5 Lessons Learned Switching from DSLR to Mirrorless for Travel Photography

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.

SwitchingfromCanont Sony Photo 1

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.

SwitchingfromCanont Sony Photo 2

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.

SwitchingfromCanont Sony Photo 3

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.

SwitchingfromCanont Sony Photo 4

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.

SwitchingfromCanont Sony Photo 5

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.

SwitchingfromCanont Sony Photo 6

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).

SwitchingfromCanont Sony Photo 7

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.

  • Judi, do you find EVF to be a limitation or an advantage?

  • Martha

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  • After using Canon for more then 5 years, as a travel lover now I am tired of travelling and hiking with my canon gear. For a long time I am thinking the same to switch to Sony but to full frame. I am making mind for Sony a7 mark 2 with FE 16-35 f4 lens. I also have some manual lenses like 24mm, 35mm,50mm, 135mm, and 70-210mm. What do you suggest me as to go for the said body and lens or the only body with my already owned manual lense…. Thanks

  • Mais Educação

    Any thoughts on video making using it? Thanks

  • Catertion

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    18

  • Puntore

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  • Evelyn
  • M.M.Vancouver.

    – Sony Nex-5TL + lens G OSS 18-105mm, F/4 – / 4.5 */ !

  • M.M.Vancouver.

    – Sony Nex-7/ or 6000/ + lens FE 16-35mm F/4 = 5* ! + lens G OSS 18-105mm F/4 = 4.5 * ! For Sony 5TL – lens G OSS 18-105mm F/4 = 5*

  • Mary45283
  • Milos

    Nice article, Viktor. I was interested in reading it because I actually did 100% opposite 🙂 . I switched to the dSLR from my Nex-6. I agree with you in terms of EVF ( it is a revolutionary item ! ) and I miss it a lot. However optical is pushing me not to be lazy and to think in advance 🙂 I was surprised how lean is you thinking in terms of counting every gram of weight ( related to the wireless shutter release…). The wireless shutter weights 20-30 grams, or something like that… I was always afraid not to lose it in my pockets 🙂 To cut the story, I agree with you that the travel shooting requires counting the weight and cutting all the unnecessery burden, however I believe that travel gear needs to be robust as well, to survive all the adventures with you and bring back some good frames. Rain, mist, humidity, dust is not a perfect environment for mirrorless. At least that’s my experience. Wish you a nice day and good luck with your shootings!

  • Milos, I do not mind carrying extra 30 grams, what I want to avoid is to have unnecessary extra equipment. As for durabiluty aspect of travel photo equipment, I totally agree with you, Sony has to address it and I hope they will do it in upcoming A7000.

  • Robertoff

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  • Jeffreyoore

    <???.%@^@^@^!^!^!^!^.. ??????????+digr+. < Read more info here='' ……..''

  • inerlogic

    “the GPS tagging utilizing a mobile phone is missing.”
    take a picture with your phone, then in Lightroom, copy the location information over….

  • It would work for short trips but when you visit 3 countries and cross a few time zones and bring home 4000 photos this method is not viable. I use GPS logger on my phone but it is so easy to mess up when crossing time zones.

  • ricohflex

    Viktor, Canon has lots of innovation. If Canon sells to consumers a Canon 5D Mk3 now; you be be sure that inside Canon’s labs they have 5D Mk4, 5 D Mk5 & 5D Mk6 already.
    Canon is an innovation company that dared to go into autofocus and breakaway from their FD lens mount long ago; creating a new EOS lens mount. Even Nikon dared not do this to their legions of faithful users who have bought lots of expensive lenses.
    Unfortunately, Canon is clever at MILKING the consumer. Cannot be helped. They need to make money. Lots of it. Slight improvements in specification are introduced every 2 or 3 years. The camera model designation changes from Mk2 to Mk3. Canon wants you to spend money to buy a new model. In Canon, there is no dramatic leap for the consumer.
    Is Canon capable of making a full frame mirrorless anti-shake camera body?
    Of course they can. Many years ago.
    Ditto for Nikon.
    Both Canon & Nikon have strong innovation. Both need to milk the consumer.
    Sony completely destroys this camera industry practice of milking the consumer for as long as they can, by dragging out the upgrade timeline. In one camera model change within 2 years, Sony introduces improvements that would take Canon or Nikon, 3 camera model upgrades that come 10 years later. Sony has accelerated and dramatically shortened the camera improvement cycle time. In this way, it puts pressure on Canon and Nikon. Consumers benefit.
    Digital camera technology is different from film technology. The scope for improvements and fundamental changes in design of digital cameras are great.
    Even Sony can fail. Sony tried to corner memory card market with their memory stick but it was a dismal failure. Sony tried to do the same again with XQD card. Again it was a disgraceful failure.

