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Mirrorless camera vs DSLR. My experience in Edinburgh

How switching from an entry-level Canon DSLR to a mirrorless camera changed my photography mindset.

People gathered around a street artist blowing massive soap bubbles
Soap bubbles, High St, Edinburgh

I bought a Fujifilm X-T20. The main reason for me to switch from an entry-level Canon DSLR to a mirrorless camera was initially to carry less weight around.

After reading the manual, though, it became clear that the little camera would make a more profound change in the way I take and process my pictures.

The Nelson Monument and the National Monument of Scotland on a serene day
Calton Hill, Edinburgh

The Test

A visit to Edinburgh, where a photo of mine was exhibited at the Shutter Hub Open exhibition at Retina Festival, seemed the right occasion for trying out the new entry. I’ve decided to make good use of the help the camera can give me by using the following settings:

  • Automatic white balance
  • Autofocus (face and eye detection switched on) — with additional manual focus
  • Automatic ISO — chosen by the camera, among a range of ISOs selected by me
  • A film simulation mode of my choice
  • RAW + JPEG
Downtown Edinburgh seen from Calton Hill as rain starts to fall
The view from Calton Hill, Edinburgh

Off I went, noticing how freeing was it not having to stop to change the settings every time the light changed, missing the moment, and the pleasure of taking pictures.

The design of the camera is beautifully vintage, so it felt natural having film simulator modes to complete the experience. During my stay in Edinburgh, I used the Astia Soft.

A rainbow above the sea viewed from Calton Hill, Edinburgh
The view from Calton Hill, Edinburgh

The Setback

Once at home, I imported the pictures on my laptop to develop them, spending a few evenings trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. The RAW files were painfully slow to import in Lightroom and, after the edits, the difference between them and the out-of-the-camera JPEGs was discouraging.

Even if Lightroom provides Fujifilm’s film simulation profiles, nothing I did could make the RAW files to look like the JPEGs.

Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat seen from Calton Hill on a sunny day
Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat from Calton Hill

It seemed that by carrying on with the same process I used with the Canon, I was going to waste a lot of time. Having complete control over how a picture looks is great but, after seeing how good the JPEGs were, it was easy for me to consider the RAW files purely as backups.

The Solution

What I am doing now is trying to get the best in-camera result, by modifying the settings for the camera mode of choice:

  • Noise reduction -2
  • Highlight tone -1
  • Shadow tone -1
  • Sharpness +1
  • Dynamic range 100%

Then, I import the out-of-the-camera JPGs into Lightroom and make some changes before saving them, moving the RAW files directly to an external drive.

Stone stairs at Dean Gardens, Edinburgh
Dean Gardens

A professional photographer probably wouldn’t agree with this process, but for now, it makes a big difference for me. I spent too long not taking pictures because the camera was a heavy object to carry — and because I wasn’t particularly inspired — so I really look forward to bringing the Fujifilm with me more often. Surely the various film simulator modes allow for great creativity, and I only briefly tried the Helios-M44 on it, so I can’t wait to test it properly!

Photos © Silvia Maggi

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