Changing camera systems is not something to be taken lightly. As a die-hard Nikon fan since I first got into photography, I didn’t think I would ever consider switching away from them. And yet, here I am, sitting with no Nikon kit in sight having just shot my first wedding entirely on Sony kit and no regrets.
My entire career as a professional photographer has been forged with a Nikon. I knew my D750 inside out, knew how it would meter differently in different lights, when I had to adjust things, without even looking. It was comfortable to use and yet, as my way of working has changed, and my photography has grown, the camera hadn’t quite kept up.
What’s wrong with the D750
Well, nothing really. The D750 is a fantastic camera, and for the price it’s regularly available at (under a grand pre-owned), I still think it’s one of the best all-around DSLR cameras on the market for the money. Its dynamic range is incredible, the ISO performance is fantastic and it’s a monster when it comes to focus in low light situations.
And yet, as my shooting style has evolved certain aspects of it have frustrated me at times. The buffer is pretty dire, even with fast cards in it, shooting RAW to both cards the camera chokes after 10 shots. Now for weddings, this doesn’t matter for 90% of the day, but the 10% it does matter, it started to irk me.
Similarly, the max shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second. Not a problem, unless, like me, you like to shoot wide open. My most used aperture is f/2 and after this blazing hot summer we’ve had, I was having to push the aperture higher than I’d have liked to, in order to stop highlights being blown.
Shooting in Liveview on the D750 is another letdown — the AF is awful and slow, it hunts back and forth. It’s fine if you have the time to wait, but if you’re trying to catch a moment, you’ve got no chance.
Why not the D850?
So surely my obvious choice is to upgrade to the D850 right? Bigger buffer, using even faster cards, better Liveview, touch screen focus etc. That fixes all of my concerns right?
Well yes and no. It’s a bigger camera, physically, plus I don’t need 42 megapixels for a wedding. XQD cards are expensive, with not even the sole-manufacturer of them (Sony) adopting them. Making it an expensive upgrade path, especially as I like to shoot on two identical cameras.
Sure I’d get some of the benefits that I wanted, but it wouldn’t solve all of my issues. Liveview is better than the D750, but it’s nothing special.
Mirrorless is where all cameras will end up
I did a lot of research before I made the decision to change, I tried friends cameras, I checked all the boring things like ISO performance against my Nikons and most of all, I looked into the AF accuracy and speed, because that’s what’s key as a documentary wedding photographer, capturing moments the instant they happen!
Where mirrorless used to lag behind, it’s now not the case, with AF points covering the entire frame, dual phase and contrast detect pixels making Autofocus lightning fast and the addition of Eye-AF on the Sony’s is a game changer for me. It sounds so simple, it detects the closest eye to your focus point and tracks it. But just how accurate this is and how well it tracks around the frame has to be seen to be believed.
And let’s face it, the whole idea of a mirror having to physically move to take a photo, is just, well, behind the times in this digital age.
WYSIWYG shooting, What You See Is What You Get, is where the future is and is what makes mirrorless systems a pleasure to use. No more checking to see if any highlights are blown, you know whether they are or not *before* you hit the shutter button. Real-time exposure preview through both the viewfinder and the rear screen mean no more chimping, you know what you’ve got straight away.
A week of using the Sony a7 III and the DSLR seems dated.
So how is it vs the D750?
The D750 is a fantastic camera, and for the price it can be picked up for these days, I still have the opinion that it’s one of the best buys for an all-around DSLR in most parts of its performance.
And of course, it’s an absolute monster when it comes to low light performance. And that’s where the Sony misses in one way and wins big in the other.
It loses on low light AF. It’s just not as good as the D750 at locking focus when it gets dark, period. So you might want to think about an AF assist beam, a low power video light, or pre-focussing (which is what I do for dancing shots anyway).
But when it comes to ISO performance, the Sony smashes even the mighty Nikon. With native ISO going all the way up to 51200 (which is a horrible horrible mess, but still) at any ISO that you’re likely to use, the Sony wins. Sony has even managed to get even more dynamic range out of the A7 III than the D750, which was already an impressive camera in that regards.
The D750s ultra-deep grip is better in the hand, admittedly, or at least when holding it to your face, but with me not using the viewfinder, I find the Sony sits really nicely in my hand. Although a little front-heavy with fast Sony glass attached.
There’s no weight saving once the lenses are attached, so if you think a plus of switching to mirrorless is a reduction in weight, think again! Similarly, if your work is predominantly studio based and you use flash all of the time, you’re not going to get many of the advantages of that a mirrorless system would give you. They all vanish when you introduce flash and you’re metering for exposure anyway.
But when you’re working in natural light, zebra lines highlighting the parts of the image that will have blown, or focus peaking helping you manually focus combined with being able to see the exposure before you take the shot, are simply fantastic.
