Why Professionals Should Shoot DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras at the Same Time

Why Professionals Should Shoot DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras at the Same Time

When shooting assignments in the past, whether portraits, weddings, or journalism, I’ve always been one to carry two bodies to give myself options. I like to be able to access two different focal lengths at a moment’s notice. In the past, it would not be uncommon that those bodies would be two DSLRs of the same brand, usually Nikon or Canon. But now it’s something that is uncommon for me. You see, I now roll with a DSLR and a mirrorless body to allow myself maximum flexibility. And perhaps it’s something you should try, too. Here are a couple of reasons why.

Autofocus Accuracy

I was debating about starting with the weight benefits of shedding a DSLR, but let’s be honest, even mirrorless bodies and lenses have put on a few pounds over the years. The weight savings is minimal. I usually carry a Nikon D750 and a Fuji X-T1. Another D750 wouldn’t add much to the package (a little over a half pound).

No, the reason first and foremost I carry two different styles of camera bodies is the autofocus. Why is that a thing? Because mirrorless cameras have an inherent advantage in autofocus accuracy by design. Generally speaking, mirrorless cameras (such as the Fuji X-T1) use the imaging sensor to autofocus. This means even if your lens is just slightly “off” in some way, the sensor is doing both the focusing and the imaging, so there’s no calibrating or microadjusting or fine-tuning needed. It all just works. The tradeoff, of course, is that you can’t get that through-the-lens view in the viewfinder without the extra autofocus sensor and mirror system in DSLRs; You must use an electronic viewfinder. This used to be a drag, but the Fuji system has made great strides in this area, and the new Sony a9 electronic viewfinder is a cut above the a7-series finders. It barely makes a difference anymore.

I came to this realization about autofocus when shooting for fun at a friend’s wedding with a Panasonic GH3 and Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens. I dropped the lens on the ground and it broke into three pieces. I pushed everything back together (it held) and then put it back on the camera. It focused perfectly, and still does to this day, because it’s all being done off the sensor.

Microadjusting lenses on my DSLRs is an exercise in frustration, and so having a system that just works without the fuss of calibrating a body to a lens is nothing short of magic.

Autofocus (and Other Forms of) Speed

But if mirrorless systems have the secret sauce of autofocus accuracy, why even bother with a DSLR? Speed. Primarily with the autofocus, but just about everywhere else, too.

I’ll explain. The phase detection systems on DSLRs have had years to mature, and coupled with sophisticated metering systems on the latest Canons and Nikons, these styles of camera can easily track a moving subject. In fact, DSLRs are so much better at this, that sports shooting is about the only time I’ll insist on two DSLRs instead of a combo. My mirrorless bodies (both Fuji and Panasonics) have trouble with my son on a swing.

Sports is one of the few situations where I don't use a mirrorless/DSLR combo - the fast autofocus and tracking ability of DSLRs is crucial to getting the shot (this was photographed with a Canon 5D Mark IV).

Sports is one of the few situations where I don't use a mirrorless and DSLR combo. The fast autofocus and tracking ability of DSLRs is crucial to getting the shot (this was photographed with a Canon 5D Mark IV).

While we’re on the topic of sports, there’s speed and handling as well. While some newer sports-dedicated bodies have tons of dedicated controls and fast responses to button pushes (looking at you, Sony a9), many (in my case, Fuji X-T1 and Panasonic GH3) make taking a photo a more deliberate act as opposed to a reflexive move.

And that’s why it’s key to take both the mirrorless and the DSLR on something like, say, a wedding shoot; During slower moments, such as portraits, hair and makeup, or a cake-cutting, a mirrorless body will generally nail the autofocus for crisp, sharp shots each time. But it’s probably not the best choice for a fast-moving dance floor, where I’ll take a DSLR’s focusing system and response time any day. In short, I worry less about critical focus with mirrorless cameras; I’ve been able to consistently hit focus on the Fuji at f/1.2, something that isn’t so easy on a DSLR (at least in my experience with an equivalent Canon lens, the 85mm f/1.2 on a Canon 5D Mark III).

