scottish wedding photographer
Dunfermline, fife wedding photography
... a D750 to compliment the D810, a combination that I used (and loved for the most part) for a few years.
The pairing of lower & higher resolution body makes sense I think and I copied that setup when I moved to Sony.
So why did I fancy a change?
Well as much as I loved the D750 for its AF and its files (they really are fantastic) I didn't love its buffer. There were a number of times I'd be shooting rapid fire and it would just freeze as the buffer filled. Yes I could probably pick my shots more carefully but I'm talking about exits from the ceremony, confetti shots, first dances etc that sort of thing. I also didn't like the position of a few buttons, in particular the QUAL button. I accidentally hit that and didn't notice I was shooting jpeg on more than one occasion and frankly once was too many. The D810 was and still is a superb camera. It feels like a pro-camera, it behaves like a pro-camera. However making the switch for me meant selling my gear so keeping the D810 wasn't an option.
Mirrorless seemed the obvious choice and while Nikon had finally released their Z6 & Z7, it seemed to be missing a couple of crucial things. I honestly believe anyone shooting a wedding professionally must shoot on two memory cards simultaneously. Neither Nikon mirrorless comes with dual card slots. I also wanted Eye AF, which I know Nikon has since released and seem to have done a decent job of. I am especially impressed by the ability to toggle between the selected eye, that's something the Sony system can't do. However there's something to be said for going with the system that has been years in the development and is proven to be outstanding.
It's probably an oversimplification to say it was all to do with Eye AF & weight but to be honest those were the major reasons.
As a wedding photographer I spend a long time on my feet. I have to carry kit all day as well as contorting my bulk into all manner of spaces to get the shot.
Last year I found my feet and knees especially, suffering during the wedding season.
Doing a double or even a treble (2 or 3 weddings in the same number of days) was an absolute nightmare!
Here's a comparison of my kit, before and after. I haven't included grips (which I use all the time) for either so I think it cancels each other out.
That's just over 3kg of weight saved. That might not sound like much and to be fair I'm a big bloke but carrying that extra weight roughly 30 times a year for 12 hours at a time mounts up (without considering engagement, commercial & family shoots). I've sacrificed a bit of reach by not replacing the 70-200mm and I do miss that lens. It's highly likely I'll buy a 135mm f/1.8 within the next year which will drop the weight saving by 1kg. Notice again that it's a prime lens which is my next reason for wanting to change.
I'd gotten bored of the look my images had, mostly shot at f/2.8. When culling I'd be drawn to the 50mm f/1.4 images more than the others.It wasn't an easy lens to use and I had to calibrate it and the Nikon bodies every few months but that shallow depth of field just reminded me of how much I loved using primes. You absolutely cannot argue against the versatility of the 'holy trinity' and the 24-70 especially rarely came off my D750. It's a perfect lens for most situations but I found the images lacked something that the prime provided.
Shooting at really narrow DOF provides challenges for DSLR AF and tracking. The D750 is very, very good for AF.
It shares the AF engine of the Nikon flagship D5 and I found it to be much better than the D810.
Shooting at f/1.4 or 1.8 still meant putting a focus point on the subjects eye and hoping the tracking could keep it there if the person moved.
Not a huge problem really and the Nikon DSLR's do a more than decent job of it but it's far from perfect.
This is where Eye AF arrives with a bang. It is ASTONISHINGLY good. No doubt you've watched Youtube clips and read other posts which have said the same but trust me, until you've tried it yourself you won't appreciate the difference it makes. It genuinely feels like cheating. The closest analogy I can think of is it's like the difference between setting a timer on your VCR and series linking a show on your digital TV box. Both get the job done but one requires much more effort than the other.
Most of the time Eye AF will just work and give you a slight advantage over a DSLR but sometimes it get shots it has no right to be able to get...
We all love a confetti shot right? Well this is a confetti storm! 3 confetti canons firing literally at my left ear as I backed up in front of the couple. The videographer (who was right beside and slightly behind me) said he just about leapt out of his skin! I had my A7iii set on continuous, mid level speed (which I think is about 6 fps) and the Sigma 35mm. Not trusting the system yet I had the aperture set to f4, I figured it would give me the best chance of getting what I wanted. I shot 54 images in sequence (crazy I know but hey! no buffer issues!) and every single one of them was in focus and more importantly had focus on the brides face. Not one image was focused on the confetti. That is incredible! There were thousands of little pieces of confetti passing before her face and yet the camera (with a 3rd party lens attached) didn't miss a shot.
