Why Mirrorless?

Sony’s A7RII (left) and A7SII

A notable quote from legendary photojournalist Don McCullin states: “I only use a camera like I use a toothbrush. It does the job.”

I believe in, and try to abide by, that sentiment. It holds particularly true for someone like me who began their photographic journey with a very modest 35mm camera, a 50mm lens, and a pile of film. However, as the years advance, technology sprints. Clients expect a digital workflow, and it has mostly made life easier for both creator and client. Most of us are now heavily invested in digital (though I’ll never give up my analog machines), and reliant on its conveniences to do our jobs. This also means that we’re tied to the evolutionary process of digital technology, for which there is virtually no possibility of a frontier.

In recent years, a location shoot would have me packing at least a couple Pelican cases of equipment, more if there was to be a motion component. Much of the time, I didn’t perceive it to be a burden, rather, it was just part of the job. Heavy, bulky loads, a sore back, and aching shoulders after long days strapped with hefty cameras and huge lenses. As a result, I have tried a number of smaller mirrorless digital cameras in an attempt to identify new opportunities to lessen the load. However, trade-offs such as high ISO noise, slow focus, limited lens selections, video quality, or the limits associated with m43 or APS-C sensors ended up being deal-breakers. Until now.

Sony hasn’t been subtle in executing a methodical domination of the mirrorless market. Their ramp to market share leader has been built upon their Alpha family of cameras, whose current generation boasts full-frame sensors, in-body image stabilization (IBIS), 4k video, blazing-fast autofocus, wi-fi connectivity… The list truly does go on. Importantly, these features are manifested in a camera body that is roughly half the size and weight of a Nikon professional DSLR body. Clearly, Sony was targeting working professionals, who have responded in kind.

An upcoming film and photo project abroad (much more on this soon) has me preparing mentally and materially. Due to the remoteness of the location, packing a ton of gear isn’t an option. Nor does it make any practical sense to draw unnecessary attention to oneself in a developing nation as potential target. Thus, I made the decision to add a couple Sony Alpha cameras to the arsenal, namely, the a7SII for its video chops and the a7RII as a primary stills camera that can serve capably as a B camera for video. Both are built upon full frame stabilized sensors. I’m not going to go in-depth about what these machines can do – there are thousands of sites that spew forth if you are interested in exhaustive tests. Bottom line: the A7SII can almost see in the dark with the high ISO capability of its 12MP sensor, and shoots SLog3 at 4k internally, even up to 120 fps. The A7RII is a resolution beast, with a 42MP sensor and internal 4k video using a Super 35 crop of that wealth of pixels.

With these Sony cameras, along with a handful of lenses, some compact and powerful motion tools, I’ll be able to fit the entire foundational kit in a single Pelican 1510 carry-on. Sure, a tripod will still have to be stowed in a duffel with the fly rods, and I’m not packing auxiliary lights. But, this is a whole lot of image-making power in a very manageable kit. Compact and comfortable are two characteristics that help facilitate the creative process. Coupled with the massive feature set that Sony has let loose with the A7SII and A7RII bodies, I’m looking forward to pushing these tools to new limits in demanding conditions.


One thought on “Why Mirrorless?

  1. I have owned a Sony NEX 5 for several years, and I like it. I got it for packability on fishing hikes and my particular unit has been completely bulletproof (works fine after leaving it out overnight in a torrential rain, for example). I cannot speak to the technical aspects like slow focus, etc. because I just don’t know much about that stuff, but mine has served me very well.

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