Sony A7rSeveral years ago I switched camera formats. I am now a dedicated Sony shooter. Here’s the story of how that happened.

For years I had been shooting with Canon DSLR systems. I was happy with the image quality from my 5D Mark II but always struggled to accept the large size, weight and cost of the components of this system.

I wanted a system that was small, light and portable because I travel frequently and carry my camera with me everywhere.

But for a long time, I couldn’t find a small system that offered the capabilities I needed, especially when it came to the quality of the captured images.

That has all changed with the latest offerings from Sony.

Focusing on what matters most

Image quality is not something I will compromise on. I sell my images as fine art—often printed at very large sizes—so the raw captures must be high-resolution, tack sharp and free of artifacts. (And with my background in digital imaging and printing, I scrutinize my images more than most people do.)

I read reviews and follow developments of professional camera systems, so I had known about Sony’s DSLRs for many years—their Alpha DSLR systems had received excellent reviews.

Sony, a major electronics manufacturer, now appeared serious in their effort to break into the world of professional camera systems.

But again, the SLR systems were not what I was looking for.

Then, in 2011, I discovered the Sony NEX series. My wife, Ruth, needed a new camera. At first, she thought she might want a DSLR, but we quickly decided that was not the way to go.

After exhaustive research across camera systems in all formats and price points, we ended up buying her a Sony NEX-5n with a couple of lenses. When it arrived I did a lot of testing with the camera and different lenses. I was impressed with the quality of the images captured by the 16 MP sensor.

(By the way, the sensors in all the best Nikon cameras are from Sony.)

Field testing in Italy

I led a photo tour of Piedmont, Italy in the autumn of 2012. Our group consisted of serious photographers at all levels of experience. The one thing they had in common? They were all lugging around big, heavy, expensive DSLR systems. Including myself, with my 5D2.

And then there was Ruth, enjoying her Sony mirrorless kit. Everyone in the group marveled at how easy it was to use and how much fun she was having. As the trip went on, I began shooting with her NEX-5n more and more. By the end of the tour I had decided to make the switch to mirrorless.

But even then, I still wasn’t sure that Sony was the way to go. I’d read lots of reviews and heard my photographer friends talk about their great experiences with other mirrorless systems, most notably from Fuji and Olympus. So I spent several months researching, reading and thinking about the options.

One factor that kept me coming back to Sony is that they design and manufacture the sensors for any of the high-end Nikon DSLR cameras. I’ve always loved the look of Nikon raw image files. That’s Sony technology in action.

Big decision, wonderful results

So in early 2013 I bought a Sony NEX-7. My wife already had a full complement lenses for the Sony NEX system; though they were not professional-grade, my plan was to begin working with the system to learn its full capabilities while simultaneously using my 5D2 for ‘serious’ work. This didn’t last long.

After taking both camera systems on a couple of trips, by Spring 2013 I had stopped using the Canon kit altogether. Quite simply, the size and weight weren’t worth the trouble any more.

Also, there’s a phenomenon that occurs when traveling to strange lands and photographing in public places with a big, expensive DSLR: people tend to stare, or even approach to make comments or ask questions. I’ve had strangers walk by and say “nice camera” etc. This bothers me, because when I’m traveling I want to be invisible. Especially when I’m photographing.

Funny thing is, with the Sony kit, nobody seems to even notice. I look just like any other tourist; people take me for a hobbyist photographer and don’t bother me at all. This is a very nice, yet unexpected, bonus of shooting with smaller cameras.

On a side note to that point, I’ve noticed over the past few years that everywhere we go it seems tourists are carrying big DSLRs around their neck. Most have their shooting mode set to full Auto. I suppose some of these people might be dedicated photography enthusiasts, or even professional photographers, but clearly most are not. I think a common misperception is that to make great pictures you need a DSLR.

As Sony is proving, this is simply not so.

Brave new world

Over the past couple of years I have all but abandoned my DSLR system. I’m now planning to sell it and use the money to buy more lenses for the Sony kit.

To that point, recently I and several of my photographer buddies have been exhaustively testing Sony cameras, most notably the A7r and NEX-7, against top-end DSLR systems form Canon and Nikon.

Put simply, the combination of the A7r and lenses from Leica, Zeiss and Voigtlander produce the absolute best quality I’ve seen from any systems smaller than than medium format (e.g. Phase One and Sinar digital backs).

The A7r, with its 36.4 MP sensor, produces very large, crisp, super-clean image files that rival the best from any camera I’ve worked with. (Stay tuned; I’ll be posting much more on the A7 systems in the near future.)

To summarize, working with Sony mirrorless cameras has so many advantages; here are a few that I particularly appreciate:

  • Image quality is truly exceptional, allowing for very large prints with superb detail
  • Small and light means it’s easy to pack and easy to carry
  • Smaller system attracts less attention from gawkers and would-be thieves
  • With a wide range of options at all price points, you can assemble a Sony camera kit that costs less than alternatives, with equal or better quality

Of course, these systems will not be ideal for every photographer. For example, if you shoot sports or wildlife, you will still be better off with a DSLR because of the faster autofocus and the ability to capture more frames per second. Also, if you’re doing lots of video work, mirrorless is not what you want. (My formerly beloved 5D2 is still among the best for DSLR video.) But if you shoot landscapes, studio portraits, street photography, etc. Sony mirrorless might be the way to go.

For me, the only notable downside at present is the relatively limited selection of lenses designed specifically for the Sony Alpha full-frame mirrorless series. However, this is largely mitigated with the use of adapters that allow almost any lens—including the best optics from Canon, Nikon, Leica, Carl Zeiss, etc., and of course the regular Alpha lenses—to be used on the Alpha mirrorless bodies. And Sony is dedicated to expanding the native lens lineup.

Sony is winning the camera wars

It’s clear that Sony has the vision and the technical expertise to make great things happen in the camera market. I, for one, am thrilled to see this, because before Sony came along the professional camera market was becoming polarized and stagnant.

Quite simply, this changes everything.

Sony has rekindled my love of photography in ways I didn’t think could happen.

In some ways, using Sony mirrorless systems reminds me of the excitement of when I was first learning to master any camera, because it’s a process of discovery—the thrill of seeing ‘what’s possible’ is exhilarating.

In a more important way, because of my long background and experience as a professional photographer, working with smaller systems allows me greater creative freedom that results in being able to do even better work.

All the photographs posted on my web site portfolio and archives since early 2013 have been made with Sony cameras.

I love photography more than ever. Thank you, Sony!

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