Thinking About Going Full-Frame

Take a seat, this is going to be a long one.

I have come to a point where I am now very seriously considering going from my APS-C Sony A6000 to a full-frame Sony mirrorless camera body such as the A7 Mark II (A7ii). If it were just a matter of my own personal use of the camera as a hobby, I would be content to stick with the more affordable (both from a camera body and a lenses point of view) APS-C line of E-mount cameras. All-in-all I find that my A6000 yields more than adequate image quality for most of what I do with it. Any limitations I find in my photos has more to do with my own limitations, not always knowing how to make the best use of the available light or of the full capabilities of the camera, not any limitation of the camera itself. But I am now moving forward with taking on some paid jobs in photography.  And for that, I think a move to full-frame may be in order.

On one level, any perceived need for a full-frame camera for “professional” or paid photography derives largely from the perceptions of potential clients. It seems that clients willing to pay for photography services are more likely to take a photographer seriously if that photographer has a full-frame camera, and more particularly, a bigger, DSLR-style camera.  For all its positives, this the A6000 is not.  But the A7-series, while small compared to most full-frame DSLRs, at least looks the part of a “serious” camera thanks to that viewfinder bump and the larger grip and added control dials.

Were looks and size of the camera as a perceived “pro” tool all there was to it, I probably still wouldn’t be planning to make the jump to full-frame. But there are other benefits to full-frame and to the A7-series in particular, especially the Mark II line of A7 bodies.

When I upgraded from my initial E-mount camera, the A3000, to the A6000, I was actually somewhat disappointed with the resultant image quality of the A6000 photos I took.  Don’t get me wrong, the photos were every bit as good as those I took with my A3000, and some even better in some respects, particularly with somewhat lower noise at ISOs above 1600.  But I guess I was expecting more.  In most respects, the 20 megapixel APS-C sensor of the A3000 yielded images of a resolution and color quality almost the equal to those of the 24 megapixel APS-C sensor of the A6000.  The real separator between the A3000 and the A6000 came down to usability, functionality and operational performance.

First, the A6000’s LCD and EVF – especially the EVF – were a noticeable improvement over those of the A3000 and truly made taking good photos easier in many situations.  That the A6000’s LCD is a tilting one adds even more to the functionality and usability, allowing one to set up shots from more angles and in a way that I don’t have to bend over awkwardly to see the screen.  Second, the added control dial and extra function buttons made accessing settings and functions easier on the A6000 compared to the constant navigation of the old NEX menus of the A3000.  The FN button and menu is particularly useful.  When I go back to the A3000 after using the A6000, it takes awhile to even remember where to find things that I have right at my fingertips on the A6000.

Then there are the operational performance factors, most notably the auto-focus functionality.  The A6000 was an auto-focusing breakthrough for a Sony mirrorless camera when it was introduced.  The 179 on-sensor phase detection auto-focus points of the A6000 make continuous auto-focus and tracking much more useful, especially compared to the contrast-detect only A3000.  And its 11 frames per second continuous shooting capability (with autofocus enabled) still has not been exceeded by a Sony APS-C mirrorless camera (improved upon in other ways maybe, but not any faster shooting speed).  Even the A7-series of full frame cameras can’t touch it, all being stuck at 5 fps or so.  The new US$4500 Sony A9, well… that’s a different story… in every way.  And it’s not a budget-conscious option in any case.  But the truth is that I rarely need that continuous shooting speed except to shoot my dogs at play or aircraft in flight.  For the type of paid work I am looking at – event photography and real estate photography – a high frame rate of continuous shooting is not really a necessity.  It is nice to have though… and so my A6000 is not going anywhere regardless.

So, since I’ve already started to broach the topic, it’s time to look at what I can gain from going to full frame – and even what I will give up.

At the moment I am focused on the A7ii as the most likely full frame body I will obtain.  I don’t feel a need for the higher resolution in megapixels of the A7Rii, nor can I realistically stretch my budget to afford one, even a used one.  This is especially true if I also want to get some decent FE glass for my needs.  And while the original A7 is even more affordable at this point, there are a few features of the A7ii that make it the FF camera of choice for me at this moment in time, most notably auto-focus compatibility with more adapted lenses (via the LA-EA3 and MC-11 adapters in particular) and the in-body image stabilization.

Compared to the A6000, the A7ii features the benefit of an even higher resolution (and slightly larger) viewfinder, a second upper control dial, and an exposure compensation dial, as well as an extra custom button, plus a larger grip.  The one thing the A3000 had over the A6000, from my point of view, was the form factor – namely the larger grip that made one-handing the camera much easier, and made heavier lenses easier to bear.  The A7ii would appear to include that same sort of beefier grip functionality, coupled to a more powerful and sturdier body.  The A7ii, being a nearly all-metal body, would also likely be more durable than the A6000 – not that durability has been a problem for me so far.  With respect to the controls, I expect that the added upper dial will make it that much more likely that I would not need to pull the camera away to access the rear dial to control some function.  And the extra exposure compensation dial would likely be very useful for more professional work, especially for manually bracketing interior shots while using flash.  I haven’t used exposure compensation much so far, but I am beginning to see the usefulness of the feature as I look to advance in my skills.

From an image quality standpoint, my research indicates that the full frame sensor of the A7ii should yield a slight gain in dynamic range over the A6000 and a noticeable improvement in signal-to-noise ratio translating to lower noise at higher ISOs and thus better low light performance.  But I am not sure if it will be an overall noticeable improvement in image quality, especially given the limitations of the humble photographer wielding the camera inexpertly.  I recognize that the jump to full frame will also carry with it a difference in depth of field control, for better or worse, depending on the situation.  And it will make all those manual focus legacy lenses I have accumulated function at the focal length field of view for which they were intended.

To those who have made the jump from a crop sensor Sony body to an A7-series camera, particularly the A7ii (or its 24MP predecessor, the original A7), I ask:  did you notice a marked improvement in image quality? And if so (or not), in what characteristics did you see a difference?

Finally, there is the elephant in the room:  the impending release of a successor to the A7 Mk. II, the mythical A7 Mk. III.  The A7ii will be three years old in November.  Current rumors (over on indicate that an A7III is likely coming in a 3 to 6 month time-frame, possibly “not earlier than November 2017”.  So, the prudent course might be to wait to see what comes this Fall.  However, when one decides they want to take their activity and even career to the next level, one generally doesn’t want to wait for outside factors to oblige.  And who says I’d have to buy an A7III as soon as it comes out?  From just a stills point of view, (as for video, well… 4K) how much better will it be? I actually suspect, based on how Sony has been progressing, that the A7III may actually be more expensive than the A7ii was, coming in at perhaps US$2000 body-only.  At US$1699 with kit 28-70mm lens (which I’ll want anyway), the current price of a new A7ii is not too bad.  Sure, it might be more later… but that will be then, this is now.

Anyhow, once again I put it to you, dear readers:  for those who’ve made the jump from a Sony APS-C body to an A7-series, was it worth it?

(NOTE: This article was originally posted by me in a dedicated thread on the users site a few weeks ago.  Further Note:  I have now actually made the jump… more on that later.)

(Note: Sensor size comparison image at top was found on the web a few years ago while researching camera sensor sizes.  Actual source unknown.  If you are the creator, please let me know.)


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