I’ve been using my Sony a7R II for nearly 2 months now, and while I’ve listed it as the camera used in a few blog posts on TravelCaffeine, I haven’t mentioned why it’s the camera I’m using instead of my Nikons. I did that in my Why I’m Going Mirrorless: Volume I post over on DisneyTouristBlog, but most of my use with the camera thus far has actually been outside of the theme parks. In fact, since that post, I think I’ve only been to Disneyland once.
By contrast, since then, I’ve shot with it in Yosemite National Park, Death Valley National Park, Hearst Castle, El Matador State Beach in Malibu, Pismo Beach, and at various beaches in Laguna Beach numerous times. Given that, I thought I’d do a “progress report” on my switch to mirrorless with some landscape photos.
and Rokinon 14mm f/2.8), I’m finding the camera to be a great solution for strict landscape photography, and my lighter camera bag is certainly liberating on long hikes or trying to climb up rock ledges on the beach.
Part of this is also because a landscape is typically a low-pressure environment, meaning me fumbling a bit as I’m still learning the controls is not an issue. It’s not like a parade or dark ride at Disneyland that requires quick thinking.
I’ll give you a few examples with photos to illustrate my points.
Here’s a shot from my visit to the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood. In general, I’ve found the experience of shooting at sunrise, sunset, and night to be a pure joy with the Sony a7R II. This is one of those je ne sais quoi type of things that is highly personal, but for me the camera has that certain x-factor.
As much as any single feature, it’s the little things that have really helped. From real-time exposure preview to a tilt screen for capturing low angles, and more, I’ve found the Sony a7R II offering the best of both worlds from my Nikon D750 and D810 when it has come to landscapes.
In-body stabilization has been huge for me when shooting on the beach. I like to put my tripod into the water, and catch the motion of the water as waves retreat from the shore.
The problem is that when the water retreats, the sand moves slightly out from under the tripod. In a perfect world, you’d thus set up on a rock, but rocks aren’t everywhere.
With my Nikons, I’ve dealt with this in the past by being persistent, taking a lot of shots, and hoping to end up with a few that didn’t have camera shake blur. My success rate with my DSLRs was less than 25%. With the Sony, it has been around 75%+. Since these are typically around 1/4 to 1/2 second exposures, I assume this is due to the stabilization.
The above and below photos illustrate this scenario playing out on my first beach shoot with the Sony a7R II in Pismo Beach, California. In the first shot, I stayed back from the water and used my Sony 24-240mm because I was concerned about tripod stability in the water. While the sky is superior in the above shot, it’s otherwise an otherwise boring shot, lacking drama and dimensionality.
For this shot, I moved significantly closer, and switched to my Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens to get in the midst of the water rushing past the rock in the foreground (ideally, I would’ve gotten closer, but the wave height was too high–you can see a wave in the left corner getting “ready” to hit and soak me).
I fired off dozens of shots in succession as I worried that tripod movement due to the water would cause the shots to be out of focus, only to discover after the fact that in-body stabilization really helped with this type of shooting.
Then there’s night shooting, which I do a lot. Autofocus on my Nikon DSLRs is pretty solid at night, but only if you have a bright spot to allow it to grab focus. Manual focus is likewise a challenge.
The EVF and LCD screen on the Sony A7R II make it easier to tell that the camera has grabbed accurate autofocus or that manual focus is correct. The above photo isn’t the best example of this, as the laser beam that Half Dome appears to be firing off would’ve been bright enough for even most DSLRs to grab autofocus, but the principle still stands.
This photo of the Milky Way over Valley View in Yosemite National Park is a much better example. Here, I was using my Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens (a manual focus lens), so I can’t speak to autofocus, but thanks to focus peaking, I was easily able to set manual focus.
I really ought to review this lens soon, as I’ve found it to be an amazing wide angle option for $300, so long as you’re willing to make a couple of compromises.
Focus peaking has also been really helpful in scenes that could benefit from focus stacking, like the above wildflower scene at Death Valley National Park.
I could have used an aperture of f/22 to achieve front to back sharpness here, but there would’ve been two downsides of that: softness as a result of diffraction, and motion blur in the flowers due to the wind rustling them during the longer exposure.
Here we are back at the ocean! I’ve shot every cove in Laguna Beach (except one), but I had never been in the cave on Thousand Steps Beach before due to my visits always corresponding with high tide, at which time the cave and surrounding area is dangerous. (That someone died here just last year is a sobering lesson in respecting the ocean.)
Wanting another shot at El Matador State Beach, we made the drive up to Malibu last week. While scouting where to shoot in mid-afternoon, I noticed that the sun might drop directly in the middle of this keyhole during sunset. I made a mental note, and returned later. Sure enough, I was right!
It’s not nearly as cool as the Keyhole Arch “Light Show” on Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur that draws hordes of photographers every January, but it was pretty neat. The line of the sunset is more pronounced in other shots I captured, but I just couldn’t resist the action of this scene.
These are just a sampling of my shots thus far with the Sony a7R II, which I’m starting to love. I still have a bit of a dilemma with lenses, especially with many new options a couple of months away from release, which is keeping me in limbo. It’s just a waiting game until those come out, at which time I can round out my camera bag. Fortunately, the Sony 24-240mm is the best super-zoom I’ve ever used, and the Rokinon 14mm is a great an inexpensive stop-gap until the UWA I want is released.
I still am not at all convinced that mirrorless is the “DSLR killer” it’s been sensationalized as by many, but I do think it’s a viable option and alternative to DSLR cameras that photographers should give a hard look. It is not for everyone, and probably never will be, but I think it’s really starting to come into its own as a pro-grade platform.
All photos taken by me with my Sony a7R II camera. For photo licensing inquires, please contact me.
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If you’re thinking about making the leap to mirrorless or have already made the jump, what else would you like to hear about my transition? Share your thoughts on this or anything else, or questions you have in the comments!