Four great still-Shooting feats my sub-$1K mirrorless can do that my $3K DSLR can’t….

pSNYNA-DSCRX10~B_main_v500Yes, this blog is about the issues you deal with when a still shooter dips his or her toe into the movement pond, but sometimes you just have to shake your head at the advances in still shooting that mirrorless cameras with electronic shutters allow that seem to be glossed over or not covered (or maybe it’s just that I’m not reading that many stills blogs).

But there are four killer features on certain mirrorless cameras with electronic shutters that every still shooter should know about, and rejoice. Especially when you keep in mind that we’re talking about a sub-$1000 camera and lens combo that weighs next to nothing….

1. Shoot in Total Silence! Oh, if I had a nickel for every dress rehearsal, orchestra performance, house of worship, and play that I’ve had to shoot on assignment, trying not to make noise from the “ca-chunk” of my mirror and shutter and time my shots for music crescendos and applause, I’d be, well not rich, but much better off.

But no more…I can shoot like a maniac during any part of a concert or performance (given that it is legal or I have permission of the producers) without making a sound….literally, not making a sound. I don’t know why I’m not reading about still shooters on movie sets and photojournalists in courtrooms doing happy dances (if you’ve ever really tried to shoot with a Jacobson blimp, you’ll know what I mean—not for the faint of heart).

I mean, compared to the RX10, my old Leica M4 (one of the standards for “silent shooting”) sounded like a bazooka. Combine this silent shutter mode with the RX10’s  small, unimposing size, and you’ve got a very good combination for shooting in any sensitve situation where the sound of the shutter, or the very act of taking a photo, might cause upset.

Of course, if you want to spend $2+K to soundproof your DSLR and make it even bigger and bulkier, be my guest, and please, pick an expensive one like the Aquatech Sound Blimp by clicking here:-). Make sure you order a couple of lens tubes too!

2. Sync flash at 1/1600th of a second! Now that David Hobby has put his Strobist blog on the shelf to become a travel photography expert, there’s nobody around to get excited about syncing flash at this high a shutter speed. But what it does for you is allow you to work outside in bright sunlight with one small heavily diffused flash to get amazing soft light fill flash in bright sunlight.

You’ve probably seen the Strobist video of my buddy Joe McNally out on a desert dune with a tree full of speedlights to get enough power to shoot through a softbox for diffused fill in bright desert sun.    That’s what you have to do to get enough power to diffuse your light when you’re using the pulsing light of the high speed sync, the only way you can shoot a DSLR above the 1/250th second real sync speed.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 3.34.03 PM

Joe is one of the best shooters on the planet and makes great pictures no matter what the obstacles, but what if you could just stick one flash unit behind an umbrella or in a softbox and do the same thing? Wouldn’t that be easier? Yes, it would be.  I had a series of executive portrait sessions outdoors recently, and I covered them with one SB 800 on a stand and the RX 10 in manual mode, syncing at 1/160oth of a second. I’m not contractually allowed to show those pictures, so I asked Peggy to stand in for a similar situation.

Here’s the way you do the same type of shot (soft diffused fill in bright harsh conditions) when your camera can synch flash at up to 1/1600th of a second! You only need one flash, and this SB800 was set to 1/4 power!

Peggy is in deep shade, and my white clapboard house is in full, direct, midday sunshine.

Add one flash at 1/4 power into a big diffuser, and shoot soft flash portrait @ 1/160oth @f/2.8!









3. Shoot 10 frames per second! Yes, if you have one of the top of the line DSLRs you can get some pretty fast framerates for your sports sequences, but those things weigh a ton and cost a small fortune…but this little glorified point and shoot can do the same thing (albeit only for couple of seconds  at a time) at a fraction of the cost and weight.

I find myself more ready to try my hand at shooting sports in my travels with this camera and have gotten some excellent shots of surfing in Bali and bullfighting in France (well, it’s not bullfighting, it’s called a Course Camargue, and it’s like running before the bulls instead of fighting them with pikes and swords.) .

Here’s a quick, 2-frame-per-second timelapse of a series of stills I shot in a couple second burst…you’ve got a good chance of capturing a couple decisive moments at this speed:


4. No sensor dust, ever: Yes, with a permanently fixed Zeiss zoom lens with the 35mm equivalent of a 24-200mm f/2.8, I don’t ever have to worry about dust spots on the sensor, and I rarely feel the need to go outside this range for 95% of what I shoot (and when I do, it’s to go wider, usually with my A6000 with the 10-18mm f/4 Sony).

So be sure to check out the fine print of any mirrorless camera you’re contemplating to see if these things are possible with your choice of camera, because, for reasons beyond my comprehension, most reviews and marketing material tend to gloss right over these useful, and dare I say it, revolutionary features for still shooters. And not every mirrorless camera sports all these features. My A6000 for instance, will not sync at these extremely fast shutter speeds, but above 1/250th at least.

