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

Daniel L Miller's picture

But this is also why it is so disheartening that the RF lenses are so damn big and heavy!

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

We talked about that. I haven't picked them up yet, but, I've been told that the 28-70 balances really well. But, it is heavy, no doubt. Some of the others are on the light end. At least lighter than their EF twins.

Calum Cree's picture

Of the “holy trinity” the RF 70-200 2.8 is the only one lighter I believe. A 3 lens and 2 body set up still saves some weight though.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

True. We do have to keep in mind that the 28-70 is a f/2 in the RF version.

Calum Cree's picture

I was referring to the 2.8 which is 100g heavier in RF than EF.

jim blair's picture

The 28-70 is a terrible lens top heavy balanced lens and difficult to manage unless using two hands. All those who beat down the 1D series, I'll take it with the 24-70 for a much better experience. Nobody needs a mirrorless to shoot anything except lazy photographers who don't spend the time learning the craft, another worthless article.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Wow Jim. That's a little harsh. The 1D series certainly has it's place. But, the mirrorless cameras can offer something different, something that some people find valuable.

At one point people hated SLRs, now they dominate the market place.

One of my favourite photography stories is Adams' moonrise over the graveyard. The fact that he managed to get that shot is almost as much chance as it is skill. I don't see the problem with technology offering everyone the ability to capture that kind of image long before they're masters of the craft.

James Mlodynia's picture

If you want a compact body and lens, it's micro 4/3, full frame they can make a smaller body but the size of the lens will be it's down fall

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Good point. Full frame will always require heavier lenses. Well put. It's just part of the package.

Daniel L Miller's picture

At first I thought that was a good point too…until I remembered the FD lenses of the 80s. They were pretty small but still had a full frame image circle. I think what adds to the weight and size of today's lenses are the autofocus and stabilizing motors.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Completely agree. But, a full frame and micro frame lens will have different weights, all other things - AF, IS - being equal, no?

Daniel L Miller's picture

Absolutely. My architectural package is a Canon 5D Mark III with very heavy TS and other AF lenses. But if I'm walking the street or traveling I can choose between a GH5 or Sony a6400 both with very small lenses.

I guess what I'm touting by taking those cameras is… the small form factor outweighs (no pun) any perceived advantages of a full frame sensor.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Gotcha! I use a much smaller camera when I'm in places where my DSLRs, or even my mirrorless might get me into trouble.

Timothy Roper's picture

I would have bought one already, if it weren't the the heavy lenses negating any weight-savings from the body. That's why I've been looking at the Z7 and the 24-70 F4. It's a fantastic lens, and in my opinion F4 is good enough for adventure photography. But then there's that XQD card, which would really mess things up for me. It's maddening. So I guess I'll probably get the R at some point. In the meantime, I'll keep telling myself if Jimmy Chin can haul a 5D-something body up Meru and make a movie with it, I can take mine on a backpacking trip into the mountains.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Fair point - do you think that the lenses will get lighter? I mean at one point photographers were hauling around large format cameras.

Charles Strosnider's picture

Can anyone tell me why so much effort was made to not use actual name of the camera that they use? It just seems a little odd that "EOS R" wasn't used. Maybe SEO related? But if this article is written about the EOS R, why wouldn't you want people to find it? Just a bit curious to know why the article goes out of the way to not use the exact name of the camera that it's talking about. Maybe I'm just overthinking this and need to stop drinking espresso this late.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I was trying to refer to the EOS R and the R5 (as set out in various announcements). Wasn't trying to be intentionally obtuse. ;)
I'll take another double if you're making. I'll bring the cookies!

Phil Bautista's picture

So the specs being claimed are of the R5 or the R?

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I tired to stay away from specs and focus on functionality. Bakken and Out shoot with the EOS R, and I've read the R5 related press releases.

Rick Boden's picture

I added Canon mirrorless and removed a lot of weight by going with APS-C.

Joseph Reisman's picture

I know this probably doesn't bear mentioning but, if you're going to spend time, money and energy on going out for days on end to get "the shot" for a commercial project, wouldn't you want 2 card slots? Just in case a card becomes corrupted? I know the new cards are getting really good reviews but personally, I'll have redundancy on everything I shoot thank you very much. By the way, gorgeous photos.

Joseph Reisman's picture

I know this probably doesn't bear mentioning but, if you're going to spend time, money and energy on going out for days on end to get "the shot" for a commercial project, wouldn't you want 2 card slots? Just in case a card becomes corrupted? I know the new cards are getting really good reviews but personally, I'll have redundancy on everything I shoot thank you very much. By the way, gorgeous photos.

Joseph Reisman's picture

I know this probably doesn't bear mentioning but, if you're going to spend time, money and energy on going out for days on end to get "the shot" for a commercial project, wouldn't you want 2 card slots? Just in case a card becomes corrupted? I know the new cards are getting really good reviews but personally, I'll have redundancy on everything I shoot thank you very much. By the way, gorgeous photos.

Joseph Reisman's picture

I know this probably doesn't bear mentioning but, if you're going to spend time, money and energy on going out for days on end to get "the shot" for a commercial project, wouldn't you want 2 card slots? Just in case a card becomes corrupted? I know the new cards are getting really good reviews but personally, I'll have redundancy on everything I shoot thank you very much. By the way, gorgeous photos.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Agreed. I'm hoping that thats coming. It's a staple of truly pro cameras.

Mark Doiron's picture

A Zacuto eye loupe and Live View on my Canon 5D3 and 7D2 provide a wonderful solution to the chimping issue addressed in the article. But I am interested in the upcoming Canon R5 because of its improved video modes.

BTW, beautiful photos in the article (although I would say, they do have that staged look that's all too common for adventure photography).

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Hadn't looked into Zacuto until now. Thanks!

Lawrence Huber's picture

Interesting the Canon haters talking about heavy lenses. RF lenses will also be light. Just that Canon wanted to show what Sony can not do.
Like the worthless f.95 Nikon Nikon lens. Big, heavy and no AF.
Canon will have a full range of far superior lenses and many will be light.
Then those that jump to Nikon or Sony will be so embarrassed with their inferior lenses and system.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Agreed. This is just the beginning.

Jon Kellett's picture

Hi Lawrence - As a former Canon shooter, now primarily Sony, you comment does sound a little fan-boy.

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

I've no doubt that Canon will produce some stellar lenses very soon, but I wouldn't expect them to be significantly smaller or lighter than the competition.

With respect to system superiority/inferiority - It's all just personal preference at the end of the day. My preference was to break 15 years of buying Canon digital. Something I wouldn't have done if they had a compelling offering. Perhaps one day I'll switch back, perhaps not, but regardless of what system I buy I'll never feel embarrassed for buying into that system - It's a tool that's purchased on it's merits.

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