Trial By Fire: Switching to Sony For a Commercial Shoot Overnight

Trial By Fire: Switching to Sony For a Commercial Shoot Overnight

Seems like just a short few years ago, Sony DSLR's were the laughing stock, what with their proprietary this and convoluted that. Yet today, going into 2016, Sony has made a huge impact in the photography world with their hyper-techy mirrorless cameras almost out of nowhere. After much consideration (and provocation from Sony) I decided to try out some Sony gear in the most challenging way possible: on a client job. Nope, I had never worked with a Sony before. What could possibly go wrong?

It begins.

To be fair, noted commercial photographer and Sony aficionado Joel Chan had been showing me some of the features and functions of his Sony mirrorless in recent weeks. Although Chan has also been evangelizing all things Sony to me for the better part of this year, I always kind of blew it off with a "Yeah that's pretty cool" type of comment, and moved on. The tide began to turn when I actually held an A7R in my hands and took a few casual snaps with it. At first, it was a catastrophe, but it didn't take long for the experience to become an epiphany. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I don't do gear reviews.

There are many skilled and technically savvy writers here at Fstoppers who do reliable and detailed reviews of photography equipment. I am not one of them. Something about gear reviews usually turns me off, so I never opt to do any, even if it's equipment I truly like (or loathe). However, being offered a Sony A7RII , Sony 70-200 4.0 OSS G and Zeiss Batis 85 1.8 to play around with recently, I suddenly had the overwhelming urge to diligently test it all in the most rigorous and organized manner possible. 30 seconds later, I decided against all of that and chose to show up to my next job with said Sony stash and just see what the hell happened.

6 agency models, 4 client staff, my assistant, a videographer and a Sony rep were all in attendance that day to watch me either make a fool of myself or somehow pull off a commercial job with gear I'd never worked with before.

The client was FireDisc, a manufacturer of portable gas grills based in Houston. The project, a 2016 calendar, had been scheduled for some time, well before I had never noodled with Sony anything. This was a reasonably risky endeavor on my part, but make no mistake: my trusty Canon arsenal would be at the ready just in case.

Upon telling Sony about my idea to use their gear on this project, their rep (and awesome shooter) Jimmy Ton immediately agreed to provide me with a stack of their toys, ultimately leading to me being on set with an A7R, A7RII, A7S, A7SII and some nifty glass options as well. I had the two lenses I was originally offered, the Sony 70-200 4.0 OSS G and Zeiss Batis 85 1.8, as well as a Sony Zeiss 16-35 4.0Zeiss Batis 25 2.0 and a Sony Zeiss 55 1.8.

I shot the entire day on the 42MP A7RII because, well, of course I did (more on that in a second). That and the 12MP of the A7S and A7SII weren't really conducive to marketing images that could end up as posters later. Not to mention it was an intensely bright Texas winter day; there would be no need for low light sensor mojo on this project (something the S units were said to be damn good at).

Convening at my house after the shoot, Joel and Jimmy set up the Sony swag on my kitchen counter and improvised a product shot of everything that was set that day.

Initial thoughts while on set: Teeny tiny is not jiving for me.

I'm not the first photographer to bemoan the physical size of the Sony mirrorless cameras, and I won't be the last, but I have to say I mostly agree with these assessments. The A7RII and it's little siblings are far, far too small for me to feel genuinely comfortable holding one. Some shooters also whine about their little Sony looking "too amateur" in front of clients because of their size, but I find that to be a little silly to be concerned with.

That said, the A7RII isn't painful or uncomfortable, necessarily, but just doesn't come off as ergonomically harmonious with my very-average-sized hands. (This initial and major concern became a fleeting memory very soon; but more on that in a bit.) My good friend Joseph Hemphill, photographer extraordinaire and product manager at my sponsor MicroSearch in Houston, allowed me to fondle his A7RII with the battery grip attached. I admit I felt several times more comfortable with it on. As such, if your shopping list includes a mirrorless Sony Alpha series, and you prefer a more robust hand feel, I would budget for the grip without fail.

