Okay, so let’s get the elephant out of the room first. I’m not selling off all my Nikon gear anytime soon, and I still plan to use it extensively for high-profile shooting. In fact, the above photo was shot with my Nikon D800. That said, Sony has really piqued my interest in the past couple of years, to the point that I’m thinking that more of my personal camera gear should be Sony, not Nikon. Why? Well, there are a lot of reasons. Some of it has to do with my shooting style in my off-duty time. Some of it has to do with unique features Sony is putting in their newest cameras.
My Nikon kit is solid
This reason is pretty straightforward, but worth mentioning. I have a solid kit of Nikon gear that doesn’t really need much, if anything, more. I can simply keep the kit as-is and expect that I won’t have to worry about getting new gear to keep up with the times for a while. It’s a great setup for demanding shoots, and I’ll continue to use it for that purpose.
Also, the sensors on my Nikon cameras were actually made by Sony, so when I’m needing my photos and video to match, it’s a bit easier because the sensors are cut from the same cloth. Basically, this means that Sony gear can compliment my Nikon gear rather than compete with it.
I’m more in-tune with my shooting style
I used to be all about the big, bulky camera with a ton of lenses. There are still shoots where I like to break out the kitchen sink, but those shoots are few and far between (besides, I already have the kitchen sink, as previously mentioned). Also, most of those shoots are work-related, so really, the Air Force should be fitting the bill for that camera gear, not me. The truth is, when I’m off the clock, I’m more about having a small, discrete camera that I can just carry with me all the time and not have to worry about it. I swear I’d be a Leica shooter if I could afford it, because I like that style — a small camera with a handful of small prime lenses. That said, I still love the shallow depth of field and image quality of a “full frame” camera. I could never shoot a micro four-thirds or Nikon 1 system camera for anything serious because I just don’t like the way the images look from such a small sensor. This combination makes it very difficult to find a suitable camera because they are polar opposites. Large sensors and small camera bodies generally don’t mix, or at least don’t mix well. Until these past two years, Leica was the only camera manufacturer to even come close. There have been a few notable cameras with APS-C-sized sensors, but nothing full frame.
Sony has come out with a few cameras lately that have come as pleasant surprises for me. They have begun making compact cameras with large sensors that fit my needs and desires like no others. Granted, they all still have their quirks and shortcomings, but they are the harbingers of great things to come. Here are a few of note:
NEX-7 – $1099
This is the camera that really got me looking at Sony’s cameras. The NEX-5 and NEX-3 had been curiosities, but their consumer-oriented controls kept me from giving them serious consideration. With the NEX-7, Sony finally made a mostly viable camera for an experienced shooter. They put a lot of pro features such as 10 fps, dedicated dials for all exposure adjustments, an excellent EVF and coupled it with an APS-C sensor in a tiny body. I already own this camera and it has grown on me like no other. Especially now with the Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 lens, I use it as much, if not more than my Nikon D800. I’m writing this towards the end of a six-week trip, and the NEX-7 has seen more time on my shoulder than the D800 by far.
Excellent Zeiss lenses available
Blazing fast frame rate (10fps)
1080p video at 60fps (useful for slow motion effects)
Flip-out screen and excellent EVF
Limited audio support
Strong rolling shutter in video
RX1(r) – $2,799
The RX1 and its cousin, the RX1r are fascinating cameras that I would still love to have. Sony really went out on a limb with this one by putting a fixed-focal-length lens on a compact system with no way to change it out. However, that lens is a 35mm f/2 Zeiss lens, and if you’re going to be stuck with a single lens, that’s the one to have. The camera itself is impossibly small and has amazing quality. The RX1r takes that quality a step further by removing the anti-aliasing filter to increase pixel-level sharpness. It really is the most pocketable full frame camera out there. Sony also did something unique with this camera that I would love to see on some of their other cameras (or rather, the lenses of those cameras). They used a leaf shutter rather than a focal plane shutter. For those of you unfamiliar, this means the shutter is an iris inside the lens rather than a set of sliding doors in front of the sensor. This is important for two reasons. First, leaf shutters are super quiet. If you need to be discrete with your shooting to not spook your subject, or if you need to not be a distraction, a leaf shutter is the way to go. Second, because the sensor is illuminated at all times, a flash can be used at any shutter speed the shutter is capable. This makes it possible to use a flash at 1/2,000 sec shutter speed without any sacrifice to flash output. This is huge for outdoor portraiture and other syncro-sun flash applications.
Tiny camera, fits in your pocket
Full frame camera with Zeiss 35mm f/2 lens
Super-quiet leaf shutter
flash sync speed of 1/4000
Limited audio support
accessories are seemingly overpriced
α7 and α7R – $1,799 – $2,299
These are the newest cameras to grace Sony’s lineup. Sony abandoned the NEX moniker and established the E mount as a full frame platform. Both of these cameras have some amazing capabilities and feature high resolution full frame sensors. The α7 features a 24 mpx sensor while the α7R features a 36 mpx sensor with no anti-aliasing filter. These cameras also make up for where the NEX lineup fell short, primarily with audio. Both cameras now feature full audio levels control along with the unexpected benefit of a headphone jack for monitoring the audio. Combine that with the other excellent features already in the E-mount cameras and you have an excellent platform for video capture, even as a primary camera. This is even better when you consider the fact that this camera is tiny, and can be mounted in places bulkier cameras cannot be. There’s another big feature that seems to be overlooked in some reviews but is important for photojournalists. Both cameras come with built-in WiFi and NFC technologies. This means you can pull your photo directly to your cell phone without the use of a computer, and post photo whenever, and wherever you please. This is huge for photojournalism and public affairs because it enables on-the-spot news photography with the quality of an SLR and the immediacy of a cell phone camera. The NEX-7 and RX1(r) do not have this technology, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the next iterations of each have this technology.
Large, high-res sensors
Compact Articulating screen and excellent EVF
WiFi and NFC
ISO hotshoe with connectors for advanced add-ons like XLR input
Loud shutter (I’m hoping Sony releases lenses with leaf shutters to combat this)
Poor battery life
EVF placement makes the camera more bulky
not as small as NEX-7 or RX1(r)
A question of money and support
There’s another aspect worth mentioning. I like what Sony is doing with their cameras, and I’d like to see them continue. This means that I should support their efforts by purchasing some of their new camera gear to cast my vote as a consumer in which direction I’d like the camera industry to go. My biggest hope is that Nikon will follow suit by taking their excellent user interface, weather sealing, and camera-manufacturing know-how to build their own full frame mirrorless solution. The Nikon 1 system is a joke in my opinion, albeit one with some excellent technology supporting it. Nikon used to make rangefinder cameras and lenses, so a mirrorless full frame camera shouldn’t be that much of a stretch. However, they continue to make bulky SLRs that are excellent for high-speed shooting, but will give you back trouble if you carry them for too long. That simply doesn’t work for street photography and travel photography.
I love Nikon and I love their cameras. I’ll still go back to my D800 from time to time, even if only to use some of the really excellent glass I have for F mount. I also use it often times when I’m going somewhere specifically to take photos, knowing that I can still get the best quality from my Nikon. However, Sony has proved that they can make cameras that suit my day-to-day needs better, and make them both fun and functional. At a time where I’m forced more and more into a managerial role at work, my NEX-7 has helped rekindle my passion for photography, and any camera company that can do that is worthy of my hard-earned money.