Sixteen years is a long time to spend together. I was always faithful, never so much as batting an eye at another camera brand, except that one summer when the Nikon D800 came out. Ooh la la! We ran away for two weeks on a whirlwind vacation through Wyoming's breathtaking mountain scenery. We had fun but in the end it was nothing more than teenage lust. The shine quickly wore off and I crawled back to my Canon with a bouquet of memory cards and a promise that I'd never again stray. A couple years later the Sony a7R came along and was all like, "Hey, how you doin'?" I swooned. Then I caved. The promise of incredible image quality in a smaller, lighter package was just too much to resist. I told my Canon 5DIII that the Sony and I were just friends, nothing serious. But then we spent a month together, traveling through Arizona, California and Nevada. I knew at the end of those magical twenty eight days that it was over. There was no going back.
"It's not me, it's you." Piece by piece I sold off all the Canon gear I'd acquired over the years. Soon, the only thing I had left was an sad little extension tube. Truth be told, it was a difficult decision. I'd grown comfortable with the Canon system. I knew what to expect of it. Using my Canon camera and lenses became so intuitive that there literally was no thought behind it. The notion of giving up what I knew for something I didn't was a little bit scary and a whole lot intimidating. But, the time had come for me to move on. I gathered my composure and went all-in on a shiny new Sony system.
Why did I do it? The answers are many; better image quality, more dynamic range, smaller, lighter and less expensive cameras and lenses, as well as a commitment to continuous innovation. In my view, Canon is a reactive company. Sony and Nikon are proactive. They push the limits and are on the leading edge of imaging technology. Canon waits and then plays catch up. The new Canon 5Ds is a perfect example. How long did photographers have to wait for Canon to release a high-resolution camera? How many photographers jumped ship because of Canon's complacency? I've no doubt that it is a remarkable camera but at almost $4,000, it's nearly twice the price of the a7R. It also weighs twice as much and is significantly larger. It goes without saying that camera choice is a personal decision. What's right for me may not be right for you.
I'm not bashing Canon/Nikon/Pentax/etc. Any camera is capable of producing incredible imagery in the right hands. No camera system is perfect. Canon, Nikon, Sony - they've all got flaws. That will always be true. The key is to find a system that works for you, one whose flaws are generously outweighed by the good, and for me that is the Sony system. Here's why I switched, what my new Sony kit looks like and why I chose each piece:
Why I Switched from Canon to Sony
I truly believe that Sony is leading the pack in imaging technology and innovation. Sony sensors are used in some of Nikon's most popular cameras as well as a few medium format digital cameras that cost more than my truck. There's a reason for that - they're incredible.
Dynamic Range - The a7R records over 14 stops of dynamic range. 14 stops! I photographed high contrast scenes with a single exposure using the a7R that would have required an exposure blend if photographed with my Canon system. Fewer exposure blends = less time staring at a computer screen and more time making images in the great outdoors. Win!
Image Detail - Sony a7R image files surprised me with the amount of fine detail they contained. Edges were sharper and small details like thorns on a cactus, palm fronds and pebbles by a creek were all better resolved than I'd ever seen in Canon image files. I'm sure some of this is attributable to the absence of a low-pass filter but I also noticed that the Sony files held up better when enlarged. That last point is unimportant if you don't make large prints but I often do so naturally, I got all tingly inside when I made this discovery.
Image Detail, Part Two - A sensor capable of recording incredible image detail is useless without lenses than can resolve those details. The Sony lenses I tried out and am adding to my kit were as good as, and in some ways better than, their Canon counterparts. My Canon 16-35mm lens suffered from very soft edges and corners, a known issue with this lens. At $1,700, there is no excuse for such lackluster performance. The Sony 16-35mm lens showed significantly sharper edges and corners as well as reduced flare when shooting into the sun for $400 less than the Canon lens. Sony's 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses were on par with Canon's offerings, which is to say that they're very, very good. But smaller. And less expensive. So, you know, they've got that going for them.
Size and Weight - Sony's mirrorless cameras and lenses are significantly smaller and lighter than their DSLR counterparts. I'm not getting any younger and the prospect of losing a few pounds without giving up carrot cake and a daily breakfast burrito was too tempting to pass up.
But Wait, There's More
User Interface - I can't say that the Sony user interface is better than Canon's but I found it to be very intuitive. One press of the "function" button gives immediate access to nearly every commonly used setting or function. The A7R and a6000 also have three custom function buttons and the A7II has four, just in case you don't find what you need with the "function" button.
Electronic Viewfinder - As a landscape and adventure photographer the vast majority of my work is done outside, in bright light that makes it difficult to see an image on the rear LCD. I do use a HoodLoupe, which is hugely helpful, but the Sony EVF supports image review in the viewfinder and I've got to admit...I love this feature. I found that I used it all the time to check for critical sharpness and overall composition. That said, the EVF has some shortcomings that I'll detail below.
