Why I Switched from DSLR to Mirrorless

Photography shouldn’t be about the gear, but sometimes it is
By Simon Burn – subscribe to Simon’s YouTube channel

Anyone who knows me will have noticed I’m not a big gear fan. I don’t have a top-of-the-line pro camera, my lenses are about 25 years old, my tripod is beaten up and falling apart, and I’ve been known to use a Tesco’s plastic bag as my camera bag. But I’ve joined the cool kids and switched from DSLR to mirrorless.

DSLR or Mirrorless – Gear is There to Get the Job Done

I believe gear is there to help you get the job done, capture the image. That’s it. Or maybe I’m just a cheapskate.

I had been shooting on a Nikon D700 for about eight years. It was a marvellous workhorse, and did what I asked of it.

Then as I got more into video work, I moved to a D750 because it had video capability. This worked well for about five or so years.

Serious Interest in Video Pushed Me to Mirrorless

Last year I decided to move more towards video production. After lots of research, I bought the new Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera.

The reviews suggested the video capabilities and quality was superb. The Z6, it turns out, is better than its older brother the Z7, if video is your thing.

After 6 months of use, I am absolutely delighted with it. Having the ability to shoot 4k, and 120 FPS at 1080p is perfect for my requirements.

The master plan was the use the Z6 as a dedicated video camera, while using my trusty D750 for photography. All was good in the universe.

The Mirrorless has Now Become My Photo Camera Too!

Then one day, I used the Z6 for photography. Immediately wondered why I hadn’t done this sooner.

I don’t like change, I get stuck in my ways and routines, and can be stubborn about it too. But I realized that this time, gear does matter, particularly when you have functionality that makes the taking of the photos easier.

No new camera gear will make you a better photographer, but It can contribute to trying new things and increase your productivity.

Today, the D750 is collecting dust, I find myself as impressed and enthusiastic to grab the Z6 and shoot with as I did when I first got the magnificent F5 back in the mid-nineties.

Why a Mirrorless Camera Works for Me

If you’re confused about whether to switch systems, I’m won’t try to persuade you to switch. Rather, here are some thoughts about how I benefitted switching to mirrorless. Maybe they’ll help you.

Mirrorless Benefit: What You See is What You Get (WYSIWYG)

This is the big one for me that makes it all worthwhile.

A mirrorless camera gives me the ability to see exactly how the shot will come out through the electronic viewfinder or rear flip-out screen before I press the shutter.

There’s no guessing exposures or white balance. I can see the exposure change as I adjust the settings. I’ve found this particular useful in low-light situations requiring long exposures.

On a mirrorless camera, you can see your histogram in the viewfinder if you wish, plus highlight alerts to ensure you don’t blow any highlights.

All of this together makes life so much easier and puts an end to guess-and-check photography. Big tick here!

With a 50mm prime, my mirrorless Z6 set-up weighs over 50g more than my DSLR D750 set-up!

Mirrorless Size & Weight Advantage – Fact or Fiction?

Everybody talks about this, but really?

I just picked up my Z6 with a 50mm f1.8 native Nikkor Z-series lens, and then my D750 with a 50mm f1.4 D-series lens, and it feels like the mirrorless set-up is heavier. Yes, really.

Sure, the body is smaller and lighter, which is nice when carrying in a backpack.

But the native glass, if you want the fast prime glass, is a lot bigger and heavier than what I’ve used on my DSLR, so it all balances out.

As I write this, I note the new Nikkor Z 70-200mm f2.8 is finally on sale, weighing in at 1,360g. The latest AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 for your DSLR is 1,430g. That’s less than a 5% saving for what is the biggest lens most of us will want to own.

How Does the Mirrorless Feel in Your Hand?

One criticism of the smaller size of mirrorless cameras is they tend not to be so comfortable to hold. This is true with most brands, but Nikon appear to have addressed this better than most.

For me, I find the Z6 grip comfortable and there is enough of a gap between the inside of the grip and lens, so my fingers don’t get squished. Still, not quite as comfortable as the D750.

Obviously, your experience will vary, so I would suggest you spend some time holding the camera with a lens you’ll be using to see how it feels in your hand. Of course, if you shoot everything on a tripod, this may not matter so much.

