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Guest Post

Date: 17/02/2016 | By: Heather

My Move to Mirrorless Weddings – Guest post by Steve Gemmell


My Move to Mirrorless Weddings – Guest post by Steve Gemmell

As a professional UK-based Hertfordshire wedding photographer of some twelve years standing I have now switched to a completely mirrorless camera system. I started using a Fujifilm X-Pro1 camera four years ago and have gradually progressed to two X-T1s an X-E1, an X100T and also a Ricoh GR11. I have now sold all of my Canon kit which I used for many years.

mirrorless wedding photography
Xpro1 18mm F2 R 210th sec @ F2 ISO400

The transition was gradual and for the first few years I used the X-E1 alongside two Canon 5D MK11s which I carried with me right through a wedding day. Before becoming a professional photographer I was an experienced amateur photographer starting way back in the 1970s with a Practika LTL SLR camera. Right from the start I always saw photography as all about capturing moments rather than the more formal studio type of work.

If you love observing people, wedding photography is the ideal vehicle for taking candid “moments” .

With the DSLRs I would tend to use the longer 70-200mm zoom to catch those candid moments. I would have one DSLR body with the 70-200mm and the second body would have a 16-35mm lens. So alongside the candid shots this allowed me to work all day getting wider images with the 16-35 for bigger groups and overall settings etc. I had a few primes as well but they very rarely came out of the camera bag,

mirrorless wedding photography
X-E1 56mm F1.2 R 2500th sec @ F1.2 ISO400

Weddings are usually pretty frenetic affairs and you need to be able to react quickly to changing circumstances. Having the two zooms always with me covered most eventualities. However the big disadvantage of the two DSLRs and the big heavy lenses, great quality that they are, is the weight and the ability to stay unnoticed. Someone with a Canon DSLR and a white telephoto lens attached, screams PHOTOGRAPHER to everyone who sees him or her. This is the sort of equipment here in the UK that the general public associates with the paparazzi. We often seen them in use on the television and the media in general.

mirrorless wedding photography
Xpro1 35mm F1.4 R 50th sec @ F2 ISO1250

For a long time I was happy with the Canons having worked my way through the 5Ds from the initial model up to the Mark111. However because of my love for the older style of cameras with actual knobs and dials rather than menus on a screen I was immediately drawn to the Fujifilm X cameras. Starting first with the X-pro1 I found this early model was a bit clunky to use but I loved the fact that it had an electronic viewfinder! This meant that I could actually make exposure adjustments and decisions before taking the shot which I love. With the DSLR I would often guess and make adjustments on the fly with the adjustment wheel at the back of the camera. With experience you could usually get near to what you wanted but often you would need to “chimp” the LCD to check and then retake the photograph. So when trying to catch “moments” you sometimes missed them. So for me this was a really big plus point.

X-E1 56mm F1.2 R  400th sec @ F2  ISO800
X-E1 56mm F1.2 R 400th sec @ F2 ISO800

I moved on to the X-E1 and found this to be an improvement on the functionality of the X-pro1. One thing I appreciate about Fujifilm is the fact that they put these cameras out there but then gradually improved them and the lenses with firmware updates. An example of this is that I now often use the 35mm F1.4 lens which came with the X-pro1 on the X-E1 in manual focussing mode. Originally the lenses were difficult to use manually because of the ‘focus by wire’ method needed. It has now improved to the point where I can, frame my subject compositionally and then manually focus on a bride or groom within that frame and then wait for the moment. This is often easier that having to set a focus point via the joystick method of an automatic system. It is a way of working that I used to use 40 years ago!

The difference is that I can now also see the finished effect in the viewfinder with regards to focus but also exposure as well. Because the camera is so small people don’t react in the same way and I can get much closer without any problem at all. I couldn’t do that with the larger Canons.

mirrorless wedding photography
X-T1 XF18-55mm F2.8-4 R 210th sec @ F4 ISO200

Much as I appreciated the outstanding quality of the Canon lenses I have found the Fujifilm lenses to be fantastic for their size and cost when making comparisons.

I have recently added the 56mm F1.2 and the 90mm F2.0 to my steadily growing collection of six lenses. The image quality that can be achieved with these lenses is astounding. The 23mm F1.4 is another excellent lens.

So I now have a backpack that has three bodies, six lenses and 2 flashguns on board. As a consequence my method of working on a wedding day has changed. I tend not to rely on the zoom lens as much as I used to. I have just the one kit lens a 16-55 that came with the X-E1. The quality of this lens is remarkable for a kit lens but I find I enjoy working with the prime lenses more. Therefore I do change lenses more often than I used to and I do miss the 16mm end of the Canon. I have the 14mm Fuji which equates to a 21mm in 35mm terms but it doesn’t seem to have have the same resolving power that can be achieved with the Canon on a full frame. The wider end of the spectrum is more difficult with a smaller sensor although I am yet to try the XF 10-24mm zoom which has good reviews. Looks a bit big though and to me that somewhat defeats the object of using smaller cameras. I have stayed away from the excellent XF 50 – 140mm for the same reason.

mirrorless wedding photography
X-M1 XF23mm F1.4 R 1600th sec @ F1.4 ISO200

My style is definitely changing now and I find I can work much closer in to my subjects. There is also far less processing involved once I have all of the images into Lightroom. Fewer photos get culled simply because exposure and composition are far more accurate than before. Usually because the exposure is so good, I rarely need to do much adjustment to individual images unless I am after a particular effect. Even jpeg straight out of the camera is good although I still shoot raw because of the flexibility offered in post processing. That may change at some point as there are major advantages from a storage point of view.

