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One Year with Sony; It only gets Better!

Sony NEX-6; Sony-Zeiss 24mm f1.8 lens

Sony NEX-6; Sony-Zeiss 24mm f1.8 lens

One of my buddies, a Nikon shooter forever, asked yesterday if after a year, I was happy with my switchover to Sony’s mirrorless systems. My previous answer to that question has been equivocal. Today, it is an unequivocal “yes.” Today, I will muse a bit about changing systems and on my amazement at how far Sony has gone – so fast.

there has been an internal change in mental approach to my photography

I think for the reader, a related question, is whether you should consider switching systems at all. For me, in addition to some of the “mechanical” aspects of the system, there has been an internal change (however subtle) in mental approach to my photography. I don’t think this is a “brand” issue. One of my “mentors” has said to me that my change to the use of “small cameras” has changed my approach to photography. I guess that could have happened with any brand of smaller camera. And, I think my place in life right now has changed things. More travel which is not dedicated solely to photography has made me adapt my gear and shooting styles.

The biggest factor in gear choice is always going to be external factors like travel considerations, the type of photography you mostly do, and want to do in the future. There are other factors, too. What is your “level” of photography? I know a lot of people who just want to carry a camera around and take “nice pictures.” I will suggest a new Sony cam that I think is ideal for those folks who want a “higher end,” fine piece of equipment without the hassle of “gear,” below.

Original Columbia Restaurant; Ybor City; Tampa, FL Sony a7; Sony-Zeiss 24-70 f4 Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

Original Columbia Restaurant; Ybor City; Tampa, FL
Sony a7; Sony-Zeiss 24-70 f4
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

I also think it is important to consider where you are coming from. If you already own a system, the considerations are very different, in my view, than if you are just coming into either photography or digital photography. In the latter case I wouldn’t hesitate for a nanosecond to recommend the Sony system (more on that in a minute). If you already own a good system, then something other than a yearning for the newest needs to drive the shift, in my view; especially if money is an issue. In my unfortunate experience, it is very rare for equipment to hold its value (with the possible exception of some very high-end glass, like Leica). Thus, a shift is going to mean taking a “loss” on your gear (especially if, like me, you always babied and maintained it). It means that for a true “lateral” move, you will probably be “out-of-pocket.”

The biggest factor in gear choice is always going to be external factors like travel considerations and the type of photography you do

Having said all that, I continue to be impressed with the vision of Sony’s photographic division. They started out modestly enough, with their NEX series, APS sized mirrorless cameras. The first were more or less “point and shoot” cameras that were adapted with the mirrorless system to interchange lenses. Others, including the Nikon 1 series (which never seemed to catch on, in spite of Ashton Kutcher’s commercials), Olympus, with its micro 4/3 sensors, and Fuji, which also incorporated the APS sized sensor. The Nikon mirrorless experiment has been nothing but disappointing for me. I could never warm up to them. Sensor size was really too small for a “serious” camera in my view. There was never a really sexy lens array offered. And for their price, they were always simply a non-starter for me. I used to carry a Canon G-series point and shoot as my preferred “small camera.” I have always been curious about why Canon has not jumped into the mirrorless system.

The Olympus cameras are mechanically very sexy, very retro in look and feel, and very well made.   They are a nice small size, but feel good in the hand. And Oly’s Zuiko glass was always known to be really good quality. But the 4/3 sensor is – in my opinion – just not quite big enough to produce the image quality I look for.

Point Bonita Lighthouse Marin Headlands, CA Copyright  2014  Andy Richards Sony a7R; Sony 70-200 f4

Point Bonita Lighthouse
Marin Headlands, CA
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards
Sony a7R; Sony 70-200 f4

The one “contender” in my mind, seems to be the Fuji mirrorless system. They, like Sony, use the APS sized sensor. Their current offering is 16mp. The Fujinon glass, again, has a reputation for being very high quality. In the early days of mirrorless, the Fuji was slightly more expensive.

