In 2017, I made the decision to sell my Nikon equipment and move to Sony. I’ll explain my personal reasons later but now two years later, it seems more and more people are moving to Sony too. I’m now in the position where I own all three of the third generation Sony full frame cameras currently on the market. Namely, the Sony A9, A7r3 and the A7iii.
As a result, I feel I’m in a good position to comment on how each of them perform and discuss which I feel is the best wedding camera for wedding photographers.
In this article I will be comparing just the full frame generation three cameras. The APS-C A6x00 and the older generation models such as the A7r2, A7s will not be compared. Let me know if you’d like me to do that and if enough people message me, I’ll consider it.
Reasons I changed
When Sony first announced the A9. The game changer for me was the full silent shooting with zero blackout. Now let’s be clear, silent mode isn’t a new thing. It’s actually quite a common feature on mirrorless cameras. I’ve had it on my Panasonic cameras for years and it’s been in other mirrorless cameras too. But what Sony did was to all but eliminate the common issues around silent shooting. Namely the warping when movement is fast and the banding which is commonly caused by LED lights. (More on this later)
As a wedding photographer, being able to be quiet and discrete is a great advantage. There are many situations where you don’t want to be the centre of attention, distracting everyone with the clacking of your shutter. For example, during the ceremony when the bride & groom are exchanging vows. Or the special moment when dad first sees his daughter in her dress. You don’t want this moment being distracted with ‘clack! clack!’
It’s really hard to describe how liberating being able to shoot silently at all shutter speeds with no blackout is until you’ve tried it and got used to it.
The other advantages for the third generation of Sony cameras was the introduction of the larger Z battery and the dual card slots. The new battery means I can shoot most of a wedding day on a single battery, switching to a fresh one in the evening. Previously shooting with Sony mirrorless cameras meant carrying a small bag of batteries with you. Changing at regular intervals. Finally having dual card slots gives me the security of knowing all is not lost if a memory card fails.
At last, Sony felt like it had released a camera that was ready for professional wedding photographers to use.
Side by side comparison
Whilst specs are important, they’re not the be all and end all. But let’s have a quick look at the key features side by side before we discuss the features in more detail below.
20 / 5 (flash)
If you want a camera with more than 24 megapixels then you can pretty much stop reading here. There’s only one choice for you. The A7r3. However, for many wedding photographers, having 42 megapixels is actually a burden rather than an advantage. Whilst I quite like the ability to crop into my images, it’s not a huge factor in my decision making. After all, we all managed fine with 12 & 16 megapixels before 24 megapixels seemed to become the norm.
One important thing to note is that the Sony A9 slows down when you are using the mechanical shutter to ‘only’ 5 frames per second. This is a huge drop from the blisteringly fast 20fps with the e-shutter. However, when you step back and think about it. Is 5fps with flash not enough for a wedding photographer? I would argue it’s fine. The A7iii and A7r3 can fire at 10fps for both natural light and flash.
Without flash, the A9 can do a ridiculously fast 20fps. Any faster and I might as well be shooting film. For a wedding photographer, this sort of speed is absolutely unnecessary and the only use I can think of is to willy wave at Canon/Nikon owning friends. Once that novelty wears off, you won’t use it in ‘Hi’ mode. At all.
Of course having a fast frame rate isn’t very useful if you don’t have a good buffer to keep up. Otherwise it’s all for nothing. One of my biggest gripes about my old D750 was how quickly the buffer filled. The best I could manage was 19 compressed RAW files before hitting the buffer. At 6.5fps, that was barely 3 seconds.
This is where Sony have been much more generous. The A7iii will let you shoot 33 RAW’s. The A7r3 is 28 RAW’s (which is good if you consider the 42MP files it is writing) and the A9 is an insane 241 RAW’s!
In practice the Sony A7iii/A7r3 buffer’s are more than enough for most situations. I’ve literally never managed to hit the buffer on the A9. Once I accidentally selected the highest speed mode before the confetti tunnel and accidentally ended up with over 300 photos! I only noticed halfway down the tunnel when I saw the square flashing like a lunatic. But at that point it was too late to switch. So I just rolled with it!
In short, if you need the ultimate speed. The A9 is your best bet. But in reality they’re all good.
The A9 has Sony’s top of the range auto focus engine and this was also given to the A7iii. The A7r3 has a different AF engine. If you’re a specs person you will also notice the A7r3 ‘only’ has 425 AF points versus 693 of its siblings. I say ‘only’ because if you’re coming from a DSLR then that is an insane amount of AF points! The reality is that the extra points on the A7iii/A9 are on the extremes of the screen. Something I have literally never missed. And if you are a DSLR shooter then you’ve never had that ability either.
