Okay, so firstly, a disclaimer – I am not, on any comparative level, what most in this business would consider a ‘gear head’. I treat my cameras and their associated accessories, tools; I am not someone who you find buying the latest and greatest with the belief that it will take my images to some proverbial ‘next level’. In fact, I don’t think I’ve written a blog article before regarding any piece of equipment, so this in and of itself is a rarity. However, for my photographer friends, just a small piece I felt necessary regarding my first impressions using the Sony a7II and associated mirrorless cameras when shooting weddings.
I Hate The Term “Game Changer”. It’s over-used and gets thrown around far too liberally.
It also seems to imply in regards to photography gear, a camera can all of the sudden make someone magically take better photographs; that a new purchase from X manufacturer can do something extrordinary for those lucky enough to get in line the quickest. If you are hoping to read that this new Sony system will make your photographs great when they were good – you may want to stop here. However, if you are looking to learn about the new avenues of expression that open up to you as well as a lot of perhaps unseen positives (and a few negatives, too), you should read on. I’ll do my best to keep it brief.
What’s Wrong With DSLRS?
Nothing. DSLR’s are awesome – but for me, it initially was a change of necessity. When shooting 2, sometimes 3 weddings in a weekend, the weight of two DSLRS + their associated lenses has begun to take it’s toll on my shoulders (it had begun to take it’s toll on my neck, initially, but then I switched over to a shoulder strap system) as well as my right hand wrist. The idea of a mirrorless (re: compact, lightweight) system seemed like the way to go. Indeed, after using just 1 of these bodies in conjunction with my current DSLR (a Canon 5D Mark III – I imagine clients wouldn’t find it very humourous if I opted for 2 Sony’s that didn’t perform on their wedding day, so a Canon camera was always at the ready ‘just in case’) for 2 weddings this past weekend back to back, my soreness on Monday is far more tolerable. In fact, combined with the overall experience and end results, I plan to switch systems entirely over the next year, provided the autofocus on the Sony is up to par.
“…if the autofocus is up to par”..?
Given that I was most interested in using the Sony system initially for it’s reduction in weight, I had no desire to invest in any Sony autofocus lenses – utilizing classic manual focus lenses, I am able to save on both size and heft. As such, I cannot speak to the autofocus ability of the system in it’s current iterations. If current reviews, Sony focus technology such as Face and Eye tracking, etc are to be trusted, then I’m sure it is more then adequate for the realms of wedding work. Regardless of that, the manual focus system in the A7II is absolutely amazing. Besides a great LCD and EVF to use for dialing in your shots, Focus Peaking and critical focus zooming truly does make nailing shots – including motion – really effortless to nail.
So What’s Good About Mirrorless & Weddings?
Well, tons of things. As mentioned, the weight reduction is a big deal; for some perhaps more then others, but as someone too paranoid to leave his camera and it’s included wedding images alone for an entire day, it’s a really big deal. Besides weight, the actual small physical footprint is hugely beneficial; it becomes easier to blend in and be candid at events where guests are becoming hyper camera aware. There is also something less ‘intimidating’ to people when they are aware of a photographer around them.
The ability to push files one way or the other regarding exposure is almost comically good. The below image had shadows pushed in Lightroom to +100, and all the detailw as there. Coming from a 5D Mark III, this latitude seems amazing to me.
The Sony has an articulating LCD screen to allow you operation and focus from waist level, or any other angle you may find yourself unable to get fit within. This is a great option for shots right along the ground, for example. The near limitless amount of retro, high quality yet inexpensive lenses available on EBay really is a huge plus for people looking to add various angles and viewpoints to their wedding kit. In addition to the reto lenses, various adapters exist to allow your other camera system lenses built with autofocus to work on your Sony (with varying degrees of success). The EVF allows you to either preview your exposures in real time, or amplify current lighting situations to ease manual focus for flash/studio work. Just the overall experience shooting with the Sony system was incredibly enjoyable, and that itself is a huge plus when you live and breathe wedding work.
So What’s Not Good?
Currently, Sony lenses tend to be somewhat expensive; their exists not a lot of option as far as high quality yet fast zoom lenses, which quite frankly, kind of sucks. The camera hotshoe is a proprietary one, and various flashes fit better then others – for example, my Canon 580ex fits better due to it’s manual screw-down type lock, but the 580ex II doesn’t really fit properly due to the smaller Sony hotshoe. Additionally, a lot of lighting accessories, such as wireless triggers, etc. do not exist for Sony cameras yet, limiting your options for wireless signal transmission and high speed sync. Battery life for the small Sony batteries is absolutely awful, as well. I had 3 batteries, brand new @ 100% charge, and I needed to charge the equivilent of at least 2-3 more; I have ordered 4 additional batteries to be on the safe side, and I would expect to use that many over a full 12-14 hour day. Seriously, they’re that bad. Other downsides include only single SD card slots and lacking weather sealing relative to their DSLR counterparts.
In my completely non-techy, anti-gearhead conclusion – the Sony system certainly has given me a new appreciation for the difference technology advancements can make to the field, and it has definitely made a believer out of me. I certainly look forward to getting ahold of some Sony AF glass and dabbling in the autofocus features, but the manual system as it is now just feels and operates superbly. If you have any interest in a mirrorless system as a working professional, I would urge you to look into it further as it has me convinced.