Three Things I Appreciate About Sony Cameras

Three Things I Appreciate About Sony Cameras

Sony cameras have captured the imaginations of many photographers and videographers in the last few years, with their rich feature sets and vast capabilities providing lots of excitement and increasing the company's market share at a rapid pace. Here are the three things I most appreciate about Sony cameras.

Seven years ago, the idea that Sony would revolutionize the professional camera world and seriously challenge the supremacy of Canon and Nikon might have seemed a bit far-fetched, but the company has aggressively pursued the market and put out highly competitive cameras that push the boundaries of feature sets and that have won over many photographers and videographers. I've shot with most of the major brands at some point in my life, and I currently shoot mainly with a Sony a7R III and a Canon 1D X Mark II. Here are the three things I most appreciate about Sony cameras. 

Dynamic Range

I shot on Canon cameras for the first several years of my digital life, and while I have plenty of good things to say about them, one thing that I always found frustrating was the limited dynamic range. I primarily shoot landscapes, events, and portraits. For portraits, dynamic range is never really an issue, but for landscapes and events, I frequently ran into issues. Landscapes are known for often having extreme dynamic range, and it was very common for me to have to bracket exposures. That was never a big deal and remains a very common technique. Where it became more of an issue was with events and weddings, where I couldn't bracket. I frequently shoot events with bright stage lights on the performers and deep areas of shadow just nearby or a bright background with relatively dark performers. Sometimes, I actually want that shadow or highlight detail, though. For example, I most often shoot concerts in a hall with a large glass wall and garden behind the stage. During an afternoon concert, I have to generally shoot my exposures for the performers, meaning the beautiful garden is normally blown out.

Having the dynamic range to capture more scenes in one exposure is an extremely practical and useful feature.

There's a gorgeous black Steinway in the hall, and I've found that if I try to protect the highlights of the garden when shooting with a Canon, the performers' dark clothing and that piano turned into a noisy, banded mess when I bring them back up. However, with the Sony, I can shoot to protect the highlights and still bring up the exposure of the performers to create gorgeous, balanced images. 

When it comes to landscapes, I can shoot many more scenes in a single exposure without bracketing. Yes, I can bracket with a Canon, but I love the convenience of working with a single exposure.

Eye AF 

I'm not claiming Eye AF and manual focus aids are exclusive to Sony cameras. In fact, both Canon and Nikon have it now in their respective full frame mirrorless cameras, and Fuji has had it for a while, but Sony's implementation has been around for several years and is highly refined — so refined that they now even have it for animals. It's made a fundamental difference in how I shoot. When I shot with wide aperture telephoto lenses before, I was very used to having a relatively low keeper rate — AFMA, any sort of slight movement from the subject or my hand, even the AF point picking up the eyelash instead of the eyeball — all these things were enough to throw the photo out of focus. 

Eye AF makes shooting events easier and less stressful.

With Sony's Eye AF, I simply leave it on continuous focus, and it picks up the subject's eye and sticks with it. My keeper rate has skyrocketed. It's hard to overstate how freeing this is, both for the photographer and the subject, as it allows you to interact in a far more organic fashion, and that in turn makes posing and expressions far more natural and easy to work with. The Eye AF has even gotten good enough to use in certain sports situations; I have no problem using it on people running or walking briskly. That's certainly a boon for the wedding crowd as well, as they can confidently use wide aperture lenses in fast-paced and demanding environments without worrying about having to babysit the autofocus. 

Photo and Video

While Canon has generally been conservative in the video features they include in their full frame cameras, even making seemingly arbitrary exclusions (the lack of 1080p at 24 fps in the EOS RP comes to mind) and Nikon has never been a huge leader in video, Sony pushed forward in including forward-thinking video features in their a7 series. Though the a7S II is clearly the video-centric camera, both the a7 III and a7R III offer an impressive range of video features that should be more than enough for all but the most demanding shooters. 

It's nice to know I can put the camera in any situation and know it will excel.

I was particularly fond of the a7 III when I reviewed it. It's probably the best hybrid stills and video camera at the price point it sits at, providing a great sensor, strong autofocus performance, a fast continuous frame rate, great low-light performance, and excellent video capabilities. It's by far one of the most balanced full frame cameras ever created, and I appreciate the effort Sony put into making a camera that covers all of the needs of 90% of photo and video shooters at an extremely reasonable price point. The a7 line is very emblematic of a philosophy that I appreciate quite a bit. Instead of arbitrarily removing certain features from cameras to create artificial impetus to upgrade, they've created three separate but very capable models that occupy distinct niches. And of course, there's also the a9, which offers top of the line capabilities that directly challenge the respective Canon and Nikon flagships, yet currently sits at a price $2,000 cheaper than the Canon and $3,000 cheaper than the Nikon.

