Digital SLRs are dead, long live the mirrorless camera! Now I’ve got your attention, there really are some benefits to choosing a mirrorless camera over a DSLR.
Mirrorless cameras are smaller, better at video, and more affordably priced. They also pack in pro-level features, best-in-class performance, and have been designed alongside a new breed of purpose-built video and still lenses.
If you have recently bought a mirrorless camera, or are just thinking of doing so, here are some mirrorless camera tips to help get you started.
1. Buy More Batteries
It’s the achilles heel of the mirrorless system, and while it’s getting better, battery life is still poor compared to digital SLRs. Mirrorless cameras rely on live view exclusively, whether displaying the lens’ perspective on the rear screen or some kind of electronic viewfinder.
That means you’re going to need more juice. Sony’s A7ii-era cameras are notorious for their poor battery life owing to the outdated battery design. Fortunately, the A7iii, announced in early 2018, uses a brand new, and much larger, battery that puts Sony in a position of best-in-class.
Despite this, digital SLRs are still well ahead. The A7iii is rated at 710 shots by the manufacturer, while Canon’s 6D mark ii can get over 1200 on a single charge.
If you’re switching to mirrorless, buy more batteries from the very beginning to avoid running out of charge when you least expect it. The Sony NPFZ100 battery pack is a solid option for Sony mirrorless cameras.
Most Sony mirrorless cameras can be powered by portable USB batteries, just look for the “USB Power Mode” option in your menu. A dummy battery, which fits into the battery compartment and plugs into a power supply, would work too.
Personally I wouldn’t recommend turning down viewfinder or display brightness, or reducing refresh rates in order to save power. I think it’s better to use your equipment to its full potential and carry some extra equipment, but you may feel differently. And if so, that’s fine.
2. Make Use of Your Best Video Features
Many users prefer mirrorless cameras for hybrid and video shooting. Sony’s current APS-C lineup are compact 4K monsters, while the Panasonic GH5 shoots at 400Mbps 10bit 4:2:2 (see below). If you aren’t owning your mirrorless camera’s potential, it’s time to make the jump to 4K.
While the digital SLR video scene has stagnated over the last couple of years, mirrorless models have continued to impress with pro-level features. Focus peaking, a feature that highlights the in-focus parts of an image to assist with manual focusing, is standard on most current Sony, Panasonic, and Fuji mirrorless offerings. It helps greatly with video, but also has its uses for still photos.
Zebra stripes (or zebra patterning) is another option you’ll want to scour your camera’s menu for. In order to make it easier to expose your image, the feature highlights the most highly exposed areas of your image. Adjusting the sensitivity makes it even more useful: 100 percent indicates the highlighted areas are overexposed, while 70-80 percent highlights ideal skin tone exposure.
Grading your footage can give it a distinct cinematic feel, but to get the most out of it you’ll want to shoot with a flatter picture profile. Sony cameras support a variety of professional “log video” or “flat footage” modes like Slog2 and Slog3 (see above), while Panasonic offers Cine-D and Cine-V support, plus vLog via pricey firmware updates.
There are caveats to using each of these, but learning to use them correctly will result in footage you never thought possible from such a small camera.
3. Embrace Silent Shooting
Silent shooting modes are now common on mirrorless cameras, owing to their dependence on increasingly sophisticated sensors. Many entry-level SLRs still lack this feature, and it can really help you capture moments without feeling like you’re imposing yourself.
Your overall burst speed may drop as a result, but silent shooting isn’t necessarily for action or sports. It’s especially good for street photography and compliments the discrete smaller bodies that have become a characteristic of mirrorless photography.
Assign silent mode to a spare custom mode or programmable button and it’s ready when you need it. Don’t forget to turn off your autofocus beep and light too!
4. Buy Native Lenses (Mostly)
Native lenses are designed to work with the autofocus system in your camera. Previously a point of embarrassment for mirrorless manufacturers, both Sony and Panasonic have claimed the world’s fastest focus-hunting technology with mirrorless cameras over the past few years.
To really take advantage of the progress made, you’ll want native glass. Sigma and budget brands like Rokinon make great lenses, and you certainly shouldn’t avoid third parties altogether, but covering your most-used focal lengths with a native lens will make your life easier. At least, if you’re going to be using autofocus (and you probably should).
The GH5 and GH5s hav autofocus problems, and it’s one of the biggest drawbacks to the current Panasonic flagships. Sony shooters using the a6300 or better have it much easier. If you’re using recent Sony cameras with native glass, learn to trust your autofocus—especially for video. Features like Eye-AF make it easy to get tack-sharp focus on your subject, every time.
Sony also uses facial recognition in its cameras, which provides a neat way to prioritize subjects in busy scenes. The company’s latest cameras use phase-detect autofocus (rather than contrast-detect) which is much better at tracking moving objects and great for video work. With the right lens on a modest Sony mirrorless, focus hunting is a thing of the past.
5. Consider Adapting Old Glass
The mirrorless camera is a relatively new device. As such, most mirrorless converts are Canon and Nikon refugees in search of something different. Something lighter, something exciting, and something video-oriented.
As such, you’ve probably still got some of your favorite old glass. Sony doesn’t make enough lenses yet (especially fast, long zooms), and Canon’s fastest and most versatile zooms still dominate the space. In this instance, you might want to consider adapting your older glass.
Modern lens adapters come in a few flavors: manual with no autofocus control, electronic with some autofocus control, and speed boosters. The latter option is ideal for users who are using a crop sensor, since it removes the crop entirely allowing you to use the full width of the lens, while letting in more light.
Manual adapters are cheap (around $150), electronic adapters cost more (around $400) for average autofocus performance, and speed boosters can get very expensive indeed (around $700). All of these adapters are cheaper than a decent full-frame prime lens, so they’re all good value if you can get the most out of them.
If you own Sigma lenses, the company offers a mount conversion service for a fee.
Enjoy Your Mirrorless Camera!
Photography isn’t about pondering the best settings for your camera, pixel-peeping, or using the most expensive gear you can find. Don’t be afraid to break the rules either. You can’t learn everything by reading articles like this, but by putting your skills into practice.
So, get out there, and let your mirrorless camera help you fall in love with photography all over again!