My journey from DSLR to mirrorless cameras as a photojournalist

Dec 15, 2016

Steve Burton

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

My journey from DSLR to mirrorless cameras as a photojournalist

Dec 15, 2016

Steve Burton

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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It started with a phone call from the picture editor of one of country’s best selling newspapers asking me to catch a flight that evening to Amsterdam to accompany a journalist for a story first thing the next morning.

I was warned to be very discrete as the story could be very sensitive to some people. It involved a Dutch trawler that was registered in the UK under a flag of convenience that enabled it to use up 25% of the UK fishing quota by just one “industrialized” super trawler. The owners may not have liked the presence of English journalists hence the need for discretion.

I had recently started using the Fuji X mirrorless system starting with the Xpro 1 which I purchased on one of Fuji’s brilliant deals which came with 2 free lenses which got me hooked with an XT1 and more lenses soon following.

I made a decision to only take only the Fuji kit in a small camera bag with 2 bodies and 5 lenses from the 10-24 to the 55-200 for the longer shots.

This was a momentous decision for me as since the professional adoption of digital in about 1999 I had never left the country with anything less than 2 Nikon DSLR;s and at least 3 pro range zooms and a Macbook pro along with flashguns and chargers etc. Even on family holidays all this kit came with me.

Checking in for the flight was a delight with no breaking kit down in overcoat pockets and risking other equipment in the hold. All the cameras and lenses came with me in the overhead baggage lockers.

On arrival at the docks we found the ship easily and I set about taking photographs with the XT1 and 18-55 “kit’ lens, I really don’t know why it’s referred as a kit lens as it’s a brilliant high quality standalone lens.

I was lucky with the light but I still couldn’t believe the quality of the pictures I was seeing on the rear LCD screen. I quickly downloaded the pictures to an iPad and was amazed at how good they looked. The above picture is a straight out of camera Jpeg with no enhancement in Photoshop.

I edited the pictures on the iPad using Photogene whilst travelling back to the city in the back of a taxi and sent a few to the office straight from the passenger seat.

A few minutes later I had a phone call from the picture editor saying what great pictures but “where did I get them” When I told her I had taken them about an hour ago she was staggered and was of the belief they had been given to us from a marketing or communications agency such was the quality of the picture it could have come from an annual report cover.

Link to newspaper article.

Lunch with Nigel Farage Fuji XPro2

From then on the Fuji’s went everywhere including trips to Kuwait, Nicaragua and the military coup in Turkey all with no advance notice at all. The Fuji Kit remains packed in one bag and ready to go at the drop of a hat.

All the kit worked without fault enabling me to get around lightly and quickly without drawing attention to myself. People don’t feel intimidated by the Fuji cameras the way they do when they look at a DSLR. I’ve photographed politicians during interviews and they don’t notice the almost silent shutter and are much more relaxed.

Very quick editorial portrait of senior politician. Taken in dark office with Fujifilm XPro2 and 56mm F1.2 shot wide open.

There were still a few doubts though as to whether I was going to be 100% Fuji for my editorial work. I found myself in the cities of Paris and Brussels unfortunately for the wrong reasons covering terrorist atrocities. This is a situation where the Fuji system should come into its own enabling me to move around quickly. But the problem I had was the very real fear that another atrocity could occur whilst I was there and I would need a long and preferably fast lens to cover a live breaking news story.

The longest lens I could use was the 50-140 mm with the X 1.4 converter which would give me the full frame equivalent of almost 300mm F4.

I really needed my 500 F4 Nikon and  X 1.4 converter just for peace of mind. So the 500 F4 came with me and also of course the full frame DSLR body and of course charger. Then you worry what about a spare body. In the end I just took the whole Nikon outfit. I had chosen to drive to these cities from London rather than fly so expensive cameras in the aircraft hold wasn’t an issue.

Then along came the 100-400 and the first time I picked it up in a trade show I knew I had to have it. Here was a  lens that gave me 600mm F5.6 performance in a lens not much physically bigger or heavier than an 80-200 F2.8. Shooting some test pictures in a fairly gloomy convention hall I was staggered by the quality of the images taken handheld in not ideal circumstances but the sort of  real world everyday situation a photojournalist can find themselves. The image stabilization is second to none and I was able to take good quality photographs that any photography book or course will tell you isn’t possible at the sort of shutter speeds I was using. 30th sec or longer. You are more concerned with movement of the subject rather than camera shake. This lens throws away the rule books.

I was so impressed I pre-ordered one on the spot before they even had an availability date.

Another piece of the photographic puzzle had been put into place.

During this past year something else happened, I started going out to shoot personal pictures purely for my own pleasure something I haven’t done for quite some time.

Either near our Greenwich base or on assignment for the newspaper in various locations.

I even started experimenting with black and white and long time exposures. The enjoyment I was having would never had happened lugging a DSLR and lenses around.

Personal photography Infrared with Fujifilm Xpro1 and 18mm F2

There was still one very important piece of the jigsaw missing and that was the absence of a professional grade flash for use on the hot shoe. I’m not a fan of on camera flash believing that should be used for court defendants, disgraced politicians, late night car crashes and general press scrums. I was mainly using available light or Elinchrom Ranger studio lights or perhaps the small Nissin I40 which whilst very compact it lacked the power and fast recycling of a pro flashgun with an external battery pack such as a Quantum Turbo.

