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

  • Emmet Adriaans

    Seriously… a GX1? i wouldn’t have let him in either…

  • Nicholas Santasier

    It’s funny, on any type of hike like this, I think I’d rather have the guide with me (not the tour group of course) for safety’s sake. Plus they may know interesting places to shoot that I may not.

  • Ryan Silva

    A gx1 is no slouch….

  • MNPhotog

    exactly. get a decent camera with a decent sized sensor.

  • Matt

    This is an arguably forgivable point, except that sheet film cameras don’t use mirrors either.
    If the rules are in place to prevent excessive foot traffic, then the rules almost succeeded, and are going to be pushed on by all the mirrorless camera users, thanks to this post.

  • MNPhotog

    that’s true, but then make a sensor size rule ( people using film should be allowed, since they’re probably not tourists. a GX1 is not a pro camera.

  • Luke Zeme

    Gordon is such a nice guy… Been following his youtube videos for well over a year now and he always has spot on advice to give. At least he got a private tour :-)

  • Mansgame

    I don’t have a problem with this.

  • Ed

    I have been denied access to sightseeing areas in tall buildings in Mexico City because I was carrying a ‘professional’ camera (a DSLR). I assumed that this measure would prevent visitors from producing high-quality images for unauthorized commercial purposes; however, on different occasions, I have been allowed to enter those areas carrying a mirrorless camera. I guess that one didn’t look ‘professional’. I guess mirrorless cameras are not yet considered serious enough, which can or cannot be an advantage.

  • Ryan Silva

    I love how ignorant people are to sensor size. you do realize the new wave of 16mp 4/3 sensors approach modern aps-c sensors, gee, if he went with a ancient canon 1d, would he be allowed in and would you consider that adequate since its a “pro camera”? lol

  • Bill H

    Actually this can work both ways. A few years ago at an event here in San Francisco, I pulled out my DSLR (Nikon D300) to take a shot. I was informed by event staff, “you can’t do professional photography here.”

  • dmaster

    I’d like to be stealth
    Currently in holiday, left Hasselblad, canons at home and traveled with NEX-7
    Still getting hi res files with full control

  • Truly Vintage Photo

    -Wow, really? Denied like that….I am sure he had a business card or something else that could have identified him as a pro photographer. wow. would love to photograph this canyon one day.

  • f2point8

    Then we will need a new rule every day.The best rule is: Call ahead, ask questions, plan your day.

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    I’ve had the same while attending concerts, letting me buy my ticket but upon bag search seeing my camera (Canon 7D with 50mm) I was told I couldn’t even enter the venue and then I couldn’t get a refund on my ticket! but sneaked in when security had a lapse of concentration =D

  • tttulio

    Ho yes, I imagine Sebastiao Saldago coming with his Leica and told to go away.
    Are you sure? Maybe Leica is not professional.

  • tttulio

    Every tourist has a DSLR to take pictures of their breakfasts.

  • guest

    lol like ten years ago, a lot of concert venues were very strict on even point-and-shoot cameras–I remember being escorted by a security guard mid-camera, who watched me delete every single image/video.

    now that most cell phones have decent quality cameras, it’s impractical to enforce such rules. and now that mirrorless cameras exist..

  • Libby Stack

    So what happens when someone like David Burnett shows up with his Holga? Or if I show up with my Leica?

    It sounds almost like the man at the ticket office sits on too many Canikon forums and thinks that mirrorless is still only for the unwashed masses.

  • guest

    so you don’t need any other credentials to get a permit, other than a dSLR and a couple bags of equipment? I’m a complete amateur hobbyist who’s never shot anything professionally in my life. I would get in, but this guy couldn’t? hehe good to know :)

  • Steven Yunghans

    There’s a problem with this logic though, anyone with a wad of cash or credit card can walk into a Walmart, Sears, or BestBuy and purchase a DSLR, tripod, flash, and even a small case or backpack to carry it all. Yes, the lines have been blurred.

  • Bua

    Perhaps they should do a full portfolio review and financial analysis to ensure that one has made a threshold dollar amount from photography. tis not the mirror that matters grasshopper.

  • Richard Ford

    Storm, meet teacup.

  • Lee Young

    “permits were only granted to people carrying DSLRs or film cameras, especially larger formats”

  • PD

    Fine with me, hire someone to look through portfolios and determine who has the right work to be allowed private access. That way if someone wants to go through with their arca swiss, leica, canon, holga… and take something besides the frankly standard shots (that everyone has done) they have the possibility to.

    But they wont hire someone to review this so then it might as well be a dollar value. If youre willing to pay an amount because you think it will benefit you professionally to be on your own then you will pay. If its not worth it to pay then take the standard tourist photo.

    Owning specific gear obviously proves nothing these days. Being a photographer where I consider myself a professional (owning my own photo based company and my only income source) I dont think my gear gives me special privileges because sometimes a small camera is just better than a phase back.

  • Steve

    The problem is not the camera or the photographer. The problem is the policy implementation. If the purpose of the policy is to limit foot traffic to a sensitive area and prevent vandalism, the office should have at least two options for visitors (including photographers): option 1) anyone can call in advance to schedule a ‘private’ time window (with or without a guide subject to discretion of the office), or option 2) if you haven’t called in advance, on a first-come first-served basis the office will offer a couple of standing times during normal visiting hours during which they will assign someone to be with you. By divorcing this policy from any notion of judging a person’s professionalism or equipment, you have a policy that can cover many more situations and doesn’t require a staff member to make a judgment call about camera quality.

