How I Switched to Sony (And Took My Best Friend Along With Me)

Photography Gear

It’s time to confess. I’ve been converted to Sony! But there’s more. Somehow I converted my best friend, wedding photographer Charlotte Palazzo, at the same time.

I’ve been a Nikon fangirl for more than a decade. I absolutely loved my most recent camera, the Nikon D750. The low light capabilities, resolution and the relatively small size of the camera are perfect for family, birth, newborn and also commercial photography. I really couldn’t fault the D750. Had I dropped it in a swimming pool or something similarly idiotic — which wouldn’t have surprised my husband in the slightest — I would have replaced it with the exact same model.

In March 2018, Charlotte and I went on our annual pilgrimage to The Photography Show at Birmingham’s NEC. There seemed to be lots of talk in the photography world about people switching to mirrorless, but we shuddered at the idea of changing cameras systems from Nikon (me) or Canon (Charlotte).

We walked past the Fujifilm stand, chanting “la la la la” with our fingers in our ears.

Lots of photographers were shouting about Fuji mirrorless, but so far nothing piqued my interest to investigate further. Running a business is complicated enough we felt we didn’t have the time to think about this, let alone work out the financial implications. Besides, we thought, what real difference would it make to our photography anyway? If it’s not broke don’t fix it! Photographers are forever saying that it doesn’t matter what camera you have, it’s the photographer who makes an amazing photo.

Canon, Nikon, and a bad Instagram filter, Summer 2014
The Photography Show, March 2018

Photographers are a funny breed. We compare ourselves to each other, though we know we shouldn’t. We are always looking at what locations, lenses, and lighting other photographers are using. Call it inspiration or insecurity — it is usually both.

As 2018 progressed, and more and more photographers started saying they were now switching to Sony, my interest increased. And then I read this fascinating story from wedding photographer Jessica Raphael about her switch from Nikon to Sony. It’s a great story and I can safely say Jessica, you’ve got some guts! But I also saw she mentioned the photographer Kate Hopewell-Smith was now a Sony Ambassador.

Wait, what? Kate Hopewell-Smith is a Sony Ambassador? Last I knew, Kate was a Nikon Ambassador. So that meant she was heavily invested in Nikon yet still made the switch. That’s enough to make you sit up and take notice, so I started to compare the Sony with my trusty Nikon, trying to work out what would make it worth the effort of changing. Kate details her reasons for the move to Sony in this blog post and the feature that stuck out for me was the eye focus. As much of my work is working with children who can’t stand still, this sounded like quite a selling point for me.

However, being the sort of person who doesn’t buy a new mug without reading several independent reviews; subscribing to What Mug monthly and testing out a range of close-competitor mugs for aesthetic appeal, durability, heat insulation and general mug-ness, I’m not one to be swayed by a few big names. But this list of names switching to Sony was starting to snowball, and the funny thing about it was, I couldn’t find a single person who said they regretted moving to Sony.

I started to think I’ll probably go mirrorless eventually, but not anytime soon.

Then in October 2018, I noticed that Sony was holding an Experience Sony Alpha Day hosted by Kate Hopewell-Smith and her husband Brent in Nottingham later that month. This was a full day to try out the Sony mirrorless and a styled shoot to put the cameras through their paces. And the most amazing thing, it was absolutely FREE. Both Charlotte and I signed up straight away, with a feeling that it was a good excuse for a girl’s day out!

By the time our day in Nottingham arrived, switching to mirrorless wasn’t a priority in my mind. There was maybe about 40% chance of me switching to Sony at some point. But I was interested to find out more and see what all the fuss was about.

Ultimately though, the day was an opportunity doing what we both love – taking beautiful photographs.

The Sony Experience day in Nottingham – “Charlotte, you’re in my shot!”

The morning session talked us through the camera and the key differences, and we actually got our hands on a camera, each. I found the menu rather alarming, it wasn’t anything like Nikon, and there seemed to be an infinite number of options. I’m not great when faced with lots of options (see New Mug selection above), but Kate and Brent were great at explaining the key parts of the menu and I diligently wrote notes to get my head around what was going on. Charlotte mentioned the menu was quite similar to Canon, so that seemed to be an easier bridge to gap.

Then after our free lunch (including chocolate brownies, could this be any better?), we were put to work with the wonderful models. The hair, makeup, flowers, and venue were a dream to photograph. The Prospect Room at Wollaton Hall (pictured above and below) is a remarkable, elegant location. But amidst this room full of professional photographers with decades of experience, there were lots of exclamations of “oh dear” and “what am I doing?” and a quite a bit of laughing at our incompetence. We were all like fish riding a bicycle as we tried to get to grips with the Sony and all it’s custom buttons. It felt like a whole new language.

Seeing the exposure on the electronic viewfinder was new for me of course, and that was a great feature but the main thing I was stunned by was the eye focus. A steady excitement seemed to be building among the group.

Everyone kept using the same old cliche: “gamechanger”.

At the end of the day, I assessed the photos I’d got and was struck by how many were in focus and also the sharpness. Not that I felt that my Nikon had a focus problem — it feels like it does what I tell it to do. However, it’s always going to be slower for me to toggle my spot focus onto the subject’s eye on my Nikon using my thumb, compared with the millisecond the Sony camera takes to find the eye in the photo. My slow human hands just can’t compete with a computer!

