I’ve purchased the Sony a7 III to make another foray into mirrorless photography. In case you didn’t follow my previous misadventures in mirrorless, I wrote about them in “Why I’m Going Mirrorless: Volume I,” which discusses my initial excitement and enjoyment of the Sony a7R II. The follow-up to that is “Why I’m (NOT) Going Mirrorless: Volume II.”
Perhaps ironically, large portions of both posts remain accurate for me. In this post, I’m going to briefly discuss my thoughts on using the Sony a7 III for a couple of months, and how I utilized it on trips to Alaska, Japan, and Walt Disney World. I’ll also share photos taken in a variety of circumstances with the Sony a7 III and my three lenses for it.
My focus here is how the camera has worked for me, and this feedback might offer limited value for you if your circumstances are materially different from mine. This is not an in-depth review or sales pitch detailing the virtues of mirrorless cameras, it’s more like stream of consciousness rambling about my personal experience. I’m hardly a product evangelist for Sony; even though I see some definite upsides to this Sony camera, there are drawbacks as well.
This time, to go along with my Sony a7 III, I’ve bought an ultra wide angle lens (Voigtlander 10mm), pancake lens (Samyang 35mm), and super-zoom (Sony 24-240mm). This time, my intent in ‘going mirrorless’ was not to replace my DSLR system–spoiler: the Nikon D850 remains my dream camera, and nothing about the Sony a7 III changes that–but rather to supplement my heavy DSLR camera bag.
Before we go any further, I should probably make my intentions in going mirrorless clear to properly set expectations. I wanted a significantly lighter and smaller camera system that would still cover a range of important photography situations. Going in, I knew I would be compromising significantly on lens quality, speed, etc. in order to have a lighter, secondary camera bag.
After extensive traveling and carrying my camera bag daily for nearly half of the last year, I’ve experienced a lot of back pain. If you’ve ever wondered why I’m so short, it’s because my heavy DSLR camera bag has significantly compressed my spine over the last decade. I used to be 6’2″! While that height estimate might be slightly off, I have actually worried about the long-term damage I might be doing by carrying so much camera gear.
In the last year, there have been a number of days when I’ve left my heavier DSLR lenses at home, giving me a camera bag with a lot of holes in it–but even that was still heavy. Hence my goal of a lighter system that provided fairly broad coverage. The Sony a7 III has provided exactly that, and I’ve opted for it over the Nikon D850 most days on each of our recent trips.
This is the biggest change between now and the last time I went mirrorless, and that’s definitely a personal one. In my last mirrorless article roughly two years ago, I wrote: “After a couple of months, the ‘honeymoon’ phase of this liberated feeling [of a lighter camera bag] wore off. It became less easy to overlook the compromises I was making in favor of carrying less gear.”
That quote was written at a time when my normal camera usage was small windows of time at Disneyland on chilly evenings when I was also probably a bit more serious about photography. Flash forward two years, and my recent usage has been consecutive days of traveling, with each day logging over 12 miles of walking or hiking. The time in Florida and Japan also featured temperatures in the 90s with high humidity.
This time, the liberated feeling has yet to wear off, and I can’t imagine that it will. There have been many days when I haven’t used a camera bag at all, and have just thrown my Sony lenses with other stuff into a lightweight travel backpack. As compared to my gigantic Lowepro bag, it has felt like carrying nothing at all, and has been wonderful.
Without question, this has been the greatest upside to the Sony a7 III for me. I cannot overstate the significance of this, or how great it felt not having back or shoulder pain while carrying the Sony. Sure, there are some nice features on the a7 III like Eye AF and focus peaking, but the Nikon and Sony are (mostly) evenly matched in most substantive regards. The key for me is the size and weight of my respective systems with each.
Since going mirrorless, every single day of carrying my full-sized bag with my Nikon D850 and lenses has made me question whether the weight is worth it. Part of this is probably the weather, and part is probably me getting lazier as a photographer.
I do expect this to change a bit with cooler weather in the fall and winter, and there have been times when I’ve been thankful I had my Nikon to capture “important” shots. (Conversely, there were times I wished I had it when I didn’t.) Still, I’m cursing the Nikon’s weight every day.
Given that the Sony a7 III has become my go-to camera in recent months, it should be obvious that I’m a fan of it. As with the D850, the dynamic range on the Sony a7 III is incredibly impressive. Ditto high ISO performance and color depth. Other elements of performance are harder to compare, as I have nicer lenses for Nikon.
I’m glossing over most of the Sony a7 III’s selling points and its feature-set, but the fact that I think it’s close to evenly matched with the Nikon D850, the gold standard of DSLRs, should say a lot. This is especially true when the Sony a7 III costs over $1,000 less.
With that said, the Sony a7 III is not without faults–or perhaps more accurately, my use of it is not without them. The first lesson is that changing between two systems underscores the strengths and weaknesses of each, and most of the time, using the Nikon D850 after a while of uninterrupted Sony a7 III use was like a breath of fresh air. This is primarily due to the viewfinders.
