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.