The transition to mirrorless is complete. Something I never really considered until the last year. With very much an attitude of ‘why fix something that’s not broken’, I find myself writing this article. The Australian Open tennis of 2022 changed everything.

In Australia, Canon support their professional photographers thru the CPS scheme, which for me, is most useful at major sporting events. I have been able to borrow the latest and greatest cameras and lenses for many years, which help to shoot the fast paced action witnessed at events like the F1 Grand Prix and Australian Open. Often this equipment is well out of my budget when weighed against my income for editorial sport. AUD$9k cameras and AUD$20k lenses is not pocket money. They are for people who are supplied them by agencies they work for, or are pursuing fulltime photography and sinking serious capital to get setup to compete at the highest level.

My kit consisted of a Canon 5DSR and a 5D Mark 3. Two very capable cameras, but clearly not sports cameras. I learnt how best to use them, and to know the limitations. I had great megapixel count but low FPS and average ISO performance (as of 2022). I yearned after a Canon 1DX but to be honest, for most of my shooting the Canon 5DsR was the best camera to use. Then on Jan 23rd 2022, my perspective was altered forever. It was on this day Canon offered the newly released R6. An entry level camera by professional standards. I was shown eye tracking feature and how to use the EF adaptor etc.

I walked onto centre court with Rafael Nadal being the first match to photograph. I pressed the shutter on him and was totally thrown by the moving focus point, and then the rapid fire of images. He had won a crucial point and I was able to perfectly track him at 12FPS without even knowing the camera. This was practically cheating and I was shocked

Canon R6 – Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

The ability to focus almost perfectly on the subject’s eyes and compose a frame irrespective of position was stunning. Its the first thing people say when using the new mirrorless systems vs DSLR. Gone are the days of pre selecting a focus point and concentrating super hard on following for the sharpest focus. You can now move the frame around the subject and the focus is maintained corner to corner. Almost like a precrop and frame.

As the day progressed, another major factor came into play…ISO performance. I was always super limited previously and 2000 ISO was the absolute max to use on the 5DSR. But the R6 just ate this up. I was able to push upwards of 10,000 ISO and have usable images. For someone with limited sport lenses this is a big deal.

Its fair to say my 5DSR saw limited use after this as I began to setup this borrowed camera for my use. I was concerned about the 20mp file size when I was used to 50mp, but for editorial this is not an issue.

Canon R5 – Our rabbit Luna providing a cheap model option for focussing example

Canon R5 – Daryl Dixon from the Walking Dead providing more cheap modeling

The Purchase

I came away from the Australian Open knowing that the R6, although reasonably entry level, would help me to close the gap to the 1DX significantly that I previously had desired. As I understand a similar sensor and megapixels, superior noise performance and a focus system that destroys anything on DSLR. At half the price of a 1DX. It took me a matter of hrs to source an R6 and make the purchase. I was able to drive straight to a football match to photograph the Australian Socceroos. Then to come away very happy with my purchase.

I sold my 5D Mark 3 soon after and proceeded with the 5DSR and R6. The 5DSR made the perfect landscape and travel camera with the R6 for sport. Or so I thought….

Over the following weeks, I threw myself into perfecting my camera setup as I felt reinvigorated to step up a level. This included (finally) using back button focus. I never really saw the point but Canon mirrorless changes how you think about focus entirely. You can select people, animal or vehicle focus. Then sometimes you want traditional one point focus and maybe a wider multi point focus. How do you select quickly between these? At the F1 for example, there are cars moving, static objects in pit garages and drivers. Going into the menus for even a shortcut is not an option. I was getting myself confused quite easily. The focus settings screens need A LOT of research and testing. Speaking to other photographers I found out I was not alone in the ‘testing’ transition to mirrorless. I mean how can it be so different? Its a camera with a focus button.

Canon R6 – In action at the Formula 1 in Melbourne

I set out about setting up 3 focus buttons on the rear as many photographers are now doing. The main AF-ON is the primary use for the situation. Usually people eye focus. Then two other buttons can be quickly accessed for other focus modes. Then understanding the custom button menu and the focus menus. The direction now is continuous servo mode which for DSLR, was never desired. Once I became accustomed to the button setup I was able to respond much faster and felt comfortable.

The next big change was ‘Auto ISO’. Something that was not an option to me previously where I spent much of my shooting time in Aperture mode. ISO simply had to be controlled. But now I find myself mostly in Manual mode with auto ISO. Which to me isn’t really Manual. The improved ISO performance of mirrorless lets you to fall into the trap of using Auto ISO. But I would still recommend locking the ISO in more challenging conditions such as concerts.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 28: Australian music group Holy Holy perform their 'Hello My Beautiful World' national tour at The Forum Theatre on May 28 2022 in Melbourne, Australia

It was the concert above that cemented the full switch to mirrorless. Concerts require two bodies, which is for me a wide lens, and a medium zoom/prime. Both setup as best as you can for the lighting, completely ready for action. Its the fastest form of photography I can think of and to be honest, a complete thrill. One where you really need to be on top of your game. Alas here I was not. In one hand I had the R6 with 85mm lens firing up spectacularly sharp images time after time. Then in the other hand my trusty 5DSR shooting wide images. Except of course, entirely different button layouts, and focus method. I was unable to quickly switch between the two and logically adjust settings on the fly. Three songs later I had beautiful images from one camera and 95% throw away images from the other. It was time to commit 100% to mirrorless.

Music fans attend a concert in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

It was an easy decision to purchase the Canon R5. Purely based upon the 45mp sensor that could match my 5DSR for landscape. Im not a technical pixel peeper and it was purely the obvious choice in Canon’s lineup. There are numerous other advantages such as dynamic range and coloring with mirrorless over DSLR and other sites explain this far better than I can.

It has taken the rest of 2022 to feel truly comfortable and to be able to pickup either camera blindly and use without knowing which is which, ie the camera is more like an extension of my arm again. Im not going to say you must switch to mirrorless as that is a lie. The operator is far more important than the camera. But for my specific situation, and the sport I was shooting this enabled me to significantly improve my imagery thru my equipment for relatively cheaply. The selling of my 5DSR and turning to an R5 was purely to align systems. Of course the R5 is a better camera but I loved my 5DSR and its output.

I haven’t spoken about RF lenses yet, but that is for another article… As well as my recent purchase of an original Canon 5D Classic.. DSLR lives strong within me!