I Went Mirror-less.  This is My Story.

I got my photography start shooting with Canon and Minolta film cameras.   I thought for a few seconds in the 1990's that I wanted to be a photojournalist.   Eventually, on a project, I was handed a Nikon N90.  It was my first Nikon shooter and I loved it.

Around the birth of one of my kiddos, I made the leap to a mid-level DSLR, I chose Nikon.  A D90 w/ an 18-105 kit lens.  I loved it as much as a person can love an inanimate object.   The same for the D7000, D3s and eventually the D800.    I was really bad about buying camera bodies and cheaping-out on the lenses.    In the move to full-frame, my lens of choice was the AFS Nikkor,  f/3.5-5.6G 28-300mm FX.    I kept getting these do-everything lenses for my DSLR's.  Then I discovered the thing of majesty that was the 14-24mm f/2.8 ED AF-S Nikkor Wide Angle.   Paired with the Nikon D800, it was the perfect landscape camera and I was in a landscape shooting mood.   I loved everything about the photos that camera and lens package produced.  

Today, the N90s Film camera is my only remaining Nikon.

I should mention, that I was also a bit of a Canon 5dMK2 fanboy.  I love Canon Glass and I loved that camera as well.   I didn't own one but I very often added it to my amazon cart and chickened out last minute, opting to rent it when needed, instead.  So I'm not JUST a Nikon fanboy, I had some healthy Canon lust as well.

So, in two years, how do I go from being a complete Nikon fanboy to not owning one at all?

The gateway drug was the idea of a 'backup camera'.   I always had a tendency to maintain a second camera to use in the event my Nikon was off being cleaned (or worse).   I've had a tendency to use my backup camera slot for experimentation of other platforms. Along the way I'd heard some interesting things about the Sony A77, so I ordered one (a used one).

At the time, I wasn't exactly waving the Sony flag.  While, I liked VAIO notebooks, I'd had my share of disappointments with the premature death of various Sony electronics (TVs, CD Walkman, A Mini Disc Player, PSOne, PSTwo, PSThree), coupled with a disheartening run in or two with some particularly nasty Sony employees through my software work.

But, I had a soft spot for Minolta, which is 'Sony Alpha', by acquisition.

To say the A77 surprised the hell out of me, is an understatement.  The 16-50mm f/2.8 kit lens was quite good.  The menus and handling of the camera really jived with me and I happily shot with it for several months.  I recall the bracketing modes were a little in need of work and that the high ISO performance was a little sketchy but all in all, I really hated to see the A77 go, when I later eBayed it to help fund my move to the full frame, megapixel monstrosity: the D800.

Still, the SLT design of the A77 showed promise and above all it showed me that Sony wasn't asleep at the wheel, they were innovating. 

Sony SLT- A77 & Kit Lens

Sony SLT- A77 & Kit Lens

Sony SLT- A77 & Kit Lens

I very often left the Nikon 14-24mm on my D800 for landscape-y shots, so I ended up with a Sony NEX-5 as a backup camera that doubled as a 'portrait-mode', carry-everywhere camera for me.   The NEX-5 was great with regard to image quality.  Handling was a little clunky.  The on screen menu system tried to emulate a physical dial.  While it worked well enough, switching shooting modes wasn't a fast process because of these clunky menus.   It also had this weird, external flash, with the biggest drawback (in my opinion) being no view finder.  

Then the NEX-7 was released.  It added a viewfinder, a strangely effective little pop-up flash, an extra physical wheel that still combined with some clunky on screen menus.  It was 24 megapixel and it took great photos, the low light was usable (Post-Processing Noise Reduction worked well enough to smooth the jaggies) and the handling was much improved over the NEX-5.  It was basically my A77, shrunk down into a smaller package, with slightly upgraded firmware.  I didn't really see where it would get much better.

Sony NEX-7 w/ the E-Mount 10-18mm f4

Sony NEX-7 w/ the E-Mount 18-200mm f3.5-6.3 OSS

Another w/ the Sony NEX-7 and 10-18mm f/4

Yet another showing the versatility of the 10-18mm f/4 on the Sony NEX-7

 

Meanwhile.. in the industry...   Panasonic and Olympus are kicking around with the micro - four - thirds sensor size.    Samsung does their own thing and Sony comes to market with a Mirror APS-C sized sensor.  Sony is killing it in the mirror-less space with thoughtful innovation.  I always like this visual:  

A big meeting with lots of uptight Japanese dudes:   Some guy on stage with a Reddish-Orange-A on his polo (Alpha, not Adultery) says "Look, we are last anyway, let's bring it with killer innovation and see where we land."

(That didn't happen outside of my imagination, which reminds me, maybe the dude on stage was Brian Williams?)

Canon and Nikon are Christian Grey

Meanwhile, the entire industry waits in anticipation of Nikon and Canon.  Nikon answers the mirror-less revolution with the J1/V1.   A super tiny sensor with crappy optics in an albeit stylish frame.  My wife liked hers for about a week.

