The Sony A7iii Is Technically Advanced But Hard To Love

My first Minolta 600si was my Dad’s last camera before he passed away.  I inherited it and put in in the very large office closet where all my camera gear is stored.  It stayed there for quite a while and then I loaned it to one of my wife’s friends for about 3 years.  When I got the camera I was in a digital only phase and just did not want to use it.  But then when I got it back I had started using film again and tried it out the first day I got it back.  It came paired with a 50mm f2.8 macro lens.  It also came back with two 24 exposure rolls of Fuji Superia 400.

I did find and download a manual for the 600si.  After looking at that and then checking with the internet to see what people thought about this camera I shot the first roll mostly around our house.  Then the next roll we went to the zoo with my daughter and her two kids.  About half way through the first roll I started to think things like, “wow this is really easy to use”.  “What a great bright viewfinder”.  “No menus Yeah!!!!” “It even loads, advances, and then auto rewinds film rolls” “Boy is this auto focus fast.  It works about as quick as my Nikon D5500”. “This Minolta viewfinder is soooo much better than the Nikon.”

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And then those first two rolls came back from the developer and I was in love with this camera.  For a while I preferred the 600si to my long standing favorite the Olympus OM2n.  Now I am about evenly divided between the two.  I use the 600 when I think there will be kids, action, or low light and auto focus helps.  Or when I am lazy.  The 600 just does everything for you when you want or nothing at all and you can use it manually.

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Minolta thought a great deal about how someone would use this camera body and then made it simple and easy but effective.  My biggest complaints are that the plastic body does not look as good as the Nikon and the viewfinder is not quite as good as the Olympus.  But in every other way this is a great shooter.  Very quick to set up and then make changes when shooting.  All the controls are visible at a glance and changeable with just moving the individual controls changing a setting.

Sony bought Minolta in 2006.  This camera was made around 2000.  Sony must have fired or not listened to any of the Minolta people that made the brilliant 600si.  Even camerapedia calls this a cult camera because of the ease of use and capabilities.  But of course by the time it came out the hey day of film cameras was ending.  The Sony A7iii is a technical tour de force.  However, to set up, adjust when using, and love, not so much. And  I don’t just like older film cameras.  I loved my Nikon D5500.  The D5500 has some of the same advantages of the Minolta 600si, easy to use with it’s capable touch screen, very intuitive adjustments, and gives good photos.  A terrible video camera though.

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Notice all the single purpose controls.  A little secret is that when they all are aligned the same direction the system is on full automatic.  The Sony has pretty much no such thought given to the actual operation of the A7iii.  It’s all there from a technical standpoint, but using it is a jumbled up mess of mostly unmarked buttons, dozens of menus not set out logically, and very difficult to use in the hand.  The Sony is very hard to use quickly, one handed, or fast.  You can set up many of the controls but then you have to remember which ones are which.  If you have a dozen special buttons or controls and only a couple are marked you have to remember which is which quickly sometimes.

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The Sony A7iii turns out really good jpegs.  I always used raw with my Nikons because editing the raws gave better results usually than starting with jpegs.  But Sony adds to my confusion by turning out raws and jpegs that are almost indistinguishable.  That is nothing like Nikon.  Nikon raws are unedited and easily developed in Lightroom.  Sony raws out of my camera look the same as the jpegs.  The Sony is developing both in camera even though I would prefer raw, raws.  One of the problems I have encountered is that the A7iii knows through AI that we are near large bodies of water like the ocean.  When it knows that it adjusts the scene towards the blue side.  And that means you have to go through and edit white balance for every shot you want to use.  That said the Sony A7iii with it’s EVF and histogram in the finder you can control exposure much better than on a DSLR with OVF.  The Sony jpegs and raw so far as I have used this camera seem to be able to handle mid day harsh sun and give better files than Nikon.

I go to this one beach park that is part of a National Park and have tested a bunch of digital cameras and film.  The Sony A7iii is the best digital in this tough lighting of the ones I have used.  That said Kodak Ektar, Kodak Gold 200, Fuji 200, Kodak Ultramax, and Fuji Superia 400 have all given very good results on this test even when using the cheapest photo lab to develop them.  The Nikon D5500 & iPhone both failed this test badly.

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The above shot was taken about a month ago and this was a full sun mid day shot.  The Sony did this with a jpeg.  What is really strange is that when I put on a UV filter later in the shoot I could not tell the difference in the files.  I got shots with unwashed out colors from several films, but no other digital. (I only tried a Nikon D5500, Sony HX 80, and iPhone 7+).

