Why I’m (Not) Going Mirrorless: Volume II

Hi, my name is Tom, and I have GAS. No, not that kind of gas. Gear Acquisition Syndrome. I love toys, but (unfortunately) I’m a little too old for more Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures. Instead, my insatiable thirst for new toys results in me buying camera equipment. You might have gleaned as much from this site’s many camera reviews and my brash decision to go mirrorless that I documented in Volume I of this Why I’m Going Mirrorless series.

Most of the time, this isn’t a problem. I do my homework, and the new gear I purchase helps me improve my photography. I’ve had zero regrets with the cameras I’ve purchased. Until now, with the Sony a7R II.

In this case, my regrets extended further than just what I had purchased. I made the decision to go “all-in” on mirrorless, and sold a lot of my DSLR gear as a result. I sold 2 camera bodies, several lenses, flashes, and even a large camera bag (that I’d “no longer need”). If there’s any silver lining, it’s that I sold a lot of DSLR gear that was just sitting around, collecting dust in order to fund the Sony a7R II. Thankfully, I sold more of this stuff than I did “important” camera gear.

In some regards, it was a half-baked plan from the outset: a couple of the lenses and adapter for Nikon lenses that I wanted for the Sony a7R II hadn’t even been released when I made the jump. My plan was to purchase them once they were released, which was supposed to be March 2016 (four months later…all three items still aren’t available).

This proved especially problematic when it came time for our recent trips to Japan and China. Leading up to the Japan trip, I had two incomplete camera bags. I held out hope that the adapter and lenses would appear in stock on Amazon or B&H until a week before the trip, at which time I realized I was in a bit of a pickle.

Knowing I couldn’t possibly complete my Sony bag, I borrowed what I needed for the Nikon bag. It worked decently as a temporary, interim solution, but was less than ideal. The same problem arose two months later before our Shanghai trip. Borrowing wasn’t an option, so I decided to take both systems and hope for the best with my patch-worked bag.

I’ve learned a lot in the past several months, both in terms of the Sony full frame mirrorless system’s inherent strengths and weaknesses, and my personal utilization of the equipment. You could say I’ve had a bit of buyer’s remorse in the process. In Volume I, I lamented that my biggest complaint was the lack of lens selection. This was something I thought I could overcome thanks to new releases, adapters, and by cherry-picking lenses that would work well for me.

I downplayed this in my head, only to be discouraged by delays in the shipment of announced lenses and adapters, frustrations in pricing of new releases, and a lack of further developments. Then I priced out other lenses I’d want that were available–the 85mm f/1.8 or f/1.4 and 35mm lens f/1.8 or f/1.4–and the cheapest options totaled $2,700. With no third party options (save for Zeiss, I guess?) available, you’re stuck with first party lenses that cost more than even their Canon and Nikon counterparts.

Then there was the size issue. This is a startling realization every full frame mirrorless photographer is bound to have unless they downgrade from fast glass. It wasn’t such a revelation for me since I had done research beforehand and knew mirrorless wasn’t inherently smaller (as I wrote in Volume I), but I thought it would be for me since I would be downsizing on my ultra-wide angle lens and would be assembling a bag of smaller lenses.

Initially, I had a euphoric sense of liberation in carrying a smaller bag–or no bag at all–when I used the Sony a7R II. After a couple of months, the “honeymoon” phase of this liberated feeling wore off. It became less easy to overlook the compromises I was making in favor of carrying less gear.

I realized there were certain sacrifices I wasn’t willing to make once I used those smaller lenses more. The Sony 24-240mm is a capable lens and the nicest superzoom I’ve ever used, but somewhere along the way during the past 5 years, I guess I’ve become a gear snob? While its sharpness was perfectly sufficient, its slowness was not. (If I were strictly a methodical landscape photographer, this wouldn’t have been an issue.) I became frustrated that it (obviously) didn’t offer f/2.8 lens performance. I began seeing that the ideal and reality of mirrorless–for me, at least–were two different things.

This meant that I’d–realistically–have to purchase a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens to go along with the slew of other lenses on my wish list. At this point, I sized up my theoretical camera bag and realized literally everything in it would be as large or larger than their DSLR counterparts, save for that ultra-wide and the camera body. Cumulatively, the two systems would be really close to one another in size…and $2,000+ apart from one another in price (in Nikon’s favor). At was at this point that I had an, “oh shit, what have I done!” moment of clarity.

Not wanting to be too hasty in going back to Nikon and repurchasing the stuff I’d sold to (re)complete my camera bag, I decided to head to Shanghai with both my Sony and Nikon gear. A heavy proposition (ironically, in the quest to lighten the load, my camera bag was the heaviest it has ever been), but one that would allow me to avoid purchasing more, and take more time to test what I had in the field to see if I’d have a change of heart.

That trip only further solidified the decision. My plan was to use a dual sling camera strap to carry the Nikon D750 and Sony a7R II, Doc Holliday style. Early on, it was clear that would not work. I do feel a bit like Doc Holliday with my “draw” on the Nikons, as I can adjust settings via muscle memory and be ready to shoot within moments. However, my approach with the Sony is more like Shaq trying to make a free throw. This is partly on me…but it’s partly on Sony.

