Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Sony A6000 Mirrorless Camera - To Buy, or Not To Buy?

To spice things up for shooting photos at the US Open, I decided to rent a totally different camera setup than I usually use. I went with a Sony A6000 mirrorless camera and a 18-200mm Lens, all rented through BorrowLenses.com. I couldn't be happier with the deal: for about $200 I got to try $2,000 worth of equipment for a week. It was a nice splurge and I'd use the service again if I had the necessity.

Clearly, one of the goals of the rental was to do an extended field test to see if was time to replace my Canon t3i with a shiny new camera. Here are the results of that little test:

3 Reasons I Must Buy This Camera Today

1. Speed. Everything about the A6000 seems faster than my t3i. The 11 frames per second of shooting power blows away my t3i's 3 frames per second. The focusing is far faster; heck some say it's the fastest available on any camera (or more likely, was the fastest option available). Even reviewing photos in the camera is faster, with none of the lag the t3i has when you hit the next and previous buttons.

2. The viewfinder shows you what the picture is going to look like. I didn't even know I needed this feature, or that this was a feature. And then I read this comment:

This is a TRUE live view camera. That means it has the ability to show you the shot, including white balance and exposure BEFORE you take it….it can do this INSIDE the EVF, which makes it, for creative shooters, INFINITELY better than any SLR of any brand.

This only works if the Viewfinder is set to MANUAL. And if you shoot on “aperture priority,” you’ve completely missed the most valuable feature on this camera.

Turn your viewfinder to MANUAL, set your ISO, white balance and aperture, and finally adjust your exposure with the shutter speed. SEE the changes to exposure in REAL TIME, not just helping you set exposure, but leading you to compositions and lighting decisions you would have missed with ANY SLR.

And it's true: switch to manual mode and peer through the viewfinder and you see what the photo on the current settings will produce. As you fiddle with the shutter speed and aperture, the image changes. When you hit the shutter button, what you capture is what you were seeing. The comment is incorrect though, aperture priority doesn't negate this feature. Selecting different aperture values shows you the corresponding change in depth of field. It's all pretty dang amazing. And, no surprise, it's fast.

Thing is, this is more than a neat parlor trick. I've lost a number of really important photos due to nudging the mode dial of my camera from AV to M. So here I am, shooting away on AV mode as I expect and then randomly, I end up on M mode. I keep shooting away, except the settings are no longer even close to relevant. And when I finally go back to review the photos, I'm devastated to learn that I've been shooting on totally invalid settings for the last X number of shots.

With the a6000, this simply isn't possible. Switching to manual mode by accident would show you an incorrectly exposed image in the viewfinder.

3. The physical controls are a pleasure to use. The t3i has a single dial which can be used for controlling shutter speed or aperture. And it works. But the a6000 has multiple dials along with multiple buttons waiting for you to customize them. With little effort, I was able to setup the camera in a way that was fast and easy to use.

3 Reasons Why I Should Hold Off on Buying the a6000

1. Size and weight. Yes, the camera is definitely more compact than my t3i. But by adding the relatively bulky 18-200mm lens, there's only negligible size and weight savings. The a6000 with a compact prime lens is probably a joy to carry around, but realistically, if I'm bringing a real camera I want real focal length choices. That means bringing something telephoto along, which means adding bulk. My options remain unchanged: shoot with my cell phone and have no extra bulk; or bring a camera body and a couple of lenses, and have vastly more shooting options. The a6000 doesn't change this equation in a meaningful way.

2. Features. Man, the a6000 does it all! HDR shots, Panoramic shots, color effects, WiFi and my favorites: intelligent auto and superior auto (for when intelligent just isn't superior enough!). Heck, it even runs apps (whatever those are). I like an expert feature as much as, if not more so, than the next guy. But I've had enough cameras to know that the vast majority of these features will go unused. At the end of the day, the camera needs to shoot aperture priority mode well, and probably not a whole lot more.

3. Last year's photos were better. This one hurts on a number of levels. When I look at last year's photos of the US Open and this year's photos, I like the last year's better. I know it's not truly a fair comparison: the lighting was different, I was sitting in different locations, I was going after different shots. But still, the t3i snapped off some really sharp photos, and many of this year's shots were just OK.

This probably speaks less to the a6000 and more to my skills (or lack there of), as well the limitations of any camera. I just know that for all the game changing features of the a6000, none of them really produced photos that I wasn't able to capture with my t3i.

So do I need to drop everything and buy a Sony a6000 today? Alas, no. But it did open my eyes to a world out there that's pretty dang amazing.

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