Recently I pulled the trigger and changed ALL MY GEAR and went mirrorless. This is a topic I’ve seen pop up in many blog postings – hell it seems to be something being raised everywhere these days, so I thought I’d share what I did, why I did it and call out some of the things I learnt along the way. Finally answering the question, “Any regrets” and “Would I do it again”.

Before I start, I should call out what I like to shoot and what gear I had, as that was an interesting part of my decision making process.

Like most hobbyist photographers, I started out shooting everything. You name it I’d point the camera at it and try to make a picture. Over time though I found myself moving more and more towards landscapes. I do take the odd portrait picture – get asked by friends and family to shoot a High School Seniors or family gathering that sort of thing, heck I’ve even done some commercial headshots, but I guess my favorite thing to shoot involves a sunrise or sunset and (most importantly) something I don’t have to talk to :-).

So you’d think my choice of camera was pretty easy. Nice DSLR with lots of Mega Pixels. Oooo maybe a D800 or D800E, that would do the trick! However there was one subject that threw a wrench in the works. My daughter is a keen gymnast, and my wife wanted me to capture those scary hard shots of her jumping through the air or spinning on the uneven bars just before a dismount. Let me tell you sports photography is hard, then move it in-doors under really crappy lighting – YUK – it’s a nightmare! Nope, the D800 wasn’t going to do it!

So I opted for a D4. What the hell was I thinking???? $6,000 on a body for a sports capturing monster. I’ll tell you what though it definitely did the job! That thing would capture a fly doing summersaults, my daughter Abi in the gym was easy.

So you’d think life was good, fantastic camera (it really is amazing), beautiful glass – what’s the problem?

Well, start with trying to carry it around all day when you’re out shooting landscapes. Heck try blending into the background of a gym meet with a D4 and a 70-200 plus x2 tele on a mono-pod! Talk about “dad envy”. Then someone asks you to take their picture and you do a portrait shoot. Well if you’re not really strong at relaxing your subject, the D4 can really work against you. I’ve learnt the bigger the camera and lens, the more intimidating they become – I mean who really likes having their picture taken anyway? Put me with a monster camera and lens in your face it’s impossible to get a nice natural smile!

So for me D4 equaled Great Gymnastics shots, Crappy Portrait shots and back ache after a day in the field with perfectly “OK” landscapes – something was wrong!

Then over the summer I started to read in all the blogs how mirrorless was the future. How mirrorless cameras were lighter and had great image quality. People started jumping off the DSLR train and I started to wonder; “How often do I actually shoot my daughter in gymnastic meets?”, “Wouldn’t a smaller camera be easier to carry?”, “Should I move now while all my gear still has some value?” etc., etc., I’m sure you get the idea.

So I started to do some research.

I read everything I could, I drove to camera shops to test out gear; how did it feel, what was it like to look through an electronic view finder (EVF), what features did I like, what didn’t I like? This went on for some time.

I also started to challenge the desire I had for a “full frame sensor”. Why did I need it? What did it really give me? And most importantly, could I tell the difference in the end result?

Ironically, the two manufactures that were considered to be the “Best” in the pro-sumer market (Nikon and Canon) have been failing in the mirrorless arena. The Nikon 1 was getting terrible reviews and the Canon EOS M wasn’t doing any better.

So I started looking elsewhere – Oh my god was I really going to move away from Nikon?????

Top of the heap were Olympus and Panasonic and fighting their way up was Sony.

So what did I look at? Well I played with:

  • Olympus Pen E-P3
  • Olympus OMD E-M5
  • Panasonic DMC-GX1
  • Sony NEX 6
  • Sony NEX 7

I also spent a lot of time pixel peeking (examining images really close up) at images on http://500px.com at images captured with these cameras.

So what did I find?

First and foremost, Image Quality was great. Sure if you want to shoot 10 frames a second at 128,000 ISO none of these cameras were going to do the job. But who does that – REALLY WHO DOES? I’ve never shot at over 6400 ISO and I rarely go to high speed drive, I mean who wants to view hundreds of pictures when you get home that are all arguably the same!

Next I found I LOVED the size and I found the cameras fit in the hand really well – then just felt comfortable, and when around my neck felt almost invisible – remember I’d been carrying a D4 with a 28-300 lens with a 16-35 lens in my pocket! BIG DIFFERENCE.

Finally I loved the price. The cameras their lenses and accessories were all cheaper – are you listening Nikon?

So I started asking myself, why not? Why don’t I change?

The answer of course was fear – terror – self-doubt that I was making a terrible mistake. I found I’d become so familiar with my Nikon gear, that I was truly scared that changing it would result in terrible pictures and a lot of wasted money.

To help evaluate mirrorless camera’s I purchases a small fujifilm X20 compact camera and took it on holiday with the family to Disneyland.  Oh sure I also took the D4 (I was still heavily dependent on my Nikon gear), but a couple of day’s while there I left the D4 in my hotel room and went out with the tiny X20.  I have to say I was totally shocked as the pictures looked great.  Sure it didn’t have the capabilities of my big Nikon and wasn’t really a replacement camera, but it definitely confirmed that mirrorless may be the way for me to go.

Anyway this fear to replace my Nikon gear lasted a LONG time. Heck new cameras kept being announced and I kept changing my mind. The goal posts kept moving and all the time I carried my Nikon gear with me when out for a shoot.

