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Sony, the new buzzzz on the block.

I’ve been rewriting this article a couple of times now and it’s difficult to structure it properly, the main reason for this is the fact that I didn”t find an answer yet to the all important question: How does this camera/system make me feel.

So I’ve decided to make this a series of smaller posts (like that ever happens…) that describe where I come from, why I decided to pick up a Sony camera, my experiences with the system, some real world results, shooting weddings, why I consider switching, and why I don’t ….

Part I: Introduction to the A7III

Up until today this was the only piece of Sony gear I owned…..

… and as far as camera’s go, I’ll be blunt, I never even looked at the Sony product line-up. Not back in the day when I shot Canon dSLR’s, not when I switched to Fujifilm 6 years ago… And why would I know anything about their line-up? I was invested in the Fujifilm X system, and Fujifilm is king of mirrorless … or not?

Background:
I’ve been fuji shooter ever since the original XPRO launched and have been shooting all my assignments with Fujifilm gear since the arrival of the XT1. Today I shoot the XPRO2 & XT2. I specialise in weddings, for my shooting style the X system is perfect for my needs. It wasn’t love at first sight but we learned to get along, I adapted. I blogged about why I switched to Fuji, what I love in X camera’s but I also always gave my unbiased opinion about the things I didn’t like that much…

What made me start looking into a different system?

There is only one thing that kept lingering, if only Fuji had a full frame, not the technical benefits, but “that look”. (I’m not even talking DOF here) Also, for corporate work I can’t help but feel that Fujifilm sometimes is a compromise and not always the best tool for the job. There are jobs where you wish you had better autofocus, where you might need need more resolution, where you wanted cleaner files. When the GFX was announced I was a bit disappointed, I do not have the need for a medium format camera. When they released the XH1 the camera it did not appeal to me that much either and I didn’t see the need to upgrade.

And then Sony launched the A7III….

Sony released the A7 III over a month ago. Glancing at the spec sheet I couldn’t believe they are calling this their entry level body… it’s sounds too good to be true.

The specs

A mirrorless full frame, 24.2 megapixels, EVF, in-camera stabilisation (IBIS), dual SD slots, silent shooting mode, swivel screen and a kickass AF system. The A7III borrows most of the features and tech from her big brother, the Sony A9. For a full spec sheet head over the guys at DP review.

Clearly a well-thought-out move to get some Nikon/Canon users to reconsider. Attract new users to pick up a competitive camera at a very attractive price tag. It’s like a fishing, you just need to hook em first to lure them in … Well played Sony, well played indeed.

I’m not a gear horder, nor do I suffer from GAS.. I own 2 bodies, 5 primes… Only what I need to do my job. But I am a curious guy who likes a good hype and I am known to act on impulse 🙂 So fast forward one hour and I’m back from the camera store sitting at my desk with a new A7III and 50mm 1.4 lens. There is always the 30 day return to protect consumers from themselves right? 🙂 A couple of hours later I took the camera along on a shoot and ended up only shooting that camera/lens. Boy was I impressed.

Left: one of the first shots after buying the camera. Right: Bent giving me his “I love you dad” look.

Features // Opinion

Because I strongly believe that the Sony Alpha lineup should be able to persuade more and more dSLR shooters to switch. I’ll go over the (obvious) benefits of shooting mirrorless. And because I’ve been a Fujifilm shooter for the last 6 years a comparison between those systems will never be far away.

Mirrorless FULL frame
Canon/Nikon boys, no more whining about the fact that it’s a crop sensor (… and yes , the same goes for me) There is no mirror flapping up and down and that means that the body can be made a lot more smaller. The slight size/weight difference compared to my Fuji’s is something I don’t notice much.

Electronic viewfinder
On a mirrorless camera with an EVF, the light from the lens goes straight to the imaging sensor which records the data and shows a preview of what the sensor captures on a tiny little TV screen viewfinder. It’s basically just a tiny version of the LCD screen on your camera when shooting in live view mode. What you see is what you get: exposure, depth of field, color, contrast, … No need to be chimping at the back of your camera! On paper the EVF of the A7III isn’t the best on the market but to me it feels better & brighter. (I wear glasses and everything looks a lot more sharp than it does with my Fuji’s, especially compared to the XPRO2. This is actually a big PLUS for me. There is a blackout on the A7III but nothing that bothers me. If you want to get rid of the blackout, you can grab the Sony A9.

