Posts about Sony

The Canon R3, Sony A1, and the future

Toronto skyline during sunset

I was surprised and excited earlier this week to see the announcement of Canon’s new EOS R3 camera. I was expecting them to announce their flagship R1 camera (which would sit alongside their 1D series), but instead, Canon has surprised me with a new” product line.

The 3‑series moniker has been used by Canon before, but not since 1998. (In fact, they never made a digital 3‑series camera.) The R3 incorporates the EOS-3’s headlining feature: Eye Control AF. Eye Control AF essentially uses the position of the photographer’s eye in the viewfinder to dictate autofocus placement. If it works well (the 1998 implementation was not always well-received, but it’s been more than 20 years since), I think this could be a game changer.

Not only that, but this looks like a 1D-series camera: it has an integrated battery grip. On the Sony camera I used to own, I bought their battery grip separately to make the camera more comfortable for me to hold. Canon’s cameras fit my hands much more naturally, but I’d still be very interested in something a little bigger.

But I’m way more excited about two other features in this camera: 30 FPS shooting and the Stacked CMOS sensor.

30 FPS shooting means that this camera should compete directly with Sony’s technologically-breathtaking A1 on at least some level. The A1 is Sony’s flagship, though, and the R3 will not be Canon’s flagship. I’m taking 30 FPS on the R3 as a statement that Canon can outdo the A1 whenever they release their R1 flagship camera (next year, perhaps).

The Stacked CMOS sensor is even more interesting. For years, Canon has been behind in sensor tech. Stacked CMOS leaps over the BSI technology Sony used for years and skips an entire sensor generation. More importantly, Canon designed and will manufacture the chip themselves. Unlike Nikon’s sensors, this won’t be a Sony gizmo.

This will be the first Canon sensor with backside illumination, which will help dramatically with low light shooting (an area where Sony still edges out, in my opinion). But it’s also going to be a boon for overall sensor speed. That Stacked CMOS sensor is undoubtedly how Canon is getting to 30 FPS.

There are some obvious questions that remain from this announcement:

  1. What is the megapixel count? (I don’t need more than 20 – 30mp, but I’m curious who the intended market is for the R3.)
  2. Does it record video? Of what quality, and with what limitations?
  3. Does it have a flip-out screen?
  4. When can we get one?
  5. What’s it cost?

That being said, there are some less obvious questions that are more interesting to me:

  1. The R3 already looks an awful lot like what I expected the R1 to be. In fact, my mirrorless R6 performs quite similarly to Canon’s flagship 1D Mark III dSLR. Canon’s new bodies are exceptional, but clearly they think they can make them even better. How much space is left above the R3 for an even better camera?
  2. If the R3 competes with Sony’s A1, does the R1 sit in a new class of its own?
  3. If Canon can surprise us with an in-house Stacked CMOS sensor, does that make the rumours about their global shutter more likely to be accurate? (That would be incredible.)
  4. How does a Stacked CMOS sensor change the familiar attributes of Canon’s cameras? For me, Canon’s approach to colour and exposure is more intuitive than Sony’s. How much of that is because of their (admittedly outdated) sensor tech? Will any of these positive attributes get worse?

The past couple years have been the most interesting years for camera bodies in two decades. I’m extremely excited about the R3, but largely because it represents an even bigger change in the lineup. It means that Canon isn’t resting on their laurels — likely because of Sony’s aggressive market reach and increasing dominance in the mirrorless sensor. As a fan of both companies and an owner of Canon’s system, nothing could excite me more.

Goodbye Sony: An Exit Review of my Sony A7 iii

At 10am on August 24th, I walked out of my favourite camera store with the new R6, the RF 24 – 70 f2.8, the RF 70 – 200 f2.8, and the RF 15 – 35 f2.8. It was a complete swap: I sold all my equivalent Sony gear, including my GM lenses, and moved over to Canon wholesale.

