….what is the fairest camera of them all (especially for an old man in motion)?
Once I started shooting the run and gun videos for my assignments documenting private jet journeys around the world for National Geographic Expeditions, it didn’t take me long to figure out that answer. And unfortunately, it wasn’t my beloved DSLR.
Here’s a look at just one 48-hour stop in Morocco on a recent around the world trip…it gives you a pretty good idea of the frenetic pace of these types of trips.
On these fast moving assignments, which are epic, globe-girdling trips that move at a breakneck pace (11 countries in 26 days…and you thought I was kidding when I said “breakneck pace!”), I have no time whatsoever to stop and outfit my camera with an LCD loupe, a shoulder rig, mic pre-amp and all the other bells and whistles you need to prepare a DSLR to shoot video.
I know that because I tried on my first assignment, and I missed a lot of key moments while I was kitting out my DSLR. After that first trip, it was clear that what I needed was a lightweight, video-friendly machine I could pull out of the bag and start shooting at a moment’s notice.
And a mirrorless camera was basically the way to go. I chose a selection of Sony gear so I could get at least one camera with an APS-C sized chip (for nice bokeh), mic jacks, decent lower-hiss, built in pre-amps, the 60fps frame rate option for slo-mo, and the ability to adapt any Nikkor (or basically, any other lens) to it.
When I first started traveling on these types of assignments, there was no RX10, so I carried two of the A6000’s predecessors, the NEX 7 and NEX 6. These days, I carry the RX10, and the A6000 with a Sony 10-18mm f/4 (for ultrawide work), a Zeiss 16-70mm f/4 (for general shooting) and an assortment of prime lenses that can vary, but always includes a Sony 35mm f/1.8 E, and often two old but sharp Nikkors, a 24mm f/2, and an 85mm f/1.8, outfitted with a Metabones Speed Booster for Nikkor to Sony E (which retains the original lens’field of view and adds almost a stop of light-gathering ability. A miracle adapter!)
The Sony and Zeiss E lenses are sharp, autofocus, and have the OSS (Optical SteadyShot) which make them super for run and gun situations.
The adapted Nikkors are manual focus, but they are super sharp and I only use the compact ones (besides the two mentioned above, I also have the 50mm f/1.8 Series E, and the 75-150mm f/3.5 Series E) so they balance beautifully on the smaller camera body.
One of the biggest advantages of the mirrorless camera is built in electronic viewfinder (EVF) for shooting video outside on bright days. No need to snap on a bulky loupe over the back of your LCD screen, just put your eye to the viewfinder and voila, you’ve got a crisp image to work with.
The other huge benefit of these cameras is their size and weight (or more accurately, their lack of size and weight!). My camera bag weighs about half of what a similar DSLR outfit would and the bag is correspondingly smaller as well.
As airlines crack down on carryon size and weight, and as many of us reach an age where we are not exactly spring chickens (hence the name of this blog), there is a double incentive to cut down on the size of gear we carry. As I once remarked in a workshop, “The older and heavier I get, the newer and lighter I want my gear to be.” My students that year never let me live that one down, but I stand by the sentiment.
The size of the sensor in your mirrorless camera is a matter of personal taste. The micro 4/3 cameras like the Panasonic GH 4 and other models, are very popular with filmmakers. Still shooter micro 4/3 lovers seem to go for the Olympus. It’s a little harder to get the creamy bokeh and really low noise at high ISOs with an M4/3 sensor than with a larger APS-C or full frame camera, and one of the reasons that I like my current system is that I can get the benefits of the smaller 1″ chip in the RX10 (that’s slightly smaller than micro4/3s) when I need it, and the nice bokeh and low light capabilities of larger APS-C equipped A6000.
I’ll talk more about kit and what I take on trips in future posts, (and I have a feeling that the new little full frame Sony A7s may be looming large in my packing plans soon), but everything in good time.