Dave Stock is a professional photographer who started in action photography working for Sports Illustrated, NFL Properties, and AT&T among others. Dave Stock has over 40 years of experience as a professional photographer and currently the Owner of Dave Stock Photography specializing in youth sports photography. Dave has taken time to talk about the mirrorless cameras within the photography industry.
Q: What were your experiences like starting out as an analog film photographer?
Dave: I started in 1970 and back then, no one even talked about the possibility of digital photography. That came along in the late 80s it was Sony that first came out with the Mavica camera. and when that came out the big question in the industry was: “is this for real? is this a gimmick? will there ever be a professional application for digital photography?” and the consensus at the time was no way, no way anything will ever replace film. Of course, we were proved wrong.
Q: How did you get into digital photography?
Dave: Like all the other photographers, I was skeptical of the technology, the first [digital] cameras were poor. By film standards, the film blew away the initial digital images that we saw because the [digital image sensors] had very small sensors probably capturing 1 mb file and of course it’s just not mb that counts but the nature of the processing of the analog to digital signals and algorithms that are used also effect the quality.
Dave: So initially, [digital cameras] were no comparison, we saw it as an amateur thing. But, Kodak was involved from the very beginning, they were the pioneers of the [digital camera] technology, they were working with Sony and Kodak aimed their product towards the amateur market. Kodak came up with photo CD where you can take pictures, capture it digitally and you are given a CD with five levels of resolution for each image. The professionals scoffed at [photo CD] but each [digital] camera got better and things got to the point where… I believe it was 1996 that we said you know what… these digital cameras that are now being sold by Canon and Kodak costing roughly $28,000; I had lease payment for my first [digital] camera that was $450 a month that was turning out 2 mb files. Up to a 5×7 or 8×10 the [digital photos] were similar in quality to film however, if you blew it up beyond that, clearly no comparison. In the next five or six years the digital camera not only met standards of film but clearly surpassed it.
Q: The DSLR systems are at its peak in the production life cycle; do you agree that the DSLR systems are outdated due to the mirrorless camera systems?
Dave: Yes. Looking back historically, there has been several kinds of major revolutions in photography over my lifetime. About the time I was born, back in 1956, there was a transition to single lens reflex cameras or SLRs, the cameras that for the last twenty years have been the only thing on the horizon for professional [photographers] at least in the 35 mm format. The cameras before than were called the rangefinders or view cameras; cameras that used rolls or sheets of film but did not have a mirror inside the camera. Then, they came up with the idea of putting a mirror inside the [camera] so you can look at your image through a viewfinder instead of having to look at the back of the brown glass. The whole pentaprism that took the light path and bounced it around became the key to the design of that camera. Everything else was built around the foundation of the pentaprism (Single lens reflex camera). Then those camera became the standard (Single lense reflex camera) right until very recently. Recently, a group of four manufacturers: Sony, Olympus, Samsung, and Panasonic roughly 10 years ago, I don’t know exactly because at the time I couldn’t care less. I thought this had nothing to do with me, I’m a Canon guy, and if I ever change [manufacturer] it’ll be back to Nikon. I started as Nikon and then Canon. In my world, the world of sports photography, there are only two companies: Canon and Nikon; except for Hassleblad for big cover shots.
Dave: Anyways, [the four manufacturers (Sony, Olympus, Samsung, and Panasonic)] came up with this idea: they figured out how to make a camera without a mirror. The way to get around without having a mirror is instead of an optical viewfinder where the light ray bounces around through mirrors and pieces of glass, we are going to capture the image at the subject plane on a sensor and send that image electronically to a very small TV screen which is the viewfinder and [the viewfinder] is going to have million pixel units, nice and sharp, and you are going to think like you are looking through a DSLR. The initial models were not every sharp and looked poor, the resolution was low, there was a delay from the time the image hit your senor to the time [the image] went to the eye piece and had lag issues. The image would lag behind as you would pan left and right; but, [the manufacturers] have made massive technological strides, particularly last couple of years. Now the models I have been using, specifically the Panasonic GH4, are incredible; I forget that I am looking at a TV screen, it looks like I am looking through the camera except in many ways it’s better.
Q: In your professional opinion, what is the best use for the mirrorless camera system? Portrait photography? Sports photography? Wedding photography?
Dave: From the very beginning, [the manufacturers] did not target sports photographers because the Achilles heels of these [mirrorless camera] up to this day is the ability to follow and capture fast moving action with the kind of lenses that we sports photographers like to use. What [the manufacturers] did see as a immediate market was the wedding and portrait people that includes people doing senior portraits, people doing family portraits, and of course weddings. And what [the manufacturers] saw was that these [mirrorless] cameras are uniquely suited to capture video.
Dave: So one of the things that happened in the last five or six years was that Canon, Nikon, and other companies have enabled their cameras to capture videos at 30 frames per second and record it so that the photographer can get more utility out of their camera. But, the first ones in video standards were not high quaility and certainly wasn’t very user friendly. The preson who does video for a living did not like these cameras; until Canon revolutionized the
in thier 5D mkII and 5d mkIII cameras which have been widely adopted by people who are cinematographers. To used that, [Canon] adapted the cameras for cinemetography by changing lenses and adding various accesssories like mics and recording devices to make [the camera] into a legitimate tool for creating video. Then the mirrorless camera manufacturers have taken it a step further because, the mirror gets in the way of the video: every time the mirror goes up and down, it creates noise and you don’t want to record that [noise] when you are shooting a video. So, that’s where mirrorless shines, and people who made [the mirrorless] were conceptually creating a video camera that can do stills; instead of what Canon and Nikon are doing: creating still cameras that can capture video. So, it’s a paradigm shift and with the shift came the shift in marketing focus.
Q: In the next ten years, do you see mirrorless camera system replacing DSLR system in the market?
Dave: If I had to rely on only my experience and what I know, that question is too big for me and I would say “I don’t know could be.” But, because I have been studying [the mirrorless camera] from the standpoint of not just a user but someone who is evolving into a good will ambassador for Panasonic, who is working with me on my speaking engagements, [Panasonic] has been very generous to me and supplied me some products and basically allowing me to learn about [the mirrorless camera], because I would not have given a chance otherwise, and that’s not a tribute to intelligence, judgment, or visionary abilities at all. I was going to miss the boat on [mirrorless camera] and [Panasonic] helped me see the light. If I look at the information available online, reading the true experts who are the industry analysts who track these [technology], there seems to be a consensus that [mirrrorless camera] is in fact the way it’s going in the future and the DSLR is on its way out because [DSLR] is big, it’s heavy, it’s noisy, it’s expensive, and there are so many design limitations built into having to have the mirror inside [the camera] that the manufacturers who are doing the mirrorless, even Canon and Nikon, they see that it’s a lot easier to make the lens for the mirrorless camera because the sensor is smaller, the lens can be smaller, and that there are a lot of reasons why [mirrroless camera] is the future.