Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Switching to Mirrorless for Travel Photography

I love photography, but over the years as I’ve bought nicer lenses and higher-end full frame camera bodies, I’ve ironically started to take fewer photos. The gear itself helped me produce amazing images, and I have so many positive things to say about my Canon 5D Mark 3 and I love love love my 16-35mm and 24-70 lenses, but as the gear has gotten better, it’s also gotten bigger and heavier.

Recently while struggling with all my gear through a construction zone in Union Station in Toronto (is it ever NOT under construction?), I threw my back out. The 2 camera bodies, 3 lenses, accessories and laptop on my back were too heavy while also trying to drag my suitcase up a staircase and my back couldn’t take it. I suffered for weeks after and since found myself hesitant to take my photography gear out with me.

I found myself thinking, ‘it’s too much effort’, ‘it’s too heavy’, ‘I don’t want to drag a big backpack around’. It has slowly become more about hassle than creativity, and that’s when I knew a change was needed. Photography has been a major passion of mine for years, and I knew my cell phone camera wasn’t going to cut it. Instead, I became interested in the Sony mirrorless camera system, which offers great quality in a compact system.

For a relatively small investment, I was able to pick up a used Sony A6300 camera body and 16-50mm kit lens off Kijiji and purchased an 18-105 F4 new from a local camera store. It’s incredible how much smaller and lighter everything is, yet it still takes incredible photos. With the 16-50 lens attached, I can actually take the camera in my purse – no bulky camera bag needed. Now that my gear is 50% less heavy, I can take my camera everywhere.

The mirrorless experience does take some getting used to. The electronic viewfinder is quite different than looking through a lens to compose your image – the electronic viewfinder is like using ‘live view’ all the time. Which also contributes to the other major difference; short battery life. With a DSLR I was about to last nearly 2 weeks on a battery, the mirrorless system can use two full batteries a day. I now have to make sure I have two extras (three total) and charge them after every outing, which can be a little problematic when travelling to far-flung places.

Image quality is overall close but not quite as good as a DSLR. The images are very sharp and colorful in daylight, which is great for most travel photography. With a bit of editing, I was able get some beautiful images. I notice the quality differences at night or and low-light conditions the most, where the mirrorless photo has a little less depth and can have more pixelisation. I wasn’t able to get away with as high of an ISO without seeing a quality loss. Focusing in low light was also a challenge at first but you can make up for a lot with a tripod and shutter release.

The mirrorless systems use of SD cards vs compact flash is an advantage though, especially if your laptop has a built-in SD card slot, which many do. The much more compact weight and size are fantastic however and a huge relief from travelling with a huge bag with heavy gear.

I’m still keeping my professional Canon gear for now. It is still a better camera for work or serious photo expeditions, but am very happy overall with my decision to add a lighter option to my gear for day trips and light-weight adventures. It’s made my trips lighter and more enjoyable and let me have a camera with me more often. I am happy with the photos I’ve taken, and can’t wait to take more.

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