Goodbye Canon, hello Sony

09th April 2017
As 2016 came to a close, so did my many years using Canon cameras for my work (and pleasure). At the time I had three Canon bodies, the 5DMKII, 6D and 5Ds, together with an arsenal of lenses, including their esteemed professional L glass. So after some considerable investment over many, many years, why the change?

Over the years I've found that Canon cameras are excellent, especially for my core areas of business - portraits and weddings. (My days working at a commercial studio showed me how they were the best DSLR's for photographing people.) But they aren't perfect, and I was finding that one camera could not do everything; out and about I found that each camera had its own strengths and weaknesses.

Take the 5Ds for example. This is brilliant in the studio, but a nightmare at a wedding - I was actually having to use it as a 20-odd mp camera instead of 50mp due to the unclear images due to its poor low-light ability and susceptibility to shake. The 5DMKII was showing its age in low-light and the 6D, although perhaps one of Canon's unsung heroes (it is a brilliant camera, especially in low-light and natural light environments) its 20mp sensor meant I had to be careful in framing and cropping in my work, as I needed to maximise that size. Most professional photographers will agree - if we're to offer a level of service above and beyond what the customer can do with their own camera, we have to hit every aspect - and that includes equipment as well as skill and artistry.

So where did I go? Well, I've followed a great many professional photographers (and amateurs too) and gone to Sony with their compact system camera range, the A7 (and derivatives).

Sony have been producing excellent cameras for quite some time now (having bought Minolta quite a few years ago) and in the A7 range developed what a lot of photographers had been hoping for - a full frame 'mirrorless' camera. This means the viewfinder isn't optical like the Canon cameras I'd been using but an EVF instead (electronic view finder). This means it can do away with the mirrorbox assembly making the camera smaller and lighter. Having said that, the mark II's that came along not long later were a little bigger as they now include sensor stabilisation, but more on this later. They're still a lot smaller than their Canon or Nikon competitors though.

So, did I just jump ship and hope for the best? No. I got hold of an A7 (the original and lowest spec, but still with a 24mp sensor) together with a 24-70 f4 Zeiss lens and did a couple of portrait sessions with my Canon 6D to compare them. Differences? Slight colour and contrast differences (but this is more likely down to the lens) and slightly bigger files compared to the 6D. Other than that it didn't feel any different.

However, it's the features the A7 series have that make the real difference. The various focusing options and abilities of the camera are a real improvement, and on family portrait sessions, where the unpredictability of movement could sometimes kill the perfect focus, they really come into their own. Although I use the EVF most of the time, being able to use the rear screen instead means I can communicate with my clients better, great for young children who may be put off by a ruddy great big black camera stuck in front of my face, and the ability to tilt the screen (never been a feature of Canon's professional range) is the icing on the cake.

So after being won over, I also invested in a Sony A7RII - their top of the range (up until recently, with the launch of the A9). This 40mp little beast of a camera has the kind of additional features that have helped my photography on a technical level. The focusing is now almost on a par with Canon (Canon's viewfinder focusing is blistering fast) and the introduction of sensor stabilisation, combined with the lens, means I can shoot with more confidence than I could with Canon's high mp cameras, which lack in-body stabilisation.

Out on location, the sensors in the A7's also produce better results than the Canon's, due to their lower noise levels and higher dynamic range. I find there's more detail in both the shadow and highlight areas, meaning I can produce an image closer to what the human eye sees, more so than I could with the Canon's.

So technically, the Sony's are ahead of the Canon's. But that's not the end of the story. There are two more aspects which are just as important. The first is the Sony's ability to use any kind of lens. Due to its short flange distance (distance between lens mount and sensor) means that it can use old film camera lenses via quite inexpensive adaptors (don't buy the really cheap ones, they aren't as good). Using slightly more expensive adaptors means I can also use my Canon lenses. So although I've invested in Sony native lenses, I haven't had to replace all my Canon equivalent ones as I can still use them - brilliant! There are some trade offs, of course, mainly focusing speed, which is slower, and in some cases needs to be manual focus. But here's the joy factor - manual focus on the Sony A7 series is a doddle. Nailing a perfect focus is easier than with Canon cameras and re-establishes the art of photography - you the photographer are in complete control, not the camera.

I want to use the camera. That isn't something I said with the Canon's. I only took my camera home and out with me if I knew I was going to use it. With the Sony, I take it home and out with me in case I get the chance to use it. When your working day is taking photographs, there is the potential for you to become a little weary of having a camera with you on your time off, but this isn't so with this Sony - I find I want it in my hand, to use it, to find things to photograph for the pure love of photography. Using lenses from the 60's, 70's and 80's help give a character to the shot, rather than the homogenised mass produced technically perfect lenses of today, which opens up new possibilities. Why spend hours processing a photograph to make it look vintage, when the original shot is vintage? Would I shoot a family portrait session with one of these vintage lenses? No. Would I shoot an individual portrait with one? Yes. Would I shoot a wedding with one - if the client wants a shoot of character that isn't required to be technically perfect, then yes I would.

To give an idea of how good these lenses are, here are a couple of shots taken in my office area, handheld with natural light. Both were shot using the basic A7 and shot at f5.6. The first is a 50mm Russian lens from 1977 that's seen a lot of use, with a 1:1 crop showing the sharpness, the second is a 35mm lens from 1971, again with a 1:1 crop showing the sharpness. (The image of the A7RII above was also shot using the 35mm on the A7.)

When I can I will be investing in more vintage lenses, rather than modern prime lenses because of their character, not to mention huge price difference!

Update - I bought a Hoya 135mm f2.8 lens from the 80's/90's last week, here's a little shot of some tulips in my garden taken with this lens on the Sony A7.

After this, would I still recommend Canon cameras? Yes I would. They just aren't right for me anymore, for all the reasons given and these final two reasons. Firstly, I am long-sighted, which meant I was constantly fumbling for my glasses if I needed to check a shot on the back of the camera, or to check all the settings. With the diopter correction on the EVF of the Sony, I can check the shot instantly without needing my glasses and check all the settings - perfect for wedding situations where time is critical. The second reason, the A7RII is the first camera I've ever used where I have felt 'this is the only camera I need'.