The Long Road to Full-frame: One Year In

It’s late 2019 and it’s been a bit over a year since I caved in and took the leap to Full-frame. This article is an update to a lengthy post over on the Cruise Critic Photo & Camera Discussions forum right after we returned from an Ireland to Iceland cruise on the Reflection and I thought that I would take a moment and reflect on the first year with my new little photo buddy.

In my earlier articles I outlined that I have been a Minolta/Sony shooter for most of my life. My first SLR was a Minolta SRT-101 and my last SLR was a Minolta Maxxum 7Xi. After a five-year hiatus with digital digicams (Minolta), my first DSLR was a Konica/Minolta 7D and My last one was a Sony A77. I was an early adopter of mirrorless with a NEX 5, NEX 7, A6000 and A6300. All excellent APS-C cameras. The last two were good enough to retire the A77 for good. I passed on the full-frame Sonys when they came out because they honestly didn’t have the bang for the buck to tip the scales for me. A couple of years ago, the A9 shocked me into paying attention again and when the A7III was announced, I took a long look at the specs, sold all my Somy/Minolta A-Mount stuff and ordered it. I also ordered the FE 24-105 f/4 G which has seldom left the camera since then. I still shoot with my A6300 so I thought I would compare my impressions on whether my original price/performance benefit estimate was close.

Handling: The A7III is easy. I have fairly normal-sized hands that fall somewhere around a comfortable L in men’s and the camera feels really good in my hands. The grip is comfortable and I have noticed that the crick in my middle finger caused by thirty-plus years of holding SLR/DSLRs at relaxed ready hasn’t come back. (Went completely away with the NEX and A6x00 cameras.) My hands are wide enough that my pinky curls under the A6x00 bodies and there isn’t enough of a height increase on the A7III to prevent this but the camera isn’t heavy enough to make this a problem for me. As for heavy, I mentioned before that the camera/lens combo only outweighs the A6300 with the 18-105 f/4 by about a pound. Same Pac-Safe bag as before and I can’t tell the difference on my back. Carrying the camera cross-body all day? Same thing. I don’t really notice it. It took me most of the year to start using the front dial and hey, that’s a nice-to-have after all. I have still never used the touchscreen. Probably would if it were like a phone and could do menus and such but I never had one on a camera and don’t miss it. After customizing the buttons and populating My Menu, I have only had to go into the menu stacks a few times and never while out shooting. Reviewers whine about how many menu settings there are, but they are fairly logical and if it was short on settings, reviewers would whine about lack of sufficient settings. Reviewers whine. My theory about why reviewers complain about Sony menus is supported every time I try to use a friend’s Canon or Nikon to snap a picture. My long experience with Sony menus makes the menus confusing and illogical. Windows guy on a Mac? Same thing. Could Sony’s menus be better organized? Very much so. Do they prevent me from taking the pictures I want to take. No. The settings I use habitually are easy to get to and fast to adjust. Happy camper.

Performance: Yeah. Pretty darned awesome. There’s a reason that every new camera remotely near its price-point gets still gets compared to the A7III. The autofocus (especially with the new firmware) is exceptional. It isn’t perfect but it is so much closer than anything I have used to date. Eye-AF is uncanny in all but the worst light and action tracking at my grandson’s sporting events makes sorting through burst sequences harder than ever (they’re mostly all good now).

Eye-AF updated…one second between, “hey Jackie” and shy hands over face.

In normal light, the colors and dynamic range are great. Colors in less than optimal light have staying power. Low-light performance is one of the reasons it attracted me originally and I have not been disappointed. Do I wish it was better? Yes. If it was better, would I wish it was better? Yes. Let’s just say again that there’s a reason they compare other cameras to the A7III, even when they use the same Sony sensor. Battery life is not an issue. I have yet to use an entire battery in a day. I will swap out for a spare when it drops under 30% but not out of necessity and not more than once that I remember. Note: when accidently left on, it really doesn’t seem to sap the battery. The few ventures into fairly heavy rain haven’t resulted in any issues. I haven’t shot for hours standing in pouring rain mostly because I know enough to come in out of it. Mom taught me well. I didn’t seem to have any issue when we were outside for hours in 27° F with a strong wind blowing spray from waterfalls while the sky spitting snow. The camera didn’t even flinch. I did. A little.

Cold, wet and windy. The camera did better than I did.

Lenses: My choice of the FE 24-105 f/4 was a good one. It is quiet, fast, accurate and very sharp, even wide open. The fluorine coating on the front element doesn’t let much of anything stick. I also picked up the 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 G telephoto, but frankly it works so well on the A6300 that I have taken it out on the A7III only once to date. I will say that Sony has learned how to make lenses. Very pleased.  I have since been researching and budgeting for one of the G-Master Zooms. I will probably end up with the 70-200 f/2.8 over the 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 since it can stand in as an excellent portrait lens if needed. An ultra-wide zoom is planned as well. The 12-24 f./4 Sony is pretty darned good and the third-party offerings from Tamron and Sigma do nothing to make the choice easy. The ultra-wide will probably come first since the 70-300 is actually quite good.

In conclusion: No regrets. The price/performance metric is actually better than I expected. It wasn’t a cheap journey but the sale of the A-Mount stuff helped a lot. There was a small learning curve centered around critical focusing since I haven’t had to deal with the shallower depth of field since the film days (2000). The images captured in good light don’t blow the A6300 out of the water but when light gets scarce, those big, fat pixels sure suck up what little there is.

Walking around a car show after sunset. Hand-held at 1/60s – f/5.6 – ISO 8000.

All in all, I have been very pleased that I took the leap. The camera still requires that I go stand somewhere, point it at something and push the shutter but the results I get from doing that are very consistent and of excellent technical quality as long as I do my job as a photographer. I still take the occasional what-the-hell-was-I-thinking shot, but that’s on me. Shooting with a camera like the A7III fixes the blame for crappy shots firmly on the big organic aiming device where it belongs.

I would like to add that I moved to the A7III for performance reasons. If Sony had produced an APS-C camera that equaled the focusing performance and low-ISO ability, I would have likely continued to pass on full-frame. But they didn’t. Now that I made the leap, I’m probably in it for good. Sony may release a killer APS-C camera this year and I may very well buy one as long as the price/performance is far enough above my A6300. I still shoot with the A6300 and find that a great APS-C camera with the same mount is a fantastic Full-frame accessory. Sort of a 1.5X teleconverter with a camera built in. It is also handy when you want an excellent camera but circumstances don’t allow for a larger kit. 

You know how you never notice a particular model of something until you own one and then they are everywhere? That never happened with my Minolta cameras and early mirrorless bodies. What has surprised me since the A6000 and now the A7III is the growing number of Sony cameras I see “in the wild”. I have been used to being the Lone Ranger and not letting the knowing smiles bother me when I said I shoot Sony. It turns out the A7III has developed a considerable reputation and it may force me to sit down and develop a knowing smile of my own.

If you’re interested. Here’s a link to our recent trip where 87% of the posted photos were taken with the A7III/24-105 combo:

Ireland to Iceland 2019

Happy shooting!

Dave