Conclusion so far.  My six weeks of experience with the Sony A7iii is that from a technical and performance standpoint it is excellent but hard to use and confusing.  Sometimes too smart for it’s own good.  Like when it turns water scenes blueish.  And, why is it editing the raws?  It is also expensive compared to the Nikon Z6.  A Sony A7iii with kit 24-105 f4 & 55mm Sony Zeiss f1.8 = $4,300.  The Nikon Z6 with kit 24-70 f4 & Nikon 50mm f1.8 = $2,895.  I don’t think the cheep Sony kit lens is worth having.  And 200 of them currently on eBay at half price says I am right.  Final thought – I may get really good results from the Sony but I don’t think I will ever love or even like this camera much.

Suggestion for Sony – Get those Minolta guys back to help you with handling and logical handling.

Sony A7iii Test With Adapted Minolta 35mm-70mm f3.5-4.5

This test is with my six week old Sony A7iii, Sony adapter LA EA4 & Minolta 35-70mm f3.5-4.5 zoom.  These shots were all taken hand held at f8 and 1/60 sec.  I used a Godox TT350s flash set on TTL.  All are from jpeg out of the Sony set at large & fine.  I used the jpegs as I could see only a tiny bit of image degradation using jpeg.  This is beginning to be the norm with this camera.  When I was using my Nikon D5500 or D750 I almost always shot raw and edited with Lightroom CC or CC Classic.  I did that because there was a substantial benefit to do so.  With the Sony A7iii the jpegs come out so good there just does not seem to be a point to store the bigger raw files.  When I say the Sony jpegs are good I mean both image sharpness and color.

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This lens I got for free.  I bought a Minolta 70-210 from eBay for $32 a couple of years ago to go on my Minolta 600si film camera.  I looked up this lens on the internet and it gets some good ratings.  Cheaply made but it is sharp and works well when you get a good sample.  This should be evident from looking at these photos I just shot today.

I used these settings to get these shots.  Single shot, DMF focus, center focus area, 0 exposure comp, auto ISO, center teetering, AWB, std color, and A mode set at f8.  The camera chose 1/60th.

_DSC0753I have found with this lens that if the background is very busy and bright the bokeh can be distracting.  But this is no Zeiss Otus or Sony G master lens.

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This lens works very well with both the LA AE4 adapter and the Godox flash.  I set the flash on TTL and put on a light diffuser that Godox included when I bought this flash two weeks ago.

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These lenses can be bought at a low price and if you are looking for a budget zoom with this focal range I recommend it.

Sony A7iii Complexity of Operation

The Sony A7iii is capable of very good photographs with native E mount glass or adapted Sony A mount glass.

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Shot with Sony A7iii with Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8
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Shot with Sony A7iii and Sigma 50mm f2.8 macro and Sony LA EA4 adapter

Both of these shots were made to jpeg – fine only and the only edit I did was to import to Apple Photos on my MacBook Pro and hit enhance.  I used auto focus on both and the adapted lens focused perfectly.  The colors here are very accurate.  I used the Sony “standard” setting for jpeg color.

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Shot with Sony A7iii and Sony Zeiss f1.8 manual focus

Then I put back on the native Sony Zeiss lens and tried to get a decent shot of this metal Christmas scene.  This is not a good picture, but I am using it to illustrate a point.  I tired the auto focus in wide and it got a bit confused.  So I figured this was a good time to try the manual focus again.  Manual focus for close up shots is really better than auto focus.  So I aimed the camera at where I wanted to focus and slightly turned the focus ring on the Zeiss.  The camera zoomed in and showed me focus peaking.  That made it pretty easy to set focus where I wanted to.  Of course this is a very very complex way to do this. My old Olympus OM2n has manual focus only and you get a very easy to use split focus in the viewfinder.  When the images come together it is in focus.  The Sony is almost as good in regular light and I am sure is much better in low light.  If you zoom into the above photo you can see that it is quite sharp.  And I can tell you the jpeg colors are accurate.

