Mirrorless cameras... Am I a fan of them? What does it feel like to use one?
In the beginning, my trusty EOS 7D I’ve used for years was all I need to get the job done. I had a slew of Canon lenses; they served me well. I was using the 7D because it was fast in almost everything I throw at. Moreover it was something my late-dad bought for me back in October 2009. I shoot events photography on occasional basis and if opportunity comes (though rarely) I get to shoot weddings. But at the heart of all, (and as some of you may know me) I shoot landscapes. Thus at times I wished I had a full-frame camera to take advantage of a larger sensor for the kind of work I’m doing. I’ve never used a mirrorless camera before. I’m not sure what to expect out of it. I’ve heard all sorts of functionality with the offerings of a mirrorless camera that goes well beyond a “normal camera”.
So what does it feel like transitioning from a DSLR to a mirrorless? That’s what I’m curious to find out.
But before I get into that, let me assure you this is the first time in my life I’ve ever get to use a camera with a full-frame sensor for an extended period of time. This is something I’ve been dreaming about for years but never had the chance to do so, or the money to upgrade my camera to experience the transitioning from an APSC sensor to a full-frame camera.
What does it mean for me? Lower noise? Better range of lens selection? Better dynamic range? True 35mm equivalence (for once)? I’ve heard all these things with the Sony Alpha series. I just never really got to try it extensively till now.
(Left) Sony A7II and the worn but reliable, 6Ĺ year old EOS 7D (right)
A7II FIRST IMPRESSIONS & HANDLING
When I held the camera for the first time, it felt like I was holding a toy. Now before you go flaming me with your sword with what I said, that’s actually not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, it’s a compliment - It’s an awesome toy. It’s a small, surprisingly compact piece of equipment. If the A7II was released say in 2010, no one would have thought or even expect a 35mm sensor to exist in that sucker. To me it don’t matter when it was released, my point is I still can't believe I’m holding a relatively small camera with a full frame sensor. Coming from a DSLR-only background, this was a pretty big deal for me. From then on, I kinda got the concept of a mirrorless camera. Overall handling was surprisingly top-notch despite its compact size… What an age we live in.
The mighty A7II in all its glory It's small, but still comfortable to hold in the hand
In the package were two lenses - The Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm and 24-70mm both rated at f4 and was designed by Zeiss Optics. I’ve shot with Zeiss CP.2 Cine lenses for filming before but have never tried to use Zeiss’ E-mount lenses designed for photography. The lenses appear smaller than they are. The 16-35 had a thread size of 72mm and the 24-70 had a thread size of 67mm. I just wish both lenses would use the same thread diameter so that I don’t have to purchase separate ring adapters to mount my filter holder but, oh well.
During the weeks I’ve also requested more E-Mount lenses to add into the arsenal of lenses but at the time of offering there weren't a lot to choose from, but at this rate of what I am shooting it’s completely fine with me in this regard. But I hope to see more in future.
NAVIGATION & PERFORMANCE
I have to say, the menu navigation has taken a huge leap of improvement over the years. The important functions such as white balance and ISO settings are now readily available and much quicker to access than ever before. And it gets even better: all the buttons are completely customisable. You can literally remap the buttons to whatever function you desire from the default setting.
But if there’s something I need to nitpick, I’ve experienced a certain palpable delay or lag when accessing and scrolling through the menu. Not a big issue but certainly noticeable. This lag or delay is also noticeable on the apps page. For example, I downloaded the Time-Lapse app and it took a solid 5-8 seconds to load and access the menu of the app and setting certain parameters within it feels painfully laggy and slow to use. I hope they’ll at least update the app to improve overall performance.
In terms of accessibility, it feels like a step up from previous generations of Sony cameras and much easier to access certain important functions such as White Balance and AF Drive. The autofocus performance is great at best and I get most subjects locked on accurately even in low light places, but with that said the AF does hunt at times so I highly recommend switching to manual focus with peaking enabled to assist you focusing your subject.
Overall performance is manageable but however, I personally feel it still falls short in comparison to some higher end DSLRs in terms of shutter lag and AF speed and as a user coming from an EOS 7D. Oddly enough, going back and forth between the two cameras sometimes makes the A7II feel “sluggish” to use. Hopefully future A7 cameras can improve on AF speed and achieve lower shutter lag. I heard this isn’t much of a problem using the much newer A7R II, but my point is, using the A7II I get the feeling it is designed to target towards enthusiast and hobby photographers who usually don't demand speed and performance out from a camera and subjects usually range from portrait, stills and landscape and/or architectural photography. Subjects like these, final image quality is key.
Controls of the A7II are far more readily accessible than predecessors of Sony cameras