Photog Denied Park Permit Because His Mirrorless Camera Lacks a Mirror

There was once a time when you could more easily spot a professional photographer simply by glancing at the camera equipment in a person’s hands. Was it a beast of a camera with a gigantic lens attached to it? You’re looking at a serious shooter. Is it a dinky pea shooter that is used with arms outstretched? The person is a tourist, newbie, or both.

Nowadays, as serious hardware and specs are increasingly found in smaller cameras and new types of cameras, the distinction is rapidly blurring and fading away. Unfortunately, there are people who still haven’t caught on to this fact. That’s what Gordon Laing, the founder of Cameralabs, found out the hard way earlier this month.

Back on October 8, Laing was visiting Antelope Canyon in Arizona, the most-photographed slot canyon in the American Southwest. You might recognize it:

For safety reasons, accessing the canyons can normally only be done through guided tours. However, there are special permits offered to serious photographers that allow for two-hour self-guided explorations of the area. Having used this system once in the past, Laing was hoping to do it again. However, this time he was denied a permit. The reason given? His mirrorless camera lacks a mirror.

Laing writes,

I’d already been identified as a potentially serious photographer due to my tripod, but then the man in the ticket office asked to see my camera. I produced my Panasonic GX1 to which he asked ‘does that have a mirror?’ ‘No!’ I proudly replied, to which he said ‘then you can’t have a permit’! He then explained that permits were only granted to people carrying DSLRs or film cameras, especially larger formats. This makes sense as it separates the serious photographers from the tourists with the point-and-shoots on wobbly tripods. To keep the crowds flowing through the Canyons, the latter would be kept in tour groups, while only the former would be allowed to roam free.

It’s a fine idea, but like all these things, where do you draw the line and importantly which side will you be on? Well, the managers of Antelope Canyons in their wisdom drew the line with mirrors. I was actually told I could not have a self-guided photographer’s permit because I had a mirror-less camera. I of course tried to explain my camera was every bit as serious as a DSLR in terms of quality, control and lens choice, but he was adamant: no mirror, no permit.

Eventually he was offered a compromise: he wouldn’t have to participate in a 20-person tour, but he did need a personal guide to accompany him.

Although Laing ended the day quite satisfied with the photos he shot while on his private tour, he takes issue with how the ticket office chooses to determine the seriousness of a photographer:

[…] I remain concerned by the management’s judgment call on what constitutes a serious camera – or at least one serious enough to allow an independent permit. The guy behind the counter knew what he was looking for, and had already identified my camera as mirror-less before even asking. Last time I visited with a medium format film camera, which ticked all the right boxes for the permit, but this time my choice of camera actually prevented the access I desired.

I genuinely believe mirror-less cameras are the future, and while it’ll take a while before they dominate DSLRs, more and more of us will start using them as our cameras of choice, especially when travelling. I’ve always enjoyed jesting with friends about who’s carrying the most ‘serious’ camera, or chatting with pros who often feel they have to carry a big camera to be taken seriously by clients, but this is the first time I’ve been inconvenienced or potentially compromised due to my choice of carrying a mirror-less camera.

Major shifts in industries and technologies can take time to propagate through the general public. Until that happens, early adopters may find these “inconveniences” too common for comfort.

Antelope Canyon – got a mirrorless camera? No permit for you! [Gordon Laing via Trey Ratcliff]

Thanks for sending in the tip, Chris!

Image credits: PANASONIC GX1 by .:fotomaf:., photograph by Lucas Löffler, and Start of a fantastic journey through Lower Antelope Canyon, near Page, Arizona by Alaskan Dude

  • Eric Blackburn

    I am a professional videographer/photographer who has invested lots of money in equipment and accessories. On my day off I took the family for a picnic and hike through a national park. I took my low end Canon 7D and a 50mm lens for family photos.

    It wasn’t too soon that I was asked by a ranger to produce a permit. After the regular go-around I wound up calling the Permit Office to argue the situation. Their response was, “Anyone who takes more then 5 photos with a subject (family or model) may require a permit.

    I think this is a sly way for the crashing national parks to legally take money from the unsuspecting. Shame on them!

  • rmz

    The Rules are for Your Protection ;-)

  • Henning Nilsen

    Indeed. He was the one that taught me the fundamentals behind photography.

  • Mansgame

    Everybody is a victim I guess. For years DSLR users are denied taking their cameras into events because it’s too professional and everybody is ok with it, but the minute someone can’t get their point and shoot in there, it’s a travesty and we should feel bad for you.