The good news, however, is that with small size comes small amounts of gravity, nay, weight. The A7RII with any of the lenses I had on set that day weighs about half of any comparable set up I have on my Canon rig. And after 6 hours in rural Texas with no break, that lightweight aspect becomes hugely beneficial. I never grew tired of carrying one or two Sony units around the ranch, and barely noticed any fatigue on my back or shoulders all day. This is a good thing; a very good thing. 

The Pocket Wizard looks massive atop the Sony A7RII, and for good reason. The Sony really is tiny. At first I was put off by this, but learned quickly of the benefits of a smaller main camera. Lightness was tops on that list.

But what about image quality? Did I carry around super lightweight toys all afternoon just to sacrifice the quality of the end result? It turns out, I didn't sacrifice a thing. In fact, the images I pulled from the A7RII were the sharpest and most dynamic I'd ever shot, technically speaking. Kind of to a ridiculous point when coming from the world of the 6D, like I've lived in for about a year now. The 42 megapixel aspect of the Sony didn't go unnoticed, and I immediately ordered up some new hard drives the same week. This was going to be a high density ride in all ways: photo resolution, 4k video, dynamic range, etc.

Megapixels: overrated or super awesome?

It all comes down to the maths. When compared, 2MP is literally double the pixels of 1MP, of course, so that is an appealing jump in resolution (and in marketing jargon). 2MP to 4MP: same story.

However, just as an example, 16MP to 18MP is nowhere near as appealing when you break it down: 5,184px long side on 18MP versus 4,928px long side on 16MP.

Said another way, the 18MP image is a scant 256px wider than the 16MP image.

Said yet another way, the 18MP image is right around 5% wider than the 16MP image. That is not a statistic worth dropping your 16MP camera for at all costs, especially if it is working well for you.

But the A7RII? Ok, that's a different situation altogether, especially coming from the world of the Canon 6D, as I said. And I know, the 6D and A7RII are not on the same tier, as it were, in the world of digital cameras. But this isn't meant to be a side by side comparison of two brands' directly competing products. Instead this is just my own personal experience (did I mention I don't do gear reviews?)

The jump in megapixels from my Canon 6D (21MP) to the Sony A7RII (42MP) was exactly double, and not insignificant. Though not quite the Canon 5DS and it's 50.6MP, the A7RII's resolution was definitively noticeable upon dumping the SD cards into Capture One that evening.

Sony wins in the world of resolution, hands down, compared to my 6D. And to think it weighs about half of my Canon (with grip), well, that makes it all that much more impressive. I'll also add that double the pixels forced me to change my retouching approach a bit, but then that's not exactly news for retouchers who work with, for example, medium format files on the regular. So I'm definitely not complaining.

But is the Sony A7RII easy to use?

Yes and no. And by that, I mean it totally is once you get used to it, but it is definitely different. Nikon stalwarts won't like me saying this, but the complex Sony digital interface is still easier to navigate than any Nikon in recent memory. Yes, you can get accustomed to anything, but the A7RII menu system made sense after just a short while. 

One key aspect about the A7RII is the fact that you can customize several different buttons (C1, C2, C3, etc) to do almost any function. This, of course, means that if you borrow another shooter's A7RII, you will almost certainly run into brick walls because your C function buttons may not do what you expect to do. But it's that customizable aspect of the camera that I actually loved immediately. Instead of utterly conforming to where, let's say, the focus type/point adjustment button lives, you can just program to whichever C button you prefer. You could argue that that is still a learning curve, but at least you can make the decision on it.

Deceptively simple looking at first, the rear interface of the A7RII is actually super intuitive. Yes, it takes some getting used to, but totally worth it.

The menu systems are also customizable, to a degree, in that you can change the default view that they are presented in. The LCD read out of your settings has a couple of different view options, and literally everything you see on the LCD can be seen in the EVF, or Electronic View Finder - something worth its weight in gold when shooting outdoors. But allow me to expand on that.

Sony's Electronic View Finder: where has this been all my life?

If you're not familiar, the A7RII is equipped with Sony's nifty Electronic View Finder (EVF), and what it does is both extraordinary and also potentially bothersome when you don't know how to toggle it quickly.

