I've been getting a lot of weird looks (and made fun of, you know who you are) on assignment these past few months. I mean, I know I might be a bit goofy looking, but it's not that. It's been the tiny, little cameras I've been carrying around.
At the end of March, I migrated from my long-time Canon full-frame HDSLR kit to the new Sony Alpha camera system. I was at an impasse. I needed to upgrade a camera body, I needed to have my bodies checked and cleaned, glass repaired. Essentially a slight overhaul to my kit. I had been carrying around the Sony a6000 for months as a knock-around camera for personal images, backpacking trips, and the such. The size and subtlety of the camera was very appealing to me. I found it very easy to carry, it was discrete and the image quality was pretty darn good.
When I'm able, I speak with shooters that worked in the era of film. Their approach is a bit different than a lot of the "digital native" shooters and I enjoy the stories and perspective. I had been conversing quite a bit with Angel Valentin, a shooter that I greatly respect and whose opinion I value, and he had all but completely switched to Sony, shooting the a6000. He guided me to resources such as videos by Patrick Murphy-Racey, highlighting the advantages of the little mirrorless cameras. He also had a stack of work done with the Alpha system that I was simply impressed by.
After more and more conversation and sample images and research, I decided to invest in the Sony system. For my kit I went with the following:
Two Sony a6300 Bodies
Sigma 19mm f2.8 Art (a previous purchase with my a6000)
Sony/Zeiss 24mm f1.8
Sony/Zeiss 55mm f1.8
Zeiss Touit 32mm f1.8
Sony G 70-200mm f4
This kit is fitting for the majority of my assignments, especially the assignments that I love. The small, intimate, tight, quiet assignments. You could even say "mundane." The fewer people, the less of an audience, the more personal, the better. Unfortunately, work hasn't dictated much of that recently, but I know it'll come.
So. After all the gear talk, I wanted to drop some images (there are a decent amount) and I'm going to include the technical data so if there's anyone out there wanting to know how the gear performs in specific instances, you'll have the info. This isn't something that I normally do and, really, don't give a shit about because it's not really what matters when making images.
After the images, I'll weigh in about the system.
I will also say that I do NOT consider myself a traditional "sports shooter." I don't find my sports images to be exceptionally compelling, to be a demonstration of great skill or even remotely close to award-winning. The only reason I'm including sporting images is to show that you can use these little cameras for sports too.
With no further ado...
(Click on images for full size.)
I know that's a rather hefty stack of images and mostly sport, ironically. I wanted to provide a range of examples using different lensing with different light situations, different ISO, shutter speed, etc. I suppose we all fall into our own grooves and ways of shooting. I realize there are no images with tight aperture, anything beyond f4, really. ("2.8 is an aperture, not a lifestyle." Or, is it?) So now I'll go into a few things I love and dislike about the new system.
First off, the price point of the a6300 is fantastic for the technology you receive. A 24.3mp, APS-C sensor camera that can shoot up to 11fps with insane autofocus abilities. The upgraded, weather-sealed magnesium alloy body is much more robust than the body of the a6000. Truthfully, it was the final deciding factor in my transition. I needed a camera that was robust and could take some abuse. I work my gear fairly hard and need it to perform under duress. The plastic body of the a6000 wouldn't have cut it.
The EVF is pretty fantastic and pretty accurate. It's fast. Like, really fast. Virtually no delay or lag, a 120fps OLED display. And with the EVF, you have the option on the camera to get a setting preview. Yes, it's "cheating." Yes, it's WYSIWYG. No, it's not 100% accurate and you still need to use your meter.
The size. The size, the weight. The compact little camera. A lot of folks have been touting the full-frame mirrorless gear, which I totally get, but they're not much smaller than the HDSLR kits. The lensing is just as large and bulky and heavy. With the APS-C bodies (and with 3:2 image ratio!) and the FE glass (both for full-frame and crop bodies) the kits are markedly smaller than a comparable HDSLR kit. I weighed my kit, not including laptop or gear to transmit on location. It dropped eight pounds from the transition. That may not seem like much, but when you've got that on your shoulders all day, it makes a big difference. I can also carry my entire kit on my person in my Newswear pouches and on my shoulders.
