Why I’m Now Shooting Sony Mirrorless
Updated: Oct 14, 2022
I’ve used a lot of different cameras during my 50-year love affair with photography. When I was a teenager in the 1970s and just getting into the craft, I met Barry Bishop, the legendary mountaineer and veteran of the expedition that made the first ascent of the west ridge of Mt. Everest in 1963. I asked him what camera he would take on his next Himalayan expedition. He replied, “If weight was critical, I’d take a Rollei 35. If it was less critical, I’d take an Olympus OM-1.” Soon thereafter, a professional photographer gave me a broken Rollei 35 and told me I could have it if I paid to fix it. I got the camera fixed, then accidentally drowned it in a river in West Virginia. As soon as I could afford it, I started building an Olympus system, which I used primarily for shooting outdoor sports.
The 1980s brought a startling advance to camera technology: auto-focus. Olympus, it seemed to me, was not keeping up. In 1989 I made the first expensive switch of my career and began building a Nikon system. By 1993 my interest in outdoor sports photography was wilting, while my interest in landscape photography was blossoming. I switched again, this time to 4x5 field cameras. I shot with them until 2008, all the while watching the rapid improvement in another breakthrough innovation: digital cameras. Finally, advancing age, advancing technology, and two back surgeries convinced me that a 140-pound, 51-year-old landscape photographer shouldn’t be carrying around 70 pounds of 4x5 equipment anymore. In 2008 the best high-resolution cameras for landscape photographers were made by Canon. When Canon introduced its first 20-megapixel DSLR, the $7,000 EOS 1Ds Mark III, I switched again.
At the time, I didn’t seriously consider the new kid on the block: Sony. When Sony introduced its first mirrorless, interchangeable-lens cameras, the reaction of professionals was mostly scorn. Sure, the cameras were small and light – always a plus – and the specs were surprisingly impressive, but the screen in the camera’s electronic viewfinder couldn’t redraw fast enough to keep up with fast action. The cameras burned up batteries like a chain smoker going through cigarettes. The build quality wasn’t rugged enough to meet the demands of hard-working pros. Lens selection was limited. In the pros’ view, Sony was a consumer-electronics company. It would never make a camera a real professional would use.
Sony took the criticisms to heart. One by one, it overcame the technical challenges of building high-performance mirrorless cameras. At the same time, it introduced an ever-widening assortment of top-quality lenses. In 2013 the Sony a7R, the first full-frame, interchangeable lens mirrorless camera, won Popular Photography’s Camera of the Year award. As PopPhoto put it, “The introduction of this camera system even has us wondering whether the days of the single-lens reflex are numbered. It certainly is a shot across the bow of the two DSLR biggies, Canon and Nikon, whose ILC (interchangeable-lens compact) offerings to date have seemed, to put it plainly, halfhearted.” Pros began to take notice. Some began to switch. Finally, Canon and Nikon realized that Sony was about to eat their lunch and began playing catchup.