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WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY WITH SONY ALPHA CAMERAS

The perfect wedding system?
One system to rule them all?

This review isn't a pixel peeping, deep delve into settings, breakdown of everything Sony.

 

What this review is, is a discussion of the merits of a system from the point of view of someone who loves kit, spends too much (of his own money) on kit and has shot upwards of 30 weddings now with this system.

Review points:

 

General feelings

How I shoot

Low light performance

Image and file quality

Weather sealing and ruggedness

 

If you'd like to see some images taken or know a bit more about me, have a look at some of my work here wedding gallery.

 

 

General feelings:

 

This stuff is next gen, insanely easy, crazy expensive for glass, to-try-it-is-to-love-it stuff! There's meh along with the very, very good but it's really not much to worry about. I use an a7iii and an a7riii, the former for the majority of the wedding (24MP) and the latter for portraits etc (42MP)

 

At its heart, what this system does is make things easy. There is virtually no effort to get sharp, in-focus shots, especially when your subject matter is people. You can customise the buttons to make switching modes or functions almost instant and avoid the need to go through the apparently labyrinthian Sony menu system (can't say it bothers me that much).

 

Depending on your lenses, the system can be about as light as it's possible to be. Saving your back, feet and knees etc

 

So in a very quick summary it's easy to get very sharp images and when you wake up the next day you won't feel like you'd ran a marathon. What's not to like?

 

What's in my bag?

 

As mentioned I use an a7iii and an a7riii.

24mm f/1.4 GM

55mm f/1.8 Zeiss

85mm f/1.4GM

Sigma 135mm f/1.8 Art

Godox lights

 

How do I shoot?

 

For the majority of the day I shoot in manual mode. With an EVF it doesn't make a huge amount of sense not to in my opinion.

 

I use aperture priority with AUTO-ISO set to minimum 100, maximum 6400. Shutter Speed is set to 1/250, I tried the auto FAST & FASTER settings which for FAST basically means the Sony cameras will try to keep the SS ~ x2 the focal length of the attached lens. FASTER I think is roughly x4 the focal length which seems like overkill to me and obviously impacts the ISO the camera will then use. 1/250 is fast enough to freeze motion with any of my lenses, which unless I'm trying for something creative, is perfect.

 

With the EVF you also have the reassurance that you can see what your exposure is so I find it very easy to trust the camera especially if the zebra lines can warn me if I'm blowing out the highlights. Top tip from Mark Galer re: zebra settings. Don't set the sensitivity too low or you'll be getting warned constantly.

 

All of my standard settings (aperture priority, auto-iso, ss, AWB etc) are all stored to memory position one so no matter what happens, such as a dramatic change in light, I can very quickly switch to those settings and get the shot.

 

Focus mode is AF-C (autofocus-continous) and the focus area I tend to use is Flexible Spot: Medium. Focus area wide is perfect if you're only shooting a single subject, EyeAF will find them perfectly. If there's more than one person in the frame then you'll probably want to pick who you want to focus on, Flexible Spot lets you do that. Just put the focus point on the face of the person you want to prioritise and that's where EyeAF will look. There are options to store faces for priority, so for a wedding you could store the couples faces, but I don't use them.

 

The morning of the wedding:

 

Dress, suit, kilt, shoes, jewellery and so on. The Sony system won't especially make shooting those any easier. The only word of caution I would issue is to watch out for EyeAF when you're trying to frame a shot that includes a face, but don't want to focus on the eye(s). So for instance if you're trying to get a shot of the bride's lips as her final pre from the MUA. If you have Face/Eye Priority in AF switched on, the camera will look and choose an eye as it's focus point as soon as you hit AF-ON. So without pressing a specific EyeAF button (custom defined) it will still look for an eye. Not a big issue for the vast majority of the day but it's a wee niggle you should be aware of.

 

Something I've found very useful in the prep part of the day is silent shooting. The a7iii has quite a loud, clunky sounding mechanical shutter, whilst the a7riii is much quieter and softer. Switching into silent mode can often let you catch those candid moments that you might otherwise have changed simply by taking photos. It's a bit Schrodingers cat but we've all encountered people at weddings who can't help but react when they realise they're being photographed. The silent mode will give you a few extra seconds of invisibility. Another word of caution though. When you go into the room, switch on silent mode and take a few shots. Check for banding. If there is strong artificial lighting there's a decent chance you'll need to adjust your shutter speed to something slower than you'd maybe prefer. Try around about 1/100 to 1/140 and do a spot of chimping. If it's clear of banding you're sorted and know what settings you can use.

