About two years ago, I decided to take my interest in photography up a notch. Several notches actually. I’d been using an interchangeable lens camera since 2008, but it wasn’t a very good one. So in early 2013, with a baby on the way, I made the plunge into the Canon ecosystem. Deep into the Canon ecosystem. I didn’t just a buy a Rebel. No, I’d already been using a cropped sensor, and just getting another (albeit newer) one wasn’t a big enough upgrade. I had to go full frame or bust. I got a Canon 5D Mark III.
The 5D was not my first choice actually. I had my eye on the 6D, which is widely considered a “lesser” full-frame of the two. (And also much cheaper.) But I was able to get my hands on refurbished 5D Mark III through a private transaction (i.e. no sales tax) for not much more than the 6D — the offer was too good to pass up.
The Canon 5D Mark III is an amazing camera. There’s a reason why Canon gear is a go-to brand for professional photographers. I took some amazing images I know I never would’ve gotten with a smaller sensor or a less capable auto-focus.
But there were even more pictures I never took at all, because I didn’t have the camera with me.
The camera was just too big. The case to lug it around was bigger than my computer bag. The camera was great to use locally, especially around the house — or for really, really special occasions — but there were just too many times I left the camera, lenses, flash, and other gear at home because I just didn’t want the hassle of keeping track of another bag when I traveled.
Another reason the 5D Mark III wasn’t for me: It’s video capabilities. At the time, it was bar-none the gold-standard for DSLR video quality. By many standards, it still is. It takes amazing video.
But I found myself rarely using the video capabilities because of the amount of attention they require. For important occasions — like personal film projects, shooting footage for my nieces’ and nephews’ bar/bat mitzvahs, etc. — the attention was well worth the finished product. But when my daughter started taking her first steps, the camera became a tremendous hassle. For example, pulling focus is no problem when I’m working with actors or stationary objects. But babies don’t like to hit their marks. I wound up just grabbing my iPhone each and every time I needed to record my daughter. Sure, I could’ve gotten a separate video camera which would be easier to use spontaneously, but that’s two separate cameras to worry about when, ideally, I’d like just one.
When Sony released the A7 a year ago, I was tempted. It was a full-frame camera with interchangeable lenses in a much smaller body. But it just wasn’t compelling enough for me to trade-in my Canon gear (which, fortunately, retained a great deal of its value). The A7, a first generation product, offered too many compromises and not enough new features to compensate for them.
Then, a month ago, Sony came out with the A7 Mark II. I knew that was the camera for me. Full-frame sensor. Compact body. Improved video features. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the A7 Mark II is on equal footing as the 5D Mark III. You probably can’t take the A7 to Antartica like you can the 5D. If you’re a professional sports photographer, it’s not the camera for you either. Or a professional videographer. But I’m a professional writer. And a full-time father. I’m not going to the ends of the earth or the sidelines of the Super Bowl. I want something that will take really good photos in low light (which it can, thanks to the large sensor), and something that can start taking solid videos of my daughter at the push of a single-button (which it can do in spades — I’ve been especially impressed with the continuous auto-focus during filming).
Oh, and the A7 offers one killer feature not found on any Canon products — built-in 5-axis stabilization. That was the killer feature for me. That means I can get the benefit of image stabilization on any lens I put on it — even older, manual lenses that cost less than a memory card. The stabilization benefits not just handheld video, but also still photography, since a tripod becomes less essential for many occasions.
Did I mention the camera is much, much smaller, too? (Yes, I did, but I can’t stress that enough). Even with a zoom lens on the body, it rests comfortably around my neck, drawing little attention to itself. (With the Canon, I always felt like a papparazzo everytime I left my house — and that’s NOT a good thing.)
Some people will say I’m stupid for trading in gear only two years after acquiring it — but you have to remember, I didn’t pay full price for any of it. The camera was refurbished (with no tax). One prime was used. The other was on sale. And the zoom was refurbished, too. When I took the gear to a professional reseller, they didn’t care if I was the second or third owner of any of it. I got the same price as the guy (or gal) who paid full price for everything. (Also: Canon gear, especially their more professional equipment, holds its value surprisingly well.)
FYI: If you can live without the 5-axis stabilization, the original A7, which is still only a year old, is actually a tremendous deal. Sony is offering some outstanding incentives.
So there you have it. In the span of 24 hours, I went from a Canon shooter to a Sony shooter (with an adapter that allows me to also use Nikon lenses, but more on that later). And, so far, I’m very, very happy. One weekend in and I’ve already recorded more footage of my kid than I ever did with the 5D Mark III.
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