  • I absolutely agree with you but at the same time I hate to be milked. Also, I do not think it is Sony only who disrupts the industry. Fuji, Panasonic and Olympus started it on smaller scale even before Sony entered the mirrorless market. I think Canon and Nikon failed to recognize the new reality of the industry. If you are interested check my blog post where I outlined my reasons for ditching Canon:
    http://www.phototraces.com/reviews/top-reason-why-i-switched-from-canon-to-sony/

  • I was really excited after reading this article, as a light setup is exactly what I’ve been looking for, to be used for extended trekking. I was totally sold, and ready to take the plunge, until I came across two reviews of the 16-70mm lens, both concluded it is a very soft (“dismal” is the word used) lens in the mid to long range, especially in non-center area:

    http://www.photozone.de/sony_nex/901-sony1670f4oss?start=1

    http://kurtmunger.com/sony_zeiss_16_70mm_f_4id354.html

    I’d like to hear your thoughts on this lens?

  • rather, your thoughts about the very negative reviews on this lens?

  • curt from kansas

    My mother in law just won at our local casino. She surprised me with a Sony a7. I currently shoot with a Canon 70d, and had no plans to upgrade. Wow. I am glad she did that. I had no idea these mirrorless systems were such a blast to use — a totally different and I think better experience.

  • Dannielle

    I love these Sony cameras. I have had the Sony Nex-5n for over 3 years, and just upgraded to the a6000 this week (there are new ones coming out soon and I took advantage of the sale prices). I honestly have never had better cameras I my life. My biggest con is the menu, tho the a6000 is a huge upgrade with that.
    Best of luck with your new camera! Btw there is a super fancy one due out soon 😉

  • TR

    Viktor: as a travel and landscape photographer, do you think this kit really compares on par with a Nikon D810 and the new Sigma 20mm f/1.4?

  • Plot Thickens

    I don’t mean to poo poo the topic just bear with me… I was torn between the a6000 and canon m2 or 3. I know the a6000 is a better camera but I went with the canon simply because I can use my existing glass. I honestly think the M2 has better IQ than the 5Dii. After yesterday’s shoot I am seriously thinking about selling the 5D and getting the exact setup that is mentioned here and using the M2 for when I need some bizarre glass combination.

  • I never used M2 so I can not compare it to a6000 but I would never considered M2 for myself for one reason: it does not have EVF which is one of the main reasons I switched to Mirrorless.

  • SmarterEnu

    Meh. I have used my a6000 for a year now and will be selling it. The EV sucks the battery dry when using continuous focus and keeping your eye to the viewfinder for that ‘shot’.
    It is horrible over ISO 800. Noisy like a 1950’s tv with rabbit ears.
    This is a daylight camera only. Go indoors for action and pump up the ISO past 800 and forget it! A cheap Nikon d5500 at ISO 4000 beats it hands down.
    Pack a cheap Nikon or Canon entry DSLR for travel. You will be at least the same weight when you figure on needing only 1 not 3 or 4 batteries and the super light kit lenses are pretty darn sharp.
    I am a pro photographer with a D800, D750 and D5500. The 5500 is my travel camera and unlike the Sony handles all lighting situation heads and shoulders better.

  • David

    Hi – I have a basic question about EVFs: when I first changed from film to digital, I purchased a Canon S5 IS (fit the budget, nice camera for me at the time). The camera is 7 years old. It has an EVF, and I love using it. But with the advent of mirror-less cameras, it almost sounds like EVFs are this new, hot thing. Am I mistaken in thinking my Canon S5 IS has an EVF? I don’t think so. So what’s the big deal about having and EVF? I wish DSLRs had them. Why don’t they have them?

  • Mike Ikeda

    The only thing stopping me from changing would be the F4 lenses since I do a lot of portraits. I like to have a 1.8 lens for that.

  • cohenfive

    I have advised others on buying mirrorless, but at the end of the day the big compromise is image quality. No matter what, the smaller sensor and smaller glass just can’t give the same iq as its bigger dslr brethren. My wife, after using a mirrorless in India last fall, just got a nikon d750 kit so she can improve her images and shooting. Mirrorless is great for scenic shots and the benefit of small size and weight is huge, but if you ‘focus’ on iq only, dslr is the way to go.

  • Christo

    The Olympus OMD EM-1 is not only a Fantastic camera, esp. with the Pro lenses, but I would say the Best all round camera I have ever possessed in over 40 years of Professional Photography. I used both Olympus and Canon DSLR’sbefore, but found them very heavy to handle and erratic in results. Not the Olympus EM-1 which is so light and versatile that I hardly know I’m carrying it. I always used the Olympus OM Series for my 35mm film and slides, in the 1970-90’s, and it is so lovely to hold a camera that feels so intuitive and solid, not to mention getting the results I could only have dreamt of with the old Canon 7D. Long live Mirrorless Olympus Cameras!

  • If you are interested you can download the original RAW file I took with A6000+16-70mm. You will be surprised what quality you get with modern sensors and good lens:
    http://www.phototraces.com/?ddownload=10861

  • cohenfive

    I’m not saying mirrorless images are bad. In fact they are quite amazing given the size of the sensor and lenses. But they aren’t as good as from a quality dslr, especially when the going gets tough. They can’t compete in low light or other difficult lighting conditions, and they don’t do as well on fast moving objects like birds. For relatively stationary subjects in good light I agree that they take excellent images.

