My Move To Mirrorless

See what drove professional photographer Dan Bailey to set aside his DSLR in favor of a mirrorless system

Hiking Above Eklutna Lake, Alaska
I like to joke that my new favorite camera bag for my mirrorless cameras is the strap. To me, accessibility is the most important factor when it comes to carrying your gear, and a camera that's slung around your neck and shoulder is about as accessible as you can get. I often hike, ride bikes, ski, sometimes even run with my camera slung like this, so that when I see a great moment about to unfold, I can be ready to capture it almost immediately, instead of having to dig into my pack first to grab the camera.The X-T1 is relatively lightweight, and it's weather-sealed, as is the 18-135mm lens, which makes the combo a great adventure photography setup. With DSLRs, you have to spend almost twice the money and carry almost twice the weight in order to get weather sealing.

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon XF18-135mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR, 1⁄240 sec. at ƒ/5.6, ISO 250

If you're an active outdoor photographer, then you know that when you're trekking, skiing or scrambling in the mountains, cycling or traveling out of your pack, extra pounds slow you down. For this reason, I own lightweight hiking boots, lightweight backpacks and a one-pound sleeping bag. And, yet, for years, I carried a two-pound DSLR camera everywhere I went. Add in my ultrawide 14mm lens and the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8, and I was lugging around 7 pounds. That's hard on your arms and back.

After accepting this trade-off for 20 years, I decided enough was enough. In late 2012, I did a weeklong bike tour with nothing but a compact Fujifilm X10 and felt joyfully liberated. While I still used my Nikons for some work, I couldn't escape the lure of mirrorless, and when the hot-rod Fujifilm X-T1 hit the market just over a year later, I wanted to see if it had what I needed to definitively make the switch.

Size and weight alone can't be the determining factor for a camera system, of course. As a pro outdoor adventure shooter, I need a rugged camera that produces high-end image quality and has fast, accurate AF tracking, high frame rates and a clear viewfinder. The X-T1 delivers all of that, plus it offers real-time image preview, live histograms and firmware updates that keep making it even better.

I like to pretend that Fujifilm designed the X-T1 especially for me, but after using it exclusively for over a year and a half, I've found it to be the perfect camera for my fast-moving style of outdoor photography. In fact, earlier this year, I traded in my Nikon DSLR gear and have transitioned to shooting Fujifilm 100% of the time, and I'm not looking back.

Fat Tire Snow Biking, Anchorage, Alaska
I shot this with the prototype X-T1 before it even was announced. I was blown away by how light the camera was, and yet how capable it was with regard to performance.

I've done shots like this in the past, where I clamp the camera to the top tube of my bike in order to create a dynamic first-person, but it's always a little cumbersome with DSLRs. Also, with my old DSLR, I'd have to set the self-timer, aim and hope for the best. The tilt-screen LCD on my mirrorless cameras offers an accurate real-time view of the scene, which makes it much easier to shoot photos with challenging angles that make it impractical or impossible to look through the viewfinder while shooting.

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon XF14mm ƒ/2.8 R, 1⁄25 sec. at ƒ/4, ISO 400

Mountain Climbers, Sólheimajökull Glacier, Iceland
I traveled to Iceland the day after I got the production-model Fujifilm X-T1 in February 2014, so this was one of the first opportunities I got to try out the camera. I shot this photo while trekking on the Sólheimajökull Glacier, and considering we were in pretty rugged terrain, it was quite refreshing to be using a lightweight setup.

Often when using mirrorless cameras, it's convenient to compose while looking at the LCD screen, but when you're wearing sunglasses and shooting in really bright light, like on a sunlit glacier, you can't see the LCD very well. That's where you need a real viewfinder. The EVF on the X-T1 proved to be so good that, in most lighting conditions, I totally forget that I'm looking at a tiny TV screen. It actually gives me a bigger magnification view than any DSLR I've ever owned. Between the EVF and the tilting LCD screen, this gives me a huge variety of options for composing my scenes.

