Mirrorless Not All It’s Cracked up To Be? What a Crack-Up!

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One of my Fstoppers counterparts recently wrote that mirrorless cameras aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. I’m sure there was an element of playfulness in his article. However, for the record, I think he was very wide of the mark. Here’s why. 

As I wrote in a recent article, I have made the move to a mirrorless setup, in the form of the Canon EOS R5. As I expounded in that article, my first impressions of the EOS R5 were magnificent, and in the time since, my admiration for the camera has continued on an exponential incline. However, I wasn’t always convinced. Indeed, in an article here on Fstoppers two years ago, I wrote that I thought the hype surrounding mirrorless cameras was a bit misguided. At the time, I think my stance was warranted, but in the 28 months since that article was written, a lot has changed. Therefore, I have changed tune, too, which is exactly why I made the switch from my DSLR Canon 5D Mark IV to the EOS R5.

I won’t touch on every issue my colleague had with mirrorless cameras such as those associated with EVFs, overheating, and new lenses, as it was his claim that mirrorless cameras are just as limited as DSLRs that really inspired me to write this. A new mirrorless setup is as limited as a DSLR. Really? The article made no mention of any specific cameras, so I’ll go with some Canon cameras just to make my point. I’m sure you could do the same with other brands, but I’ll stick with what I know and what I own.

Let’s start with frames per second (fps) and go with apples and apples. In the two images below, you can see the Canon 5D Mark 4 first and its fps burst rate, followed by the EOS R5 and its fps burst rate. 

You can see from the image above that the Canon 5D Mark 4 has a maximum burst rate of 7 fps at 30 MP. That’s not bad, but not particularly fast if you’re shooting sports or wildlife, in particular.

Compare that with the EOS R5, which shoots at up to 12 fps on the mechanical shutter at 45 MP, and up to 20 fps on the electronic shutter at 45 MP. Thus, on the mechanical shutter, the EOS R5 shoots at nearly double the fps burst rate of the 5D Mark IV, and almost three times as fast using the electronic shutter. On top of that, you get an extra 15 MP on your sensor to play with in cropping capabilities. Anyone shooting moving subjects, be it children, sports action, or wildlife can do nothing but acknowledge that the mirrorless EOS R5 is far superior to its DSLR counterpart in terms of burst rate capabilities and capturing far more action in the same amount of time.

Let’s move on to autofocus. Again, I’ll go with apples and apples and compare the autofocus specs of the EOS R5 and the 5D Mark IV, and I’ll also throw in Canon’s flagship DSLR model, the 1D X Mark III for good measure.

In the image above, you can see that the Canon DSLR 5D Mark IV has 61 Phase Detection Autofocus points. I can tell you from years of using the camera, those 61 points cover about 60% of the frame, if I’m being generous.

Above are the AF specs for the flagship Canon 1D X Mark III. You can see that it has 191 phase detection autofocus points, which amounts to just over three that of the 5D Mark IV. What about the EOS R5?

I don’t think I even need to say anything here, do I? Ah, what the heck, I will. It is an absolute joy to use the AF on the EOS R5, not only because of its incredible accuracy but also because the AF points cover the entire frame, from corner to corner. I never thought this would be so useful, but having it at my fingertips, I have to say I love it unconditionally and have found that it opens up a whole new world of creative opportunities and choices that I never had with the 5D Mark IV.

In summation, the burst rate of the EOS R5 puts that of its 5D Mark IV DSLR counterpart to shame, as does the AF capabilities and frame coverage. For many photographers, these two points alone are, arguably, the two most important features in a camera. I could probably stop here and rest my case, but I’ll go one step further.

Finally, let’s compare some AF menu items on the EOS R5 and the 5D Mark IV to really highlight how the mirrorless EOS R5 does not face the same limitations as a DSLR. When you go to the purple AF menu category on the EOS R5, there are two new sections that don’t exist in the same purple AF menu category of the 5D Mark IV.

The camera on the left is the 5D Mark IV. On the right is the EOS R5. You can see they are both on menu item one in the AF category. The menu list on the EOS R5, on the right, is different. Why? Because it now has eye detect for people and animals and the touch and drag option for the screen. They don’t exist in the 5D Mark IV AF menu, because the 5D Mark IV doesn’t have those capabilities.

