Why I Traded My Sony a7II for a Nikon D800

Why I Traded My Sony a7II for a Nikon D800

Simply put, cameras are tools. It is up to the artist to create the image. Digital photography is everywhere nowadays. Point-and-shoots and iPhones are capable of some amazing things, and consumer level DSLRs are cheap enough to bring a high level of image quality to the masses. What separates soccer moms from professional photographers is the deep understanding that professionals have of their art and their gear. Anybody can learn the relationship of aperture, ISO, and shutter speed, but the application of it and the understanding of the side effects that those bring transcends any technological advancements. DigitalRev has plenty of proof on that concept. At the same time, if your camera is downright annoying to use, what use is it at all? That is where my issues with Sony began.

The year 2015 has, without a doubt, been a big one for photography. Sony made some serious waves with the announcement of the a7RII and following it with an updated a7SII. For artists that bridge the gap between photographer and cinematographer frequently, shooting Sony is a no-brainer. While Canon has been the champion of that arena, Sony has offered many features in the a7 line of cameras that make them worthy opponents of Canon’s big dogs, like the C100 Mark II and the 1D-C. When you couple that with the amazing quality of Sony’s sensor technology, you get a machine that is capable of bringing nearly any creative vision into reality.

Near the end of 2014 I got myself the original Sony a7 along with some adapters. I had the Leica R, Nikon F, and Canon EF adapters and because of the versatility, I thought the quality of the system seemed to be unmatched. Sony turned a lot of heads when they announced the a7II. The stabilizer and much-improved build quality really caught my eye, so I upgraded. Months passed and I shot with the Sony all summer, and was so excited about the beautiful images that I was capturing with this small, relatively light camera. Most of my photographer friends scratched their heads when I told them what I had done. Many asked why, after I had preached Sony’s capabilities and convenience, I ditched it for a technologically less advanced, larger, heavier and "less convenient" camera, the Nikon D800.

The issue that the Sony posed to me — and it took me quite a while to realize — was that it felt slow and cluttered. The menu setup was decent, and did not cause many issues, but the button layout and the speed of the camera began to frustrate me. To be fair, there is a lot going on that these cameras have to process. The issue was that the Nikon bodies that I often found myself using were just fast. The D810, with massive files, was still performing quicker in any given situation, due to what is essentially a lack of features. There is no EVF or eye sensor that needs to catch up or turn on, the rear LCD is not always on, and there is no built-in stabilizer that needs to run constantly.

I know that a lot of people will disagree with me regarding these features, but the point is that I did not need them. An electronic viewfinder and an in-body stabilizer were not things that I found myself using in my professional work. Some people may love it; documentary photographers/videographers or event and wedding photographers that need to be able to see in low-light situations and get clean images in those situations will love it. I, however, don’t shoot that kind of subject matter. I do not shoot in low light and I do not shoot video, so those features were eating through battery. I also do a lot of portrait work with off-camera lighting, such as the Profoto B1, and missed the high-speed sync, TTL, and the TTL Air remotes. On top of that, I was constantly testing out new lenses that were all in Nikon mount. I had also recently purchased a Nikon F100 as my main 35mm film body, so Nikon was slowly creeping into my workflow. What I began to notice was no real change in image quality, but a more comfortable experience. I started to feel like the camera was never in my way.

The other issue that I had with the Sony a7II may seem trivial and ridiculous, but I honestly felt that it was too small. A D800 with a vertical grip fits perfectly into my larger hands, making the button layout more spacious and easier to access. As someone born with poor vision, I have been bound to glasses for most of my life. My glasses were getting smudged and I always had to clean them. I kept accidentally bumping the ISO wheel, the quick menu, or the review button, which slowed down shoots.