Fast forward about 10 weddings and considerably more confidence...
I shot this on the Sony 85mm @f2 and again I shot rapid fire, not knowing the bride would do this. Love it when they do something like this!! Not a single shot was out of focus and in fact ~90% where on the brides eye. Just incredible!
I've copied the lower + higher resolution setup as I had with the Nikon. Obviously with me changing to prime lenses it isn't only the camera bodies that have changed. I usually have the 35mm on the a7iii and the 85mm on the a7riii. The Tokina I use for those wide angle large group shots that I can't get back far enough to use the 35mm. I also use it for landscapes, lovely wee lens by the way! Very light and sharp. Manual focus is a bit of a pain but with focus peaking enabled on the Sony's it isn't difficult to make sure that what you want in focus IS actually in focus.
When it comes to formal portraits, it honestly is incredibly simple. I'm repeating myself but it feels like cheating. Press the dedicated Eye AF button and Bob's yer uncle, the subjects eye is locked. I have found the Sigma to struggle a little when someone is wearing glasses. Edit to say have just updated the firmware on the Sigma, apparently the AF has been greatly improved. Time will tell.
Both cameras will find focus in dim lighting though I do find it can be slightly slower in very dark rooms, during dancing in the evening for example.
There isn't much in it but if you've shot with a DSLR you know how instant it can be, there is almost zero lag between hitting the release button and the image being captured.
I normally use the a7iii with the 35mm for the dancing shots and so therefore in the darkest lighting. Not native glass I know so there might be something there that explains what I've found. However don't think this is a big problem, it genuinely isn't. The fact I can either have the camera up to my eye or held high above my head without any change in performance is fantastic. Try using a DSLR like that.
Simply put the AF is outstanding.
As mentioned above the AF is fine in lowlight. I was worried about it before making the switch, that was the main thing I couldn't find any videos or articles on. No-one seemed to be able or willing to talk about how the camera's cope with chaotically moving subjects in poor lighting. Don't be worried, they cope very well.
ISO performance is also great, I rarely go above 3200 anyway but if I hit that the images are still fine. It helps that using an EVF helps me hit the right exposure 90% of the time. For first dance etc I'm normally no higher than 1600 so as you'd expect the images are clean.
Here's a sample SOOC (Straight Out Of Camera) jpeg shot at ISO1600...
Here's a sample SOOC jpeg shot at ISO3200, I've underexposed by at least a full stop here but as you can see it's still fairly clean and more importantly, sharp.
EVF, OCF & customisation
The Electronic Viewfinder or EVF is very helpful. It's rare now that I am massively wrong in my exposure of a scene, though it does still happen now and again (see above!). Thankfully the files are at least as good as the Nikon files for recovering details in under or over exposed images in my opinion. That isn't based on any methodical testing, it's purely my anecdotal experience.
For much of the day I shoot in Aperture priority mode. I've set this up with the following parameters.. min Shutter speed of 1/250, AUTO-ISO (maximum of 3200) and wide open on the aperture.
This is stored to one of the memory points, allowing me to very quickly change from Manual to Aperture priority and get the shot.
For formal portraits or anything involving flash I change to manual and flash is where the Sony gets a little bit strange. As soon as the camera detects either a flash or a trigger on the hotshoe the EVF will brighten. It's apparently to help with focus but up until this point I've gotten used to the EVF showing us the exposure I'm about to capture. It's a really strange one and whilst there are different ways to deal with it I haven't found one I like. Instead when using flash I make sure the trigger or speedlight is off, set my ambient exposure and then switch it on and work from there.
The other quirk of the EVF is the focus point. It's grey. Yes it will flash green when you focus but that's it. Sony have changed this in the a7rIV but I don't know if they'll be able to update the firmware for the other models to include that. It would be very welcome if they could. I've setup the joystick to centre the focus point when I press it, that's something I have to do a lot when I can't find the focus point.
OCF has some quirks are well though it might be to do with my using 2 different camera's. I have a Sony version Godox trigger and v860ii speedlight. I also still have my Nikon version Godox tt685 which surprised me by still working. Well sort of. The flash will still trigger but the camera acts as if it doesn't and the file itself doesn't store that flash has fired. The strangest thing though is that I find the white balance to be different. I leave the WB set to auto and I can only assume the camera is changing it to 'flash' when it detects a compatible device but certainly there's a marked difference in the WB of an image. Obviously I shoot RAW (as all photographers who can, should) so it's not a big deal.