So this afternoon I thought I would take another pass through the menus to try and improve my knowledge of the many settings that are in them.  I put in about an hour before it becomes just too much.  There are far more Sony settings than my last camera.  And from the enthusiasm of the tutorial I was using it seems like I should commit many of them to memory.  But many of the settings interfere with other settings and the number of possibilities is very large.  The Nikon system is far simpler.  I would guess that after a year with this camera body I will still not know most of them.  Adding to the complexity is the fact that only a few of the buttons are labeled.  That means you have to remember where you put the focus settings before you then have to remember which of the settings you have to use.  This system would be much better with a simplified menu that could be controlled by a touch screen.  Since Sony makes smart phones I know they can make touch screens.  And I do know that the back screen in my camera is a partial touch screen.  But I have to go back and read the manual to figure out how it works.

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Shot with iPhone XS max

This rainbow turned up outside our house a little after I took the pictures of the Christmas figures with the Sony.  I went outside with the Sony to get a shot of the rainbow, but it was still raining.  And I am not quite sure exactly how weather proof the Sony and Sony lens are.  They are supposed to be OK with some rain, but I am still not sure how much.  The iPhone on the other hand is quite capable of just about any amount of rain with no damage.  As was my Nikon D750.  So the iPhone got this rainbow shot.  The above is smart HDR, and below is just a single shot.

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If you look at these two shots on my detailed monitor I am not sure the HDR added anything.  The clouds are not blown with either.

Unlike the Sony the iPhone XS max with the standard apple camera app is easy to understand after a bit of effort.  And the Adobe iPhone camera app is pretty darn simple too.  Adobe has really come a long way to improving this iPhone app over the last year.  A year ago their HDR was terrible, unusable.  Now it works well.  But then Apple has just blown the doors off computational photography with their smart HDR which much of the time really adds something to the finished image with no effort.  I have only had the new iPhone two weeks and I think I am pretty expert at using it.  With the Sony I am OK with the stuff that is basic but World’s away from getting all the complicated things to work.

So here is a message to Sony from me about their A7 line of cameras.  Cut about half of the menu items.  Make the back screen a full touch screen.  And make sure you buy and use an iPhone for a while to see how simple making good photos can be.  And a couple more things.  1.  Why is there no pop up small built in flash.  You fit one on my last inexpensive compact Sony HX 80 so I know you can do it on the A7 bodies.  That type of flash comes in very handy and if it works as well as the Sony HX 80 built in flash that would be great.  2.  Identify the main buttons.  Put labels on them.  3.  A7s should be possible to operate with one hand, they are not.

Keep It Simple When It Comes To Tech

I just spent 5-10 minutes trying to get my bluetooth speaker to attach to my iPhone so I could listen to some music.  Every time I turned the speaker on it was pulling music from some device somewhere in the house but not the one I wanted it to.  After a few failed attempts I gave up.  I did not feel like fishing out a wire and the dongle that adapts the iPhone to an old style phone plug so I could just use a wire.

Earlier today I wanted to scan a document to email to someone.  I loaded the HP printer scanner and then realized that my new MacBook Pro does not have the software for that scanner loaded into it.  And since that HP is about four years old there are no updated drivers that work with the latest Mac software.  So I had to go get one of my old Windows laptops that I knew had that software in it so I could run the scanner.

An hour later I tried to make a new folder on one of my external drives so I could store some data on it.  Guess what, the new MacBook does not have the software on it to get full use of the Seagate drive like the old MacBook does.  So I had to fire up the old MacBook to see what the name of the software is and go to the Seagate web page to get the driver.

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Taken with Sony A7iii with old cheap (very cheap) Minolta 30-70 lens

Don’t get the idea I don’t like tech, I do, but I like stuff that is simple to get to work right and lasts a while.  Bluetooth usually works OK, but can be a PIA.  Wires are simple and always work.  Software drivers and getting software to work in the system you want it to work in can be easy, hard, or impossible.  That older HP combo printer scanner is likely not going to work as a network scanner unless wire it into the network or wire it directly to the computer I want to send the scan to.  It works fine and is not that old.

My point here is that if you take photos today that you want to enjoy a few years from now you had better be very careful how you save the files.  If you take high quality photos and want the quality to be the same in the future you have to be especially careful to make sure that no software changes your files.