 

Other situations like a first look, in Scotland it's more often than not between the father of the bride and the bride herself rather than the bride and groom, I shoot wide open and EyeAF does it's job superbly. Instant and reactive focus so it doesn't matter how quickly the FOTB advances to hopefully give his daughter a big cuddle. Frame the shot, use the EVF to know your exposure is fine, press the button and stand back as far as you can and give them their moment.

 

bridal-makeup

Ceremony:

 

This is where the Sony system really comes into its own with silent mode and EyeAF. I used to shoot with a Nikon D700 and when I say it had a loud shutter, I mean it had a really loud shutter! There were times I'd be embarrassed to take a shot when standing close to the celebrant due to space restrictions or trying to get a ring being slipped on shot. The D750 was an improvement but it still had a seat belt like sound (clunk, click!) and it's quiet mode wasn't worthy of the name.

 

This system is genuinely silent. You'll make more noise trying to walk across church floors than you will with the camera. Allied with the ability to confidently shoot wide open and know, really know, the eye will be in focus? It's not too crazy to say this is how all camera's will operate in the near future. Once they've sorted the banding issue with fully electronic shutters at least. I'm keen to try an a9 as from what I've read it seems to control banding very well.

 

exits & confetti:

 

Exits are one of the 'must get' shots on our mental checklists aren't they? You need at least one nice photograph of the couple walking back down the aisle after completing the ceremony. My usual methodology was to stand at the far end of the aisle and using auto-focus continuous, put the focal point on one of the couples face and then rattle off some frames. I'd then refocus and repeat. Just to be sure the focus was still correct as they made their way towards me. There are probably photographers out there who don't do that second (third, fourth) focus attempt but it worked for me. Now I do almost the same but never refocus until I'm changing camera. EyeAF (or face detect if they're far enough away) works so well I trust it. It's a trust earned over the course of the last year of weddings so I genuinely do trust the AF to work for me.

 

Confetti shots have changed enormously for me since I moved to the Sony system. I used to shoot at f/4 and worry about buffer issues whilst walking backwards in front of the couple, all the time hoping Uncle Bob hasn't stepped into the space behind me or that the hotel fountain is still 20 feet further on. Yes I got the shot though I'll admit there were times I wished my focus had been better on frame 6 out of 9 because that was the perfect shot. We all know how that feels I think! I shot a wedding at Edinburgh castle a few years ago, my first time there as a working professional photographer. I naively thought they would close the small area around St Margarets church to the public. Nope, quite the opposite in fact! Dozens upon dozen of tourists where crowding round trying to get a photo of the beautiful bride and her new husband in his full Scots Guards regalia. Fair enough really but in my head at the time was 'oh great! This is going to be tricky!'. Sure enough a tourist didn't want to move as I was reversing before the couple and I almost tripped whilst carrying thousands of pounds of kit. Luckily I managed to catch myself before I hit the flagstones but I could already imagine myself being in one of those cautionary YouTube videos showing photographers destroying their 70-200mm lens.

 

Not having to walk backwards is a lottery win!

 

Now though my way of doing confetti shots is almost identical to my way of getting aisle exit shots. I stand at the far end and pick a face to lock onto an eye for focus. I then rattle off lots and lots of frames, confetti throwing not being the time to be selective if your camera's buffer can handle it and the a7iii can handle it. Oh and I'll quite often shoot at f/1.8 or f/2 on an 55mm or 85mm lens. As the couples gets closer I'll switch to the other camera and the 24mm lens to get a different perspective. That is the only time I will refocus because there's no need.

The first wedding I shot with the a7iii I had the pleasure of being blasted by confetti canons, luckily the poor videographer took the brunt of the explosion! I fired off a ridiculous amount of shots as anyone who's using something new will invariably do. I actually shot 54 frames and every single one of them had focused correctly on the brides eye. Every, single, one. How is that even possible? There must have been a million pieces of tinsel flying everywhere and a significant number had to have passed between the bride and my sensor. Yet the camera stayed true to it's focus point and didn't miss a shot. I did! I jumped when the canons went off and ruined the framing for a few but the focus still stayed on the brides eye. It's genuinely uncanny. I wasn't even using an expensive GM lens at that point. I had a Sigma 35mm and a Sony 85mm f/1.8 (amazing lens for the money incidentally). Sheer magic.

