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1920s shootout! DSLR vs mirrorless with The Creativity Hub and Rotolight Aeos 2

Rotolight Shootout 1920s
(Image credit: Future)

The DSLR vs mirrorless debate has been around as long as the two camera systems – we've even written an entire guide around it. You might think that mirrorless has won... but the result isn't as one-sided as you might think. Whatever the technology might say, everyone has their own preference of camera, so we thought we'd put the two to the test in a real world shootout.

Read on, as two technique editors travel back in time to the Roaring Twenties for a test of Rotolight’s latest LEDs including the Rotolight AEOS 2. Alistair Campbell from Digital Camera magazine (opens in new tab) and Dan Mold from Photo Plus (opens in new tab) go head-to-head in a day full of photography. Alistair on the Fujifilm X-T3 (opens in new tab) mirrorless system and Dan with his tried and tested Canon EOS 6D Mark II DSLR.

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Alistair - “I’ve been photographing people for a long time now, typically performers in extravagant costumes, or avant-garde portraits with larger-than-life hairdos – theatrical make-up and outfits that wouldn’t look out of place in the latest series of Bridgerton. I love being able to experiment with a variety of lighting and shooting styles, so I was really looking forward to this shootout alongside Dan.”

Dan - “I have been writing for photography magazines for over a decade, and have a strong interest in wildlife and landscape photography. I currently work as Technique Editor on the leading Canon magazine PhotoPlus, and as such am an expert on the Canon EOS system. In my spare time I love nothing more than visiting wildlife hides in my local area or planning trips around the UK to photograph the best of British landscapes."

Rotolight Roaring 20s shootout special

(Image credit: Future)

Challenge 1: Capture a vintage noir-style image with a single light

Challenge 1, Alistair Campbell - Fujifilm X-T3, Fujinon XF 35mm F2 R WR, 1/125 sec at f/2, ISO 400 (Image credit: Future)
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Challenge 1, Alistair Campbell

We began our day with a briefing from event producers The Creative Hub (opens in new tab). Its team had sourced six models to be photographed in different rooms of the house, each possessing a distinct theme. First up, a Peaky Blinders vibe in the library with Hamish Scott. Decked out in his suit, Hamish certainly looked the part. Alistair said he often shoots with just a single light, so began the day in his element, quickly setting up his camera to fire a test shot and get a rapport with the model from the off. 

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“I’ve never shot photography with continuous lighting before,” said Alistair.
“I used to use it for filming video, but the constant changing of gel filters held on with clothes pegs became tedious. Back then, the lights would also get really hot, so I didn’t like using them. Being able to shoot today without having a wireless trigger stuck to the top of my camera was a welcome change, as they usually bash me in the head all day! I really enjoy using a single light – for me, photography is as much about the dark areas in an image as it is about light ones.”

(Image credit: Future)
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Setting up the scene 

Alistair picked out a corner of the room that had a combination of dark and light backdrops to position Hamish. Then using the Rotolight AEOS 2 with some strategic barn doors, Alistair was able to make the light fall onto our Tommy Shelby-inspired model to bring out the contours of his face. To finish the shot, Alistair used a white and warm colour for a vintage look. 

Challenge 1, Dan Mold - Canon EOS 6D Mark II, Tamron SP 90mm F2.8 Macro, 1/320 sec at f/2.8, ISO 1600 (Image credit: Future)
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Challenge 1, Dan Mold 

To introduce a variation, Dan asked Hamish to don his peaked cap, and for a second we thought we had found a portal back to the 1920s, as Hamish had now gone full Peaky Blinder. Adopting a different approach for this shot, Dan used a 90mm focal length and got a little closer to the action, filling the frame for his portrait. Hamish looked fantastic in this get-up, and would not have looked out of place on the Peaky Blinders set.

