Sony Cameras for Music Photography

For a while now I have been eyeing the Sony a7RIII ior Sony a7 III as possible next upgrades for my Canon system.  I always wait to upgrade until I notice that something I use – just isn’t good enough anymore. Maybe my lens didn’t have the reach I needed for my live concert photographs – so I got a 2x teleconverter.  You get the idea! The problem is, I just didn’t know how it could be better when it came to the camera body – I have alway just quite mindlessly and without fail upgraded to Canon’s next release. I think I went Canon S2IS => Canon Rebel XT => Canon Rebel XTi => Canon 20d => Canon 5D => Canon 6D => Canon 5D Mark III. So next it would be the Mark 4, or the 1DX. The price tag is a bit much and to be honest the size of the camera has becoming quite taxing on my experience with them. They are just too big these days, In addition they feel clunky – and not only with build, but with menu / button operation.

I only realized this after trying out a few of my friends Sony cameras over the years. My biggest issue with the older models was the focus speed. Most of my photography is live concert photography – so I need fast focus speed at the very least. If it didn’t at least have this, nothing else mattered for obvious reasons. However with these new models I think they have finally got it up to speed… and even better haha. In fact I know they have. Shooting with a Sony feels like something along the lines of piloting an Iron Man mask. Hahah. It is pretttyyy cool.

I know I am a bit late to the Sony party, and I am okay with that.  I started in digital, so I never went through the whole film to digital transition. However I would say that going from a DSLR to a mirriroless system feels like a  similar shift, although getting rid of the mirror isn’t nearly as big of a deal as going from film => digital, I do think it is definitely something to be mindful of. This is a whole new world, but it’s a world I want to be a part of.

I am going to do my best here, but honestly just rent one for a weekend, borrow a friend’s, or steal an enemies’. I am confident that is all the convincing you will need. Music photography has a wide variety of needs when it comes to a camera, it needs to be very versatile, so if it works for me – it should work for you too.

The table of gear and learning a new kit
A terribly photographed table of all my gear from the weekend.

That is my gear! I had a three day weekend shoot at Coachella, a few portraits, a few Live Photos – nothing too crazy. I learned all the camera gear the morning of and then the rest as I shot. Luckily for me I met Ryan Flemming who was kind enough to teach me the ways around the many menus.  I decided to bring my Canon for backup, just in case you know… I failed at Sony.

Ryan Flemming and I !

Ryan Flemming and I!

There are two main areas I shoot from, the photo pit in front of stage…. And then everywhere else. So I have a setup for the pit, and then my walk around setup. I usually sit down before any event and talk myself through the shots I am going to take, what I want access too in my bag, and how fast. I decided to pack light for this weekend, I just took three lenses, really only shot two of them – and kept it to one camera body. I tried to keep it simple as I had a lot of learning to do and I wanted to be able to focus on that rather than having to worry about swapping lenses in the dust fest that is Coachella.

My best friends

All my friends are cameras

This is my set up for photographing artists who are on stage. I swapped to my other lenses a few times but didn’t get anything I liked. The main goal for me when shooting live images is to try and make sure that the artists looks great, the background looks intentional, and that the image itself is free from distractions which can be quite difficult in an environment you can not full control. You can kind of control it – you can change your position. I do rely on a wide open aperture in combination with a telephoto lens. I am not very used to shooting 85mm, i prefer at least 200mm, but it was a good time to learn. The f/1.4 is very important on this lens, as it helps pull the subject away from everything going on around them and lets you focus on them.

Sony a7R III with Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art with a Sigma MC‑11 Mount Converter

Sony a7R III with Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art with a Sigma MC-11

All of these images were shot using the above setup.

