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Why I Switched to a Mirrorless Camera

By January 21, 2016Photography, Uncategorized

In today’s world of digital photography, the technology is changing fast, sometimes faster than you can buy it.  Yet our modern dSLRs use mirrors that are no longer essential for the operation of a digital camera.  Mirrorless cameras are gaining traction quickly, with many professional photographers dropping their Canon or Nikon dSLRs to pick up a Sony or Olympus mirrorless system.  Others are claiming that mirrorless is a fad, or is simply inferior to their dSLR cousins.

To be frank, neither type of system is perfect, and picking between the two should be based on the photographer’s style, subject, and other needs.  Within the last year I switched from a Canon dSLR to a Sony mirrorless camera system, and I’m here to explain the reasons why.  I’ve actually been so impressed with my mirrorless system that I’m soon upgrading my Sony a5000 to a Sony a6300!

But before I get into the reasons, let me explain my situation as a photographer.  First of all, I’m a landscape photographer that regularly hikes miles into the backcountry to take photos.  Often I am backpacking on an overnight hike, and with my shelter, sleeping bag, food, and other essentials, I can be carrying 40 pounds of weight.  That’s before you even add in the camera gear.  For me, size and weight of my camera gear is highly important.

I also shoot a lot on a tripod doing long exposures, and rarely am I firing shots at a fast rate.  98% of the time I use manual focus, and couldn’t care less how many autofocus points the camera has.  Because I sell fine-art prints, I do need my camera to produce quality images that can be enlarged.  That’s what I need from my camera, and here’s why I think mirrorless works best for me.

1.  Size & Weight of Camera Body

Up to the present I have always used crop-sensor digital cameras, which are smaller and weigh less than a full-frame dSLR.  For years my work-horse dSLR camera was a “relatively” small Canon T1i.  It’s smaller than the vast majority of dSLRs, especially the ones professionals tend to use, weighing in at 1.1 pounds.  Of course, that old Canon dwarfs the mirrorless camera I have now!  My Sony a5000 body weights .6 pounds, nearly half the weight.  It is also much smaller in size, and when equipped with the standard 18-50mm kit lens, it can fit into a coat pocket!  Below is a side by side comparison of the camera bodies.

Sony Mirrorless Camera Size a6000

2.  Size & Weight of Lenses

Mirrorless cameras are designed to save weight, and as a result, the lenses designed for these cameras are also designed to save weight!  As a landscape photographer, I often shoot ultra-wide angle, so I purchased a Rokinon 12mm F2.0 lens that’s designed for crop-sensor mirrorless cameras.  The field of view is BIG, and being a prime lens, it’s pretty darn sharp. It also has a fast f/2.0 aperture that is great for me when I shoot night sky shots and want to let in a lot of light.  The lens is manual focus only, but that’s how I prefer to shoot anyway!  So yes, I have an awesome, fast, ultra-wide lens that is perfect for what I do.  Now get this: it only weighs .6 pounds!  If I strap it on my a5000, their combined weight is basically the same as my old Canon body, BY ITSELF.

By going mirrorless, I’ve literally cut my camera weight IN HALF! 

(Assuming that I’m only carrying one lens, but all my mirrorless lenses are smaller than the ones built for dSLRs!)

Below is a size comparison of the camera bodies with ultra-wide lenses attached.

Size Comparison dSLR vs. Mirrorless

3.  Sensor Quality

As a qualifier, I’ll say that this has less to do about dSLR vs. mirrorless, and more to do about who makes the sensor.  Sony produces their own sensors, as well as the Nikon sensors, and they generally produce sharper images than their Canon counterparts.  Check out this comparison page on sensor quality at dxomark.com and see for yourself.  You can also use the magic of Google to find more information.

How about some anecdotal evidence from my own experience:

To be completely honest, I had no idea about the difference in sensor quality until after I got my Sony a5000.  My first indication was the first time I opened some RAW images from my Sony.  I immediately thought that they looked much crisper than my old Canon images.  Yes, the Sony is a newer camera.  But the sensor sizes are the same, the the Sony is only a few megapixels larger in size.  Sure enough, I toggled back and forth between the two types of images in Lightroom, and Sony definitely had the edge in sharpness.  Literally straight out of the camera.

