It's been a while since I was looking forward to a new camera body like the EOS R. Usually I’s wait to see what the next iteration of the 5D line would be and if it had enough upgrades, or if the one I had was getting too old, I’d upgrade. The 5D Mark III and Mark IV bodies I have now are workhorses, and they get the job done well.
But when I heard about a full frame mirrorless camera that was smaller than a DSLR, had an actual silent shutter, and that it was compatible with my EF lenses, I was stoked. I ordered it and it arrived on launch day. I’ve used it exclusively for the past three weeks on multiple shoots from portrait sessions to events. And although all of those features lived up to its expectation, I returned the camera today.
The camera does live up to all the features I mentioned (I used the silent shutter mode when photographing at a conference, and I couldn’t believe how quiet it was. My 5D’s must have sounded like hands clapping all these years) but it just doesn’t fit the way I photograph.
Let me explain.
For the uninitiated, one of the main differences between a DSLR and a mirrorless camera is the viewfinder. When you look through the viewfinder of a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera, you are looking through a prism and a mirror, essentially a window to the scene you are photographing. And what you see through the viewfinder and what the sensor capture is not the same, and so you adjust ISO, aperture, shutter speed based on exposure metering to get the proper exposure (fn).
The EOS R is a mirrorless camera. The viewfinder is a small screen that shows what you’re looking at. You can see what kind of image the sensor will capture and as you change the camera settings you can see the result on that screen. This is helpful to photographers ton take out the guesswork of exposing a scene properly, but the fact that you are staring at a small monitor means that when you shoot the way I shoot, the mirrorless camera’s viewfinder lagged ever so slightly behind the DSLR’s.
The best analogy I could come up with is the difference of an Apple Watch versus an analog watch. Because the Apple Watch cannot have the display on all the time due to battery life considerations when you raise your wrist to see the time the accelerometer and million other things realize that's what you’re doing and turn on the screen for you. Once you put your arm down, it shuts off the screen. This happens multiple times a day. But between the time you raise your wrist and when the screen turns on, there’s a fraction of a second delay for the screen to turn on while the watch is doing its thing.
But with an analog watch, the time is just there, all the time. There isn’t a computer that’s turning on the watch face. As fast as photons can bounce off the watch and your retina can perceive them, you see the time. Compared to an analog watch, the delay in the Apple Watch is something I happily tolerate because seeing the time instantaneously isn't crucial for me. And the functionality of my Apple Watch far outweighs the “inconvenience” of waiting that fraction of a second.
I usually shoot a burst of three to five images after I compose a scene and feel what's going on, but after every click of the shutter, there was this slight lag on the EOS R as the image I captured disappeared and the live view came up again. With the SLR, the shutter just blinks once to reveal the sensor and then you're back to the next moment, nothing in between photons and my retina.
That’s what crucial in my photography and no matter the advantages of this camera, I can’t compromise the way I approach and capture a scene. This doesn’t mean that the future of digital cameras isn’t mirrorless. The removal of a mirror and the shutter mechanism has a lot of advantages. Such as making possible a 28-70mm f/2.0 lens because the lenses can be mounted closer to the sensor. It also doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t buy a mirrorless camera in the future. There will be iterations of this camera, and they will only get better. But right now, it’s not for me. As I was using the camera, I kept trying to change the settings to make it behave like an SLR, and that not what it was designed to do.
Maybe it’ll take a few years, but until then I'm happy with my hand clappers.