The Past Year: Traveling Light

Nearly two years ago The New Yorker published a piece entitled "Goodbye, Cameras", about the evolution of photography equipment. The article struck a chord with me. Traveling with my large, heavy Nikon D800 was not always an ideal experience. Such a sizable piece of equipment can be intimidating to subjects in front of the lens, and carrying so much weight was sometimes more of a chore than a pleasure, particularly on long walks and hikes. Nonetheless, the D800 provides incredible image quality, and so I continued to lug it around with me nearly everywhere I traveled. About a year ago I decided to embark on a bit of an experiment and give the smaller Sony E-mount a chance and purchased an A6000 (review here). This post is a follow-up to that review, and a bit of a showcase for my photography over the past year.

Prague, from Prašná Brána (Sony A6000 + 16-70mm f/4)

Prague at Dawn (Sony A6000 + 16-70mm f/4)

There are numerous disadvantages to buying into two different camera systems (or "mounts"). The expense of building-out two sets of lenses, and the complication of switching between different camera interfaces are the two biggest problems that come to mind here. Nonetheless, advantages of owning two separate systems do exist -- particularly if you choose carefully and select complementary systems. Here, the A6000 has done a fantastic job filling in for the D800 when I want to travel lightly and unencumbered.

Stargazing at Lake Aloha (Sony A6000 + Rokinon 12mm f/2.0)

Camping Under the Milky Way (Sony A6000 + Rokinon 12mm f/2.0)

Above, the A6000 paired with a Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 make for a perfect backpacking starscape combo, coming in under 700g (~1.5 lbs) with a couple of spare batteries. I have yet to encounter another camera that offers the same sort of power-to-weight ratio; even when considering camera and lens combos that cost several times as much, the Sony still comes out on top.

And yet, there is one rather limiting downside to the Sony E-mount that affects my images: 11-bit compressed RAW files. I touched upon this problem in my review of the camera, but DPReview has a much more comprehensive article that describes the problem: "Pulling Apart Sony's RAW Compression". For me, this is the biggest limiting factor of the Sony mirrorless lineup, and this is probably the biggest reason that I still reach for my D800 when I don't have to compromise and choose the lighter camera. The other factor here is lens selection, and again the Sony doesn't quite deliver like the Nikon F-mount does. Thus, the D800 remains my go-to camera when I desire the utmost image quality, and I have come to think of it as my trusty workhorse.

Marble Fork Kaweah River (Nikon D800 + 17-35mm f/2.8)

Golden Gate from the SCA Trail (Nikon D800 + 24-120mm f/4 VR)

Highway 101 Glow (Nikon D800 + 24-120mm f/4 VR)

Over the past year, the A6000 has changed the inner dialog that I have with myself before traveling. It's small and light enough to bring on nearly all of my travels, and so I no longer have to ask myself whether to bring a camera at all. The question has changed to one around image quality: do I really need all that extra "power" for this trip, given the considerable size and weight costs? This was a powerful shift for me, particularly since the answer to that last question is very often "no". Most of the time, the Sony "satisfices" my needs. But, being a photographer, it's difficult to avoid thinking like a gearhead. Sony's full-frame FE-mount cameras (like the A7ii) look to be a potentially fantastic compromise between the A6000's size and the D800's power. I'll certainly wait until the RAW compression and lens selection problems are resolved, but I am eager to see what the next year brings in terms of full-frame mirrorless options. I certainly hope Nikon and Canon throw their hats into the ring.


on 2015-09-19 22:42 by Mike Cialowicz

No sooner do I complain about Sony's RAW compression problems than they resolve the problem and announce uncompressed 14-bit RAW to their latest full-frame cameras. Nice!