Switching from Canon to Sony mirrorless helped me travel better
Before you read on, I have links here that are not affiliate links, so click on without prejudice. These link to reviews and articles I appreciated during my research that helped my decision making in one way or the other. These aren't technical reviews with fancy resolution charts and what not. I can't technically answer your question of whether which camera is better, Canon or Sony. I relied a lot on reviewers who actually shot images with the camera and lenses in question. I'm writing from the POV of someone who has always used Canon and is making the switch, so this post won't be for everyone. Also every time I read a review of a lens saying it's Fast AF or Accurate AF I had to mentally remind myself it means AUTOFOCUS and not AS F*CK. Yeah. Not a professional photographer.
Photography has always been something of a hobby when I was growing up, way before Instagram, digital cameras and iPhones. When I first started travelling 7-8 years ago I thought seriously about investing in a camera and Canon was the obvious choice. I started with a Canon 500D and a Sigma 17-70mm F/2.8–4 lens. Over the years I eventually invested in and built up a good set of lenses but by then I had only traded up to a Canon 60D. It worked well for a few years and the goal was to eventually get a 5D Mark II. Fast forward to now, I’m finally at the point where I can invest in a full-frame and the Mark IV (newly released this year) is no longer the obvious choice.
The Sony A7RII is the contender I’ve spent months agonising over. I’m sure you’ve heard about it, if not there’s tons of reading and reviews out there. The Canon or Nikon DSLR versus Sony mirrorless switch is a massive debate. If you are like me dabbling in cameras on a non professional level and trying to make the decision, let me tell you that there's only ONE pivotal question you really have to consider.
Which camera would you be inclined to NOT use when you're travelling?
I'd spent nearly two months debating all options from technical specs to price to weight and variety of lenses of both brands. I created a spreadsheet. I compared and I pictured scenarios in my head. I googled weather sealing and wondered how will the seemingly more fragile Sony A7RII hold up in Iceland? Eventually I realised I wasn't addressing the actual question of my usage. Thinking back, I'd subconsciously stopped using my DSLR on travels because of the weight, not for any other reason. On my most recent trips I'd started using my iPhone more and I was capturing scenes and entire holidays on the iPhone.
Therein lies Canon’s biggest (intended!) disadvantage - its absolute massive size. Chuck on the zoom lenses that I had and it was easily the bulkiest and heaviest thing I’d have to carry anywhere. This wasn’t going to do. I would get lazy to walk around a city with it all day. I’d get lazy to bring it with me when I was out and end up just using my iPhone. I’d whine all the way from my home to the airport to the hotel just lugging my backpack.
So there, that did it for me. I would go for the Canon 5D Mark IV without hesitation if I didn't know at the back of my mind I would just be so defeated by its size and weight down the line and end up not using it. Once I realised that, everything else was a wonderful compromise. I sold my camera and lenses and geared up to buy the Sony A7RII with some native lenses.
If you’re interested to make the switch to mirrorless, everything below is what I took into consideration. I obsessively agonised over every detail but at the end of the day, it's how you use your camera and what you're shooting that is key to your decision. I also visited the camera store a few times to get familiar with all the gear. This site is a great starting point with handy comparison stats and information for camera bodies.
WHAT DO YOU PHOTOGRAPH THE MOST? buying the right lens
When I started thinking about making the switch I didn't feel like giving up my Canon lenses. I use a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L which has been fantastic for the quality and utility on travels and a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM which I used when I shot food photography but not so much any longer since my zoom more than covered both. Both are unfailingly excellent and I have trouble giving that up. Canon glass is known for the best colours which I loved. However, Sony lenses could only get better whereas it wasn't practical to wait for Canon to build a smaller, lighter, faster body.
At this point I was used to having a solid zoom and a prime, no matter if I didn't use the latter so much. I was always on my zoom and I loved its versatility. Sony's lens line up instead forced me to relook at what I would need and what I'd like to shoot, which wasn't the worst to be honest.
