It seems that photographers fall into the trap of either/or. Either they shoot film or they shoot digital. Either they shoot in natural light or they use studio light. Either they shoot with DSLRs or they shoot with mirrorless cameras. Or do they?

Who said a film photographer can’t pick up a digital camera? Who said that natural light photographers can’t add flash to their repertoire?  

Mirrorless is not new

The EVF on this TK-11, an early TV camera was small and black & white. Photos by Chuck Pharis/Museum of Broadcast Television.

While mirrorless cameras seem to be newcomers to photography, they really have been around a long time. Mirrorless cameras have something called an EVF — electronic viewfinder. It’s a little color monitor that shows the scene coming into the lens.

These monitors were first used in the late 1940s in the first television cameras. Those black and white monitors were the first electronic viewfinders.

Video cameras have always had EVFs. Early cameras had black and white viewfinder monitors.

Digital brings EVFs to photographers

In still photography, users had to wait until digital came along to get EVFs. The first practical professional digital portrait camera was a laptop with a lens made by Foveon.

Three of my clients review portraits on the Foveon. The viewfinder is the left window. The capture is on the right.

With that bit of history behind us, the question is really do mirrorless and DSLR cameras belong in the same bag? My answer is an emphatic yes! 

Cameras are tools, nothing more

During my career, I have owned numerous DSLR cameras and eight mirrorless ones. The first mirrorless was the Foveon. Before adding a DSLR, the Foveon had several location shoots as you can see in the photo above. After getting a DSLR the Foveon was the studio camera while the 6.1 megapixel Kodak-760 (which cost $8,000 back in 2001) was my choice for location. By the time my faithful Foveon died, I had added full-frame Canon DSLRs and worked with them for several years until I did an extended trip to Europe. 

I was afraid I would not be able to take the DSLR everywhere, so I bought a Sony NEX-7 to hang around my tourist-wannabe neck. The mirrorless actually had more resolution than the grown-up Canon 5D Mark II I also had with me.

Sibling rivalry: Can Mirrorless & DSLRs share the same camera bag?
A street musician playing in Brussels shot with a Sony NEX-7 mirrorless.

Today I have three full-frame digital cameras from Canon: A 5DS R, a 1DX Mark III and an R5. The first two are DSLRs that I use for product photography and portrait/corporate photography primarily. The latter is a 45-megapixel still/video camera that is a great addition to my video offerings to my clients.

On shoots, the 1Dx and the R5 are in the same case. I use an adapter for the R5 so I only have to take one set of lenses.

DSLR? Mirrorless? Both!

I think of mirrorless and DSLR cameras as tools, each with unique capabilities. DSLR viewfinders are amazing in really low light situations where EVFs can become noisy or super dark with exposure simulation turned on. I find it easy to go from EVFs to optical viewfinders. Both seem natural to me.

A recent photoshoot had me making a dynamic group photograph with each participant photographed separately then composited in Photoshop. When the company hires new team members, I can photograph them separately and add them to the group. New additions to the company or some leaving don’t mean a whole new group photo. The R5 handled this part of the shoot.

Sibling rivalry: Can Mirrorless & DSLRs share the same camera bag?
Portraits on location with the mirrorless R5. Photo: Melissa Moody/Silver and Light Photography.

At the same time on another set, I made a new profile portrait headshot of each person with the 1DX Mark III. 

For me, mirrorless cameras have earned a place of equal importance next to my DSLRs. Oh. By the way, five of the eight mirrorless cameras I’ve had over the years have been iPhones. 

Consider carpenters who build homes. They have air hammers for framing a house, regular hammers for tapping boards into place and smaller ones for attaching trim. I want a builder to use an air hammer on the frame, siding and roof because they will put all of the nails needed and then some making the structure more sound than if they had to pound in each nail by hand.

Personally, I like having both options in my camera case. They provide the flexibility I want when it comes to building a photograph.