Cardi B at Coachella 2018 - photographed with a Sony a7R III - Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art - Sigma MC‑11 Mount Converter

Cardi B at Coachella 2018 – f/2.8  – 1/1000 sec – ISO 1o0

Miguel at Coachella 2018 - photographed with a Sony a7R III - Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art - Sigma MC‑11 Mount Converter

Miguel at Coachella 2018 – f/2.5  – 1/250 sec – ISO 160

Tyler, The Creator at Coachella 2018 - photographed with a Sony a7R III - Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art - Sigma MC‑11 Mount Converter

Tyler, The Creator at Coachella 2018 -f/2.5  – 1/2o0 sec – ISO 160

St. Vincent at Coachella 2018 - photographed with a Sony a7R III - Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art - Sigma MC‑11 Mount Converter

St. Vincent at Coachella 2018 – f/1.8 – 1/80 sec – ISO 500

The Neighbourhood at Coachella 2018 - photographed with a Sony a7R III - Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art - Sigma MC‑11 Mount Converter

The Neighbourhood at Coachella 2018 – f/1.4 – 1/2500 sec – ISO 160

Vince Staples at Coachella 2018 - photographed with a Sony a7R III - Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art - Sigma MC‑11 Mount Converter

Vince Staples at Coachella 2018 – f/1.8 – 1/320 sec – ISO 80

My setup for walking around/ portraits is small and compact. I like it this way, not as invasive. Goal is to always capture moments, kind of be a part of them, but just enough so that you aren’t creeping, and also not too much, to avoid being the focus. Just exist.

Sony a7R III with Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA Lens - add this to lenses I will never be able to correctly write list

Sony a7R III with Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA Lens – add this to lenses I will never be able to correctly write list

All of these photographs were shot with 35mm setup. These are my lovely friends Jonnekeg and Brianna I spent a few days with at Coachella.

We do not know this man, but this man is awesome

We do not know this man, but this man is awesome

I like how well it gets the shadows and the highlights

I like how well it gets the shadows and the highlights

Best water toy ever! A rainbow

Best water toy ever! A rainbow.. but on grass.

She is the best

She is the best

I ended up shooting with the Sony A7rIII the while weekend because I wanted to take advantage of the extra megapixels, so all these sample images are from that camera. That being said, if you are trying to decide which one to upgrade to, here is most of what you need to know.

Which Sony Camera Should I Get?

If you are trying to decided which one to upgrade to, it basically comes down to price and megapixels. The rest of the details are so small but ill lay it out for you here just so you can see. If you are having trouble remembering which one is which, just think of the R as standing for Resolution. For more technical info go to dpreview.com. They are good at that, I am not.

Sony a7R III – $3198.00
buy – Amazon B&H 

  • 42 megapixels

Sony a7 III –  $1998.00
buy – AmazonB&H

  • 24 megapixels
  • Slightly better battery life
  • Slightly better video
  • More AF points across wider spread

*To sum it up –  A3 has less megapixels but is a tiny bit better at a few things. That’s really all there is to it.

If price is an issue and you are just looking to upgrade, get the Sony a7 III. They are both amazing cameras and an large step up from the Canon regardless. If Canon is the original iPhone, going with the a7 III or a7R III is kind of like picking between an iPhone 8 or an iPhone 8 Plus. They are mostly the same thing with the exception of a few technical details that will most likely not effect you. Like their raw buffer size. Sony a7III = 89, Sony a7RIII = 76 – I can’t imagine this applying to 99.9% of the photographers out there. 

Vince Staples Coachella 2018

Vince Staples Coachella 2018

MØ at Coachella 2018

MØ at Coachella 2018

The Camera

Sony can be an beginner or an advanced photographers camera. It can be customized to what works best for you and that is what I love. There are menus for everything. Menus for things I didn’t even know were things . It takes a little longer to learn, just because the options are so endless – which I dont think is really a downside, even though people try to spin it that way. I only spent a weekend with the camera, but give me a few years and ill be just as familiar with it as I am Canon. I would never expect to handle a camera I just met the same way I would with the kind I have been using for ten years.  That would be unrealistic.

Overall the images were very crisp and clean. I usually add noise to my images to make them look a bit different, but I refrained for these images so you could see how they look. Full disclosure – I do a pretty good amount of post processing.

