To DSLR and Back!

After my brief love affair with my first DSLR (Nikon D750) I came back to my first love i.e. mirrorless camera. I traded the Nikon D750 for a Sony A7 II and lenses. Even though I’ve been accepted back in the arms the relationship is very bumpy as I still find myself thinking about D750 and how things would be if I had that instead of A7 II.

The move to Nikon was an impulse one (aren’t they always are?) that I made in search of longer telephoto lenses because that’s one area where Fuji lacks. Their longest lens in current line is the budget XC 50-230mm (76mm –  350mm equivalent) and it is too short for any wildlife/birding photography, something that I’m developing interest in. So after looking at other alternatives Nikon or Canon seemed to be the obvious choice and when D750 was announced, it had almost all features that I could want in a camera (Excellent AF, tilting screen, Wifi etc). Plus Nikon world offered a vast variety of telephoto lenses that I can fulfill any requirement.

Having used a mirrorless camera since the days of early micro 4/3, I’m very much to used to seeing the world through EVF (Electronic View Finder) and getting instant feedback about exposure is something that I expect. Using DSLR for the first time was mix experience. On one hand I loved the OVF (Optical View Finder) as it showed everything the way my eyes were seeings instead of a video of the scene but on the other hand, I missed having all the shooting info in EVF. Using the Live View (LV) on DSLR was a big let down. Unlike mirrorless where EVF and Live View are functionally identical in DSLRs they are worlds apart. Not only they have different information they even use different auto focusing methods. OVF uses Phase Detect Auto Focus (PDAF) while LV uses a lot slower Contrast Detect Auto Focus (CDAF). For occasional usage, it is fine but nothing close to the functionality of the LCD that mirrorless offers.

Nikon D750

On the plus side, I loved the no-nonsense direct controls of Nikon D750. Though mirrorless cameras now offer a lot of customization and direct control there was something about the button layout of D750 that just made sense and after using it for only few days I could change most settings without taking my eye off the OVF. Having a LCD on top that showed all the major settings of the camera helped a lot as well.

Another thing that I loved about D750 was the grip, it fitted like a glove in my hands and made the camera very comfortable to hold. This is something that most mirrroless manufacturers don’t give enough attention to and in the quest to make the bodies as small as possible they forget to make a decent comfortable grip.

Last but certainly not the least the feature that’s worth owning the DSLR alone is the auto focusing capabilities. No matter how many mirrorless manufactures claim their camera to be world’s fastest focusing cameras, they can’t touch a traditional DSLRs specially in low light and continues focusing with tracking. With D750, for the first time I was able to shoot BIFs (Birds In Flight) without getting totally frustrated with AF or giving up after trying to locate the bird in the EVF.

D750 with Tamron 150-600

Nikon D750 with Tamron 150-600 lens

Nikon D750 with Sigma 50-500

Nikon D750 with Sigma 50-500 lens

So why the switch?

Though I enjoyed my time with D750, I just never felt like being at home and I kept hearing mirrorless calling my name. So when a trade opportunity presented itself I jumped on it but not without a lot of hesitation.  Some of the reason for my switching to Sony A7 II are below.

  • Smaller and lighter camera size
    • Though when you add any decent lens the size and weight difference is not a lot but with a small prime like the awesome Sony 35mm 2.8 it becomes a very small package. With other lenses the difference is nice is negligible.
Nikon D750 vs Sony A7 II

D750 with 35mm F1.8 vs Sony A7 II 35mm F2.8

D750 with 50mm F1.8  vs SOny A7 II 55mm F1.8

D750 with 50mm F1.8 vs Sony A7 II 55mm F1.8

  • In body stabilization (IBIS)
    • Most of the prime lenses offered in both systems are unstabilized and with Sony A7 II’s IBIS every attached lens becomes stabilized, even the legacy lenses from all manufacturers. This open a whole new world that was previously only possible with Olympus m4/3 cameras that has a very small sensor compared to Full Frame.
  • Functional Tilting LCD
    • Nikon D750 is the first Nikon FF to offer tilting LCD and it is no doubt better than the fixed screen it lacks the features and options that are offered by Sony A7 II.
  • Better Wifi functionality
    • I love the fact that I can take a picture at the location and share it with people right away. Also, I really like the ability to remotely control my camera via phone/tablet. Both Sony A7 II and Nikon D750 offers Wifi functionality but it Nikon implementation is totally crippled. You only have option to either fire the shutter remotely or transfer pictures from camera to phone/tablet. There is no way to change any camera settings. On the other hand Sony A7 II not only offers complete control over the camera settings via Wifi, it also offers many “apps” that can be downloaded to enhance functionality.
  • Ability to use any lens
    • Any lens for any manufacturer can be adapted to Sony A7 II with the help of cheap adapters and with the inclusion of IBIS this feature became even more useful. I used my Sigma 24-105 F4 (Nikon Mount) lens with a $50 adapter and with the help of focus peaking and magnified view I did not have any issues making the most out of this combo.
  • Live Exposure View / Histogram 
    • One of the biggest advantage of mirrorless cameras is the ability to see the exposure before pressing the shutter button. This can be done in DSLRs too but it is limited to Live View only. In mirrorrless cameras you can see the exposure in both EVF and LCD. This takes away the guess work out and makes it a lot easier to achieve perfect exposure every time.
  • Manual Focusing Aids
    • Focus peaking and magnified view are two features that make manual focusing a joy instead of a chore.
Sony A7 II with Zeiss 55mm

Sony A7 II with Zeiss 55mm

Sony A7 II

What I miss?

There are few things that I miss about Nikon D750 I keep tempting me to add it to my kit again. Some of major things I miss are:

  • Auto Focus:
    • Sony claim to have made 30% improvement in AF in A7 II compared to the first A7 and this might be true in single focusing mode but in continues focusing it still trails way behind D750.  Sony A7 II can focus pretty quickly in single AF mode in good light but when light gets dim or the subject is in motion, it has a very hard time keeping up.
  • Grip:
    • For me D750 had the best grip on any camera that I’ve ever used. Sony A7 IIs grip isn’t bad but it is mostly usable with smaller lenses and larger lenses make it uncomfortable to hold for a long period of time.
  • Ability to change settings quickly:
    • Even with all the custom buttons customized to my liking I still cannot change settings on A7 II as quickly as I was able to do on D750.

In conclusion, my switch from mirrorrless to DSLR and back has been an interesting experience and if nothing else I did learn that the “dark side” isn’t as bad as mirrorless fans make it sound like. If I had the budget (and wife’s approval of course :))  I would love to have both and use them for their individual strengths. Sony A7 II for travel and everyday photography while D750 for BIFs, action and low light photography.

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