The Panasonic GX6 was announced. The Olympus E-M1 was announced and then the Sony A7.

I was SOOOOO confused. At one point I think I had placed orders for each new camera. Adorama must have thought I was nuts as I kept changing my mind.

For a long time I was going down the Sony A7 route. I thought that was the camera for me, it was mirrorless, had a great sensor for landscapes (full frame and loads of pixels). The only problem was the lens choices were really poor and then I saw the 70-200 they were recommending for that camera. It was exactly the same size as the one I had with my D4 – the change started to make no sense.

I also started to question whether I needed a full frame sensor, I mean the images I got in the x20 were really excellent.  The other question was how many pixels did I really need?  I had friend who used to own a Nikon D800 and he had loads of issues with the camera.  He found the camera very “unforgiving” and many images came out slightly blurry.  He found the high number of pixels would amplify any hand shake and if he didn’t shoot at 1/125th of a second or place the camera on a tripod his images were useless.  Add to this the image sizes were enormous!

Again more research, this time coming to the conclusion that full frame wasn’t a necessity and 16-20 mega pixels was more than enough.  This meant that the Sony A7/A7R was probably the wrong camera.

Then I saw the announcement for the Fujifilm X-E2. This was a little strange as despite buying the x20 I’d missed the Fuji’s off all my investigations. I think the reason for this was that I’d played with an original X100 and was pretty disappointed. The focus system was unreliable and while the image quality was fantastic, more often than not it appeared that you didn’t focus on what you wanted.

But this X-E2 looked interesting. Then I looked at the lenses available and the roadmap. This was REALLY impressive and covered everything I wanted. Further investigation suggested that the X100 was now fixed and working really well in the form of the X100s. So I brought one.

After a few days of play I realized I’d found my camera manufacturer. The X100s took amazing pictures. It’s focus was pretty quick (quick enough for me anyway) and the image quality was just fantastic. Fuji had removed the low pass filter (anti-aliasing filter) as they created a different kind of color array which didn’t generate any moiré pattern’s. This actually made the images fantastically sharp.

Once again I hit 500px and was blown away with the images I found. The X-Pro1 and the X-E1 delivered fantastic results. Also as both cameras had 16MP sensors they would produce file sizes almost exactly the same size as my D4.

So, having found my gear I started to plan my switch. I ordered everything I wanted on B&H and Adorama and put my Nikon gear up for sale. The ironic part of all this was that I would comfortably cover the cost of the new gear with the sale of my old gear! Nuts I know.

In the end I sold the D4, three Nikon speed lights and the following lenses; 16-35 f/4, 35-70 f/2.8, 70-200 f/2.8, 105 f/2.8 macro, 50 f/1.4 and a X2 Teleconverter.

And I purchased the X-E2, three LumoPro LP180 speed lights, and the following lenses; 14 f/2.8, 35 f/1.4, 60 f/2.4 Macro, 18-55 f/2.8-4, 55-200 f/3.5-4.8.

As I mentioned above the costs of the new gear (including two bodies X-E2 & X100S) was less than the money I made from selling my Nikon gear.

So what’s it like?

Last month I went on vacation to the UK and took the opportunity to leave all the Nikon gear at home and just take my Fuji equipment. This for me was a scary prospect as I was forced to use new gear with no ability to fall back on familiar Nikon camera.

I’d love to say it was completely plain sailing but I did make a few mistakes along the way, but over all I was delighted with the results. The cameras are a DREAM to use, they really take you back to a more mechanical time where you have aperture rings on lenses and exposure dials on the camera.

I found the image quality to be FANTASTIC, the lenses were amazingly sharp and satisfied my every need. At no time did I say “If only”.

I did find I had to go “slower” than usual as I really had to think about each shot. It’s funny how quick you can be when you know your gear really well. As this was all new it took time, but even that was fun.

The EVF on the X-E2 is really great, it has a refresh frame rate of 50fps so there was very little lag. The focus speed of the camera was also impressive as the sensor now supports phase detection auto focus, so I never missed a shot.

My bag size dropped considerably as well and instead of the Thinktank Retrospective 30 I used to carry, I walked around London with a Thinktank Retrospective 5 (which is around 4 times smaller).

So I can honestly say no regrets.

If you got this far you might be wondering “what about the gymnastics sports shots?” Well my plan is to try the Fuji at my daughter’s next meet. If it’s no good, I’ll just rent a body and lens for the day when I need it. The bottom line is I’m not going to let three or four shoots a year impact the rest of the year’s shooting.

1 Comment

  1. wilswong says:

    Hi Tony,

    Read this story of your’s and I am lingering about A7. I shoot with X-E1, X-100, Nikon D300/D200/D70 with associated lenses.

    Because of the age and condition of the camera and lens, it is not really economical to sell them away so I guess I will keep them and use them when teaching photography.

    Mirrorless will start to take over slowly but surely. Yes it doesn’t shoot sports as well but perhaps will change when T1 comes. I will know next week as I have media access to test it then.

    Anyway thanks for sharing your journey and confirming what I have been saying all these time – full frame is not necessary image quality wise in this day and age.

    Best regards from the little red dot in the middle of South East Asia.

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