Is There a Difference in Image Quality? I Think So…

I’m no tech person, but apparently, because there is no flip-up mirror to get in the way, the mirrorless sensor sits a lot closer to the front of the camera than in a DSLR.

That means the gap between the sensor and the glass is a lot less. This results in a sharper image, with less distortion. Hmm, makes sense.

I can certainly verify that the images I’ve shot are very sharp right to the edge of the image. I haven’t encountered any chromatic aberration issues at all. Another big tick here!

Autofocus With Subject Tracking, Eye Detect, Etc – I Don’t Care

There are many mirrorless camera benefits with subject tracking, contrast detect, and eye detection (even for pets now!). All of these things sound impressive. I don’t use any of them, but it’s nice to know they are there.

Because there is no mirror, you can now place an AF point anywhere in the viewfinder. No need to move the camera to focus, and then re-frame to take the shot. But I still do, because I’ve been doing that for 30+ years. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Although when shooting landscapes on a tripod, I find this focussing ability very useful if there is foreground interest at the edge of the frame that requires focus. You can’t do that with a DSLR. Tick.

When you want to work quickly in low light, a mirrorless system excels

Mirrorless Cameras are Low Light Heroes

I’ve discovered that when shooting in very dark conditions, such as nighttime street photography, the AF is incredibly impressive and fast.

The mirrorless sensor is doing the focussing in addition to capturing the image, whereas in a DSLR there is a separate dedicated ‘sensor’ just for focussing, which tends not to work well when things get dark.

When I point my Z6 at a dark scene and it’s under-exposed, the camera doesn’t focus well, but as soon as I adjust the exposure and can see the scene perfectly exposed in the viewfinder, the focus can see it too, and kicks in like a charm! That’s very useful to have. Yet another big tick.

I’m Not a Gear Head, But the Mirrorless is Great Gear

We’re told that gear is over-rated, and having the latest and greatest cameras don’t make your images any better necessarily. I agree with this, to a point.

When we’re learning photography, any camera is sufficient to help us understand the principles of photography. I believe a good image is created from how we see and feel about something, and how we use the light to our advantage. A camera is just a tool to help us achieve this. 

All modern cameras, no matter the brand, do the same things, and do them well. However, as we improve, using higher spec/quality cameras and lenses will benefit us.

Features such as better water-resistance, programmable buttons and superior low-light imaging are all improvements brought on by newer and better gear.

For me, moving to mirrorless has improved my productivity and made working in certain situations and conditions easier. There’s no going back. Anyone in the market for a Nikon D750?

Simon Burn

Simon has been a photographer and creative director in the UK and Canada for over 25 years.

He worked with Andy for multinational corporations and brands before veering off to work on travel, tourism, food and lifestyle projects. Simon has travelled all over North America and Europe, working with consumer brands, tourism associations, and resorts. His work has been published in books, graced the covers of magazines, featured on TV; and he’s also worked with other photographers in the role of creative/art director and photo editor for publications and brands, in addition to being a photography competition judge.

In 2018, he started his own YouTube channel to share his love of travel and landscape photography and filmmaking.

ExploreDiscoverShoot is borne of Simon, Andy and David’s combined creative, business and technical skills, a strong entrepreneurial flair, and passion for photography and content creation.

The opportunities to work with other creators, share ideas, and promote creativity and knowledge, is a driving force with infinite possibilities.

Simon Burn

Simon has been a photographer and creative director in the UK and Canada for over 25 years.

He worked with Andy for multinational corporations and brands before veering off to work on travel, tourism, food and lifestyle projects. Simon has travelled all over North America and Europe, working with consumer brands, tourism associations, and resorts. His work has been published in books, graced the covers of magazines, featured on TV; and he’s also worked with other photographers in the role of creative/art director and photo editor for publications and brands, in addition to being a photography competition judge.

In 2018, he started his own YouTube channel to share his love of travel and landscape photography and filmmaking.

ExploreDiscoverShoot is borne of Simon, Andy and David’s combined creative, business and technical skills, a strong entrepreneurial flair, and passion for photography and content creation.

The opportunities to work with other creators, share ideas, and promote creativity and knowledge, is a driving force with infinite possibilities.

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