Ditching the DSLR for Mirrorless

Inspiration January 15th 2014 11:24 AM 29 Comments

Picking Up a Mirrorless Camera For the First Time

First Impressions

I got to spend some time with Sony’s newest fullframe mirrorless cameras, the Sony a7 and A7R. The first thing I noticed is that there are plenty of physical buttons and dials on the cameras. This is a plus because it makes changing settings quick and easy, but the small size of the camera and buttons makes it difficult to change the settings when you’re looking through the viewfinder. The first time I tried changing the settings while looking through the viewfinder, I felt like I had hulk hands on because I could NOT find the right buttons.

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Other than that, there are plenty of features and customizable options that would take me more than a weekend to take advantage of.

Shooting Around The House

Most of the time when I’m at home I won’t bother taking my DSLR out because it’s big, heavy, and tedious. With the light and small mirrorless cameras I had no reservations taking the camera around the house with me. It’s the best of both worlds, it’s small and light, and it has DSLR image quality.

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Sony a7 with Sony 85mm f/1.4 Carl Zeiss Planar T* Prime Lens
shot at 1/80 sec at f/1.4, ISO 1000

This is my adorable niece Adriana. Most of the photos I have of her are on my iPhone because I’m too lazy to get my DSLR, but with the compact size of the Sony a7 and A7R, I’m capturing MUCH better quality photos of her growing up. It makes me wonder how many quality moments I might have missed just because I’m too lazy to unpack my DSLR.

Leaving The DSLR In The Car

I had the new Sony a7 and A7R for a weekend, and it was a life changing experience. I was shooting an engagement session in San Diego and I was planning on taking the two cameras with me so I can get some test shots. This is the gear I usually bring on an engagement shoot:

As you can imagine, all that gear is quite heavy and can take a toll on your shoulders, especially when moving from location to location. After I finished location scouting I did something I didn’t expect, I left all my DSLR equipment in the car and brought only the following:

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A7R with 85mm 1.4 on left | A7 with 35mm 2.8 on right

Shooting With The Sonys

Leaving all the heavy DSLR equipment behind and shooting with the lighter mirrorless cameras gave me a lot more energy during my shoot. I didn’t have to carry two full bags of equipment everywhere, and I didn’t have to worry about theft because everything fit in my 13in One Bag.

I had a lot more energy to be creative and I felt like I was being more active in my location scouting. I pride myself in using heavy cameras (I have a Mamiya rz67 that weighs about 10 lbs), but being able to shoot with a set of cameras that weighs less than a Chipotle burrito is something I can get used to.

The Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA

I put the Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA on the A7R because it’s the wider lens and I can take advantage of the A7‘s 36 megapixels if I wanted to crop into an image. I really enjoyed color and details I was getting with this combination.

35mm

Sony A7R with Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA
both images shot at 1/200 sec at f/2.8, ISO 200

One thing I was really impressed with was the 36 megapixel resolution. When I zoom into an image at 100% it’s astonishing how much detail there is. It’s almost as if the A7R tells you to “look closer” because there are so much more to look at when you zoom into an image! Here’s a 100% crop of the Dr. Suess statue in the image above on the right. The details on his head and hair are captured so well, I don’t even remember seeing this much detail on the statue when I was standing right in front of it.

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one fish two fish, now I shoot mirrorless

The Sony 85mm f/1.4 Carl Zeiss Planar T* Prime Lens

My all time favorite lens is the 85mm prime. I paired the Sony 85mm f/1.4 Carl Zeiss Planar T* Prime Lens with the Sony a7 because I wanted to take advantage of the Sony a7‘s 117 densely placed phase-detection AF points. Sadly I couldn’t take advantage of the Sony a7‘s autofocus because with the adapter I was no longer using the camera’s AF, but the one inside the Sony A-Mount to E-Mount Lens Adapter. The viewfinder focus peaking helped immensely to confirm focus, and that’s definitely my favorite feature in these cameras.

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Sony A7R with Sony 85mm f/1.4 Carl Zeiss Planar T* Prime Lens
image on left shot at 1/2000 sec at f/1.4, ISO 100
image on right shot at 1/250 sec at f/1.4, ISO 100

Good bokeh is one of my favorite things in the world, and what I love most in these photos is the beautiful out of focus areas. When shooting with the 85mm at f/1.4 the lens becomes a blender, and it takes in the light and color and blends them into a delicious bokeh smoothie. Here are some 100% crop examples of the dreamy and beautifully blended bokeh I was getting.

