; how important is that? Well, it depends on your style of shooting. (Do you really need an f/0.95 lens?)

Nikon FX mirrorless mount: it’s a lot bigger! But, how important is that to you?

In our opinion, there are a lot of things that just don’t matter that much to wedding and portrait photographers, however, there are three strong reasons to consider switching. So, let’s talk about them!


Nikon DSLR Autofocus Point Arrays

1.) focus Point Spread | AF Points All Over The Viewfinder

One of the biggest challenges that new portrait photographers face when using a DSLR, (especially full-frame) is that the autofocus points just don’t cover very much of the viewfinder. Furthermore, the focus points around the edges are either totally unreliable or noticeably less accurate than the central focus points.

The bottom line is this: Portrait and wedding photographers spend a lot of time putting their subjects’ faces off-center in a frame, usually around the rule-of-thirds areas, and unfortunately most full-frame DSLRs just don’t have truly reliable AF points that fully cover these areas.

So, you’re left to use a “focus+recompos” technique. You could use the dead-center AF point and recompose the shot significantly, potentially losing focus on a near subject especially at apertures from f/1.4 to f/2.8. Or, you could try the edge AF points, (so that you only have to re-compose the shot a tiny bit) and just hope that the edge AF point actually nailed focus in the first place. Either way, you’re going to get a percentage of your images that are just out of focus, no matter how good the autofocus system is.

Mirrorless cameras, unlike DSLRs, (when using the viewfinder) perform their autofocus on the image sensor itself, and are capable of placing extremely reliable AF points almost anywhere in the viewfinder.

This allows portrait photographers to effortlessly frame their shots precisely however they want, and (usually) completely trust the AF point to nail focus on subjects’ faces even around the rule-of-thirds area, or beyond.

Of course, I have to say usually because some mirrorless cameras still can’t beat some DSLRs’ autofocus reliability, in extremely poor lighting conditions. Although I’d counter-argue that most of those DSLRs are only superior when using one of their central AF points; an edge AF point, especially one that isn’t cross-type, is likely just as unreliable as a comparable class mirrorless camera.

What’s the bottom line here? If you shoot mostly in normal daytime conditions, and you do a lot of off-center subject framing, then you’ll probably be happier with the focus point spread of a current-generation mirrorless camera than any DSLR, even if the DSLR is still slightly better in extremely dark lighting.

2.) Electronic Viewfinder | WYSIWYG

As portrait photographers and wedding photographers, all of the images we deliver to our clients require professional quality color-correction. As such, the more you shoot, the more post-production time can be a huge issue if you don’t nail every single shot. For every few hundred photos you have to edit, you’ll spend a few more hours in Lightroom!

Witha mirrorless system, the electronic viewfinder lets you see the “final” image before you even capture it. This ensures that every image you take gets closer to perfection before you even click the shutter!

This WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) advantage allows you to make slight adjustments to both exposure and white balance, for every single image, even in active situations like wedding journalism where you aren’t able to check your rear LCD after every single click.

Of course, it helps even more if you’re shooting in difficult lighting, or using a very dark ND filter for fast-aperture portraits in bright sun.

Canon EOS R, (full review here!) RF 24-105mm f/4 L IS | 30 sec, f/9, ISO 100
With an EVF, you always see the final image clearly (even with a 10-stop ND!)

Not only can you shoot more quickly in the field, giving your clients a better overall experience, but you can also post-produce and deliver/proof the images more effortlessly.

This is the type of real-world advantage that isn’t just “bells and whistles” to a serious professional, it’s an actual time-saver that makes their workflow easier.

3.) In-Body Stabilization For Low Light Portraits & Candids

Before we dive into this last feature, let’s make one thing clear: In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) isn’t exclusive to mirrorless systems. Pentax has had sensor-based stabilization in its DSLRs for many years, and it works great. (Although you don’t get to see the stabilized image in the viewfinder.) Sony’s Alpha DSLR lineup has also had IBIS.

The unfortunate truth, however, is that Canon and Nikon have chosen not to put IBIS in their DSLR bodies. However, Nikon has put it in their Z-series FX mirrorless cameras, and if you take apart a Canon EOS R you’ll see that there’s room for an IBIS unit, so it could appear in future RF system mirrorless bodies. (Despite what any rumors say!)

Combine this with the fact that Sony has been perfecting their IBIS for a few generations now, and has implemented it in all of their latest (mk3) A7-series mirrorless cameras, as well as their flagship A9 and crop-sensor A6500.

Sony A7 III: 5-axis IBIS achieves up to 5 EV shutter speed shake-avoidance

Of all the types of photographers who could really use IBIS, portrait and wedding photographers are certainly near the top of the list. Why? Because we’re often shooting in extremely low-light, and pushing the boundaries of what is possible at high ISOs, shallow apertures, and barely acceptable shutter speeds. (We also often use primes and zooms that aren’t stabilized.)

Unlike action sports or wildlife photographers, our subjects are usually holding relatively still, making them perfect candidates for pushing the envelope on slow shutter speeds.

Having IBIS can of course mean the difference between a totally blurry image and a totally sharp image, but in real-world terms, it can alternately be the difference between making your clients wait while you set up a tripod, or re-shoot an image ten times just to get one in-focus shot, or simply compromise on ISO noise in order to get a sharp shot.

