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Living with Photography: DSLR Defeated

By Norman Chan

Oh the places DSLRs can't go.

When I first picked up the Canon 6D three months ago, my intention would be that it would be used as a companion for my NEX-C3 mirrorless camera. Compact mirrorless cameras are a class of their own, I wrote at the time, and a full-frame DSLR can co-exist with one in a camera bag to fulfill different purposes. At least, that was the idea. But looking at my most recent 2000 photos in Lightroom, 92% of them were taken with the 6D. The C3 sits on my desk, where I check its battery every week to make sure it's charged just in case I need to use it. But the image quality and attraction of the full-frame sensor is simply too persuasive. The DSLR-friendly Incase camera bag I first tested at WonderCon has become my everyday backpack--I'm basically carrying my 6D and two lenses everywhere and for every occasion. So for a three-day camping trip with Wes and friends this past weekend, I didn't think twice about throwing that camera bag into my car, daydreaming about the amazing photos I'd be able to take during the six hour drive to Yosemite.

And while we did come back with some really scenic photos of the Hetch Hetchy valley and O'Shaughnessy Dam, I didn't get to take a single photo from the backpacking trip. That gorgeous photo above? Wes took it with his NEX-F3 camera.

Turns out, that oft-repeated adage about the best camera being the one you have with you has a corollary: your best camera can't be with you at all times.

That was the frustrating take-away from this trip--that despite all the packing preparation and resolve to take a DSLR up a 2,800 foot mountain, it just wasn't practical with all the other backpacking gear already weighing on my shoulders. Those extra pounds of carry weight were better allocated for food and camping supplies, and slinging a three pound camera around my neck for a six hour uphill hike was out of the question. And all during that walk, I wished I had brought my compact mirrorless instead.

In fact, the trip was a refreshing reminder of just how capable mirrorless cameras are, especially with an APS-C size sensor. Wes is still learning the NEX camera, but I think his photos turned out pretty well. And he didn't have to coddle it during the entire hike--he even took it on a river rafting excursion to get some video of the trip. Something even more compact like the Sony RX100 would maybe have been perfect for this kind of environment, or even a phone with a great waterproof case. But on this outing, the DSLR was simply defeated.

Photo credit: Wesley Fenlon

I didn't keep the 6D stuffed in my car the entire weekend, though. On the night before the backpacking hike, the campsite was close enough to the car so I experimented a bit with shooting the night sky. The 6D isn't made for astrophotography, but it was fun playing around with long exposure settings (max 30 seconds) with the camera sitting on a small gorillapod. The photo below, for example, was shot at f/11 and 1600 ISO. I have close to zero experience with night sky photography, but the takeaway from dipping my toes is that it requires a lot of patience and a good sense of how to frame a shot in pitch black. In many cases, framing was literally a shot in the dark, with several tries amounting to minutes of waiting before a satisfactory result. Here's another photo I liked from those experiments. I'd love your night photography tips if you have some experience in that area!

Since last week, there have been a few more entries into the Knolling shooting challenge, and my favorite is actually the very first entry from user Jay Furtula. I think we should keep this an ongoing challenge, since you never know when you'll have the urge to knoll. For the next shooting challenge, I'd like you to take a photo of your favorite print periodical. That could be a newspaper, magazine, or even shopping catalog. No limitations on how you present it, so you can get creative! As always, post your photos on Flickr.

Photo credit: Tested Flickr Group user Jay Furtula

I'm off to Switzerland until the end of the week, and have both the 6D and NEX packed in my bag. Hopefully between those cameras and my phone, I'll be able to grab some good photos to share. Joey will also be using the NEX to shoot some travel video, which should be an exciting test! See you all in seven days!