Considering travel w/ mirrorless camera instead of DSLR
March 14, 2019 5:07 AM   Subscribe

This spring, we will travel to Italy with our 5yo. I’m toying with the idea of leaving the DSLR at home in favor of a mirrorless digital (yet to be purchased). Will I be happy with the trade offs?

Before the 5yo arrived on the scene, I did photography as a paid hobby (weddings, concerts, local sports leagues). I shot Canon, and used 5D Marks II and III, generally with heavy L glass. On our most recent trips, I’ve brought the Mark III, the 24-105 f4L IS and the really fun 40mm 2.8 pancake.

Both kid and the camera gear are getting heavy for me, and carrying both simultaneously is well nigh impossible. Kid keeps getting bigger, as they do, but the camera can get smaller.

If you shot full frame DSLRs for a long time before getting into mirrorless cameras, were you satisfied with the results? Given how much gear I already have, I’m somewhat reluctant to drop a lot of money on a different format, but I also worry that I won’t be happy with just a kit lens set up.

Fundamentally, I don’t want to spend $1000+ on a setup only to find that the photos look like what I can get on the iPhone X that’s in my pocket already.

And of course, if you have a camera to recommend, please let me know.

posted by Admiral Haddock to Technology (22 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I did this on a four week trip through Southeast Asia and would highly recommend it. I ended up with a Lumix DMC-GX85W and lenses. Didn’t spend a fortune on glass, but got to have all the fun of as much manual as I cared for at the time. It was also amazing to jump up to a much more modern sensor with incredible low light abilities.

I have an art degree, shot a ton of film, and have shot a fair amount of DSLR and might never go back to 35mm. Shoot, the cameras are so small, I might consider picking up another as a second to be able to have two lenses ready to shoot.
posted by advicepig at 5:18 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]

I'm a lifelong hobbyist and ditched the dSLR years ago in favor of mirrorless. For travel, I think it can't be beat - I have an older Olympus EPL model, and coupled with a flat 50-mm equivalent lens it can fit in a jacket pocket. I don't have to carry a bag, and I don't get fatigued carrying pounds of camera gear around. I find the quality to be totally fine, but I'm also not trying to make enormous prints.

There are APS-C mirrorless cameras on the market now that I haven't tried, but they might be a reasonable compromise between the micro 4/3s or similar formats and a full-frame behemoth. Definitely won't be something you can stash in a pocket, though.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:30 AM on March 14

This article was really helpful; so was this one.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:58 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]

Also consider getting the 5-yo their own camera. It can be a terrible cheap camera with as few settings as possible that you wouldn't mind getting lost or broken. But a little kid with a camera has a totally different point of view on what to take pictures of than an adult would. And if they're taking pictures, too, that frees you up a little.
posted by rikschell at 6:00 AM on March 14 [8 favorites]

Previously, from a few years ago: Which camera to take on Safari?
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:18 AM on March 14

I can't second rikschell's idea of getting the 5 year old their own camera enough. Even terrible cheap cameras aren't _that_ terrible anymore, and he's right - kids take some amazing pictures; ones I would never have taken myself.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 6:51 AM on March 14

The answer to this is a resounding "it depends." Pretty much any new camera now is an objectively good camera compared to something that came out seven years ago, but you'd still be making tradeoffs that may or may not work for you.

Without considering the rest of the system, full frame sensors have two technical advantages: (1) the absolute level of light gathering is twice as much as an APS-C sensor, and four times as much as Micro Four Thirds, so in the same shooting circumstance the image gathered by a full frame sensor will have more detail and more flexibility for adjustment; (2) with larger sensors the ratio of light gathering to read noise (the noise inherent in the electronic system itself) is better. On the technical front, the questions for you are: do you care enough about the absolute light gathering and the reduced noise to carry around the extra weight? Does high ISO performance mean a lot to you?

Four years ago I went from an old APS-C DSLR to Micro Four Thirds (so, not from full frame, but still a leap in size and performance). Just by buying a newer camera I got a better sensor that more than made up for the lack of light gathering by its huge improvements in high ISO and noise. My camera bag lost a lot of weight, at least at first, and I have been really happy with the shooting experience and the photos I've gotten. For travel photos I don't feel like I'm missing out by not having more sensor there, and I do appreciate being able to opt for a really compact setup (17mm lens, Olympus PEN body, wrist strap) when I don't want to be weighed down. My big problem is now that I keep buying new (and old) lenses, so before I go anywhere I have to figure out what kind of shooting I anticipate and repack accordingly (or carry too much glass and have the same weight problem I used to have).