Color

Everyone has a preference for one brand’s color over another. Maybe you like the skin tones on Canon cameras. Maybe Fuji’s film simulations do it for you. Now you can have both at your fingertips. It gives you more options in editing when you deliver the finished files to your clients. I know I love having Classic Chrome handy just by lifting up my other camera to my eye.

Lens Options

There are lenses photographers lust after in every system. In my case, the Nikon and Canon systems bring workhorse 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 lens options to the table. In the case of the Fuji, the 56mm f/1.2 and 90mm f/2 lenses are fantastic (as are some of the native Zeiss lenses for the system, such as the 12mm f/2.8). Now you can use them all.

In slower moving situations, such as this election night rally, it doesn't matter whether you're shooting a DSLR or mirrorless. This was a Fuji X-T1 shot, where I parked a 12 mm lens on for the entire night in addition to the 24-70 lens on my DSLR.

In slower moving situations, such as this election night rally, it doesn't matter whether you're shooting a DSLR or mirrorless. This was a Fuji X-T1 shot, where I parked a 12mm lens on for the entire night in addition to the 24-70mm lens on my DSLR.

In most cases, I’m walking around with a zoom lens on the DSLR and a long-ish prime on the mirrorless body, which leaves me ready for most situations. This is not unlike the kit I carried 90 percent of the time when shooting weddings or news events — a 24-70mm lens and an 85mm lens on separate DSLR bodies — only now I can choose the best lenses for each system and situation, and gain the advantages of both a DSLR and a mirrorless body.

Do you shoot with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras at the same time? Do you find it liberating or limiting? Sound off in the comments below.

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42 Comments

Previous comments
Jacques Cornell's picture

A couple of clarifications. First, reviewers are reporting that Olympus' E-M1 MkII and Sony's a9 do C-AF on moving subjects as competently as all but the very best DSLRs (e.g. Nikon D5/D500). Second, when it comes to AF speed, Panasonic does S-AF as fast as anything out there, and does it in lower light than most (-4EV). It's not reasonable to use the Fuji X-T1 or GH3 as representative of mirrorless AF capabilities, as these cameras are well behind the AF capabilities of newer mirrorless cameras.

Daniel Bayer's picture

Next one: "Why Fstoppers should stop writing articles using the words should or must".

Chris Rogers's picture

Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan if I could afford a mirrorless camera I would totally get one. I'm really diggin the xt1 and I love fuji lenses. I would loooooove to have the portability. As much as I love my full frame Nikon system I haaaate lugging it around everywhere with my big ass 70-200 and primes. sSometimes I would like to just grab a light camera and lens and go out the door.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

The X-T1 is pretty cheap in the used market these days, not a bad way to go. I'm very happy with it as you can tell.

Chris Rogers's picture

Word! Adorama has a deal going on right now where you can get the XT1 the awesome kit lens and an equally awesome telephoto zoom for about $1200, which is a super fantastic deal! I just don't have an extra $1200 right now. I cry every time i think about it lol. I need to pay off my credit card before I can get one of these. I learned my lesson about credit cards the hard way sadly.

As a hobbyist photographer, I carried two different formats to a practice round of The Masters. Okay, both were 35mm. One was a film camera loaded with slide film; the other was a DSLR. I removed the motor drive from the Canon F-1 and the battery grip from the Canon 5D III to save weight.

David T's picture

The Canon skin colors are the only thing I miss from that system, especially in the previews. Switched to Panasonic. Not sure if the Canon colors are "objectively" better or I am just so conditioned to them...