This meant the Nikon DSLR’s were still needed if I thought I would need flash on a news job. Then Fujifilm started shipping the EF X 500 flashgun which had been announced months before. It had been delayed by months but they obviously wanted to get it perfect as a premium product.

Personal work whilst away on assignment.Fujifilm XT2 and 50-140mm

I’m pleased to say the wait was worthwhile and it works straight out of the box performing  flawlessly. I managed to mislay the manual in the box but that was no hindrance to having it working without drama including high speed sync to 8000th of a second without special triggers or setup. This was the first time I’ve ever used high speed sync and it’s just perfect for fill flash with those fast prime lenses used at wide apertures.

The future is looking very bright for the Fujifilm system especially with the company’s frequent firmware upgrades under their Kaizen philosophy which literally means “Change good”. It’s like getting a brand new camera every now and again when the new firmware is released which is like getting a new updated camera model. I’m sure some manufactures when they develop new firmware just release a new camera with an ’S” in the name or a different model number. I love opening those new boxes with the fancy packing reminiscent of Apple products packaging but getting a “new “camera after a 5-minute upgrade performed at home is much better still.

Development of the Fujifilm cameras and indeed all mirrorless  systems will continue at an increasing pace. The cameras have improved in design rapidly for such a young technology  compared with traditional DSLR’s. If you take the lens off a 1960 Nikon F and a brand new D5 and peer inside there isn’t much difference to look at them. Better engineering and exotic metals but still that great big mirror “flapping “noisily up and down.

The camera chips and imaging processors will improve with vastly improved focusing and ISO range. I don’t believe we need more mega pixels in the X series especially with the “medium format” GFX 50S due for delivery in early 2017. Global electronic shutters are in development which will do away with “rolling shutter “effects especially with moving subjects. Flash sync should be available at any shutter speed with even low power flash. 1/32,000 sec wide open in bright sunshine with full lighting control anybody? This is why the GFX lenses have no leaf shutters, they are about to become obsolete.

A wish list for the future? I’m reliably informed there are advanced plans for a “pro” backup service for fast repairs and loan equipment for professional users. They already have a range of professional dealers who are not only knowledgeable but enthusiastic about the X system.

A fast telephoto such as a 200 F2 or a 300 F2.8 would be very useful especially with the new sensors in the future. Another necessity is the ability to send pics direct to an FTP server via Wi-Fi for both the newspaper wire services and the corporate event and conference photography which I’m involved in.

The arrival of the EF X 500 flash was the final piece in the puzzle that enabled me to rely on my Fuji system for all my editorial needs. A remarkable journey in a relatively short period of time when considered I’ve been shooting digital professionally for 18 years now.

About the Author

Steve Burton is a professional photojournalist, portrait and event photographer based in London. You can find out more about Steve on his website, follow his work on Facebook, or reach out to him through Twitter. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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7 responses to “My journey from DSLR to mirrorless cameras as a photojournalist”

  1. Pete Avatar
    Pete

    Nobody cares…

  2. Robin Avatar
    Robin

    I have been using big wet wipes for years, they are great, then I found that you can buy small wet wipes, this changed my life, now I only use small wet wipes and wonder why I didnt switch before.

  3. cbenci Avatar
    cbenci

    Horses for courses.

    When I’ve shot events with other photographers that use mirrorless I’ve noticed a few things…

    1. They tend to work at a slower pace. I don’t know why, maybe im just hypo. More fiddling required? I don’t need to remove my eye from the viewfinder with my 5D and it’s button layout.

    2. They change batteries more. I’ve even seen a USB Power pack strapped to the photographer with a lead back to the camera. I just don’t get the battery life thing with Mirrorless, it’s a big deal to me.

    3. People respond better to a bigger camera. It might be that I’m more in their face but getting their attention seems to be easier to get with a bigger DSLR .

    In short, for me, it’s not the quality of the results. Mirrorless has come of age and the lens quality of many brands is virtually on par with the big DSLR brands. It’s the seemingly secondary things that matter most to me. Battery life, OVF, autofocus reliability, perception of an expensive camera, lens choice, flash system, etc. These things are paramount when in the thick of it and it is why I’m upgrading to a 5D Mark IV in the new year rather than chasing the mirrorless Dragon for no added benefit apart from smaller form factor.

    Once again horses for courses but after shooting for 4 hours straight yesterday with 70-200 f2.8 on a 5Dm3 with battery grip and flash in the hot shoe I can see the benefits of a smaller form factor. ?

    1. Robin Avatar
      Robin

      Put a boost grip and 50-170 on an X-T2 and you are as big as any DSLR, look at the size of the lenses on the Sony A7r’s, you dont always get less weight and size with mirrorless, thats not what its about.

      1. cbenci Avatar
        cbenci

        So if size is not what it’s about, there’s no benefit to move to mirrorless?

        1. Robin Avatar
          Robin

          Well since when has size been everything? Sensor design, colour rendition, micro contrast of lenses, build and quality of lenses, resolution of lenses, speed of autofocus, ect ect.

          1. cbenci Avatar
            cbenci

            That’s what I’m saying – apart from size, all things being equal, there’s no pressing need to change to mirrorless. I shoot with a 5DmkIII and all L glass, I can’t see why it would be a good move to go mirrorless.