Gabe Rogel Made the Switch

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.

That’s the thing with the A7R mark 2 coming out… I think with all of the A7s now out there, it’s like, okay, this is getting a little ridiculous, do you really need to have all these A7 models? The A7, the A7R the A7S, the IIs, and with this camera they really created one camera that does both stills and video and does both really, really well. Low-light capabilities, etcetera. I guess we’ll see if it does, I’m sure it does, but I love that idea. I even think the original A7 did both quite well.

“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.”

Yeah, my whole life revolved around skiing in the winter, climbing in the summer. And when photography came into play, I was actually working as a climbing guide here in Bellingham. I was a guide in college and I was toting a camera along at the same time. I started selling some of those and yeah, it was definitely this deliberate sort of decision, it was definitely my passion and I do feel so lucky that it wall worked out.

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.”

I definitely feel I can switch back and forth and it is more, yeah first and foremost it’s about the creativity and the excitement about creating a beautiful image or video clip or telling a story. That’s always, hopefully, at the root of an assignment or the passion behind creating an image. But yeah, secondary is, what is the best way to create that image and what is the best tool for it? For me going out in the mountains, you know, size and weight, especially, both those things are really crucial and really coming from the climbing world and back country skiing world, those things, weight in particular. It’s always like this mantra with gear: light and fast, light and fast is this mantra for climbing. And it really applies to the camera gear, too, and that’s when you know the timing was sort of serendipitous when I started testing some equipment.

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.”

I’m pretty much going to some other country to shoot a commercial project for an outdoor brand and while I’m there I really, I’m trying to get better at it, but I really enjoy shooting sports, local portraits, and random landscape stuff.

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.”

I’ve never been one to like sit there and just totally analyze the quality of an image like there are guys that will geek out over one lens, one 50 millimeter lens and I’m just… Everyone got into the nitty gritty stuff and the techy stuff like that. The image quality is great and I can’t wait to see it on this A7r II, I’m sure it’s going to be through the roof. I’m sure it’s going to be insane.

“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.”

Yeah, I think I was. And the proof is that, after trying them out, I bought the gear before I was working with Sony. I bought an A7 and a couple full frame lenses with my own money and no good deals or anything like that. Yeah, so I don’t know, I really believed in kind of all the things we’ve talked about and enough so that I’m going to invest in this and I can honestly say this, that even if I wasn’t working with Sony, I mean, I would be right where I’m at right now in terms of camera gear.

On all Sony’s I think, yeah pretty much all of them, they have focus peaking. You can choose the color, the amount of peaking, there is high, medium or low, I usually put it on medium at red and I can see and focus really quickly and easily when I’m shooting video or even stills for that matter.


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