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon XF55-200mm ƒ/3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, 1⁄1250 sec. at ƒ/5.0, ISO 200

Full Moon And Mount Gannett, Chugach Mountains, Alaska
I own a 1947 Cessna 120, which I use for shooting aerials of the Chugach Mountains, which are some of my most favorite and satisfying imagery these days. To me, they really capture the feeling of adventure, and to see these amazing scenes from the air is a magical experience. A typical aerial photography mission involves taking off about an hour before sunset and then chasing good light around the rugged peaks and massive glaciers until the color fades. Then I fly home and land just after dusk.

I was a hardcore Velvia shooter back in the days of film, so those vivid colors really bring me back, and they're perfect for bold-light mountain landscapes. Having the simulated Fujifilm emulsions built into my X-T1 is nice to have, and it's only in Fujifilm cameras.

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon XF18-135mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR, 1⁄680 sec. at ƒ/5.6, ISO 800

Running On The Beach, Oregon Coast
Some of the best vantage points you can get involve moving with your subjects, as if you were shooting film or video. Although I don't shoot much video, I employ some of those techniques to my still imagery to create a dynamic feel.

For this shot, I rode alongside the runner on a bike while holding the camera out next to me and shooting one-handed with my Fujifilm X-T10. Although it's designed as more of a consumer-level camera, the X-T10 has the same sensor and AF system as the X-T1, plus it's even lighter and more compact, which makes it a great little adventure camera. Although I've certainly shot one-handed many times with my DSLRs, my success rate is much higher with my mirrorless cameras.

Fujifilm X-T10, Fujinon XF18-135mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR, 1⁄1800 sec. at ƒ/4, ISO 200

Basalt Columns, Reynisfjara Beach, Iceland
One of the things I like most about the Fujifilm mirrorless cameras, in particular, is that the creative color modes very closely replicate the classic looks of films like Provia, Velvia and Sensia and black-and-white emulsions. Not only do these looks bring me back full circle and inspire my creativity with different color palettes, they offer some very useful solutions when shooting in different lighting conditions.

When I came across this scene at Reynisfjara Beach on the southern coast of Iceland, it was midday, and the light was incredibly harsh—way too strong to make a decent-looking landscape photo in color. By switching to one of the black-and-white film simulations, which I previewed in the viewfinder, I was able to focus on the aspects of shape, form and contrast, and walk away with a great shot. This is one of my favorite photos from that trip.

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon XF14mm ƒ/2.8 R, 1⁄100 sec. at ƒ/9, ISO 100

Winter Landscape, Anchorage, Alaska
During wintertime in Anchorage, the sun skims in a low arc across the sky. When the sky is clear, "magic hour" lasts all day long. I shot this photo at 2:36 p.m. on December 19, along the Chester Creek Greenbelt trail that runs all the way through Anchorage, Alaska. With such clear, cold air, the conditions were great for creating a sunstar effect, so I stopped the lens all the way down to ƒ/16 and partially hid the sun behind the tree in the foreground to enhance the effect.

Although I was shooting in RAW+JPEG mode at the time, this photo is a straight JPEG with no color corrections. I tend to do minimal processing on my imagery, partly because I don't have hours to spend in Photoshop and partly because I love the challenge of nailing the shot in the moment. Having these kinds of results makes my job so much easier, and it takes a lot of the guesswork out of shooting photos. This isn't unique to mirrorless cameras, but I mention it because it's a feature I rely on that I didn't lose when I moved from a DSLR.

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon XF18-55mm ƒ/2.8-4 R LM OIS, 1⁄60 sec. at ƒ/16, ISO 200

To see more of Dan Bailey's adventure photography, visit his website at danbaileyphoto.com.

8 Comments

    Most fail to appreciate that improvements in digital technology that enable 50MP cameras also makes possible high IQ 24MP APS-C cameras AND 16MP 1/2 size MFT cameras.