I had been using Sony’s critically-lauded A7iii since its release, and had migrated to Sony from Nikon (which I had shot with for almost a decade). At the time, moving to Sony made sense: Nikon’s mirrorless offerings were not impressive, and Sony made their best sensors. I figured it would be a pretty easy maneuver.

And it was! The switch felt natural and easy. Once I set it up to my liking, the Sony system felt pretty easy to use. Some of their lenses are truly fantastic (although not all — more on that in a bit), and once you learn their menus, it all becomes second nature pretty quickly.

I shot many thousands of images with my Sony gear — somewhere over 100,000 shots in just a couple years. It’s good. The dynamic range is excellent, the batteries last a long time (in their newer cameras), and the surrounding community of Sony shooters is filled with knowledgable and helpful people. For all I know, Sony’s cameras might be right up your alley.

With that all being said, I’d like to tell you why I sold all my Sony gear.

Statues in Bangkok

Ergonomics and usability

First of all: Sony gear is not fun to use. I don’t know what it is. It might be the build materials. It could be the ergonomics. It might be that the body is a feather, but the lenses weigh a ton. (That being said, even a small, lightweight lens didn’t make the Sony more fun to shoot with for me.)

Somehow, shooting with the camera became a chore. I never felt like using it outside of work. I didn’t like the way the buttons felt (for some reason, the AF-ON butt was so hard to hold down). I could never get a good grip on it. The whole thing was too small; my pinky finger never knew where to go.

I ended up buying Sony’s battery grip — not because I needed the extra battery power, but because adding the extra weight and bulk gave it some much-needed mass. I could at least rest my pinky on it. The battery grip also doubled my battery life. The battery life on the Sony is insane, by the way. With two batteries, I could shoot for three days.

Woman taking photo

I couldn’t use the Sony camera without a strap, because the grip wasn’t big enough for my fingers to wrap all the way around it. And if my fingers did wrap all the way around it, the shutter release button was right beneath my middle fingertip.

That brings me to changing lenses: it’s painful. Sony’s markers on their lenses are hard to see, impossible to feel, and not in line with any of the lens’ switches or buttons. After years of swapping lenses, I never got the hang of it.

An image of four men sitting in a semicircle on a church stage. The pews are filled with people looking on.

To make matters worse: Sony doesn’t close the shutter when the camera is off, so when you’re changing lenses, the sensor is exposed the entire time. Switching lenses is cumbersome and always takes longer than I expect, so dust gets on the sensor. Even if you can change lenses quickly, this is unavoidable. I had to clean my Sony’s sensor all the time. All the time: every month at least, sometimes every week. Guess how many times I ever had to clean my old Nikon’s sensor.

Editing Sony files

A lot has been said about whether Sony’s colour science is accurate or inaccurate. Honestly, I don’t care. I shoot RAW and I edit my colours in post. But on the Sony, that’s not easy. Adobe’s profiles in Lightroom are terrible for Sony’s cameras. The oranges are much too close to red, and there’s something wrong with the blue curve. I spent years fighting this.

A man and woman kiss in front of a small waterfall and pond.

Eventually, I moved to Capture One. Capture One is known for its colour editing prowess. Even with Capture One, I could never get the colours to look right: oranges still looked weird, and the blue curve was still way off.

A black and white image of a large event hall. The screen is lit with colour and says "Creative Mornings Toronto" on it.

One should not judge their camera by their editing software, but honestly, if you have to move mountains to edit your camera’s files, something is wrong. 

Something else is off about the files. Even on my iMac Pro, which is a beast of a computer, the files were difficult to work with. It didn’t matter what editing app I used; somehow, my iMac would also demonstrate lag while editing. Brushes in Lightroom, Photoshop, and Capture One were particularly painful. Eventually, I just came to the conclusion that the .ARW files Sony compresses their RAW data into are probably difficult to work with. I can’t think of any other reason I’d have issues like this.

