Buying a new camera always comes with weeks of extensive research. "Is this the right camera for me?" and "How does this camera compare to this other camera?" are always questions running through people's minds. For some time, I was dead set on a Nikon D750 because of it's great lowlight, dynamic range, and 1080 60p video with the ability to record video externally — then I came across the Sony A7 series.
After spending a couple hours trying to figure out what the hell Sony is doing with their model naming (a7, a7ii, a7r, a7s, a7rii, a7sii...), I compared the Sony a7Rii to the Nikon. On paper, it's a better camera, with 4k recording and external output, more megapixels, great high ISO, and just as good dynamic range. The only hangup was that it was a mirrorless camera, something completely new to me. Yet having heard such great things, I went to the local electronics store numerous times to play with with both cameras. I was amazed with the Sony every time.
My biggest worry was about having to rely solely on an electronic viewfinder, but that was quickly put to rest. I found the viewfinder to be lag free and very clear, and I like that I can overlay useful information like zebra stripes, histograms, and a leveler on the display. I also like that I can film through the viewfinder, much like a camcorder. This makes shooting in bright light or sun much easier.
I ended up going with the a7Rii and the Zeiss 24-70 f/4, along with a Rode VideoMic Pro, Manfrotto fluid head, and a battery grip with extra batteries. I bought the camera and lens used in 9+ condition from B&H to save some money, saving about $600 total.
After a couple weeks with the camera, here are some thoughts.
1. The camera is small.
Everyone's first comment about the camera is about how small it is. The camera looks tiny, and any lens above a pancake prime makes it look smaller. In the hand, my pinky finger is always left hanging. As a result, I ordered the battery grip to give it some heft, which it does well with. I think it's a required item for the camera, especially to help with battery life — which leads me to my next thought:
2. Battery life is pretty bad!
This isn't a camera that I can have always on while casually shooting. On the first day, I took the camera out for a walk around the block to test it out. After 10 minutes, I saw that the battery had dropped significantly. I quickly realized I'd have to turn it on and off constantly. This isn't a huge deal since it starts up fast enough, but coming from a DSLR and a mechanical rangefinder, it definitely adds a step to the process. I also made sure to get extra batteries, currently a total of four, which lasted me a full day of filming skateboarding. Additionally I like that I can run the camera from an external battery pack via the USB port, something I will definitely utilize in scenarios where I'm not running and gunning.
3. It's very fast and responsive.
The autofocus is extremely fast and always impresses me with how accurate it is in both photo and video mode. It's completely usable when shooting video as well, much like a camcorder. I noticed no shutter lag as well when I shot a few skateboarding photos. This was one of my main concerns about using a mirrorless camera, and I'm happy to report its nonexistence.
4. Image Stabilization is amazing!
I love that the sensor is stabilized in camera, allowing me some flexibility with lenses and adapters that don't have optical stabilization. When using an optically stabilized lens, such as the Zeiss 24-70 f/4, it become a whole different beast. In video, I can handhold a decent shot pretty far into the zoom range without any microshaking, and at wide, I can get an amazingly still shot. For photos, the stabilization coupled with no mirror slap means I can handhold quite long duration shots.
There are many lens mount adapters available that give me thousands of new and old lenses to shoot with. The first adapter I bought was a Leica M to Sony mount so I could throw on my Leica 50mm lens which looks great. I'm definitely considering buying and adapting others like the affordable Canon FD lenses.
6. One little bummer
One thing that bothers me is that I can't shoot a photo while in video mode. Coming from a Canon system, I liked that I could always grab a still, even in the middle of a video (if for some weird reason I'd want to). When filming Eric ollie the gap in my recent skateboarding video, I wanted to shoot a still of the guy kicking us out. Being that I couldn't shoot the photograph in video mode, I had to quickly switch to a photo mode, adjust the settings, and shoot from there. I quickly had to switch back to video mode before he gave it one last go. In situations like that, I definitely risk losing the moment on either the photo or video.
7. The menus...
Are confusing and hard to understand. It all comes down to memorization of their icons and corresponding menu number. In a time critical scenario, finding the setting you want can be very stressful.
8. Custom Buttons
There are four dedicated custom buttons, and I can remap the five on the control wheel, plus the dials on the camera, leaving me a camera that I can adjust to my shooting preferences and work with intuitively.
9. Crop mode
I like that I can switch to and from an APS-C crop mode, effectively giving me a 1.5x zoom on my lens without any quality loss. In fact, I've read that the moire is reduced and sharpness increases when using crop mode since it doesn't line skip.
10. Silent Shutter
The ability to turn the shutter sound off initially sounded like something I wouldn't use, but I was wrong. I've found myself using it quite a bit, like in situations where camera shy friends or family would be alerted to my stealthy shooting, or in one specific case, when Breanne had a quiet moment putting flowers on her grandmother's grave. I don't use it all the time, however, because I like the feedback from the camera and it might not offer the full quality of shooting normally.
This has probably been a standard feature of cameras for a couple of years now, but I absolutely love the in camera WiFi feature. I can shoot and adjust the camera remotely with my phone and send photos from the camera to my phone as well. I've used the latter feature extensively. I can simply text that quick family snapshot to everyone right after shooting, rather than having to wait to get home, editing the photos, and going through the steps of sending them the photos then — when all they really want is just to Instagram it or show it to people on their phone anyway.