Matt Payne Photography Blog: Why I Switched To The Sony Mirrorless System For Backpacking

December 8, 2017

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 Wilderness

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 autumn, I backpacked to a remote location near Carbondale, Colorado to get a unique vantage of my favorite 14er, Capitol Peak. I came away with some absolutely stunning images after a very difficult hike into this remote ridgeline. This rigorous hike was so much more bearable with a lightweight kit.

Capitol Peak on Fire
In September, 2018, I experienced one of the more exhilarating moments from my photography adventures to date. My friend and I backpacked to a remote location west of Carbondale, Colorado that he had found on Google Earth. We chose this location for its unique vantage of 14,131 ft. Capitol Peak and hoped there would be a nice pairing of autumn color to go with that view. We spent hours on this remote ridge looking for the absolute best compositions. A storm rolled through the area and we both thought our chances of photographing Capitol Peak at sunset were ruined until at the very last moment of light created by the setting sun, a beam of intense red light cast amazing color across the west and south faces of Capitol Peak. The amount of red in the rock was absolutely intense and fabulous. One of the best moments of the year for me.

Sony A7R II / Sony FE 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 / f/10 / 270mm / ISO 100 / 1.3s

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.


When 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 and capture it. What a glorious sight! Using careful capturing techniques, I was able to capture the core of the Milky Way and all of the surrounding stars for this incredible nightscape image from the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado.

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 / Calculator. 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.

I have always appreciated the amazing fall color scenes available at Silver Jack Reservoir east of Ridgway, Colorado. I strive...

Big Blue Wilderness (2017)

I have always appreciated the amazing fall color scenes available at Silver Jack Reservoir east of Ridgway, Colorado. I strive to obtain photographs that no other photographer has. This represents such an image, although since making this image, many have tried to copy it (imitation is the highest form of flattery, I suppose). 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 (a Fourteener), 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. Along the right valley is the impressive combination of 12,742 ft. Dunsinane Mountain and 13,144 ft. Precipice Peak. This may be one of the grandest panorama scenes I've witnessed in my life.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Learn about the story behind this photograph by watching the video below. To purchase a print, scroll down.

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