Author: Joel Wolfson
My last mirrorless post was about my “Wow!” moment with the A7R II and why I switched to mirrorless after decades of using DSLRs. It’s been about a year and now that the honeymoon is over, do I still like using my mirrorless system? Short answer: Yes. Like any successful relationship, there are challenges along the way but I still enjoy day to day life with my Sony A7 system. I recognize the flaws but overall the pros outweigh the cons.
Now that I’ve been using the Sony A7 full frame system for nearly a year (A7 II and A7R II) and using a variety of lenses (3 Zeiss, 1 Sony) it’s a good time to point out the pros and cons. Because I’ve owned both Canon and Nikon DSLR systems they are my basis for comparison. Your own mileage may vary.
Lightweight and compact: This was a major factor for me, particularly because I travel a lot and it’s really nice not to have to carry as much weight and bulk around. In spite of the small size and weight you still get a full frame 42MP sensor with spectacular dynamic range and low light capabilities.
No chimping required: The eye level electronic viewfinder (EVF) essentially allows you to see a preview of your final image before you fire the shutter. Yes, you can use live view on your Canon or Nikon but you have to pull the camera away from your eye yielding an unsteady grip or necessitating a tripod and it’s very slow and clunky.
If your exposure or other settings are incorrect, even way off on your DSLR, you won’t know it until you take it away from your eye and look at the review image on the LCD (aka “chimping”). In the ideal world we should check our settings every time we pick up the camera. But in the real world we sometimes see something cool, grab the camera and shoot before we realize we had the exposure compensation, white balance, ISO or something else set for a completely different situation from the last time we used the camera.
Depth of field preview: Although you can allegedly “preview” depth of field on many DSLRs the viewfinder can get very dark as you stop down, especially if you’re in low light. With an EVF you can see it all through a bright viewfinder and previewing depth of field is much easier.
Low light: Although some DSLRs are spectacular performers at high ISO in low light, it can be difficult to see through the viewfinder, especially if you’re using a slower lens (eg. Canon 24-105 f4.0 L or Nikon 24-120 f4.0G). The EVF on the Sony allows you to see in the dark with a bright viewfinder even in very low light. Add to that trying to see the effect of depth of field with the lens stopped down and a DSLR viewfinder becomes useless.
Manual focusing: Because the A7RII has focus peaking indicators and instant magnification in the viewfinder you can manually focus easily, precisely and in low light compared to DSLRs which are more difficult to focus manually through the viewfinder. The focus peaking indicators aren’t super accurate though still useful.
Rendering quality of Zeiss lenses: Sony has had a long relationship with Zeiss and many of the lenses made for Sony cameras are Zeiss. Of course the technical performance of Zeiss lenses is stellar but there’s also a quality or look to how they render on the A7R II that is beautiful. Interestingly that distinctive rendering isn’t as obvious on the A7 II body. I can’t explain that but it may be due to the fact that the A7R II has no anti-aliasing filter and the A7 II does. The standout favorite of my Zeiss lenses is the Batis 85mm f1.8. Not only does it render beautifully but is one of the sharpest lenses I’ve ever used (Nikon’s 85 1.8G is comparable technically but doesn’t have the distinctive rendering)
I’m not privy to Zeiss’s influence on Sony’s own designs and manufacturing but the Sony lenses I’ve used also have very nice rendering on the A7R II. In my mind, photographic equipment is merely a set of tools to communicate something meaningful to me as an artist and also to the viewer. So although not as tangible as features or specs the rendering can be an extra tool of communication, particularly when trying to convey a sense of something more subtle (but still very important) like beauty or warmth.
Other pros: In-body 5 axis stabilization means you still get stabilization with non-stabilized lenses. There are also numerous lens adapters so you can use your Canon, Leica, and other lenses on the A7 bodies. Although I no longer have my Canon gear, the Metabones EF adapter is highly regarded because it allows full autofocus capabilities with Canon lenses.
Not a deal breaker but the built in wi-fi and corresponding smartphone apps make it very easy to transfer images to my iPhone from the camera so I can send off a lower res version right away. I can also use my iPhone to control the camera.
Menus: They are kind of a mess with little logic to the order or access. Especially annoying is placement of the format option which I use frequently. Also no place (eg. “My Menu”) to store frequently used options. It’s possible Sony will update this via firmware as they’ve made other significant upgrades this way.
Autofocus Tracking: Although much better in the A7R II than previous models, if your main interest is sports then don’t give up your Nikon D4/D5 or Canon 1Dx. Granted these are very different cameras but one camera can’t do everything and the Sony A7 bodies are simply not made for super fast AF tracking.
Battery life: There are settings you can use to help conserve battery power (eg. turn on “Airplane” mode) but in general the battery life is poor compared to Canon or Nikon DSLRs. It’s not a huge deal but still annoying because it requires more frequent changing of batteries.
Eye sensor: There is a built-in sensor in the eyepiece that switches from the LCD display on the back to the viewfinder when you put your eye up to the camera. It’s handy but too sensitive with no way to reduce the sensitivity enough. If you are using the handy flip-up LCD to shoot video, for instance, your image blacks out every time you get the camera close to your body because it trips the sensor. This may not affect many people but I find this to be an oversight on Sony’s part.
After using the Sony A7 system in a variety of situations for a year or so, I’ve come to the conclusion that I still like using the system for the reasons cited above under “Pros” and in my previous article. I continue to keep my eye on developments in camera technology but there would have to be pretty compelling reasons for me to switch systems at this point.
Happy Shooting Everyone!
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