What it’s like to use
The body is smaller, the grip is quite deep though and it feels comfortable in the hand. If you don’t use fast lenses, then you may get some decent weight saving out of the switch. But connecting up a 35mm f/1.4 Distagon or 85mm f/1.4 G Master is definitely not a light combination. Maybe a hundred grams lighter than my equivalent set up on the D750.
It feels nice in the hand though, the lens sits nicely on my hand, I think a bit of weight helps stabilize the camera a little. But if you’re thinking about switching just to save weight, and you’re planning on adding a fast aperture lens. Stop, step back, and think again. It won’t be lighter!
The AF is incredibly fast, the D750 was no slouch, but the Sony impresses me again and again. Eye AF which I thought was going to be a bit of a gimmick. Is quite simply, incredible, it’s fast, accurate and tack sharp.
Full silent mode is great if a little weird to begin with, and you have to understand the technical limitations. In certain artificial lighting, it will create banding across the image. You might be able to avoid it by shooting in multiples of 1/50th (1/60th in the USA) due to the frequency lights flicker. But if you notice it, you’re better off disabling silent mode under those lighting conditions. Similarly, it can’t be used for particularly fast moving subjects, or they will appear to stretch across the screen. This isn’t an issue with the Sony, it’s just a technical limitation of how electronic shutters work vs mechanical shutters. So you have to learn when you can use silent, and when you can’t.
I’m the first to admit, I’m not a fan of Electronic View Finders. The one on the A7 III is good, the EVF in both the A7R III and A9 is better. But I still don’t really like them. Don’t ask me why, I just don’t, I think it’s to do with my eye being so close to a screen, I just don’t like it. Whereas others rave about it. So it’s definitely down to personal tastes.
So is it a problem? No, because that’s the other thing with mirrorless that has changed how I shoot… I don’t use the viewfinder. Not only does it eat up batteries faster (due to internal heat generation), but also, I just find shooting in LiveView better. It’s freeing, it allows me to get the camera into angles I’d otherwise struggle, creating new creative opportunities. There’s a mode for bright sunlight, which works great, probably increases battery drain a bit, so I turn it off when not needed.
And the big thing for me, as a social photographer. I’m not hiding my face behind a camera, I’m able to engage with my clients while shooting. Making them feel more comfortable, which creates better connections, which makes for better photos. And that is what we all want.
How was it at the wedding?
So I switched kit a week before a wedding, and I will admit, on the run up to it. I was thinking “Is this sensible? Am I going to be used to using these by Saturday? Will I deliver the same quality that my clients expect?”.
Any worries were completely unfounded, once set up how I wanted them to be, they’re a dream to use. So easy! Focus points covering the whole screen and being able to tap the screen to select them is a dream, the AF was quick and accurate all day long, it even surpassed my expectations late on for the dancing.
The silent shutter meant I could shoot even more discretely for most of the day (I had to turn it off in the barn to avoid banding) and the expanded buffer vs my D750 meant I never had to worry about the camera choking. Combined with the fact that I could see the exposure before pressing the button it was a dream.
Let’s put this into perspective…
I’d had the cameras for a week. And this was the most confident I’d ever felt shooting a wedding.
So you’d recommend I switch to Sony then?
No. Well, maybe.
It depends, doesn’t it? If you shoot predominantly studio work, then you lose some of the benefits straight away. No WYSIWYG for you, obviously. And you don’t need it. Super fast AF, well, you don’t need that either for the most part as you know the distance, you can prefocus.
Social and lifestyle photography? Maybe. I’m not going to say Yes, because it’s a very personal decision and what feels right for me might not feel right for you. But I think it’s worth checking them out certainly.
Some of the more dreamy portrait work? Maybe not… The A7 III has a very weak low-pass optical filter (or Anti-aliasing filter). A low-pass filter softens the image, mainly to prevent moiré but also because sometimes a slightly softer image is just more pleasing to the eye. As it is the A7 III delivers incredibly sharp images and for some styles of photography, that might actually be too sharp.
Ultimately, it’s not a camera for everyone. Kit doesn’t make you a better photographer, or somehow able to better frame an image in your head. But for me, it’s made it easier to translate the image in my head, into an image to deliver to a client.
Specific advantages of the Sony
Bullet points time!
- Silent shooting – brilliant, just brilliant, especially for couples shoots when you’re potentially invading their personal space a little. It’s a bit less intrusive without a rapid clicking of a shutter!
- A HUGE buffer – I get 50 images in a row at 10fps before the camera even starts to choke!
- Real-time exposure preview with zebra stripes on the blown highlights – nail that exposure every time!
- Eye-Af (this is seriously insane)
- Focus points covering the whole viewfinder
- Focus Peaking so manual focus is easy
- Brilliant battery life – I shot the whole wedding with 1 battery in each camera!
Whether you agree with me, disagree, are considering the switch or have tried to switch and found you hate mirrorless! I’d love to know why! Please drop your thoughts below.
About the author: Andy Dane is an award-winning wedding photographer, lifestyle blogger, husband, and father based in Norwich, UK. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Dane’s work on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This article was also published here.