The images that each camera produced were not much different aside from long exposure performance and the obvious difference in resolution. With the Sony, I felt as if going past 30 seconds was going to give me an image that was too noisy in the shadows to print larger than 16x20 inches, or even for some web purposes. The D800, on the other hand, has given me gorgeous results with exposures as long as four minutes in some relatively contrasted scenes. As far as dynamic range is concerned, the D800 feels like it has a very slight advantage when Capture One’s high dynamic range sliders come into play. That advantage will likely disappear once all of the a7-series cameras receive the 14-bit uncompressed raw that the a7RII and a7SII have. Even so, how much of a difference does it make? The answer: very little. Calling the Sony a7 cameras unprofessional due to a lack of 14-bit raw is like saying that not wearing a tie with your suit makes you unprofessional. It is not about how you dress, but rather how you act. In camera terms, it is more helpful to be a talented photographer than to have trivial things like uncompressed raw. Does it help? Absolutely. Is it necessary? Not in the slightest.  When I first started out in photography, I had a Canon T3i. With that camera, a cheap 50mm and one speedlight, I was able to create some portraits that made it into the top 300 entries of roughly 12,000 in a state-wide competition. Granted, I was a junior in high school, but it sure impressed some adult somewhere.

My point is, the gear does not matter. Having a camera that is comfortable to use and works for you, not the other way around, is far more important. Is the D800 better than the a7II, or vice versa? No, not at all. They are different beasts, but still capable of creating the same image in most situations. There are plenty of people on Instagram taking some beautiful landscape shots with a crop sensor DSLR and a cheapo wide angle. No camera will make you a better photographer; shoot what is comfortable for you, focus on the art and the results will come.

Spencer Lookabaugh's picture

Spencer Lookabaugh is a lifestyle and portrait photographer located in Columbus, Ohio, as well as an employee of Midwest Photo Exchange. He is a firm believer in printing, shooting film and digital, and the power of photography. He also shoots landscape work in his spare time.

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Seems like it was a very subjective experience. Its good thst you could find something that works for you. I went from a large dslr to an a7, and now an a7II, with a healthy dose of e and a mount glass (did you have any native glass?). I still have classic Minolta 7D with VG (nowhere near the size of a d800 with grip), and find it far too big. That being said, it still feels much faster than my a7II. But, it is because I never know my output until I load it or chimp. It is far faster.

But, subjectively, this speed is detrimental to my shooting. When I slow down, I make better images. The a7's slow me down to and let me work better.

Bottom line, we both have systems that make us better photographers, and that should be the point of the gear. Right?

I agree...very subjective and silly in some spots. I'm no fan of Sony...erratic product lines, low number of "fast" native lenses, poor battery life etc. but at least you can say they are pushing the envelope. Every single image in this article could have been shot using that "old" T3i and 50mm lens.

As for image quality...that ship has sailed. The level of sufficiency was achieved long ago...before that T3i.

I could take it more seriously if the writer had some tangible explanations...like the D800 series endless ability to record highlights, the sensor matched up with quality glass like Otus' for insane micro-contrast etc.

This stuff is just drivel...

"Drivel"? Spencer explains why he prefers the D800 for some specific ergonomic reasons and how he finds the difference in image quality to be neglible in the real world.

You respond that image quality reached a sufficient level with the Canon T3i a long time ago, yet scolds him for not making his decision based on the image quality (dynamic range) and refuse to take him seriously for making ergonomics the differentiator.

There is drivel around here for sure but it is not Spencer's piece...

I've been looking into a d800 myself for low light concerts. I personally believe Nikon handles high iso better. Curious your thoughts if it would be a viable option?

I would recommend the D750 instead of the D800/D810 for low-light shooting. It's far superior handling noise at high ISO (usable images at 12,800) and focuses more accurately in low light-- a stop lower than the D810 from what I recall. I own a D810, but for low-light situations, my D750 is now my go-to camera. It's an absolute gem of a camera in a smaller form factor and has amazing dynamic range with a lot of shadow detail.

I totally agree. I rarely go above 800 iso, so the D800 makes sense for me. Event and wedding shooters will be better with the D750 or the DF if you can get used to the funky layout. The D800 is capable in a pinch, but if you're shooting high volume, the file size could be detremental.

DF? Not what I would pick for a wedding. It lacks the dual card slots, has lower spec focusing system and handles terribly (subjective).

Have to agree with the others. I now use a D750 for concert photography rendering my D700's useless.