What the EVF does is, it allows you to see anything the LCD displays, including reviewing your shots, inside the viewfinder. It also has the largest magnification for any viewfinder at .78x. Impressive.

The best part about the EVF? Shooting outdoors on bright days. While many shooters have opted to buy video viewfinders or loops to scope out their LCD clearly when outside on a super sunny day, the EVF allows you to get instant feedback by showing your capture immediately in the viewfinder the very second you shoot it (by turning on shot review). The display time can be set from a couple seconds to several, or you can turn it off and continue shooting by halfway pressing the shutter when the image pops up. Make no mistake, this takes some getting used to. But to see your outdoor shots without a glaring sun causing you problems, and instantly as you shoot, that's just genius. While I wouldn't trust this view for anything other than exposure, it's still damn cool to see things so clearly and quickly outdoors. If the exposure shifts a bit, you know immediately and can adjust without taking your eyeball out of the viewfinder. (Film purists, commence snickering.)

Mercifully it wasn't hot that day, but like most all Texas afternoons it was insanely bright. Sony's EVF made life much more streamlined when it came to reviewing shots in such an environment.

Indoors, I would imagine, it also adds a level of convenience particularly when your strobes set up is nothing like the ambient light shows. Again, immediate feedback in the viewfinder allows you to make instant decisions on things as you're shooting, which I love. 

The only real challenge with this function is when you are shooting quickly, or with the idea of keeping a faster paced flow with your subject. The EVF popping up with a shot review every single time will slow you down to the point where action photography is useless and more kinetically focused portrait work will suffer greatly. In short, you will be seriously annoyed if shooting anything with significant speed (even a fast paced model) with the shot review toggled on in the EVF. The good news? You can simply turn that function off and the A7RII acts like a standard DSLR. Well played, Sony.

It really is a small camera. But that's not stopping me from loving the A7RII in all it's teeny tiny glory.

One word: Zeiss

​This should be a two word review (and "Shit sandwich" isn't it) because anything Zeiss does tends to be perfection, or damn near, without fail. My two words of choice? Zeiss rules.

I particularly enjoyed my afternoon tryst with the Zeiss Batis 85 1.8, the first AF Zeiss I had ever experienced. Apart from the AF being the fastest and most accurate I'd ever seen in a prime lens, the end results were exactly what you would expect from the Big Z. Sharpness was insane, bokeh was smooth as silk, color was rich; the works. There is a reason there is currently a nationwide shortage on the Batis 85, and sending my copy back to Sony was somewhat painful to do, if I'm honest.

Quite simply, the best 85mm lens I'd ever experienced in my short career.  

Sony glass is a thing.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Zeiss Batis 85, as I said, but also had a blast with several other lenses on site, including glass labeled "Sony Zeiss" and simply "Sony". I learned quickly that the naming conventions were a curious thing, and that Zeiss, Sony Zeiss, and Sony were in fact three different types of lenses, so to speak, and not to be confused with one another (something I had trouble not doing at first.) 

The most immediately attractive in the pure Sony camp was the 70-200 4.0 OSS G, a set of designations my inner nerd thoroughly enjoyed memorizing. This little lens was initially an object of some derision in my view because, to be honest, it looked exactly like a Canon telephoto. It was not clear why this sort of design, with the black rings and white body alternating, was so flagrantly like a Canon 70-200, but I decided not to give that a second thought and just see if the damn thing was any good.

No but really, the Sony 70-200 4.0 OSS G looks like a Canon. Even the toggle buttons and rings. That said, the Zeiss Batis 85 looked glorious and, speaking of rings, the focus ring on it was classic Zeiss smoothness in your hand.

Naturally, if anyone hands me a 4.0 rated 70-200, I'm going to try it wide open immediately to see what it's worth at it's weakest. The good news is, this little sucker didn't disappoint in the world of clarity and bokeh, even being "just" a 4.0. Unlike the 2.8 purists, I wasn't totally surprised by this because one of my all-time favorite lenses is the Canon 70-200 4.0L, probably the most underrated lens in the Canon lineup. So I know the joy of a well made 70-200 4.0 lens. I can confidently say the Sony 70-200 4.0 OSS G was at least equal or maybe a tad better than the Canon equivalent. (I didn't have a Canon to compare it to on site, but I would venture the Sony was also a tad lighter).