The really good Sony GM (Grand Master) lenses are the challenger to the L lenses but extremely bulky, pricey, and look ridiculous on the slim body of the Sony A7 series. So let's move on from that. The more practical, every occasion friendly zoom lenses for travel are the Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 or Sony 24-70mm f/4. I saw these lenses most commonly on travel blogger gear write ups. They're decent lenses and worth considering if you're OK with its cons as well as its pros. After reading tons and tons of lens reviews (even the ones with the technical charts I will never understand), this review summed it up best for me. It's not the most detailed review but you'll get tons of information when you start researching and eventually you just need something simple to iron out the basics.
If you're considering something beyond a standard travel blogger zoom, reviews look at the Sony 16-35mm f/4 wide angle and the Sony 24-70mm f/4 as a two piece must-have in your set. Which makes absolute sense and I considered this pairing for awhile. I decided that the wide angle was definitely desirable, but I wasn't willing to shell out a thousand dollars for the 24-70mm which would really be a utility piece for travel. The Sony 55mm f/1.8 was mentioned quite often as an awesome piece of glass for travel and portrait. I also came by a few reviews of the Sony 28mm f/2 prime which made more sense to my shooting style as I shot more urban settings than I did portraits. If you are seriously considering the 28mm's pros and cons, these reviews here, here and here made sense to me the most. It's not a perfect lens and you will have to adjust accordingly, but I tested it at the shop and it was great - very light, discreet and balanced nicely on the A7RII body for a very affordable price of about ~USD448. If you're interested in a more popular focal length the 35mm prime has got great reviews too at a decent price and it's similarly attractively built.
So instead of going for one multi-purpose zoom lens, I went for the Sony 16-35mm f/4 wide angle. Again, make your decision based on your own usage rather than what reviews commonly tell you. If I did I'd have ended with the all purpose 24-70mm and probably wouldn't have been as happy with it. I'd been using a zoom in this range for a long time which was great, but having a 35mm and a wide angle now was a refreshingly welcome change to switch up how I would normally approach my photography subjects. I spent a lot of time on the 35mm which was perfect for me, and the 16mm wide angle was a great advantage in tight spaces and gave me a new perspective in what I photographed.
I have been using the 16-35mm for a month or so now and recently travelled to Japan with it. With the lightness of the mirrorless camera, I'm out and about more frequently with my camera and with the different lens I'm (re)learning to look at my travel shots differently from how I normally would shoot. This has given me a new sense of joy and quality of travel I normally never had before when I was only thinking of how bogged down I was by a camera. I'm reviewing more closely what I'm shooting and what I'm lacking with this lens before I consider another. At this point, I'm missing the close up, intimately personal shots that a 55mm or 85mm can give me, especially when I'm trying to be discreet (bonus plus point, (re)growing a thick skin when people say no to your intrusion at close range!). Although I suppose I can do without, it is definitely a lens I will consider down the line. The 16-35mm lens is heavy (518g) compared to its popular Sony counterparts (the Sony Vario-Tessar T FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens is only 426g) and lighter than my previous Canon zoom (670g), however walking around with it all day is relatively comfortable. It's a formidable partner with the A7RII, with a super fast autofocus and incredibly easy to handle.
If you invest in a camera body, it lasts you years. The only thing that’ll change are the lenses you can get. If I had gone with the Canon 5D Mark IV I was missing out on the technological advancements Sony had made with mirrorless as well as the weight benefits. Similarly I didn't think it was necessary to wait for the new Canon 6D Mark II release since Canon was basically improving in inches compared to the miles that Sony has gone. With the Sony A7RII, it’s a superior camera body to invest in and the lenses can only get better. Especially if you're looking to get more serious with photography, you'll be building up lenses more than looking at switching camera bodies.
