So on a recent trip to SoCal I found myself sitting on top of a giant boulder in the middle of Joshua Tree National Park. I was positioned right across from The Arch, a popular spot to use as a foreground while doing some astrophotography. Which, of course, is what I and my brother Drew of Trespass Photography were doing - camping out at White Tank, practicing and sharpening our skills and enjoying the vast, empty silence of the desert around us.
This was, by far, my best attempt while we were shooting at The Arch. Drew's shots seemed to be coming along nicely, and after he scrambled up to help me with some settings and check out my vantage, I went down and checked out what shots he was getting.
What I saw surprised me. The image quality on the back of his camera screen, before any fancy processing in Lightroom or Photoshop or anything like that, was very impressive. The pictures seemed so full of detail compared to mine.
See, I was shooting with my trusty Canon Rebel T1i. My wife and I bought this camera on our honeymoon roughly five years ago; the camera itself was made a year prior, making it six years old. It boasts roughly 15 MP; I had grown comfortable using the functions and settings to move beyond shooting in Aperture Priority and had started to use Manual settings. I liked this camera. I still do. I have a cheap but awesome portrait lens that I use to take pictures of my kids (the famous Canon 55mm f/1.8). I also have the very reliable yet inexpensive Canon 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6, by far my most-used lens with my preference for landscapes and cityscapes.
In short, while I had briefly entertained buying some new gear last year, I had not done so and was still feeling good about where I was at with my photography. I felt like I was at a plateau for the quality of my images, but that as long as I kept taking pictures of new places and things, everything was alright.
Until I saw the image on the back of Drew's camera.
This picture was so much fuller than the image on my screen. To quote Trey Ratcliff, it was so "buttery and delicious" that I knew I would be checking into a new investment when I got home. Matters only worsened when Drew began asking me about my camera; when he heard how long I had owned it, the gentle suggestion of "you should probably buy some new gear" combined with a chuckle resonated in my head long after leaving beautiful SoCal.
The above photo shows Drew, who was kind enough to climb this giant rock and give the image some perspective.
So check I did. I'm someone who loves what computers, and more specifically the Internet, has done for our ability to communicate, translate, research and explore. I poured through written reviews and watched a dozen more. I read what the professionals in the fields of photography I enjoy - landscape, cityscape, portraits - had to say, as well as what the average hobbyist thought. I compared specifications and models, weighed out prices and total costs for new setups versus sticking with my current Canon setup.
In the end, one particular type of camera kept standing out to me. Budgetary issues prevented me from going "whole hog" on my dream model, but I am confident that the path I chose will prove to be a fruitful one in keeping my photography in a constantly growing state.
I went with the relatively new Sony A7 II.
After so much research and reading and holding different cameras in person, I feel that this camera offers me the best value for my dollar and for the direction that I believe digital photography is headed.
I'm not going to continue espousing the values and specification of this great little camera. There are literally dozens of blog articles and videos you can find with a quick Google search that already do that (and do a fair job!). Instead, I am just going to explain why this camera works for me - why I went with it instead of something else.
As a Canon user for many years, it might make sense for me to stick with that brand. But as a hobbyist/semi-professional photographer, I hadn't acquired a lot of glass for my camera, and what I had purchased, while functional, was by no means top of the line stuff. Canon doesn't sponsor me (no one does), and I had no real ties to them other than my comfortability with their menu system on my old T1i. Drew shoots Canon as well, and on our trip to Joshua Tree he was using his new(er) 5D MK III. This is a beautiful camera, but seems to have similar functions and qualities that I found in the A7 II, for just over half of the price.
Plus, the A7 II from Sony can use ANY lens thanks to built-in image stabilization, which for me meant that no matter what good deals I came across in terms of lenses, I wouldn't have to pass any up - with the right adapter anything can be used on it. That's pretty awesome versatility!
Many of the detractors in the dozens of reviews and comments I researched didn't like the limited selection of native glass for the new Sony cameras. It has been close to 2 years since they were released and there's still only a dozen or so lenses. But for me, this wasn't a concern. I do mostly landscapes and cityscapes, so the new wide angle Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 covers a huge amount of my subject matter. The 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens got very high marks, so I made sure that was a part of the package I ordered. The only other pictures I like to take are portraits - mainly of my toddlers, but I am considering opening up my portfolio to try and do some work with individuals and families. Zeiss makes the infamous 55mm f/1.8 that is supposed to be the best lens yet for the new Sony Alpha line; I guess I will find out eventually!
I ordered through KEH. After much hemming and hawing about used versus new, used versus "open box" at Best Buy, and horror stories from eBay, I decided to bridge the gap. I can say that I am very, very impressed with KEH and will devote an entire post just to the process and my thoughts - nice job KEH!
So here I sit, on an unseasonably warm and beautiful November day. The leaves are changing, the weather is great - my kids are in shorts, tshirts and bare feet! - so I will just have to break out the new gear and have a mini photo shoot in the backyard.
Thanks for reading, check back soon for my nonprofessional review of KEH.com - used camera gear at a great price!