I bought my first Single Lens Reflex camera, a Nikon FE-10, when I was 18 years old. This film camera, though basic in its operation, taught me the fundamentals of photography, helped me to develop skills, and in turn gave me years of enjoyment.
Over the following years I continued to periodically ‘upgrade’ my cameras and photographic equipment. I remained loyal to the Nikon brand. Naturally, I had grown familiar with their cameras. They always performed well and offered me everything I needed, and more. My last DSLR was a Nikon D610. This was a professional level, full frame camera. With a relatively small body it produced stunning images.
At the time of purchasing this camera I was aware of a new type of camera format. A camera without a mirror reflex optical viewfinder, called a Compact System Camera (CSC) or Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC) – now simply referred to as a Mirrorless Camera.
I continued to shoot with my full frame DSLR while also keeping an eye on the development of this new technology. From reading online reviews and blog posts on different models I knew I wasn’t interested in switching systems. From a users perspective the main argument was the superior image quality and performance of the DSLR versus the size and weight of the mirrorless. In this regard, the DSLR would always come out the winner.
I did eventually buy a mirrorless camera; a Fuji X Pro1. My plan was to use this as a secondary camera, to bring while travelling, while keeping my Nikon for any ‘serious’ work. I hated the Fuji, everything seemed to move at a snails pace, from the autofocusing to the shutter lag. This was Fuji’s first mirrorless and while some people loved it, I loathed it, so much so that I returned it for a refund the very next day.
So I was quite certain at this point that mirrorless simply wasn’t for me. That was until I discovered some new cameras that another company, Sony, were making. One of the reasons I had shied away from mirrorless cameras was the size of the image sensor. Having finally obtained a full frame DSLR I was reluctant to return to a crop ASP-C sensor. I enjoyed the benefits that 35mm sensors offer such as a broader dynamic range, better low light performance, and a shallower depth of field. This all changed when Sony released the A7. Housed in its small body was a full frame, 24 megapixel, CMOS image sensor, practically identical to that of the D610.
After renting an A7, I was extremely impressed, It was half the weight and half the size of my D610. It had features that were unknown to me such as focus peaking and focus magnification. I enjoyed learning a whole new format of camera. However, like any camera, it also had it faults, it had a slower autofocusing system and a battery life approximately 1/3 to the that of the D610.
My primary concern, as always, was image quality. Not the megapixel count but the cameras light sensitivity. I studied and compared magnified images of each camera, from their native ISO and throughout the range. In my opinion, the increase in noise only became apparent above ISO 6400. Personally I would rarely shoot above ISO 6400. As can be seen from the images below, at ISO 6400, the D610 (left) produces less noise, albeit very slightly.
In terms of autofocusing, the A7 uses a combination of both phase and contrast detection compared to the full phase detection used in the D610, resulting in the A7 sometimes having slower focusing in low light and focus tracking. The autofocusing of the A7 is more than adequate for my needs as I mainly shoot portraits, street, and landscapes – this camera wouldn’t suit a sports or wildlife photographer.
I did enjoy using the electronic viewfinder in the A7. It’s a very different experience to looking through an optical viewfinder of a DSLR. In fact, I much prefer the overall layout of the A7. The design incorporates three custom buttons allowing the user to assign whichever function to each. Without having to navigate through menus everything is well placed and quickly accessible, such as the exposure compensation dial to the right of the shutter release button.
I paired the A7 with a Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8 lens. Costing almost as much as the camera itself I knew the importance of matching this camera to high quality glass. For me, there was no other lens to consider. Apart from being one of the sharpest lenses of any brand on the market, it offered a focal length and aperture that suited my photography.
For those interested in purchasing a good quality camera and lens for under 1K I would still recommend a DSLR. I believe that its still better value for money. Myself, Im glad I made the switch, I now have a very portable, extremely well engineered camera that is capable of producing amazing results.