  • To make sure your file exists and is readable in the future you need to save some copies.  This is what I do.  I put the files on a plug in drive.  I then back it up on a second drive locally.  (In the future I am only going to use drives formatted for Mac as I do not trust that the driver for the drive will be updated in future years.)  I keep copies in either Apple Photos or Adobe Lightroom CC or both.  Usually the raw in LR and the jpeg in Apple Photos.  I also have a third back up drive I update about once every six weeks that I store in my motorhome safe.  Then as a final measure I keep a copy in drop box.  Drop box is the only on line service I have found and used that does not screw around with the size of your files when you load and download them.  Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Flikr do.  Oh I almost forgot Flickr.  I have a lot of my files on Flikr and some on Google Photos.  And I sometimes make photo books or have prints made.
  • I have had significant problems in the past loosing large numbers of my photos.  I used to back everything up to one hard drive.  It failed.  I lost several years of full sized files and my only copies were on Apple Photos.  Just last month I went to update a file from 2017 in my main back up drive.  The whole year of 2017 was missing.  In this case I had a back up copy of the back up copy on another drive.  Some of the files did not want to be copied and I had to play with this for a couple hours.  So at this point in time I am hyper careful.
  • I have had several on line back up systems change dramatically for the worse.  I used iPhoto and Aperture on Mac.  I liked both of them.  But then Apple discontinued both and substituted Apple Photos.  Apple Photos is still not nearly as effective at editing files as the previous system except using on line.  Apple’s system of on line photos is pretty good now most of the time.  I used Google Picasa to edit thousands of work photos.  It was the best quick edit and file organizer you could get at any price and Picasa was free.  Then Google canceled it.  Adobe Lightroom on the other hand has improved.  I use both Lightroom CC Classic and Lightroom CC.  Both work well.  The on line CC system keeps adding features and you can use it fairly well in conjunction with the CC Classic.  Flickr used to be free.  Now you have to pay to use it.  All of these systems have at one time or another played with the size of the files except drop box and Adobe Lightroom CC Classic.
  • I would say my files are now very secure.  But I am tired of it taking so much effort. Plus I have no illusion that raw files will work ten years from now.  By then your raw files will be from an obsolete camera and you will be using a many generation newer OS.  The best you can hope for is jpegs will still work.  I think jpegs are mostly safe.
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Taken on a 1980 Olympus OM2n with 28mm f2.8 and new Kodak Ektachrome

Here is how I did it 14 years ago.  I bought film or the people that developed it sent me free film.  I would send it off to Seattle Film Lab.  At the time I used my Olympus OM2n and a couple of Olympus pocket film cameras.  When I finished a couple of rolls or even just one roll, I would send it to Seattle Film Lab in a prepaid mailer.  They would develop it and send the negatives, prints, a CD of the scans, plus a free roll of film.  That would take about a week.  The thing is Seattle Film Lab would edit the photos before I got them. I rarely edited what I was sent back.  When I went on vacation I would use slide film so I could project the shots on a screen in full resolution.  I used Kodak Kodachrome in those days.  You couldn’t edit slides.  You either got them right or you did not.  I made photo albums.  I saved the negatives, CD in files in a file cabinet.  My prints from 2004 look just fine and have not faded.  The CD’s I got back then still work.  And if I had not sold my projector I could use slides.  The only thing that endangered your back up files was your house being destroyed.  So if needed today you save a copy of scans in a location not in your house.

I do not plan to go back to just using film.  But anyone that tells you getting great photos is easier or cheaper today is contradicting what I have learned.  iPhones or good Androids take great photos and video and are easy to use.  They give better results than old pocket film cameras.  But big digital cameras with big lenses and big files are very expensive, need careful care, go out of date in about 3 years, and storing the files is complicated.  If you don’t already try both higher end digital and film and use what you like the best.  I waver back and forth.

Sony A7iii After 6 Weeks & compared to Nikon D750 & D5500

I have now had my Sony A7iii a little over six weeks and it is time to post some additional  thoughts about it and also in comparison to my previous Nikon DSLRs the D5500 and D750.  All three of these interchangeable lens cameras have the same mega pixel count, 24.

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From left to right Olympus OM2n, Voigtlander Prominent, Minolta 600si, Sony A7iii

And to my eye from a users perspective and not a scientific test, all three will give about the same quality photo using the same quality lens.

So why did I switch to Sony if the image quality was about the same.  There are two main reasons.  1.  Try and get the size and weight down from the D750.  2.  EVF.  I like being able to set exposure using zebras or the histogram before taking the shot.  After about six years using DSLRs I wanted to see if I could be better at getting the exposure right in varied conditions.