You could be happy with m43 or with APS-C in terms of shooting experience and the resulting photos, but it's going to depend more on your preferences and choices than on just the sensor size. Olympus cameras are fast and customizable to a fault; Panasonic has prioritized video more than Olympus so that's a strength for them, Fujifilm cameras have a really nice shooting experience with well placed controls and really nice film presets, and Sony makes excellent sensors. Micro Four Thirds would give you the most lens choices; Fujifilm makes great glass and the lineup is pretty well rounded out by now, and Sony … also makes lenses. (I cannot keep up with Sony's mounts and compatibility between their various sensor sizes, but the last time I looked they seemed to be focusing more on larger glass for full frame).

Pancake lenses abound, though, and mirrorless cameras really bring that home. If you dig the slightly wide pancake lens experience in particular, on m43 you can pick up the Olympus 17mm ƒ 2.8 or the Panasonic 20mm ƒ 1.7 (34mm and 40mm equivalent, respectively). Olympus also has a 25mm ƒ 2.8 (50mm equivalent) and Panasonic has a 14mm ƒ/2.5 (28mm equivalent) if you want a different field of view. But really if the fixed focal length, walkabout experience is what you want the most just go buy a Fujifilm X100F and don't bother swapping lenses at all. If I had it to do all over again I'd probably still end up with m43, but the X100 series still tempts me.
posted by fedward at 6:53 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]

For me, from a certain point on, ease-of-travel has begun to cancel out the hassle and weight so much that my pictures' composition actually started to benefit from choosing the more lightweight, low-key solution. So I started to leave my beloved Nikon (analogue, even) kit at home and am now using my iPad most of the time. Of COURSE I can see the difference in overall resolution, contrast, what have you--but still.
Italy is a hard nut, however. You want light, atmosphere, details - I know, I know.
For me it would be the 5 year old: To carry a whole camera outfit and also chaperoning a kid that age through the interests and challenges of Italy, I would think 'that's too much.'
posted by Namlit at 7:04 AM on March 14

My experience has been primarily with APS-C DSLRs, not full-frame, so take that into consideration. That said:

I travel pretty frequently with a DSLR (40D) for regular photos and a mirrorless camera (EOS-M) that's modified for infrared. Just by virtue of being much newer, the EOS-M produces much better quality results. It's also way easier to get around with -- even if I bring along an extra lens and/or adapter (to use normal EF lenses with it) I can fit it in a pocket or two of a jacket. Sometimes I just bring my phone for standard shots and the mirrorless for infrared and leave the DSLR in the hotel room.

The biggest negative I would point out is that a lot of mirrorless cameras don't have a dedicated viewfinder. Obviously being mirrorless they can't have a true optical viewfinder, but bright sunlight makes using just a rear LCD screen really challenging. There's some aftermarket or DIY options for building a hood over LCD screens which may help, but add more stuff to bring with you. If I was in a position to choose between cameras and one had a built-in viewfinder that I could use (so that I could look at the preview of the shot without interference from sunlight), I'd jump at that option in a heartbeat.
posted by tocts at 7:21 AM on March 14

Here's my short answer: I shot with a Canon 5D and moved to an Olympus OM-D E-M5 (the very first generation of both cameras) and never looked back. I use mainly old manual-focus manual-aperture film camera lenses on my OM-D and I love it - but I don't shoot action so auto-focus is not a necessity for me. Plus those lenses cost nothing when compared to L glass.

I have never once regretted my decision to transition to M4/3.
posted by komara at 8:32 AM on March 14

I shot with a 5DMKII and a big bag of L lenses and dumped it all for m43 three years ago. I went with an Olympus EM5-MKII, the 12-40/2.8, 17/1.8 and 45/1.8 lenses. It truly is much lighter. While you lose a bit with the smaller sensor (it has bit more noise from ISO1600 on and it doesn't has as extreme shallow DOF), the excellent IBIS can claw some of that back.

That being said, I don't know if in 2019 I would go with Olympus again. Three years later and Olympus hasn't upgraded to an EM5-MKIII yet! I would definitely take a deep look at some other previous year models, which can be heavily discounted. For instance, the Sony ArII is down to around $1000 and I think the Fuji XT-2 was recently discounted as well.

To second what tocts said, I would only consider a camera with a proper EVF; trying to frame with only the back screen would suck.
posted by alidarbac at 8:34 AM on March 14

I’m a professional photographer. Everyone i know who uses the Sony’s love them. I feel you on the not wanting to invest in an entirely new system, I’m in the same boat. Canon also came out with a mirrorless body and you can get an adapter to use your lenses (I’m looking real hard at this one for myself)

Otherwise, my casual-camera dream list basically consists of the Sony RX1; it’s a full-frame mirrorless point and shoot, essentially. And not cheap. You know your own shooting style, though, if you want detachable lenses something else may be better.