I'll also add that the A7RII focuses quickly, accurately and consistently even in low light and back lighting situations. The AF alone is worth the price of admission, at least to me.

Conclusion

As I stated above, I am no good at gear reviews, and I never really intended to try to be. To me, benchmark tests and side by side comparisons, or obsessing on the myriad of technical things a proper gear review should have, is just not my thing. As such, the best I can tell you about the Sony A7RII and it's siblings is: I'm switching. Yep, there, I said it. Even after an impetuous decision like using new gear on a client shoot without learning it beforehand, Sony worked perfectly for me.

I will be a Sony shooting fool going into 2016, a decision I couldn't be happier about and, if I'm honest, I strongly recommend you consider looking into as well. Immediately.

After a full afternoon of shooting, my associates Joel Chan (left), Syed Hasan (center), Jimmy Ton (not pictured) and I grabbed dinner and continued talking all things Sony while reviewing shots.

This little thing really is a game changer. I'm thrilled to be on board the Sony bandwagon, and will be hanging up my Canons for the first time ever. 

I don't believe Sony is better; I'm convinced of it.

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82 Comments

Previous comments

It was usable. Unfortunately it only has 15 AF points mostly in the center. If you're using a lens with a built in AF motor, get the LA-Ea3. It utilises the normal A7Rii AF system. If you're using something like a Tamron that has the screw drive focus you need the EA4. I'm seriously considering buying the camera with the EA3 and just using my 70-200 until i can afford another lens with the built in AF.

Anonymous's picture

Welcome Nino. Ha, yep I was one of those "erm really" people to start with then I took a chance and have been blown away too.... took a little time gettng to grips with compared to Canon but I love the size, and menus actually arent too bad-just different. Shot a big job with it today and cant speak highly enough of how the EVF and LCD screen helped with the clients. Yet to drop on Zeiss glass though, still using the Canons... know what I will be trying next!

dale clark's picture

I made the jump myself from Canon and could not be happier. I shoot Architecture for a living and things like focus peaking (great with t/s lenses), maginification thru EVF are a godsend. Before I had to use magic lantern and/or camranger. I also love the tilt screen

Mr Hogwallop's picture

I am nearing the end of transitioning to Sony from Canon. I will still bring some Canon gear on a job both as a security blanket and for if I need high speed frame rate, which I have yet to master with the Sony A7s/A7R2 and the EVF.
For the most part I shoot with a melange of Sony/Zeiss, Canon AF or T/S with the Metabones4 and "vintage" MF Contax and Nikkors (that I couldn;t afford back in the day like the 105 f1.8).
Once I got things dialed in, sort of a chore with Sony's massive menu system I am very happy with the switch. Unless I had a couple Sony reps there I wouldn;t take a camera like the A7 on a job without prior experience.
IMO the grips are essential, they eat batteries up like crazy.

Kyle Jackson's picture

Nino, what are your specific reasons for deciding to switch? (and what are you switching from, the 6D?) I'm asking only because it wasn't really clear to me in your article. I get that you like the gear. Could probably say the same for a lot of gear out there. But liking and deciding to swap are two very different things. The "I'm switching" at the very end of your article actually caught me by surprise with the way the rest of it was presented. So what are your specific reasons to move from system A to B, beyond it just being great equipment?

Nino Batista's picture

I could have used a Nikon D4 or D810 and found it technically awesome, too. Or a Canon 5DS-R maybe. Either would have been impressive, make no mistake. So, what made me decide Sony was for me? That's coming up in future articles because, sometimes, you just "know" something is connecting with you from not only the technical aspect, but overall, and you are certain the time is right.