Over the years, I must've spent about SGD4,000 (~USD2,800) on my photography hobby. My first camera was a Canon 500D and I paired it with a Sigma lens. After a few years I moved on to the Canon 60D and 2 lenses. Since these are financial returns I'll never get but purely for my own joy, I made these investments at different stages of my career. I hated to be frivolous, so I took my time in upgrading my gear rather than blowing a huge amount on an expensive camera when I was young.
I've been working for nearly a decade now and a few things that are precious to me that I'm willing to spend on include travelling and the ability to document my travels with photography. In recent years things like work and stress and pure laziness of using my Canon meant that photography took a back seat. But more on that in another post, another time, about finding my way back to it.
Yes, so - the price point of the Sony A7RII (USD2,698) was so much more attractive than the Canon 5D Mark IV (USD3,299). Of course, I had to take into consideration the cost of a lens, so the entire set would cost a lot more than just buying the Canon camera body. While I had to weigh the pros and cons of the price of switching to an entirely new Sony set, the cost difference eventually wasn't the deciding factor as much as usage and longevity of the purchase. I had also considered the Sony A7II (USD1,548) for a long time, but I had spent a few years working towards to a brilliant camera that I could hold on to for awhile without thinking of upgrading, hence the A7RII was the choice for me. Found a shop that sold it about 11% cheaper during a sale as well.
I sometimes take video and make GIFs out of footage and there was just no way I was going to hold that bulky Canon 5D Mark IV up to be able to take really good shake-free video for long. Being able to take video was another consideration between Canon and Sony (winner!) but also between the Sony A7II and Sony A7RII. Both A7 series cameras are great, so for this it depends on what you're most comfortable with at the end of the day. The A7RII has 4K video quality which is the advancement forward and is a great option if that's what you need.
Addressing the Cons
So, some cons that bothered me before I bought my camera were nearly non-existent when I started using it. Professional points of view will have more technical aspects to gripe about such as the lack of an additional SD card slot, however they aren't deal breakers for me at all.
Battery life - Yes, this number 1 complaint of the Sony camera system does suck. I used to be able to go 2 or 3 days with light shooting around a city, about 8-10 hours, before needing to charge my Canon (roughly every 1,000 shots). Now my battery drains in a day (about 300+ shots) and I have to charge this daily. However, carry enough spare batteries and this is not a big problem at all. There are 2 charging options with your camera so you'll be able to charge 2 batteries simultaneously and not wait up all night.
Difficulty of Use - there are tons of features on the Sony A7RII and honestly I haven't fiddled around with them all yet. I've found what I'm comfortable with and used that since the day I started shooting. However in time there'll be things I'll change up for sure. The menu is not as immediately intuitive as Canon but you will get used to it after shooting a few times.
Writing to memory card - this was a bit of a surprise since it doesn't frequently make it into a lot of reviews (except here). It's not a huge problem however I have missed shots on more than one occasion if I'm shooting in quick succession and the camera takes a while to write to memory card. It's a significant lag I'd never experienced on the Canon before so do look out for this and test burst mode or multiple quick shots. I sometimes switch between shooting + taking video of a particular subject very quickly and since you can't operate anything while it writes to card it has hindered my being able to switch to take video before the moment is lost. Similarly if you're looking to review your burst of photos after you take them the same wait applies.
CONCLUSION: Was the Switch from Canon to Sony worth it?
Absolutely. I really love my Sony A7RII. It's fast, crisp, and I'm absolutely in love with the fact that it's light enough for me to wear cross body all day while I'm walking around the city. I've never once felt like the camera bothered me, unlike my Canon used to. The lens is still pretty hefty and I do find myself wishing for a flatter lens so it doesn't stick out as much, but the quality and option for wide-angle shots have been a wonderful advantage. Reviewing my photographs from Japan I'm so excited that it's getting me back into the habit of thinking photography versus travel photos first, and that's letting me “see more” than I previously did.
What's your camera of choice today? Be part of NineTwoBySix's motto for meaningful work and purposeful travel - pin these images below and share the discussion!