Why I switched to the Sony Mirrorless System for Backpacking

A great deal of my landscape photography is conducted on long backpacking trips into the mountains of Colorado. As such, in late 2016, I made a conscious and well-calculated decision after months of research and spreadsheet manipulation to switch from Nikon F-mount system to Sony FE-mount system. At the time, I was photographing with the "Nikon trinity" (Nikon 14-24 f/2.8, Nikon 24-70 f/2.8, Nikon 70-200 f/2.8) set-up and it was killing my legs and my back. A change needed to happen. I found myself leaving lenses home to save weight. I was regularly hitting 50-60 pounds in weight for my backpacking trips, and I really was tired of hauling that much weight up into the rugged Colorado mountains that I so greatly adore. I also have been known to carry all of my camera equipment up to the tops of Colorado's highest peaks (as documented here) and so a lighter set-up was surely something I could appreciate.

Big Blue WildernessBig Blue WildernessI have always appreciated the amazing fall color scenes available at Silver Jack Reservoir east of Ridgway, Colorado. This year, I strived to obtain a photograph that no other photographer has (to my knowledge). I wanted a view of the totality of the Big Blue Wilderness - both the Middle Fork Cimarron valley (right) and the East Fork Cimarron valley (left). The East Fork Cimarron terminates with the massive 14,309 ft. Uncompahgre Peak, accentuated by amazing cliffs and fall colors along the valley. The Middle Fork Cimarron terminates with an impressive view of both 13,642 ft. Redcliff and 13,656 ft. Coxcomb Peak. Splitting the two valleys is the impressive combination of 12,742 ft. Dunsinane Mountain (the bright pinnacle at center) and 13,144 ft. Precipice Peak (the pointy peak above and right of Dunsinane). This may be one of the grandest scenes I've witnessed in my life.

Sony A7R II / Sony FE 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 / f/11 / 70mm (panorama) / ISO 100 / 1/50s

I won't spend a lot of time trying to convince you that pack weight is important; however, I will state a fact: the lighter your backpack, the further you can hike. The further you can hike the more you can see and photograph. It is truly as simple as that. For example, this past summer, I was able to backpack several miles into a remote location called "Vestal Basin" here in Southwest Colorado to obtain this photograph of my favorite mountain, Vestal Peak, at sunrise. This rigorous hike was so much more bearable with a lightweight kit.

My Heart Spills into Vestal PeakMy Heart Spills into Vestal PeakIt is probably no secret that my favorite place on Earth is this remote, rugged, somewhat treacherous, and magical valley nestled just a short distance of home in Durango - Vestal Basin. These peaks have an incredibly strong hold on my soul. Picture this - to get here, I backpacked all of my camera equipment up 6,000 feet on a insanely tough trail. I then woke up at 1 AM to climb up to the upper basin and photograph the Milky Way and sunrise. All for the passion of capturing that one moment I've had nestled in my mind for years.

Sony A7R II / Zeiss Loxia 21 f/2.8 / f/13 / 21mm / ISO 100 / 1/50s

Sure, I could have probably reduced my weight by switching to Nikon primes, but I was also really enamored by the Sony A7RII camera and sensor. I pondered switching to Fuji as well, but through meticulous research I realized that the Fuji system would not stand up to the rigorous requirements I have come to expect out of my gear for astrophotography and post-processing. Sure, the Fuji system is really good, but I just was not ready to compromise to an APS-C set-up. Can you create great images with the Fuji system? Absolutely. Are they as good as the Sony system? Not in my opinion. 

Secondarily, I found that the Sony lens line-up had all of the right ingredients I was looking for - a nice wide-angle lens with amazing sunstars and useful for astrophotography work (Zeiss Loxia 21), a light-weight fast mid-range prime lens with fantastic astrophotography uses (Sony FE 55 f/1.8), and a lightweight versatile telephoto lens for backpacking (Sony FE 70-300). By switching to this set-up, I have effectively reduced my pack weight by 4.6 pounds, which is quite a lot if you start to think about how backpacking pack weight impacts your ability to go far and see more. You can see the results of the pairing of the Sony A7RII & Sony FE 55 f/1.8 below - a very light weight kit (2 pounds total) capable of photographing the night sky in fantastic detail. This shot was from the top of a remote mountain in Southwest Colorado, only reachable via a long backpacking trip, which was so much easier with a lightweight kit.

in·fin·i·tes·i·malin·fin·i·tes·i·malWhen I realized that the Milky Way would line up directly above my two favorite Colorado mountains - Vestal Peak and Arrow Peak - at 2:30 AM, I set my alarm for 1:00 AM at my 12,200 foot campsite to climb to 13,000 feet to witness it.

Sony A7R II / Sony FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA / f/2.2 / 55mm / ISO 10,000 / 10s

If you too are looking to reduce your pack weight for backpacking or hiking, consider using my Camera Gear Comparison and Selection Tool. I will be updating it over time with more useful information and capabilities. I think it is incredibly useful for comparing kits or even identifying lighter set-ups in your current Canon or Nikon kits. I have added most of the Sony full-frame camera and lens line-up as well as the Nikon and Canon equivalents. Full ethical disclosure - Sony is not promoting me to provide this tool to you; however, the links to B+H in the tool are affiliate links and therefore if you use them and make a purchase, I do receive a small bit of monetary compensation. I hope you find the information and tool useful and therefore do help me out in that way.

The tool uses excel online so that you don't need any special software to use it. Enjoy!

I'm always looking for feedback, so feel free to leave your comments here on how I can improve the tool for your needs.