  1.  For the most part I did get a size reduction on the Sony compared to the D750.  But you still have the problem with the lens size and weight.  D750 Nikon 29.5 oz, 50mm f1.4 9.8 oz 24-120mm f4 25 oz, Sony A7iii 22.9 oz 50mm f1.4 27.5 oz 24-105 f4 23.4 oz.  So you can see the problem with those two full frames.  The Nikon D5500 is way smaller and lighter.  I did choose the Sony – Zeiss 55mm f1.8 that is exactly the same weight as the Nikon but only f1.8 and not f1.4.  Also, the Sony Zeiss is well over twice the price of the Nikon 50mm f1.4.
  2. EVF.  The Electronic view finder makes it much easier to nail exposure.  I don’t have to bother bracketing any more.  The Sony finder and back screen allow easy exposure settings.  I don’t have any problems with lag in the EVF.  It is not as crystal clear as the Nikon D750 OVF.  Both the Sony A7 and Nikon D750 viewfinders are far superior to the Nikon D5500’s.  The D5500 has a smaller size view.  I don’t really know why.  My near 40 year old Olympus OM2n has a huge bright viewfinder and it is a smaller body than the D5500.
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Taken with Sony A7iii and 55mm f1.8

I am 71 years old and am strong but have a slight bit of arthritis in my right thumb.  When I would start out with the D750 and the 24-120mm lens it took a while before it became comfortable to hold.  And when walking with that setup it is pretty big.  I bought a Peak strap to go with it and that helped a lot, but I still many times would wish for a smaller camera set up.  So now I have the Sony A7iii with one 55mm lens that is light.  Plus I have five adapted lenses that are Minolta.  The A7 & native 55mm f1.8 makes a great package.  The adapted lenses do not perform as well as they did with the Minolta film bodies.  They work, but some of the photo magic is just not there with them.  I do not have a good wide to medium zoom.  And if I buy the 24-105 Sony f4 then the A7iii and lens will be right back up there in size and weight with what I have with the 750 & 24-120.

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This is the Sony A7iii with an adapted 50mm f2.8 macro Sigma lens.  This particular adapted lens works well.  

Handling – Lots of writers have complained about the menus.  I have had 4 Sony compact cameras over the last 15 years and the menus are all about the same.  But no doubt the Sony menu is longer than Nikon’s DSLR menu.  Once I set up the programable buttons I did not use the menu much.  I am a big fan of touch screens.  The one on the Nikon D5500 is great.  Neither the A7iii or the D750 have touch screens.  Yes the Sony has a very limited touch screen, but not enough for me to use it.

Both Nikons have well set up dials and buttons that are easy to learn and use.  The single dial and buttons are very easy to use one handed with the D5500 as it is so light and comfortable to hold.  I do prefer both a front and back dial.  The D750 has front and back dials.  These are the ones to adjust exposure and shutter speed.  The D750 is also relatively easy to use one handed if you have something like a 50mm lens on it.  A big zoom, not so much.  The buttons on the D5500 and D750 are resistant to being accidentally hit and changed when using the camera.

The Sony is a different story.  It’s weight is about 6 oz more than the D5500 and about 7 oz less than the D750.  The D5500 and D750 have better grips for my size hand than the Sony.  The Sony grip however is the least desirable of these three.  But the Sony has an additional issue that makes this worse.  And that is that you many times want to adjust the camera while in your right hand.  Adjustments to the back or front dial or buttons is much harder than either Nikon.  It is much easier to accidentally move one of the setting buttons or dials on the Sony.  I did just that last time I was out shooting.  I took at least 2 dozen shots before realizing it.

I also have 5 film SLR cameras I use all the time.  2 Olympus OM2n’s.  This is the gold standard of handling.  Perfect size with only a few simple controls.  2 Minolta 600si cameras.  Just a little bigger than the Olympus and slightly larger.  A wonderful camera for handling and use.  Simple excellent quick to use controls for manual or auto use.  I like this a little less than the Oly.  Mostly because the Oly looks and feels better.  The Minolta is plastic and not the Nikon nubby kind.  Auto film load and rewind.  3.  Voigtlander Prominent from the early 50’s.  Same size as the Oly and the Leica M3 by the way.  Funny about those coincidences.  The Voight is beautiful with just gorgeous lenses.  But it is hard to use.  Much harder than the Sony.