  • Christopher King

    I see their side of it and almost appreciate the service they are doing by allowing photographers to be alone and not with a horde of gawkers… A little change may need to be done to determine a professional versus tourist however…

  • Joe Owens

    No. No nope no. If yo are going to judge someone by the mechanics of their hardware then you should by the very nature of your actions be made to keep up with the basics of the hardware as it improves over time. Whoever this idiot is should be cautioned or fired.

  • Christopher King

    Not that it helps/ matter now, but they are not legally capable of enforcing you to delete anything. They can however escort you out of a private venue.

  • michaelp42

    When I first visited Antelope Canyon it was off season and we were pretty much the only people there. Even the guide (driver) left and came back an hour or so later to collect us. I returned a few years later, and it was heaving with tourists. Way too many people for such a small canyon. No way you need a guide for Antelope Canyon, it’s now just a money making operation.

  • Ken

    What is a “pro camera?”

  • Dikaiosune01

    What about the digital Leicas, they don’t have mirrors either?

  • Renato Murakami

    Well, it’s just a quick non-perfect way of judging if someone who’s asking for something different from regular tourists deserves what they are asking for.
    Considering it’s a park and all, the less people going around to damage it, the better. Specially with tripods and such.
    These days, even having a dSLR isn’t proof enough that you are a pro photographer, much less having a mirrorless camera.
    Though it has a very simple logic: If you’re going through the hassle of buying and learning how to deal with a bulky dSLR camera, carrying all the gear with you, there are better chances of you actually doing serious work.
    Since a mirrorless camera like the Lumix GX1 is way more convenient to carry around, looking more like a point ‘n shoot, the logic doesn’t apply, even if you have a tripod…
    If we go by the complaint logic, you could be a pro photographer with a smartphone like Nokia 808 or whatever, and then anyone qualifies. The line has to be set in some easy to see and clear way so that security and guides know how to use it even if they are not photographers themselves.
    The thing is: Tomorrow you can go back there and they tell you “No, we stopped giving photographers priviledge because someone complained of how we judged them, and we don’t have time or funds to judge them how we were supposed to, so no more self-guided tours”.

  • uksnapper

    Consider the first “PRO” digital back for a Nikon,half a megapixel and $25,000 in price.
    The only person who can decide on the eqipment they use to earn a living with is the user so the criterior laid down by the Park authorities is questionable however they are understandable.So, as someone said,plan ahead phone email or write and establish your credentials,its not too hard to do and you cant expect them to keep pace with camera technology,I cant and Im a pro too :-)

  • Mike

    I’m going to glue a huge mirror to the back of my G12.

  • Fabrice Bacchella

    Perhaps the number of lens is a better indication. A 18-200 on a Canon 1100D is hardly a serious photographer, even if he carries a mirror in is camera.

  • sierrarobba

    Do they allow pellicle mirror cameras? :D

  • sierrarobba

    A Pro photog need to look every time serius! :)

  • Tim

    Petty red-tape bureaucracy stinks.

  • Thomas Toohey Brown

    It does cut both ways…it is difficult to shoot in DC w/ a pro rig or tripod…

  • miki

    you could give me any new aps-c sensor and I wouldn’t change it for my 5D mkII, you can give me any full frame (35mm) sensor and I wouldn’t change it for my 503CW and you can offer me a digital back and I would still miss the full frame option. So size matters.

  • miki

    in the end you can always pack a dslr in your bag and end up taking pictures with a smartphone or disposable camera ;)

  • Oliver

    Hm, maybe there’s a market for a kind of camouflage conversion hood feigning a DSLR which can be removed case-by-case… :)

  • kgelner

    Antelope canyon is not really a hike though. Even on the self-guided tour you see a lot of people, very often… tour groups going past every half hour or so, other self-guided photographers too. There’s no way to get lost as there are no side canyons, and the trip itself is one-way (you go down a ladder at the start and come up some stairs at the end). In general for desert hiking you are right, it’s a good idea to have someone with you but not for Antelope Canyon.

    The thing they could do for you is throw dirt in the air though (all of those shots you see with beams of light, were made by them throwing dust in the air).

  • Andreas

    And yet when I attended alive music concert with a 30 year old Pentax ME Super and just the f1.7 50mm lens attached with only 2 rolls of 1600 asa film,noone batted an eyelid! The shots were great and the music journos outside were very surprised I was allowed in! ;-)

  • Lines have been blurred

    They may have been blurred, but the lines have good bokeh to the guards. Heh.

  • Ralph Hightower

    Stupid policy. View cameras, such as 4×5 and larger, don’t have mirrors. What if the next guy is the next Ansel Adams?

  • randal

    I’ve been to this canyon which is situated on an Indian reservation, they run the tours for this site as it is on their land. This canyon is source of revenue to this particular Indian nation. It’s on their land which is considered a sovereign state, as such they have their own laws, and regarding this site their own regulations. While the writer is making a point about policy regarding photo equipment, they fail to acknowledge the aforementioned facts. So given the total context. Debate over equipment and what qualifies as professional grade seems quite trivial to the larger backdrop of genocide of an entire race of people, and how the few descendants of the survivors choose to administer affairs on one of the few sites of their land most photographers would want to go.

  • Doug Peterson

    Technically a Phase One IQ180 on a Cambo Wide RS Anniversary Edition with a Schneider 60mm Digitar lens would be “mirrorless”. As would an 8 by 10 film view camera. Still, having been to the canyon I appreciate them trying to do something to separate the photographic riff-raff from those who spend considerable time refining their craft (regardless of which camera either category has with them).

  • Nathan Blaney

    Could you have packed a dslr body or two also and then just not used it? Or would the inclusion of a mirrorless in you bag, result in the same outcome?