Customisation is nothing short of brilliant. I've head a lot of people complain about the Sony menu system and yes, it is a bit clunky and some of the shorthand they use isn't really immediately obvious but you get used to it. The key thing for me was setting up both cameras the same way and configuring all shortcuts I thought I'd need. To date the only thing I've tweaked is to remove flash compensation from the Function menu, as I never used it. I've setup all the C buttons and can now use them pretty much without thought and because these camera's focus, meter, set AWB etc so well it leaves me more able to just focus on composition and any other element of whatever shot I'm aiming for.
Moving from Nikon to Sony
I don't regret it, wish I'd been able to do it sooner but then maybe the a7iii and a7riii were the first bodies to genuinely make the switch possible/worthwhile. Allied to the fact that so much more glass is now available for the e-mount it probably was the right time for me. My Nikon kit was clocking up the miles so it felt like a good time to do something I'd been thinking about for a while. So, so glad I did it.
I don't really miss the Nikon colours and tones, most of the same presets I used in Lightroom needed only a tiny tweak to get the images looking the way I like.
I certainly don't miss the weight of the Nikon kit. My feet and knees are thanking me for making the switch, put it that way!
I do miss my 70-200mm because it's just a beautiful piece of glass. For speeches etc I use the 85mm on the a7riii and crop in if needed but I will likely buy a 135mm fairly soon. I'm not buying a Sony 70-200mm because it's outrageously expensive! About £2500?!?! Plus as I said before, I'm for the moment at least looking for that super sharp, shallow DOF look that primes do so well. Most of the Sony glass is incredibly expensive but not all of it. The 85mm f/1.8 is about £500 and is amazing. Lightweight, sharp and fast to focus. Seriously consider it if you're making the switch.
The a7iii or a7riii series will make your life as a wedding photographer easier. It honestly is that simple. Probably the biggest pain in the ass you'll have is culling will be more difficult because you'll have more keepers from every wedding.
Edit to add a word or two on downsides...
Cost, weather sealing & lack of lossless compression.
All pretty self-explanatory though I suppose the weather sealing is at least in part my own fault for buying the Sigma Art (I just love them!). The compression is a strange one. There has to be an explanation for why a company like Sony can't, won't or maybe just haven't yet, been able to include lossless compression of their files. Especially with them introducing the a7rIV and it's enormous files. I thought my a7riii files were huge! With uncompressed files I can only get <1400 images on a 128GB memory card. That's pretty crazy.
Apart from that I honestly don't think there are any negatives. Yes the resolution on the EVF is a bit low compare to looking through an optical viewfinder and the rear screens aren't brilliant but you very quickly get used to them and I don't believe it affects how you take a photograph, which in the end is the point isn't it?
April 2020 update...
Quick update with some positive comments and a couple of negative ones.
I'll start with the negative...
I've found the camera bodies to be fairly robust though I've never owned a single digit (D4, D5 etc) camera I can't compare to those. However I don't think the same can be said for the paint on the cameras. Both my a7iii and a7riii have small areas where the paint has started to come off. I've shot maybe 20-25 weddings with them now, probably an average of 2000 images per wedding combined. It's been less than a year though so I must admit I'm a bit disappointed in that. It will definitely hurt their resale value when that time comes.
Auto-focus issues. I had quite a few weddings early this year and at one point I had a double (2 in a single weekend). During the first wedding I noticed my a7iii was hunting for focus a lot more than it usually did. The scene was heavily backlit but I'd done quite a few like that before and not had any problems. I got the shots I needed but it was no where near as easy as I've quickly gotten used to. I also found the AF performance during the dancing at night to be much less reliable. Again, I compensated by taking a whole screed of photos and it wasn't really a big deal, certainly not for the clients but I was a bit worried. The next day I had a look at the a7iii and gave it a clean, thinking maybe it could be the contacts where the lens and camera body link. Sure enough my cleaning cloth came away with some dirt. The wedding that day the camera was back to its usual stellar performance. So lesson learned, I now clean the contacts when I'm cleaning the lenses and bodies.
A second auto-focus issue is the difference between Face/Eye Priority in AF (or as the Sony menu abbreviations algorithm calls it Face/Eye Prty in AF) and Eye AF. Switching on FEPAF (my own acronym haha!) is meant to almost bypass the need for a specific EyeAF button I think. It doesn't really work though, or at least not in that way so I'm likely wrong about it's intended function. This is what the manual says..
