A year ago, I switched from my Canon 5D with a 24-70mm lens as my standard camera to the mirrorless, lightweight Sony Alpha 7. The first part of my review, written when I first got the camera is here. Here are the pros:
1. It’s light. It’s half the weight of my Canon setup and that means I take twice as many photos.
2. It’s smaller. I can carry it in a small camera bag or a large purse.
3. It’s full-frame. I don’t have to compromise quality by going with a cropped sensor.
4. The flip out display is genius. I am so spoiled by this feature, it let’s me take photos from any angle, without having to get down on the ground to see what’s going on.
5. The wireless transfer of images is so helpful. I can take some photos and send them, via a wifi hotspot that my camera creates, to my iPhone. I can’t over-state how incredibly useful this is for uploading images on the go to Instagram, FB and Twitter. It’s essential for travel.
6. It’s cheaper.
7. Shoots in RAW or JPG and has all the manual settings of a regular dSLR.
8. I can easily shoot with one hand, if needed (while holding a baby in the other).
It’s a great camera and it does 90% of what I want it to do. All of the photos I’ve taken in the last year have been with the Sony and for the web, I’m happy with the results. There is just one major flaw.
LACK OF LENSES
The Sony Alpha 7 is the only full-frame mirrorless camera in the Sony line-up and their NEX line is all cropped sensors. That means those lenses won’t work. You’re limited to the Sony Alpha 7 lenses and there are VERY FEW.
For 90% of what I do, that doesn’t matter, but one of my interests is food photography. I want to work on my photos and grow into being able to produce professional level images. I don’t feel like the Sony Alpha 7 can get me there. I think you can say that for other areas as well… if you’re a wedding, portrait, landscape, or travel photographer… I think the Sony Alpha 7 will be good for many things: but not all. This is a problem because having your main camera body limited by the lenses means that if you decide to get more serious about your photos (above the “I want to take good photos” level) and you’re looking for a speciality lens for portraits or food or wildlife, then you simply don’t have options without switching back to Canon or Nikon.
I know not everyone is interested in this sub-speciality but I’m using it as an example to better illustrate the vast ocean of difference between Canon/Nikon and Sony. Both cameras are full-frame. Both shoot great photos. The Sony is just missing the comprehensive lens lineup. Take a look:
Sony Alpha 7:
There are 14 lenses including non-Sony lenses. (There are only six “official” Sony lenses, I marked them in bold). They include:
Wide angle or 35mm:
Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 ED AS IF NCS UMC Fisheye Lens for Sony E-Mount
Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 ED AS IF UMC Lens for Sony E Mount
Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC Lens for Sony E Mount
Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA Lens
Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens
Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon T* Lens for Sony E Mount
Mitakon 50mm f/0.95 Lens for Sony E Mount
Rokinon 50mm f/1.4 AS IF UMC Lens for Sony E-Mount
Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens
Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA Lens
Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens
Voigtlander VM 40mm f/2.8 Heliar Lens for Sony E-Mount
Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T* Lens for Sony E Mount
Sony FE 70-200mm f/4.0 G OSS Lens
So depending on the type of photography you do, the Sony might be fine. There are more options for wide angle shots, perfect if you’re taking pictures of the exterior of buildings or landscape photography. Trey Ratcliff uses the Sony Alpha 7 and I believe him when he says it matches his needs.
However, I am not a landscape photographer, it bores me to tears. I had a 14 mm lens with my Canon and I never used it. It was just not the kind of photos I liked to take.
For travel photography, street photos, food and portraits, the lenses in the mid-range selection are going to be your best bet. There are seven. Three of them are prime (fixed) 50 mm and quite fast. There’s a 50 mm f/.95, f/1.4, f/2, which is similar to the lineup on the Canon side. There’s also a 55 mm at f/1.8 which is what I started with on the Sony and it’s great. Very sharp and fast. However, it’s a little hard to shoot food with it… to take a picture of my dish in a restaurant I would have to hold the camera over my head or stand up. The f/1.8 means it did great in low light but it just wasn’t versatile enough. That leaves you with just two lenses: 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 (what I use now and it’s the kit lens — perfectly serviceable) and the 24-70 f/4. Neither of these are fast enough for low light situations, like shooting in a dim restaurant. It think the 28-70mm is a fine lens for walking around. But I don’t have the option to get something better — like Canon’s epic 24-70 mm f/2.8 — which is probably the most adaptable lens in the world. So I’m working with a great full-frame body, that’s light and compact, but I literally can’t buy a lens that matches what is available on the Canon.
Then that’s it. There’s one telephoto lens and no macro lenses.
CANON FOR THE WIN
Now let’s compare to Canon:
There are 11 standard zooms (compared to just two for Sony), six macro lenses (compared to none for Sony), more or better primes (three 50mm, two 85mm, one 100mm) and a huge number of telephoto and speciality lenses that just don’t exist in the Sony universe. This is just for Canon lenses, not even including off-brand lenses like for Sony.
