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Switching to Canon's Mirrorless for Better Adventure Photography

Adventure photography has taken its place as a component of the broader commercial market. Characterized by stunning, hard-to-reach locations and demanding conditions, gear can be critical to getting the shot. These days, mirrorless’ features make it the format of choice.

I had the chance to talk with commercial adventure photographers Scott Bakken and Jamie Justus Out about their choice of gear. With clients like Canon, American Express, Eddie Bauer, Ford, The Home Depot, Hudson’s Bay, Toyota, and Woods, Bakken and Out have the clout and experience to talk about what works best in their chosen field.

Scott Bakken

Gear History

Both Out and Bakken started shooting with phone cameras. They both quickly adopted Canon DSLRs — 6D and 5D models as they became pros. From there, they both switched to Canon’s mirrorless for when they’re out in the field. 

Difficulties Posed by Adventure Photography

Shooting adventure photography is a challenge. There is changing light, long, sometimes treacherous hikes to secluded locations, and outstanding views that stretch farther and wider than the eye can see. 

Jamie Out

Despite the challenges, when it comes to getting the shot for clients, you have to find a way to deliver. Shooting a sun setting over a mountain is time-sensitive, as the best light can disappear faster than the blink of an eye. Hiking for a day or more to reach a location can also be tiring. Every ounce matters. Getting the entire field of view in focus is critical for a bigger print or billboard. Today, it’s even more critical for apps that allow you to pinch-zoom. 

When It Matters, What Do They Shoot With?

With these challenges being met head-on by what mirrorless has to offer, it’s no wonder that adventure photographers at the top of their game like Bakken and Out are shooting with Canon’s mirrorless R series.

Weight, Size, and Looks

The first thing that both Bakken and Out noted about shooting with Canon’s mirrorless cameras was the weight. For anyone who has spent hours, if not days hiking or climbing to get to a location, you know how heavy each ounce feels as the miles pile up. Mirrorless cameras are lighter and more compact than any comparable DSLR. 

Despite being lighter and physically smaller than DSLRs, Bakken notes that R series grips feel robust. When you find yourself in cold, wet, or inhospitable environments, this comfort is important.

Although some of you may balk at this, R series cameras look like professional cameras. As I mentioned, delivery is key. When all is said and done, professionals should be judged on the quality of the images they provide. In practice, this isn’t always true. Most of us have been in a position where we have to impress or at least inspire a client’s confidence with the gear that we use. These new R series cameras are dressed to impress.

Electronic Viewfinder

Out and Bakken both explained that the R series EVF is their favorite mirrorless feature.

Live Exposure

With film, we had to wait for days to see if we made the right decisions for shooting. With digital, that wait was reduced to a few seconds. Now, with mirrorless, we can see what we’re shooting while we’re shooting it. 

Scott Bakken

Shooting in dynamic conditions in very hard-to- reach locations can often mean that you only get one momentary chance to get the winning capture. Even taking a shot and waiting for it to pop up on your DSLR’s LCD means that you’re taking the camera away from your eye. You could be giving away the most important few seconds of a shoot. Having a live view and a histogram in your viewfinder means you can be sure that you’ve got the shot as you click the shutter. A sunset with the perfect amount of mist drifting through the pines while your model canoes across the lake may only last a moment; chimping could mean you miss it.  

Even chimping can be too slow in dynamic conditions — Scott Bakken

Focus Assistance

The focus assistance features in the R series EVF can also make deep focus and focus stacking more of a sure thing. With a DSLR, you’d have to slowly focus through the frame as you shot, hoping that you captured an image for each layer. With mirrorless’ focus assistance, you can see what areas are highlighted and therefore in focus before moving on to the next layer. Given the prevalence of massive in-focus landscapes and backdrops in adventure photography, it’s no surprise that both Bakken and Out value the focus assistance features in the R series cameras.

Jamie Out

Additional Features 

Because mirrorless operates like an LCD constantly left on, they do have a reputation for eating their way through batteries quickly. Out, who is often in the field for long multi-day hikes, noted that the R series camera’s power-saving features could help save battery power when he needs it. This can help to save a significant amount of weight in spare batteries or solar chargers.

Scott Bakken

Changing lenses on a DSLR while you’re operating in inhospitable environments can be very difficult. Rain and dust have a talent for finding their way into the most sensitive areas of your camera. I didn’t quite understand it at first, but Out explained that the Canon R series has a shutter that drops down to cover the sensor. So, when you take off the lens, the more sensitive parts of the camera are covered, something akin to a dark slide on an old medium format film camera.

Lenses 

Both Out and Bakken raved about the control that Canon’s adapters provided for their old EF lenses. From my perspective, it would seem that Canon learned from the FD/EF switch and has committed to supporting its long-term users.

Jamie Out

Although we didn’t sit down to talk about lenses specifically, Bakken and Out were also excited about the control ring on RF glass. It’s nice to see control rings come back to smaller format glass. 

Bakken and Out are professionals. They aren’t out to collect gear, but instead to deploy the right tool for the job. In both of their cases, as commercial adventure photographers, they’ve quickly adopted Canon’s mirrorless gear because it provides important features that just aren’t available on other cameras or formats, features that make their job more efficient and help them capture the right shot for each deliverable.

What genre do you shoot? What benefits could mirrorless offer you?

Images used with permission of Bakken and Out. Lead image provided by Out.

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40 Comments

Previous comments
Mark Dunsmuir's picture

This --> The size and weight of a lens is always down to physics. Want less corrections, lighter lens. Want more flare, lighter lens.

Better optics, barring a revolutionary advancement will always be heavier. And, we have to keep in mind that market competition will often mean that computers leap frog each other in increments, not in massive steps.

Pieter Batenburg's picture

Nice Canon commercial

Phil Bautista's picture

It was in the title. Did you expect something else?

Bill Blevins's picture

I feel that an 800mm f/5.6 weighs the same. Maybe more.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

That's a 10lb lens! It's a beast. Certainly not meant to be handheld or hiked for days! ;)

Jan Holler's picture

So it is mostly about the weight. But then, i do not see any advantage: One would have to carry 1.4 additional batteries (LP-E6N = 80g) along with the EOS R than with the 5D to geht the same numbers of shots:

5D = 890g (CIPA 900 shots), 28-70 EF (/2.8) = 805g, totals to: 1695g

EOS R (CIPA 370 shots) = 660g, 28-70 RF = 900g, totals to: 1560g, with 1 additional battery (CIPA 740) = 1640g, with two additional batteries (CIPA 1110) = 1720g, (with 1.4 additional batteries, CIPA 900 = 1675g).

And we all change batteries before they are down to zero. With the EOS R we therefore have to carry 2 extra batteries with us, an additional of 35g compared to the 5D to get about the same CIPA number. So what is is about here?

And after all: The presented photos are technically perfectly done, but, forgive me, those are the thousandth versions of the same thing. I feel I have seen them many times before. They bore me.

Edit: missed out a number.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Bakken and Out are commercial adventure photographers. They both use Canon mirrorless.
I’m not sure if I’m addressing your comment? Sorry.

Phil Bautista's picture

They were switching to Canon mirrorless from Canon DSLRs because...adventure.

Deleted Account's picture

The first and most important factors are size and weight? My entire A6000 kit, with two primes, spare batteries, and filters is 700g, and it all fits in an old school Lowepro film pouch. The tripod is an extra 1kg.

Meh