The "silent shutter" mode is actually silent. Zero sound. ZIp. Zero. Zilch. So if you thought I was a jerk for shooting in the back-stroke of those golfers... Well. I'm not a jerk. At least then I wasn't. So there. It was also super beneficial at the ballet.
The Zeiss glass is S H A R P. Clean. Crisp. The files look great and I'm pretty happy with them.
The option to customize buttons on the camera is also a great, great function. I run my cameras like I ran my Canon cameras. Rear-button press for AF, dial on rear for aperture and wheel on the front for shutter speed. There are also additional custom buttons which you can set for ISO/WB/drive/etc.
The AF system on the a6300 is simply insane. It's fast. Really fast. The object tracking is brilliant. Face recognition. Subject recognition. Flexible spot focus. If you're like me, a focus-and-compose shooter, the flexible-spot focus is a great feature once you get the hang of it. And. That's once you get the hang of it.
The a6300 is most definitely NOT the end-all be-all of cameras. Not even by a stretch. There are plenty of things that need addressing.
The AF IS really, really fast. The AF is really accurate, if the camera knows, specifically, what you're focusing on. Even with the smallest available focus point for the spot or flexible spot focusing, composing with tight layers can be challenging and frustrating. A lot of AF hunting and back and forth. It's definitely cost me images. I think that the AF is just too damn smart for its own good. Sony also boasts about its contrast and phase AF. I still find issues focusing with low-contrast subjects, e.g. a base on a baseball diamond. The low-light AF could also be worked on a bit. It's relatively fast but doesn't feel as snappy as the focusing on an HDSLR.
The wheels/dials are not as responsive as I'd like them to be. That may seem small. And there is likely nothing to be done about it. It's taking a mechanical movement and translating it to an electronic adjustment. Is what it is.
Startup is SLOW. Even with the updated firmware. Even if the camera is just "asleep." This can cost images if you're not careful. It's not a nearly instant on, like the HDSLR systems. With the battery performance being mediocre, keeping your cameras off while not in use drastically helps extend the battery life for long days shooting. So you've gotta' be mindful of that while you shoot.
The Zeiss Touit lenses are, really, sub-par autofocus lenses. It's loud (think Canon EF 50mm 1.8 Mark I plastic lens) and it hunts like crazy. This is the first line of AF lenses that Zeiss has released and they've got a long way to go in that department. There IS a firmware update available for the lenses that supposedly help with the AF speed but the noise is pretty obnoxious. Also, it's not an update you can do via camera, like the Sony/Zeiss lenses. You have to ship it to Zeiss. That's right. You have to mail it to Zeiss to update. That's just silly. I've been tempted to sell my lens as I've found my 24mm and 55mm to be my "bread and butter" combination.
The Sony G 70-200mm f4 lens has issues locking on with AF when it's zoomed all the way out or all the way in. Won't lock on. It'll hunt and, eventually, find its target. Again, something that can cost images if you're not accustomed to adapting to that shortcoming. Also, it's wonky because it zooms the opposite way Canon does (Sony and Nikon are weirdos). Also, Sony's extender is not compatible (from what I've read) with the f4 version of their 70-200, so I'm essentially capped at that zoom without dropping some serious cheddar on long lensing.
The one thing that bothers me most about this kit is that there is a void for the ultra-wide, fast-aperture autofocus lenses. I have NOT been able to find a fast solution for the 10-20mm focal range. There are plenty of manual focus options, to be sure. However, the autofocus department is SEVERELY lacking. I will probably offload the Touit 32mm once there is a wider option available.
All-in-all, I'm happy that I made the migration. Do I miss the big ol', clunky HDSLR bodies? You betcha. The little a6300 bodies definitely don't have the feel that the HDSLRs have. However, my back and shoulders and neck are happy that I've dropped some of the load. I'm also happy that it's super easy to pack up and move my kit. The cameras are so small and they feel much less intrusive when I'm working with them. They stay nice and close to my body, so there's a lot less smacking them on objects in my environment. I also really think that they're slightly disarming because they don't look the same as the big bodies. Perhaps that's just my perception.
At this point I haven't had the opportunity (or haven't made it) to shoot something smaller and more intimate, the stuff that I really love, with this kit. However, I'm really looking forward to doing that and really feeling it out with this new kit.
If you folks have any questions (or suggestions!), please feel free to reach out.