Life can be seen as a series of forks in the road, every moment represents some sort of decision to be made. Some are small with little real consequence while others have more significant stakes. For a photographer, one of the biggest decisions to be made is one’s choice of camera. Let me qualify this by pointing out that just about every single modern camera from any major manufacturer is capable of producing outstanding images. I am not going to nitpick about resolution, dynamic range, or many of the other things that people regularly bitch about simply because outside of a few edge cases, they tend to be of little consequence. In my mind, the significance of the choice of camera is two-fold.
First is that since the major manufacturers these days use proprietary mounts (exceptions to the rule being the Micro-4/3 Mount and the newly minted “L-Mount Alliance” of Leica, Panasonic, and Sigma), buying a camera is generally the first step into a much deeper investment into a SYSTEM. This system consists of camera bodies, accompanying native lenses developed for the proprietary mount of those bodies, various accessories often designed for the proprietary connections or software and generally some investment into a consistent workflow in the form of similar menu structures or button placement across various bodies. Yes, adapters exist, but outside of native adapters provided by the manufacturer such as Sony’s A-Mount adapter, Canon’s EF-Mount adapter, or Nikon’s FTZ adapter, you are probably going to take some sort of performance hit if you are adapting lenses onto camera bodies that they are not designed for. So your choice of camera will largely dictate where several hundred or several thousand more dollars will be spent and any switch in systems will likely be accompanied by a significant loss in the form of selling off your system lenses and accessories at a lower price than you likely purchased them for.
The second significant aspect of your camera choice is how it affects your shooting. This might sound really stupid at first, but just about every aspect of a camera body will have some sort of effect on the way you will use in the real world and this will, in turn, affect what you choose to photograph, when you choose to photograph, and how you choose to photograph. For a pretty jarring example, take the difference between a standard SLR camera, a rangefinder, and a TLR camera. The way each of these body types are designed lend themselves to certain types of shooting. You might find yourself gravitating toward candid photography with a rangefinder while avoiding fashion photography. You might find that an SLR draws you more toward portraiture or landscapes and less toward street photography. You might find yourself being drawn to street portraiture with a TLR around your neck while avoiding macro photography. Everyone has their particular inclinations and the nature of the camera body in their hand will naturally skew your shooting away from the weaknesses of that body and toward its strengths. Human beings, being the lazy creatures we are, tend to just go with this flow rather than stubbornly fight it.
Aside from obvious technological differences, however, there are many more subtle considerations that will undoubtedly affect how you use your camera. A smaller camera will be more easily used in discreet situations than a larger one. A camera with comfortable ergonomics will probably be used for longer duration than an uncomfortable one. A lighter camera is probably more likely to be carried around than a heavier one. A camera that is weathersealed is more likely to be taken out on a rainy day than one that isn’t, even if you have a separate weathersealing cover. If a camera has a complicated menu system, you’re probably less likely to change your menu settings as often as on a camera with an intuitive menu system. All of these little technical details and obstacles shape your interaction with this thing that is supposed to be the bridge between your vision and the photograph that you capture. In an ideal world, there would be no such barrier or obstacle, but in light of the fact that there are, it is often easier to adjust ourselves to our tools than it is to adjust the tools to us—particularly if you consider the cost involved in swapping out those tools as mentioned earlier. So the camera, though it is a tool, becomes a critical element in shaping your photography and, over time with much repetition, shaping how you see the world.
You can probably see, then, why choosing the wrong camera body can result in all sorts of headache, frustration, and unhappiness. If you are expecting this post to devolve into some sort of rant about my choice of camera equipment at this point, you earn a gold star for your prescience.
A while back, I was faced with a choice. I had purchased the Nikon D850 (trading in my Nikon D810). I had numerous lenses and accessories in the Nikon DSLR system, including the relatively new NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E, which was an amazing lens. Paired with the D850 which was an amazing camera, I really didn’t feel like I lacked anything except perhaps a few more esoteric lenses to potentially plug up some holes (eg. a macro lens). Looking around me, however, I could clearly see that a major shift in the market was likely going to come—the mass exodus to MILC cameras.
Up until that point, Sony had been the only real player in the full frame MILC market with Canon and Nikon effectively ignoring it until they no longer couldn’t. Rumors swirled around and eventually both companies confirmed that their serious foray into the full frame MILC market was imminent. At this point, the D850 that I had purchased months earlier was still somehow out of stock in the USA and I realized that if it came down to trading in or selling my gear, it was not likely to have more value than at that point due to the continued demand. I decided that the best financial move would be to cease any further investment into DSLR technology (cameras, lenses, accessories) and move my investment into an MILC since I figured that Canon and Nikon themselves would likely ramp down and cease their DSLR development pretty quickly to catch up to Sony. So the choice was made: I would wait to see what Nikon announced first and see whether I would pre-order the Z 7 or purchase a Sony A7RIII. Canon was never a realistic choice for me simply having been with Nikon so long. I could see a jump to Sony, but not Canon and besides, at that point, Sony had the most mature full-frame MILC system in the market.
To get right to the point, the Z 7 announcement (and the Z 6 announcement) was rather underwhelming to me as was the announced lens road map. While it had some good points in ergonomics and weathersealing, the lack of dual slots, reportedly poor AF, and the decision to launch with zero premium lenses quickly made me realize that the body would require at least one iteration and the lens road map would have to progress at LEAST two years before there was a solid system with native lenses there for me. So I made the jump to Sony, which was made easier by a trade-in rebate that they were offering at the time if you traded in a camera from another manufacturer. Adorama gave me a pretty good quote for all of my gear and I was leaving with my new A7RIII and a handful of lenses to get me started in the Sony eco-system.