    The smaller MFT sensor makes possible lighter, more compact and less expensive lenses.

    Fuji APS-C 55-200mm f3.5-4.8 at 20 oz. $699.
    Olympus MFT 40-150mm f4-5.6 at 6.7 oz. $99
    Nikon 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 at 26 oz. $586.95.

    Constant aperture f2.8 lenses difference is even greater. Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 at 87.2 oz. $2,397.
    Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 at 119 oz. $3599
    Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 (80-300mm f2.8) 31.04 oz. $1299.

    On a trip this past May to Yellowstone I compared the image quality from my D750 24MP full frame camera and my D7100 24MP APS-C camera to those taken by another person shooting with the Olympus E-M1 MFT camera with 300mm or equivalent focal length zoom lenses and the MFT images held their own in every respect.

    I did exactly the same thing. However, I’m a serious amateur photographer. Had all the heavy f/2.8 Canon lenses and cameras. Lots of large, heavy stuff. Went to the Fujifilm X-T1 and three lenses that cover the range. I immediately felt liberated. I made absolutely no compromises when I shifted from the DSLR to mirrorless.

    Hey,
    I love your work! As someone who lived in Alaska back in the day and shot just about everything with my Minolta SR-T101, I hear ya. I have also switched to Fuji X-E1 and X-T1 but I have yet to sell my D800 and Nikon gear.
    Anyway, I will probably be back in Alaska next August as my daughter wishes to be married there. I was wondering if we can set up an aerial shoot of there Chugach mountains for her and her new husband as she is an active (and pretty decent like her dad) photographer. I “may” even let her borrow my fuji gear and leave her D700 at home.
    Drop me a note.

    I started the move to mirrorless last year for travel ease and then sold all my Nikon gear for the reasons Mr. Bailey has given. I have bought into the Fujifilm line and won’t be going back. The range of focal lengths, quality of Fujinon lenses, less weight,ability to control exposure as well as with any other system have confirmed that this is the future and there is no compromise.I have the XT-1 and the XE-1 and five lenses covering 10mm to 200mm. Did comparatives with the Nikon 600 at equal focal lengths and exposures. Fujifilm came out equal or greater in all respects. Very happy with my move. Good shooting fellow photographers.

    ” With DSLRs, you have to spend almost twice the money and carry almost twice the weight in order to get weather sealing. ”

    Hardly. The weather-sealed (body and lens) Pentax K-50 with and 18-135mm is $699 and includes in-body image stabilization. It weighs 6 oz. more than the comparable Fuji setup. (The K-50 with 18-135mm is rated 4.7 stars out of 5 by reviewers while the Fuji with 18-135mm is rated 4.4). The Fuji kit is currently $1599 (with a $300 instant rebate) which means you’ve got $900 either left in your pocket or to spend on more lenses, etc.

    With the new 24.3 Pentax K-3 II you’ve got even more capability (flagship performance and built-in GPS and AstroTrack for tripod mounted astrophotography). NOBODY even comes close in bang-for-the-buck (although the K-3II is admittedly heavier than the K-50 option).

    I am one of the official photographers for the Multiple Sclerosis Society shooting some of the walks in Southern California. I developed tendonitis in my right arm from carrying the heavy pro camera and lenses.. I tried an Olympus OMD 5 markII and will never go back to the heavy pro cameras and lenses again. Additionally I shoot landscapes and wildlife. This light weight camera affords the flexibility to move fast focus quickly and at 10 frames a second, i get my ideal captures.
    Your article can help change the mind set of many a photographer.

    Being well into my 80’s and still hiking national parks and the local mountains I started to find my D800 heavy. After researching my lightweight options I went for the XT-1. After years of Nikon it was a bit of a culture shock but it’s great to go back to turning dials and not digging into menus, and the results speak for themselves. The cameras and lenses just seem to have a look and feel of quality too. Another happy Fuji camper.

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