 

 

wedding-reviews

Portraits & groups:

 

Again this system just makes things easier for you. Want to be creative and place your subject at the corner of your frame? Not a problem because the focus points go out that far. Want to shoot wide open at f/1.4? Not a problem because EyeAF will lock onto an eye and stay there as long as you want it to. Colours are a little different to Nikon but that's easily fixed in Lightroom by applying a camera profile and then a preset if you wish. Again the one thing I would say is watch out for when you want to focus on say a ring hand on a shoulder and a face immediately behind. If you have Face/Eye priority in AF switched on you might find the camera will ignore the ring and focus on the eye even if the focus spot is on the hand. I've set a custom button to switch FEPAF on/off.

Another nice thing to be able to do is hold the camera at ground level and be able to easily both frame (flip out screen) and make sure your shot is in focus (that EyeAF again). No more lying in muddy puddles!

 

Dynamic range is excellent and there is a robust ability to recover details from highlights and/or shadows. There have been plenty of times where I've worried I've overexposed and lost detail in the bride's dress, only to use a brush I made for just that problem and find there's been almost zero loss of information.

 

On a slightly separate note I have to comment on the quality of the Sony GM glass. The fall off from the 85mm at f/1.4 is nothing short of a work of art. The 24mm has zero distortion towards the centre of the frame and very little out towards the edges. The 55mm Zeiss lens might be the lightest, dinkiest lens I've ever owned and it's tack sharp. They all make portraits both simple to capture and with the potential to be beautiful. Well it can't do everything for us or we'd be out of a job.

 

I actually think the Sony system makes a bigger difference for group shots. I really enjoy shooting decent sized groups (single line if possible) at wide apertures, something like f/1.8. If I can use my 85mm and shoot that wide the images stop being those fairly boring family group pic and immediately stand out as just more professional. The DOF achieved at that focal length and aperture is perfect for a single line of people. I'll bump it up to f/2.2 or at most 2.8 for a double line if I'm still using the 85mm. EyeAF locks onto the central person and that's it. Easy.

 

 

 

bridal-photo

CANDIDS & SPEECHES:

 

Two possibly quite different things but you probably don't need me to talk about whether the system can capture a candid picture of a wedding guest mingling in the sun. Where I think the system first starts to maybe show a tiny bit of weakness when comparing to a DSLR is when using flash. I can't swear to it as I've never actually tested it but to my mind, there's a slight delay in taking the photograph when using flash either on camera or off. Could be a setting I've inadvertently left or changed but it just feels a little slower.

 

 

groom-speech

DANCES:

 

First dances are one thing and ceilidh dances (which are more frenetic than 'normal' dancing) are a whole other kettle of fish. You won't struggle during a first dance, as with much of using the Sony system composition becomes the main aspect. Which is probably how it should be. I usually have at least one off camera light (usually a Godox AD200) and a speedlight (usually a Godox v860ii) on the camera acting as bounce and master, controlling the AD200. I will be in manual mode, SS of about 1/150, ISO~800 and aperture ~f/2, flash units will generally be about 1/32 for the OCF and 1/16 for the on-camera unit. Those are obviously just starting numbers and I'll adjust to make sure I have a good balance of ambient light as well as ideally a nice rim light from the OCF AD200. Here is where the EVF will fail you but it's not really much different from the DSLR days, I'll take a few shots and adjust before the first dance begins. If the ambient light is being killed by the flash I'll adjust and take it from there. The idea being to get nice, colourful, energetic images.

 

Once everyone else joins in I'll keep shooting the same way until the formal dances are over. Again there's nothing to worry about here, the Sony System copes fine. I wonder if the people who have written about their kit struggling to get focus, and there being a huge delay after hitting the shutter button before the image is taken, are actually shooting their lenses at too narrow an aperture? It's one possible explanation at least. Have a watch of Mark Galer's videos on focus in the Sony System. He explains it a helluva lot better than I do but essentially if the camera is struggling for focus and the aperture is say, f/5.6. The lens will briefly pulse to its widest aperture to boost the light hitting the sensor and therefore the chances of focus being achieved. Obviously that pulse takes a moment hence a delay.