  • Ashok Sood

    Great Analysis DSLR vs Mirrorless. And i fully agree with you that while travelling, size and weight of camera and lenses matter a lot. Buying mirrorless makes sense.i was in the same dilemma whether DSLR or Mirrorless and it took me almost two years to go in favour of mirrorless. Had a look at various Sony options but found A 6000 a little bulky and heavier. Ultimately went in for Olympus OMD-EM5 Mk II which is very beautiful and very easy on weight plus 17 mm f1.8 wide angle lens. The performance is excellent. The only negative is the poor battery life which means i will have to carry so many spare batteries while travelling as the camera with electronic EV and zoom consumes battery fast. Anyhow i am happy with camera in comparison with DSLR which is very bulky.

  • Mark

    The thing with the Sony kit is that you can use your old Canon L lenses via an adaptor. You wouldn’t in most cases for weight reasons, but for portraits the 85mm f1.8 or 70-200 f4L would be quite a nice addition. It’s one reason why I won’t sell my Canon lenses when moving to Sony. That and the fact that the second hand market doesn’t always value them well for the quality they offer.

  • Mark

    Already happened. Due to so many non-DSLR owners moving straight to mirrorless the second hand DSLR body and lens market is pretty weak where I live.

  • amandaismom

    I have a Canon 20D. I am trying to decide if I should buy a new smaller camera (ie the sony 6000 or other) for travel purposes. I am curious how my 20D would compare to the sony in terms of image quality (and any other topics that might be interesting or relevant to the discussion. ) My other areas of interest are in sports/kids photography and portrait photography, besides the landscape photography or zoom lense capability that I will need when I travel.

  • Byron Robb

    I am currently on a trip and although I brought my Canon 5D Mark III, it has only come out of the bag once. My a6000 is just too convenient and compelling.

    I like being able to see the DOF directly through the viewfinder.

    One shortcoming is that there does not seem to be any way to set a minimum shutter speed when using AUTO ISO.

  • drdroad

    There is no ‘HDR look’ unless you make it so. I’ve used several HDR softwares, including Photoshop, and how the ‘look’ ends up is completely up to me. You think the resulting image is too saturated? Then put it through ACR and reduce either or both the Saturation and Vibrance. There. You now have an excellently exposed image looking the way YOU want it to look.

  • drdroad

    Nice article Victor, but I made my switch for a different reason. I wanted the biggest MegaPixel bang I could get, but smaller than the huge Canon/Nikons high end DSLRs. I went with the Sony A7R11. A big part of my business is decorating commercial office/buildings with photos. I’m often putting a singe image on an entire wall. Before, I was consistently shooting megapix type shots, an image made up of 8 or more shots. I still do that, but have found the 42mp images straight out of my Sony suffice quite often. Love the images.

  • Sharon Ann Witteck Austin

    hi. interesting because I made the move from a Nikon dslr to the sony a6000 for a photo trip to Greece….came home so disappointed. tried every varied setting, etc. out of focus and not deep colors. my husband’s Samsung galaxy s5 actually got better pics than the new sony. ugh. I returned the camera! my Nikon is tooooo heavy. but I was so disappointed in the sony; now i’m gunshy, to spend money on a new different one. 🙁

  • Gus DeLaCruz

    I have a 20D and 60D. I’m about to sell all my Canon gear and stick with my A6000. The quality and control I get out of the Sony is just as good if not better than my 60D. Also, you don’t need to carry the big camera anymore. The focus tracking on the Sony is more than you need for kids and sports. It will feel strange to have such a tiny camera. It will feel like a toy at first but you won’t regret it. Besides, it’s not too expensive now that the A6300 is out.

  • Rich Cook

    Date? When was this written?

  • Svenja Kühnke

    How about the argument of a less obstrusive camera? On my travels I carry the camera with me all the time. Especially in restaurants and in the supermarket as well as shooting in the street, people seem to feel less bothered by a rangefinder camera. (I have the LX100)
    Can you confirm that observation in comparison to a DSLR?

  • Claude B.

    How many time did you spend to learn and understand that Sony A6000 before you go on a trip? It take few months before to be confortable, it is so different then Nikon. I was with Nikon, I never regret one bit to switch to A6000.
    Sorry for you.

  • Sharon Ann Witteck Austin

    yes of course I know that it takes time and yes of course I did that.
    if there weren’t different tastes and likes in cameras and their results, there wouldn’t be so many ones out there—I’m not sure if your ” sorry for you” is actually sincere or is sarcastic….
    doesn’t matter, I now have a new Nikon and like it.

  • Sharon Ann Witteck Austin
  • Sharon Ann Witteck Austin

    so my comment was deleted here. that’s wonderful open-minded journalism. how unprofessional.
    and dps- disappointing.

  • Sharon Ann Witteck Austin

    it says here ” join the discussion”—- but they delete comments, when they have nothing objectionable. so it appears to be an unfair group.

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