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The path to deciding on Sony cameras was not short or easy.
You may know that I had spent the best part of seven years happily showing the world the capabilities of Micro Four Thirds cameras and just over three of those years as an ambassador for Olympus. I had high-quality images published in magazines, magazine covers, and billboards. I was able to prove time and time again that it isn’t the gear that makes the picture; it is solid photographic skills combined with good equipment that has excellent features.
But things change, the world evolves, and Olympus decided to invest its future into nature, wildlife, astrophotography, and macro, leaving no room for a people shooter like myself. It was simply a business decision to change camera brands. I made the decision to drop all of my sponsorships so that I would have the ability to talk about all gear honestly and so that I could share some of the inner workings of the industry with all of you to help you better understand what you are paying for when you buy that next piece of gear.
The Switch and The Choice
I began my research. I handled the cameras, and I tested those that looked promising. I considered returning to Nikon, the brand I happily used for most of my career. However, they were still lagging behind the rest of the marketplace because of their later start with mirrorless, and I honestly was not comfortable with the ergonomics.
Canon digital cameras have always been a no-go for me. Too big and too heavy, and I have never liked the physical design of Canon gear. That doesn’t make it bad – it just makes it unsuitable for me. Fuji has a beautiful system, and I am not opposed to APS-C, but I don’t like the feel of the Fuji bodies in my hands.
I lost faith in Panasonic when they decided to split their resources between micro four-thirds and full frame, not to mention that they are even more diversified as a company than Sony. Pentax has not moved into the mirrorless realm yet, and Leica, well, it’s Leica$$$.
That left me with Sony. A camera company that I love to hate. Ok, maybe hate is too strong a word, so let’s go with “a camera company I don’t trust.”
Be sure to check out: The Reasons Why Tamron Lenses are my choice over Sony and other brands
What I Dislike About Sony and My Sony Mirrorless Cameras
My trust issues with Sony are because cameras are a small part of Sony’s business and the company has a track record of quickly and without warning dropping product lines that don’t perform. Think Betamax!
I also feel that they are lazy with their design and development, but it may also be that they are just greedy. As of 10/1/22, Sony has ten different full-frame camera bodies in their product line-up. Many of those cameras overlap features and manage to leave out one or two features that create a situation where many Sony users, including myself, are left needing two different bodies to do the work we do.
Now before the Sony fanboys and girls jump all over me – let’s clear up a few things. I admire Sony for what it has developed with its cameras. I feel they are the best in class digital cameras on the market today. But that doesn’t mean they get a free pass. We should still expect them to do better.
To the credit of Sony’s marketing team, they have created an Apple-like mentality around their gear, and the faithful rush out to blindly purchase the latest and greatest. I would be much happier with fewer camera options that were much more feature-rich – something I grew accustomed to and was spoiled with as an Olympus user.
Having to choose between a camera focused on ISO sensitivity at the cost of resolution or a camera focused on the resolution at the expense of ISO sensitivity is an opportunity for Sony to make more money at our expense. Of course, they have hybrid models, which force you to give up a little on both sides of the fence.
For those of you who may not be aware, the way you tell the design preference of the various Sony models is the letter R or S or the absence of both in the model name.
Models with an R, like the A7R IV, are the higher resolution models. The R stands for resolution. The cameras with an S like the A7S III are designed to perform better at higher ISOs. The S stands for sensitivity. The models with no letter are hybrid cameras like the A7IV, designed to perform well for both stills and video.
That little tidbit of information makes it much clearer which Sony cameras you should pay attention to based on what you shoot and your specific needs. But admit it – even quite a few of you Sony users didn’t know that, and do you see that information in any of Sony’s product marketing? Of course, you don’t.
Instead of spreading their camera releases, Sony releases updated models more often than other brands, not because of revolutionary feature differences but because of incremental increases – just like Apple does with their phones. The difference here is that these increases are much more expensive than phones, and from one year to the next, they don’t change enough to significantly impact your photography just by switching to the latest model.
Two last complaints about my Sony gear, and then we will get to the good stuff. I have found that with both the A7R IV and the A7IV, the cameras need quite a bit of customizing to achieve some of the advertised features. An example is 10fps – neither of those bodies shoots ten frames per second straight out of the box, and I could not find a clear path to achieve that in the camera manuals – fortunately, there were sports shooters on YouTube who shared their custom settings.
Last but not least, the viewfinder in the A7IV is slow. It has quite a bit of lag. I am not saying that the Sony A7IV is a bad choice for sports photography; it just means that there is a learning curve. If you are going to specialize in sports, the Sony A9 or, better yet, the A1 with a price tag of over $6,000 are better choices.
What I Love About My Sony Cameras – a7RIVa and a7IV(2)
Let’s start with something I talked about all during my time as an Olympus shooter – the small size and weight.
Both models are slightly larger than the OM-System OM1 or the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III, the last camera I used. The A7RIVa weighs just 1lb 7.5oz / 665g., while the A7IV weighs in at 1lb 7.3 oz / 663g. The OM Systems OM-1 weighs in at 1.3lbs / 599g. So we are looking at an approximately 4 oz difference.
While some minor body differences exist between these two models, the ergonomics are, for the most part – excellent. Grip size and depth are fantastic for my hands.