The Feel & Weight

It is a tiny bit smaller than a normal DSLR and more on bar with the Canon rebel series for size. You can get a battery grip if you want to make it bigger, but I prefer not to have one. It holds well, nothing feels out of place or wrong. On paper the camera is lighter than Canon’s 5D line, however I had to look this up to verify. The small size combined with the sturdy build makes it feel like it heavier than it is. Random but useful fact – I know they switched the record button (for video) location and that made it a lot more convenient. Normal learning curve stuff all around, just have to get used to a new setup, but nothing is really built poorly. 

Customizable Buttons

The  customizable buttons are awesome, conveniently labeled C1, C2 etc. They correspond with a menu item and that you can change with ease. This is the first thing I did. My rear and top dials were restricted to AV/TV but that is all I would use them for anyway.

Thanks for the photo Kevin Young

Thanks for the photo Kevin Young

The back dial I set to ISO and you can customize each arrow that is located as part of the dial to change what the dial does, when pressed. So for example default right click, gives you the ISO wheel. I believe left click is shoot mode etc. Its easy to do with your thumb while shooting through the viewfinder.

Thanks again, Kevin

Focus Speed

It is very fast.  Here are the different setups I tried

  • Sony Lenses – Faster than canon
  • Canon 24-70 f/2.8L with Sigma MC-11 – Just as fast as Canon
  • Sigma 85mm Art f/1.4 with Sigma MC-11 – Just as fast as Sony
Sony a7R III with Canon 70-200 f/.2.8 with a Sigma MC‑11 Mount Converter

Sony a7R III with Canon 70-200 f/.2.8 with a Sigma MC-11

Tyler, The Creator at Coachella 2018 - photographed with a Sony a7R III - Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art - Sigma MC‑11 Mount Converter

Tyler, The Creator at Coachella 2018 – f/1.4 – 1/250 sec – ISO 160

Miguel at Coachella 2018 - photographed with a Sony a7R III - Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art - Sigma MC‑11 Mount Converter

Miguel at Coachella 2018 – f/2.5 – 1/160 sec – ISO 160

 

Honestly I had to try really hard to tell a difference, they were all quick and snappy and I didn’t have many issues that were specific to Sony when grabbing focus live. That being said my settings for the weaken were I had continuous focus setting, and once it locked onto a subject it would automatically track it for me. I only ran into issues with backlighting on stage, and the camera thinking a human displayed on the LED backdrop was the human I wanted to photograph. These are very normal things that I have to just be ready for, not really the cameras faul. As long as I could find a point of contrast (rim light on a shoulder or something ) I could grab focus. It also has a button that automatically finds the eyes in you photo and locks in and focuses on that. Very helpful! No more photos of noses being the focal point. And if you have a nose like me – your eyes are for sure going to be out of focus haha.

The dude Greg at Coachella 2018 - photographed with a Sony a7R III - Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art - Sigma MC‑11 Mount Converter

The dude Greg at Coachella 2018 – F/1.8 – 1/320 sec – ISO 80

The dude Greg at Coachella 2018 - photographed with a Sony a7R III - Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art - Sigma MC‑11 Mount Converter

The dude Greg at Coachella 2018  – F/1.8 – 1/320 sec – ISO 80

Me with Greg!!

The hardest part for me is there are a lot of focus modes and settings you can play around with, and I don’t know them all yet so I am not sure if I am doing the best thing possible for my shoot situation. I will learn.

I learned afterwords that Sigma says their their current MC-11 mount does not support Sony’s AF-C (continuous focus) mode – which is all I shot with. They said their new Sony mount lenses (which I can’t wait to get my hands out) will support this, and will be faster. I am honestly having a hard time imaging a more fast focus speed, so I am ready to be mind blown.

 

Megapixels / Resolution

Again this is all with the a7R III – so 42 megapixels of fun.  Here is a 100% crop.

Miguel at Coachella 2018 - photographed with a Sony a7R III - Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art - Sigma MC‑11 Mount Converter

Miguel at Coachella 2018 – f/2.5 – 1/250 sec – ISO 160

Miguel at Coachella 2018 - photographed with a Sony a7R III - Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art - Sigma MC‑11 Mount Converter

Miguel at Coachella 2018 – photographed with a Sony a7R III – Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art – Sigma MC‑11 Mount Converter=

Screen/ Live Mode

I liked the pullout screen, I shot a lot with my camera in front of me instead of having my face up to the viewfinder. For concert situations its great when you need to put your camera above or below your head. Sometimes seeing a photo in front of you changes the way you view it. I also dont like to have my camera pressed against my face at all times – if I am wearing goggles or a helmet. For people who wear makeup this can be relevant as well.  I used live view in past  on the Canon system but it was so clunky and slow. It is not on the Sony. Works just as well.