D750 for low-light

For low light you need the D750 or the D4s, not the D800/10, but you will miss the EVF

It is the same with my years of jumping from Nikon to Canon then Nikon again. Though Canon is an amazing brand of choice for DSLR, I always lookf for the comfort of using a Nikon. Now after 5 years of brand confusion within me, I'll stick with Nikon. Though in my job, my company provides me with a Canon.

For me an EVF is a fabulous tool for the reasons you noted. However as a Canon shooter I envy the sensors of Sony but am leery of the inexperience they have in designing and supporting professional cameras. In addition, their lens line seems to have QC issues that undermine the potential quality they could deliver.

I am hoping that Canon will introduce a FF ML body that addresses the shortcomings of the Sony and Canon bodies and thus land me in heaven again.

The 24-70 sure has issues with QC, but for the most part their line seems to be alright (in my experience).I would be interested to see how Canon and Nikon respond!

I note the QC issues as I had seen them discussed in several places. One being Lloyd Chambers' blog. The general sentiment was that one had to sift through several copies of a lens before finding one that was not decentered or out of plane alignment.

Yeah, its the only real miss. Everything else has been quite stellar. That being said, I had an early CZ 24-70/4 and it was prettty amazing. Still regret selling it. May have to get another. It was good up to (non-up-res'd) 12x15" prints on a 24mp sensor at 300ppi. I could have pushed it larger pretty easily, but I would have to learn how to do my own framing.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I might be in the minority here, being a Sony user, but I've leaned photography (and now learning videography) using their A-mount system. I've recently converted to two A7Rii bodies and just added A7Sii with a complete set of FF native Sony and Zeiss glass. I've no interest in doing the crazy adapter acrobatics that introduce too many limitations and issues.

As my comfort level is with Sony's environment, I often struggle to understand how folks who dip their toes into E-mount find so many issues that I never encounter. Menu system, ergonomics, layout, etc... it all seems to make sense to me. However, whenever I pick up a friend's 5Diii or the like... I can't f-in' stand it. The bulk, the OVF, layout, etc. Nothing feels right.

Change and adaptation is inherently tough, folks... at least that's the moral of just about every "why I switched and went back" sob story out there ;)

It was a subjective article. Part of the difference is also that you don't know what you don't know. It's like the first time I purchased a good pair of headphones (not saying that Sony isn't a great piece of hardware), I was opened to a world of sound that I didn't think I was missing out on. So when I go back to cheaper headphones, I can be bothered by those headphones (once again, not calling Sony cheap). I, too, find Sony's menu's extensive and clunky. I don't think Nikon's are great, but it's the system I'm familiar with using. I will admit that I don't think any menu system is good, tbh lol.

He even admitted to enjoying the camera, and went as far as to buy the new version of the camera (a7 to a7ii), so it's not like he bought it and sold it after two days. If he likes HSS and TTL with his flashes, who am I to say it's not a bid deal for how HE shoots?

Yup, agreed.

It's like you read my mind. I just posted about this today on a thread on dpreview. I own a 5D3, 6D, and now an A7RII. I have to say... as great as the A7RII is in terms of new technology, I still prefer shooting with the Canons. They Sony is simply too small to fit all of the buttons in comfortable spots. That, in my mind, makes it an inferior "tool,"
When it comes to allowing me to work fast. I use the Sony for travel and some family stuff, but to be honest, I prefer the Canons much more, and that's why I won't sell my Canon gear and why I'll stick with the Canons when shooting paid gigs like weddings, etc.

I guess new sensor technology is not the be-all, end-all when selecting which is the best tool for the job. Don't get me wrong... I wish I had the Sony sensor in my Canon bodies, but I think it's important to note that just because something is newer does not always mean it's better.

Yep. Both cameras are superb. In particular I resonate with your size preference. I prefer something substantial; not that I do not want to have a slick mirrorless in my pocket...

The slowness of the non DSLRs is really a deal buster. In time they'll sort it out, but for now....


I'm surprised by the number of replies where "subjective" is a word that's being used dismissively, or as a perjorative. The title of the article isn't "Why You Should Trade Your A7..." or "Why Your Sony Purchase Was A Bad Decision". Take it for what it is, an opinion and a conversation starter.

