The last DSLR I owned was the Sony A-850 back in 2011. At the time, it was at the cutting edge of sensor technology. It had a 24-megapixel sensor that could be cranked to ISO 6400 (to truly awful result) with a huge bright optical viewfinder and some really cool Minolta and Sony lenses like the Sony 135mm f\1.8 and the Minolta 200mm f\4 Macro and on and on. That was the last full-frame DSLR Sony ever rolled out.
Shortly after that, Sony began the great mirrorless debacle. There were A-mount translucent mirror cameras, e-mount mirrorless cameras that could use A-mount lenses and other lenses with various adapters. The early e-mount cameras were touted for their tiny size but what went along with this new line of mirrorless cameras was a lack of usable auto-focus, long black out periods while shooting and almost no native lenses. For the Sony and Minolta faithful these were the wilderness years. Like the Israelites marching endlessly through the desert, we Sony shooters trudged despairingly from one mirrorless camera mirage to the next always hoping to reached the promised land of a competent full frame mirrorless camera. And then finally in 2017 there was the A9! Can I get a hallelujah? And we were there. Of course, after renting the A9 and proving that it was real (to torture the religious metaphor further) like Doubting Thomas, I then waited until the A7 III was available to save a thousand bucks. But finally, life was good. I started to round out my lens collection and anticipate being able to get more specialized lenses in e-mount, things like 200 – 600mm zooms and long macro lenses.
But just to prove that the Sony mirrorless line had arrived, the DSLR heavy hitters Nikon and Canon rolled out full-frame mirrorless cameras with their own new mounts. And this proves the point because this was the only way for Nikon and Canon to prevent their users from jumping ship. It is now possible to get all the advantages that mirrorless provides like an electronic viewfinder that works in any light level from pitch black to direct sun without sacrificing the advantages that DSLRs provided, like excellent autofocus and professional lenses. You might think this competition from Nikon and Canon would bother me. A Sony fanboy would fear the competition from its rivals would harm his brand. But in actuality, it will force Sony to step up their game. For instance, I foresee Sony improving the weather-sealing on their A9 level cameras to compete head to head with the mirrorless cameras that their competitors make. But by the same token Nikon and Canon are going to have to provide sensors at Sony’s level even in more modest cameras.
And finally, this new situation takes away the biggest detraction that Nikon and Canon used in the past, that the only real cameras were DSLRs. Without a doubt they were the ones who blinked first in this staring contest. Sony no longer has to prove mirrorless is better. Canon and Nikon just did. So, here’s my prediction. In ten years, there won’t be a single new full frame DSLR camera to be bought. I would have said five years but as in everything else I am conservative.
This post is only for the long suffering Sony A-mount users. You know who you are. You bought the A900 or the A850 and you were looking forward to Sony re-issuing all those great Minolta lenses and competing head to head with the Nikon D3S. You saw nothing but upside from a technology powerhouse like Sony improving the DSLR. And then they pulled the rug out from under you. Translucent mirrors that lost a half stop of light. LED viewfinders that lagged by a second or two when you triggered the shutter. And then the true mirrorless camera with contrast detect autofocus that didn’t focus. The NEX series that was unbelievably small but suffering from all these problems. And then the A7 cameras. Series one then series two. Painstaking progress. Slowly the potential of the mirrorless becoming real but always something still missing. And then the A9 the camera that had all the pieces! And a $4,500 price tag!
But now, the A7 III. Oh my brothers I just must joyously exclaim. It is a real camera made by Sony. Hallelujah, hallelujah, halleleujah. The joy of picking a point in the viewfinder, half-pressing
the shutter and seeing the autofocus work instantly and precisely. I could barely see the result through my tears of joy. Huzzah, huzzah. Never again would I focus, then magnify, then manually refocus to save the shot. Now I go through the pictures afterward and every shot is perfectly focused. And ISO 800 and 1600 and 3200 are perfectly usable and even ISO 6400 is often fine! And if I want to do a macro shot with a non macro lens I use magnify to get precise focus on the exact spot I want and the 24 megapixels give me plenty of room to crop.
Nirvana, Valhalla, Heaven, Elysium, Paradise. I’m home. I don’t need to wait or hope or give up and change systems. It’s done. I’m there.
Sony you are finally forgiven for keeping me out in the wilderness all these years.
Shooting with extremely long lenses like the 150-600mm Sigma requires higher shutter speed and to compensate for this, higher ISO levels are required. This gave me a chance of seeing the result of using 6,400 and 10,000 (and higher) ISO sensitivities. And I will tell you I am extremely impressed. I have a hummingbird picture at 6,400 that is perfectly fine. I’m sure if I subjected it to very close scrutiny and blew it up to 200% I’d find issues. And that would be crazy. My point is this camera has really excellent 6,400 ISO results. The next test is to take some photos at that sensitivity in a low light indoor environment. If it passes that test then this is the camera I was looking for when I was looking for a successor for the Sony A-850 in 2011. The A850 was a great camera. It had a best in class 24 megapixel sensor and shot beautiful 100 ISO photos. Even 200, 400 and even kinda sorta 800 ISO photos were also very good. but try to take photos in a restaurant at 100 or even 800 ISO. You’ll have motion blur and worse. So I used to take 3,200 and 6,400 ISO shots that looked like a Monet painting with color noise swirling around everything. I tried to convince myself that I liked the result but it was pathetic. Now here I am a mere seven years later and all’s right with the world. Well, that’s assuming the indoor tests go as hoped. That also assumes the low light autofocus is as advertised. Stay tuned. Results will follow soon.