Previously, I assumed the confusing menu system would just take time to get used to, and I wouldn’t be fumbling for controls, hitting the wrong buttons. Several months later, I still have the same problems. There’s no way around this: Sony’s menu system is an unmitigated disaster and its button layout is poor.

To be sure, the buttons are highly customizable, so you can get around some of this–but not all of it. In dynamic shooting situations, there have been shots I have missed because even after months of regular use, it’s easy to make mistakes with the Sony. I’ve used Canon cameras far less, and I haven’t had this degree of issue with those, so I think it’s fair to say that this isn’t all on me.

Fumbling for settings caused me to miss at least 10 shots on our Shanghai/Hong Kong trip. The startup lag (something I hadn’t even considered previously) caused me to miss another ~3 shots. Not being able to see properly via EVF while shooting into the sun caused me to miss another ~5 shots. It also caused me to waste considerable time as I switched to the D750 on more than a few occasions in these scenarios so I could see. Another ~5 shots were missed due to the time it takes to move the AF area. All told, that’s too many missed shots.

I could potentially get past the slightly larger camera bag and maybe even the higher cost (the quality on those Zeiss lenses helps…), but missing shots is a tough pill to swallow. There’s a bitter feeling I’m left with when I miss shots. It’s one thing when it’s due to my own dumb decisions. That only motivates me to do better. When it’s the camera’s fault, I get frustrated and discouraged.

A lot of this is highly personal, and my goal here is not to scream “AVOID SONY FE MIRRORLESS AT ALL COSTS” just as my goal with Volume I was not to say “SELL EVERYTHING AND BUY SONY NOW!” As I wrote in the first post, I think mirrorless and DSLRs each have advantages, both deserving a seat at the photography “table.” That sentiment remains true, even if my personal take on mirrorless has soured a bit.

The fact remains that the Sony a7R II has a ton of selling points that I covered in the previous article but glossed over here (IBIS, 4K video, tilt screen, WiFi, high ISO performance, etc.), and all of those advantages remain significant. Sony has an incredible thirst for innovation that has lured a lot of technocrats into its camp. However, for me at least, the shortcomings have overshadowed the benefits. The operative part of that sentence is “for me.”

I’ve been underscoring the personal nature of this all, but I think that bears a lot of emphasis, since so much of what’s written online about mirrorless v. DSLR treat the topic as an epic battle of good and evil, dark and light, and choosing entrenched positions. I don’t see that as the reality. (I will write a Sony a7R II review that is more objective and isn’t all “me, me, me” in the near future.)

So, if this is all so personal to me, what are the key takeaways that can be gleaned from my ramblings?

  • Price out your complete, theoretical mirrorless camera bag before making the jump. The cost may surprise you.
  • Don’t assume mirrorless will enable you to take “shortcuts” with lenses. If you’re used to fast glass (and/or autofocuses lenses), stick with that.
  • Don’t assume that you’ll develop the same comfort level or “feel” for any new camera over time that you have for your current camera. It might happen, but it might not.
  • Consider how valuable the camera’s features are to you, but don’t give too much weight to those that could and should make their way to your current system in due time. (Unfortunately, Canon and Nikon DSLRs are unlikely to get in-body image stabilization anytime in the near or distant future.)

The net result of this is I find myself ready to jump ship again, this time to bounce back to Nikon. The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII was recently on sale, so I already picked that up. I need a couple more things to (re)complete my Nikon camera bag, but I’ll get them in due time. I’m still hesitant to sell the Sony a7R II, if only because I still haven’t had the chance to test that Voigtlander 10mm f/5.6 “hyper-wide” angle lens, and I have this nagging feeling/hope(?) that it will be the magic bullet that vindicates my decision to get the Sony. I’m not quite sure what to do about that, especially since I don’t like throwing good money after bad, but if and when I figure it out, I’ll update you…

Until then, I’m back on the Dark Side. Long live the Nikon Darth-750! 😉

Want to learn more about photography to take great photos in the Disney theme parks and beyond? The best place to start is Tom’s Ultimate Disney Parks Photography Guide, which covers a variety of topics from links to tutorials, tips, and tricks to recommendations for point & shoots, DSLRs, lenses, and more!

If you do want to purchase new photography equipment, we recommend the following trusted & authorized retailers. Buying from these retailers helps support this blog, and doesn’t cost you a thing:
Amazon
B&H Photo
Adorama

For other photography equipment recommendations or photography tips in general check out a few of my top photography blog posts:

Best Books for Improving Your Photography
5 Indispensable Tips for Better Vacation Photos
Choosing the Best Travel Tripod
Choosing the Best Camera Bag for Travel

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Your Thoughts

Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts on the Sony full-frame mirrorless system? If you’ve made the leap to mirrorless, how are you liking it? If you’ve been hesitant to try mirrorless, why? Are you considering going mirrorless? Any questions? Share your thoughts in the comments!


36 Responses to “Why I’m (Not) Going Mirrorless: Volume II”
  1. Michael Rasmussen January 30, 2017
  2. Tonya Holcomb January 23, 2017
  3. Cliff Fujii November 21, 2016
  4. Danny October 3, 2016
  5. Tom Bricker July 18, 2016
  6. Matt July 17, 2016
  7. Patrick July 15, 2016
    • Tom Bricker July 15, 2016
  8. fractal July 13, 2016
    • Tom Bricker July 18, 2016
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