Much later, Canon gives us the EOS-M.  The EOS-M at least sported an APS-C sized sensor but autofocus and battery life made it feel more like the bastard offspring of a Powershot and a 650D.   

So why are Nikon and Canon phoning it in?  Of course, it is obvious that releasing super awesome, lower-priced mirrorless would cannibalize their own sales of bulkier-yet-still-awesome cameras. 

But, I think it goes deeper.   I think we photographers have engaged in a S&M relationship with Canon and Nikon.   We aren't allowed to provide feedback to the relationship, they tell us what they are going to do to us, we pay what they tell us and we are expected to not only like it but come back for more, every 16 months or so.

Embracing the New

As the Sony A7R came out and after some financial introspection, I made the leap, sold my Nikon gear and bought into the Sony platform.   As I reviewed the business-side of my photography endeavors, I noticed that of the entire population of my images, those images shot on Sony E-Mount camera outsold my Nikon images, 6 to 1.  It's naive to say that was an inferiority of the Nikon, it was a totally capable platform but it did mark something tangible:

I was taking better photos with the Sony cameras than the Nikon camera.

For me, the Sony camera was a better creative platform.    Your mileage may vary.

The Grass is Greener, Sometimes Because of Poop

What's bad about the Sony ecosystem?  The lenses (err.. lack thereof).    The only thing about the move to the Sony mirrorless platform is you usually leave behind all sorts of phenomenal Nikon / Canon glass.  It isn't that Sony doesn't make great lenses, Sony and Zeiss make some nice lenses but often there are not Sony A or EF mount equivalents for your favorite Canon and Nikon lenses.  For many of the ranges,  Sony has this fixation on f/4 as the highest aperture.  (There are exceptions.)  It could be that Sony will just hit the market with faster glass in the future.  It could also be that the engineering plan all along was to lean on the in-body image stabilization that was introduced with the A7 II to buy the extra stops of speed.   Still, optically faster glass would nice-to-have but isn't a showstopper.

I'd like to see more f2.8 Sony glass.

Sure, you can use Metabones adaptors and bring your lenses.   They work well enough but you will either give up AF, AE or you will loose them altogether and go full manual.   You will also usually loose lens EXIF data.  

The poop is that there are nearly as many camera bodies in the Sony line-up as there are lenses.   Good news is, Sony is adding new glass at a decent pace.   I suppose this is the challenge when releasing a new mount:
  You leave behind 30 years of legacy engineering in glass.

A Landscape Lens

My first frustration on the Sony FE mount is the lack of a lens comparable to the Nikon 14-24mm.  Grant it, the 14-24mm was been a special sort of awesome, even to Canon shooters.  Even though the Sony E-Mount 10-18mm Wide Angle was build for the APS-C cameras, it does work well-enough on the the full frame models.   In full-frame mode you get extreme vignetting until you reach 15mm.    The lens is innovative for sure, though it could stand to be a little sharper.

Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS Wide Angle

The Vario-Tessar FE 16-35mm is the closest thing you get.   I own it and It is a very good lens but, but like most FE Sony offerings, it is an f4.  I'd like to have see this in f2.8.  For months, every time I added this lens to my Amazon cart, my inner monologue would kick up with "Why the F___ are you buying an f4 lens for $1300?" (my inner monologue often channels Sam L Jackson)   That said, it is definitely a keeper.   

A Utility Lens

I really like having a good utility lens.   Something with a broad zoom range to cover multiple situations, when you just aren't sure what you will encounter.

FE 24-240mm F3.5-6.3 OSS 

This lens is pretty bulky.  It feels very well built and while on the bulky side, handles quite well.   Like Goldilocks, the zoom rings are stiff but not too stiff.  The low to middle zoom ranges are very sharp, at 240mm it gets a little soft.

I think Sony anchoring many of their offerings on f4 just frustrates me because I know full well they will release f2.8 equivalents down the road, I dislike the idea of buying the same focal range, twice.  :|

Okay, so Maybe it Should be 'Embracing the Mostly New'

I opted for (mostly) Minolta Glass. Zeiss glass is great but I'm also kind-of cheap.  There were a myriad of deals along the way to fill out my lens assortment (along with a few gems that I'd kept from film days).

So, very frequently my A7r is rocking the A-Mount adaptor and Minolta glass.  Silly, right?

For my purposes, I generally look for a 14mm ultra-wide angle for landscapes, a gigantic aperture 85mm prime for portraits, a 100mm gigantic aperture for macro and a walking-around zoom / vacation lens.

I'm least satisfied with my Minolta 28-135mm.  It is quite old (I've had it since high school) focuses fast and feels substantial in the hand but it isn't practical for most 'vacation lens' scenarios.   It has some serious bulk!  It does take decent pictures but it is also easily 3x the weight of the body w/ adaptor.  I've recently tried to fill this gap with a Sony 24-105mm f3.5-4.5.  Which worked quite well until they released the Sony FE OSS 24-240mm, which now covers this range for me in most cases.

