Why You Need a Mirrorless Camera if You’re a Hiker

Why You Need a Mirrorless Camera if You’re a Hiker

(originally shared on Henry’s Blog)

guy hiking Vancouver island
Shot on Canon R5 – with Canon EF 16-35 2.8 Lens

If you have ever been on a multi-day trek or a long hike, you will know every gram matters that you pack into your backpack. Saving space and weight with a mirrorless camera can allow you to include another meal, a couple of snacks or, enjoy the lighter pack on a day trip. Of course, doing all of this without sacrificing any quality in the epic shots you plan on taking out in the wild. But, the long list of benefits doesn’t end there. 

This blog will discuss why I believe a mirrorless camera is superior to a DSLR if you’re an outdoor adventurer capturing photos and video far from your car. So whether you’re a world traveller, hiker, or backcountry camper, this blog will provide you with insight in helping you decide on a mirrorless camera system. 

Girl hiking in mountains
Katia making her way up the summit during golden hour. Moments away from the top!

 Mirrorless Camera Versus DSLR: Weight & Size Comparison

The obvious first point of the comparison of these two is the size and weight difference. So let me explain how the mirrorless version drops its weight and size compared to a DSLR.

Mirrorless cameras do not have a mirror. However, DSLR cameras have a mirror box and a pentaprism that adds weight and size to the camera. See where the name came from now?

Depending on the lens setup you choose will play a factor in just how much weight you save. But, if you’re going long distances, even a couple of hundred grams plus added space in the backpack goes a long way.

girl in sleeping bag in mountains
Klaudia with front row seats for the mountain top sunrise.

In-Body Image Stabilization

Going off my last point of mirrorless cameras having no mirror-box or pentaprism, it has opened up the camera body to allow space for more technology.

One of these features is IBIS. IBIS works using built-in accelerometers measuring lateral motion, correcting the sensor by moving it left/right and up/down during the hand-held shooting.

This means you can drop your shutter speed even lower to let more light in without worrying about camera shake. Also, as a hiker in situations where you usually needed a tripod, you can now leave the tripod in the car and save your back from even more weight.  

IBIS also means smoother video. I am always blown away by how smooth my video comes out on my Canon R5 with no gimbal. This is a significant benefit for me as there is no way I am packing a heavy gimbal on a three-day, fifty-kilometre journey.

sun rays over mountain tops
Shot on Canon R5 with a Canon 70-200 2.8 telephoto lens.

Wildlife Shooting with Mirrorless

One of my favourite parts of being out in the backcountry is all the wildlife that I get to see and photograph. From small marmots to giant moose and grizzly bears, Canada has no shortage of wildlife.

An essential part of getting a great shot is respecting their space and not disturbing them with any sounds. 

The shutter on Mirrorless cameras is very subtle in comparison to a mechanical DSLR shutter. For example, on my Canon R5, if I am in a situation where I am closer to the animal and would like it to be even quieter, I will switch it to an electronic shutter, and my camera will shoot in complete silence. Doing so ensures that my subject won’t get startled and run or fly off. 

Another great feature of some Mirrorless systems is the animal eye auto-focus system. This feature allows me to focus on composition while the camera puts in the work detecting the animal’s eye and picking the eye-focus point for a tack sharp shot.

Flange Distance

The flange distance is another huge positive coming out of the mirrorless setup. The flange distance is the distance from the mounting surface where the lens resides to the image sensor. The shorter the distance between these two, the better the image. 

The above result is less vignetting, faster autofocus, and, most important to me is sharper edge-to-edge images.

Canon R5 Camera Body

Cons of a Mirrorless Camera

I will still start by saying they are limited and improving by the day, but I couldn’t complete this article without mentioning them.

  • Battery life – DSLR still has Mirrorless cameras beat with battery life. This is due to both the sensor and EVF or LCD needing to be powered continuously to maintain the live-view necessary for framing your shots. 
  • Ergonomics – If you have big hands, the smaller mirrorless cameras may not feel comfortable in your hands. This is especially true when you have a larger lens on the smaller body. You can add a camera grip to help with this. 
  • Limited lens selection – Right now, there isn’t a large selection of mirrorless lenses, but this is quickly changing. For now, there is an adapter ring offered, so you can still use regular lenses on your mirrorless camera. Nikon has the FTZ, and Canon has the EF-EOS R for use with standard lenses.  

Girl hiking in mountains

I will leave you with a list of recommended mirrorless cameras that I know perform well in the harsh outdoor conditions that hikers have to deal with. These cameras have all the specs you need to capture stunning outdoor photographs during your adventures in the wild. They also are all-weather sealed. 

Please note, this list is in no particular order. It is a list of suggestions for you to hopefully cut down on all the different camera bodies on the market.

    1. Canon RP – 26.2 MP – Full-frame CMOS Sensor and DIGIC 8 Image Processor. This is the lightest and most compact full-frame EOS camera to date. Priced at only $1199.99, this camera is very budget-friendly.
    2. Sony Alpha A7 III – 24.2 MP – Full-frame BIONZ X™ Image Processor. Sony is known for its low-light performance. So, if you love shooting blue-hour astrophotography, this is the camera for you. 
    3. Canon R6 – 20.1 MP Full-Frame DIGIC X Image Processor. Complete with IBIS, the powerful AF focus system and the mid-range price makes this one of the top picks for adventure photographers. It also offers two card slots so you can backup your images in the field.
    4. Canon R5 – 45 MP Full-frame DIGIC X Image Processor. If you’re a commercial photographer or have a larger budget, this is the one for you. The R5 comes with 8k video capabilities, the world’s best image stabilization at 8.0 stops with an IS-equipped lens and a 45-megapixel sensor for phenomenal image quality for big prints.
    5. OLYMPUS OM-D E-M5 MARK – 16MP – II TruePic VII™ – Complete with 5-axis stabilization and the all-metal body that keeps this camera safe from dust and moisture while shooting in those extreme conditions. This is the most cost-effective body on the list.
    6. Nikon Z 5 FX Series 24.3 MP Full Frame  – Expeed 6 Processor – The Nikon FX-format sensor in the Z5 is capable of superior image quality and rendering capabilities in dark or dimly lit situations. It is a great first step when upgrading to a full-frame camera.
dual card slot canon r5
Dual card slots on the R5 & R6 allow for easy in-field data backup.

My Final Thoughts

As you now know, mirrorless cameras are packed with exciting new technology that can really help you as a hiker capture those special moments, and most importantly, drop some weight from the backpack! I believe that mirrorless cameras are the future which is all the more reason to switch from DSLR or make it your first camera system. 

If you’re looking for some quick tips to improve your landscape photography check out my next blog here – Five Easy Tips to Improve Your Beginner Landscape Photography.

Are you team DSLR or Mirrorless? Let me know in the comments below.


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