David Noton has been shooting landscapes and travel for over 30 years, during which time he has seen technology change enormously. When he began, he was carrying around a heavy large-format film camera. Later he used medium-format kit, and since 2005 he has shot with Canon DSLRs. But during the past 18 months, he has been transitioning to shooting with mirrorless cameras, which has in turn changed the kinds of images he produces.
David, who runs a freelance photography business in Dorset, England, has shot images in countless locations around the world, to be used by commercial and editorial clients or sold as fine art prints. Here he shares his experiences in moving to mirrorless.
When you're on the move, the portability of gear is an important consideration. "In the past, I've travelled the world with huge great camera bags, multiple bodies, multiple lenses and heavy tripods," David says. "However, recently I've done a few trips when I've literally gone abroad with just one camera, the Canon EOS R, two lenses and no tripod. That's an incredible change."
David began using the Canon EOS R when the camera was launched in September 2018. Until then, his main camera body was the Canon EOS 5DS R, which he still loves to use for the highest quality images made possible thanks to its 50.6MP sensor.
"For landscape work, obviously you need the very best kit, because you're taking pictures which you hope will ultimately be printed large and hanging on a wall," he says. "Any camera has to be a balance between portability and quality, and I'm constantly amazed by the quality that's possible from a full-frame camera, whether it's mirrorless or DSLR."
DSLRs are still very much a part of David's kitbag for certain kinds of assignment. "At the moment, if I have a particular landscape shoot in mind and know where I am going and exactly what I am doing, I'd still probably take a DSLR," he says. "I love my Canon EOS 5DS R and the detail I can get from it.
"I'd also use a DSLR for different kinds of jobs – for example, I've been documenting the training of an Olympic athlete using a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II [now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III]. I still think that's a job for a DSLR. But if I want to travel light and shoot a mixture of landscape and people photography, the flexibility and portability of a mirrorless camera is so attractive."
From the outset, David says, he was impressed by the results he achieved with the Canon EOS R and its range of next-generation RF lenses. Although switching systems took some getting used to, he has embraced the possibilities mirrorless offers, from more spontaneous shooting through to being able to work in extremely low light.
"I've always preached that the best landscape pictures come about because of visualisation and planning, going back for the right light and being persistent. All of that is still true, but there are opportunities that come along when you're out on a walk on a winter's day and you get the kind of light you could have never predicted. If you've got a small camera with you in your backpack that you have in there by default, that's a tremendous advantage."
He also appreciates mirrorless features such as the electronic viewfinder (EVF). "If you're doing a night shoot, you can't see anything through an optical eyepiece, whereas an EVF will show you exactly what you're going to get. That's a big advantage – and features accessed via the EVF, such as focus peaking, are also very useful."
For David, the biggest advantages of the Canon EOS R System are the fast and responsive autofocus, the exceptional high ISO performance and the in-lens Image Stabilization – features that are being taken to the next level in the next generation of the EOS R System, the Canon EOS R5. Together they make it so much easier to shoot in low light and have enabled him to work in a new way, creating images he couldn't have done previously.
On a trip to Mexico at the beginning of 2020, David took his Canon EOS R and three RF lenses. Although he also took a lightweight tripod, he hardly used it and almost all of his shots were hand-held. "I'm not saying that tripods are now redundant, but working without a tripod does enable a more responsive and spontaneous approach, particularly for travel photography and when people are involved," he says.
David mentions one particular image (below), taken in Campeche on the Yucatan Peninsula, as an example of how the Canon EOS R System has changed his photography.
"In the past, for a picture of that beautiful architecture, taken at that time of day, I'd have picked my vantage point, set up my tripod and waited for the perfect balance of the blue in the sky and the lighting on the buildings," he says. "But with that kind of picture it's so useful to have some people in the frame to bring it to life. I love the energy a figure can give to a picture.
"In this shot, the woman crossing the road really makes a difference, particularly because she's got a child on her back and is wearing traditional Mexican dress. I was shooting with the camera hand-held at 1/10sec. With the 5-stops of Image Stabilization on the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens, combined with shooting at ISO1600, I could take a more reportage-style approach to that kind of subject. Cities are about people, and shooting them with a mirrorless camera enables me to include people even when the light is low."
Other features of the Canon EOS R System have also enabled David to expand the range of images he can produce. Shooting from above head height or down at ground level using the Vari-angle screen has allowed him to make more creative use of a situation. Silent shooting has also been useful, for example when shooting busy marketplaces or other situations where you want to capture an unposed scene or just don't want to draw attention to yourself.
The Canon EOS R’s benefits also extend to the images being produced at the printing stage. "The impressive depth of detail the EOS R is capable of recording really makes a difference, especially when making large prints," says David. "Shadow details can really bring a picture to life. I can expose for highlights when shooting, knowing I'll be able to retain an impressive amount of detail in the darkest shadows in the final image."
Aside from changing the way he works and the images he shoots, David says one of the most attractive aspects of shooting mirrorless is that it's fun to do. "Lugging a big bag on a crowded metro train is just a burden that takes all the fun out of shooting," he says. "Now I'm really enjoying my photography, and that's really important.
"I also enjoy the way camera equipment is evolving. You don't stand still as a photographer, and technology is part of it. The things you want to photograph and the way you want to photograph should keep changing, and you need to keep experimenting. I can't just say a certain type of landscape is what I have done and always will do. The goalposts are always moving, and adopting new technology helps keep my work fresh."