Moving up to full frame

I’ve been in the photography world since I was in my early teens. At 13 I was using an OLD Kodak rangefinder camera to document my visit to the 1987 Twins World Series celebration. Soon though I saved up enough money from my assistant wedding photography gigs to purchase a Minolta X370, which was my pride and joy over a decade. I continued to work in photography retail and photo labs through college, eventually leaving the field when my life took some different turns and family life started to come first.

I got back into shooting in 2007 when I got my first digital SLR, a Pentax K100D. Diving back in and joined some “photo-a-day” communities, getting my chops back with regular challenges. I continued to shoot casually since then, making a transition to a mirrorless system (Sony a6000) in 2015. That little Sony has served me really well for 6 years, and I’ve loved shooting with it, but it was time for one more leap. The impetus for this change came when my son started going to photography school and needed a camera. He bought my old a6000 off of me and that spurred me into a search for what was next.

The easy answer would have been to simply step up into the Sony a6400 or a6600, but I really wanted to make the big leap up to full frame. I’m not going to go into all the details, but very quickly a full frame camera is one that has a sensor that is the size of old 35mm negatives. All of my other cameras had been smaller sensors, which are certainly adequate for someone who’s not earning a living off of photography. However, I wanted to try and step up my game.

I knew I wanted to stay in the Sony ecosystem for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the autofocus on Sony is really top of the line. As someone who does a lot of trail race photography I wanted an autofocus system that could keep up. Secondly, I really like the glass that you can get for Sony’s right now. In the past couple years there’s been some great lenses put out that are both reasonably priced and great quality.

Finally, there’s a bit of an emotional factor for Sony with me. My original baby was Minolta and when they merged with (and eventually got consumed by) Sony, it felt like the spiritual successor to the camera I loved as a young person. When I worked in retail photography I got to play with tons of different cameras, and that left me with strong opinions on the various brands. I never liked Nikon despite having some nice glass. Their camera interfaces, ergonomics, and value proposition just never appealed to me. Similarly, Canon always felt “cheap” to me back in the old Rebel film days, and it left me with a bad taste. I realize these are silly and arbitrary opinions, but it feeds into the emotion of wanting to stick with something I feel attached to.

Now that I got that weird memory dump out of the way, the next step was to decide where to enter the full frame world. I had four options I was considering.

  • Sony A7ii (used)
  • Sony A7iii
  • Sony A7C
  • Sony A7iv (coming out in December)

One of the biggest factors when going full frame is dealing with the cost difference. I’m in a position in my life where I can afford a full frame camera, but it’s not a decision to be taking lightly, especially since I don’t make a living off of this. That is what led me to consider a used A7ii. However, the lack of more modern autofocus features ended up steering me away from moving that far back in the lineup.

I also quickly dismissed waiting for the A7iv, since the chip shortage and general supply chain issues could really have put me out of a camera for a long time. Today was the day of the pre-release hands-on videos and I’m content with my decision to let this one slip by. Although there’s some cool features, I just can’t justify the extra expense to get the latest and greatest.

That left me with a choice between the A7iii and A7C. I played with both bodies at a local camera store and they both had their positives. The A7iii was lighter than I had anticipated, and the grip had a solid feel. Yet, the A7C maintained that comfortable rangefinder style feel that I had gotten used to with the a6000. Feature wise there wasn’t much difference between the two, as they both used the same sensors. However, the A7C had an updated autofocus system and a new color science process that really appealed to me.

In the end I decided to go with the A7C, and after having shot a trail race this past weekend, I’m super happy with my choice. The slightly more compact body felt great out on the trail, and despite some lack of customizations, the camera does everything I need it to do and more. Plus, it comes in a retro silver top color-way that screams classic 35mm cameras.

I picked up a nice Sony 85mm f/1.8 lens to use as my primary shooter (I love 85mm), as well as an inexpensive Tamron 24mm f/2.8. I considered the kit lens, but frankly, it’s way overpriced for the quality that you get. I’ll probably seek out a basic mid-range zoom in the future, but for now I’ll try and live within what I’ve got.

So, the big question is why did I want to move to full frame so much? I’ve watched hours of videos that talk about the differences between APS-C and full frame, and many of them all conclude that there’s not really a difference, and you can get a crop sensor to look the same. However, as I looked through hundreds of comparison shots I kept screaming, “But I can see a difference!” Maybe I’m just being overly picky, but there was something about the full frame images in every comparison that appealed to me more. And if I could see that difference, and take note of it, it was worth me making the investment to get what I really wanted.

I’ve got almost 2000 shots on the camera now and I’m loving it. I feel like this camera helped me make another little push into being able to capture the images I wanted, the way I wanted. I never want to suggest that the photographer doesn’t matter, and that it all is about the equipment. Nothing could be further from the truth. But sometimes just a small tweak to equipment can help you unlock something you’ve been trying to do for a long time. This weekend, at the Wild Duluth Trail Race, I felt like I found a great groove and I’m super happy with the results.

I’m excited to see where I can go from here. I feel more energized to challenge myself and see what else I can accomplish. Maybe it’s just a placebo, but getting some new equipment and some new glass has me feeling optimistic about future possibilities.

Time to keep shooting!

Jamison

Beer, running, and geeky things.

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