Goodbye DSLR. Hello Mirrorless!

I’m moving to a mirrorless camera, and I blame it on my iPhone (but it's a good thing).

This article is not about DSLR vs. Mirrorless – it’s about personal preference.  There are a lot of reasons to use a DSLR, but I have found that for what I prefer to shoot, and how I shoot it, and all the travel that I do, that a mirrorless camera is more than capable of working for me.  So…

My whole photo world is lightening up, baby!

Yes, as it stands right now, and unless something dramatic changes in my thinking in the next couple of weeks, I am going to sell my full frame Nikon D700, the 14-24mm wide angle lens (which I am addicted to!!) and the 28-300mm zoom as well.  (And I recently dispatched my Manfrotto tripod in favor of a MeFOTO Roadtrip travel tripod, which is absolutely perfect for a mirrorless camera.)

In it’s place, I have recently acquired a mirrorless Olympus OM-D EM-1 (which has a crop sensor), along with a nice selection of their lenses: 9-18mm, 12-50mm, and 40-150mm.  My biggest concern was whether the 9-18mm lens would be wide enough to satisfy my wide-angle addiction.

Verdict on that?  I believe it is “wide enough” plus there is a wider Olympus lens coming out next year (7-14mm).  I am going to wait it out and see how I feel about the 9-18mm for a while.  Heck, there’s also a fisheye lens, which could be fun.  Who knows what I will do next?

How’s that all sound?  Pretty radical?  Am I crazy?

Olympus OM-D EM-1 with 9-18mm lens compared to Nikon D700 with 14-24mm lens.  A bit smaller, huh??  

I actually believe this is part of my evolution as both a traveler and photographer.  In many ways, this was a long time coming.  In other ways, it’s all because of my iPhone.  I’ll get to that part in a bit.

First, let me get a few things off my chest.  These are stupid ego things that I hate to admit, but I have to say them…so suffer through this with me, ok?

It’s not about the gear

My first DSLR was a crop-sensor Nikon D40x, which was a pretty decent starter camera.  But once I got serious, I had to upgrade if for no other reason than just to have auto-bracketing in the camera.  Yes, I was shooting my HDRs in the beginning by manually changing the exposure compensation for each frame.  To say that it was an exhausting challenge is an understatement.  It was terrible.

So when it came time to upgrade (ok, what I really mean is when I had saved enough $$) I had a huge debate with myself about getting a higher-end Nikon that was still a crop-sensor, or just to go ahead and jump into full-frame.

Full-frame won.  I was jumping, and decided to jump big.  Here’s part of the reason why: it made me feel legitimate.  It made me feel like a “real photographer”.  Isn’t that ridiculous??  I hate to even share that here, but it’s true.  It was partly ego.

We all know that it isn’t about the gear, but for me, at the time…it was about the gear, at least to some extent.  I needed it.

And admittedly, it was a good decision and set me on a photographic path that I am still on today…and I started up a learning curve that I hope I never leave.  I've grown, I've learned, I have developed my eye and my craft...and now it's time to jump again.

But the times they are a-changing…

And admittedly, having the Nikon been very good to me, in a lot of ways.  My shot quality has increased, I have learned a whole lot about cameras and techniques, and have generally progressed in the last few years with the D700.  I am thankful for that.

But now, I am ready for a change. I have sat on the sidelines for a while, watching the progression of mirrorless cameras.  I stubbornly clung to my old ways, looking down at mirrorless cameras as toys in some respects, or backup cameras.  They obviously aren’t – I just wasn’t very informed.  I didn’t think I could get everything I wanted in a small camera – I was still thinking that a full-frame beast was my only choice.

I was wrong.

I have gotten everything I need, and more.  I even got some things I didn’t know I could get.  Cool stuff.

But first – a bad joke.

A photon checks into a hotel and is asked if he needs any help with his luggage.  ”No, I’m traveling light.”

Haha, well I warned ya!  Anyways, traveling light is a big deal to me, and has been for a long time.  The funny thing was that I didn’t realize that all the weight I was carrying around was an issue.  I’m obviously not too in touch with my own thinking at times.  :-)

A top view comparison - BTW these were all shot with my iPhone b/c both my cameras are in the photos!