I find when searching for a potential mirrorless complement to my D800, the one thing I take for granted is the first thing I miss- the ability to switch AF point with a single, fixed-purpose joypad. Sure, with time and practice I might be able to acclimate to hitting a button first, and maybe I'd do it without taking my from the viewfinder, but in the meantime I worry myself over how many shots I'd miss because I thought I was moving AF point and I was in fact changing flash mode, or bringing up a menu. A silly, subjective notion, but one (among many) that I await the answer to.

Since everyone seems to be drifting to low light and high ISO photography. I am wondering if anyone here did a proper comparison between D750 and D4s. I do have my own reviews of D4s (http://www.thenomadphotographers.com/Nikon_D4s_review-87-1.html) and very low light photography examples (http://www.thenomadphotographers.com/Amazing_High_ISO-92-1.html) but the D4s is a big chunk of camera to carry around and it costs an arm and a leg. So I am curious about that D750...

High ISO is about the same. Everything else is completely incomparable.

Which means I can still be happy with my D4s right ? have a nice day Jose ;)

Hi Nomad, D750 and D4s are both amazing, and Nikon has a complete system, which Sony does not and will not have soon. I changed to Sony from Nikon D3s/D810 for the Silent shutter. For anything else you are better of with Nikon.

D800 was my main camera until i purchased d750. i shoot stills and video with both but for low light i'm always reaching for d750. With d750 I comfortably shoot stills at iso1000-12500 and video up to 3200 with no noticeable grain. With the d800 i feel like i'm pushing it if i go over 800 for stills and 1600 for vid.
Switching between cameras is a pain though if you are in a hurry because the difference in layout is still jarring. I've blown images from both cameras up to 30 x 40 with no problem.

diffrent strokes for different folks.
i loved nikon but after the switch i can't believe we have all put up with the bulk of modern dslr's.
my primary shooting is out in the woods/coast/mountains where i'm hiking for hours at a time and having a massive chunk of camera stuck to my hand is a killer.
and as trivial as it sounds, for me if you're not stoked on your gear then you're not stoked on getting out there so i'm glad to hear you're comfortable and feeling good w/ the d800.

regarding HSS on Sony A7.... just want to share my experiences getting the A7 to worked with Godox AD360 on HSS:

it's a bit clumsy solution, but not too big of a deal.

I have used different manufacture camera. I liked Nikon menu system and make changes fast.

Is it really possible that there is ANOTHER, pointless "Why I switched to XXXXXX"

I can't believe that there is another of these articles. There must be one for every system, switching to every other system.

I couldn't possibly care any less about why one person shoots with whatever system they have.

Pick one, shut up and go shoot. If you want to write, then tell me about what you have learned that actually made you as an individual, a better photographer.

Excellent article. Very nuanced, well-reasonned and not just a collection of numbers coming out of a lab.
As for me, I love my Sony A7 II. I bought it when Firmware 2.00 came out as it gives AF to non-native lenses with an adapter.
My favorite combo is now Sony A7 II + LA-EA3 (the adapter without an translucent mirror) + Tamron SP 70-200 f/2.8. I shoot danse shows for example (low and changing light) and the images are beautiful, crip and sharp with gorgeous blacks. The AF is fast enough for me, consistent and reliable.
To give you more context, I'm not a pro by any means and my previous camera was an APS-C (Sony A77 II), about similar in size if not smaller than a Nikon D800) but the transition to the smaller A7 II was ok for me (despite the better grip on the bigger A77).
My last and very subjective comments on why I love this camera:
- I want to have it with me all the time (and I can because it is not too big with the native FE lenses)
- It makes me want to be a better photographer

"anybody can learn the relationship of aperture, ISO, and shutter speed, but the application of it and the understanding of the side effects that those bring transcends any technological advancements."

Blahblahblah. The understanding of the side effects are the same as learning to drive and understanding the side effects of driving too fast in a curve.

Look at your images they look like you still have a lot to learn. Bad posing, horrible editing, weak compositions, color grading is all over the place instead of using color theory etc.But who am I to talk down to you. I'm just a beginner who started out two months ago.