I’ve jumped ship.
Become a turncoat.
Become one of them.
I started photography in 2009 (I think) and at the time I was wandering lonely as a cloud, through the local branch of Jessops, when a member of staff happened to see me (these were the days when Jessops had more than 2 members of staff, including the back-office guy that just used to handle the printing machine), and took me through the sales patter.
In hindsight, I guess that week was “Sony sales are slipping, we need to focus on them” week, because that’s where the sales focus was … on Sony.
Once established that my pockets did indeed have a finite bottom, the deal was done and a few days later I returned to the shop to collect my prize … a matt-black A300.
I’m not going to know the A300 as once you get over the Sony pitfalls, it’s not a bad little entry level DSLR – and the tilting Live-View screen is pretty damn good too.
Over the course of the next few years, I discovered more about the Sony pitfalls as I found I had to invest in mediocre 3rd party gear, just to be able to take the photos that I wanted to take.
By the time I was ready to move on, I’d already spent a reasonable amount of hard earned money on lenses, adapters and other sundries … so I had to stick to Sony.
I scrapped the pennies from the bottom of the sofa (don’t tell my wife as I told her there was nothing there), and purchased an A700.
The A700 is several rungs up the Sony evolution ladder to the A300 – except that it didn’t have Live-View, which at the time I thought I could do without. Bigger body, better ergonomics, better weight, battery grip made by Sony instead of 3rd party only. A reasonable and decent camera, but let down by the Sony pitfalls.
Eventually, I purchased an A65, which is an SLT – it has a translucent mirror that stays in position, rather than a mirror that is lifted when you hit the shoot button – and an Electronic View Finder (EVF), and a few other toys. In some respects it was an upgrade to the A700, in others it was at the same level. But it still suffers from the Sony pitfalls …
The Sony pitfalls.
In my opinion, the Sony Alpha range suffers from the following
- Poor choice of genuine Sony accessories
- That damn Miniolta inverted hotshoe
There are probably many others, but these are the ones that had the greatest impact on me.
At the time, Sony did not make an intervelopmeter – which is a must for any kind of timelapse photography or astrophotography, you had to get 3rd party ones
Sony did not make radio triggers, so if you wanted to fire remote Strobist flashes outdoors in bright light, or outside of a set angle that the IR could see, or even out of the range of the IR … tough
Sony battery grips are not standard through the range – out of the 3 cameras I own, I can only get a Sony battery grip for the A700. Battery grips have a twofold benefit – they give you twice the amount of battery life (as there is two batteries) without interruption to what you are doing, and they normally provide additional controls for when you are shooting in portrait orientation (they normally have a duplicated shutter button which in effect, keeps the shutter button in the ‘normal’ place). Strangely, I was able to get a 3rd party grip for the A300, a Sony one for the A700, but the A65 was not built to accept a battery grip – you can’t remove the battery cover.
OK, on the scale of things, minor irritations, but irritations no less.
Then there is the biggy.
The Mother of all Things Unreasonable and Difficult.
Avid reader, I give you the Minolta Hotshoe.
When Sony took over Minolta cameras, they kept the lens fit (fair enough) and the inverted hotshoe (Nooooooooooooooo).
On the face of things, the inverted hotshoe seems like a minor irritation … until you come to
Buy a flash.
Or a radio / IR trigger.
Or a hotshoe spirit level.
Or mount a flash to a standard Strobist softbox
Most other cameras will accept any flash with a ‘standard’ hotshoe; it may not talk to the camera i.e. for ETTL, however it’ll go off when you hit the shoot button. Try that with the Minolta hotshoe …
There is a wide range of radio / IR triggers out there. However, only a very few make them with the inverted hotshoe.
A hotshoe spirit level is a wee little sprit level that sits on top of your camera as a levelling guide. Hundreds out there … again very few make them for the inverted hotshoe.
There is an answer to the inverted hotshoe: an adapter.
These convert the inverted hotshoe to a standard one, and they can be live (as it will carry a trigger signal through it from the camera to the device) or dumb (just a block of metal or plastic).
Are they made by Sony?
3rd party only
These are a cracking little thing, and without them I wouldn’t have been able to shoot as much as I did.