So if the high speed sync is important to you, check the fine print. And if all these four abilities are important to you (as they are to me in some of my work), do check out the RX10…I first liked it for its amazing video capabilities, but the more I shoot stills with it, the more I like it as a stills machine too.

28 thoughts on “Four great still-Shooting feats my sub-$1K mirrorless can do that my $3K DSLR can’t….

  1. This is an amazing camera. But don’t discount the decades of exprience in photography that makes it perform.
    I’m thinking of retireing again and when that time comes I think the heavy Nikon equipment will be gone and replaced by one of these. Very inviting to think about not lugging tons of gear around any longer.

  2. Bob…Great piece!

    I totally agree — the range of sensor sizes with the Sony lines gives photographers so many choices and that RX 10 is a gem of a camera….I am hopeful that they’ll offer the same exact camera soon with a 4k capture. Exciting times…

    BTW, loving the a6000 and the external mike for shooting video — been using the 10-18 for that wide angle view and it’s working well..

    1. David: Thanks for stopping by. I think that someone with your interest and mastery of flash would find a lot of uses for that super high sync speed! Hope our paths cross one of these days!

  3. Bob, this SONY seems like another dream come true, especially if I can use my trusted Nikon SB900 speedlights with it. And I love the example with Peggy. (Excellent choice of subject, by the way. Did she get a good dinner out of it?)

    With all the performance shooting I do, this one really has my interest piqued.

  4. I’ll tell you what…that high-speed flash sync gets me excited… I haven’t had that ability for a number of years since getting rid of my Hasselblads and view-cameras……It’s always the little things that you miss most.

  5. I miss D300 upgrade. Could use higher ISO, but that is about all.
    What is keeping me from upgrading today is the smallish size of the currently offered Nikon DX bodies. I actually bought D710 and returned it after using for a week. Too small of a body and not as well balanced. Even FX bodies are smallish and do not have room to land four fingers on battery compartment, only space for three. Shooting sports (soccer, running, cycling) and spending up to 2 hours with D300 and 2.8 tele in my hand (no strap) has never been a problem, even when I have to sprint all i still can along the track to catch the finish. It is that comfy (at 67 y/o I am not a gym rat). D300 with any lens is perfectly balanced kit.
    That said, Canon S100 tiny full featured compact is the only other camera i own and keep with me all the time. Actually I have two of them, but the other is my backup for underwater photography. When i travel, that is what i use 90% of the time.
    Nikon goes the way most old companies go: down and out.
    They lost Bob Krist. Enough said.

  6. Hi Bob – I’m confused about your flash sync comment.

    I didn’t check your exif so I’m making some guesses here, but if you used a ~32mm lens @ f2.8 on the RX10 (same field of view as a 85mm on FF) at 1/1600s, the depth of field at a 10 ft distance (approximate, again) would be about 2ft.

    If you then took an 85mm on a FF camera, to get the same depth of field (2ft) at 10 ft you could shoot at f8. That’s 3 stops of aperture, so a constant exposure would be 1/200s (3 stops from 1/1600), which is right around the standard x-sync speed of a FF DSLR.

    That’s all at constant sensitivity.

    Is there some other advantage that I’m missing here, specific to the flash sync speed? I agree that there are definite advantages in the other areas you described, but I’m not sure what you’re gaining on X-sync.


    1. Sam: At 85mm yes, but I’m pretty sure I had it cranked out to 200mm equivalent at f/2.8, and it just seemed to be easier and shallower, but I have not done side-by-sides. There are charts and there are “looks” and I’ve always been concerned with the latter, but am willing to be shown the difference, but not willing to put in the time to do it myself:-)

      1. Hi Bob,

        Thanks for the insightful website. Commenting on an old comment here, but saw it today and now I’m curious. I could easily be misunderstanding Sam’s comment above — about not seeing what one gains with the X-sync of the RX10 vs FF, at least at 85mm. But I thought that, even though RX10 at f2.8 and 1/1600 might be equivalent to full frame at f8 and 1/200, there are still advantages to f2.8 vs. f8 when shooting with a flash (especially diffused flash). I seem to recall learning (probably from your location lighting book 20 years ago), my flash does not care what my shutter speed is, only my f-stop, so shooting outdoors I’d rather have to use less flash than more flash for the same exposure. And as you explain above, the faster x-sync makes that possible. Or maybe I’m just confused.


  7. Hi Bob, everything you say about the RX10 is true – it is an amazing camera but it is not MIRORRLESS. It is in the “high end compact” category. The A6000 is the mirrorless.

    This aside – the RX10 IS an amazing machine that can do so much.

  8. Bob,

    The Sony camera has great features…just curious since we’ve been out of touch for awhile…do you still use Nikons when you’re not on a whirlwind trip?

    Mary and Charles

  9. Bob,

    Have you ever compared the Sony RX10 to the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera, priced through B & H at just under $1k? Just wondering what you and other readers think about the Black Magic in comparison?


