WHEN IT COMES TO full-frame mirrorless cameras, Sony not only pioneered the market, but now offers more choice than any other manufacturer. With many of its cameras now in their third generation, Sony’s latest range has been refined and improved in every iteration and now features three fullframe cameras in the A7 III, A7R III and A9.
There is also the A7S II, which is targeted at filmmakers, plus a whole range of APS-Csized mirrorless cameras like the A500. The three that are of the most interest to pros all share the same body style and controls to a large extent. All have backilluminated CMOS sensors, two SD card slots and in-body, five-axis image stabilisation.
They also all use Sony’s Z battery, which is officially rated for 710 shots, but in practice all three cameras manage at least double or triple that. The £1850 A7 III is the all-rounder camera that’s versatile, affordable and is actually better than the older A7S II at shooting video, complete with Log profiles. Its spec is shockingly high for what is the ‘basic’ model.
It has a 24-megapixel sensor and shoots at 10fps, which is almost as fast as many sportsorientated DSLRs. The AF system covers 93% of the screen and it shoots 4K video at 24p from the full width of the sensor.
It’s great at shooting sport and action, ideal for low-light work, has impressive dynamic range and its price marked a real aggressive move from Sony towards the rest of the market.
Just about the only thing the A7 III lacks is a high-megapixel sensor for ultimate detail. For that, plus a better screen, you need to move up the range to the £2699 A7R III. This still has a 10fps frame rate – although this drops to 8fps is you want a fully livescreen view – but it has Sony’s 42-megapixel sensor and can record uncompressed 14-bit Raw files for the ultimate in quality. The files are stunningly high quality, with lots of dynamic range and, of course, allow you to crop significantly.
It’s Sony’s flagship for image quality and, with a 399-point phase detection autofocus system, it’s not just a studio or landscape camera.
After being a committed DSLR user for years, Derby-based wedding photographer Martin Cheung kept a close eye on mirrorless before making the leap.
“It’s not if you should change to mirrorless, but when,” he says. “So, when Sony released the A9, the time was right.” The tipping point was the A9’s silent shutter mode at all shutter speeds – rather than being limited to certain speeds like on some other cameras. “It’s hard to explain just how liberating it is. You’re not intrusive – so when the bride sees her father for the first time, or during the ceremony, you don’t get in the way with the ‘clack-clack’ shutter noise of a DSLR. ”
Martin bought the Sony A7R III to go along with the A9, “which has more resolution, so is ideal for portraits or cropping in if I need to. Both are equally good at high ISO”.
With Nikon DSLR lenses not working properly on E-mount Sony bodies, he initially bought the 24-70mm f/4 Sony Zeiss zoom, and FE 55mm f/1.8 and 28mm f/2 primes, but soon he splashed out on the full range of f/2.8 G Master zooms.
“Working with mirrorless is a new way of working, with AF especially,” he says. “I learned to trust the eye-detection and face-detection technology. Now I’ll risk shooting the bride walking down the aisle at f/1.8, where on a DSLR it would be more like f/5.6 to make sure she was in focus.”
He also uses the advanced AF to nail focus in tricky low-light situations, such as the first dance. “I do use flash, though,” he said. “For that, I prefer using the A7R III, as it shoots with flash at up to 10fps, while the A9 drops down to 5fps.”
Another benefit of mirrorless is its use for video. Now, Martin works with his wife to offer videography at weddings. “She uses two A7 IIIs, which are better than the A9 or A7R III for video. They have the same controls and we can share kit, like lenses.”
It’s Sony’s flagship for image quality and, with a 399-point phase detection autofocus system, it’s not just a studio or landscape camera. If speed is what you really want, then the £3399 A9 pretty much knocks the socks off any other mirrorless camera on the market from any manufacturer, largely thanks to its unique stacked sensor technology.
Where all other mirrorless cameras have a slight viewfinder lag or blackout, the A9 has no perceptible delay at all – allowing you to shoot sport in real time with no interruption of the image in the viewfinder. It shoots full-res Raw files at 20fps, which is faster than any DSLR can manage, and does it with its advanced AF enabled. The AF has face and eye detection, and 693 focus points. Like other pro-spec Sony cameras, there is now an AF-ON button on the back to allow rear-button AF.
The A9 may only have 24 megapixels, so isn’t the ultimate in resolution, but it does offer incredible, high-ISO performance that rivals any other sports camera. It’s also ideal for weddings, photojournalism and general use where massive files aren’t needed. It can also shoot completely silently and, for video users, records 4K and also 120fps in HD for five-times slow motion. All the Sony cams take the range of video-specific accessories, like wireless mics that plug directly into the special MI hotshoe. But, oddly, there are no Log settings for video on the A9.
The biggest niggle with all of Sony’s pro mirrorless cameras is the implementation of AF assist for flash users is not wonderful, making them not the best for dancefloor shooting at weddings, for example. And there is no built-in time-lapse or intervalometers, although a firmware update is due on the A9 to introduce this. It can also be done via Sony’s PlayMemories app, but this doesn’t work on the A9.
ABOVE: Since switching to Sony mirrorless for his weddings, Martin Cheung knows there’s no going back to using tradiional DSLRs
the body itself. Lens choice is key and now Sony has a big range. It goes from smaller and more compact f/4 zooms to many lenses designed by Zeiss and Sony’s pro-level G Master f/2.8 zooms and fast primes – up to the 400mm f/2.8. All the pro-spec lenses are excellent, but often more pricey than DSLR versions from Canon and Nikon.
However, bolting on a full-frame 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom largely negates the size and weight advantage of a mirrorless camera. And there are still some glaring omissions from the range, like tilt-shift lenses, a 300mm f/2.8 or a fast 28mm or 135mm telephoto, and anything longer than 400mm. But, of course, these will come in time, as will an expansion of Sony’s professional user scheme, which is limited compared to Nikon and Canon.
If you shoot action, the A9 rules in terms of speed, image quality and usability. A promised firmware upgrade will also include a new app for FTP transfer and huge upgrades to the autofocus system, made possible by the A9’s processor.
For high-resolution work, the A7R III is a winner, especially now Sony has top-quality glass to match. The A7 III is a stunning and affordable all-rounder.
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