5 Lessons Learned Switching from DSLR to Mirrorless for Travel Photography

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Two months ago, after shooting for 10 years with Canon, I completely switched to Sony. It surprised some readers of my blog, as well as some fellow photographers. To address the issue, I published a detailed post on my blog with the reasons behind my switch. To save you time, I will summarize my reasoning, not only in one sentence but in one word: INNOVATION. I could see that, in the last two to three years, the main innovation was happening in the realm of mirrorless systems and I felt that Canon was simply an outside observer.

I considered the switch for a long time. I first waited because mirrorless systems were not up to DSLR standards to which I was accustomed. Then suddenly, about a year ago, all mirrorless manufacturers began releasing new camera models that could compete with any DSLR and, in some cases, even surpassed them.

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Big Sur, California – Sony A6000, Sony 10-18mm lens

That was when I decided to switch. But, it took another six to seven months to choose the right kit (camera and lenses) for my travel photography needs.

My initial choice was the Panasonic Lumix GX-7 which was the perfect camera for me feature-wise but I was not too crazy about the selection of high-end wide angle lenses.

My second choice was the full frame Sony A7 and, I almost pulled the trigger last fall. However, after holding it in my hands, the Sony A7II in combination with the newly released Zeiss 16-35mm lens was almost comparable to the DSLR in weight and size.

That was when my choice was made. Just before the Christmas holidays, I sold all of my Canon gear to prevent cold feet. Then, I ordered the Sony A6000, Sony 10-18mm f/4, and Zeiss 16-70mm f/4 in one shot. I paid $2000 in total. Sony lenses are always pricy but I found that the price of the complete kit was very reasonable.

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Sony A6000, Sony 10-18mm lens and Feisol Tournament Tripod

I just returned from my first photography trip of the year; I spent two weeks in Hawaii and Northern California where I exclusively shot with my brand new Sony gear.

Below are my thoughts after putting this new equipment through the real life test of travel photography. Please note, I only addressed the features of the camera which are important to me as travel photographer.

Lesson 1: Size does matter in travel photography

As a DSLR shooter, when preparing for a long and demanding sunrise/sunset hike, I always faced the same dilemma – what equipment to bring? Should I carry everything and look (and feel) like a Sherpa tackling Everest? Or should I hike light and risk missing important gear?

I do not have to compromise anymore as I can now put everything in a small camera bag and bring it with me. The Sony A6000 (344g) and the Sony 10-18mm (220g) weigh 564g (19.9oz) total. I still cannot believe that a high-quality wide angle zoom lens can weigh only 220g. I call it freedom.

Don’t get me wrong, the size and the weight were not the main reasons for my switch. I would never jeopardize quality for the sake of weight reduction but it was important consideration.

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San Francisco, California – Sony A6000 with Sony 10-18mm lens

Lesson 2: Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) – a new way of looking at the scene

Somehow, in many mirrorless reviews, the EVF is presented as a negative factor and is portrayed as somewhat of a disadvantage compared to the DSLR optical viewfinder. I do not agree with that conclusion. For me, the EVF is one of the main advantages of mirrorless cameras. Finally, when I look through the viewfinder I can see what the camera’s sensor sees.

It is a very new and refreshing experience with the EVF, when you can assess the depth of field of the scene before taking the picture.

Here’s a real life scenario. Earlier I was shooting using exposure compensation -2EV and I forgot to reset it to zero. Now, when looking through the EVF, I can see right away that the exposure is wrong because the EVF picture is too dark.

When I shoot wide at 10mm, I can even see barrel distortion which realistically represents the photo I am about to take.

I often use manual focusing when shooting landscapes, which was pretty much an impossible task with the DSLR in bright conditions because of the display screen glare. Now, not only can I easily use the manual focus in any condition, I can also take advantage of Focus Peaking, an amazing feature that highlights areas that are in focus with the bright color. There is no more guess work.

In one of the reviews, I read how awful and pixelated the EVF picture becomes in dark conditions. I can confirm that it looks pretty bad but it is good enough for composing the shot and beats the DSLR where all you can see is pitch black.

For me, the EVF simplifies the process of taking pictures and makes it more predictable.

