This isn’t really a gear focussed blog - I don’t do conventional reviews of cameras or lenses, preferring to simply provide some thoughts about things I’ve used. However, I wanted to write about this particular choice I’ve made in case it helps someone out there.
I’m of the opinion that there are no good or bad cameras these days, you just have to pick the tool that works best for you. Keep that in mind while I’m listing my reasons - just because it didn’t work for me doesn't mean it won’t work for you.
The Sony A7ii was released in 2015 to much fanfare and celebration. Finally, a mirrorless camera with a full-frame sensor AND in-body image stabilisation! I bought one secondhand in 2018 before our trip to Japan, intending to use it as my primary body, possibly retiring my trusty Canon 5d mk II to work projects and backup use. Here’s why that didn’t quite work:
The body is made of crumbly biscuits
Well, not quite obviously, but it might as well as be. I’ve never used a more fragile camera. I’m pretty careful with my photography equipment and generally manage to keep it looking pretty good while it’s under my ownership. Not the A7ii. The screen scratched horrendously, the body had flakes of paint falling off it, the label was peeling, the eye cup did this intensely annoying thing where it hung off on one side, I could go on.
I thought I needed a full frame sensor
Having used a full-frame DSLR for a few years, from which I got excellent results, and an APSC Fujifilm XT-10 which I was unsatisfied with, I thought that the best choice would be to go for a full-frame sensor with the A7ii. I also wanted to buy vintage lenses and use them at their natural focal length.
What I actually discovered quite surprised me. Having traded my Fujifilm XT-10 and 27mm pancake lens a year or so before, I saw an irresistible deal on a Fujifilm XE-2 and a 23mm f2 lens which I had to buy. It was only a few weeks of using this before I realised that it wasn’t an APSC sensor that was resulting in disappointing results from my XT-10, but the quality of the lenses I was using. The image quality you can get from the 23mm f2 compared to the 27mm f2.8 is stunning.
When it came to using lenses at their natural focal length, I had another surprise.
Edge of sensor weirdness
This is something that I thought might have been caused by user error, or some kind of problem in my post-processing workflow until I heard the guys on the Photography with Classic Lenses podcast talking about it.
When using manual focus lenses I would often see distortion, artefacts and smearing at the edge of the frame. Here are a couple of examples from my 7artisans 50mm 1.1:
It wasn’t just apparent with this lens, either, but a number of different classic lenses that I tried during the 16 months that I owned the camera. This defeated the object of shooting lenses at their designated focal length if I was forced to crop the images anyway.
Sony lenses are expensive
A smarter photographer than I would have checked the price of lenses when switching to a new camera body brand. In my defence, I was anticipating mostly using adapted lenses rather than Sony glass, but when I eventually did come to look into getting some lenses that I could autofocus with I was a bit dejected to discover that they cost an absolute fortune.
From what I hear, they offer fantastic image quality and autofocus performance is great, but I never managed to save up enough money to buy one before I sold it (I’m half joking here, but you get the point).
Another reason I didn’t think I needed Sony lenses was my decent range of Canon glass, which brings me on to…
Adapting Canon lenses is hit and miss
Depending on who you listen to, adapting Canon lenses to Sony is either the best thing ever or a complete waste of time. Talking about photography on the internet is a matter of black and white, of course, so there are no shades of grey.
I had decent results with the Canon 40mm f2.8, 70-200mm f2.8 and the 35mm f2. I had disastrous results with the 24-105mm f4 and any other Canon lens I tried. Bad results ranged from almost non-existent autofocus performance to worm artefacts all over my shots. The 24-105mm was the most disappointing in that it’s the perfect travel lens and whenever I tried to use it on a trip with my Sony all it did was give me more to carry - it was practically useless. I did numerous tests with different ISO values, different shooting modes, JPG vs Raw and anything else I could think of and I still got bad results. It seems it just wasn’t to be.
Sony menus are Dante’s 10th circle of hell
I had heard a lot about the Sony menu system, and had promptly ignored all of it. How bad could it be, right? Awful.
Fujifilm’s menus are bad in my opinion. There are lots of settings, all organised in what I would consider strange places and lots of options you have to go through multiple screens to find. However, the nature of Fujifilm cameras is that once you’ve set the camera up the first time you barely have to see those menus ever again. If only the same could be said of Sony’s.
If you buy a Sony camera you will spend too much of your precious, fleeting, glorious life scrolling through endless options to do things you never thought you would need to. You’ll need to turn Airplane mode on and off to save the battery/transfer images on the move. You’ll need to check what the customisable buttons do because you’ll set them once and then completely forget what you set them at, press the button and the screen will say ‘Not possible in this mode’. You’ll search for hours to turn off the obnoxious shutter noise that sounds like the clip they dub over movies and TV shows when the cops are surveilling someone’s house and shooting film photos of them in a movie supposedly set in 2019. You won’t be able to turn this noise off.
This was not the right tool for me. I hated it. However, I did take some really nice photos with it, which in my mind proves that a camera is just a tool and not the output of your creativity. Shoot whatever makes you happy, and if you ever see my browsing for Sony cameras in the future, shoot me.