My review of the Sony A7ii mirrorless camera
Like most of us, photography started as a hobby for me, after I graduated uni and felt like my imagination had died. I started by taking photos of cupcakes, and then flowers and clouds and beaches and sunsets, and then my friends and family; learning to find little moments to be grateful for, to capture and celebrate. Photography was something I leaned on heavily in the first year of being a lawyer, I even did a 365 photo a day project.
Every year I would make us a calendar with some of my favourite photos from the previous year, and hang it in our kitchen, where we could see it every day and be reminded of all the fun we’d had the previous year. But the year I decided to take the leap and pursue photography as a business, was pretty much the same year that I stopped taking photos of and for myself. It’s only gotten worse as the years have gone on, the busier I get the less I want to take photos.
My cameras have become tools of the trade, and after a long day or week of shooting, picking them up to take photos at home is the last thing I feel like doing. They’re heavy, bulky, expensive, and too awkward to just pop in my handbag like I used to when I didn’t need to lug them around or use them every day for work. And like many of us, I’ve just been relying on my camera phone.
But this breaks my heart every time, because I know that these photos aren’t at the quality where I can edit or print them the way I want to. One day it occurred to me that maybe if I had a smaller, more compact camera, that was light and easy to use that I might take more photos. No matter how hard I tried to bring myself around to the idea of getting a compact camera, I just couldn’t! I knew I needed a camera that would allow me to choose manual settings, and that shot RAW files, otherwise I knew I wouldn’t use it (now that I’m in my 30’s I’ve come to accept that if it’s not practical, I won’t do it/use it - no matter how pretty is it).
After months of research (and many hours lost to YouTube video reviews), I finally settled on a Sony A7ii mirrorless camera. It fit all the criteria, was slightly over budget, but I felt confident that I would use it heaps. An expensive gamble, but I haven’t regretted it for a second. This review won’t cover technical aspects of the camera, there are plenty of those on the internet if you know how to use Google. And as I’m not using this camera for professional purposes, I will instead share why I chose this system over Fujifilm (because that was an agonising process in itself) and what I like and dislike about Sony so far.
Let’s dive in!
WHY I CHOSE SONY OVER FUJIFILM
This was an incredibly difficult decision, because both systems are really good.
Once I decided on my budget, my choice was between the Fujifilm X-T2 and the Sony A7ii, and ultimately I went with Sony for a few reasons.
Sony a7ii is full frame, where as the FujiFilm X-T2 is a crop sensor. Full frame cameras typically have better image quality, and better ISO capabilities, and are just generally better for natural light photographers.
The Sony has better stabilisation features (the FujiFilm has none).
Sony has a bigger range of lenses, which was important to me as I wanted small, compact lenses.
I found this video review by two wedding photographers, one who shoots Sony and the other with Fujifilm really helpful in narrowing down my decisions.
What wasn’t a consideration for me?
4k video, I don’t shoot much video so my decision was mostly based on quality of/shooting stills.
Weight – both devices are small, and smaller than DSLRs so it wasn’t a huge consideration for me.
WHAT LENSES DO I USE?
As for lenses, it was incredibly important to me that I was able to find decent quality, pancake type lenses. The last thing I wanted was bulky heavy glass, and as it’s for personal use I wasn’t too bothered about not having the best quality glass. I also didn’t want to spend a boat load of money (considering how expensive the camera is).
Originally I purchased a 35mm lens (Samyang 35mm f2.8 E Mount Full Frame Lens), but I don’t love it and I ended up buying a Sony E Mount 20mm f2.8 Lens instead which I love.
WHAT I DISLIKE ABOUT IT
The electronic viewfinder
Honestly, I don’t love the electronic viewfinder – give me an optical viewfinder any time!
For those of you who might not understand the difference, on DSLRs when you look through the viewfinder you are seeing through the lens (via some fancy mirror work inside your body). But with mirrorless cameras, well there are no mirrors, so instead you are seeing a computer generated image of what your lens is seeing, on the back of the screen and through the viewfinder.