When I bought my first Sony mirrorless camera – the NEX-6 – its sensor was essentially the exact same sensor as my Nikon D7000. For those who owned or tested the D7000, it was a very impressive sensor, with high image quality, even in low light shooting situations. So I knew I could expect good image quality from the NEX sensor.

I continue to be impressed with the vision of Sony’s photographic division

But the NEX series was only the beginning for Sony. Shortly afterward, Sony took a very aggressive marketing path and announced and then released the a7 / a7R full frame mirrorless bodies. They really haven’t looked back. Within months, they released the a7S (made for low light and video shooters), and more recently the second-generation, a7II and a7RII.

Alamo Square Row Houses Copyright  2014  Andy Richards Sony a7R; Sony-Zeiss 24-70 f4

Alamo Square Row Houses
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards
Sony a7R; Sony-Zeiss 24-70 f4

The a7RII is clearly aimed directly at the top end DSLR market. And, at a price point slightly lower than Canon’s top DSLR and a lot lower than Nikon’s, they have made a big impression. The a7RII retails at about $3,200. The Canon 5DS is $3,600. As I write this, I am not sure there is a comparable Nikon to the a7RII. The 16mp Nikon D4S is $6,000 and the 36mp D810, $3,000. The a7RII has “in body image stabilization” (IBIS), no low-pass filter on its 42mp full frame sensor, and 399 point “phase-detect” auto-focus capability. And, they have fixed the “shutter shock” issue which plagued the first generation a7R with an electronic first curtain shutter. There are, of course, a number of other features.

And, the icing on the cake is the growing availability of Carl Zeiss lenses. Sony, on its own, cannot (currently) compete, in my view with Nikkor and Canon glass; or for that matter, Olympus or Fuji glass. But in partnership with Zeiss, they seem to have made some estimable glass. And even better, Zeiss – on it’s own – now offers some very nice glass specifically for the Sony full frame mirrorless cameras. All of this in a smaller body makes it really the closest thing out there to the “every man’s everything” camera.

For a true “lateral” switch, you are probably going to be “out-of-pocket”

I don’t think most of us need all the bells and whistles on the a7RII. Would I love to own one? You bet. But it is not in my near future at $3,000, considering that I already own the a7 and am perfectly happy with it. And the upside to that is that the a7 is now selling for $1,100, which means it is in the reachable range for many aspirational owners.

For a new shooter, I am not sure why you wouldn’t look at one of the several offerings from Sony. I don’t see any reason today for the bulk and size required by the reflex mirror system in cameras, given the place mirrorless technology has taken – lead by Sony, in my view.

Light and color make this gondola image the quintessential rendering of "Venice" in my view Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Light and color make this gondola image the quintessential rendering of “Venice” in my view
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

For the more casual shooter (it may become my own substitute for the NEX-6 I still carry and use), I think Sony has hit a grand slam home run with the newest version of its venerable point and shoot RX100, the RX100 IV. This “enthusiast” camera (read: expensive, but feature-laden), is pretty impressive. It has a Carl Zeiss f1.8-2.8 variable aperture 24-70 (35mm – equivalent) lens, a newly designed, 1” size “stacked” backlit sensor, which is capable of 20mp, raw capture. All of this is packed into a very sweet little compact body that is a very pocketable, 4”x2”x2.” There is a large, articulating LCD screen on the back along with a pop-up electronic viewfinder. As I think about all of this, it occurs to me. My “walking around” rig right now is either my NEX-6 with a “kit” zoom, or my a7 with the Carl Zeiss 24-70 f4 zoom. Maybe the smart move is to get rid of the 24-70 in favor of faster, fixed lenses for the a7, and pick up this nice little P&S for a travel camera.  There is a similiar, less expensive RX100 model, which still has a Carl Zeiss lens (slower), but it just doesn’t have the pzazz of the IV.

I think Sony has hit a grand slam home run with the newest version of its venerable point and shoot RX100, the RX100 IV

Watching technology get smaller and smarter, it is pretty hard to imagine what is in the future for us as photographers.

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One Response

  1. […] Sony announced its Full Frame a7 series and for me the rest was history. A chunky body which reminds of a very small SLR, and still relatively large lenses, this combo is […]

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