Color – Lightroom works hand in hand with Nikon files put out by the three DSLRs I have owned in the last ten years.  Ever since Lightroom started their new system earlier in 2018 I just only take raw and make my adjustments.  Both LR CC Classic and LR CC work very well with Nikon.  In tough lighting situations the Nikon files can require some work to get them to look right.  Of course you can fix a lot of that by “chimping” and looking at the histogram after you take the shots.  In general it is easy to use Nikon colors with LR.  Not so with Sony.  Sony  (and keep in mind this is only my personal use and experience and I am just a user and no expert.) raws and Jpegs do not for me have nearly as much differentiation as the Nikons.  Raw with Nikon is flat and obviously not processed.  Sony when I shoot raw + jpeg the files come out looking much more similar.  And if you get my Sony A7iii near the ocean or a large body of water it swings the raw files towards blue.  I am forced to spend a lot of time getting the color to look how I like it.  Much more so than my Nikons, Apple iPhone, or my Sony HX 80 compact.  The last one really confuses me.  Going towards the blue side must be part of the AWB and the camera looks for water and it’s computer must make an adjustment.

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Both of these went towards the blue.  These look pretty good now, but it took some work in LR to get them so.  

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The Sony does a very good job for me with jpeg on flowers.  I take lots of plant pictures.  I worked at getting good at that with the Nikons.  The Sony does just as good a job on raw but better for me on jpeg.  I also find that even though I have begun to think the Sony jpegs are a little “weird” I am getting the “Ektar” look that I love using that Kodak film.  Part of that has to do with the really spectacular Sony Zeiss 55mm lens.

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These two were from a local hike the other day.  They are just OK photos but they have punch to their color like Ektar gives.  These two are with an adapted 24mm Sigma 2.8 macro lens.  

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So for me specifically I have things I like about the Sony color and things I do not.  I guess I will call this a tie.

Video – The Sony has much much better video ability than either Nikon.  The ease of use on the A7iii is significantly better.  In the past I disliked the results I got from the Nikon DSLRs and so used my iPhone for video.  I have heard that the Nikon Z6 & 7 have much improved video.  So if you have to have Nikon get one of those for video.

Price – The Sony with lenses is far more expensive than the Nikon D750 or Nikon D5500.  Back when the Nikon was introduced it’s price was about the same as the Sony.  And Nikon’s new Z6 is about the same as the Sony A7iii.  Right now you can buy a Nikon D5600 and two zoom lenses for $700.  And today you can get the D750 with the 24-120 for $1,800.  The Sony A7iii with Sony 24-105mm is going to run you $3,300.

Bottom Line – If you want to buy one of these cameras you should do so knowing you are getting a great image maker.  If you shoot mostly, almost all still photography get one of the Nikons at todays prices.  Even at a big discount the D5600 is 1/3 of the D750 cost.  For most people the D5600 is a much better buy.  The only really huge improvement in the D750 is the viewfinder (I agree with Ken Rockwell who said the same thing.)  Other than that the smaller Nikon is much easier to carry and has a touch screen.  If you take video and don’t want to use your phone for that then you should get the Sony or maybe the Nikon Z6.

The Sony and Nikon cameras I have owned over the years have both been very reliable.  The Nikons seem a bit tougher but I have not had problems with my Sony’s.  For me I am going to stick with this Sony through the end of 2019 at least.  I may buy one or two more lenses for it.  But I am worn out from all the new cameras in 2018.  Time to use the gear I have.  Unless Olympus makes a full frame mirrorless the size of my old Oly OM2n.  I would buy one of those.  And I am going to shoot film too.  I love the new Kodak Ektachrome.  I think it might be the best slide film I have ever used.

 

“America’s Best Idea” The National Parks

The whole quote goes like this, “National Parks are the best idea we ever had.  Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best not at our worst”.  Wallace Stegner.  The US National Parks have been the favorite place to visit for myself and my family over the last 5 decades.  And before that my parents would take my sister and I to places like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone.

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If you have not visited our National Parks you should start.  If you have, then read on for some of my experiences.  Grand Canyon by train – We have been to the Grand Canyon a number of times.  We have seen the south rim, north rim, and parts of the east end.  This past summer we drove our motorhome to Williams AZ and then took the train to the south rim.  The Grand Canyon Railway is a private company that has refurbished locomotives, train cars, the train station at both Williams and the Grand Canyon, and runs the service to and from.  I bought our tickets a few months ahead to make sure we got the service level and train we wanted.  We parked our motorhome in the campground run by the Grand Canyon Railway.  This campground is within walking distance of the train.  Shortly before the train boards there is a “wild west show”.  This is a kids oriented show with good and bad guys plus a western town background set.