SO WHAT, MORE LENSES
I would rather have a lesser body and a better lens. The lens you use does a very specific job. A macro lens let’s you get closer to the subject. A zoom lens might cover the same range but you have to stand a few feet away. The lower aperture (that f/#) means you can shoot in lower light without pixelating the image. I won’t even get into image stabilization but needless to say, Canon has more options.
So yes, the Sony is cheaper, but in large part that’s because you’re going to be downsizing your lens selection.
THE PERFECT FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY SETUP
I think the Sony Alpha 7 is perfect for travel, but limited if you ever want to move into professional images (unless you do landscape photography). It doesn’t have the fast 85mm portrait lens, it doesn’t have macro lenses used in food photography, it doesn’t have a great selection of zoom lenses that are also very fast. But on the other hand, if you’re never going to spend $5,000 or more on your photography gear, maybe that doesn’t matter. These Canon lenses add up quickly. Below is what I consider the perfect “food photography” kit. It would cost $8,000:
Canon 5D Mark III (full frame, like the Sony Alpha 7, but heavy and bulky) — this is $3,099 so if price is an issue (of course) I would rather get a cheaper Canon dSLR body and invest in better lenses. The EOS 70D is the same price as the Sony Alpha 7 body or you could go even cheaper with the EOS 60D (you could add more lenses down the line — the EOS 60D is a fantastic body, if you don’t mind the bulk).
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens — if you get one lens, get this one (not available with Sony)
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Lens — if you get one food photography macro lens, get this one (not available with Sony)
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens — if you shoot in dark restaurants, like cocktail hour, or you like night photography, get this one (this is available with Sony, but perhaps not as fast at the highest quality, the f/.95 is off-brand)
Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens — if you are very serious about shooting food photography and want a range of options, get this after the 100 mm (not available with Sony)
BIG AND EXPENSIVE… OR?
For now, I am sticking with the Sony Alpha 7. I am toying with the idea of keeping it as my day-to-day camera and then investing in Canon again so I can work on some food photography related projects. I will not be throwing down $8,000 in gear any time soon, but I could see slowly rebuilding my kit over time, getting those lenses one by one as I need them. The Sony will be my “leaving the house” camera, the Canon will be my “shooting something for work” camera. Maybe Sony will eventually add enough lenses to compete with Canon but it’s unlikely they will ever have the selection and quality. (At this point I feel like a Sony super fan shaking cash at them like, “PLEASE TAKE MY MONEY!” I love their camera but alas, they are just not developing their lenses.)
If you’re going to spend $2,000 or less on your camera equipment, go with the Sony… it’s benefits outweigh the limits. The Canon lens I love so much (24-70mm f/2.8) costs MORE than the entire Sony Alpha 7 setup including kit lens. On balance, I think the Sony Alpha 7 with a kit lens has more benefits than say the Canon EOS 60D with a kit lens — it’s the same price, and the quality will be very close — however the size, weight, WIFI transfer of images and flip-out display all put Sony in the lead. But if you’re looking to invest serious cash in becoming a professional photographer OR if you think one day you might get there — then go Canon (or Nikon). Even getting the entry level Canon dSLR and investing in the best lenses you can afford would set you up better than buying into the Sony body and finding out that you can never expand your kit.
I am laying out all this information about lenses so you can make an informed decision, but if you’re not there yet, if you don’t know why you would want a 50mm over a 100mm macro, then don’t worry about it. Get the Sony with the kit lens, enjoy the lightweight camera that does great photos and if in 2 or 3 or 4 years you decide to upgrade, Canon is always there for you. The Sony camera is so light, so easy to use, has all the manual settings you need and has some great features (like the flip out display and the wireless image transfer). You will be very happy.
WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?
I will let the experts take over here, this is the product photos:
This image makes it look a little smaller than the reality.
I held my camera up to my computer screen and this top down image is exactly how wide my camera is… the lens in real life is a tad longer, about an inch with the lens cap (not shown above).
Right now there seem to be a lot of sales for it, there’s the exact version I have with the 28-70mm lens for $1,598 ($400 off what I paid). And there’s a kit for $20 more that also includes a tripod, SD card, carrying case and other random things.
SAMPLE SONY ALPHA 7 PHOTOS
You can rest assured that any photos in my posts from this past year are from the Sony, but here are some recent ones I just pulled off my camera. These images are UNEDITED… I just resized them down to fit on the blog but this is what I get straight out of the camera. I often have to correct the white balance — maybe that’s me, as a photographer — but generally I’m happy with the colors as they come out. (I always hate reviews where they post edited images, like YES I know you can make almost any photo LOOK good, but show me what you’re starting with.)
These are just some recent shots, straight off the camera, no editing… I think it gives you an idea of how it does in lower light and with bokeh (that blurry background).
That’s it! Do I regret downgrading? Not at all. With the kids, I had to do it. But now I feel like I need TWO cameras, so maybe it’s not going to save me money after all, if I end up buying a Canon 60D on top of my Sony Alpha 7. Ah well. It’s still super light and let’s me take way more photos than I ever did with my bulky Canon.
You can read Part 1 here.