5 Reasons Why I Switched to Mirrorless Cameras...and Why You Might, Too

My DSLRs are on the shelf.

Which is not saying they'll stay there, but for now, and however long "now" lasts, my kit is built around the Nikon Z7 and Z6 mirrorless cameras, two dedicated Z lenses—the 24-70mm f/4 S and 14-30mm f/4 S (my go-to lens from the moment I got it), the mount adapter FTZ (so I can use my DSLR Nikkor lenses on the Z cameras), and whichever DSLR lenses I decide to take along on my travels.

Why have I parked the DSLRs? Here are my top five reasons why I have switched to mirrorless cameras:

#1 Weight, Weight, Don't Tell Me
The lighter weight of mirrorless camera bodies and their lenses is probably the first thing mentioned when you ask photographers about their liking for the format, so let's talk about that first. Simply, mirrorless is liberating; its lighter weight makes a big difference when I cover four, six, eight, or more miles a day on my travels. And because the Z camera bodies and lenses are smaller, I can pack a few more of my favorite DSLR lenses, like the 16-35mm and the zoom fisheye.

I start many days long before sunrise, especially when I have pictures like this in mind. Weight matters on long days, but so does the image quality the lighter, smaller mirrorless delivers. The 14-30mm Z lens wasn't available when I made this Oakland Bay Bridge shot, so I used my 16-35mm wide-angle DSLR lens and the Z-camera's lens adapter. © Deborah Sandidge

#2 The Long Good Day
Less weight and less bulk mean not only easier travel over terrain ranging from hills and valleys to city streets, they also make it possible to be on the go for a longer period of time—and if you're in any way familiar with my photography, you know that in pursuit of images I'm often up before dawn and still shooting after dark. Most importantly, mirrorless is making the longer day more productive as well.

For this photo at Fan Pier Park in Boston I had the 14-30mm. The Z7 was on a tripod, fairly low to the ground, and I waited until a boat moved into the frame so I'd get all the cool light streaks. The tilt monitor allowed easy composition for this 30-second exposure. © Deborah Sandidge

#3 Fast Times at Technology High
Photography is changing so quickly, and at a certain point you kind of have to decide: am I all in? A nature photographer I read about summed up her photography with a mirrorless camera by saying, "This is how photography is done now." I agree. Sometimes technology offers what we've been hoping for; more likely, it challenges us to put some new ideas to work.

A different view of Fan Pier Park, later in the evening with the camera lower to the ground on my Platypod Max "flat" tripod. The lens here was my zoom fisheye set at 15mm. © Deborah Sandidge

#4 Captain Video
The Nikon Z6 is my backup camera, but its primary purpose is motion. Videos and time-lapse videos are not new for me, but the Z6 is going to help me explore some new territory. A big plus is autofocus with video. And with the Nikon Z6, because of its lower resolution than the Z7—24.5 megapixels for the Z6 compared to the Z7's 45.7MP—there's faster buffering and a higher-speed framing rate for sharper, smoother videos. There's also better ISO performance in low light. I've set up the Z6 for video so it's ready to go if I decide on the spot to put some subjects in motion

Around town in New York City, through the zoom fisheye at 8mm. At nine in the morning I held the camera up to the sky, tilted the monitor, and waited for the sun to sparkle. The Z7's small size and light weight made it an easy decision to add the fisheye to the camera bag for a shooting day in the city. © Deborah Sandidge

#5 See It Now
You know all about this one—the electronic viewfinder (EVF) is giving you a real-time view of the scene, a view in which you can see the result of whatever settings changes you want to make. In effect, you're seeing the picture you're going to get before you take it. But for the way I shoot there's an additional benefit: I often use the flip-up screen for low-angle shots, and it's great to be able to compose the image at those angles and see instantly and exactly what I'm going to get. No knock on DSLRs, but I could never do that before.

It was a one-camera, one-lens evening for me, and I got this late blue-hour view of the Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn Bridge Park. I love how the city lights reflect their glow on the water and the way the old pilings lead your eye to the cityscape, where new buildings are always on the rise. It was a 13-second exposure with the 24-70mm Z lens at 36mm. If I'd gone wider, I would've had to crop out a lot of other photographers who had the same picture in mind. © Deborah Sandidge

Those are my top five reasons—not for simply trying out a mirrorless camera, but for deciding it was ideal for the way I shoot. A short time shooting with it showed me that everything got smaller except image quality, and it wasn't long before I discovered that I could customize not just the operation of the camera, but the actual images I made. I could change, on the spot, to best capture the mood of the image or project a mood of my own.

The New York City sunset's harsh lighting gave me the idea to shoot this with the Z7's graphite mode set in the picture controls menu. I got a stark, bold look and a big f/16 sunburst. The beauty of this shot is that you're seeing exactly what I saw in the viewfinder. Ansel Adams never saw the world in black and white—he had to envision it; we can see it through the EVF—and then see it change as we make adjustments. How cool is that? © Deborah Sandidge

I'd sum it up this way: carrying a mirrorless camera is a different experience, a better experience, a more creative experience—and a lot more fun.