Shooting quirks

Sony also expects you to slightly underexpose all your images if you want to get the most dynamic range possible out of your images. Why? Because if you underexpose, you’ll save your highlight data, and they’re very confident about their cameras’a ability to preserve shadow detail. You can get a lot of shadow detail out of Sony’s cameras without adding any additional colour noise, which is great, but it has some obvious downsides.

A man in a suit and a woman in a wedding dress pose in front of a wall of very green leaves.

First, it makes the exposure preview in the viewfinder a little difficult to use at times, particularly if you’re shooting indoors. That being said, you can quickly disable that in the menu if you need to. It’s also one extra thing you need to adjust every time you edit an image.

The latter is what’s most bothersome for me: it’s another thing to edit. I want to spend less time editing, and more time shooting.

I nearly forgot to tell you about the software bugs I had too. Here’s a brief list of the rare, recurring bugs that derailed my client shoots:

  • The camera didn’t recognize its battery and threw an error. Fixed with reboots. This happened all the time.
  • The camera didn’t recognize the on-brand battery grip. This bug manifested itself by making all my photos green. Fixed by taking the grip off and screwing it back on. 
  • Without displaying an error, the camera would silently fail to save images to either SD card. This is maybe the worst bug I could ever imagine. To fix it, I would remove both SD cards from their slots and — I kid you not — blow in the slots like it was an N64. This happened twice in two years, and this bug was the final straw before I decided to switch. 
  • The shutter doesn’t close when you turn the camera off. I know I mentioned this already, and I know it’s intentional design, but it’s such a poor design that it’s basically a bug — so I’m treating it as one. Sony’s solution is to sell you an A9 II, apparently. 

There are other quirks when you’re shooting, too. For example: if I held the AF-ON button or the pressed the shutter halfway to focus, I wouldn’t be able to adjust any of my exposure settings without releasing the focus button. So sometimes I would remove my finger from the shutter, make my changes, and miss the shot. That’s one example of a minor usability issue, but things like this are important! It’s what separates trusted and reliable gear from broken refrigerators.

Also, while I’m being being picky: I appreciated the tilting screen, but longed for the flexibility of a flip out screen every time I was getting low for portraits or landscapes. Plus, the touch screen on my A7 III was so bad as to be useless. I turned it off two days into ownership and never looked back. 

Some notes on lenses

I also wanted to quickly mention the lenses I shot with. Out of all of them, my far-and-away favourite were Sony’s wide angles. Their 16 – 35mm f2.8 GM lens was, at the time, the best lens I’d ever owned.

An image of the CN tower poking out from behind the TD buildings.

That being said, Sony’s lenses were less impressive in the telephoto ranges. I didn’t buy their 24 – 70GM because, after trying both, I thought Tamron’s 28 – 75 outshone it. Even the Tamron’s images left something to be desired; they never sparked any creative muscles in me.

I used Sony’s 70 – 200mm f2.8 GM extensively as well; it was probably my most used lens. It was very good up until 135mm, where it started to get soft. By 200mm, it was essentially smeared with vaseline — especially indoors. This was not limited to my copy of the lens. I rented seven different copies of this lens and can confirm they all display the same issues.

The Toronto skyline at sunset with pastel yellows and blues in the sky.

As far as lens recommendations for the Sony system, I can heartily recommend the 24mm GM prime, the 55mm prime, the 135mm GM, and the aforementioned 16 – 35 f2.8 GM.

Issues like a painfully small grip, or trouble swapping lenses, or even difficult editing workflows are not easy to discover on day one. Issues like this are death by a thousand paper cuts: these are small things that, cumulatively, become big over time. By the time Canon announced the new R5 and R6, I was eager to make a move.

Sony’s new telephoto lenses

Sony is plugging some of the last holes in their mirrorless lens lineup today with the announcement of their new 200 – 600mm F5.6 – 6.3 and 600mm F45 lenses. These lenses look quite nice — at the very least, they’re competitive with the offerings from Nikon and Canon.

