You’ve been hearing the whispers. Mirrorless is the future, they say.
First of all, who are “they,” and why do they whisper to you about camera technology?
Kidding. Just breaking the ice on this potentially controversial topic.
We sat down to write a post in which we were going to declare “Mirrorless is the future of hiking photography,” but along the way an interesting thing happened.
We started to question our hypothesis. Is Mirrorless this technology that is going to take over photography at some point in the “future?”
Or, is is it more that it’ll simply just be this “other” option that is also nice, and that Mirrorless and DSLR can co-exist, with the photographer making the choice as to what is right for their own needs?
This led to more digging, and additional questions. To looking at more perspectives. But, we’re clear on the subject now and are ready to share with you, the readers, our findings!
Let’s back up for a moment and break down the differences between DSLR and Mirrorless camera technology so that we all know what we’re talking about before we dig deeper.
DSLR, or “Digital Single-Lens Reflex,” is a camera body that uses a mirror to reflect light that enters through the lens up to a prism and into the viewfinder in order to preview a shot. When the shutter button is pressed, the mirror flips up, a shutter opens and the light falls onto the image sensor which captures the final image. This is the same design as the 35mm film cameras from the past. The tried and true camera technology.
The “new” guy on the block is Mirrorless, lack of the above described mirror system in this camera body. In a mirrorless camera, light passes through the lens directly onto the image sensor, which captures a preview of the image to display on the rear screen. Electronics take over the mechanical tasks of the “reflex” function to send light straight through the lense to the sensor which handles auto focus and passes the digital image to the viewfinder or digital screen.
They both sound like they take pictures, don’t they?
Ultimately, we are looking for certain particulars in a camera so that we can create professional quality images. A great sensor and lots of lens options, for instance.
Let’s compare a few “things” that we find important:
Image Sensor Size
Have no fear, you can get a full-frame image sensor on mirrorless or DSLR, and as we’ve discussed in a prior post, full-frame sensors are the way to go for nature and wildlife photography.
DSLR tends to be larger, as their camera bodies must account for the mirror system. Mirrorless were MUCH smaller and lighter and had DSLR on the run, but DSLR camera bodies are, in at least some cases, shrinking of late which is sort of leveling the playing field. The fact of the matter is that mirrorless camera bodies are smaller and lighter, which is desirable for folks like us – hiking photographers who are packing an assortment of gear and trekking into the backcountry in search of photographic subjects, be it wildlife or landscapes. If you can get a camera that does essentially the same job, why not opt lighter?
Queue the perfect segway into our next “thing.”
Here is where things get blurry. Because with most mirrorless cameras now, especially the higher end models, there are lense choices. Some third party lenses can be utilized with an adapter, too, allowing for much much more choices (keep in mind picture quality can be jeopardized with this adapter). But, adding larger lenses can add weight, and we find the additional weight can create a clumsy feel with the smaller camera body. Obviously you have many many choices when it comes to lenses with the DSLR. Also large and heavy.
With a DSLR optical viewfinder, what you see is what you get. Mirrorless uses a screen on the backside of the camera. Some have what is called an electronic viewfinder, which allows you to see more than DSLR’s optical viewfinder. You are able to see the photo as it will be exposed, and are afforded the opportunity to correct things like exposure and white balance prior to snapping the shot.
Pretty cool, no?
DSLR has a dedicated AF, which is faster and more accurate. While this may not matter much when photographing landscapes, it will certainly be paramount when capturing the curious and impossible to anticipate movement of wildlife, or in low-light situations. This is an area where mirrorless has caught up significantly, and going forward could very well be a wash.
Speaking of a wash
For so long DSLR could hang its hat on price. You were able to get much more camera for less simply because they’ve been around longer. This is another category in which mirrorless is catching up. For instance, compare the Sony Alpha A7R III mirrorless at around $3,200 versus Nikon’s D850 which we see hovering around $3,300. Pretty close.
Right now, spec for spec, the lines are becoming more and more blurred with advancement of mirrorless technology.
Which takes us back to our original hypothesis. Is mirrorless the future of hiking photography?
If mirrorless camera bodies and lenses are in fact lighter and smaller, and spec for spec the technology of mirrorless catches up in all of the important categories discussed above, and the story is that we’re talking about different cameras types capable of doing the same thing, perhaps the Mirrorless, smaller and lighter models are the best choice for hiking photography. As we all know, size and weight are important when we’re packing up all our necessary gear, heading out into the backcountry to find our photographic subjects, be it landscape or wildlife. Small and light are not bad features when packing for travel, either.
Maybe the story is different for different photographic situations, and each photographer can make his/her own decisions.
Likely, Mirrorless will be the answer for our particular photographic situation and needs as hiking nature photographers. Especially as the technology continues to advance.
For now, though, its a likely story, aint it?
Feel free to leave your thoughts, opinions and/or experiences in the comments section below. We’d love to hear what you have to say on this issue.
Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks as well as in the Grand Staircase Escalante in southern Utah. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, newspaper photographer and writer. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.
Don’t Miss the Next Session of BCJ “Live”
Backyard Bird Photography: Simple Techniques for Wildlife Close to Home
with Russell Graves
Tuesday, March 9th, 2021 at 11 am (Mountain)