Now Shipping: Nikon Z6– IBIS, great AF Point Spread, Great EVF,
…but the autofocus may not yet match a Nikon DSLR in low light(?)

Should You Switch To MIrrorless, …Or Wait?

Unfortunately, as in much of life, for every great reason to do something, there is often a great reason not to do it, too. This situation is no exception, and there are indeed still a few drawbacks to being an “early adopter” of mirrorless technology.

So, should you switch? The answer is, …maybe. It really depends on how you shoot, and what your priorities are. If you’re photographing weddings in extremely low light, then on the one hand maybe in-body stabilization could be a huge help. On the other hand, you’ll always require reliable autofocus! So, the best thing you can do is to rent or borrow a system that you’re considering. The advantages may outweigh the disadvantages.

Sony, Canon, and Nikon all have very solid options in the full-frame mirrorless market now, and certain professionals may find certain systems to be exactly what they’re looking for. So, do your homework!

If you’re a specific type of photographer and have any questions about whether or not you should switch, please feel free to leave a comment below! Or, if you’ve already switched, please leave a comment with your thoughts on why you switched, what you shoot, and how your experience is going so far!

Learn Wedding & Portrait Photography with SLR Lounge

Camera gear is exciting, but creativity, talent, and business skills are far more important if you’re interested in photography professionally. Want to learn wedding and portrait photography, from both the creative, technical, and business angles? Check out our workshops in the SLR Lounge store, or consider becoming an SLR Lounge Premium member! Premium members have access to all our education, as well as exclusive access to our private groups with a wealth of collective knowledge.

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Sada Domonkos

    Just tell me when any mirrorles can achive a 1d X II AF follow focus speed or even a 5d4 follow focus speed . It is sometimes necessary at weddings. 

    I try out the Sony A9 with native lenses it was a “close” one but with adapters with canon lenses it was just crap… 

    Just tested out the canon R it sad only with adaptered EF lenses it was way better but wasnt fast enough . 

    BUT ONE VERY GOOD thingy is that in mirrorles system you will never need to calibrate lenses for every bodies … it is a nightmare if you working with 85 1.2 II or a 200 1.8 always need a calibration at least 1 time for 5d4 and 1dxII too and after that they were sharp at any distance … 

    And CANON please tell me why is a 50 1.2 R lens is out and why isnt a EF mount ? :D the old 50 1.2 is just soo old and sloooooow.

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    • Matthew Saville

      I’ve got good news and bad news, Sada Domonkos,

      The good news is that yes, the Sony mk3 cameras and Canon EOS R, when used with pro-grade lenses are easily as good as a 5D4 at focus tracking in wedding situations, (though maybe not as good as a 1DX2 for tracking 90MPH racecars/wildlife!) …and I actually find them to be MORE reliable than DSLRs overall, due to the fact that on-sensor AF is almost completely infallible with regards to front-focus/back-focus errors due to mis-calibration.

      The bad news is, Canon’s 50 1.2 RF is not going to come to EF, partly because RF is the future, but also partly because the optical formula is simply engineered to take advantage of the shorter flange distance. You simply couldn’t mount the RF lenses on an EF mount, not without locking up the DSLR’s mirror because the glass gets too close to the sensor.

      The 50 1.2 RF is wicked fast and reliable at focusing in impossible light, though, and I can’t wait to see how well a native RF 24-70 2.8 performs, especially for tough wedding situations like reception dance floors. I expect that within 1-2 generations, Canon, Nikon, and Sony will all have superior AF systems (at least for moderately paced action) in their mirrorless systems.

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    • Sada Domonkos

      Matthew there isnt a really big difference between the 5d4 and 1dxII the main difference is the dual processing unit so in the 5d4 only 1 and the 1dxII and 7d2 has 2 of them so 1 is only for focus tracking processing , waiting   for this to get in the mirrorles systems :) 

      yep and I like to use my 1dxII and 5d4 on live view cause dual pixel never miss but slow for follow focusing sport or event any fast action photography.

      and sooo waiting for any new accurate lens for EF mount :D   

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  2. Kwame Miller

    I’ve been burned before by buying a new model Nikon and so I plan to wait on the update before considering a mirrorless camera but I also have a major concern shooting weddings with only one memory card slot. I’ve never had a card fail me on a shoot but if I only have one card and it fails, I can’t begin to imagine how that conversation would go with the bride.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Yup, I too am NOT an “early adopter”. I like to buy my camera gear when it is 1-2 generations old, or that many generations into a whole new system for sure. I’ve tried being an early adopter before, and it just was a bit more frustrating of an experience.

      However, as both a gear reviewer and a full-time portrait/wedding photographer, I can see the writing on the wall. Mirrorless does have enough advantages that I will definitely be switching….eventually. (And dual card slots is definitely one of those requirements! But for those who are wondering why I don’t just get a Sony, well, it goes back to my dislike for being an “early adopter”, and I feel that although Sony is already at a mk3 generation of cameras, they still have a bit more polishing to do before I can get to a camera body that I’m truly comfortable using.

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  3. timothy bennett

    Great article Matt! As for me I’m going to wait a couple of years, let all the kinks get worked out. I’m really excited to see where mirrorless technology takes the photography industry. Thanks for the insight.

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