Meet the DSLR slayer — the Sony A7 mirrorless camera

Sony A7

This morning’s official unveiling of the new Sony A7 full-frame mirrorless camera makes it the latest, greatest, next big thing in digital photography. For once, however, the hype may meet expectations — Sony’s A7 and souped-up A7r may actually be game changers.

Until today, those who wanted a larger full-frame sensor (and its higher resolution) in an interchangeable lens system had to buy a DSLR or shell out the mega-bucks for a Leica rangefinder. While the Sony A7r isn’t cheap ($2,298 body only), it’s several hundred less than the comparable Nikon D800 (both cameras boast effective resolutions of a whopping 36 megapixels) or the even more expensive Canon 5 D Mark III. Likewise, the A7 ($1,698 body only) is priced to compete with the Nikon D600 and Canon 6D.

The question isn’t whether the Sony A7r can out-perform the D800 today. It’s what will the 2nd and 3rd generation full-frame mirrorless cameras (and lenses) look like when they hit the market in the next three to five years?

Sony just upped the ante

HDR photography guru Trey Ratcliff, who a couple years ago famously heralded the demise of the DSLR, answered the question of whether he was switching to the A7r with an emphatic “Yes! Absolutely!”

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There was a time not so long ago where the choice for “serious” photographers simply came down between a Nikon or Canon DSLR (because how many of us can actually afford a Leica?). That’s hardly the case today, with a growing number of photographers embracing the new wave of smaller, lighter mirrorless cameras from the likes of Sony and its competitors–Olympus, Fuji, Panasonic, Pentax and Samsung.

These lightweight, high-performing mirrorless cameras aren’t the cameras of the future, they’re the cameras of the right-here-and-now. It will be interesting to see the ripple effect Sony’s new full-frame mirrorless will have on the market and how long it takes for other companies to similarly double-down. Jaron Schneider on the FStoppers blog guesses Fuji, Samsung and Hasselblad will

The race to win the high-end mirrorless market is exciting to watch. Incredibly, Nikon and Canon aren’t even serious contenders, at least not for now.

It’s not the gear … mostly

Deciding on what gear to invest your hard-earned cash in is probably the biggest  decision you can make as a photographer. Yeah, I know it’s not the gear that makes a good photographer, but, let’s face it, you still need some kind of gear. And unless money isn’t a concern for you, you’re probably not going to buy into more than one system.

All the advances and new products are a bit dizzying for us amateurs and hobbyists. Which horse do you bet on? Which company is going to produce the best lenses? Because just like with DSLRs, the smart investment is on glass, not bodies.

Earlier this year, I bought an Olympus O-MD E-M5 and several lenses (17 mm, 45 mm, 75mm, 100-300mm, plus the 12-50mm kit lens) all for the price for what I would have paid for a Nikon D800 and one lens. I wrestled with the decision of whether to buy an Olympus or Fuji kit or move to a Nikon D600 or D800. I went with the E-M5 and I couldn’t be happier. I haven’t touched my Nikon D7000 since I started using my Olympus.

Is it because the Olympus micro four-thirds system out performs the Nikon? Absolutely not. On paper, the discontinued D7000 kicks the E-M5’s ass in several critical areas — sensor size, ISO performance, auto-focus speed, dual storage slots, higher dynamic range and video capabilities.

So why did I switch? Well, I was at the point where I was considering investing in new lenses. Doing so, however, would mean sinking thousands of dollars into lenses for a system (the DSLR) that might be a relic in five years and certainly will be in 10. It didn’t seem like the smartest long-term investment. The more research I did and the more I looked at trends, it seemed smarter to move into a mirrorless system sooner rather than later.

Weighty matters

And when it came down to it, the Olympus is more than enough camera for my skill level. Accepting that took some major soul searching.

But the biggest reason I’ve fallen in love with the E-M5 is that at half the weight of the D7000, I never wish I had left the Olympus back in the hotel room when I’m traveling. On the other hand, I used to feel that way quite a bit when I traveled with my Nikon kit. I often asked myself why in the world was I lugging this heavy camera bag around instead of a point-and-shoot?

I’ll admit that Sony’s new offering has me wondering if I picked the wrong horse because Sony sure looks like it has one-upped Olympus’ newly-released standard bearer, the E-M1.

Will I rush out  and buy the Sony A7 or A7r? Not me. I wish I could afford to buy the Sony and Fuji systems, along with the E-M1, shoot them side-by-side for a couple months and decide which system I like best. Not going to happen. Instead, I’ll watch the market for the next year and then reassess my needs. For me, the best of all possible worlds would be for Olympus to find a way to put a full-frame comparable sensor into a micro four-thirds body.

I had always assumed that if I ever became skilled enough to be become a pro or semi-pro, I’d buy a full-frame Nikon or Canon DSLR. Now, no matter what direction photography takes me, I can’t imagine moving back to DSLRs.


Joe Newman

I'm Joe Newman, multi-media story teller, non-profit do-gooder, international street photographer, serious poker player, intrepid traveler. Bourbon drinker.