Truth be told, I had never intended for my stay in the Sony eco-system to be permanent. I figured that since they had the most fully fleshed out MILC system, I would benefit from that while waiting for Nikon to catch up and then re-evaluating in a few years. I knew going into the purchase that there were several issues with Sony cameras in general that would likely irk me. For one, Nikon weathersealing had always been rock solid and I am the type that prefers to walk around with my camera in the rain without an umbrella. Pretty much every test for Sony cameras in that regard has been dismal. Sony cameras are also much more compact than a camera like the D850. This is a feature that some people really enjoy, but I tend to prefer a bigger grip on my cameras even at the cost of extra size and weight. Also, while Sony’s eco-system is the most fully fleshed out, it is currently a bit of a mess due to some early decision that were made to license the Zeiss name for some of their lenses—a practice they have stopped and have pretty much replaced with the G-Master designation. Regardless, this created some odd results such as the “budget” 35mm option inexplicably being an $800 35mm f/2.8 lens and a little bit of initial confusion on my part regarding whether those lenses were being produced by Sony or Zeiss (I have since learned that they are manufactured by Sony) and whether, if they are manufactured by Sony, they are actually Zeiss designs. I will not say that I was unaware of any of this going into my purchase. What I was completely unaware of was simply how much of an impact all of these seemingly small things would have on my photography and how miserable I would end up becoming due to all of it.
On paper, the Sony A7RIII is really not that different from the D850 that I traded in. The 55mm f/1.8 was close enough in focal length and aperture to the 58mm f/1.4G that I traded in. On paper and in theory, there might have been a small adjustment period, but the images that I produce ought to have largely been close to the same, but nothing could be further from the truth. This is the point where Sony apologists will flame me, hurl insults, and tell me all of the simple solutions that I could employ to overcome any of the issues that I have experienced and none of it would be technically wrong. Every single issue could be compensated for. I could purchase a grip so that my pinkie stops hanging off the bottom of my camera. I could buy a rain cover so that my camera would be weatherproof. I could just get used to using the EVF or turning the Live Effect OFF to mimic an OVF. I could do all manner of things and all manner of solutions have run through my mind in the ensuing months. Remember what I said about human laziness and how cameras will, though their own strengths and weaknesses, start to affect your photographic vision over time? At the end of all of the pontificating, the only question I’m left with is, “Yes, I can do all of these things, but why should I?”
Simply put, why should I live in constant frustration with all of these little annoyances? Why should I have to deal with a viewfinder that changes brightness depending on where I’m pointing it even when the Live Effect is OFF? Why should I have to worry about getting my camera wet? Why should I be OK with a control scheme that makes it ridiculously easy to change a setting by spinning a stupid wheel? Why should my hands always feel slightly cramped while holding my camera? Why should I feel like my camera is a delicate novelty rather than a workhorse that I can bludgeon someone with? All of these stupid little preferences and annoyances that are simply my own, but why should I change nearly every habit I had in regard to the interactions between me and my camera? Is this just growing pains? Is there some meaningful benefit to all of this in the end? What am I enduring this joyless, soulless feeling every time I pick up this camera for—a camera that doesn’t allow me to even think straight or clearly when I’m holding it because SOMETHING about it is constantly bothering me? Why did using my camera and taking a photograph suddenly become a stressful experience that I had to think through rather than the natural act that it used to be? Does it get better? Do I care enough to wait for it to get better?
This is not an indictment on Sony’s cameras. I don’t believe them to be inferior to anything on the market today. From a purely technological standpoint, I don’t think that there’s a camera on the market today that will surpass a comparable Sony. Perhaps that day will come, but it’s simply not today and judging from a demo I’ve seen recently of some upcoming firmware that will make their Eye-AF absolutely ridiculous, I would say it might not even be tomorrow. Sony makes amazing cameras, but the more I use mine, the more I am coming to the realization that it’s simply not the right camera for me. Until I made this decision to switch I had not realized how much of my photographic vision and habits were tied to my Nikon cameras—their ergonomics, lenses, weathersealing, weight, menu design, etc. I don’t think I’ve ever been as unproductive in my photography as I have with my Sony. It seems as if everything just feels wrong and I simply can’t get into the zone that I’m usually able to get into and it doesn’t seem to be the fault of any particular Sony feature, but simply the camera system in aggregate. Whereas before I was more than happy to lug around my heavy D850 with grip and cadre of lenses everywhere I went, I find myself leaving my Sony A7RIII at home unless I know for a fact that I have a job to shoot. When your $3000+ camera doesn’t fill your heart with some degree of joy in using it, it really becomes time for a re-evaluation of things.
I am not entirely sure where I go from here as I still don’t believe investing into a DSLR at this point to be a wise use of my money, but one thing is for sure. This has been an extremely expensive and emotionally frustrating lesson to me that while photography is ultimately not about the tools, the tools that you use can have a great deal of influence on the joy of the process—and, in turn, the comfort with which you can exercise your creativity and vision. It has also been an important reminder that the value of a camera lies way beyond a sheet that lists technical specifications or features. Like I said, just about every camera can produce the images you need. That doesn’t, however, mean that every camera is good for everyone.