Foreground bokeh on left | Background bokeh on right

foreground bokeh on left | background bokeh on right

Conclusion

In conclusion, I don’t regret leaving behind my DSLR’s on that shoot. I am extremely happy with the results, and a Sony a7 and A7R has definitely found a place in my camera bag. I used to bring my DSLR camera everywhere, but since my iPhone takes such good quality photos, I find myself leaving the DSLR at home much more often. The Sony a7 and A7R are the perfect balance of portability and image quality. Now when I leave the house, it’s one thing I don’t leave behind.

If you’re interested in learning posing for engagement photos like seen in the images above be sure to check out our foundation posing guide, part of the Natural Light Couples Photography Workshop.

All the images above were edited using the Lightroom Preset System v5.

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Cha

About

I’m a photographer and cinematographer based in Southern California. When I don’t have a camera in my face I enjoy going to the movies and dissecting the story telling and visual aesthetics.

29 Comments

  1. Debra

    By any chance do you have a rec for a top notch point and shoot? I use a D700 with all the fancy lens’ but I too want to have something other than my phone to run around with when I dont want to lug the heavy equipment. I am not looking to invest more big money to a mirrorless system, but would love to find a p&S (with an optical viewfinder) in the $400-$500 range that will give great quality results with little PP.

    • Cha

      If you’re looking for a quality point and shoot camera to replace your dslr the only one I have experience with that I can recommend is the Canon G1X, although it is a bit out of your price range , $649 on BH. The NIkon equivalent would be the P7800 which is about $550 on BH, but it doesn’t have an optical viewfinder. As of now I don’t have a solid recommendation for a point and shoot $400-$500 with an optical viewfinder, but if you find one you love please let us know!

    • trevor

      Sony rx100 under 500 right now or if you want to the latest version rx100 mark2 for around 600. lots of sensor and megapixel to work with, also cz lens.

    • vasilis

      I can definitely recommend Ricoh GR.It s small robust built and the details in photos are phenomenal.Especially in B&W the results are magnifisent.

  2. Brent

    Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA – $800
    Sony 85mm f/1.4 Carl Zeiss Planar T* Prime Lens – $1,700

    Guess you can leave your DSLR at home, but better not forget your wallet…

  3. Kishore Sawh

    As if I needed ANY more convincing that I must have A7s in my life. This was like pushing on an open door. Nice post.

  4. Debra

    Thanks Cha!

    I dont want to replace my D700, just want a supplement, an alternative small/lightweight, that I can be happy with. Standards are too high when you’re used to what a DSLR can produce. I’ll let you know if I come up with anything.

    • Cha

      I know exactly what you mean when you say “standards are too high when you’re used to what a DSLR can produce.” Thats why I was thoroughly impressed with these mirrorless cameras. Hope you find a good supplement soon!

  5. Brandon

    Since the majority of us are probably looking at either the a7 or a7R, one or the other, which one would you choose if you were to only buy one, and why?

    Right now I’m in the process of selling all my Canon gear (5D3, 24-70, 70-200, etc.) and I’m leaning towards the a7R + LA-EA4 to use with the 24 f/2, 85 f/1.4 and 135 f/1.8 A-mount lenses in hopes that the adapter’s phase detection AF will compensate for the a7R’s inherent CDAF and bring it up to similar speeds of the a7. Does that sound realistic based on your experience with the two?

  6. Brandon

    So which would you choose if you could only pick one?

    • Cha

      for the type of shooting i’m going to be doing with this camera, I would choose the a7. This camera is going to be my everyday camera and the a7 has better ISO performance and better autofocus. Not to mention with the money I save from not buying the a7R I can also get the metabones eos-nex adapter so I can put all of my canon lenses on it. If you plan on doing more landscape or professional studio portraits then the a7R is the way to go.

  7. Virgilio H Aviles

    Enjoyed your article, Thank You.-

  8. Nicholas Gonzalez

    Excellent review. The focus peaking alone is a wonderful tool for a photographer at weddings. Have the mirrorless tools informed your standard dslr equipment choices? Two lenses compared to a bagful will have a difference in weight no matter what camera one uses. Thanks for the post.

    • Cha

      haha yeah I didn’t mean to compare a bag full of lenses to 2, but I was just so ecstatic about how light the mirrorless system was. I’m not sure what you mean by “Have the mirrorless tools informed your standard dslr equipment choices?” can you please elaborate?