I find this really frustrating in practise, but it’s not as bad as it was when I first started shooting with it. I find the EVF doesn’t handle brightness very well, and it can blow out the pixels more than what is actually happening. I often find myself reducing expsoure when looking through the EVF, only to take the photo, look at it and then have to increase exposure again. I struggle to use the EVF when backlighting, shooting against white backgrounds or out in full sun.
I wish I could show you a photo of the EVF, but I don’t have a lens capable of getting close enough!
Another thing I dislike about the EVF is that I’m used to having image review display pop up on my DSLR for 2 seconds after I take the image, and on a DSLR this will only pop up on the back of the screen. But on my mirrorless, when I have image review turned on, it pops up in the electronic viewfinder and I find this really disruptive and unnatural. I have it turned off now, and I’d recommend other pro photographers switch it off as well if you are coming from DSLR to mirrorless. It’s not a huge deal, but I don’t love shooting on it enough to ever consider swapping my work gear to mirrorless system.
The menu system
Yep – it’s pretty shit. It’s convoluted, confusing and difficult to interpret especially when coming from Canon. I’ve honestly scrolled through the menu system TEN times looking for something, because I don’t remember where it’s hiding, or what it’s called, which can be really frustrating. when I need something in a hurry.
Also, the ability to control the camera from your phone – that’s an AWFUL user experience. What no one tells you is that you have to buy an app, within the camera, and login to the app within the camera every time when you want to control the camera from your phone. I thought this would be great for selfies, but I got it working once and thought it was set up for good, only to find I had to go through the whole process again the next time I wanted to use it. Trying to navigate through that in-camera is truly frustrating.
I’m not sure if this is a negative really, a smaller camera means a smaller battery, so just be aware of this before you dive in. I carry three batteries with me, and I’ve never had an issue, but one battery will only get you a couple of hours of every use (compared to my DSLR batteries which can get me through a whole day sometimes).
Ultimately though, I don’t hate any of these things enough to not want to use the camera, which is a relief!
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT IT SO FAR
Other than those few things, it’s exactly what I hoped it would be – a completely different system to my Canons, so it doesn’t feel like work. It’s light, and compact and fits in my handbag so I take it with me everywhere. On a recent interstate trip I even used it MORE than I used my phone camera, which is a huuuuge win for me. I (mostly) enjoy shooting on it I find myself using it all the time, and not because I feel like I have to, but because I want to.
My sweet little nieces and nephews also love my new camera, during one visit to my besties house the kids ran around with it taking photos of each other, something they couldn’t do with a DSLR. But because it was light and they could look through the back of the screen (I just set up the settings for them) they loved using it. The photo of my bestie and her son was actually taken by her daughter, and I think that’s so special.
And one thing I know for sure is that none of these photos would exist if I didn’t have this camera. I know that I wouldn’t have taken them with my phone, nor would they be this good quality.
As this is for personal use, I’m usually using it outside of golden hour - but so far it’s handled everything really well. It even handled low light/after dusk well, although there isn’t as much ISO range (there’s a lot of noise at the higher end of the scale, but I don’t mind that as I like to add a little grain to my images anyway(. The hardest thing is trying to see the screen + EVF when I’m out in the harsh sun, I have been finding that a little difficult, but overall I’m really happy with/love how the photos have turned out!
And at the end of the day, I’m not after technically perfect photos - because capturing the moment is all that really matters. Who cares if it’s got wonky lighting, as long as I get to document my life and the people I love, I’m happy!
MY ADVICE TO PEOPLE CONSIDERING PURCHASING A MIRRORLESS CAMERA
If you can, find a friend who has the system you are considering, and ask if you can play around with it for a bit before you buy. Alternatively, find a store that has working cameras available for you to look at and play around with, look through the view finders, compare the colour profiles and menu systems in person where you can before you buy. I couldn’t say if I would have gone with Fuji over Sony if I had done this, but I think it’s a great idea if you can do this first before buying, especially if you are coming from a DSLR background.
My gamble has paid off, because I’ve fallen in love with photography again. Because it’s a completely different system, it doesn’t feel like work. And I’m just happy to be taking photos of my loved ones again, because they are the reason I got into photography in the first place and deserve to be captured and remembered as much as (if not more than) my client work.
If you’ve switched to a mirrorless, or are thinking about getting one, I’d love to hear from you below in the comments section!