My little dude here never sits still, thus usually requiring 'fast-glass' to capture.   In decent light, the 28-135mm Minolta is good enough, albeit it feels a little like pointing a telescope.

For people and portraits, I'm digging the Minolta 85mm 1.4.   I love the look for portraits, in and outside of the studio.

The Minolta 85mm prime on the A7r provides exceptional clarity in 1:1 crop. (Under studio strobes)

The Minolta 85mm prime on the A7r provides exceptional clarity in 1:1 crop. (Under studio strobes)

The Minolta 85mm Prime f1.4 produces agreeable candids.   I think it is a function of the 85mm focal length related to the largest aperture.   Usually the parts of your subject that you want to be in focus, just are and those things that are ancillary to the shot, fade away nicely.

One other quality of the Minolta 85mm is that even at higher ISO, the images seem to smooth well.  I know high ISO / smoothing is usually a function of the sensor but the there is plenty of usable detail to work with being passed through the gi-normous aperture.

For macro, the Minolta 100mm macro 2.8 came out of storage and is getting renewed use.   The 135mm f2.8 works quite well for this as well.

The 100mm macro brings in plenty of detail with the A7r Sensor.

Like most large aperture macros, the the in-focus portion of an image at the higher aperture settings are super tiny!

Pretty much always have to use a tripod with this little beasty.

For ultra-wide, I'm pretty satisfied with an unlikely lens.   The Rokinon 14mm f2/8 ED AS IF UMC is a surprisingly sharp manual focus performer.   It isn't *quite* the Nikon 14-24mm but for $300, you could do a lot worse!

Being able to shoot super-wide, handheld in poor light at f2.8 has had some gigantic advantages.   The fact that the lens is manual focus is a small inconvenience.

The Rokinon 14mm is pretty darned sharp but there is definitely some distortion. Look how elongated the ship on the far right id, the buoy on the bottom right is also elongated towards the bottom of the frame.    Fortunately, this is all corrected easily in Post.

Having epic, stretchy clouds is the hallmark of the 14mm / ultra wide zoom range.   Still, sometimes (as in this photo) you end up with a nearly unrecoverable horizon.   You can notice the definitive dip to the center and rises on the left and right edges.    This is after lens profile correction.   Again, it can be corrected in Post sometimes.  For some reason, this one I could never get right, so it went into a junk bin.   I would expect a more-high-end 14mm zoom would have better lens profile support and more consistency.  Still, I reiterate that for the price of the lens, I have some tolerance for botches such as this one!

On my shopping list for future lenses, I will keep my eye out for a 1up to the ultra-wide zoom range.  If something gets released at parity with the 14-24mm Nikon, it will totally have my support.

Finally, last on my list I will eventually have to buy a Minolta 70-200mm APO G f2.8.   Just because, it is an awesome lens just not within my common use-case.

Which Body to Get?

Get the Sony A7II

5-axis in body image stabilization, improved Autofocus and a 24 megapixel sensor.  The A7II handles extremely well. It 'feels' great, ergonomically and works incredibly well. 

For most folks, I think the A7II is the perfect camera.  24 megapixels is plenty for almost any purpose.  Get it for around $1700 without a lens.

The A7r

The A7r gives you 36 megapixels. Since it is based on the slightly older A7 model, it lacks the in body image stabilization and improved autofocus.    It IS being replicated by the A7r II.

Because I have an unhealthy obsession with capturing and storing ridiculous resolutions, I went with the A7R.   It currently goes for about $1600.  I do very much like it.   

Recently, Sony announced the A7RII, which brings the A7II enhancements over the A7 to the A7r platform in a A7RII model.  The expanded ISO range, in-body stabilization and 399 point autofocus make the A7RII a great update to the A7R.  The 42 megapixel sensor will shoot crisp 4k.   It will set you back $3200.

The Cost of Innovation

Sony seems to release camera body updates at a slightly more rapid pace that the industry leading manufacturers.  It seems this expedited release cycle translates to a more rapid depreciation of Sony camera bodies as compared to their Nikon and Canon counterparts.  The $3200 ARRII will be a $1600 camera in 12-18 months. 

Conclusion

At any rate, this is my journey to mirror-less.   While, I know mirror-less isn't the end of technical growth in photography, I'm more than annoyed at the slowness of the two main players to adopt smaller form factor cameras with typical DSLR capabilities but I'm thankful that Sony recognized the weakness and went on the strategic offensive.    I know we aren't done, in fact I'll bet the future looks a bit more like a Lytro and a bit less like my A7.  

Until we get our crazy light-field holographic super resolution curved sensor cameras, my Sony Full Frame and I are probably at a beach near you, racking up the shutter count.