The Fuji’s are also very popular. I had one for a while but did not like it, but I’m in the minority on that among photographer friends.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 8:50 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]

I shoot pro quality Nikon gear and travel a lot. I tried getting a micro 4/3rds camera as something smaller for when I didn't want to be lugging around 3lbs+ of camera and lens, but got rid of it because I just didn't use it enough. I've got a high end camera in my phone (Pixel 3) and found that I was either happy enough with what I can do with it or wanted the full blown quality of a full frame DSLR with great glass.

Think of the types of photos you want to take - are they things your iPhone physically can't do? In my experience, the meaningful photos on family trips are of each other, not trying to capture things that require fancy cameras.

Unless you absolutely think you'd need interchangable lenses, you might also look at some of the pocket cameras that have large sensors - they've gotten quite good.
posted by Candleman at 8:55 AM on March 14

I made this jump several years ago after my DSLR was stolen. I chose an Olympus model with an electronic viewfinder, and I have been INSANELY INSANELY HAPPY with it. Sure, the full-frame DSLRs take technically better images, but the best camera is the camera you have with you, and my little Oly is way less of a hassle to carry.

Extra bonus: the glass is *dirt cheap* vs. DSLR glass.

If I were buying now, though, I think I'd go with one of the Sonys.
posted by uberchet at 9:23 AM on March 14

I spent years taking snapshots with DSLRs, and couldn't be a bigger evangelist for mirrorless. When I was flooded out a couple of years ago, the mirrorless was the only camera that got replaced. I love that it's pocketable; it makes taking pictures while travelling feel like just that, and not like I'm on a photography mission.

One nice thing I haven't seen mentioned is that the mirrorless has a lot of the same physical, tactile feel that a DSLR has -- I can hear the shutter and know when I've badly screwed up the exposure, or change modes by turning a dial without looking away.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:24 AM on March 14

I don't know if in 2019 I would go with Olympus again. Three years later and Olympus hasn't upgraded to an EM5-MKIII yet!

On the one hand there hasn't been much to iterate over the recent lifespan of their lineup and they were already pretty good so the longevity of an individual model does point at its long term value. On the other hand, Olympus is well overdue at this point for better sensor technology (we know what Sony can manufacture, sensor-wise) but Olympus seems to be paying more attention to speed than dynamic range and noise so we're not getting new sensors from them at the rate that seems possible.

What has me concerned is that they had a good thing going with the PEN line and they don't really seem to be pushing it anymore. They release a more or less unnecessary PEN Lite every year, it seems (from the E-PL5 to the E-PL9 the changes are primarily cosmetic), but the PEN E-P5 lingered and was quietly EOLed, the PEN F has just been EOLed as well, and there's no real sign that they care to keep making good small cameras. The E-M1ii was bigger than the E-M1, and the E-M1X is huge. Next to the lack of movement on the PEN line and the slow pace of E-M5 development it's hard not to read it as a signal they've given up on small enthusiast cameras. You can get small-and-cute (PEN Lite or E-M10) and you can get big-and-powerful, but not the stuff I want. I'd say a new PEN and E-M5 are just getting to the point of being overdue, while a new E-M1 (without the X) probably has about a year before it's also overdue. Because of the E-M1X I'd not be surprised if that took another two years to hit the market, though. I worry Olympus just isn't big enough to keep six camera lines going (E-M1, E-M1X, E-M5, E-M10, PEN, PEN Lite). TBH I don't even know if they can really manage four.

But also, it's not just Olympus. At the higher end camera companies don't iterate as rapidly as they do with their consumer cameras. The big pro bodies from Canon and Nikon seem to be timed around the Olympics every four years, and their other high end bodies seem to be on about a three to four year schedule. Sony has been iterating rapidly with the A7 series, but they're chasing market share in a way Canon and Nikon aren't.
posted by fedward at 9:26 AM on March 14

I would only consider a camera with a proper EVF; trying to frame with only the back screen would suck.

You know, I thought that, and in 2014 I partly bought the E-M1 instead of the E-P5 because of the viewfinder. And then in 2016 I picked up an E-P5 as a second body (without the optional EVF, as a conscious choice to travel lighter), and it turns out it's extremely rare for me to use the EVF in my E-M1. I expected to miss the EVF whenever I used the PEN, but instead I primarily use the E-M1 by its back screen. I think I use the EVF maybe twice a year. Four years after making that choice in the first place, I would no longer use a viewfinder as a purchase criterion. Your shooting style may vary.
posted by fedward at 9:37 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]

The Sony A series is worth looking at. I have the AII and it is full frame, if that is important to you.
posted by monologish at 10:56 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]

The Sony bodies are small, but the lenses are still quite large - to really get the advantage of size you need to move to a smaller sensor. I have been using m43 for a few years (on a panasonic gx8 now), and I will never go back. The portability factor is just so convenient. I can pack an ultrawide, semi-wide prime, kit lens, portrait lens, and looooong zoom in one average camera bag. If I just take the prime or the kit, I'm ultra portable. The gorgeous OLED viewfinder I have smokes any optical I've used.