I’m not the target market for the 600mm lens, but the 200 – 600mm lens looks great. The variable aperture isn’t extreme, which is fantastic. (I’m aware this isn’t the first lens of this kind, but it’s the first for the Sony system, so let me be happy.) 

With that telephoto, you could now buy the trinity from Sony for pro work, and get a large telephoto for wildlife and birding and be good to go. The pricing on that model is fair too. Altogether, a much more sensible lens than the 70 – 300mm Sony’s had for a couple years — so long as it will fit in your camera bag. Plus, if you’re a crazy person who needs a 900mm focal length, the lens is compatible with tele-converters.1

I thought $13k seemed a little high for the 600mm lens, but it’s in line with Canon’s offering (and I bet it’s just as good). I want to complain about the price, but both these prices are more or less what I’d expect from Sony: pricey, but fair (for the 200 – 600mm) and eye-watering, outrageously expensive (for the 600mm).

Also, don’t miss DP Review’s interview with Sony’s Yasuyuki Nagata about the optical design of these lenses. As usual, the editor’s note after the interview is a well-written analysis of the playing field.

Out of all the obvious focal lengths, this just leaves us without a 35mm f1.8. Sony’s lens design team has been on fire recently, and I’m pretty stoked on what they can pull off.

  1. I am exactly this sort of crazy person. ↩︎

The Sony Store

The Verge has a really amazing article filled with pictures of Sony products from their exhibit in the Sony Building in Ginza, Tokyo.

These products are gorgeous. Here are a few that I’ve borrowed from Verge (all credit goes to Sam Byford, who I’m guessing took all the photographs).

Man, does this all have me reminiscing.

The Playstation 1

The first PlayStation was an amazing product. My uncle had one (I think he still has). Visiting him and hanging out in his condo was the thing to do when I was a kid. He had a copy of NHL 95 (in all its glory), Crash Bandicoot 3, and one of the first NASCAR games for PlayStation.

An image of a wall covered with different proprietary Sony media formats

It almost makes Apple’s proprietary stuff look like hobbies by comparison. Look at this wall of proprietary formats! Insane!

An e-reader made by Sony

The Verge says Sony beat Amazon to the e‑reader market by a few years with this thing. It still looks so good.

A Sony Bravia TV

Not that long ago, owning a Bravia meant your family had made it. The Bravia meant you had succeeded and could afford one of the grandest niceties of suburban culture. (My parents still have one of the original Bravia TVs in their living room.)

A clock radio made by Sony

There will never be a more beautiful clock radio.

My home town doesn’t have an Apple Store in its mall, and the only place you could buy any of it in the early 2000s was driving over an hour to get to Toronto. So the closest thing we had to a luxury technology store” was the Sony Store. There were three of them within a thirty minute drive of us.

I loved that store. No matter which mall we were in, I would head down to the Sony Store and see what stuff they were working on. I did this even after I started using Macs and iPhones, because Sony was always so cool. Even when they were losing their lustre, they continued to experiment with the weirdest, coolest, and most expensive ideas.

The VAIOs were stunning. I wanted one when I was younger. To date, they are the only Windows computers I ever saw that looked consistently elegant. I never owned one, but friends and family who had the pleasure of using them always told me how excellent they were compared to the rest of the market.

When I took a brief look at Windows laptops a couple months ago, I was sad the VAIO lineups weren’t what they were when I was a teenager. The good old days”.

I don’t really know what happened to Sony. By all accounts, they did things right for a long time before veering off track. For a long time, even their weird stuff — like the MiniDisc Walkmen, one of which I owned — were really cool. They worked so well, and for their time, they oozed innovation and coolness.

For a couple years, walking around with a Sony Walkman was still the cool thing” to do when I was in school. Until suddenly it wasn’t. The iPod became all the rage almost overnight.

The thing is, some of these Sony products wouldn’t look out of place in an Apple museum. These are beautiful machines.

I miss this version of Sony.