Oh, I forgot another complaint. The lens release is tough to get to, and I find it necessary to hold the camera rather awkwardly to swap lenses. Fortunately, I don’t need to switch in a hurry very often, so this isn’t a deal breaker – just an annoyance.
Like my previous Olympus cameras, both of these Sony models are highly customizable and, as I previously mentioned, require you to customize them to take advantage of the complete feature set.
The high ISO and low noise capabilities are fantastic. But let me be clear – high IOS for me is 6,000 ISO. I have little to no need to ever go beyond that.
The two last selling points for me are the autofocus capabilities of both cameras, especially the A7IV, which I use for sports. The tracking ability is fantastic.
And last but not least, the dynamic range is wonderful and what I appreciate about the Sony color engine is that it’s what I would call faithful. Much like the Olympus files, the Sony images feel natural. It is commonly known that Fuji runs blue or cold, and Canon tends to have more contrast, and that’s great if it fits your style. Of course, you can alter the color and contrast in post, but I appreciate the natural feel of the Sony files.
The Important Questions
Have these two cameras improved my photography?
Yes and No.
For studio work, the A7RIVa is a beautiful camera with large 61mp files that are great for my work. Has it made my work better? No.
The A7IV is an excellent camera for location work and sports that generates 33mp files. Has it made my work better? Yes. The tracking capabilities of the autofocus ensure more tack sharp frames for sports sequences, and the slow viewfinder has made me re-learn my skill set for anticipation. As a result, I can rely less on fps and more on my eye to capture the decisive moment.
Would I recommend either of these two cameras to you? It depends on your skill set and what you intend to shoot. That brings us to:
My Top Tips for Selecting Your Next Camera and When To Do It
Let’s begin with what NOT to do:
- DON’T buy a new camera because it’s the latest model – otherwise known as FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)
- Please DON’T buy a new camera because some YouTuber said it’s great!
- Remember, a NEW camera will NOT make you a better photographer. Only you can do that!
What you should be doing if you are thinking about a new camera purchase:
First, consider these things:
- What do you like to photograph?
- Do you have budget limitations?
- What is your current skill level, and what do you hope to achieve with the new camera?
- What do you do with your images?
With the answers to the questions above, you can begin your research. Don’t shortcut this process. The time you invest in this research will pay you dividends in the long run.
Speaking with photographers who use the cameras you are considering is essential. In today’s social media world, you can find people online who use it even if you don’t know someone locally. There are Facebook Groups for pretty much every camera brand and model. Join a few. Observe, read and most importantly, ask questions.
Compare the specs of the cameras that you have on your shortlist. This information is easy to find on the camera brands’ websites or at larger photo retailers like B&H or Adorama. Better yet, download the manuals for the cameras you are considering and take the time to compare the differences in how the cameras are set up and operate.
Touch it, taste it, feel it, use it! Ok, leave out the “taste it” part, but this is important. You are looking at a significant expense here; why would you buy it based on the information you found online or, for that matter, someone else’s recommendation? What if their hands are bigger or smaller than yours? The camera may not have the same ergonomic feel for you.
I promise you, for all my years in photography, one of the leading decision-making factors for me has always been ergonomics. I need the camera to fit well in my hands so that I can practice to the point that it becomes an extension of my thought process.
Another essential part of this process is trying the camera before you buy it. If you live in a locale where you can rent from a local photo retailer or an online service like LensRentals.com – do it! Currently, you can rent a Sony A7RIV for seven days for less than two hundred dollars. At a minimum, visit your local retailer and take an SD card with you. Shoot some images in the store and then go home and review them. Worst case scenario, purchase from a retailer with a 30day return policy so that you have time to test the camera and change your mind if it’s not the right fit for you.
How do I know WHEN to upgrade or change?
If you have unlimited funds and enjoy new toys, you should upgrade as soon as the latest model hits the market if that pleases you.
If you are serious about learning photography and developing a skill set that will allow you to create great images consistently, you should only upgrade when you NEED to.
For me, NEED is determined by things like;
Is my camera on its last leg, or has it died? Remember, just like many other pieces of technology – upgrading to one level below the “latest” can save you a ton of money while allowing you to meet your needs.
Has the manufacturer discontinued support for your model? If this is the case, congratulations, you are definitely not a GEARTographer, and you have likely gotten your money’s worth from your camera.
Are there features in the new camera that will streamline or improve my photography? Is your current gear making it difficult to keep up with your creative needs?
Increasing megapixels at this point does not improve your photography. Faster frame rates do not improve your photography unless you shoot sports and wildlife. In other words, be sure to separate FOMO from actual need.
Even if you are not making money with your camera, you should be able to justify the ROI (Return on Investment) before you spend the money to upgrade.
One last tip:
I mentioned renting gear to try it before you buy it. Sometimes the best solution for “wanting” a piece of equipment is to ask how often you will use it. Professional photographers will routinely rent a piece of gear that they may only use a few times a year. That cost get’s passed on to the client and eliminates the need to purchase something that will be difficult to see a return on. This same concept can benefit amateur photographers. ROI is not a part of the conversation, but the reasonable cost of renting something for a particular trip or event can save thousands over purchasing it and then not using it.
Have questions? Would you like to continue the conversation? Join my TOGKnowledge Photographic Community, where you will find photographers from over 30 countries passionate about learning and sharing their photography as they develop their craft.
I hope you found this information useful. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because – “Your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!” — Joe Edelman