Yes, there's more depth of field than you get with a full frame, and no, I can't shoot in the same level of darkness. But honestly, the differences (Except for DOF) are smaller than I thought they would be. I have a tonne of good lenses and most of them were quite affordable. But mostly, it's just so light and small, I take my camera with me now, because it's so convenient.

Personally, m43 beats the photos from any mobile phone, as you'd except with a sensor that much bigger with a proper lens, this is especially apparent with dynamic range and sharpness.

Some of the 1 inch cameras or the new <1000 Fuji that's just got announced look good, too (bigger glass with APSC though, and the 1 inchers are so damned expensive for something that's not ILC).
posted by smoke at 2:19 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]

I've had a lot of experience traveling with and shooting on Canon 5D systems in my video work (shooting lots of stills in addition to video). It's so much easier when I'm traveling with my Fujifilm XT-2 for non-work reasons. Although a lot of mirrorless systems aren't really pocketable - even with pancake lenses - the size and weight difference going from a 5D to any APS-C or M4/3 system is really significant. Much of that difference is due to the smaller glass. This is why full frame mirrorless systems like the Sony α-series can actually be rather bulky, just because the lenses are still quite large.

Image-wise, the top crop-frame mirrorless systems are surprisingly good when stacked up against a full frame. I love using my XT-2 and I've been very happy with the results. Autofocus is super fast. I've gotten some gorgeous images with great dynamic range and beautiful color. One of the reasons I chose Fuji is their high quality glass, and even the kit lens on the XT-2 is great. Though it's true that shallow DoF is more difficult to achieve with crop-sensors, that hasn't been a significant factor for me. Low light shooting is a bit more of an issue, as high ISOs will be noticeably inferior on any crop-sensor compared to your 5D -- but it won't be THAT much worse.

All that being said, there is so much photography I do with my phone, even when my camera is in an easily reachable sling bag on my back. If you don't need to zoom, the light is decent, and especially when the subjects are family and friends, there's really not that much to be gained by opting for a 'real' camera over a decent phone in most situations. And traveling with a 5-year-old I think you'll find yourself grabbing for the phone 80% of the time even if you have a nice mirrorless system handy.

So short answer: I'm really happy with my mirrorless camera. The images are fantastic, I love shooting with it, and I love traveling with it. But in your situation I'm not sure I'd advise buying into a whole mirrorless system in addition to your Canon. However, it's nice to have a dedicated camera while traveling, if for no other reason than to not eat up your phone battery with all the pictures you'll take. So try looking at a true pocketable camera for a few hundred dollars, which would combine the convenience of your phone with a bigger sensor, better glass, and the ability to zoom a decent amount. It's a shrinking segment as phones eat into it more and more, but any of the recent PowerShot or Lumix models will give you better images than your iPhone X.
posted by theory at 4:09 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]

I moved from a series of Canon DSLRs to their mirrorless M6, and couldn't be happier with it. With a 22mm F2.0 EF-M lens, it looks like a fancy point-and-shoot, but I can also carry an adapter and use all my Canon lenses.
posted by bradf at 10:48 PM on March 14

The best camera is the one you have with you and the one that you will use. I am a professional news photographer and have a lot of big cameras and lenses that I use on a daily basis. But when I have traveled for pleasure over the last few years, I've tended to just bring my small mirrorless cameras. Basically, when I'm not working, I don't want to deal with the weight and size of SLR cameras. That's not to say that the cameras aren't up to the task. I've had images in major news publications taken with mirrorless cameras countless times.

I will say that the earliest models of mirrorless left a lot to be desired. The x-pro1 was really sluggish in a lot of ways, and low-light performance wasn't great (though better than early pro digitals I used when on staff at a newspaper in the mid-2000s).

The digital viewfinder took a little getting used to, but now I miss some of the features when shooting with my non-mirrorless cameras (the Canon 5dS level leaves a lot to be desired compared to what's in the newer fuji cameras). Battery life used to be a bigger issue. I've got 6 or 8 extra batteries for my mirrorless cameras, but rarely need more than 3 in a day, even when shooting a few thousand images in a day.

For a pretty-pared down day out, I'll take a single zoom lens, a body, a handful of SD cards, and maybe 3 batteries, and that'd be fine. For a news assignment, I add a longer zoom lens, a couple more batteries and an extra body or two. I still use my slr cameras because the colors are a little nicer in some situations, the filesizes are bigger for ad work, and the gear plays better with my lighting equipment.
posted by msbrauer at 1:26 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]

« Older A chair to lounge in?   |   Self-care on a sick day Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments