One year after switching from Canon DSLR to Sony Alpha mirrorless
I get some queries quite a bit about my “incredible” switch from Canon to Sony mirrorless cameras. Is it worth it? Did you make the right choice? What don’t you like about it? Should I do it?
It’s been one year now since I made the switch from Canon DSLRs to the lighter, more compact Sony Alpha mirrorless cameras. It was a tough switch – I had amassed a large collection of Canon lenses, flashes, and other accessories, and I was worried about showing up on jobs with a small Sony and have clients not take me seriously as a photographer. The bigger the camera, the better the photographer, right? At least that’s the stereotype.
My current Sony Alpha lineup consists of the a6000, the a7, Sony 16-50mm lens, Zeiss 10-18mm lens, Zeiss 24-70mm lens, and Zeiss 28mm f2 lens. So far they’ve survived two big tests: three weeks on the rugged, dusty John Muir Trail and six months at sea on a small sailboat.
If you need a primer of the differences between the various Sony Alpha mirrorless cameras, you can read this post about their current lineup.
It’s been a while since I’ve shared any reviews on my experience with the Alphas – actually I only wrote one post about it after my first time backpacking with it – so let’s get to it!
A quick summary of why I converted to Sony mirrorless cameras
- Price. You get more bang for your buck with the Sony mirrorless systems than with bigger DSLRs. When people think “professional camera” they usually think Canon or Nikon, but when you compare features, the Sonys offer more for the price.
- Size. Packing for trips is so much easier. Same with finding a place for all this stuff while backpacking & hiking. And you can actually be discreet in areas you don’t want to flash a big DSLR!
- Weight. I almost feel like I’m going to break the camera because it’s so light in comparison. That’s because I’ve been used to heavy cameras. But they’re really not that delicate, and the weight savings has been a huge payoff for backpacking and travel. Every ounce matters when you’re carrying these for hundreds of miles.
A review one year after going mirrorless
The Sony cameras still feel…how to put this…”dainty” isn’t the right word. Maybe delicate? They’re just so small and light that they don’t feel quite as solid as a heavier DSLR. I’m still getting used to this but both the a6000 and a7 have proven to me that they’re not that delicate.
The Sony a7 accompanied me on hundreds of miles backpacking through the Sierra Nevada mountains last year, including an intense trip along the John Muir Trail. They have also performed wonderfully in the salty environment on a sailboat in the Caribbean, and hiking through the jungles of Grenada and Dominica. Muddy, rainy conditions and some accidental bumps on logs haven’t been a problem. I even dropped my camera bag in some salt water accidentally – I usually keep it in a dry bag, but didn’t for this one time and it fell in the water in the bottom of my dinghy. I quickly rinsed everything with fresh water and let it all dry out. Everything functioned properly for weeks until the rear aperture control wheel froze from the salt intrusion. I’m still impressed everything else functions properly after the salt bath.
Why I still love the Sony Alphas
- Size. Yep, still holds true. It’s been especially helpful in poverty-stricken areas of the Caribbean where I can disguise myself as just another chump tourist instead of some guy with a fancy, expensive camera. Peace of mind.
- Weight. Yep, again, this has been a lifesaver (or backsaver).
- Image quality. Some people think that a smaller camera equals less detail & resolution. This is far from the truth. The 24MP Sony a7 with a Zeiss E-mount lens rivals the best Canon glass. I’ve been incredibly happy with my super-sharp images, also thanks in part to Sony’s great autofocus system.
- LCD Screen. I love this folding screen – it’s so much easier to get creative with high or low shots without having to get on stepstools or kneeling on the ground. I take advantage of being able to quickly customize white balance with the touch of one button, and getting a live preview with my current EV settings and highlight clipping (“the zebra”) function. I hardly use exposure bracketing at all anymore, and this has saved tremendous time in post-processing.
- Hit a button and immediately send to smartphone for social media. I never wanted to be one of those guys, but it’s a necessity these days. I can take a photo with my Sony Alpha, hit a button, and have that photo on my phone within two seconds. I can then edit it in Google Snapseed and immediately share it across all social networks. Useful for the many times I’m away from the laptop for extended periods of time.
- Dynamic range is awesome. Much more so than my Canon 5Dii. Using Lightroom, the highlights can be brought down and the shadows bumped up without losing color or introducing noise. In contrasty jungle scenes, I can bring up the dark shadows in the leaves to reveal some vibrant green foliage instead of the gray mottled look I used to get. You can make much larger changes to these values while keeping a more natural scene, avoiding the artificial HDR look – but you can certainly go even further if HDR style is your thing. The Exmor CMOS sensor coupled with the BIONZ X image processor are a winning combination here.
- Less noise. I always try to slightly overexpose than underexpose if I’m going to err in one direction, but even if I underexpose I can boost the exposure by at least +1.5 in post-processing without any noise showing up, at ISO 200 or less. This is where the BIONZ X image processor excels.
Uncompressed photo, single exposure:
What I miss about Canon DSLRs
- The battery life. Because the Alphas are mirrorless they use an electronic viewfinder or LCD screen. I exclusively use the latter because the viewfinder consumes a little more juice. But the LCD screen is still certainly a drain on the batteries. I can easily go through a battery in a day, whereas the same conditions might have given me a week with the DSLR. I have a couple of spares and find that if I plug in the camera right after a shoot, this’ll keep me honest about always having a full battery. I have to resort to a few tricks to extend battery life when off the grid.
- The lens selection. When the Sony Alphas were introduced, there were but a few quality lenses that could go with them. Nothing near the selection of L-series lenses available with Canons. This selection is growing almost every month with Zeiss being the primary manufacturer for Sony’s high-end Alpha lenses. They’ll catch up quickly. I’m still waiting for an ultra-wide, ultra-fast lens. I do regret selling my Canon L-series lenses after talking to a few other photographers. The Canon glass still works great with Sony Alphas when using the Metabones IV Smart Adapter.
- Accessories. DSLRs from Canon, Nikon, and Pentax have been around for so long that there’s an endless supply of accessories compatible with them, such as a wide selection of ETTL cords, flash triggers, etc. The selection is smaller for Sony’s cameras, but just like the lenses, the industry is catching up.
Should you convert to Sony mirrorless?
I don’t think I can answer this for you! Best I can do is give you this information, my experiences with it, and let you decide on your own. Go ahead and check out a specs comparison in this post.
If you do studio work and the cameras really never leave the studio, I might say that you’re better off keeping your current DSLR equipment.
But for the person always on the go and who is looking for a great lightweight travel camera with SLR-like qualities, my opinion is that this is absolutely the better choice.
Do any of you have experiences making the switch from a DSLR to Sony Alphas?