Face/Eye Prty in AF:Sets whether or not to detect faces or eyes inside the focusing area and focus on the eyes (Eye AF) when autofocus is activated. ([On]/[Off])
If you're shooting in Wide Focus area mode all this means is when you hit the AF-ON button (or half press the shutter button if you don't use back button focus) the camera will look for a face and/or an eye. Fair enough. Except unless you're only photographing a single subject you probably won't be shooting in Wide area. Personally I rarely shoot a solitary subject so I rarely shoot in Wide. I most commonly use Flexible Spot: Medium and this is where I have difficulty with this setting. Switched on it seems to ignore where the focus spot is. So for example I'm photographing the bride in the last stages of her make-up. I'm trying to get a close up as the MUA applies product to the bride's lips. With FEPAF switched on the camera will ignore my chosen focus spot and focus on the bride's eye. I would have thought this should be linked to the focus mode and chosen focus area. If there are no faces in the area then don't go looking way beyond that area. Again, it would be understandable if the camera was in Wide area mode because you're telling the camera to look everywhere but as I said, I almost never do that. I can obviously switch this setting off but doing that means I then have to remember to use the button configured for EyeAF, not a big problem I know but it seems unnecessary because 80% of the time (probably higher) I AM looking for an eye to focus on.
This really isn't a huge deal, more just a bit of a pain. Face/Eye Priority should be directly linked to the focal point. If there is no face or eye within a set distance of that point the camera should ignore any it might find beyond that.
The display information, specifically how it can be customised. Essentially you can cycle between display options (there's 7 believe it or not!) but you can't customise them. I use the histogram a lot despite having an EVF, I just find it really helpful though it's maybe a throwback to my DSLR days. Yet if I want to see my focus mode, drive mode etc I can't do that AND have the histogram. Instead on the Display All Info screen I see lots of jpeg centric things I switch off (DRO, PP etc). All completely pointless to me since I shoot RAW (copyright Jared Polin ;o)). Instead I have to cycle to another screen to see the histogram. It would be amazing if we could customise a screen, choose what we see depending on how we shoot etc. I actually asked Mark Galer (Sony Ambassador) via his YouTube channel if this was in the pipeline and he replied to say that he'd submitted a huge raft of requests including that one so fingers crossed.
Okay enough of the negative here's a huge positive.
Lenses - I was able to upgrade my kit to a 24gm, 85gm, 55mm Zeiss and a 135mm Sigma. All exceptional pieces of glass but a special mention for the 55mm F/1.8. It's not a cheap 50mm-ish lens but it's seriously sharp! It's also quite possibly the smallest, lightest lens I've ever owned and I include the first 50mm lens I bought for about £80 many years ago. It takes a lot of engineering skill to make a lens this good, this small and light. Love it! Not as big a fan of the 135 Sigma. It's a monster of a lens and I only really use it for ceremonies and speeches where I have to be a bit further away. Despite it being as sharp as Sigma Art lenses generally are I'm not sure I'll keep this one. I'd like to try the 135GM but given the lack of use I don't think I can justify the expense.
On a related note, one of the reasons I bought the 55m Carl Zeiss was to qualify for Sony Professional status. This allowed me to get my a7riii looked at as it was intermittently not firing a flash. It was collected on the Monday and returned fully repaired on the Friday. Seriously. Free of charge and the sensor had been cleaned as well. Absolutely fantastic service!
They actually replaced the main circuit board amongst a couple of other things, all done under warranty and zero cost to me. Even the postage & packaging in both directions was free. The downside to this is you have to have a certain combination of equipment to qualify, none of which is cheap. The 55mm was the cheapest lens I could buy that would still be useful to me AND would let me qualify. It's a brilliant service that I was very impressed by.
Plans going forward...
I'm looking to get an A9ii at some point. I had a hold of one at a recent SWPP roadshow and the difference in the grip is massive. It fits my hands a lot better than the much shallower a7iii. I'd also like to be able to shoot silently most of the time, whether indoors or out and the a7iii doesn't allow that because of banding when under some artificial lights. That might change if Sony brings out an a7iv of course!
Good luck if you're switching, I don't think you'll regret it. I certainly haven't and despite Canon's recent strides forward with the R5, I'm very happy with my Sony's.