After some research, I found out why.  The big factor among others, is that Canon puts an unnecessarily large anti-aliasing filter on their sensor.  But if you’re skeptical, do your own research, and make your own call.

4.  Easier Manual Focusing

As someone that does an incredible amount of manual focusing, any features that can assist me in doing this better are highly valued!  Sony has a feature called Focus Peaking.  When it’s enabled, Focus Peaking adds colored outlines (your choice of yellow, white, or red) to the edge of objects on the camera’s LCD, indicating which parts of the frame are in focus.  It’s a godsend that helps me quickly focus my shots without needing autofocus!

Focus Assist Sony Manual Peaking

5.  Increased Depth of Field

As a landscape photographer, almost all of my photos require a depth of field that covers everything in the image.  Because a mirrorless camera has no mirror, the lens attaches very close to the sensor, allowing for a greater depth of field, even at smaller apertures.  On my Canon, I was constantly shooting at f/11, f/14, or f/16 to achieve the depth of field I needed.  Nowadays, I can shoot f/8 or sometimes even f/5 and still the DOF that I need.  This also makes my images sharper because there is less defraction, and also allows me more leeway to shoot handheld because my shutter speeds can be faster.  The image below showcases how the Sony camera allows me to get excellent results.

Sony Mirrorless Horseshoe Bend

The great depth of field at narrow aperture allowed me to capture this shot without a tripod in low light with a mirrorless !

Final Remarks

For what I do, I’ve found a mirrorless camera system to be superior to a dSLR.  However, I do not intend the purpose of this article to be to convince YOU that a mirrorless camera is the way for YOU to go.  That’s for YOU to decide.  I’m simply showing why I place such value on my Sony mirrorless system, and I hope that you can pull some value from it to relate to your own photography needs!

For those of you shooting full-frame, note that many pro photographers are currently switching to the Sony a7R II.

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • David Horne says:

    Jake,

    As of today, Feb 16, 2016, I am a subscriber to your blog and I’ve been following you on Instagram. Your photos are amazing and I’m not a photographer even close to your caliber.

    I am also a recent convert to a mirrorless camera. I purchased a Sony a6000 during the incredible price reduction of the Christmas season. I wholeheartedly concur with your findings regarding, quality and weight reduction. At this point I’m still using the kit lens in addition to the 55-210mm f/3.5-5.6 lens but I will be investing in some more glass.

    In October I attended a photo workshop in Moab, Utah with Joe Brady and Randy Hanna. I was lugging my D800 with Vertical Grip, three nikon lenses, 14-24 f/2.8, 24-70 f/2.8 and a lens I like to travel with a 28-300 f/3.5-5.6 and an Induro tripod with a RRS BH-55 head, through Arches and Canyonlands. Joe was carrying his brand new Sony A7RII and a Sony a6000 with a great compliment of Ziess glass. Prior to the workshop I had been researching the mirrorless systems but hadn’t decided on which system I’d like best.

    During the workshop I had quite a few discussions with Joe about the Sony mirrorless cameras. At one point while I was setting up a shot, Joe came over to me and handed me his A7RII with a 300mm Ziess attached. The whole thing weighed less than my D800 without a lens attached. I think that was the defining moment for me. I love my Nikon gear and don’t see myself actually parting with it mostly because I’ve been a Nikon shooter since 1972. But the traveler in me will probably not be lugging that system on trips ever again. I’m not as young as I used to be (I’m recently retired) so the weight is becoming even more of a factor. I also like to get into the backcountry but I’m not an avid hiker so when I do go, the extra weight of that Nikon gear really begins take it’s toll on my energy level.

    Thanks for posting this article and I will be following your blog as well as your incredible Instagram feed.

    David

    • jakecase says:

      Thanks for sharing, David! One thing many photographers are doing as they switch to mirrorless is getting a mirrorless body but still using their high quality Nikon (or Canon) glass via an adapter. The Metabones brand (link here: http://amzn.to/1PDZvFg) is definitely the most popular with pros. It won’t cut as much weight as buying the Zeiss lenses, but the Zeiss glass isn’t cheap either. I actually haven’t yet fully converted over to the dedicated mirrorless lenses, and have an adapter for use with one of my old Canon telephoto lenses. Thanks for the interest in my work, hope to hear more from you in the future!

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