My DSLR is broken. Is it time to finally get a mirrorless camera?

It happened again. My DSLR broke down on set. While getting used to it and calling right away for repairs, I found myself wondering if it was time to buy a mirrorless one. Here are some points I raised during this debate with myself.

I’m maybe a bit famous for being a nay-sayer when it comes to new technologies. Don’t think I’m rejecting technology, I love it! The new Mac Studio is already on my wishlist. But I use a simple principle for my purchases: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it/buy it. A purchase for me should fix any problem. This applies to the purchase of cameras. When I write about camera bodies, I often say that I will only buy a mirrorless camera if my DSLR fails. Well, as the most critical readers might wish, my DSLR is now officially down.

What happened?

It all happened so fast: I was on set, I was shooting two tests for an agency, and I was already on the last look of the day. With many excellent images captured and six coffees, I was ready to call it a day after a few more photos. Not being so different from other shooting tests, I prepared, focused and started shooting. A few clicks later, the mirror locked up and the camera said “err20”. Turn on and off? No. Replace battery? Also no. Google for a quick fix? Also, again, no. Visibly upset by this, I asked for a minute’s silence for my Canon 5D Mark IV, which served me like a king for two years. Perhaps a little anticlimactic, I grabbed a save and kept shooting like before. The lesson here is that you should always have a backup camera housing, hard drive, and probably a similar lens to what you have. Lenses also fail, but you can get by with a slightly wider or slightly telephoto shot if your 24-70mm fails. When it comes to cards, storage, cameras and the rest, having a backup is essential to the overall success of filming. Sure, planes don’t crash often, but when they do, it’s good to have a medical kit, an emergency slide, and maybe even a vest. As my Ukrainian grandmother would say, it is better to be very careful than to be careless.

And after?

Once I called it a wrap, I began to wonder if it had finally become appropriate and justified to move to a mirrorless system. After all, this is the future, and camera technology is heading in that direction. Who knows, maybe after a few years it would become impossible to maintain my camera, and I would be stuck with a bit of unnecessary kit. Still, there are some caveats holding me back from upgrading: cost and need. So if you’re reading about whether I’m going to go mirrorless, the answer is no. But you have already gone through half of the article, so please read before commenting.

Cost

Being a money conscious photographer, I live and abide by the principle and a penny saved is a penny earned. I find it better to have a thousand more in the bank account than a thousand more in purchased camera equipment. Equipment depreciates much faster than money, at least if you earn in a stable currency.

The cost of upgrading to mirrorless even if I decide to buy used and get a ridiculously good deal (30% off original price) I would still be looking north of 5 $400 in camera cases. Even if I decided to buy just one R5 and keep my DSLR as a backup, it would still be around $2,700. At this point, I’ll be forced to use an adapter with lenses, which will increase the size and weight, and somewhat destroy the reason I got the R5 in the first place.

To really upgrade, I would also have to replace my fleet of aging lenses. With birds from the early 2000s, one wonders why I didn’t buy the newer versions. I might be blind, but frankly, I can’t see a difference what an image looks like with a 2016 and 2005 lens. For me, the main difference is autofocus, size, weight, and feel. Of course if you put a graphic in front there are differences but for the work I do I prefer to get medium format and call it a day. On the contrary, the light I use has more effect on the image quality. I digress. Getting even just one RF lens would bring the overall upgrade cost to nearly $7,000, and adding an extra one already costs $9,000. At this point, if I want to replace everything I have with mirrorless equivalents, I would have a $10,000 investment. Buying anything new would be even more expensive, at $15,395 from B&H at the time of writing.

Fixing my DSLR would cost $300 and take a week. Then my camera would be good for another 150,000 shots, and probably a few more years until it happens again and I do the full cycle. I’m going to have it repaired because it’s much cheaper. I didn’t get my Profoto B1 repaired because it was $700, in which case I could get a used B1X for $900, which I also needed.

Need

Suppose I have that money and I definitely don’t want to buy any more lights or modifiers, or a car, or whatever, would I need the gear? Unfortunately no.

When I started photography not too long ago I upgraded because the camera I had couldn’t do something I needed to do. For example, when filming events, I always needed higher ISO capabilities, as the 5D Mark II gave a very dirty image at ISO 6400. Fortunately, the 5D Mark IV solved this problem and even allowed me to crop comfortably. However, now things have changed, and I never complain that my camera can’t do this or that. Now I’m complaining that I don’t have a modifier or light that I really need (but actually want). So, having said that, I certainly won’t take advantage of the improvements brought by the mirrorless system. Fashion photography is first about style, then light, then everything else, and finally the camera. If the phones get good enough to replace my DSLR in the studio, I’ll use them.

Final Thoughts

Upgrading is very individual and sometimes if you want to do it you don’t really think about the need and the cost. Of course, that’s no way to run a business, because most of your decisions have to be cold. It is the same reason why airlines are not run by pilots, but by competent managers. So if something is broken, getting it fixed is a better option, at least in my case, and probably in yours as well.

About Julius Southworth

Check Also

Art Center Sarasota welcomes photographer Barbara Banks as a board member

Carolyn Benedict-Drew, Chair of the Art Center Sarasota Board of Trustees, recently announced that the …