Moreover, if you go to the number two list of items on the EOS R5 AF menu, you’ll also get some new item entries, as seen below.

Under number two on the EOS R5, you have manual focus peaking and the focus guide. Very briefly, these features used together are almost like autofocus while you’re using manual focus. Specifically, when you look through the EVF on the EOS R5 and manually adjust your lens, the parts of the frame that are in focus light up bright red on your screen, like Christmas lights. That gives you a general guide as to the area of the frame that’s in focus. Then, if you want to zone in on a specific element in the frame, you turn the Focus Guide setting on and choose the element you want in focus, and the camera pinpoints exactly when it’s in focus and lets you know by turning green on that point. It’s outstandingly accurate and precise. Again, that doesn’t exist on the DSLR 5D Mark IV.

This is an understated feature but hugely helpful. In my circumstance, for example, my eyes aren’t perfect, but I hate wearing glasses or contact lenses, especially when I’m taking photos. What that means when I’m trying to focus manually is that even though I’m pretty darn sure I’m spot on with my manual focus through magnification, I can never be absolutely certain. The new features on the EOS R5 now ensure that I can be.

Getting back to the menus of both cameras, eventually, when you get to number three in the EOS R5 AF menu category, you then get the same screen as number one on the 5D Mark 4, as seen below.

From these direct comparisons, I think it’s abundantly clear that the EOS R5 is a far, far more capable camera than its DSLR counterpart, the 5D Mark IV. To suggest that mirrorless cameras like the EOS R5 are as limited as DSLRs such as the 5D Mark IV is a bit hard to swallow.

But what does all that mean in terms of real-life use? Sure, the spec sheet of the mirrorless EOS R5 might be like a heavyweight Mike Tyson knocking out a poor little 5D Mark IV bantamweight, but how does it help you in the actual practice of taking better images? Let me give you one example.

This is my eldest daughter at home on the sofa. At the time, I was using the EOS R5 with AF eye detect on the RF 24-105mm f/4 lens. The shutter speed was set at 1/160th, as I wanted to keep the ISO low and test the in-body image stabilization (IBIS) capabilities. As I’ve mentioned before, I also have a two-year-old daughter who is currently the (sweetest) devil incarnate. As I was trying to take this shot, my youngest daughter was on my left, intent on getting to the remote control, which was sitting in my lap. Therefore, I moved my body towards her, took my face completely away from the camera, and fully extended my right arm, which was holding the camera, to keep it in front of my smiling daughter. I had no idea how good my composition was because I was using my body and my left arm as a buffer between Ms Lucifer and the remote control.

As you can see from the image above, the camera kept focus nicely, even at a relatively slow shutter speed, and allowed me to fire off a number of shots that I could keep and edit. The idea that I could do this with the 5D Mark IV is unthinkable. I wasn’t even looking at my daughter posing on the sofa half the time, such was my preoccupation with my wannabe commando climbing all over me.

Thus, it’s precisely this kind of scenario which puts the EOS R5 light years ahead of the 5D Mark IV, in my opinion. Sure, if you’re out shooting landscapes in good light, with a tripod and ample time to set everything up as you please, then the differences between the EOS R5 and the 5D Mark IV might not be so pronounced. But in scenarios where you have moving subjects and you need AF to work in your favor, it’s no longer apples and apples. The AF accuracy and the coverage of the EOS R5, as well as the IBIS capabilities, put it in an unquestionable league of its own.

Summing Up

It took me a long time for the mirrorless (r)evolution to convince me. However, the fact is that mirrorless cameras are the future, and they can do everything DSLRs can do, and so much more. That is undeniable. Add to that the fact that Canon has admitted there might not be any new iterations following the 5D Mark IV DSLR model, and it was clear as day to me that my next move had to be mirrorless. I think I’ll give my colleague the benefit of the doubt, but now that I’ve made the move to the mirrorless EOS R5, it’s not even contentious as to which is the better camera or where the future lies.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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