Tag Archives: Mirrorless

So – going mirrorless, eh? How did that work out?

As I said in my previous post on this topic, I took a little persuading about buying a mirrorless Nikon, the Z6, but I thought I’d post a few words on my impressions, having used it on a recent trip to Oman.

Unsurprisingly, my overall impression is positive.  Did you seriously think that I’d confess to having cocked up after spending two grand on a new toy?   But I can justify this in a couple of ways.

For me as an experienced Nikon user, similarities with its DSLRs mean that there was effectively no learning curve to be able to use the camera immediately reasonably well with no practice – just as well, since within an hour of arriving in Oman, I was taken to a fish market and I had to try to capture it.  I don’t think I did a particularly brilliant job, and I wish I’d put my foot down with the guide to allow me more time, but here’s an example of a grab shot I got, to capture the scene.

Barka Fish Market

There was a further test awaiting me on day one, which was a walk along a gorge in bright sunshine – in other words, deep shadows.  Here’s an example of how the camera recorded a particular view:

As you can see, a lot of the detail is lost in shadow.  But once I could get at the RAW image and play, the ability of the sensor to record information became clear:

When I got to processing the RAW files, I was frequently amazed at how easy it was to get an excellent level of detail.  Of course, it’s a more modern sensor than in the camera it replaced (a D750), so you’d expect that.  But it still brought a smile to my lips.

The next test was the next day. when we went to watch a cattle market, in Nizwa.  I got some nice still photos, but also decided to try some video.  The results (edited below, but with very little tweaking of the actual picture quality) are, I think not bad for handheld video:

Here, the Z6 performed much better than a DSLR could, because the autofocus, which was in action here, is so much faster.  Combined phase and contrast detection mean that it keeps focus without the hunting that lets a DSLR down.  The hubbub of the market blocks out any noise that the lens was making to keep focus, so this footage works.

I did try other video, and the results were better than I could have got with a DSLR but still not good enough to publish.  The stabilisation plays some tricks, and only works well in some circumstances; and you can hear the noise of the lens adjusting focus (I don’t have a specialist video lens, just my general-purpose 28-300).   Moral – use a tripod and manual focus where possible.

Other plus points of the Z6 that I particularly noted:

  • You get an artificial horizon in the viewfinder, not just on the rear screen.  Since I have a natural 1-degree lean in my shots, this can really help get things right in-camera.
  • Similarly a live histogram – but not at the same time as the artificial horizon, sadly
  • You can charge it from a Power Bank through a USB cable
  • You can really push the ISO up.  I took photos with ISO 51,200 and the results are acceptable; yes, you can see noise but not too badly (see below)

A few words on ISO.  The following picture is out-of-the-camera at ISO 51,200:

which actually doesn’t look too bad. After RAW processing, it came out like this:

which is pretty impressive to me.

Of course, nothing is perfect, and there are some downsides to the Z6:

  • Battery life – I was getting just over 300 shots from a charge.  So you really need to have a spare battery to hand, despite being able to charge through USB.  I got the photographic equivalent of the range anxiety that drivers of electric cars have – always worried that I wouldn’t have enough charge for the day.
  • Exposed sensor – I changed lenses a few times and was always really worried about getting dust on the sensor, as there’s no mirror to guard the sensor.  Canon’s EOS-R automatically puts the shutter across if the lens is removed and I think this is a good feature.
  • EVF eye detection – I set the camera to switch automatically to E;lectronic Viewfinder if I put the camera to my eye and this works well most of the time.  But the eye-detect sensor is really sensitive and I found that it often triggered the switch when I didn’t want ti to.  Typical example – holding the camera low, therefore flipping the screen so I could view it from above.  If I went to select a focus point by touching the screen, the camera switched to EVF.  Of course I could change it to be rear screen only, but I feel the sensitivity is too high.  Panasonic cameras allow you to adjust it, and this would be a welcome addition here.
  • Media – the camera uses a new format of storage called XQD – somewhat bigger cards than the SD format I’ve been using for all my other cameras.  Whilst I appreciate the technical merits of the format (reliability, speed), it meant that I had to buy a spare 64GB card in case I used up the one that came with the kit (I nearly did!), but, more importantly, this affected my backup strategy.  I use a WD MyPassport Wireless Pro, which has a built-in SD card slot and which will automatically read and store the contents of any card put in.  This great device will also read any USB device attached, so I had to make sure to purchase and take with me an XQD card reader.

But overall, I’m very happy with my new camera.  Teamed with a 28-300 lens it becomes a great general-purpose travel camera.  I had to wait with barely-concealed impatience for DxO to release a version of Photolab that supported the Z6, as this is critical to my workflow; but now that this is available I’m as happy as a very happy bunny indeed, and llloking forward to future projects with the Z6.