They are not without their pit falls though … reliability and height. Manufacturing can be poor so contacts can be unreliable, and they add additional height on to whatever you have connected. A spirit level isn’t an issue, but a full sized flash unit is as they can become unstable, especially if the manufacturer tolerances have been a bit generous.
You also then need an adapted to mount the flash on standard Strobist kit, as this tends to come with standard hotshoe mounting. Again this causes problems with height and reliability.
You can’t use 3rd party radio triggers with the Sony flashes – the flash as a little lever that when depressed, prevents the unit from working. Any adapter has to have a groove machined in to accommodate this lever. Good luck finding that first time. I never have. (I ended up using Yongu flashes – not eTTL, but radio triggering is more important to me than eTTL)
It’s such a little thing, and on the face of it, it seems like it’s not a major issue.
Try it yourself for a few months and see how frustrating it is, not being able to fire a studio flash head as you have forgotten your adapter … or you’ve borrowed a friend’s Strobist softbox and you can’t mount your flash …
I brought the A65 as I wanted to upgrade from the A700, and as Sony was edging towards an exclusive SLT / EVF, and as one popped up at an acceptable price, I thought I’d give it a go.
It’s not bad … although it’s not totally brilliant either.
It’s still got the inverted hotshoe, so all my existing Strobist kit still worked; it has a digital spirit level (a basic one, but better than nothing), Live View on a flip and rotate mount and video. Loads of software tricks – that didn’t work in RAW, so I never used them.
I’m not bothered about video, so I didn’t really use it, but from the few bits I shot, it was OK.
I have a Manfrotto tripod. I found that the width of the camera prevented the Live-View screen from being flipped down; if you mounted the camera on the tripod and then realised that the screen was facing the wrong way i.e. inwards, you needed to completely de-mount the camera to turn it. This also caused problems when the camera was mounted in portrait orientation as you could not flip the screen out to 90 degrees. Minor niggle, and one that you work around.
As mentioned before, no battery grip – which would have given enough height to get over the screen fouling – not to mention give better shoot life and make holding the thing easier. I’ve got mid-sized shovels as hands and I found I was always rubbing the back of my fingers against the lens as there is no real grip on the camera.
The SLT wasn’t too bad. I didn’t really notice much of a difference in operation.
The Electronic View Finder – EVF – now me and it didn’t really get on too well. The screen was noisy, even in bright light which could make focusing a bit of a challenge. Being EVF, it was not straight through the lens, so you saw what the finished image would be. The downside to this was that it meant that if you were shooting at f9 125sec ISO 100 in a studio, it would be unlikely that you could see anything without changing a setting, and thus affecting the end shot. You could turn this option off in the camera menu, and the camera would then automatically brighten the EVF image, but there was no warning displayed anywhere to say you had done this. I’d forgotten I’d done this several times and ended up missing shots.
Now after all this time, I’ve got used to the little quirks and irritations and have a plethora of adaptors etc.
So why would I jump ship?
The new Sony’s have a standard hotshoe.
This means that if I want to upgraded my DLSR, I would need to buy new flashes, and as I have inverted hotshoe triggers, new triggers.
I have a few of these flashes, and they are not cheap … to replace all of them would be the cost of another body, or a decent lens.
So I decided that if I have no choice but to replace a shed load of kit when I want to upgrade, then I might as well start again.
So I have.
I am now the happy owner of a Canon 7d.
The Yongu flashes are quite happy to work off the Canon as all I had to do was replace the transmitter unit for the radio triggers. And as the RX units already had standard hotshoe mounts, I don’t have to worry about them fitting on any other kit.
I needed to replace the intervalometer too, however a tenner from Amazon sorted that. I’ve also brought an Android app to control the camera from my phone or tablet through USB (am currently thinking about a wifi adapter and card).
Once you get over the cost of the body, lens and battery grip, it’s been cheaper for me to go to a better performing, better supported camera from a different brand, than to upgrade my Sony.
The above is based on my own personal experiences. On the whole, the Sony cameras have been pretty damn good, however for me, over time, the small niggles and difficulties have just become too much. Oh, that coupled with the hotshoe change.