6 Months of Mirrorless Photography

fuji_x-e2As anyone who has followed my blog, forum posts, or Facebook, you’ve probably noticed that I sold off all of my Canon DSLR equipment and went the mirrorless route, starting with a Fujifilm X-E1 and shortly after, traded up to the Fujifilm X-E2. The primary reason was size and the rangefinder form factor really looked appealing to me. As the old adage goes, the best camera is the one you have with you which is exactly why I had so many poor iPhone photos of important events even though I had thousands of dollars of Canon gear. Simply put, the DSLR is just too darn big for me to lug around in most cases whereas the X-E2 is small, light, and discrete. So I knew I was going to upgrade and I pulled the trigger in January by selling my Canon and bought my first mirrorless camera.

Now that I have been using a mirrorless system exclusively for the last six months I thought I write a post on my experience transitioning from one camp to the other.

Being my first rangefinder it took some getting used to. I’ve shot Canons since the 90’s and my hands just knew where everything was without thinking about it so just switching from a Canon was a shock to the system. Also having the camera off to the side felt strange since I was so used to hiding behind a big chunk of plastic and glass and now I was actually involved in taking pictures. To expand on that a little let’s consider what your subject sees when you take their picture. They see a camera with your body beneath it, where as when I have my rangefinder up to my eye it’s blocking very little of my face. I know this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I notice immediately that my rapport with my subjects just seemed better, and they were more involved. Even if you only shoot landscapes and don’t care about exposing your face to your subjects, chances are you’re still going to like having less between you and your subject.

Which do you think is better for your subject?

XE2-1 XE2-4

Moving to any new platform is going to have a bit of a learning curve to contend with since you’re getting used to new menus, button locations, and different feature sets. One of my favorite features of the X-E2 is the ability to put in a range of acceptable ISO settings and a minimum shutter speed. This doesn’t sound like much of a feature, but in practice has become one of the reasons I love this camera. Assuming you understand the relationship and tradeoffs between ISO, shutter speed, and aperture, this feature aims to give you the best quality image by using the lowest ISO it can get away with until it hits your defined limit of minimum shutter speed. It helps take my mind off of the controls and lets me concentrate on the image. It’s just one more thing that helps me get great images.

I know some people really don’t care for an EVF, (electronic viewfinder) but I fell in love with it immediately because you can see what you’re going to get. For example, if I had a back lit subject I know that I would have overexpose the image 1/3 – 1 stop or more depending on the delta of light. With my Canon I’d have to take a stab at it and then chimp the LCD to confirm. With a mirrorless/EVF I can see it change as I adjust the exposure compensation dial. Twist to flavor and BOOM! Perfect image. And since it’s such instantaneous feedback I’m learning what I need to do before I even see it. So if I were to shoot a DSLR now, I’d be much better and nailing my exposure.

One of the chief complaints you hear about mirrorless/EVF is around lag, the difference in the actual moving subject and the picture of the subject you see on the EVF’s screen. With good reason many people swore off EVF’s since you would get subject caught outside of the frame due to the lag, but as technology marches on, this is becoming less and less of an objection. In fact, after the 2.0 firmware update to my X-E2 it’s about as close as real time as you can get.

Ergonomically it has taken me some time to get used to the smaller form factor of a mirrorless camera body. Again, I do love my X-E2’s layout, even more so than the X-T1 you hear so much about, but even though it’s just about a perfect layout, holding it, especially with larger lenses like my 55-200, has forced me to do things a little differently to manipulate the controls, even more so when shooting in low light situations where you need it to be super stable. Again, it takes a little getting used to since my hands have held a large Canon for so many years.

So now that I’m down the road 6 months later and pushing 10,000 pictures with it, my hands know right where to go, I know how many clicks of the menu arrows I need to do to get to every setting, and most of the technical items have moved from conscious effort to unconscious competency, I just focus on getting the image. The camera feels natural, like an extension of my body and my images just keep getting better and better. I’m amazed that right from the beginning I was capturing amazing images with my mirrorless camera. I have fallen in love with photography all over again and shoot is now more fun and satisfying than ever.

One of the big issues I have with the mirrorless platform, and honestly I doubt it’ll even matter in a couple of years, is the autofocus system. I know the manufacturers have been racing to narrow the gap between mirrorless systems and DSLRs, but as of yet, it’s not quite there. I hope the next generation of mirrorless cameras work like my Canon’s amazing AF system worked. As I have learned the new mirrorless system I have missed many a photo due to the lackluster autofocus tracking performance. I’ve learned how to eek the most out of the camera’s available tools, but as of yet,I’m waiting for that Fujifilm X-E3 to come out one day and blow the doors off of the current models.

I try not to get too hardware specific in most of my posts since I believe it’s not the equipment that matters, rather than the knowledge of lighting that counts, but in most cases, I think the DSLR is going to go the way of the dinosaur. Once the AF systems catch up I really can’t see a compelling reason to stick with a DSLR other than the investment in your glass, which isn’t an issue for new photographers.

Wrapping up here, I’d say I have no regrets ditching my big guns and moving to a mirrorless platform. After only six months I have such a sentimental attachment to my camera now I couldn’t imagine taking pictures without it. I simply love my X-E2 and the amazing images it gives me every time I use it. Even when I’m not shooting, I’m thinking about shooting and I can’t wait to pick up my camera and point it at somebody.

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