ISO & Dynamic range = Clean files
Fujifilm RAW files never looked as clean as I wanted them to, especially if you had to push exposure in post…. And Lightroom isn’t helping much either there… I still felt ISO1600 was the maximum I’d like to use if you nail the exposure properly. Image quality really impressed me, but I do miss parts of the Fuji look and feel ….. Dynamic range performance is a stunner. High ISO’s are mind blowing.

Some pictures from our family outing to the Star Wars Identities Expo in Brussels. The perfect playground for testing a new camera. Images at ISO3200.




Image Quality
I’ll be brief … I have never had this much sharpness in any camera I’ve previously owned. PERIOD.


(pictures are served via flickr so resolution is not optimal, I’ll be adding all images on this post and some RAW files to this download link for your pixel peeping pleasure)

Autofocus
With Sony the AF mode is in a totally different ball game to what I’m used to (Note: I did not test the XH1, *HINT* @Fujifilm_BE) I’m more of a single focus kind of guy mainly because I never trusted the continuous focus enough… On this camera, if you see the focus points flickering on screen you can’t help be be impressed. And there are so many zones & focus modes available to tailor to the scene you are shooting. In low light it also outperforms the XT2/XPRO2.

Eye AF
Something that isn’t enabled by default but it’s sooooo darn impressive. Probably the star of the show and the thing that generates a lot of heat among camera enthousiasts, the eye AF. Imagine this: you are composing a shot and you have selected a focus point in the left of the frame while suddenly a face shows up on the right side…. the system automagically detects & tracks that face in your EVF and with the push of a button your focus locks on to that face/eye like a bull to red cloth. If the subject moves, the focus holds.. if you shake the camera … the focus holds on like a dog with rabies. Seeing is believing so go check out this funky Japanese demo on youtube, Domo arigato!

Battery life
One of the pitfalls of mirrorless was the battery live. An EVF seems to drain batteries like zombies feed of the living. The new Sony NP-FZ100 battery used across all of their latest PRO bodies clearly leads the field in this departement. The battery boasts to do 780 shots but I’ve gotten more than 1000 shots of a single charge without any battery saving settings. With one spare for each camera I was able to get through a 15h wedding day! This round clearly goes to Sony.

Tilt screen
The swivel screen on the Sony A7III isn’t the best… it has a limited angle and only swivels in one direction but it’s one of those things I’ve gotten used to having at my disposal for low & high angle pictures.

Silent shooting mode
And I mean silent … the camera can switch to full airwolf silent mode … It’s eary .. you even start wondering if you are actually taking a picture. Important to know: with fluorescent & LED lights banding can occur … so use with care… or grab yourself a Sony A9 to fix that.
What I don’t like: The normal shutter is rather noisy compared to Fuji.

Menu’s
The bad: The menu is confusing, it is overwhelming and has a very steep learning curve. For novice users it’s just too much.
The good : You can customize EVERYTHING (and more) about the camera: Both the buttons (on the camera and lenses) and the custom menu’s. You can assign about every function to every button.

I have to admit that after a month of use and once you’ve set up your camera … it does the job. Coming from a different system I’ve spend a LOT of time to tune the camera and my settings still change every week … so once I finalize on a set-up I’ll share that here. A big thanks to the Sony Ambassadors for helping me out with some of the more advanced features!

Ergonomics
The Sony features a better grip compared to the XT2 & XPRO2 but that is necessary thing when you use bigger lenses. And this is probably one of my top complaints… when paired to larger lenses (that would be most of them) the balance isn’t that comfortable and at the end of a 15h wedding … you really start to feel that. You can only hold the camera with 3 fingers, and your pinky isn’t doing anything. Photographers with big hands will notice this more … especially when coming from dSLR’s.


Camera left: A7III with 24-70 2.8 G-Master. Camera right: A7III with 50mm 1.4

The pinky grip / Battery grip
To fix this complaint there is an accessory available. The GP‑X1EM aka the pinky grip, it works like a charm but comes at a price. Downside: you can’t attach your sling shot style camera strap or tripod plate and it blocks the battery door… Adding the Sony VG-C3EM Vertical Grip totally fixes all these issues but just adds more weight. Notice the conundrum …

Charging
Out of the box, the A7III body doesn’t come with a stand-alone charger. Really Sony? You can however charge your camera via a micro USB port (or USB-C port for faster charging) and the nifty thing about this is that you can attach a battery pack and charge while shooting tethered.

