The future has begun
Sony mirrorless cameras for wedding photographers!
There’s no way back
A few years ago we were very sceptical about mirrorless cameras, today there’s no way back for us. Our first contact with mirrorless was about four years ago when our friend Che Birch second shot a wedding for us with his Fuji xt-1. It was a great tiny camera but we did not consider it to be professional body. Two years ago we visited another wedding photographer – Aga Tomaszek and we had a chance to play with the Sony A7RII. Unfortunately, same as before the camera just did not feel right in our hands. We were Nikon guys with massive professional camera bodies and a huge arsenal of expensive glass. How such a small holiday looking camera can do a good job? Back then we thought we would look rather silly with a mobile phone size camera in our client’s eyes. Size matters right? Not any more!
Having photographed 60 weddings in 2016 and 65 in 2017 we must admit we felt slightly burned out. We needed a proper boost – something that will change the way we feel about taking photos. Something that will make us as excited as when we left Uni and started shooting weddings full time. We went to the Sony event to test their newest baby – Sony A9. Since there was only two camera bodies and 50 ish photographers we did not have much time to explore its full potential and capabilities. We decided to risk it anyway and we placed an order for one. We changed systems in the middle of a rather busy wedding season. We took the A9 out of the box on Saturday morning and drove straight to a wedding. By 4pm we already knew this will be our new workhorse. We were blown away by it’s amazing features, speed and size.
AF Points Coverage
Sony A9’s AF made us speechless… It would be really difficult to compare it to any other camera on the market. We have never seen anything like it before – it’s mind blowing! The camera has incredible focus abilities and many options to adjust it – it takes some time to get used to it. AF covers your entire screen (93% to be exact) – In other words, it offers edge to edge coverage which means that you do not have to recompose your images any more. Below is a great example:
Stephanie (the Bride) on the way to the outdoor ceremony at Birtsmorton Court taken with Nikon D750 / 35mm 1.4G lens combo. As you know Nikon DSLR’s AF area is very narrow and covers the middle of the screen only. In the above case we had to focus on the stone pillar (to the right), recompose and wait for the Bride to walk past the wall to take a shot. This is not a big deal and we have been photographing weddings like this over the past few years. However, this technique is slightly more risky and time consuming.
The same scenario – Sean and John minutes before their wedding ceremony in Cardiff taken with Sony A9 / 85mm 1.4 G Master lens combo. No crop, no need for recomposing – just as it is. Face detection nailed it! It makes it is so easy to frame your image – The camera does it for us and tracks the subjects superbly, easy-peasy (more on Sony AF below).
Yeap – you guessed it.. Same as above guys. It works great for static shots too – compose, take it, move on!
Weight and Size
The camera size and weight wasn’t the main reason of our switch but it definitely helped to make a decision. We were using Nikons D3s and Nikons D750 for the last few years and the weight never really bothered us. However, having a smaller and lighter cameras that can actually outperform a dslr is always a bonus.
The menu may seem complicated at first. However, Sony lets you customise it the way you want it. Thanks to ‘my menu’ we are able to add favourite and most used functions under one roof. Moreover, there are quick access buttons on the camera body itself which make our life easier. We use C1 – C4 custom buttons plus the Eye AF all the time on a wedding day therefore we do not have to go into the menu at all.
Here is how we set up our cameras: C1 – Face Detection On / Off C2 – Focus Area C3 – Shutter Type (Mechanical / Electronic) C4 – Audio Signals / Silent Shooting AF-ON – Eye AF Center button – focus magnifier
Films – Hybrid Shooters
Although, Sony A7s series are considered the best Sony cameras for video A9 and A7RIII can create some magic too. The main difference between the two would obviously be the excellent focusing system of the Sony A9 and Sony A7RIII’s picture profiles. If you shoot in S-log for example then A7RIII could be the best choice. On the other hand A9’s AF clearly outperforms A7RIII – As usual nothing’s perfect.
No More Fine Tuning
Fine tuning our Nikon and Sigma lenses was time consuming. Having four cameras means that you have to adjust every single lens four times individually on each body. Since there is no mirror and prism in Sony mirrorless systems this problem is gone forever (yay!). It feels so great to be able to grab a camera straight out of the box and start shooting without worrying about front and / or back focusing – boom!
Sony A9 / A7RIII Eye Tracking / Face Detection
All we can say is Wow! Another mind blowing feature which helps us get it right every single time. Eye AF is so fast and accurate (especially on the A9) we trust it 100% and we are super confident that most of the time we don’t even have to look at the camera’s lcd / view finder to get the subject in focus.
Face detection is super handy and it works in 95% of situations. However, it’s nice to have a quick access to on / off (C1 in our case) because sometimes it can work against you. Since the camera will always track the face closest (facing) to the camera it may become tricky when you want to capture something or someone in the background.
