Think Small for Travel and Nature Photography

Photo by Rob Knight

Photo by Rob Knight

 

I’m sure you’ve heard the tern “mirrorless” camera by now. A mirrorless camera is a digital camera that uses interchangeable lenses like a conventional DSLR, but it uses the LCD on the back of the camera or an electronic viewfinder (or EVF) to frame a photo instead of a traditional optical viewfinder. Without the optical viewfinder there is no need for a complex prism and mirror box, hence the term “mirrorless” camera.

Over the last three years I have gone from playing around with mirrorless cameras to ditching my DSLR kit and shooting mirrorless full-time. I shoot Panasonic LUMIX Micro Four Thirds cameras because of their amazing image quality, small form factor and the extensive selection of Micro Four-Thirds lenses.

The Micro Four-Thirds system Includes cameras and lenses made by both LUMIX and Olympus, as well as several third party lens manufacturers. Micro Four-Thirds was the original mirrorless system and I think it offers considerable advantages to those of us who have to carry all of our gear on our backs. Here are a few of the reasons I use LUMIX cameras and why you might want to think about a smaller kit for your next photo workshop.

 

Red-eyed Tree Frog by Rob Knight

Red-eyed Tree Frog by Rob Knight

 

1. First and foremost, they make beautiful images. When I began shooting mirrorless cameras my regular gear was a full-frame Nikon kit. I was sure that the images from the smaller cameras couldn’t compete with my professional gear. In reality I discovered that my mirrorless cameras produced beautiful images that I could easily print or sell as stock photography. That was two sensor generations ago, and the current generation is even better. The LUMIX GH4 and GX7 produce professional quality images that easily stack up against bigger DSLR’s.

I also found that I had my camera with me more often because it was smaller and lighter. That meant I was getting shots I would have missed before because I simply didn’t want to bother with my big camera kit. That is really important when you’re traveling. If you bring equipment that is difficult to carry you might be tempted to leave it behind and miss out on photo opportunities.

2. There’s more to the size of a mirrorless camera system than the sensor. There is a lot of buzz lately about full-frame mirrorless cameras. They have the same size image sensor as a Nikon D810 or Canon 5D Mark III. The rub for me is that with a larger sensor comes larger lenses. A small camera is fine, but for me smaller lenses are better.

The Micro Four-Thirds sensor is smaller than full-frame, so the lenses are much smaller than their full-frame counterparts. LUMIX lenses like the 12-35mm f2.8 and 35-100mm f2.8 offer the same field of view as the standard 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses on a full-frame camera at around one-third the size and weight. For wildlife shooters the LUMIX 100-300mm f4-f5.6 offers a 600mm equivalent lens that is around 6” long!

 

Photo by Rob Knight

Photo by Rob Knight

 

3. A smaller sensor generally offers greater depth of field. Some portrait photographers claim that this is a shortcoming of the Micro Four Thirds system, but for nature photographers it can be an asset. More depth of field means that I can shoot with a wide aperture and get more of the image in focus. Shooting with a wide aperture (low f-stop) allows you to use faster shutter speeds to freeze action and lower ISO settings for less digital noise. That is a combination that spells more keepers when it comes to shooting wildlife.

For landscapes the greater depth of field means it’s easier to get your foreground, middle ground and background in sharp focus. The smaller sensor with the excellent wide angle Micro Four-Thirds lenses makes for a great landscape photograph combination.

4. I didn’t start shooting video with my still camera until I got a LUMIX camera. I had DSLR’s with video recording capability, but it was pretty complicated and I never really used it. Mirrorless cameras (especially the LUMIX line) make it easy to capture fantastic HD video, and in some cases even super high-res 4k video.

I don’t have to switch my camera into video mode to record a motion picture. I simply press the shutter release for a still picture, or the red movie record button to record broadcast-quality video.

This allows me to shoot video the same way I shoot my still photography: I look for an interesting subject in appropriate light and create an interesting composition. If the subject makes a good still photo I hit the shutter. If the subject is better captured in moving pictures than I record a few seconds of video. For me the process is about telling a story whether it means still photographs or moving pictures. My LUMIX cameras get out of the way and allow me to capture whichever medium is appropriate for the subject I’m shooting.

There are other ways to get your images moving besides HD video. The cameras I use also capture slow motion video and time-lapse image sequences right in the camera. Just like regular video clips, these tools allow me to respond to my subjects and easily create whatever I envision.

I find many of my clients and workshop guests either shooting with mirrorless cameras or extremely curious about what mirrorless cameras have to offer. The combination of high image quality and portability offered by the Micro Four-Thirds system is perfect for a lot of photographers who like to shoot while they travel. My LUMIX gear allows me to carry all of the lenses I need along with one or two camera bodies without ever having to worry about weight restrictions or size limitations. Maybe you’l find a mirrorless camera kit to be the right fit for your next photo adventure.

Article by LUMIX PRO Rob Knight
If you have any questions about small camera systems, please feel free to contact me at rob@robknightphotography.com or visit my website at robknightphotography.com. You can see what LUMIX cameras are capable of first hand if you join me on one of my workshops like the Ecuador Photo Safari with Wildside Nature Tours.


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