DSLRs versus Mirrorless cameras for Wedding Photography

I am at a crossroads in my photography. My ability and ambition is outstripping my gear. And new technology is offering new possibilities.

Zoom lenses vs Prime Lenses for Wedding Photography

I've learned loads in the year or so I have been in business.

I have learned that I prefer shooting with prime lenses rather than zooms.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with the optical quality of the Canon 24-70L 2.8 mkii and a Canon 70-200 2.8 mkii, but they were big and heavy, and after a 10 hour wedding day, the weight began to be an issue. Especially given that I had back surgery last year.

A bigger issue was how they affected the photography itself. As soon as you lift the camera to your eye with that bazooka attached, everyone knows you are going to take a photograph and the moment is lost. The size of the lens gets in the way.

There's a consistency issue too. When you can take a photograph at any focal length from 24mm up to 200m, how will you tie all of those photographs together to make them look like they came from one photographer, at one wedding? It can be done, but primes impose a consistency on your work.

Laziness is also a factor. There are so many possibilities in making a photograph in terms of composition, colour, contrast, mood and countless others, that I worry that having a zoom might make me lazy. Instead of working to get the shot I could just zoom into the action and press the shutter. With primes you have to zoom with your feet, and it strips away at least one level of complexity. It gives me more time to concentrate on the other elements of the image.

Finally, the speed of the lenses is an issue. Most primes will allow you to open up wider a stop or two and let more light in, meaning that it is possible to get some shots that you just can't get with slower zooms. In turn, that means less reliance on strobes and flashes, which should result in more natural, 'authentic' photographs.

Camera bodies for Wedding Photography

My preferred primes are 35mm and 85mm. As I swap between each focal length seamlessly during the wedding day, I use two camera bodies. Of course, I have two cameras anyway as backup in case one fails. One is a full frame camera and the other is a cropped sensor and this isn't ideal because they have different controls, and they spoil my 85mm & 35mm set up - the 85mm becomes 136mm. Two identical bodies would be perfect because it would strip away another level of complexity, so again I could focus on creating the image rather than the technical aspects.

As I am with Canon I am looking at a 5D mkiii or 6D.

One technical issue that has cropped up, especially when photographing weddings in the dark winter months here in North East England, is how the cameras handle in low light situations. In that respect, the 6D edges out the 5D mkiii. The 6D is much cheaper than the 5D mkiii, so I could potentially upgrade both my cameras to get two identical bodies.

One thing that muddies the picture with Canon right now is that they have just recently announced the 5Ds and 5Dsr which are 50mp monsters. The 5D mike is also rumoured for later in the year. Will any of the new cameras be so good for wedding photographers that they can't be ignored? Or will loads of people upgrade to these new cameras which means the price will drop on the 6D and 5D mkiii?

The more I thought about my choice, the more I began to wonder if there was a third way.

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Compact Systems Cameras for Wedding Photography

Instead of investing in another Canon camera body and perhaps a new lens or two, what if I sold the lot and invested in an entirely new set of cameras and lenses.

Compact System Cameras, have improved dramatically over the past three or four years, to the point where many wedding photographers are trading in the their big, heavy, expensive DSLRs to buy into a mirrorless system.

Mirrorless cameras have many advantages over DSLRs.

They are far smaller and lighter, which would be a big advantage over the course of a 10 hour wedding day. They are generally cheaper than DSLRs, both for the camera body and the lenses. And they also seem to be incorporating technological advances at a quicker pace than the big DSLR giants of Canon and Nikon.

Rather than lock myself into an expensive upgrade path with Canon, should I jump ship now?

Having researched mirrorless cameras I have settled upon two possibilities: the Fuji x-T1 and the Olympus EM1. 

I have some affection for Olympus as my first 35mm film camera was an Olympus OM-20 and I loved it. I took it on my first trip to New York and got some awesome shots.

The Olympus EM1 is a micro four thirds camera, which means it has a smaller sensor that the Fuji. In turn that means it is harder to achieve a nice, out of focus bokeh in your images. Good bokeh was one of the main reasons I upgraded to a full frame camera, so this is a worry for me. I get a nosebleed if I shoot over f4!

Smaller sensors might also struggle with higher ISO too, and given that I want to improve my low light photography, that's a major concern.

In terms of practical shooting on a wedding day, the Olympus sounds like the way to go. It has DSLR ergonomics, with a button or dial for everything, so it should be easier to change settings with the camera up at your eye.

The camera and lenses are very reasonably priced too.

If I traded in all my current Canon gear, I could probably get two Olympus EM1 bodies, and a selection of primes and be good to go.

The other possibility I have considered is the Fuji x-T1. This seems to be a popular choice amongst wedding photographers moving to a mirrorless system, especially documentary wedding photographers. The jpegs are great straight out of the camera and the sensor is slightly larger than the Olympus. However, it is still only cropped sensor size - the same as the Canon DSLR I am looking to upgrade! Other negatives I have heard are some low light issues, quirky controls, and that Lightroom doesn't deal with the files particularly well.

All mirrorless cameras struggle with flashes and strobes to some degree, as they aren't as mature systems as those of Canon and Nikon, and they seem to be aimed more at the top end enthusiast rather than the professional. I'm sure this will change as the CSC manufacturers catch up to the fact that professional wedding photographers are utilising their cameras.

So I have a big decision to make.

What sort of wedding photographer do I want to be?

Whatever decision I make will affect the type of wedding photographer I become. The cameras and lenses I buy will change the direction of my photography.

My gut instinct is that if I choose the mirrorless systems it will push me more in the direction of wedding photography as a business. I would be taking steps down the documentary wedding photography path. Each wedding would be a little easier to shoot because of the weight. There would be less posing and more candid shots. The post processing might be a little easier because of the EVF and the files out of the camera are so good. I might even switch from shooting RAW to jpeg. The files would certainly be smaller, which means less hard drive space. All of my camera and gear would be cheaper, which equals greater profits.

The problem is that most of the photography that I'm drawn to, and that moves me, has been created on DSLRs such as the Canon's I have. I'm not in the league of any of my inspirational wedding photographers yet, but I might get there with similar gear and enough practice. Having learned so much with the gear that I already have, would I be a fool to abandon it now?