Mirrorless! That’s the buzzword these days in the photo world. Sony has dominated the full-frame market for the past few years, and Canon and Nikon have begun their journey into the mirrorless market. In a nutshell, mirrorless cameras don’t have any mirrors and the light that passes through the lens hits the sensor directly. This setup has 2 main impacts:
It makes the camera much lighter and compact
The sensor always sees what the lens sees
Here’s a good article for a deeper breakdown into mirrorless cameras: https://www.digitaltrends.com/photography/what-is-a-mirrorless-camera/ . But of course this post isn’t about mirrorless cameras, it’s about Sony.
I’ve been using Sony cameras for the past 2 years now and have personally owned the a6000 (crop sensor) and recently upgraded to the A7III (full-frame). Because I don’t have time to discuss (nor would you want to read) the full ins and outs of cameras and technologies, I will focus on the specifics regarding Sony Mirrorless Camera ecosystem (the jargon and all the symbols that accompany it) as well as my personal experience with them. So without further ado, let’s begin!
Here I’d like to outline the different tiers of cameras Sony offers. There have been 3 generations of all of these cameras (except the A9), but I’ll only talk about the most recent. A general rule is that older generations just have poorer battery life, low-light, and AF performance, but are all still very impressive cameras in their own right. I’ll highlight their main selling points and key features, but won’t really go into why those features make each camera so unique. I have to leave you with some work to do too, right?
The Godfather: A9 $4000
Zero blackout Electronic View Finder (EVF)
20fps (electronic shutter)
693 AF points
Full silent shutter
This is the king of kings and it has the price tag to go with it. It’s aimed specifically for pro photographers, regardless of subject matter. The 20 fps makes it perfect for sports, and the 0 blackout viewfinder means it’s like watching a movie while you’re rattling off all those shots.
3 million dot EVF
R stands for resolution and well…42 megapixels of it. The autofocus has been much improved over the Mark II version (true across all a7 cameras). This is every landscape and portrait photographer’s wet dream, but then again how many of us actually need all 42 megapixels? (hint: not a lot).
ISO Smoooooooth: A7SII (Mark 3 on the way!) $2400
Crazy low-light performance4K video
Definitely geared to be a video camera. Since I don’t shoot video, I can’t speak to all the features that lend itself to that. However, I can attest to its low-light performance. Seriously it makes ISO 12800 look sharp as a tack (https://www.digitalrev.com/article/sony-a7s-ii-unboxing-and-low-light-test-footage-feat-5d-mark-iii)
600 AF points
15 stop dynamic range
Yes, you read that right…4K video with 15 stops of dynamic range for only $2000. I know, I know two grand might as well be an arm and a leg for most of us. But compared to the competitors’ offerings at this price point, this is the holy grail of “base” models. I’ll speak to my experiences with this camera a little later.
Now we get into the crop sensors (if you don’t know the difference: https://www.slrlounge.com/workshop/crop-vs-full-frame-cameras/). I think the biggest thing to note of this whole lineup is that these cameras are TINY. Legit, if you have the right lens, these cameras will fit in your pants pocket. That’s 24 MP and even 4K video available in the literal palm of your hand. I’ll speak more on my experience with the a6000 later as well. There aren’t too many distinguishing features among these cameras, so I won't delve too deeply into them; the same general rule applies: the newer the camera, the better the AF and video capabilities.
Due to their relative youth in the industry, Sony has been previously criticized for their limited lens lineup. However, over the years, they’ve slowly but surely developed one of the most critically-acclaimed lens lineups. In order to attract more professionals, Sony has spent a lot of resources in their G-Master line (think Canon L-series). These are top of the line and will cost you top dollar, too.
The Zeiss collection is a cool collaboration between the legendary optics company and Sony. These lenses provide top level image quality as well as speedy native auto-focus. Most of these lenses will be the primes that fill in the G-Master lineup.