Reasonable minds may differ on this, but the Sony EVF has nothing on the Nikon D850’s optical viewfinder. Lag is one problem, especially when shooting action or bursts, but the bigger issue for me is the clarity of the EVF. While some laud the EVF for being a better preview of the final image, I far prefer the clear ‘real world’ look and higher dynamic range of the optical viewfinder.
I see value in having the option for the EVF’s ‘what you see is what you get’ approach for beginners, but any experienced photographer should have a pretty good idea of how a photo will differ from the scene being viewed. Personally, I would much rather see the scene as clearly it appears to my eyes. (To be frank, the ‘previewing your final image’ line has always seemed like a lame excuse from Sony fans. That’s also a tough position to reconcile with inevitable tech strides that will increase the EVF’s dynamic range.)
I’m never posting straight out of camera images, so limiting my view to the dynamic range of the initial raw file feels like an arbitrary handcuff. There were countless times when I couldn’t see sufficient details in a EVF scene and framed poorly as a result. Between this and lag, I’ve missed a lot of shots.
Also on the missed shot front, the Sony’s controls still confound me. As with much of this article, that’s a personal thing. There’s a ton of customizability and the menus do seem fairly intuitive, but I continue to struggle with this. After a decade of Nikon use, I’ve developed solid muscle memory and can dial in settings quickly without removing my eye from the viewfinder.
With the Sony, there are times I can’t get things right even after 30 seconds after looking at the buttons. Totally on me, and something I hope will improve with time, but still a problem. It’s also one that is probably exacerbated by keeping my feet in both the Nikon and Sony worlds.
Next, I did not assemble the ideal camera bag on the first try. I’ve long prided myself on being an ultra wide angle cultist, but 10mm–or at least, a 10mm prime–is simply too wide for me. The Laowa 10-18mm will be released later this year, and I have my eye on that as it provides a bit more range, which I think could be useful, especially on the smaller sensor.
I actually like the Sony 24-240mm quite a bit for what it is; it’s the best super-zoom I’ve ever used, but the lens is slow and large. I’m debating seeking out something smaller with less zoom to replace that, and just being content with a bit less range.
The Samyang 35mm f/2.8 is also a solid lens for the price and size, but having an f/2.8 lens as my fastest choice is not ideal. I’ll probably swap that out for a small 50mm f/1.8 lens at some point soon.
It’s also really difficult to go from the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens to this, as the differences in quality and image aesthetic are very clear. Not having my Sigma Art lenses is really a double-edged sword: they are so high quality and have a distinct look, but they’re also really heavy.
With that said, I learned long ago that there’s no such thing as a perfect lens lineup for me. I have severe GAS, and even after cutting beans out of my diet (sorry, low-hanging fruit), I still tinker with my Nikon camera bag.
It’s like a compulsion, and a lot of times I’m just making lateral moves. I definite upside of my current Sony lineup is that these lenses are so small I could fit them all in a fanny pack. And as the paragon of stylishness, perhaps I will.
It’s also probably worth pointing out here that the Sony FE system is not inherently smaller than a DSLR system. It’s easy to point to camera body size and see a significant difference. And I’ve been able to cherrypick lenses to assemble a smaller, albeit compromised, camera bag.
With that said, if I chose lenses equivalent to my Nikon DSLR system, those same lenses each would have been larger than my DSLR lenses, and collectively made my camera bag bigger and heavier than my DSLR one. The added size of each lens would more than negate the size-savings of the camera itself.
Plenty of people do make mirrorless work for them by making similar sacrifices or cherrypicking lenses that are not equivalent to what they once owned with DSLRs. That’s what I did, and it’s a workable solution.
However, I think it’s important to call a spade a spade, and not hype up the size benefits of Sony mirrorless, as they can be illusory if you’re investing in a lineup of pro-grade lenses. It’d be more honest to hype the size benefits of a Sony RX100, as at least the size difference and sacrifices there are patently obvious.
Overall, I’m pleased with my decision to go mirrorless again. Most of the time, I’m comfortable with my decision to trade camera system size for results; even when I do wish I had the quality of my full lineup of Sigma Art lenses, I recognize the added weight those would add while traveling. As a photographer shooting primarily landscapes, raw file quality is a primary concern, and the Sony a7 III is right there with my Nikon D850. As before, I still think the Sony system still has a lot of unrealized potential–but the upside to that is Sony mirrorless has a higher “ceiling” than Nikon DSLRs–and I’m eager to see strides made in the lens lineup and technology.
Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts on the Sony full-frame mirrorless system? If you’ve made the leap to mirrorless, how are you liking it? Which camera and lenses are you using? Anything you recommend? If you’ve been hesitant to try mirrorless, why? Are you considering going mirrorless? Any questions? Hearing from readers is interesting and helpful, so please share your thoughts in the comments below!