On paper the A7r3 is worse but in practice it has never left me thinking “The A9 would have got that.” Autofocus performance is never a factor I consider when deciding which camera to use.
If you are planning on shooting videos and want to shoot with picture profiles then you can rule out the A9. It simply doesn’t have them. I don’t know why. If I had to guess I think it is because the mythical Sony A7s3 will use a similar sensor and they will include profiles there. But that’s pure speculation on my part. I say mythical since at the time of writing, there’s still no announcement on this camera.
If you want the latitude of filming using SLOG or Cine4 then your choices are between the A7r3 and A7iii. In which case I’d say go for the A7iii. For two reasons. Firstly it’s way cheaper. Secondly video in low light situations is noticeably cleaner.
One of the ways Sony have tried to justify the ‘entry level’ moniker for the A7iii is to reduce the number of pixels on the EVF and LCD. The idea being that the picture quality when you are looking at the back of the camera is worse.
In practice I’ve found this to be a total non-issue. If you have both cameras side by side then you can see a difference. Even then only if you REALLY concentrate. In day to day use, you won’t notice any difference.
I don’t think a lot has to be said here. The A9 fastest shutter speed is 1/32000 of a second. The others are 1/8000. As a wedding photographer, 1/8000 is more than fast enough for 99.9% of situations you’ll find yourself in.
I’ve saved the best til last! Yes, all three have silent shutter but the A9’s is different. Very different. Let’s firstly talk about the ‘normal’ silent shutter which is on the A7iii & A7r3. Yes, it is silent but they suffer from two main issues. Banding and distortion. You will see banding occur in some artificial lighting situations. In the UK this can be compensated by shooting at 1/50 or 1/100. In the US that would be 1/60 or 1/125. You can google why but in the interests of brevity, I’m not going to go into it here.
The other biggest disadvantage with silent shutter technology is the distortion if your subject is moving.
As a result, silent shutter isn’t something we used a lot. Even if we did, it was very much limited to during certain parts of the wedding day. Such as the ceremony or speeches. Situations where people aren’t expected to be moving quickly or at all. But for the rest of the day, the traditional mechanical shutter clack clacked away.
That’s where the A9 made me sit up and pay attention. Sony practically eliminated those issues with their electronic shutter. For the sake of brevity I’m not going to go into a long explanation about why. It’s long & boring. Suffice to say that I can use any shutter speed and don’t need to worry about banding or distortion.
The other great feature of the A9 is the blackout free shooting. Whilst you don’t NEED this for wedding photography. It does make your whole shooting experience much more fun!
Demo of the silent shutter feature – (Note: your audio isn’t broken…it’s silent!)
One of my biggest frustrations shortly after getting the A9 was that Sony put some new features into the A7r3 and subsequently the A7iii that were not in the A9. The two that I most wanted were the touchpad AF when using the EVF and the rating feature.
In case you don’t know. On the A7r3/A7iii you can use your thumb to move the AF point around the screen whilst using the EVF. Without that on the A9, it would be difficult to use at a wedding since I’d be constantly having to think about which camera i am using.
The rating feature is handy for if I’ve taken a great shot. I can rate this in camera and it will carry over when importing into Lightroom. In short, I can start doing some culling directly in camera.
In late March, Sony released firmware 5.0 for the Sony A9. This has much anticipated update brought this camera up to date with the features mentioned above. Both touchpad AF and in camera rating are finally there.
The most exciting addition for us wedding photographers, is the new real time AF tracking mode. This new and exciting feature uses AI based object recognition to track objects. The camera can automatically detect eyes and faces without having to press the eye AF button. The tracking is now insanely accurate. Even when your subject turns away from the camera, the A9 will continue to track the subject and reacquire the eye/face as soon as it’s available again.
It’s not perfect. It can still occasionally jump to a different subject. But over the past three weddings, I’ve switched to using this tracking mode full time now. On balance, I miss less shots than using the old AF spot on subject method that most of us used to use.
Here is a promotional video from Sony which should explain the new real time AF tracking better than I am probably describing it.
Sadly, Real Time AF tracking is not planned to be released for the A7iii & A7r3. As of right now it is only available on the A9 and strangely the A6400.
Here is a short video I filmed on our wedding cake topper. Crazily enough, the Sony camera recognises the face and eye’s on the ‘bride & groom’
The new eye AF algorithms make eye auto focus even quicker and more accurate. I’ve noticed it is definitely more responsive. You don’t have to have a separate eye AF button assigned anymore. Half pressing the shutter or AF On (if you use back button focus) works now for eye AF. These algorithms and the half press shutter for eye AF will be available for the A7iii & A7r3 on April 11th.