Photo by Kevin Young featuring Le Tigre

Burst

The burst was insane. Its 10 fps on both cameras. I used it sparingly cause I could just feel my HDs filling up as I shot away. Solution, get more Western Digitals. These are three separate images shot in burst- just to give you an idea.

Silent Mode

About a year ago I tried out my friends Sony  accidentally took 100 photos before thinking it was broken. Silent mode is literally silent. No noise.  Love this feature, helpful for me as I shadow artists during interviews – and sometimes a loud camera click is quite disruptive to a quiet conversation. Just another nice resource to have at your disposal while you get your job done, whatever it may be.

Battery  Life

In the past this was also a deal breaker for for me. I mean I get it, they have more things to power on these because the viewfinder is digital. However I shot for three full days at Coachella and only really had to jump to a second battery for one of the day.  I used it, just a normal amount. Which I dont’ know how to explain. Ummm, Not a lot, not a little – just about 800-1000 photos. I can imagine if you are doing video it dies a bit quicker – but the battery lasted way longer than I went into expecting. So no worries here.

Photos of batteries would be boring. Soooo here is was able to take cause my camera was alive and shooting (thanks to battery)

blackbear at Coachella 2018 - photographed with a Sony a7R III - Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art - Sigma MC‑11 Mount Converter

blackbear at Coachella 2018 – f/1.4 – 1/500 sec – ISO 100

Vince Staples at Coachella 2018 - photographed with a Sony a7R III - Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art - Sigma MC‑11 Mount Converter

Vince Staples at Coachella 2018 – f/1.8 – 1/320 sec – ISO 80

Random Other Small Things

  • Powers on quickly
  • Small size
  • Great looking body
  • Sturdy build

In Body Stabilization

If your lenses have Image Stabilization – this is kind of like that, except Inside the camera. Its a big deal for people like me who love to shoot Sigma Art or similar prime lenses, as they usually do not have IS.

ISO

This is at 4000 ISO. I don’t know how to do these tests haha, this is the best I can do. To be honest for concert photograhy even if your image is really noisey, it doesn’t matter – as long as it’s a bad ass image.

Color Profile

I don’t even notice this to be honest, I can’t help here, everyone ask – but I don’t have any answer. The images look great, so I would guess there isn’t an issue? At least for me 🙂

 

Light Range

Handles light very well, great amount of detail in my shadows and highlights, have easy access to the range with the combination of RAW images.

I do not like this photo, but its a good example, so here we are

Miguel at Coachella 2018 - photographed with a Sony a7R III - Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art - Sigma MC‑11 Mount Converter

Miguel at Coachella 2018 – f/2.5 – 1/250 sec – ISO 160

 

Cons

Larger file sizes? Which isn’t even a downside, get more hard drives and stop your whining.
There are not cons, just people who like to complain about learning how to use a new system.

Conclusion

Coachella with Danielle

Anyone good at tattoo removal? I kid.

What about my old lenses?

Yea it can suck to swap glass to a whole new system. The MC-11 converter works very well, so you will be fine. Additional if you want to ever change systems and you have Sigma Lenses – they have a program where you can send your lens in and get the mechanics swapped out. Very helpful. More info on that here – Sigma Mount Conversion Service

Questions?

Okay questions, I don’t have them enabled on my blog cause I was receiving too much spam and I don’t want to devote time to that. So tweet me, email me, message me. I do my best! Hope you enjoyed review.

Also thanks Tom Falcone for your help.

POSTED BY Adam Elmakias

Adam Elmakias is a music photographer based out of San Diego, California. He spends most of his time doing stuff with cameras. Adam wrote this himself, not someone else. I am Adam.

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