That is insane we can all switch!

If you are a dSLR shooter I can totally understand you were reluctant to switch to a mirrorless system but with the current line-up of alpha camera’s you really don’t have any excuse not being able to switch. Depending on how much you want to invest you can go for the top of the line Sony A9 or depending on what you need, the 42 Megapixel resolution of the A7RIII. For wedding photographers the A7III is an ideal camera that retails around 2250€. For canon shooters the news gets even better: there is a Metabones adapter available so you can keep using your favourite L glass.

Shut up and take my money!?
Well … If you are a Fujifilm shooter like me things are bit more complex …. Beside the obvious investment ($$$) we haven’t covered 2 important things: Glass & How does the camera make you feel, how does it spark your creativity. I’ll be keeping these two for the next post!

Lenses
Switching to another system isn’t about the body alone… you need lenses… and the downside of a full frame system is that you need
bigger glass and bigger glass is more expensive … but it’s heavier too. And now you have tiny body, with a big .. euhm .. lens…

The Sony A7III with 50mm 1.4 Sony/Zeiss. Vs The X-T2 with the XF35 1.4 lens (equivalent of 50mm)

I’ll cover my quest for lenses in a next post … Finding my holy trinity in primes while keeping the weight down surely must feel like Indiana Jones trying to find the holy grail.

How does the camera make me feel?

CONFUSED… do I want this? do I need this? Why can’t it be mix of both worlds… Is that lens too big ? Does the size intervene with the way how I shoot ? I really wanted that one 24-70 zoom lens to work for me … but I’m a prime shooter … The more I use it , the more I love the results but at the same time makes me question a lot of things… the only way to find answers to that is to shoot these camera’s in an environment that I know best, WEDDINGS. So far I had been shooting one camera & lens and felt confident enough to pick it up a notch. Sony challenged me by asking “What gear would it take to shoot Sony only”. Enter the #sonychallenge. In the next post I’ll write down my thoughts and feelings about that.

Hope to see you back for the next one. If you have any questions I should address, let me know in the comments or find my me on instagram


Open letter to Sony

I’d like to finish part one of my blog post with an open letter to the guys at Sony:
Hi Mr. Sony… It’s incredible you launched this beast of a camera at this price range, I think it is a bold move. I’m sure the system will convince consumers. But I can only hope you look at other companies that implement the philosophy where camera’s are improved constantly via firmware improvements *kaizen/fujifilm* , as a UX developer I know this is possible and as a photographer I know how much this part is loved and appreciated by the community. You just feel so much better you don’t have an “outdated” camera after a couple of months …

I’ve put together a list of things that I would like to see improved. And who knows, if enough people keep repeating this … somebody will notice!

  • There is so much going on in the viewfinder that I keep losing MY focus point … it should stand out more from the face detection stuff. Contrast & colour … there should be room in the dungeons of the menu system somewhere 😉
  • When focus is locked with the eye AF you are not able to change aperture/shutter speed. This is actually a big one….
  • A sleeker horizon gauge. The meter right now is great for flight simulators but somethings to much in the way of the picture. S omething a little more lightweight would be nice… eg. a simple white line that turns green when level …
  • The ability to have a “focus toggle” mode where you can choose what options to toggle beside the focus area. eg. focus area / focus mode & drive mode. My workaround was to have a custom mode recorded but it doesn’t adapt 100% to how I work.
  • When registering the C1 & C2 memory banks it would be nice to be able to choose what settings you want to override from your M settings. (like the focus hold options allows) This would allow photographers to register AF drive, mode & area and be able to switch faster between a focus recompose way of working and the continues drive, larger zone tracking way of working… Ideal for wedding photographers!
  • Add the ability to sill have live preview when a flash is attached, now it turns off the EVF live exposure preview.. This would make it easier to judge ambient exposure before flash is added.
  • A hardware/lens related one: Aperture rings on more lenses. More lightweight faster primes … + It would be awesome for zoom lenses to have the ability to lock them to the common focus lengths 24, 35, 50, etc… Like the clicking you have for aperture.

Thanks for reading! Hope to have you back for the next one.

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