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California State Route 1 – Sony A6000 with Zeiss 16-70mm lens

Lesson 3: I love the 24 megapixels sensor

During the silly megapixel war between major camera manufacturers, I decided for myself that 16Mpx was the right pixel count for my needs and I had no plans of upgrading only for that reason.

The Sony A6000 comes with 24Mpix, which I initially did not consider as an important upgrade. What I realized later, after starting to process photos, is that the 24Mpx sensor produces unbelievably clean and sharp images and, in combination with native quality lenses, it resolves an insane amount of detail. Photos look acceptable even at 100% magnification.

Although, I have to admit the higher pixel count is more taxing on my computer and I might need to upgrade it soon.

High ISO photography is not something that I do often when I travel and it was hard for me to assess low light performance of the sensor. But, what I can see based on family photos from the holidays is that ISO 3200 is still acceptable and excessive noise is easy to eliminate in Lightroom.

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Lanikai Beach O’ahu, Hawaii – Sony A6000 with Sony 10-18mm lens

Lesson 4: 11fps is a game changer

Sports photography is somewhat of a hobby for me. The only times when I shoot sports are when professional cycling peloton comes to Montreal every September and when my daughter is playing water polo. In order to test 11fps in combination with the fastest focusing system in the industry, I went to the beach in Hawaii to photograph surfers.

I switched from RAW to JPEG, set the camera to a continuous shooting mode and enabled Object Tracking. I was amazed not only with the new experience of shooting but with the results as well. Shooting at 11fps reminded me of filming the video and then going frame by frame in the editing software, selecting the best frames. There are no missing moments. The focus was spot on, in pretty much every frame.

I can see how the Sony A6000 can be a game changer for sports and wildlife photographers.

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Makapu’u Point O’ahu, Hawaii – Sony A6000 with Sony 10-18mm lens

Lesson 5: Not everything is perfect in paradise

Even though my initial experience of using the Sony A6000 is very positive, there are some shortcomings and annoyances I want to address.

Battery life:

According to Sony, you can take up to 360 shots on a single battery charge and I found this number to be pretty accurate. I even managed to take close to 390 shots when shooting in bracketing mode. It is not bad at all considering the small battery size and the EVF high power consumption. However, when you are accustomed to shooting 1500 shots on a single charge with the DSLR, the difference is very obvious. Now, I carry three spare batteries with me at all times and I have to remember to keep them charged.

Bracketing:

For some inexplicable reason you can shoot five bracketed shots at 0.7EV intervals only, which makes it completely useless. In extreme lighting conditions I have to shoot two sets of bracketed shots (-2, 0, +2), offsetting them manually using exposure compensation (-1 EV). This is very annoying.

No GPS tagging:

Even though the camera has decent wireless connectivity, the GPS tagging utilizing a mobile phone is missing.

Buffer writing lock:

When a camera transfers photos from the buffer to a memory card, the system is completely locked. You cannot even preview images during the transfer.

2-Second delay shortcoming:

You cannot trigger bracketed shots using the 2-second delay functionality. I had to buy, and carry around, an unnecessary extra piece of equipment: Wireless Shutter Release ($10).

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Sandy Beach, Hawaii – Sony A6000 with Sony 10-18mm lens

Conclusion

The switch from a Canon DSLR to the mirrorless Sony A6000 was less stressful and less painful than I expected. I believe that one of the main factors that made it possible was my purchase of native Sony lenses so I did not have to deal with the glass from other systems with the converters.

I am waiting for the widely rumored Sony A7000 which is supposed to be the successor of the Sony NEX-7. I hope Sony addressed the shortcomings of the A6000 and introduces new pro features like: weather sealing, built-in body stabilization, GPS tagging and advanced bracketing. I am definitely planning to get the new A7000 and keep the A6000 as a backup body.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Viktor Elizarov is a travel photographer and educator from Montreal, Canada. He travels around the world and shares his experiences on his popular travel photography blog. Visit Tutorials section of his blog for free tutorials (including original raw files) and free Lightroom presets.

  • V B H

    According to DXOmark scores, Sony 10-18 F4 is capable of “extracting” only 8P-Mpix out of 24mp of Sony a6300 sensor . It’s absolutely not enough for high quality, detailed landscape images. It would be good for Instagram perhaps or small to medium sized prints perhaps;hence the above images look as they look.

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