Way before my photo days, when I would travel on business, I remember looking for any way possible to reduce my travel weight.  I used to just wear one pair of shoes on the whole trip, for example.  I remember trying to get 2 days worth of business clothes in a carry-on backpack.  Things like that.  It was almost like a game to me.  And this was before all the checked-bag fees and all that nonsense we deal with these days that make you have to travel light.  It's just something I did.  I'm just wired that way I guess.

And so when I started taking photo gear on my trips, I made the natural assumption that my traveling light days were behind me – and they were.  When you are carrying a full-frame camera, wide angle lens, zoom lens and a Manfrotto carbon-fiber tripod with you, that’s an extra 11 lbs of weight, to be specific (and that’s not counting accessories).  Not to mention you can’t just fold it up and tuck it away in a small bag.  It takes up some serious space, so I ended up with an even bigger backpack.  Stuff just started getting bigger…and heavier.  I was gaining weight, so to speak.  It kinda sucked, but I didn’t know there were options. 

I don’t know what options existed a few years ago, but there are many today.

See what I am talking about??

See what I am talking about??

Let me get back to the iPhone thing

Sometimes, I end up on quick business trips when I either know for sure that I will not be able to go shoot, or that it’s highly doubtful.  Since the Nikon and old Manfrotto tripod were good for 11+ lbs of weight and lots of space, I left them at home.  It just made sense.  No one wants to bring all that for a “just in case”.

But sometimes I take these trips to really photogenic places, and it absolutely KILLS me to be somewhere, see something awesome, and not have a camera to capture it.  So this is where my iPhone comes into this.

And here's the view from the back, comparing the sizes of these two.

I love shooting with my iPhone, and have for a long time (even though I haven’t been on Instagram for very long, I have shared my iPhone pics on Flickr for ages).  Even when I was somewhere with my Nikon, I still shot things with my iPhone.  Still do, actually. But on those trips when the Nikon stayed home, the iPhone was all I had, and it was great.

But it obviously has some limitations (low-light shooting is pretty bad), and the quality isn’t anywhere near that of a “real” camera.  But it’s small and light!  So in a pinch, or when my Nikon was home, the trusty old iPhone was “good enough”.

And that takes me to my new Olympus mirrorless camera. 

I actually went looking for a backup camera that I could bring along on quick trips when I wasn’t sure if I would have time to shoot – the “just in case” idea.  I wanted something that would be small and light but more capable than my iPhone.  And I wanted a few other things, like decent auto-bracketing for taking HDR photos, and a good wide angle lens, because you know, I have that addiction.

Well, the next thing I knew, I was in Precision Camera here in Austin and had the Olympus OM-D EM-1 in my hand.  After speaking to the gent working there and explaining everything I wanted in my backup camera, that was his recommendation.   And it feels GOOD in my hands.  It fits perfect.  Great size, wonderful hand grip.  Sturdy build.  It just FEELS right.  You know what I mean?

Oh, and he also said that I would never use my Nikon again. 

I think he was right about that!  My search for a backup camera caused me to rethink what I do and how I do it, and now I have completely overhauled my entire set of gear.  It’s small enough that I can bring it along on a trip “just in case”.  If I am not sure whether I will have time to shoot, my Olympus can still come along for the ride.  If I don’t shoot with it, that’s ok because it’s not a burden to have it in my bag.  And obviously, the image quality is outstanding.  Excellent.  Top notch.

I am pleased with this new situation, as you might can tell from all this.

Now that I have gotten over my limited thinking about gear, I feel free.  I no longer feel like I have to have a full frame DSLR in order to be a “good photographer”.  This wonderful little mirrorless from Olympus is perfect for what and how I shoot.  I only wish I had gotten into it earlier.

So in total, considering the gear change and the tripod change, I have dropped nearly 50% of my camera-specific travel weight.  Size wise, things are considerably smaller too.  This Olympus just takes up a lot less space than the Nikon.  The lenses are much smaller.  The tripod is shorter by a mile.  This is all good!

Change is good

This change has also caused me to do a few things differently than I used to do them, and I am on a learning curve once again, which is fun.  Although I know how to set up and take shots with the Olympus, it has a lot of capabilities that I am just not familiar with yet.  It will take some time in the field to really get to know this Olympus, and to be able to take advantage of all the features.  

So I guess that means I better go take some shots, because I have a lot to learn, once again - and I am loving every minute of it!  Thanks for stopping by!