Conclusion

Sony's cameras have quickly evolved into serious professional photographic tools in the last few years, and the company shows no signs of slowing their blistering pace of development. Even if you're not a Sony fan, that's good for the industry, as it keeps the pressure on other companies to continue innovating. 

What are you favorite aspects of Sony cameras? Let me know in the comments. 

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35 Comments

Rob Mitchell's picture

It's been no surprise to me that they have marched to where they are. A very dynamic company that have embraced technology and stormed with it. Their early attempts were dire, but the flexibility in their development structure, plus obviously huge funds allocated to the development has taken them to where they are.
Keeps pressure on the others? I'm not sure Sony is solely responsible for that, they all have their roadmaps but corporate structure and inflexibility in legacy manufacturing is what keeps the other brands a little more conservative.

Similarity can be drawn with TESLA and the rest. Everyone is and wants to develop an EV but generations of traditional vehicle development and construction aren't as flexible and fast to market as a newcomer.

My favourite aspects of the Sony cameras are that they are not in my camera bag. I have no interest in dumping all my kit into the market place and dropping another pile of cash on a complete new system that essentially does exactly the same as my current setup. I don't see how that will help either my photography or my business. Others have, no disrespect to them but a camera is not what a photograph makes.

That doesn't mean I'm one of those grumpy old sods that still struggles on with a D700, bitching that there has never been or never will be anything as good. Fumbling with a 25 year old lens that has all the paint worn off, swearing it's the best lens on earth because the blurry bits are so creamy. Grumpy old sod I may be, but I do like a bit of tech and innovation.

For landscape I need as many frames as I needed with Canon or Nikon. As ain't can't capture more dynamic range required that others can't.

In events sure there can be benefits, but yet instead suffering, I talk with the lighting personnel who adjust them with me. Not a problem anymore, and I need to do that with Sony too like I need with any other brand

The difference really is that people get so hyped from Canon change to Sony, that small difference the is feels then like huge one, and all benefits are really received like Earth shuttering by those, and hype about Sony is in full effect.

David Penner's picture

You might be fine telling the lighting people what to do at a smaller event but a big event where everything has been planned out months ahead they will laugh at you if you tell them to change anything to get a better photo.

In larger events if you are important Photographer, you are there with them in planning phase.... And those are planned with things like smartphones in mind...

You can laugh your way out....

David Penner's picture

At a larger event the only thing that matters is the guests experience.

C Fisher's picture

Canon is like Nintendo, old grandpas that hate change and stall every opportunity for it to happen.

Jan Kruize's picture

Oh yes i see man...... the pics in your profile are really beautiful.

C Fisher's picture

What do my pictures or the lack thereof have to do with this subject?

Gerald Bertram's picture

The conniption fits in these comments should be quite glorious

Jonathan Brady's picture

No baiting or hyperbole intended in this post. Here are a few of the things I like...
Ergonomics. Yup. It's true. I prefer the ergonomics of my Sony A9 over the ergonomics of any of the Canon DSLR or mirrorless I've owned (XSi, 60D, 70D, 6D, 5DII/III/IV/S, EOS M & M5). The Sony cameras aren't unnecessarily large or heavy for my hands yet there are more customizable options than I need (I have buttons assigned to whatever the default is because I don't need them). Front wheel SS, back/top wheel aperture, back dial ISO, and a couple others set to control AF mode, focus hold, etc, and I'm good to go.
Menus. Yup, it's true, too. Ever since "My Menu" was implemented, I don't need to menu dive basically ever. My Menu plus the Fn menu takes care of all my needs.
Sony colors. True, yet again. Canon colors made my wife and son (both have orange/blonde hair) too red/orange and I spent TONS of time correcting their hair and skin. Sony skin tones are just so much better for accurate and pleasing (to me and those I take pictures of) skin and hair tones as the output looks natural and pleasantly saturated.
IBIS. It ensures that I can use the lowest possible shutter speed for my subject, appropriate DOF for the scene, and ISO for the IQ without concern for the lens that's attached or my occasionally shaky hands.
Silent shutter. Goodbye annoying clacking noise that distracts everyone! On multiple occasions I've had people approach me after an event in a quiet setting (especially churches) and tell me they didn't even notice me. It also works well for candid shots as the CLACK CLACK doesn't alert your subject to your actions which allows you to take more than one shot if desired.
Eye AF. Amazing. 'Nuff said.
These are the aspects of the Sony system that impact my happiness and the usability of the system on a daily basis. All of them (except menus) bothered me with Canon and the frustration is improved or eliminated with Sony.
It might have cost me some money, but my daily enjoyment is worth it.