Deborah Sandidge's website, deborahsandidge.com, offers a collection of her photographs as well as photo tips and a schedule of upcoming workshops, photo tours, and seminars.

Algesoft's picture

I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment that at the end of the day the weight matter (which reduces the five reasons to four). But there are no attributes - that would make Z7 technologically higher than D850. As a matter of fact, the consensus of reviews puts D850 ahead of Z7.

That being said I am sure that the next generation of mirrorless cameras will better DSLR's and I appreciate people like you who want to be ahead and share their experiences.

Creekcove's picture

I wholeheartedly agree with the 5 reasons given. I have been a mirrorless user since the 1st generation Sony A7r and upgraded to the A7r ii. I skipped the A7r iii and May upgrade to the A7r iv when available. I am a long time Canon DSLR user and I am still heavily invested in that system as well. So I am currently in limbo as to picking one system or the other. Canon mirrorless, IMO, doesn’t hold a candle to the Sony system in terms of features and image quality. However, the Sony’s interface is not that intuitive, especially when switching back and forth from Canon DSLRs. I am hoping that future Canon Mirrorless body’s will be as good as Sony’s only because of my investment in 15 or more Canon Lenses from 600mm to wide angle and even the 3 tilt shift lenses.. I did obtain a metabones adapter to use some of these Canon lenses on the Sony. This is one of the additional benefits of Mirrorless, however not all the lenses work as well with the adapter as a native Sony lens without the use of an adapter. My main interests in photography are Landscape and Bird/Wildlife. So, I invested in 3 “holy trinity “ native Sony lenses for landscape photography. The 16-35mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm all F4/0. I continue to use my Canon DSLR for almost everything else. I am tempted to go all Sony, but would have to add the Sony A9 series body, and take a beating on selling all my Canon gear. Especially if the future Canon Mirrorless lens adapter for Canon DSLR Mount to Canon Mirrorless Mount has any short comings. I will take a wait and see approach for now.
I only mention the above as I believe most current photographers are already invested in their favorite systems and switching to a Mirrorless system can involve switching manufacturers, investing into your current manufacturer’s new Mirrorless mount or using more than one manufacturer.
Despite the monetary costs, Mirrorless is going to be the wave of the future. IMHO, Sony is ahead for the time being, but a wait and see approach might be warranted for some. For me, the benefits mentioned in the article echoed what was enough to get me started sooner rather than later. In addition to the benefits specifically mentioned there are others. One additional benefit that sort of dovetails with the EVF benefit is for those of us who wear glasses for reading. With my DSLR’s I have to constantly switch back and forth between my naked eye and reading glasses when looking through the viewfinder and then looking at the display screen on the camera back. Sure, I have used a Hoodman loupe to cope with this especially when using Live View, but it not as convenient as being able to see everything in the EVF. Both Before and after the exposure. For landscape photography, being able to magnify the image in the EFV to make precise focus adjustments is a major advantage. In addition the use of focus peaking and zebras exposure tools right in the EVF are also very handy. All without having to take your eye off your EFV already adjusted for your diopter. These features are
Great, even if you don’t were glasses, but a major convenience as a before the exposure feature. The after exposure EVF features are terrific also. You are able to review and magnify your images as well as double check your histogram and settings in the EVF. Even though you could see what your exposure and focus were
Beforehand, it is still handy to immediately check the effect of that exposure through the EVF that you can’t see ahead of time. For example, was your shutter speed enough to stop action or wind blown movement in a landscape. Was the shutter speed slow enough to blur the waterfall or stream to your desired effect. Granted you can do this by looking at the rear display afterwards as well, but not as conveniently, especially for those of us who need reading glasses. Although most DSLRs now have levels and sometimes grids, these are also
Nice features in the EVF.
My experience with Mirrorless is mostly limited to landscape, so other than a successful use with an adapter on a canon 180 mm macro lens, I can’t comment firsthand on benefits over and above DSLRs for other types of photography. Also as a clarification, I have not personally used any of the Canon Mirrorless bodies. So it is only my opinion derived from online reviews and my satisfaction with my Sony A7r that I believe it is better then the current Canon offerings. I am in no way associated with Sony.
One way or the other most photographers will most likely have to include a Mirrorless system in the future.
I was A diehard canon fan, and still am to a degree. Initially, I didn’t think I was going to like the Mirrorless body as much as I did. I bought it to use it with all my Canon lenses via an adapter. I bought the body for the pixel count, but more importantly for the DR. The files were great, I still carry a set of split graduated ND filters
( I know - old school ) but I don’t use them very much any more for single exposures. Again, for all the above reasons, the advantages for my style of photography, Mirrorless is a god send. I can’t go back to my Canon
DSLR body (full frame 1DS miii) for landscape. Sorry for the long rant, I very rarely post anything online, but felt compelled to add long 2 cents.