Leslie Pujiono's picture

I shoot dslr and mirrorless both at the same time too in the last 9 months. My combo is ff canon and oly em1. I shoot raw and process them with c1pro on i7 mac. I usually print my photos up to 16" wide. Here's my finding in the last 9 months :
1. I find color correcting not yet time consuming. I usually finish 300ish raw images around 2 hours. Sure there's a slight color differences but its negligible to me or my client (my job is mostly documenting events, so its not as color-sensitive as product shots). i dont mix the files. I put the results in different folder (cam 1 & cam 2), as a learning process for me if there might be complaints with the results from either bodies.
2. As for speedlights, i use old canon's 550ex for the oly. Sure i lose the ttl, but i hardly use it anyway since 90% of the time i put the nocticron on my em1 and that lens is more than capable in any indoor situation i hv encountered so far. I find that i like nocticron's results better than my ef 85f1.2. i find my 85 is not as sharp as the nocticron. (I might get a bad copy of 85, lol) And the cost of chargers and battery are very much within tolerance. I usually got 500ish files within 4 hours which coupled with live view and wifi would drain 5d4 battery to 20%ish. Now go to at most 50% battery most of the time, since i got oly to compensate for 30% of the time. So even if i hv 2 different chargers now, charging time is twice as fast.
3. As for muscle memory, i learn to switch between bodies in about a month or two. I think this depends on your job frequency. Practice makes perfect. For me, its like switching between riding a motorbike and a car. I'm sure we'll get the hang of it.
4. My workflow dictates what i chose for my mirrorless. As i dont use lightroom, and i didnt buy fuji, so i dont hv this problem. Last year, i also waited upgrading to 5d4 until c1pro was able to process the raw files. Not before. I always take into consideration that investing on my next gear should be based on the principal that my investment will make my job easier. Not wholly based on the performance of the investment alone.
5. In the account of disaster, i always bring oly 12-40 for backup. Yes, the results is far inferior, i know. But thats why every contract job always include "force majeure" clause. So far, my clients are quite understanding. If they want more assurances i offer them to pay more and i bring my partner as 2nd photographer to the job. Case closed.

The point is, i enjoy shooting both systems and right now, i think dslr and mirrorless complement each other. I cant exchange one with the other because of their different characteristics. For me, the last 9 months spent with mirrorless is fun, just like when i got my first dslr. Imho, we all will be waiting for the time dslr and mirrorless tech converges.
Again, this article and my experience is NOT applicable for everyone, since every photographer or hobbyist hv their preferences on job/assignments. As the writer of this article, I'm just sharing my experience on this topic. I agree that more systems will bring more complications, but so far i feel the reward outweighs the complications...

Nomad Photographers's picture

Honestly, how often do you reach for the XT1 with the fabulous 90mm over your DSLR ? I do when I take one camera with me to have fun. But I did try the experience to bring 2 systems with me (D4s / XT1) on jobs (weddings / models) and the XT1 stayed in the bag 90% of the time. I got it out to peace out with myself and my choice to bring it along. Let's be honest for a minute, these mirrorless cameras are nowhere near as efficient and comfortable to work with as DSLRs. They are good cameras to travel with I guess.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I reach for that X-T1 and 90mm a lot! I never end up leaving one in the bag. If anything, it's the backup D700 that mostly stays in the car while I shoot with the D750/X-T1 combination.

SO I have begun to add a Sony A7R III to my current Canon system (1DX mkII), replacing a 5D Mk IV as a second body - doubling up on lenses, using Canon-to-Sony adaptors when needed, etc. - Your article got my attention, but other than focus accuracy, you don't really highlight the things that justify carrying mirrorless - you point to focus accuracy, but most pro photogs I know get amazing hit rates with the latest Nikons and Canons. Speed is the problem with mirrorless as you point out (focus acquisition as well as the ability to 'grab' an image instantly (isn't that the point of photography)), but what else is the upside from your perspective? Apparently not EVF (it's a draw, these days? I like seeing what I am getting!). What else do you see as the merits to justify the pain of using (and carrying!) two different systems?

Wasim Ahmad's picture

All good questions. I'm still mixed on the EVF. Live previews are great, but sometimes I need the immediacy of an OVF, so it's nice to have both.

For me, carrying the Nikon gives me access to the workhorses lenses I need to do the job (i.e. a 24-70 or a 70-200) while the Fuji systems opens up some creative possibilities with the lens selection and amazing color options, and so that's why I like having both. If I'm splitting hairs, it's also smaller and fits into the bag a bit better than a DSLR with equivalent lens.

For me though, focus accuracy is a huge deal, and mirrorless just has DSLR beat here, and so I'm excited about the Z6/Z7/EOS R announcements and what they bring to the table.