Terje Madsen's picture

All of this, and a much better DR makes it a no brainer. Embrace the technology.

Michael Comeau's picture

To me the #1 feature of Sony cameras is the customization. I love the fact that I have so much control over the buttons and dials.

Eric Salas's picture

That’s what I tell people every time they complain about a menu system I never use after the first day.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Yep. The only time I go into the menu is to format and verify the date/time.

EL PIC's picture

Alex .. please provide further articles on DR ..
It has been said that DR is the most mis understood concept of photo. It gets real tangled when you include stacking, tone map. and HDR variations of different degrees.
There is also lab tested DR and actual DR in field which is very dependent on lighting and atmosphere.
I m told differ manufacturers use differ methods to calculate lab tested.

Robert Teague's picture

I enjoyed your thoughts on going mirrorless. I was considering it last summer; I seriously considered the Sony, until the Nikon Z 7 was announced. I've since moved over completely to the Z 7 (and looking to get a Z 6 as well for its dynamic range). I love the lightweight of the camera (just made my first full mirrorless trip to Greece).

I think the wedding and event market, along with much of the advanced amateur market has effectively been taken over entirely by Sony ... and good on them for having that kind of penetration into the photographic equipment market.

I think Canon and Nikon still hold, and will continue to hold the pro market, simply because these folks (Formula One races, NASCAR races, pro tennis, football, hockey, basketball, etc) don't care whether their camera body shoots 4K (they don't shoot video), and they have no driving element which would have them contemplating changing all their bodies and glass. They don't fret about dynamic range because they do what all pros do, and bracket their shots.

Having said that, I'm pretty confident that I could get a good photograph of any given situation with Sony, Canon, Nikon, Leica, Olympus or Panasonic cameras.

In the end, the holder being far more important than what the holder decides to be holding :)

Jan Kruize's picture

I totally agree, when i onlly see the beautiful pictures in your profile i only can say.... respect.

Alex Yakimov's picture

Some simply prefer perfecting their prose, Jan.

David Penner's picture

How do you bracket shots at an formula one event? Maybe if the cars aren't moving but good luck with that when the cars are racing

There are only Nikon and Canon shooters in the F1 pits, making any sort of answer to your question (at least as it relates to Sony equipment) utterly irrelevant!
In short, they (F1 photographers) manage exposure just fine right off the bat - no bracketing (or Sony camera equipment) required.

David Penner's picture

Where did I say they use Sony gear? You sorta contradicted yourself by now saying no bracketing required in response to my response where I ask how they bracket? Go read what I'm responding to. You said they bracket... Not me.

Do I really have to clarify for you that they don't bracket every single shot they take, especially when they're shooting outdoors in bright sunlight 90% of the time?
Of course I don't ... now go sit back down.

ANDREW WILDER's picture

They bracket shots of an F1 car screaming by at full speed?

What do you think? ... I personally tend to doubt it, although they definitely bracket the hundreds (if not thousands) of shots they take in and around the pits, and of the surrounding "F1 circus".
You need to think a bit harder before trying to post "gotcha's"!

ANDREW WILDER's picture

They arent bracketing shots in the pits, theres too much action. Perhaps you shouldnt be thinking about it so hard. Static PR events where the cara are on display, sure bracket to your hearts content. Live action during rhe race...hahaha youre talking out of your behind.

Kawika Lopez's picture

Although it sacrifices a bit of comfort in the hand, I do appreciate the size. I think pound for pound, the A7 line stands up to the best.

Specifically for landscape photography, it’s incredible to have something with such a small form factor and the DR/resolution similar to Nikon. I hike a lot and a lighter pack is a pretty big deal.

A7r III and 16-35 f4 OOS is so much smaller and lighter than its Canon or Nikon equivalent.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Size, weight, EVF, histogram in EVF, IQ, Real Time Eye-AF.

No matter how good the camera is, until they solve their weather sealing issues, Sony cameras are a non-starter. But if they do solve that issue, then we can talk.

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