Those who exposure for the highlights will fall in love with Sony A7RIII. It’s got an amazing 42MP sensor with 15 stops of dynamic range and no low pass filter which means your images will be super sharp straight out of camera. That’s more than enough to push your files by a few stops in Lightroom. A9 on the other hand stands slightly behind its brother but there’s nothing to worry about especially if you exposure correctly in the first place. Below are a few real world examples (nothing extreme) of both A9 and A7RIII – before and after.
See it before you take it – sounds great right? Having this feature was a real game changer for us. Nikon D750 was a fantastic camera with incredibly good sensor / dynamic range but unfortunately its metering system was probably the worst we have seen. We were forced to shoot in manual mode because the camera would blow the highlights in 90% of our images. A9 is completely opposite and its metering system is spot on in our opinion. We still use manual mode if needed (usually for more creative ocf shots). Moreover, we are actually able to check the exact exposure on lcd or through the view finder and make adjustments accordingly prior to pressing the shutter.
Focus Peaking / Magnifier
This bad boy revolutionised our night shots and all tricky AF situations. Focus peaking is incredibly handy and in most cases the only way to go unless you trust your eyeballs which we sometimes don’t. Add Sony’s brilliant focus magnifier to it and you win it every single time. The below images were taken in complete darkness:
Sony A9 + 24-70mm G Master @ f2.8 1/100s ISO 200
Sony A9 + 85mm G Master @ f2.2 1/125s ISO 800
Sony A9 + 24-70 G Master @ f2.8 1/200s ISO 400
20 Frames per second / Silent Shutter
Who needs it? It’s an overkill and we don’t think a wedding photographer will ever have to use its full potential but it’s nice to have it. We usually shoot at 5 FPS for most parts of the day and sometimes switch to 10 FPS – usually confetti and games / fast moving subjects. Silent shutter on the other hand is a winner at weddings – This is where the fun begins! How many times have you been told not to take any pictures during ceremony or other parts of the day? A9 and A7RIII offer a completely silent mode (up to 20 frames on the A9 and up to 10 frames on the A7RIII). In other words, we are now on the same boat with videographers. In fact, we look at the lcd screen most of the time and wedding guests often confuse us with video guys. That’s actually cool – less posing = more fun! There is also no blackout on the Sony A9 which in our opinion really helps to track your subject without any interruption.
5 Axis Image Stabilisation
We only ever used one Nikon lens with Vibration Reduction: 70-200mm VRII and it was great to shoot at lower than focal length shutter speeds (for non moving subjects). Although, it was fantastic to have it we were limited to one lens. Now all our leses are stabilised thanks to Sony’s 5 axis in camera imagine stabilisation.
Handheld Sony A9 / Zeiss 35mm 1.4 @ f/5.6 1/25s ISO 125 – Street Photography: Vienna, Austria
Handheld Sony A9 / Zeiss 35mm 1.4 @ f/1.4 1/8s ISO 500 – Lemore Manor (Wedding venue UK)
Banding / Mechanical / Electronic Shutter – 1/32000s
A9 handles it extremely well and we have only noticed it a few times but overall the Sony’s flagship has been carefully designed to make sure the banding is minimal or we should say non-existent in most lighting scenarios. A7RIII on the other hand looses the battle big time. We only use RIII in mechanical shutter mode unless outdoors because we don’t want to deal with it in post (well there is not much we can do about it anyway).
Our main concern about D750 was its limited shutter speed of 1/4000s. It meant that we had to shoot at ISO 50 in day light to compensate for it – not a big deal but it was frustrating to be honest. As you can imagine that issue disappeared with the A9. What does it mean in the real world – Well… we can shoot at f1.4 at midday on a blue sky day should we wish to do so – awesome!
Flash / OCF / Triggers
We have shot 30 ish weddings with two A9s and never had an issue with flash or 5 FPS. When we received A7RIII however, it made us realised that this little monster has been designed for strobes! It’s shutter sounds is just so sexy (that’s what make up artists say at weddings) we just couldn’t resist to make it our primary flash camera – it also offer 10 frames per second. I don’t know if it is just us but A9 shutter sounds more fragile from our observation.
We use Godox triggers for our OCF work and find the system excellent in every way especially at this price point. This set fires every single time as opposed to Pocket Wizards TT1 / TT5 which we have been using for the last five years. We tend to use the Xpro for commercial work and X1T for weddings mainly because X1s has got so called shoot through hot shoe. This allows us to stick on camera flash which makes it a great addition for dance floor madness (shutter dragging etc).
Sony A9 + Zeiss 35mm 1.4 @ f/2.8 1/50s ISO 1250
Sony A9 + 24-70mm G Master @ f2.8 1/200s ISO 1250
Sony A9 + 28mm f2 @ f2.5 1/30s ISO 2500
We hope you liked the above review – Feel free to leave your questions and / or comments below. We will try to answer it asap or may even consider an update should you wish us to add something we have not covered.