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Why I won’t buy a full-frame mirrorless camera

At the risk of making myself unpopular with some of my colleagues, I’m sharing my thoughts on the hype surrounding mirrorless system cameras with sensors in the so-called full format.

I don’t have to run after every trend anyway, especially not when it comes to photography. The buying arguments of the advertising and also of some colleagues are not for me.

The first things that strike me are terms like “mirrorless” and “full format”. In the days of analogue photography, they were called viewfinder cameras and 35mm. Of course, that sounds just as old-fashioned as the terms endurance running and leisure wear compared to jogging and casual wear, so new, modern terms are needed to attract buyers.

Of course, one also wants to motivate the willing buyer to spend money with the advantages of modern technology and above all the size and the lower weight.

Let’s take a look at the main arguments:

Image quality:

In order to have a reasonable comparison, I will compare the Sony A7R with the Nikon D810. Since the sensors are the same, there will probably be no difference in image quality. In any case, the sensors of most cameras with interchangeable lenses today deliver very good results. Visible differences in the images are mostly due to incorrect operation, poor lenses or a lack of knowledge when processing the images. Why I need a resolution of 36 million pixels is not at all clear to me. My D750 has 24 megapixels, with the usual monitor resolution this corresponds to an area of 300 x 200 cm. If I put my nose right up to the monitor, I can’t see any individual pixels, it starts slowly at 300% magnification, i.e. 450 x 300 cm. And no sensible person looks at a picture over 4 metres wide from a distance of 5 cm.

The only thing that increases is the amount of data and thus the space required on the memory card, the hard disk and the backup medium. The processing speed of the entire image processing decreases.

5-axis image stabiliser:

This is not a unique selling point of the A7, something like this also exists in DSLR’s like the Pentax K1. Since I don’t need an image stabiliser for 99.99% of my shots, I can’t really judge whether there is an advantage over image stabilisers built into the lenses. It wouldn’t be a selling point anyway, because then I would have to buy a new camera twice a year because of some new function that I didn’t miss before.

The electronic viewfinder:

The quality of the preview image is really impressive compared to the live view of the usual DSLRs. But that’s the only reason I wouldn’t spend four figures on a new camera body, not to mention the lenses I’d have to buy.

The size:

The Sony A7R with 127 x 94 x 48 mm (WxHxD) is smaller than the Nikon D810 with 146 x 123 x 81 mm. But I can’t take a photo without a lens yet. And even Sony can’t outsmart physics, so inevitably the lenses are larger than comparable optics for SLR cameras. The distance between the sensor plane and the light entrance opening of the lens must be the same for the same focal length. At the same speed, the diameter of the lenses is also the same.

For comparison, here are some lenses that I use quite often and therefore almost always have in my photo backpack:

Sony A7RSizeWeightNikon DSLRSizeWeight
FE 50 mm/1,869 x 60 mm186gNikkor 50 mm/1,8 64 x 39 mm155g
Distagon 35 mm/1,478 x 112 mm630gNikkor 35 mm/1,483 x 90 mm305g
Samyang 8 mm/2,860 x 65 mm290gSamyang 8 mm/3,5*75 x 75 mm417g
Samyang 14 mm/2,887 x 122 mm570gSamyang 14 mm/2,887 x 102 mm570g
Vario-Tessar 16-35 mm/478 x 88 mm518gTokina 12-24 mm/484 x 90 mm570g
FE 24-70 mm/2,888 x 136 mm886gTokina 28-70 mm/2,891 x 74 mm608g

* The Samyang 8/2.8 would certainly be just as big and heavy for Nikon as the E-mount part, both are APS-C or DX lenses.

Most lenses for Sony would take up more space in the backpack, so the advantage of the smaller size of the body is gone again when carrying the equipment. When carried with the camera strap, the Sony with the lens attached is at least as far away from the body as the SLR.

If I were to compare 85 mm or even longer focal lengths, it would look even less favourable for our system camera.

For delicate female hands, the small body may feel quite good, but in my paws the larger body of a DSLR fits better. I also find it advantageous to always have a firm grip on the camera, especially as the greater weight of the lenses in relation to the light camera means that the whole thing is not as well balanced as with the SLR behemoth.

Weight:
The Sony weighs 465g including battery and memory card ,the D810 with 980g more than double that. The Sony lenses in my example above weigh a total of 3080g, including the camera 3545g. The Nikon lenses weigh 2625g, 3605g in total. The equipment would be a whopping 60g lighter…. if I didn’t have to take several batteries with me for the Sony because of the small battery and the higher power consumption due to the design. Sony claims that the battery would last for 340 shots. The D810 takes 1200 shots with a freshly charged battery, more than 3 times as many. I would therefore have to pack at least 2 spare batteries (57g each) and the Nikon equipment would have the lower weight.

Not to mention the risk of the battery going flat during a long exposure. At -10°C I probably won’t be able to make a long exposure of 15 minutes or longer with such a camera.

If I hang the camera with the 50 mm lens around my neck, the point for saving my back goes to Sony, but only if I leave the other stuff at home. I wouldn’t use a lighter tripod, even if the camera weighed half a kilo less. Everything else, such as remote release, filters etc. is identical in weight and size anyway.

The choice of lenses is not nearly as wide as for Nikon or even Canon DSLRs. Working with adapters is not a good solution for me. I would have an additional component which is prone to errors and also has weight and makes the camera longer, some functions are rendered useless or limited by the adapter and the things usually take away half an aperture.

As someone who is often out and about in lost places, my requirements of the camera apart from the imaging performance are above all robustness, good protection against knocks and bumps and protection against the ingress of moisture and dust. It would be more than annoying if the camera went on strike after a 600km drive to a deserted location. What cameras like the A7R can do in this respect I cannot judge at the moment. I would be happy if you could share your experiences in this regard in the comments.

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