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This is a photo from the car we were riding in.

We picked the dome car service and just went on a day trip.  You can also book the train over, stay a few nights at the rim, and come back on the train.  The cost for this level of the day trip was about $375 for two.  This included some entertainment to and from plus a simple breakfast.

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Small train station when you arrive at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

When you get to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon there is a short walk up a hill to the rim of the canyon.  Expect lots of people if you go during the summer.  There, is the famous El Tovar hotel & several other less fancy places to stay, a couple of very nice gift shops, and a few choices of places to eat.  The El Tovar is a lovely old hotel right on the rim and if you are going to be at the canyon overnight I recommend staying there.  If you are not staying the night have lunch in the dinning room.  We had lunch there this past summer and the food was excellent, view great, prices medium.

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View of the El Tovar dinning room.  With my wife at the table.  
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Here is a view of the El Tovar a little walk down the canyon trail.  

Be prepared for some walking when you get to the rim.  This can be casual strolls along the paved trail at the top or up to super strenuous hikes to the bottom and back.  The views are some of the very best of any place I have ever been.  The very first time I saw the canyon it was a thrill.  The view just took my breath away.

My strong advice is that if you want to experience this unique place is that you stay the night at the rim in either one of the hotels or in a campground.  And also if possible do not go in the middle of high season.  We went in mid June and it was crowded.  I would recommend strongly to go before Memorial day or after Labor day.  However, the Grand Canyon is one of those must-see places, so if you only time is high season go anyway.  I have never been to any place that has the same visual impact as here.  The ones that come close to this would be 2.  The Yosemite Valley at the bottom near Yosemite Falls or from Glacier Point.  3.  The Geysers of Yellowstone.  4.  Towards sunset from the Many Glacier Lodge looking west across the lake.  5.  View from the Prince of Wales during high tea towards the Lake in Waterton NP Alberta.  6.  View towards Lake Louise near the Fairmont Hotel.  7.  The wildflower gardens in August looking towards Mt Rainier.  These are the gardens near the Paradise Inn.  8.  View of Haleakala crater from the overlook.  9.  Balloon Fiesta Albuquerque NM of the morning mass ascent.  10.  Seeing Mt Rushmore for the first time in person.  11.  The walk from Rigi Kaltbad cog rail station on the ridge that over looks Lake Lucern.

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Shot with Nikon D750 & 24-120mm f4

No matter what, take a good camera in addition to your cell phone.  I used a Nikon D750 full frame digital camera with 24-120mm f4 lens for the shots you see in this post.  I had my iPhone X with me but I don’t think I used it much.  I have sold this particular setup at this time, but except for the size and weight (too big & too heavy) the 750 combined with this lens makes a very good combination.  I currently have a 24 mega pixel Sony A7iii that I like a lot, but would be tempted to say that the Grand Canyon may be one of those few places where 42-50 mega pixels would be useful with the right lens.  This canyon is indeed huge and detailed.  The more pixels the better for this place.  And even though I love using film I only currently have 35mm and this canyon calls out for larger format.

Why I Chose A Sony A7iii over Nikon Z7 – Z6

Up until now my experience with digital cameras that were not attached to smartphones has been 4 Sony’s and 3 Nikons.  All have been reliable.  The Sony’s up until now have all been compacts.  The Nikons have been two crop sensor and one full frame DSLR.

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Shot with Sony A7iii and Sigma 50mm f2.8 Macro lens

Over the last year I have wanted to step up to a full frame digital sensor as that is what I have been using for many years with film photography and I just like the perspective and subject isolation you get with 35mm.  And I have been thinking about going mirrorless full frame to get reduced size and EVF to facilitate exposure.

Last spring Nikon offered me a deal I could not pass up on a D750 full frame DSLR.  I bought it with the 24-120mm f4 and a 50mm f1.4G lens.  I have to say that the images out of this rig were excellent.  Nikon sold me the 24-120mm lens for $500 and that is a bargain.

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Nikon D750 with 24-120 f4 lens shot at 24mm

The above shot was with the 24-120 and shot at 24mm.  When you look at this at full resolution it is a great shot except for the top corners.  But for me the combo of the D750 and 24-120 was just too big.  Plus my experience with the last Sony compact with the EVF and my iPhone and using the Adobe camera app got me used to seeing exposure and over exposure in real time.