16-35 f/4 (great for travel)
24-70 f/4 (ditto)
There are also several 3rd party options. Sigma recently released their infamous Art series lenses with a native Sony E-Mount. Tamron and Rokinon have also been making some wonderful budget lenses for those who can’t afford the extremely expensive lenses mentioned above.
Special note: Across their mirrorless lineup, Sony uses the same mount. This means that you can mount a full-frame Sony E-Mount lens on your crop sensor camera without an adapter. So, for those of you who don’t quite have the budget for a full-frame set up, going with a crop sensor and a high-end lens will still give you those tack-sharp, professional quality results.
Adapting: This is probably the most unique part about Sony…you can keep your old glass rather than having to buy a whole new set! Of course, the performance won’t be as good as a native lens, but it will definitely get the job done. Generally the Metabones IV adapter is considered the best. The Sigma MC-11 adapter is a great budget option, but be aware that Continuous Autofocus is not supported for most lenses. If you don’t mind manual focuses, then you can even buy a plastic adapter just to mount the lens on the camera! Unfortunately for all you Nikon shooters, there are very few F-Mount to E-Mount adapters due to to Nikon’s AF implementation.
What I Like
Lightweight and compact; tech-driven: Eye AF, Legit Silent Shutter; on the rise and pushing the market
I LOVED my a6000. It fit in the palm of my hand, and I could take it literally anywhere. Honestly, if it weren’t for the larger selection of lenses in Sony’s full-frame lineup, I probably would’ve stayed with the crop line. Not only is it cheaper, but for all intents and purposes, they pack the same amount of punch in terms of image quality and features. For the level of photography I do, there is no true disadvantage of crop sensor cameras, but Sony’s limited lens selection forced my hand. I miss the convenience and the extra heft in my wallet, but I’m definitely happy with my A7III.
Jumping from one of Sony’s oldest cameras to their newest has been both eye-opening and yet familiar. I can definitely appreciate the improved ergonomics that come with having a full-frame camera; it feels like a professional camera. Those of you with large hands will definitely appreciate this as well. For me, the biggest advantage is finally being able to use all of Sony’s new technologies. Eye AF in particular has been a godsend. Sony cameras have the ability to automatically detect and move focus eyes on a human face. Shooting wide open at f/1.4, it locks on about 90% of the time and will even track someone as they move.
What I Don’t Like
Expensive; not as robust/”durable”; lacks some “pro” features; lack of crop lenses
Be prepared to cry at night when you check your bank account. Photography is an incredibly expensive hobby, but getting into Sony can be particularly daunting. Switching over from another camera system means having to invest in glass all over again if you want native performance. Even for those who are buying a camera for the first time, the lack of options from 3rd parties makes buying new lenses a particularly difficult balancing act between budget and image quality.
Think of Sony vs. DSLR like a Lambo vs. a Mercedes G-Wagon (the dream). Both are luxurious cars that will get the job done. The Lambo's packed full of extra features in a sexy, streamline body, where the G-Wagon has all the luxury with an extra sense of security. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t feel super comfortable throwing my Sony around like my friends throw their DSLRs. The fact that there’s no mirrors means that the sensor is directly exposed to the elements when switching lenses; the weather sealing isn’t as robust; and the smaller form-factor just doesn’t give it the same heft as a full-bodied DSLR. Of course, I’m not condoning abusive camera practices, but if you are prone to accidents or know you need your gear to withstand some roughhousing, Sony might not be the ideal way to go. There’s tradeoffs with everything.
Overall, I love Sony. Mirrorless is definitely the future of photography, and Sony has been leading the charge the whole way. The amount of technology they have managed to pack into their cameras blows my mind, and with every iteration, they continue to impress. Canon and Nikon have announced their mirrorless cameras, which will keep Sony competitive. Of course, mirrorless isn’t for everyone, but if you’re starting fresh and don’t need the extreme resilience of traditional DSLRs, the world of Sony is worth exploring.