Kyle Jackson's picture

Haha okay so it's a cliffhanger then ;) Well looking forward to hearing your reasons!

dale clark's picture

That is exactly how I feel. I rented a 5ds on a job last summer and it was a fantastic camera. I could easily be happy shooting and providing clients finished images from that system (or just keep moving ahead with my 5d bodies). I just feel a "connection" with the SONY that I was not expecting. I'm also a musician/composer that plays guitar, drums and keyboards. I can pick up a custom, top of the line instrument and not feel the same connection that I would with a mid line or cheapo version.

I think it's a great camera, but I worry when reading this, when I see the picture showing the megapixel comparison is the same shot blown up.

Nino Batista's picture

Yep, I could have used blank rectangles, too. Just conveying the difference in actual pixels in a comparative visual.

I get that, I like the stuff you do, so I just had to pause for a second to realize that it was not a true comparison of anything other than size. It just would have been cool to point it out in the write-up. Otherwise someone might think the extra megapixels in the Sony are soft. No worries here.

Nino Batista's picture

Fair enough, I mean, it isn't totally clear huh? #noted

Mark Colangelo's picture

Being a Canon shooter tried A7R with Metabones IV for some months and… sorry Sony, you are not right for me. Too small to handle, battery life is non-existent, EVF in low light sucks. Found peace of mind (for now) with 5Dsr.
My 2 cents.

Nino Batista's picture

Yep yep! Everyone eventually finds what works for them, and it is wise to stick with what you are connecting with with and producing great work with. Thanks!

Simon Carter's picture

Interesting read. I'm wanting to move from m4/3 to FF and the Sony A7II was the obvious choice for me. Until I tried it side-by-side with the Nikon D750, and now I'm stuck in a mire of indecision.

I don't need & can't justify the 42mp of the R model.

I liked lots of things about the Sony but just found it so uncomfortable to hold and I'm used to the OM-D E-M5. It's the way the bottom right corner presses into the base of the thumb.

The tracking autofocus capability, slight lack of lenses, the way the EVF blacks out after a shot and battery life are all issues too.

On the other side I'm having trouble imagining life without an EVF, and can't quite get my head around how big the D750 is in comparison to my current kit.

u guys r making me want to jump ship or add a 3d camera :P

Alf Nielsen's picture

Great article. Funny enough I just switched from Canon 6D to the Sony A7RII my self and have had many of the same experiences. I found that I cannot do the advertised flash sync speed at 1/250, but have to drop to 1/200~1/160. Have you had similar issues?

Hey it's amazing what can be done when you put the right lens on the right body, ironically this wasn't too problematic for you- managed to figure it out pretty fluidly, go figure.

https://fstoppers.com/originals/fstoppers-reviews-canon-5dsr-sony-a7rii-...

It's nice to see some opinions that are not the one's posted in the F-Stoppers article I copy and pasted above. It's also nice to see less slander in the title (the follow-up story where your authors literally had to redo the test because of so many, lets just call them complications, uses the term 'Sony Fanboys', with undertones of belittlement riddled throughout) I move that we strike that title and call it something like 'We Tested the Sony A7RII AGAIN for All the people that noticed we didn't do any research, had a bias, and were generally ill prepared our first try- we apologize for being assholes to our base that called us on our horseshit and will do a better job to not be arrogant and egotistical in the future'.

Because lets face it, it wasn't the 'fan-boys' that were upset, granted I am sure they were as well- but the fact you had to post 3 separate articles on the one particular test mentioned above, is probably a good indication this online 'journal' felt somewhat responsible for being, well, irresponsible (no matter how you try to scapegoat around it).

And here we are, a representative from F-Stoppers contradicting the almost two minute rant at the end of the review mentioned before where your unbiased individual claims a 'fair comparison/all things equal' discusses all the reasons why the sony just isn't a professional's tool (without mentioning either the D800 or 5drs in the process, seems odd when doing a 'fair review' to only recap the things you don't like about one camera instead of addressing the pros and cons of all three?).

I'm sure this article was a solid attempt to swoon back all the individuals who were rightly insulted by the insinuations presented in the three reviews of the camera you found to be perfectly useful in a professional setting with little to no preparation.

