10X10: 100 ways to improve your photography: Mirrorless ILC tips

Mirrorless: the middle child? Maybe. But even a diehard sceptic like me has discovered that these things have their uses –just be clear about your expectations.

Disclaimer: I’m assuming you already know the basics, but want to get serious.

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10: Spare batteries are an absolute must. Due to the large sensor, LCD and high demands from lens focusing motors, stabilizers and the like, mirrorless cameras have the highest power draw of any type of camera (other than medium format digital, it seems). Make sure you have at least two to get you through a day, maybe with an additional spare.

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Moon over Prague Castle tower. Olympus E-PM1, 45/1.8

9: When selecting a camera, look at two things: useability (including lens choices) and raw sensor quality. I’ve tried the Panasonics, Sonys, Fuji and Olympus systems; of all of these, only the Olympus E-PM1 Pen Mini stayed more than a month. Why? Because it’s the most responsive and configurable of them all. The Panasonics are very configurable but not very user friendly. The Fuji X100 has the best image quality, but the firmware is a disaster and it’s slow as molasses. The Sony is reasonably responsive, but not so easily configurable and the lens choices are pretty limited. And the NEX-5 I owned had a strange color palette. And don’t pick one so big that you might as well take your DSLR.

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Lange Datograph. Olympus E-PM1, Panasonic 20/1.7

8: Use a hand strap instead of a neck strap. If it’s in your hand, you’ll be ready faster. And more likely to use it. And the weight/ size aren’t so bad you need to hang it around your neck or shoulder for relief. It also takes up less space in your bag when you have to store it.

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Reflections. Olympus E-PM1, 14-42 kit lens

7: Adaptors are useless. Although they seem like a good idea, mirrorless systems are optimized for telecentric lenses with very short back flange distances; conventional SLR or RF lenses aren’t designed like this and thus don’t work well on mirrorless cameras. It’s quite well known that RF wides have numerous issues like cyan/magenta shifted corners, increased CA and vignetting. Adapted lenses are also bulky and lacking in automation – no AF, no aperture control, no stabilizer. And accurately manually focusing something held at arms’ length is near impossible.

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Burlesque. Olympus E-PM1, Panasonic 20/1.7

6: Remember the lag. Even though release lag may be in the 30-40ms range, you’re going to have another lag induced by the LCD itself – the best models refresh at 60hz, which means you’re looking at least another 15-20ms (or more) of additional lag as the screen refreshes to show the current scene. Practice to get a feel for the rhythm of the camera.

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Garage classic. Fuji X100

5: Avoid continuous AF. Contrast detect AF systems still aren’t good enough to track moving subjects – with the exception of the hybrid system in the Nikon V1 that also has phase detect photosites built into the sensor – so either prefocus and anticipate, or cover with DOF.

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After school in Kathmandu. Fuji X100

4: Carry it everywhere. No point sacrificing image quality if you’re going to leave it at home like the full size camera. This is also why I’m drawn to the smaller, more pocketable mirrorless cameras like the Olympus Pen Mini. I’ve put it on a hand strap and use a pancake lens most of the time; it’s not a lot bigger than a compact but produces vastly better image quality.

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Mosque architecture. Sony NEX-5, 18-55 kit lens.

3: Use the EVF if you’ve got one. Like any optical finder, bracing the camera against your face helps stability immensely. I’m not recommending going out and buying an add-on finder; these are usually flimsy, unwieldy and dramatically increase the size of the camera – defeating the point of mirrorless in the first place.

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Before prayers. Sony NEX-5, 18-55 kit lens.

2: 1/focal length rule doesn’t apply anymore. Why not, aside from crop factor? Because most of the time you’ll be using live view and holding the camera at arms’ length – this means increased propensity towards camera shake. Double, or even triple that for critical shots or action. Or use a flash. And while stabilizers help, they probably bring the safe speed into the 1/fl rule or maybe very slightly better.

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Arch. Sony NEX-5, 18-55 kit lens.

1: Compose like an SLR, shoot like a compact. They’re hybrids, right? Treat them as such. You get the DOF of an SLR – which means you have to watch your focus point, and take care in choosing perspectives. But you also have the limitations of a compact – so remember to watch your exposure/ highlights/ shadows; prefocus; don’t expect it to be able to track moving objects. Remember the limitations of both, and that should give you a good idea of how to get the most out of your mirrorless camera. MT

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Hitchcock scene, Vienna. Olympus E-PM1, 45/1.8

See more of my work from the various large-sensor mirrorless cameras here on flickr: Olympus Pen Mini E-PM1; Sony NEX-5; Fuji X100; Leica X1