And Now, The Downside
As much as I'd love to tell you all that the Sony system has no flaws I just can't do that. It's damn good, but it isn't perfect. Then again, nothing's perfect so this shouldn't be a shocking revelation.
Limited Lens Selection - I need pro quality lenses as my photos are frequently printed at 32" x 48" or even larger, and any lens imperfections that are virtually unnoticeable in a small jpeg can become glaring in a large print. Sony's current catalog of full-frame E-Mount lenses consists of only eight models. I've no doubt that Sony will continue to design and develop new lenses for the system but until they do, photographers are left with a limited selection of lenses. It is true that you can use Sony's A-Mount lenses on A7 cameras with an adapter but that defeats the purpose of a smaller, lighter camera system.
About That EVF - Truly, the Sony EVF is very good but it isn't an optical viewfinder. It's grainy in low light and there is some lag when working with moving subjects. This isn't a problem exclusive to Sony. Rather, it's just an issue with EVF's in general. I found myself using the LCD screen in live view more often that I ever did with my Canon system, which in turn exhausted the small battery even faster.
The Batteries - Battery life is not at all what I became accustomed to with my Canon system. With a battery grip on my 5D Mark III I could usually make it through four days of heavy use before the batteries needed to be charged. I'm doing good to get one full day with the Sony batteries. And for some reason, those small batteries take a long, long time to charge. Extra batteries and a dual battery charger are a must. Speaking of charging, the Sony cameras don't come with a separate wall charger. You have to put the battery in the camera and plug the whole camera into the wall, which is just cumbersome. Of course, you can buy a wall charger but it's an extra expense.
Delayed Start Up - Don't expect to flip the power switch and be ready to go. There is a lag and in some cases (as in the a6000), it may even be a few seconds. If you're a landscape photographer this probably won't be an issue. Wildlife or street photographers may find it to be a nuisance.
Miscellaneous Gripes - On the A7R the shutter button is in a bit of a strange position that forces you to move your shutter finger farther back than on most DSLR's. The A7II was redesigned and the shutter button was moved forward. I'm hopeful that Sony will do the same with the A7R's replacement. Auto Exposure Bracketing is limited to 3 exposures. For extremely high contrast scenes I often use five exposures that I blend together in Photoshop to record the full dynamic range. Initially I thought this would be a bigger problem but thanks to the incredible dynamic range that the Sony sensors capture it turned out to be a non-issue. However, photographers who shoot a lot of HDR may find this to be an issue. I'm not sure if the lack of a mirror is to blame or if it's something else but the Sony seemed to collect more dust on the sensor than my DSLR's ever did, causing a few curse words to escape my lips while processing my images.
And Now, An Introduction to My New Sony System
I started flirting with Sony last year when I purchased an a6000 and 16-70mm lens, which is equivalent to a 24-105mm lens in the full-frame world. This little camera is without a doubt the best bang for the buck in the market right now. It won't be my primary camera but as a back-up to the back-up, or for adventures that require me to travel ultra-light, it'll be an amazing piece of kit.
As much as I loved the A7R, I decided not to buy one right away. Why? It's a couple years old and a replacement is likely near on the horizon. I'd rather wait for the newer camera that will most likely address at least some of my gripes. Instead, I decided to pick up the A7II that was just released four months ago. When the A7R Mark II (or whatever it will be called) is released I'll add it to my kit and it will become my primary camera. The A7II will then be relegated to back-up duties.
The three lenses I tested with the A7R were Sony's 16-35mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm FE lenses. I loved all of them. This collection of lenses gives me a range of focal lengths from 16mm all the way out to 200mm, which is almost all I ever need. Yeah, it'd be nice to have a little bit more reach but if I really need it I'll throw the 70-200mm lens on my a6000 for an equivalent focal length of about 350mm. Sony's A-Mount 70-400mm lens receives great reviews and could be used on the A7 line with an adapter if more reach was absolutely necessary. I won't be surprised if at some point Sony develops an FE lens in the same or similar focal length range and if/when they do, I'll pick it up. I'd also like to see a 15mm or wider fisheye lens added to the line-up as I enjoy using these lenses for adventure photography.
In addition to the aforementioned bits there are several extra batteries, a remote shutter release and a couple wall chargers. I haven't bought one yet but I'll likely add a Sony flash to my kit. I don't use flash often but there are times when having it allows me to make an image that would otherwise be impossible.
So, there you have it. I've spilled my guts. But maybe I left something out or you've just got specific questions that I didn't address. If so, feel free to post them in the comments section and I'll respond as soon as possible.
***NOTE: I'M ON THE ROAD AND I DON'T HAVE ACCESS TO MY IMAGE CATALOG. I'LL ADD PHOTOS TO THIS POST AS SOON AS I'M HOME****