So I figured I would look at Sony and Nikon as that is what I have good experience with.  I went to the camera store with the intention to buy a Nikon Z7 or Z6 and changed my mind while in the camera store.  Why?  1.  I have a number of legacy Sony-Minolta lenses that I thought would adapt really well on the A7iii.  2.  The A7iii was $2,000 and Z7 was $3,000+.  3.  I liked the fact that the Sony was on it’s third generation of A series cameras and figured they had the bug ironed out.  4.  I have had recent experience with the Sony HX 80 compact and the menu system is very similar to the A7iii’s.  I did not have a problem with the HX menu.

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A7iii with Sigma lens

I bought the Sony A7iii and figured if regretted I could always sell it and buy something else.  I also bought the Sony – Zeiss 50mm f1.8 lens and the Sony LA 4 adaptor.  The Zeiss f1.8 lens is a small, light, very high quality standard lens.  It also costs $1,000.  In my opinion sharper than the Nikon 50mm f1.4.  And it cost $375.

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Sony A7iii with Zeiss 55mm f1.8

Most of my older Sony-Minolta AF lenses work as well as I thought they would.  The 50mm f2.8 Macro which has been one of my favorite lenses.  Gives very sharp, colorful, good bokeh results.

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Shot with Sigma 50mm f2.8 Macro 
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Shot with Minolta 70-210mm f4.5-5.6 a low cost lens

The medium tele Minolta works pretty well.  I like the bokeh and it is light and easy to use.  It is 1/4 the size of the Nikon 24-120mm f4 and about 1/3 the weight.  Plus I paid $32 for it.

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Shot with Sigma 24mm f2.8 Macro

And above is using the Sigma 24mm 2.8 Macro I paid $80 for a couple of years ago.  I have several more that worked well too.

The Sony autofocus adaptor worked quite well with all of the autofocus lenses.  Although using the Sony with a very sharp digital sensor did show some of the weaknesses in bokeh a couple of the lenses have that was covered up more using film.  Film has more grain usually and tend to smudge the bokeh a bit.

Here are two more from the Sony and the Sigma 50mm f2.8 Macro.  These have been cropped quite a bit and the details in the full size image are great.

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OVF compared to EVF.  I like OVF better but EVF offers more information.  Being able to see the histogram and zebras before taking the shot makes it worth it.  The mirrorless is also far better for taking shots using the back screen.  The Sony is much more responsive than a DSLR back screen.

Videos are far better.  with the mirrorless than the DSLR.  Video was so bad on the DSLR cameras that I almost never used it.  The Sony A7iii is extremely easy to use.  Although the adapted lenses would not be good for autofocus.  The camera would make too much noise using the old lenses.  I have tried the Zeiss and it is silent.

I do miss the 24-120 but not the weight and size.  Sony makes a 24-105 f4.  I have given some thought to buying it, but I don’t want to get back to lugging a heavy camera around.  Using the adaptor and the 24mm prime I already have is less than half the weight and size of the Sony 24-105.  But not a zoom.  I think I will stick with what I have for a while before doing anything more with additional new lenses.

Do I regret not getting the Nikon.  I do not regret not getting 45 mega pixels at all.  My computer set up is just not ready for lots of big still files.  And I have not had a problem getting used to the Sony menu system.  I set up buttons for almost all functions and hardly use the menus.  But I would have to say that the Nikon EVF is quite a bit better and I would like to have that.  I do not love the Sony position of the front and back selector wheels.  The D750 was better.

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Far left is Olympus OM2n, the Voightlander Prominent, Minolta 600si, then the A7iii.  Of the four I prefer the Oly.  I put a a leather ever ready case around it and it becomes very easy to take and carry with you.  I also have an ever ready case for the Voightlander.  The 1953 leather is looking a bit worn, but still very serviceable.  The Sony A7iii above has the Zeiss 55mm lens on it which is a small lens.  But it is easy to see from this picture that what we think of as a small lens in 2018 is much larger than the other three.  Much bigger than the Zeiss and the Sony is not an easy camera to tote around.  I am giving some thought to getting the Zeiss 35mm f2.8 or the Sony FE 28 f2 which are even smaller than the 55mm.  But since I have a closet full of film I can just use some of it with the smaller SLR’s.

Final comment.  Olympus is the only one of the larger camera companies that have not come out with a full frame camera.  If they were to make a smaller full frame and smaller lenses I think it would sell.  Maybe even to me.