    1. Charles: The BM camera is not a viable choice for run and gun documentary work. The image quality is incomparable…you could shoot a Hollywood feature film with it. The workflow/ergonomics of it is horrible…you need so many add ons, after the fact color grading, audio workarounds etc. that it is simply not a choice for one man run and gun operations, despite its diminutive size.

      1. Understood…you have me nearly sold on the Sony RX10…..are you truly pleased with the image quality for both stills and video (for commercial projects)—seems perfect for run and gun shooting…and you don’t miss your Nikons so it seems.


  10. Bob,

    Have you heard rumors about a new Sony a9 Pro full frame E-Mount camera that will be the first of a new, higher-end line. Supposed to be more than an updated A7s and the first of an entirely new mirrorless line with superior capabilities. Perhaps will be introduced in the first half 2015?

    Charles Love

    1. No, but check out because that site is pretty reliable with what’s new. I don’t follow every new camera, I’m still trying to learn to use the ones I have.

  11. Bob –

    Great post and love how gracefully you have branched out into video (I know there is pain as part of growth, though!).
    As a result of your great work and writing tutelage, as well as your friend Thom Hogan, along with other prolific photogs moving to mirrorless, I have moved on from mainstream SLR’s to the Sony A7, a6000, RX10 and RX100. Still learning how to get the most out of each, but at least the menu interfaces are finally consistent! 🙂

  12. Bob,

    Just a couple questions about the RX 10 (which looks to be a great camera):

    1. When you used the Nikon Speedlight SB800 with the RX10 (in example above) were you syncing with a cord? Presumably can’t sync wirelessly unless you use Sony equipment. Or is SB800 a white-light slave? In other words, can the RX10 trigger a Nikon Speedlight wirelessly?

    2. Have you found the Zeiss lens on this camera to meet your standards in terms of image resolution?

    Much thx.


    1. 1. It will not work in TTL wireless mode with Nikon flashes, only manual.

      2. Um, I’m going to answer your second question with a question myself. Why would I use this camera all the time and write multiple posts praising it, if it did not meet my standards? You must not think much of me:-).

  13. Just stumbled across this high flash sync talk.. Wow that is amazing i wish that was out a few years ago. I was shooting on the beach doing portraits everyday using a very heavy flash system like taking a car battery with you to have the power to over power the sun with my Nikon D700. I can still use this for out door portraits that would be a game changer for what you could shoot and the end results VS anyone else shooting in the same light. Just thinking of what i could do gets me excited.
    I have a a6000 and that was one of the first things i tested when i got it and no go. Still have a old Nikon D40 that can do it.

    Any other cameras out that can do this?? or is their a new version of the RX10 out or to be out that can. Just starting to move to Sony

  14. Hi,
    I switched from Nikon to Sony as well. A6000 and A7. I am tempted by the RX10. I really like the Sony cameras and lenses, except I feel the 16-70 f4 for the A6000 is sharp only in the center and gets very soft halfway between the center and the borders. it is OK for portraits / events but not for architecture / landscape.

    I was wondering if A7 + RX10 would be a better combo for travel than A7 + RX10.
    Have you compared the RX10 and A6000 with 16-70?
    Have you used the still images from the RX10 on National Geographic publications? Any issues with the editors?


    1. I think you mean ” if the A7 and RX10 would be a better combo than the A7 and A600″, right? (that’s not what you asked above). That’s a tough call, but the RX10 series offers things the A6000 doesn’t (and vice versa). But the RX 10 series (and by now, I’d get the II version, or the the III if you want a longer lens and are not put off by the bigger size) offers dust proof, weather sealed performance with excellent sharpness. I have had better luck with my 16-70mm than you have, apparently, but the RX lens stands up. No problem with NG pubs accepting files from any of these cameras thus far. I’m shooting mostly video these days with them.

  15. I recently saw the Joe McNally clip you mentioned in your post. It left me with a few unanswered questions which your post, a Bob, answered so clearly. Cheers for that. I’m a pro, currently shooting on a Lumix camera whose lens covers 25-600mm at a constant f/2.8. I’ve been a Nikon photographer for 36 years, always enjoying the results offset by the bulk and heavy weight of my gear bag. This Lumix camera, bought secondhand for a mere $100, has changed everything, putting the fun of photography in the forefront. Like you and your RX10ii, I feel photographically liberated to the point where shooting 600mm handheld at f/2.8 is now regular on any assignment in any room other than a coal cellar. My photography has improved exponentially and client feedback is so positive I smile just picking the camera up. However, At the back of my mind I’m thinking “shouldn’t I be shooting on a larger sensor?” My clients have never asked what sensor I use (2/3 of an inch) but they regularly comment on the photographs I’ve shot for them, often referring my services. Does the National Geographic specify a minimum camera sensor, Bob? Am I short-changing clients by not shooting on 4/3, APS-C, X-Trans, Dx, Fx, CMOS etc? Or am I reading too many photography blogs screwing with my processes, instead of being out there shooting more photos…

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