Over the years, as I’ve gotten more interested in photography, I’ve been upgrading my camera body every two years. I started with a Canon fixed lens back in 2003, but eventually got the Canon 40D, then upgraded two years later to the Canon 7D, then upgraded again, two years after that to the Canon 5d III.

I love the Canon 5D III. It is the best camera I’ve ever used, and even with the same exact lens I always use (24-70 mm f/2.8) my photos just looked… better. Amazing even. I mean, better than I felt I had any right for my photos to look. Afterall, I hadn’t earned that improvement by practicing, I just bought a new camera and BAM, my photos looked more professional.

A lot of photographers say, “It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer” but those same people all have top of the line cameras. The reason? They really do produce better results.

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This image was taken by Trey Ratclif with his Sony NEX-7

Yet, here I am after saying all of this and I am considering downgrading — or at least switching — my camera to something smaller. The heft and size of the Canon 5d with my walking-about lens (24-70mm) is cumbersome. When you’re traveling with children, usually carrying one, it means you take less photos. Or no photos. So how great are the photos I’m taking these days? I have no idea, I haven’t taken them.

Yeah so I have a very large and expensive paper weight with it’s own special backpack, that we carry around with us everywhere, but we can hardly ever can be bothered to pull it out… I actually have to schedule time to take photos for the blog, when I can be on my own. So many lost opportunities! I just accepted this until I was inspired by professional photographer Trey Ratclif who recently switched to the Sony NEX-7 from his dSLR and loves it. Are there compromises? Yes. The images won’t be as good (technically, although they produce great results). Low light will be a problem. Bokeh, that blurry background that everyone loves, isn’t as nice or pronounced (although a non-photographer might not even notice).

But I would take more photos. I could carry it in one hand and a baby in the other. It also costs a lot less.

The truth is, the technology has come so far, that it is possible to get high quality, even professional photos, without using a dSLR. This wasn’t true five years ago, not even close, but things have changed. Trey Ratclif wrote a post about it, dSLRS Are a Dying Breed, 3rd Gen Cameras Are the Future.

So after weighing it for a while, I’ve decided to sell my Canon 5D, my lens and switch over to a mirrorless camera. In two weeks I’ll be in the US and I can sell it then, and purchase a replacement. After quizzing my photographer friends, chatting about it on Facebook and doing a ton of research, here are what I think are the two best mirrorless cameras available at the moment:

Sony NEX-7

Olympus OM-D-M5

But just because a camera is the best in it’s class, doesn’t mean it’s the best one for you. The two cameras above will work really well for individual photographers, but you have to first consider the kind of photography that you do.

Trey Ratclif uses the Sony NEX-7 and loves it. However, you have to keep in mind that for his kind of photography, he’s setting up a tripod and taking landscape photos with bracketted exposures (that’s how he gets the HDR effect). My concern is that for what I do, which is travel photos (hand held street shots), portraits, food photography (particularly in low light in restaurants) and some HD video, what works for Trey might not work for me.  For lowlight, the max ISO setting is going to make a big difference and the Sony has 16000 and the Olympus is 25600. For Trey, this doesn’t matter, but for me, it’s critical (by the way, the Olympus has the same ISO as my Canon 5D so I am very pleased). The Olympus also has a great in-body stablization system so less camera shake. On the other hand, the Olympus has a smaller sensor, which is not good — it makes a big difference in getting those cool shots with lots of blur in the background. It’s also important in landscape photography, which no doubt is why Trey went with the Sony.

Ultimately, it came down to seeing Tony and Steph at 20yearshence.com with their Olympus OM-D-M5, which they rave about. The lowlight factor and camera shake are more important to me (if I have to choose) than sensor size and although my Canon 5D is far superior, the advantages of a lighter, easier to carry camera seem to make the sacrifice worth it.

Adorama says this: “With its new 16MP sensor, the Olympus OM-D-EM5 is the clear leader among cameras with Four Thirds sized sensors with an overall score of 71. That’s 10 points above the closest competitor and, surprisingly, rivals typical DSLR quality circa a couple of years ago.”

So really, all I’m doing is going back to the camera I had in 2010. For less than 1/3 the price and less than 1/2 the weight, I can live with that.

What do you think? I would love feedback from anyone who made the switch or is familar with these models. Do you think Trey is right, is the dSLR going away for all but the most heavy photography user (like sports photographers)? Am I crazy to go from a full frame dSLR to a mirrorless camera?

Other resources:

Olympus OM-D-EM5 vs Canon 5D Mark III

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 vs Nikon D800 vs Leica X2 for High ISO

(Technical spec) Comparison of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 vs Sony NEX-7

Full-size sample photos from Olympus OM-D E-M5

Myanmar with my OM-D E-M5

Full-size sample photos from Sony Alpha NEX-7

Snowy Owls and the NEX-7

A flickr pool of Olympus OM-D EM-5 shots