  • Ralph Berrett

    I wonder if the camera had been a Leica rangefinder? ;)

  • poradnik fotograficzny

    Can’t disagree. I almost never am allowed to take my DSLR to ANY event as a private person. Meanwhile when someone doesn’t let you go with mirrorless – there are already an articles about it and people whining (not pointing at you Gordon, but just read the comments around).

    How about we start demanding an access for DSLR to events? So hobby photographers would actually be allowed to enjoy what their love in public events? This would have far more reason than complaining about not being allowed to take mirrorless onto ONE event.

  • Tom Upton

    Uh, yeah, but who knew? This is just dumb. (And, besides, serious photographer hate those mirrorless little thingies. Until they see the files. God Save us all.

  • Radman

    What happen to business cards and press passes. Forget the camera that is what shows who is a professional. How about we take our tax reports with us or call my insurance company to see if I can get a bond. Cameras are just boxes.

  • Tom Upton

    Wow, park people trying to separate the pros from the wannabes. Seems the intentions were in the right place but they were behind in their homework. But I understand somewhat…I am not a huge fan of the micro 4/3rds Mini-Me cameras hardware-wise. Focus and operation are really skewed toward brainelss-mode by people who do not shoot for a living or for avocation. Sensors now beat lenses in performance, so I am skeptical about yet smaller lenses. But heck, I am old and will be dead soon, and my loved ones will have to pry fingers from my Nano3/16ths PhaseOne with the 250mb sensor. Smiley face.

  • Tom Upton


  • NYCShooter

    “Having to take a tour of a beautiful place with other people?! This is an absolute TRAVESTY!!” …said the Darfur orphans

  • No More

    Why should they care one way or another. Too many forms of Authoritarianism any more.

  • pseingalt

    Institutions have difficulty keeping up with technology. Are the behemoth over-the-shoulder cameras necessary for quality videography? No. But nothing screams “professional” and “permit access” like such a device.

  • quickpick

    what about useless happy sunday snapshooters with overblown serious gear? it’s a bit ridiculous to segregate cameras by their “seriousness”. why not make a price range limit also? say camera bodies under 1500$, lenses under 1000$ and tripods under 500$ need not to apply.. and you also need to have certain brand of outdoors wear, camera vests and boots to conform to the serious rule.. :D

  • DB

    Antelope Canyon is part of the Navajo Nation Tribal Parks. It is not part of the U.S. National Park system. The Navajo Nation is a sovereign nation with its own laws and enforcement.

    Visitation to Antelope Canyon (both Upper and Lower) requires the purchase of a permit to travel on NN land as well as a required guide. To get a photo permit for Upper Antelope usually requires hiring a guide that provides a 2-hour tour rather than the standard 1-hour tour.

    A photo permit for Lower Antelope is a bit easier. Demonstrate that you are a pro. This can be a simple as having a tripod. Worked for me. My first visit used an old film camera (Nikon FM); my second visit used a digicam (Panasonic Lumix FZ18); my third visit was with a Nikon D700. In each case, I simply asked for the photo tour and was given the permit.

    The number of people visiting this canyon is increasing dramatically and there may come a time in the near future when visitation is limited. Limiting travel to guided tours is part of that process.

    Someone suggested firing the employee. Considering these are family businesses, I don’t see that happening since it was likely a family member or close friend.

    These are Navajo lands. Their land — their rules.

    All things considered, it sounds like Gordon got his photos and all ended well.

  • David W.

    Actually on some other part of the world (for example Borobudur temple in Indonesia), having non-DSLR camera could allow you to easily go in, since you are considered as normal tourist. While if you bring in DSLR (looked serious) you possibly could be charged with some admin fee.

    But unfortunately, in any of the cases, the place organizer now realize that the best time to take photograph in this area is very early in the morning (sunrise) and close to sunset. There’s special permit that need to be issued to photograph outside of “normal” tourist time. Tens years ago, when I was a kid, I could still stay there until dark…

  • Henry Carmona

    He wont be because those in power to caution, or fire, him are the same ones who expect him to enforce this policy.

  • Felipe Melazzi

    I love how this article contrast with “pro-cameras-are-getting-banned-on-certain-things” articles.
    There’s even a related one here in petapixel: “the ridiculousness of banning only dslr cameras from music concerts”

  • riff-raff

    Spoken like a real snob

  • Erik Corr

    Next time lie and bring a second camera DSLR APS-C

  • gochugogi

    Haha, I love my little GX1 but I’d reach for my 6D or 5D2 if going to all the time and expense of shooting in Antelope Canyon.