I sincerely appreciate you not being an asshole about your position either. This feels more like what F-Stoppers used to be opposed to its current 'sense of humor' at the expense of integrity, research, and proper reporting.

Nino Batista's picture

While I appreciate your earnest feedback, I will also add that each of the Fstoppers writers do their work individually and (almost entirely) independent of any other Fstoppers writer.

We often contradict each other on a great many things, but literally just by chance (and not design.)

We encourage all writers to put their opinions and observations in their articles without any concern for refuting a previous article by another writer. "If it's how they feel, just say it" is the basic idea. (Apart from flat out lies, of course.) And to me, that's the best way to ensure a broad range of opinions on the site, to which a reader then render their own conclusions based on the premise, experience, and intent that each writer (ideally) conveyed in their works.

Thanks!

Once again, I truly appreciate your detailed review and position. Sufficed to say, of course there will be individual opinions that differ in writings such as these, however, your last premise was probably the most important- that being intent. Whether or not one feels they are writing independently or otherwise from a publication, by association I think it is best if there is a brand philosophy to adhere to that aligns with the integrity of the contributions and contributors. Whether or not one writer likes one brand over another isn't relevant, if the intent is entertainment. However, if the philosophy is to be as honest as possible, without telling flat out lies, thus being considered a credible source, fact checking before publication is best and in alignment with how most other publications do things (ones that we can respect anyhow) as each piece of copy represents all of you regardless of who wrote it. Copy rarely makes it consumer/public facing without proper research and fact checking, if the intent is 'truthful and unbiased' as insinuated on the publication I mentioned above. And if it is credibility your team is after, then F-Stoppers, as a proprietor of a body of content, and all those who contribute, failed as a unit. There are several responses by representatives of this organization who made statements (some in a very childish fashion I might add) in regard to the feedback received on said piece of content that were simply, factually untrue- as well as a pretty big ball drop as to the actual use of the product, appropriate understanding of it prior to review, appropriate representation of it in regards to application and realistic challenges, as well as the 'intent' (all things equal as stated within the first minute of the shoot) when, like I stated before, by the end of it, all we hear is why one product 'sucks' without any mention of any of the others. If the 'intent' was to talk about the realistic application of mirrorless in a professional setting, it should have been titled as such, not a shootout comparison. I get humor, and I get fun, but I also get intent. Saying it's one thing while displaying another is not truthful, and unfortunately, as a writer, if you choose to associate with a source that prides itself on accuracy, you are all responsible for that aim as well, and it falls on everyone when one person drops the ball.

Any Journalist that works on a credible team will understand this premise, any Editor in Chief with integrity will agree, and fight for it.

So, once again, I appreciate your writing, and I have been reading F-Stoppers for many years. I prefer your professionalism, tact, and candor over the intent for views with humor and lack of research or preparation. This particular article I reference, however, and the childish responses I saw from people of your team, does not articulate to me a brand image all or the majority of your staff might share. I don't come here to be entertained, it's a nice byproduct, but I used to come here for information I could rely on. That is waining a bit these days.

Just my two cents.

GREAT USER EXPERIENCE - just the kind of words that really help one.
Just a request from an old 1970's film pro in Australia.
I now make Virtual Tours , on a Nikon D800E , my capture sequence often forces me to pause the photography to allow the camera to recover from the fast pace.
Can anyone / YOU NINO ? using A7RII do me a favour and perform this real life test with a fast card:
Shoot 3 bracketed images RAW at max interval speed - pause 1 second (mimicking moving the camera 60 degrees) - shoot again 3 exposures - move - etc. The total amounts 12 sequences or 36 RAW exposures. My D800E often just does not make it without need for a card load break, which can introduce unwanted subject movements.
I wonder how the A7RII survives this. As said I use a fast memory card. Sandisk 64Gb - Extreme Pro - 160 mB/sec.
Thanks !!

I was waffling over switching and then I read your article. There are some instances I'd rather have a Nikon but it most cases I haven't missed any shots with the Sony. http://jamesdixson.com/switching-from-nikon-to-sony/