Sony cameras have captured the imaginations of many photographers and videographers in the last few years, with their rich feature sets and vast capabilities providing lots of excitement and increasing the company’s market share at a rapid pace. Here are the three things I most appreciate about Sony cameras.
Seven years ago, the idea that Sony would revolutionize the professional camera world and seriously challenge the supremacy of Canon and Nikon might have seemed a bit far-fetched, but the company has aggressively pursued the market and put out highly competitive cameras that push the boundaries of feature sets and that have won over many photographers and videographers. I’ve shot with most of the major brands at some point in my life, and I currently shoot mainly with a Sony a7R III and a Canon 1D X Mark II. Here are the three things I most appreciate about Sony cameras.
I shot on Canon cameras for the first several years of my digital life, and while I have plenty of good things to say about them, one thing that I always found frustrating was the limited dynamic range. I primarily shoot landscapes, events, and portraits. For portraits, dynamic range is never really an issue, but for landscapes and events, I frequently ran into issues. Landscapes are known for often having extreme dynamic range, and it was very common for me to have to bracket exposures. That was never a big deal and remains a very common technique. Where it became more of an issue was with events and weddings, where I couldn’t bracket. I frequently shoot events with bright stage lights on the performers and deep areas of shadow just nearby or a bright background with relatively dark performers. Sometimes, I actually want that shadow or highlight detail, though. For example, I most often shoot concerts in a hall with a large glass wall and garden behind the stage. During an afternoon concert, I have to generally shoot my exposures for the performers, meaning the beautiful garden is normally blown out.
There’s a gorgeous black Steinway in the hall, and I’ve found that if I try to protect the highlights of the garden when shooting with a Canon, the performers’ dark clothing and that piano turned into a noisy, banded mess when I bring them back up. However, with the Sony, I can shoot to protect the highlights and still bring up the exposure of the performers to create gorgeous, balanced images.
When it comes to landscapes, I can shoot many more scenes in a single exposure without bracketing. Yes, I can bracket with a Canon, but I love the convenience of working with a single exposure.
I’m not claiming Eye AF and manual focus aids are exclusive to Sony cameras. In fact, both Canon and Nikon have it now in their respective full frame mirrorless cameras, and Fuji has had it for a while, but Sony’s implementation has been around for several years and is highly refined — so refined that they now even have it for animals. It’s made a fundamental difference in how I shoot. When I shot with wide aperture telephoto lenses before, I was very used to having a relatively low keeper rate — AFMA, any sort of slight movement from the subject or my hand, even the AF point picking up the eyelash instead of the eyeball — all these things were enough to throw the photo out of focus.
With Sony’s Eye AF, I simply leave it on continuous focus, and it picks up the subject’s eye and sticks with it. My keeper rate has skyrocketed. It’s hard to overstate how freeing this is, both for the photographer and the subject, as it allows you to interact in a far more organic fashion, and that in turn makes posing and expressions far more natural and easy to work with. The Eye AF has even gotten good enough to use in certain sports situations; I have no problem using it on people running or walking briskly. That’s certainly a boon for the wedding crowd as well, as they can confidently use wide aperture lenses in fast-paced and demanding environments without worrying about having to babysit the autofocus.
Photo and Video
While Canon has generally been conservative in the video features they include in their full frame cameras, even making seemingly arbitrary exclusions (the lack of 1080p at 24 fps in the EOS RP comes to mind) and Nikon has never been a huge leader in video, Sony pushed forward in including forward-thinking video features in their a7 series. Though the a7S II is clearly the video-centric camera, both the a7 III and a7R III offer an impressive range of video features that should be more than enough for all but the most demanding shooters.
I was particularly fond of the a7 III when I reviewed it. It’s probably the best hybrid stills and video camera at the price point it sits at, providing a great sensor, strong autofocus performance, a fast continuous frame rate, great low-light performance, and excellent video capabilities. It’s by far one of the most balanced full frame cameras ever created, and I appreciate the effort Sony put into making a camera that covers all of the needs of 90% of photo and video shooters at an extremely reasonable price point. The a7 line is very emblematic of a philosophy that I appreciate quite a bit. Instead of arbitrarily removing certain features from cameras to create artificial impetus to upgrade, they’ve created three separate but very capable models that occupy distinct niches. And of course, there’s also the a9, which offers top of the line capabilities that directly challenge the respective Canon and Nikon flagships, yet currently sits at a price $2,000 cheaper than the Canon and $3,000 cheaper than the Nikon.
Sony’s cameras have quickly evolved into serious professional photographic tools in the last few years, and the company shows no signs of slowing their blistering pace of development. Even if you’re not a Sony fan, that’s good for the industry, as it keeps the pressure on other companies to continue innovating.
What are you favorite aspects of Sony cameras? Let me know in the comments.