mirrorless wedding photography
Xpro1 – XF18-55mm F2.8-4 R 30th sec @ F3.2 ISO2500

One other thing that I find very useful is the folding screen on the X-T1 which allows me to shoot from down low or up high above my head. A key shot of mine has always been to hold the DSLR up way above my head and shoot down with the 16-35mm zoom. I used this a lot when the bride and groom walk back up the aisle with everyone turning and looking and often clapping. I can do this more accurately now with the tilt screen. It can also be used at hip level for shooting the occasional video clip as well.

mirrorless wedding photography
X-T1 XF23mm F1.4 R 140th sec @ F2 ISO400

Like many wedding photographers I am always searching for the perfect wedding camera. There are obviously some things I miss from the DSLRs. The main one is speed of use although the mirrorless cameras are gradually catching up.

So in summary I am enjoying the new way of working that mirrorless cameras offer. They have opened up new possibilities for me and I certainly do not miss the weight of the old kit. As a photographer I think it is good to continually find new ways of achieving the results you want. It keeps us on our toes and sometimes we need to re-evaluate what we are doing day in day out. The big danger of not doing that is that our work could become stale or hackneyed and we loose the joy in what we do and how we do it.

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About the author: Heather Broster

Heather Broster was born in Canada, has lived in Japan and Italy but currently calls Wales home. She is a full-time gear tester at MirrorLessons. You can follow her on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • Mark

    Mmmmm – the point is that a DSLR is *not* showing you what the reality of your camera’s settings – the viewfinder it is a completely disconnected optical system.
    That’s what i appreciate most about my OM-Ds with EVF image is a live read out of the WB, contrast, saturation, metering pattern, gradation, exposure compensation. Frankly it quite surprising to see the effects in real time particularly with exposure compensation that what looks right on the screen can be quite different (higher or lower) to what would be expected from conventional wisdom. And when you have 5 stops +/- as with the E-M1 you have plenty of range to dial in to get it right.
    So yeah, by this logic the Fuji can get a better exposure setting than a canon, or any other brand, DSLR.

  • FoxPhoto

    With all due respect, I think you are being a little overly defensive here. Why would you look at the photos and think there should be something in them that you couldn’t do with a DSLR? I don’t believe that is the point that Steve is making. It is not the finished article (the photograph) that is necessarily different or better. It is the ease of getting there that makes all the difference to a working pro.

    For 10 years I also used to shoot weddings with Canon DSLRs. The later ones being a 5Dmk3 and a 7D. I understand totally what Steve is saying about the benefits of having a smaller and quieter system for stealth. As to a lighter system – for me it would also have made a huge difference to my health as I used to carry an awful lot of weight around all day. I had to give up the weddings for health reasons, so my back would really have appreciated a lighter system. I have friends still in the industry who have similar health issues.

    I am not sure about composition, but I can also see the benefits of the mirrorless system for getting the exposure right first time. Working on the fly and going from inside to outside at a moments notice, I am sure it would be a boon to have the instant exposure (and depth of field) feedback that an EVF provides without having to chimp, adjust, chimp, adjust all the time. Sometimes you wouldn’t have that luxury and have to correct in post (the Fuji files, for example, are MUCH more flexible in recovering blown highlights and lifting shadows). And seeing the preview WITHIN the viewfinder instead of the LCD means you do not have to take your eye away from the viewfinder to see if you got the shot. Another boon. Another time saver. All these little things add up and make the world of difference on the day.

    What I am not nearly convinced about, though, is AF-C and focusing in low light. My Canon 5Dmk3 was particularly very good in both these departments. Having used the Fuji X-T1 for low-light portraits and for moving subjects I know you have to be more patient with the focusing. Steve obviously has this sussed, or at least believes the trade-off is worth it. Fair play to him.

  • soundimageplus

    Mmmmmm…… There is absolutely nothing there that I couldn’t do with a DSLR when I was shooting weddings. ‘My style is definitely changing now and I find I can work much closer in to my subjects. There is also far less processing involved once I have all of the images into Lightroom. Fewer photos get culled simply because exposure and composition are far more accurate than before.’ Working closer to subjects has nothing to do with the camera used, at least it shouldn’t be. Also why is there less processing with a Fuji rather than a Canon? There are marginal savings in terms of 16MP as opposed to 22MP, but that’s about it. I think the huge number of Canon users worldwide might take issue with the implication that Fuji’s expose more accurately. Having used Fuji and Canon extensively I would challenge that. And how can a camera make for more accurate composition? That has nothing to do with the camera. And surely the fact that you reject less images has more to do with you than the camera.

    Personal choice is all very well and I certainly used mirrorless cameras a lot for my wedding work. And yes there are weight and size issues, but this is propaganda. Sure, a new camera system does (or should) make for a more stimulating work experience, but people starting out in photography, or contemplating a career in it might take some pointers from this article that will not serve them well. As professionals we have a responsibility to ‘tell it like it is’ and not exaggerate what we get from gear. The notion that Fuji cameras somehow magically make exposure and composition better and require less work is somewhat misleading and simply not true.

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