The broad goals of a camera are usually about the fundamentals of imaging — resolution, ISO performance and AF, etc. — but there are other functions that can have a significant effect on the creation of images that often go unnoticed. Balance is the aspect I want to talk about today.
Balance refers to how the lens and chassis work together in a way that creates more fluid images for the photographer. This was something that I didn’t think about much in the past, since I mainly used medium format cameras that had a builtin vertical grip or larger bodies. With the rise of mirrorless cameras, both size and weight have been under scrutiny. This has led to a loss of balance.
Although it would not be a problem for hobbyist photographers, professional photographers are faced with the same challenge. Although it’s still possible to photograph a photoshoot, the amount of effort required to produce a photo can increase and, in economies of scale, each image can take a lot longer.
I didn’t know what caused the disruption in my workflow for a long time. This was until I bought the Canon RF28-70 f/2L. This lens is quite a feat compared to other zooms within the same range. The optical formula makes it worth the tradeoff. Because of its large elements, I had to dip the Canon EOS R that I was using with it, since it didn’t have vertical grip.
The EOS R’s smaller chassis allowed for the camera’s bottom to slide back into my hand. I had to compensate by lifting the extra weight with my left arm, which I use for focusing (although I still manually focus many images). Add to that the Control Ring at RF lenses’ front, and you can see how I tried to support the camera’s weight, focus, zoom in, adjust ISO, and adjust ISO using my non-primary hands.
This image was taken with the Canon EOS R (RF 28-70f/2L) and no grip. This image was captured over several days during a learning period about how mirrorless photography works.
After testing the EOS R platform with Canon for a few weeks, I called Canon to discuss my experiences. To help me determine if my inclination toward built-in vertical grips was the cause of my muscle memory issues, the company sent me a Canon EOS 1DX Mark III and some lenses.
It was almost as if I was holding the camera to my eye and it locked onto a target. Funny thing was that I was already a fan of mirrorless photography so I bought an LCD viewfinder adapter to help me shoot with the camera like a mirrorless body with built-in vertical grip. Below is an image created using the EOS 1DX Mark III with a 35mm F/1.4L II.
We are now faced with a dilemma when it comes gear selection. The idea of how to set up your system is subjective, obviously. This approach may change even between photo shoots.
This issue can be addressed in one of two ways: With lighter lenses or heavier bodies, or both.
After being called an Explorer or Light, my first request to Canon was to try the EOS R6 with the RF 24-70f/2.8L lens. I wanted to test if the camera would be drawn to my eye the same way as a gripped camera such as the Canon EOS R3. It was lighter than the RF 28 70 f/2 L. However, I still felt the slight problem of pressing the bottom into my palm. Although it was not as bad as what I later called “crab fingers”, it was still an issue. My personal preference was to use a vertical grip for support. Due to being under the weather, I only managed one train with this combo and ended up calling it quits.
The solution for me was a vertically-gripped Canon EOS R5 (and possibly another body with a built in grip in the future). The lenses and their weight are important, but the camera chassis’ forward tilt is what really matters. Therefore, I loaded my left hand to determine the modern mirrorless camera weight distribution.
Every photographer should try taking several lenses with them and then walking around the area, paying attention to how their grip and feel change from one lens to another. To get an idea of how grip affects your holding of your camera, attach a tripod to the camera. Then you can check if the lens is leveled when it is brought to your eyes. You may find that your camera’s balance is no longer an issue and you can focus more on what you are creating.