  9. Gerry

    Hi – Thanks for the excellent article. I’m very tempted to get an A7 to replace my Nikon D600 (don’t get me started on the “New & improved D610”), I’m wondering if you found the overall size of the A7 coupled with the Sony/Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 lens noticeably smaller than, say, a 5D MKIII with the 85mm f/1.4 Canon lens… (?) It appears to me that they’re not that much different in *overall* size given that the Sony lenses are about the same size, if not slightly larger. Any comment(s) would be appreciated! Thanks!

  10. Mark

    Just one thing bugged me: you said you put the 85mm on the A7 because it’s got phase detect AF. But you’re using the adapter with the mirror and the AF sensor built in. You’re not even using the A7’s built in AF sensor. Am I missing something here?

    • Cha

      You’re exactly right, when I had first picked up that camera that was my reasoning for putting the 85mm on the a7, but I didn’t realize I would be using the adapter’s AF. Good catch, and I clarified that in the article.

  11. Rocky

    Small and light and compact? with 85 1.4 lens??
    Is sony really so good that all of a sudden you dont need 16-28, 50 and 70-200 lenses no more?

    • Cha

      I primarily shoot on primes and I bring the 16-28 for landscapes and the 70-200 if I need the extra reach. 35 and 85 are what I use the 90% of my couples session anyways, so it was literally the perfect set up for me.

      The sony 85mm 1.4 isn’t that light and compact, but compared to the 5dm3 with the 85mm 1.2, it weighs nothing at all. It was like I was holding an empty beer bottle, full of helium, in space…

  12. Peter

    Although the Sony’s produce great images mainly due to their top notch sensors, i still find the overall ergonomics quite poor when held in the hand for a long period of time.
    To me it doesn’t make sense to use your existing Nikkor or Canon glass via an adapter as it would be defeating the purpose of going to mirrorless and that is to have a significant reduction in overall weight.

    • Cha

      I agree with you on the ergonomics, it’s not very comfortable…

      Being able to use canon lenses on the a7 and a7r is a huge plus, but I don’t plan on it. What I really want are some nice voigtlander m mount lenses. That way I get superb image quality on a small outfit.

  13. Lisa

    This is the 2nd post I’ve read in the past week on mirror less cameras. I’m not a pro and don’t make money taking photos. I love to travel and plan to do lots more soon, and that’s when I use my camera the most. It sounds like mirror less is the way to go – less weight, good quality shots. This one person used the Fuji Xe-1. Any comments on that camera?

  14. Jac

    recently purchased the a7 and love it! I take it with me everywhere because it is nice and small and I find myself pulling it out more often then my old Nikon because I know I can get my setting ready so much faster then I could on my Nikon. Focus peaking is so neat and the digital view finder is actually awesome! Great article.

  15. Patrick O'Connor

    Not trying to be a jerk or anything but, isn’t this called SLR Lounge? You can shoot whatever you want but I’m getting tired of people telling ME what I should shoot.

  16. L. 'Max' Tak

    Hello Cha,

    I enjoyed reading the article, but I wonder: if you exchanged a 2-body, 3-prime & 2 zoom DSLR setup for a 2body 2 prime DSLM setup, and didn’t feel you ‘missed a lens’, were you not ‘over-carrying/over-equipped’ with the DSLR setup ?

    And if so, then why not do the same with the DSLR’s: only take the 35F1.4 and 85F1.2 ? Wouldn’t that have given you the same kind of portability and ‘added creativity’ that you now got from the 2 Sony’s ?

    …just *my* €0.02…

    Kindest regards, thanks for the article,

    Max@Home

    • Cha

      This is an excellent question. My favorite street photography/wide angle portrait lens is the 35, and my favorite bokeh/ portrait lens is the 85, and I felt like these 2 lenses I could adequately capture everything I need to. The sony 35mm is MUCH smaller than the canon L series, and the 85’s are about the same size, but the a7 and a7r’s bodies are much smaller and much more portable. Was I overcarrying with the DSLR setup? absolutely. But my rule is to always bring what you might need, because it’s better to have it and not use it, than not have it and want it.

      My current setup for the a7 is mostly voigtlander nokton lenses, which makes the entire outfit much smaller and much more portable.

  17. John

    Why are all your whites blownout? Is this a camera problem or an operator problem?

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