Designs on Mirrorless, Part 1

I’m not a professional photographer, calling me an amateur is giving me far more credit than I deserve. Labelling me with the title of enthusiast puts me in a bracket that is not entirely in the realms of reality. As earlier articles of mine on photography have expressed, I know a couple of things, but nothing advanced enough to be considered great. Better expressed, I know enough to be dangerous ! On the other hand, if we were talking about how I could spend all my money — and probably yours too —, I’m pretty sure I’d be up there with the best of them, which leads me to this article.

In my commentary about Nikon moving into the mirrorless category, or more accurately, the full-frame mirrorless market in 2019, I put it forward that the pain caused moving to the new body that required a different lens mount, was no more painful than moving to a competing body/lens setup, if you wanted to take full advantage of the advances this offers. It’s along these lines that I have been thinking lately.

Let’s go back a little to the start of my interest. I first used a “proper” DSLR around 10 years ago, getting into photography for the first time in my life at that point. I got a Nikon D40 with kit 18-55 lens — I know I said proper and that many of you may laugh, but it was to me. After a few months, I outgrew this body and set about a path to upgrade as soon as possible, falling eventually on a good deal for a D90. The D90 gave me something that I’d been pining for since owning the first DSLR, a top mounted control display. I know its shallow, but I so coveted this feature for two reasons; one, it screamed “Pro” (or at least, more pro than those without) and two, it was actually quite helpful to get quick feedback on the current settings when changing a few things. As I was “in” the Nikon camp from the beginning, it was expensive to consider moving elsewhere especially since I’d started the accumulate a few other lenses for the various tasks I was undertaking as a helpful Trail Race documenter.

Moving forward, having given the D40 to my niece for her to learn and explore photography, after adding a D7200 to the stable, I’ve come across another problem that I hadn’t anticipated.

DSLRs are heavy beasts. So are the lenses that you gradually gather over a number of years. All this is required and you justify it, because well, you need it! I need that almost 3 quarters of a kilogram70-300mm lens, of course, I do. What else am I going to use to get that close-up of a Yoleur hanging off the Bwa Dressé as he and his team fight to keep the boat not only upright but optimal for the forward trajectory to win the regatta? I need that large 10-24mm wide-angle. How else am I going to capture that beautiful waterfall I’ve just walked through a tunnel with bats, in the mud, climbing over volcanic rocks left there a million or two years ago in some violent scattering of the inner earth? That throw-away 18-270mm albeit fairly compact still has some heft to it, 450g of heft to be exact. All this is packed into a grossly oversized backpack with a tripod clipped on to it, giving me 15Kg to lug around.

Well, that’s it. I’m pretty much done. Not entirely yet though, unfortunately. I’m sitting on a plane on a transatlantic overnight flight suffering my usual avion-induced insomnia with a backpack “lightly” packed with the D7200, the 18-270mm and a 35mm fixed focal length prime on my way to the south of France for a couple of weeks holiday. Of course, I wanted to take all my lenses, but pragmatism and sheer fatigue at trundling around with them stepped in and helped me limit the choice. And here’s the point I’m getting to, constraint.

I’m hoping the constraint of having only one lens — I’m pushing for the 35mm — will help me produce better photos, rather than worrying about “the right one”, wasting time changing them potentially missing the moment and the sheer energy required. See, point, set, shoot. Not over thinking it. I hope it will lead me to take more and better spontaneous photos, capturing the moment more candidly.

I remember the first Trail race, D40 and kit 18-55mm lens in hand. I thought I looked like a joke and totally unworthy to be there, but the freedom with no expectations and freedom to point and shoot immediately is something that I have lost since falling deeper in the rabbit hole of photography, or more accurately, photography equipment. I want to get back to that. I’m very seriously considering a move to Mirrorless with a most basic setup for these reasons. Simply put; weight and constraint.

The D7200 really is a magnificent camera capable of some excellent output now that I have got better and understand more. The idea to drop quality and (some) functionality is clearly difficult to subscribe to. The search is on to find something that could be considered equal or so close as to not care. As I said, I’m no professional, and I have made the sum-total of 0$ over the years, but I respect quality and durability, something the Nikon has in spades.

So far, the only real contenders currently on the market are the Fujifilm X-T20, the X-E3 and the X100F. I know that the series 1 Sony A7 is available (new) for around the same amount and is full-frame, but its technology is now over 5 years old and unlikely to compete with the latest and greatest technology advancements from Fujifilm etc. Canon seems to be getting there, but the bodies seem excessively bulky to me and look dull trying to look like their existing DSLRs, and Nikon where are you? Sure the Z series has been announced, but they are way over my budget. I’m guessing in 2019 there’ll be models that are more in the range of the average enthusiast.

The Fuji’s are a radical change from the DSLR form factor of the Nikon I’m used to and are much lighter than their older cousins. That’s the weight, literally taken off my shoulders. In terms of constraint, these bodies are quite capable at competing with the prosumer range of DSLRs from Nikon and Canon, but something about the fact that they are small, cool looking in that retro (but non-hipster) way, makes me want to use only a prime, small telephoto or built-in for snapping.

They not only look inconspicuous when you’re out and about in that way a big paparazzi body with enormous lens doesn’t, but they are really not suited to having one of those giant lenses attached. The self-imposed constraint of shooting with limited tools appeals to me, as it feels like it might extract a better photographer from me.

The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution – Igor Stravinsky

Photo by Daoudi Aissa on Unsplash