Mirrorless Cameras and Wedding Photography
Can you use mirrorless cameras for wedding photography? My answer is yes you can, absolutely. Why not?
That doesn’t mean mirrorless is for every photographer. I will preface this discussion by saying that your camera is a tool, and it’s all personal taste. No camera is perfect, neither is any photographer. It’s about using what fits.
I can promise you that many professional wedding photographers will shun the idea of trusting a mirrorless camera for the job of photographing weddings. Some of the best in the world will say that. In turn, some of the best wedding photographers in the world use mirrorless cameras. Some of the naysayers’ concerns are valid, some are ignorant.
Switching over to mirrorless
I will share my experiences and you can use that to help you make an informed decision. I’ve used Fuji mirrorless cameras as my exclusive platform since July of 2014. It started with me needing to upgrade my 7 and 9-year-old Canon 1D series SLRs and being rather unexcited with my upgrade options.
My friend at my local camera shop had recently switched from Nikon to Fuji mirrorless and let me play with his camera. It was a rangefinder design and had a lot of resemblance to retro film cameras. It was fun to use and due to its smaller size, it wasn’t a daunting task to take it everywhere. So I picked up a Fuji XT-1 of my own.
This was 2014 when mirrorless technology was still in its infancy and didn’t have the capabilities it does today. It was a rocky 3-4 month learning curve, and some of it was frustrating, especially as I tried to incorporate the Fuji into my professional work.
Something was different about my work so I stuck with it. When getting used to a different platform, logic should prevail that you have to learn that system, not expect it to work as you think it should. That principle is a hard one to swallow for many. It requires you to think differently, it requires you to change. Sometimes that can do wonders for your inspiration and overall work.
What is different?
When I was getting used to the Fuji system, it seemed that few photographers really understood the system, and we would just learn it together. The image goes straight from the lens to the sensor, there is no mirror inside the camera body. It also uses a contrast phase detection autofocus.
In the early days before improved sensors, firmware updates, and faster lenses, the camera hunting for focus was a huge issue. Particularly in low light and in points of lower contrast.
Today, the technology is greatly improved, but there are still advantages an SLR has over mirrorless, particularly for sports and rapid-fire shooters. But anyone who loves the mirrorless system can use it for any kind of professional work. If you learn the system.
What really changed?
For me, getting used to the mirrorless system changed how I worked and shifted many things about my whole approach. The biggest was using all prime lenses, where before I was using all zoom lenses.
The primes are faster to focus and have better depth of field control from the available Fuji lens lineup. That made me move my feet and become more strategic with my composition. It’s been easier to rely on fewer focal lengths and pick my most versatile lenses.
I’ve worked closely with the subjects and have become more deliberate with my work. More negative space in my composition and more watching and waiting for the shot, less rapid fire. The tack sharp glass and amazing Fuji color, the electronic viewfinder, and compact size made the system a joy to use.
The things that at first seem to be shortcomings can actually help us become stronger artists through patience and adaptability. My whole point of discussing these past issues is it emphasizes the transition that was required then, and many didn’t make it through. Which is neither right or wrong. The point is that anyone who wants to learn the system has better tools to do so in the present day.
Why or why not to use mirrorless cameras for wedding photography
No one can address the future of photography as far as SLR, mirrorless, etc. Nor should that matter. Here are some key facts that may help offer an inside perspective.
Battery life isn’t as long as SLR cameras so spares are needed. You can disable the live electronic viewfinder and switch to optical which helps.
Most mirrorless wedding photographers use two active bodies. You can use a harness or wear one around your neck with your most used lens, and have another camera at your hip with a side holster – just as an example. There’s something more deliberate about primes, and less of a clinical look.
There are limitations with TTL flash and mirrorless cameras. The options are to work with that and use manual, which I always have anyway, or not use flash. Which is not always an option.
Pixel peeping and stressing over crop sensor (APS-C)
NOTE: Sony does make full-frame mirrorless bodies if it bothers you that much, or you can stick with your DSLR.
Those people stressing over the smaller sensor make no sense to me. Only other photographers notice noise or will pick an image apart for technical imperfections.
What about capturing a decisive moment full of emotion? If the images well-composed and exposed, no client will notice or care about things pixel peepers do. Most who insist they need full frame can’t give a proper explanation why. “Oh, the pictures are better.” Pffft.
Use the tool you feel comfortable with. If the good outweighs the quirks you’ve gotten used to, it’s a win. There are many large prints out there shot on crop sensors and mirrorless cameras.
Clients might think you look unprofessional with a mirrorless camera
Two guys walk into a bar, flex their muscles back and forth, and the only lady in the place starts talking to a simple businessman minding his own business.
If it takes the biggest, loudest, or camera with a specific image to command respect as a photographer, they’re lacking something. Never once has a wedding guest or couple cared about my gear. It’s all about what you can do with it. This would be a ridiculous reason not to go mirrorless. Be secure in who you are as a pro.
You can be less intrusive or conspicuous
Being less intrusive – that has value for me. You can blend in with guests and not be a spectacle.
With a documentary approach, that helps me maintain a low profile, and I’m seldom noticed. Being able to work closer gives you an advantage in that regard. With the smaller camera, it feels less clumsy and doesn’t stand out as much to guests and the couple.
When you work closer to the subjects, you feel in your soul what is going on at that moment, and it’s less likely that you’ll have your shot blocked. Again, it is less a clinical feeling.
It’s also easier on the body, particularly the shoulders or neck, your back, etc. When you hear about other wedding photographers being sore the day after a wedding, and all you can do is shrug your shoulders, you might be a mirrorless shooter.
Getting used to the mirrorless platform before using it for a wedding
It’s only responsible to be well versed with your equipment, and know its strengths and weaknesses in different areas before using it for a no do-over occasional like a wedding.
The best way to get used to a new platform, body, or lens is to do some street photography. It’s a very psychological thing to have confidence in your equipment and know its operation well enough to fully trust it. Not doing so sets you up for failure and the clients stand to suffer.
Weddings are demanding and fast-paced, full of decisive moments, and you have to deal with constant lighting and setting changes. It pays to think and act swiftly and keep calm. Street photography is great field training as it is also decisive and fast-paced, and you have to look for the mood or setting you want within time constraints.
Plus, you’re also dealing with textures, colors, depth, dimensions, all the things that help make a great photo. Street photography is a great way for you to become one with your gear.
Whether or not mirrorless cameras are for you is a personal choice. But, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t use them for weddings, or worry about the wrong things.