 

After the first dances I tend to retreat to the corners and using a longer lens, aim for shots that look different the formal dances. This is when I'll shoot wide open or possibly only stopped down a couple of stops at most. Again the AF system works very well, anecdotally it isn't quite as instant as a DSLR but I don't struggle with it. The only time I have struggled was because some dirt had gotten onto the contacts on the camera body and lens. I found I was struggling to get focus and consequently a much higher percentage of shots weren't usable. I still got enough but it was the only time I've had real concerns. The next day I cleaned the contacts and sure enough there was dirt, so watch out for that.

 

 

 

 

NIGHT TIME PHOTOS:

 

As you would expect from a modern camera system, the Sony kit copes well with low-light and struggles with no-light! For the shot below I had to light the couple with a torch before I could get focus, the same as I've done with Nikon cameras. To be fair though it was exceptionally dark, so dark we had to use the torch to make our way back to Winton Castle for the rest of the dancing!

You might be able to see it was raining in the image below which seems a reasonable point to talk about weather sealing. All my lenses have the weather sealing gasket and I've been out in rain and snow with them without any issues. I'm not sure that I could lay a claim that they're particularly rugged but I've not had any issues.

Again dynamic range is fantastic and I find this kind of situation to be perfect for the 24mm lens.

 

 

CONCLUSION:

 

I'm sold, that was probably obvious. I have no particular brand loyalty, the first pro camera I had was a Canon 5dmk3 and I loved it. Moved onto Nikon and that's where I stayed for about ten years, happily I should say. Changing to Sony was as much about fancying a change as anything else. I've had iPhones for years, since the 3s I think. Last year I went for a Huawei for the camera but really just because I was bored of iOS. I wanted to learn how to use something different and going with Sony was very similar. That being said I went back to iPhone (iMessage when your kids all have Apple devices saves a fortune!) but I won't be going back to Nikon. Not yet at least. Canon look to be getting their act together and having recently edited some Canon files I was very impressed by their colours, though not so impressed by the DR. It seems their EyeAF is coming on leaps and bounds and if you pair that with a piece of virtually unbeatable Canon glass and those Canon colours? That will be an amazing setup. Nikon seem a little further behind to my mind but this competition isn't a bad thing. The hype behind the Canon R5 must have Sony thinking they need to pull something out of the bag and there's no way Nikon can afford to be left behind.

 

I love the Sony system and I love the Sony glass and I would argue that it has made my life easier but the key question has to be has it made my photography better? In short I'd say yes, it has. I said earlier that I loved shooting wide open and this system makes that easy. You genuinely do not have to worry about your images being in focus. The daft thing is I still go through the images in Lightroom and think 'oh no! Have I missed that one?' zoom in to check and wait a few seconds for Lightroom to render the image fully. Tack sharp, it's just the initial load of the image that doesn't look sharp.

 

That being said, sharpness isn't everything. The ability to shoot silently is wonderful and for a big fella like me, I like the fact it helps even a little when it comes to my remaining peripheral to the ceremony and other quiet moments. Dying to try an a9 or even better an a9ii though!

 

Which brings me onto criticisms. I don't have many and most you can find on my Moving from Nikon to Sony blog but just to summarise.... the grip could be deeper (they've done that in the a7riv and a9ii) and the focus point should be green or red (they've also done that in those newer models but surely that's software and so could be cascaded to the a7iii & riii?). I'd like to be able to choose what data I see on the screen more than currently possible. Again that's software so should be doable. Oh one thing to remember is if you had a DSLR before a Sony, you have to get yourself out of the habit of switching off to save battery. I used to do it without thought, now I have to force myself not to do it. Reason is the Sony System takes a few seconds to boot so you will miss a shot if you aren't careful. Apart from that? Nada

 

It's lighter, allows me to shoot wide-open with 100% confidence and it can be completely silent. Wedding photography with Sony Alpha cameras is fantastic and I 100% do not regret my choice.

 

M

 

PS

 

I had an issue with my a7riii not consistently triggering the flash whether it was on the hotshoe or via a remote trigger. I'm a registered Sony Professional so I was able to get it sent away and checked. It was collected on the Tuesday and delivered back to me on the Friday. I honestly thought it was a spare they'd sent me but it was my camera, repaired and the sensor cleaned. How incredible is that for service? Genuinely blown away by how good the communication was and clearly by how quickly they turned the repair around and had my camera back with me.

 

 

Wedding photography with Sony Alpha cameras

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