Going Mirrorless

Image: Nikon – https://goo.gl/images/vjxgtk

I turned what I laughingly call “professional” as a photographer about 4 years ago in early 2015, having left  the IT sector (marketing/PR).  My last employer had gained great advantage from my enthusiasm for photography and I ended up being the photographer-in-residence, doing event reportage and corporate mugshots – very convenient as my employer didn’t have to pay extra money to engage a proper photographer.  I was fortunate enough to have had the chance to work with real professional photographers at some company events and I am particularly indebted to Rob Matthews, who did some work with our PR team and enabled me to learn a huge amount about corporate photography simply by watching him in action.  Oh, and badgering him with endless, probably stupid, questions.

Having left full-time employment, my goal was to carry on doing corporate photography, and my first gig was February 2015.  It was also my first attempt at videography, which was not ultimately successful but which taught me a huge amount, mainly about how much I still had to learn about video.  My main gear at the time was a pair of Nikon D300s, which were really good for stills but had serious shortcomings for video work.  So, I invested in a Nikon D5300 which would enable better video capabilities whilst still allowing me to make use of the lenses I had.

Here are my camera purchases since I invested in the D300s:

  1. Nikon D300S – October 2009 and September 2011 (second body)
  2. Nikon D5300 – February 2014
  3. Nikon D750 – November 2015 and December 2015 (second body), replacing the D300s
  4. Panasonic TZ100 – October 2016
  5. Nikon D500 – November 2016 (replacing one D750)
  6. DJI Osmo – August 2017, swiftly replaced by an Osmo+  (small stabilised video camera)
  7. SonyFDR-AX700 – July 2018 – an actual video camcorder

Looking through this list it becomes clear that my requirements were evolving.

  • The D750s were very well-rated full-frame cameras with HD video capabilities
  • The Panasonic was partly for personal use, to save me perpetually having to lug a full-sized DSLR around when I thought I might need a camera to hand, but also has reasonable quality from a larger-than-standard-compact sensor (1″ for those who care about these things) and was also capable of recording video.
  • The D500 was because I realised that full-frame was not the be-all-and-end-all I had expected; there are occasions when the extra reach of a crop-sensor camera is an advantage, particularly in corporate event photography, for capturing speakers on stage at a distance. The autofocus coverage is better on the D500, something I felt I particularly needed. And, like the Panasonic, the D500 can do video.
  • The last two entries on the list are for video cameras which can take stills, rather than the other way round.

It was becoming clear that having video capabilities was becoming more and more important. And I was finding that the big Nikons, which are wonderful for still photography, have their shortcomings when used for video – particularly autofocus and image stabilisation.  So my thoughts had turned towards moving (shock! horror!!) away from Nikon in order to get cameras that would handle video better.  The main contenders were from Panasonic (G or GH) models and Fuji (XT series).  The key difference between these cameras and my beloved big Nikons was – the mirror.  All DSLRs have a mirror whose normal position is down so you can frame the picture through the viewfinder; it then flips up so that the image can be exposed onto the sensor.  I loved the feel of all of this complicated mechanical stuff every time I pressed the shutter of the D500.  It just felt….right.   But the mirror has to stay up for video work, and the focusing mechanism is therefore perforce changed to a much slower, inferior method.  One is effectively condemned to using manual focus, since autofocus brings so many unwelcome effects into play.

Changing camera manufacturers would be a Very Big Deal for me.  It’s not the cameras, it’s the lenses.  I have six Nikon lenses, half of which are pro spec, beautiful to use and very expensive.  If I were to change to another manufacturer, I would have to completely reinvest in lenses, and I quailed at that prospect.  So I put off the decision and put it off and Made Do with what I had and its shortcomings for video work awaiting the time when I screwed up the courage (and the funds) to make the big leap.

However, I’m glad to say that Nikon saved the day!  THey an announcement that shook the industry – two brand-new mirrorless cameras, the Z7 and Z6.  The photographic press went berserk, of course, and it quickly became apparent that these cameras were held in high regard by almost all the photography journalists who reviewed them.  My particular go-to sites are dpreview and Amateur Photographer (you can take the photographer out of the amateur, but you can’t take the amateur out of the photographer). MIchael Topham’s glowing review of the Z6 was the tipping point, and in late November 2018 I put my order in with the idea of replacing my D750.  I have just (late January 2019) received the camera, along with the adapter that enables me to use all my lovely Nikon glassware with it, and initial impressions are that it will do in still photography anything that my D750 will do and will also do a vastly superior job at video.

Here’s hoping…..I’ll report back.