Sony Mirrorless – A Practical Choice

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About Hugo Pinho

Co-founder and editor of the Sony Passion project.
I love to travel, discover new places, different cultures, taste new food, meet people.
It’s hard to find me without a camera hanging at my shoulder or inside the messenger bag.
Living in a fast changing world, documenting our surroundings is more than a passion, it’s almost a duty, a testimonial that I want to leave for future memory.
Mostly I like to photograph people, their habits, daily routines and traditions. But very often I also photograph Dance which I find as difficult as fascinating.
Using mirrorless cameras since 2012, I find them to have the perfect balance between size, quality and usability for most of my work and personal projects.

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A new camera
In the year 2012 I went to Angola to work as supervisor of the construction of several infrastructures. The country was devastated by 27 years of civil war and now, in peace, it was urgent to build roads, houses and infrastructures for electricity and water supply. This wasn’t the first time I went there. Back in 2007 I supervised the reconstruction of the water supply pipelines of Luanda, the capital city of Angola. But this time it was different. Going to the Bié province, away from all the rush and traffic of the big city, I found a totally different country, very genuine and with a way of life quite linked to its roots, with some of the most kind and hospitable people I’ve ever met.

Being a passionate photographer, I carried my camera wherever I went. But having to visit many worksites spread over hundreds of kilometers, soon I found that the camera I had back then wasn’t the best option. Although I had no reason to complain about the operation and image quality of the Canon 550D at the time, along with the 18-135mm zoom lens and the 50mm F/1.8, it wasn’t practical to carry everywhere inside a small messenger bag. I didn’t use it just as a camera bag, but more like an everyday bag to carry items like a notebook and pencil for the meetings, wallet, passport, the house and car keys, some energy bars, a bottle of water and everything I needed during the day. So, the extra weight and bulk of the camera was starting to be a problem.

That being said, it was time to find an alternative. I knew I wanted a small camera, with interchangeable lenses and, at least, the same image quality I was getting with the 550D. Back then, the options for mirrorless cameras weren’t nothing like we have today. And the few models available weren’t considered as viable options to the most demanding photographers. Still, they met all my requirements and it was decided, I would get a mirrorless camera!

Choosing a camera
There were 3 options that aroused my interest: the X-Pro1 from Fuji, the E-M5 from Olympus and the Nex-7 from Sony.The Olympus was such a good looking camera, but very often I needed to shoot above ISO 1600 and, among the three, it was the one with the worst behaviour in high ISO’s. The Fuji seemed really interesting with all the manual controls, but was the most expensive of the three. I read a lot of reviews and ended up choosing Sony because of the Zeiss 24mm F1.8 lens, that seemed perfect because it has a versatile focal length of 35mm in full frame equivalent.

As the Nex-6 had just come out and was receiving a lot of positive reviews I still had some doubts between the two, but ended up buying the Nex-7 with the 18-55m kit lens plus the Sony-Zeiss 24mm.

If on paper it looked like an interesting camera, when I first held it I was amazed. So compact, yet so beautifully assembled with high quality materials. All parts connected with precision, without gaps or creaks and with a sturdy feeling. That was really a premium product. Some say it sits above the A6300/A6500 series and Sony hasn’t yet released a replacement model. Definitely I agree!

So, the Nex-7 became my daily companion and went with me everywhere. While traveling on work assignments I visited many beautiful places and met so many nice people people that, after a few weeks, we developed a friendship relation and photographing the villagers happened in a natural way. The next time I passed that place, I would take the prints to offer, which provoked the most fantastic reactions I can remember.

That little camera was perfect. Coming from a DSLR, it was easy to adapt to the use of an electronic viewfinder, the Tri-Navi controls allowed easy control of the exposure which would be automatically seen in the viewfinder or rear lcd, so I didn’t needed to check the photo after its capture. The 18-55mm never was a much praised lens but actually I found it quite nice, very sharp and compact, and the distortion was easily corrected by Lightroom.

Abandoned tank near the Kuito airport. This photo taken with the 18-55mm kit lens.

The only drawback I found was the lack of weather sealing. Never had any problem with some light rain but, using it in very dusty places, I often had to clean the sensor to remove the dust spots.

The A77

The purchase of the Sony A77 was never intended to replace the Nex-7, but to complement it.

And so I had the complete kit:

  • The Nex-7 as my main camera that I carried everyday;
  • The A77 with the 16-50mm F/2.8 SSM, for those situations where I left home with the sole intention of photographing and I wouldn’t care about the extra weight, as well as for rainy days and extreme conditions of dust and humidity.

The A77 was used under rain, dust, wind, heat and never failed me. Despite its size and DSLR format, which started to make no sense since I began using the Nex-7, the A77 isn’t really a DSLR. It’s a DSLT, as Sony calls it. And has the same major advantage of its mirrorless sister: the electronic viewfinder.

Equipped this way I spent 2 more years in Angola, traveling from North to South, East to West. These cameras never failed me and during that period I’ve never missed any extra piece of equipment. The only addition was a Sony DT 35mm F/1.8, a very compact and light lens, to relieve some weight on the A77.

The Sony-Zeiss 24mm F/1.8

Currently all brands have a wide range of lenses to choose but in 2012 it wasn’t like that. So, the choice of a camera was also conditioned by the lenses available. And there were 2 for which I was particularly interested: the Fuji XF 35mm F/1.4 and the Zeiss 24mm F/1.8.

I ended up choosing the Zeiss, paired with the Nex-7. What a beautiful combination. During the following 2 years this ways my main setup, although once in a while I used also the kit lens that came with the Sony.

Even in the present days, I can’t remember a better lens for APS-C E-mount.

Pros:
– Fast, accurate and silent autofocus
– Very sharp from edge to edge, even at the maximum aperture
– High quality construction, all metal, including the focus ring
– Minimum focusing distance of 0.16m

Cons:
– A 1.4 aperture would be nice, but would also add size and weight
– Price

Although it’s not a macro lens, the minimum focusing distance of 0,16m is quite unusual and allows to make some close-up shots.

A Practical Choice
Apart from any sentimental or subjective criteria, the purchase of the Nex-7 was a practical choice, which I haven’t regret at all. Despite the lack of some modern features like wifi and 4K video, this 5 year old camera is on par with any current model from any brand. With 24 megapixels, all metal construction, small size, tilting screen, and superb electronic viewfinder, the current range of mirrorless cameras haven’t yet surpassed its features.

A few years later I ended up buying the Fuji X-Pro1 which I had not bought in 2012 and upgraded the Nex-7 to the A7 II. I use both systems for different purposes and couldn’t be happier.

The Sony A77, the A7II and the Nex-7

 


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