Rotolight roaring 20s shootout special

(Image credit: Future)

Dan says: “I wanted to try something really moody and atmospheric, and there was actually another light from across the room that was bleeding into my shots and giving them a green colour cast. This gave me the perfect excuse to shoot in mono and drain the shot of all colour. To see the mono effect in real-time using Live View, I went into the camera menu and set the Picture Style to Monochrome. I kept the lighting style simple with a single Rotolight AEOS 2 positioned at 45º to the front of Hamish and waited for him to strike a pose where the lights created a pleasing catchlight in his eyes.”

(Image credit: Future)
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Try using facial recognition

Positioning himself side-on to Hamish and using a cooler light selection, Dan utilised Canon’s facial recognition system and engaged its eye-detection mode. This works well even in low light and when perpendicular to your subject. Shooting this way means you can capture more images – it wasn’t particularly necessary in this setup, but is a great tool nonetheless.

Challenge 2: Capture a mixture of warm and cool light

Challenge 2, Alistair Campbell - Fujifilm X-T3, Fujinon XF 35mm F2 R WR, 1/125sec at f/2, ISO 400 (Image credit: Future)
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Challenge 2, Alistair Campbell

It was off to The Pastel Room next, where we met Betsy, our champagne showgirl, ostentatious with feathers, shimmers and sequins. Alistair set the first light to an orange/red and placed it off to one side, and set the other to a party-style aqua/blue. 

Rotolight roaring 20s shootout special

(Image credit: Future)

“I went with these colours primarily to mimic the decor of the room,” he recalls. “I’m typically quite a conventional photographer and use white off-camera flash, so having the option to mix colours was a lot of fun. I kept the 35mm lens on to retain some of the environment around Betsy and give the shot a little breathing room.”

Rotolight roaring 20's shootout special

(Image credit: Future)

Use extra props 

Production team The Creativity Hub had done a terrific job and there were lots of artifacts dotted about Betsy’s room, which added to the party vibe. Alistair brought some of the glistening beads and sparkles close to the lens, shooting wide open at
f/2 and creating some extra foreground. Shooting slightly lower than waist height also gave the shot a pleasing angle. 

Rotolight roaring 20s shootout special

(Image credit: Future)

Challenge 2, Dan Mold

With the Roaring Twenties now in full swing, Dan also adopted a low shooting position, sitting on the floor and asking Betsy to kneel on the extravagant disco ball to the side. Again choosing to stick with his original lens, Dan continued to shoot quite close up on his 90mm Tamron. Even at a slightly slower aperture of f/2.8, the extra focal length allowed Dan to punch in and blur the background as he captured his portraits.

Rotolight roaring 20s shootout special

(Image credit: Future)

“For this setup we mixed together two different colours on the lights to produce even more colour,” says Dan.  “Our large AEOS 2 light was set to red and lit Betsy from the left, while the smaller Neo 3 light was set to a blue colour to highlight the right-hand side of her face – this had a fantastic effect, mixing the warm and cool colours in-camera. There was also a window behind that added a little ambient light to the background. Having Betsy crouched down next to this huge disco ball produced loads of reflections and sparkle that draws the eye into the scene. If I could retake this shot I’d dial down the reds slightly, as they’ve come out a bit too overpowering for my liking.” 

Rotolight roaring 20s shootout special

(Image credit: Future)

To see the rest of the challenge results be sure to pick up the latest Issue 255 of Digital Camera Magazine (opens in new tab) (on sale until 26th May). Keep an eye out for more events by The Creativity Hub for Rotolight and Sony. If you're keen to attend we're offering a special discount. Use ‘digcam22’ to get 15% off a full-day ticket for an upcoming 2022 event: info@creativityhubevents.com

Read more:

Rotolight's professional shooters share secrets at The Photography Show (opens in new tab)
The best Fujifilm X-T3 deals and prices in May 2022 (opens in new tab)
Why the Canon EOS 6D Mark II is still a damn fine camera! (opens in new tab)

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Alistair is the Features Editor of Digital Camera magazine, and has worked as a professional photographer and video producer.