Adventure sports photographer Gabe Rogel grew up loving mountain climbing and snow skiing. While studying photography in college, he sold a few photos and that led to a realization: “This is what I want to do.” He did it, too. And now he’s doing it with Sony mirrorless cameras.
Finding equipment that’s both compact and light is important to every outdoor sportsman, as well as every outdoor sports photographer. Rogel’s no different. So while he certainly loves the space savings, size wasn’t what first inspired him to abandon a bulky DSLR for a compact mirrorless camera. It was Sony’s video expertise in particular that prompted him to make the switch.
“I reached out to Sony a little over two years ago,” Rogel says, “just to say, ‘I’d love to check out some of your stuff.’ I tested a whole slew of stuff, like their little teeny NEX-6, which I brought to Alaska—it’s really small and mirrorless, not full frame, but interchangeable lenses—and I wore that thing around my neck for 10 days on assignment for Outside magazine. It was kind of revolutionary. I’ve never had a camera like that. Then I tested out their bigger DSLRs and some video cameras, and then the 7 series came out and it just kind of blew everybody out of the water. Me included, of course.”
“The biggest thing is that I was getting into video pretty heavily,” he says, “and I knew Sony was doing some really cool stuff with video. And from the little bit of research I had done, they had some video features on their DSLRs that Canon didn’t have, and still doesn’t have. I think Sony is on to something, and of course when the A7 came out it was like, oh this is awesome. They are really doing some cool stuff.”
The A7 was Rogel’s tipping point, but it’s not the only camera in his arsenal. He tends to change cameras as assignment needs dictate.
“I have a quiver of stuff,” he says, “and depending on what I’m shooting it really varies in size and weight. Everything from a point a shoot in my pocket, which is pretty rare, to a big full-blown DSLR with full lenses and all that stuff. And then the A7 system is somewhere in between. That is really becoming my go-to setup for everything.”
The Sony A7s is Rogel’s camera of choice in particular for multimedia assignments that involve both stills and video. He took it on assignment to Nepal last fall, convincing the client it was the ideal camera for the production.
“The A7s is super video specific,” he explains, “and it’s great in low light. I had a big commercial video project in the Himalayas and I had a gear budget and when they asked what camera I would like to bring, I told them the A7s. It was just coming out and everyone was geeking out and drooling over it, and they were all excited. They wanted to check it out and play with it too. I bought two of those for that trip and a couple lenses and it was great up to altitude and in the cold. It was cool to use a little teeny camera that sits in the palm of your hand for a big client.”
How did that big client feel about its big budget shoot being carried out with a teeny little camera?
“They loved it,” Rogel says. “They were like, okay, we trust you and we understand. But they had been a little wary because it had just come out and no one really knew what to expect.”
Rogel was pleased too. Video, after all, is still relatively new to him. The new medium was inspired as much by the desire to branch out creatively as it was client demand.
“It was just an interest in learning something totally new,” he says, “telling stories differently. I’ve started to pick up more and more projects, which feels great, but it’s still kind of evolving. It’s a way to keep things fresh. If you’ve been interested in photography since you were 10, you can kind of… I don’t know if burn out is the right word, but you’ve got to find new ways.”
“What a great way to learn something new and challenge myself,” Rogel continues. “And I get to go on these really fun, cool adventures which is again half the reason for the original passion and why I wanted to get into photography in the first place—just to travel with my friends all over the world and hopefully get paid to do it. And with the evolution of cameras all shooting video and phones and everything else shooting beautiful, high-def video, clients were asking for it more. They said, ‘Okay, if we are going to send you to X, Y and Z, can you do both?’ And I sort of learned quickly to try to stray away from that because it’s a ton of work and really can be challenging. It’s doable, but it’s a bit of a nightmare.”
Anyone who has shot stills and video on the same assignment know
s how difficult it is to move seamlessly from one to the other. Rogel has learned that switching on the fly almost always means compromising both the photos and the video.
“You can flip the switch,” he says, “but it’s more about how your brain is working and creatively it feels tricky. I remember this trip, I think it was two years ago, I went to Iceland and was there with some skiers, just three of them. All of them were sponsored, and one client wanted a ski video, a little piece on one of their ski models, and then the other two skiers wanted still photos. So I literally would set up and one of them would ski by and I would have to shoot video, and then the next one would come by and I would come back for a photo, and that would happen for two weeks straight. It was chaotic and I just felt ridiculous. I mean, it worked and everyone was happy, but I think it’s nice to try to separate the two.”
One of Rogel’s favorite features about the Sony A7 series is also one of the simplest: the articulating LCD screen.
“For video,” he says, “having a swivel screen is huge. Get down low, get up high… My $6,000 1DX doesn’t do that. But it’s a feature that I really love. The other big one is focus peaking. I’ve had a Zacuto viewfinder and a few different viewfinder things and I just don’t want to mess around with those things in the field. It takes more time, athletes are waiting for me, I just want to be quick and light and be able to just run and gun some stuff and with focus peaking. I really like keeping things simple.”
“And then there’s a whole slew of other features that I’ve come to love,” Rogel says. “Real slow motion. Shooting 60 frames a second at 1080. A Canon 5D Mark III, it doesn’t shoot 60 frames a second. I think Sony is leading the charge, especially on the video side of things.”
It may not have been size and weight that prompted him to switch, but Rogel is definitely enjoying the benefits of the compact mirrorless form factor.
“The size and weight thing is a no-brainer,” he says. “My pack is probably, I don’t know, maybe 8 or 10 lbs. lighter? But that’s pretty noticeable on your back. Going back to my Canon stuff, it feels like bricks. I was going back and forth between the two for a year and a half, every time I picked them up I said I felt like a child with this massive thing, just a giant camera in my hand started to feel awkward. It was so big and heavy. This is after shooting with Canon stuff for 20 years. It started to feel unnatural, which is kind of cool; at first it was the other way around. Literally just two months ago I finally sold all my Canon stuff. I said, alright, I’m going to fully commit here because I don’t want anything holding me back.”