Over the afternoon I’d tried out a 35mm prime lens, 85mm prime, and 135mm prime, all of which seemed to be giving stunning results. Another nice surprise was also how the white balance and colors were perfect. On my Nikon, I use Kelvin for white balance, but I’d set the Sony to AUTO white balance as recommended by Kate and Brent.

The colors were perfect on every photo. An unexpected surprise.

I certainly wasn’t alone in my astonishment at what I was seeing. This group of assorted photographers all seemed to have fallen in love with Sony by the end of the day. As Brent had predicted in the morning, we were indeed sad to hand back the Sony cameras on our way out the door. I wanted one of my own! I now felt 80% sure that I would have to switch to Sony in the next 6 months, I just needed to figure out how much it was going to cost me and therefore how quickly I could do it.

As we walked back to the car, I checked how Charlotte was feeling about it. I asked her about whether she had changed her feelings, and what were her before-and-after percentages? I used to work in data analysis, sorry.

She hadn’t started the day with high hopes, with only about 20% chance of her switching. Indeed, she admitted she nearly didn’t come because had wondered if it would be worth her time. To be fair, she hadn’t known there would be chocolate brownie at that point, so I’ll let that one slide. However, I have to say I was astonished when she said she felt there was now an 80% chance of her switching within 6 months. This turnaround was actually quite a shock to me. I’m sure Charlotte would agree she’s far more cautious, of the two of us, regarding spending money or trying out new technology. She’s an artist and I’m more of a photography geek, so for her to have such a change of heart was quite something.

What kind of sorcery was this?

Sidenote – I do kinda feel like any camera could make these models look good

We were pretty excited as we drove back to Cheshire that day, trying to work out how quickly we could buy a Sony. Charlotte admitted to me that she couldn’t stop thinking about the Sony. Thank god she did, because I was the same.

Had we been brainwashed? I can only apologize to non-photographer friends who I bored with my details about the Sony, like when a teenager talking about their first crush. For some reason, it was really playing on my mind, and even as I used my Nikon I was comparing it feeling like the Sony would do it better.

I decided to research more, and also find out how much I would get for me Nikon kit to establish the cost of switching.

In case you’re interested, I found this blog post about the switch by Andy Smith-Dane very useful. I know from chatting to Andy that he understands the technical side of things better than most. I would also recommend this rather flashy YouTube video about the reasons to choose Sony by photojournalists The Eastcore, but with one important caveat: I think the Nikon they used for their experiments gave far worse results than my Nikon would have done in such a situation. So although it might not be a fair assessment of the Nikon, I think it’s is still helpful because the general message they are giving is valid. Try not to be too distracted by the guy’s pecs in the video, honestly how is that even normal? Try to focus on the Sony. No pun intended.

While I was doing my research, I not only noticed the number but also the range of photographers who were now shooting Sony, from the well-renowned studio photographer Gary Hill, to the outdoor lifestyle family photographer Gemma Griffiths, whose images I felt aligned very well with my style. It was reassuring that the Sony was performing well in all different fields.

I was just about convinced but needed one final push. So for 10 days over Christmas 2018, I rented the Sony a9 together with the Sony 55mm f/1.8 Zeiss lens. I would have preferred to try out the Sony a7 III with an 85mm lens, but alas those two weren’t available. Regardless, the Christmas holidays gave both me and Charlotte a chance to try it out in real life situations.

First, I organized a “model test”. Using a local child model who I’ve worked with before and her willing friend, we tested the Sony against my Nikon D750 and Charlotte’s Canon 5D Mark III. The weather wasn’t great but it was a fair test, but analyzing the results afterward I couldn’t see a massive difference in the quality of the images of the Sony and Nikon. I won’t go into boring detail, but the upshot was that while we liked the results, they didn’t blow us away as we expected.

The models were great, the colors were fab, and we found some nice light. Why wasn’t I as excited about Sony now as I had been? I was puzzled. What was I missing?

Then, on Boxing Day 2018, Charlotte, our families, and I went for a festive walk together, and I was able to test the Sony on fast-moving children. Our husbands were winding us up as usual — they joked that the Sony camera was so good that people won’t need photographers anymore, because with this “magic camera”, every image will be perfect!

Well, how wrong they were. When I got back and looked at them on my computer I despaired. The photos were pretty dismal.

After a few days, I realized what was going on. In trying out all the new functions and buttons, I was too distracted, so I wasn’t shooting like a photographer anymore. Ah yes, what did I say before? It doesn’t matter what camera you have, it’s the photographer who makes an amazing photo. Equally, you can take lots of rubbish photos on a great camera. The camera still needed me to be a photographer!

So the Sony wasn’t a “magic camera” which in some ways was disappointing. But hey, on the plus side, our jobs were safe and our husbands were wrong. So at least we could celebrate that.

And it then dawned on me why our model test hadn’t gone as I expected.

For years, I have had two favorite lenses: my 35mm prime and my 85mm prime. I never really used my 50mm prime, as it didn’t suit my style. Whenever I took it out of the drawer, I was never very excited by the results and would put it away again for a while. But as this was the only lens available, the whole model test had been confused by shooting at the 55mm focal length, which just isn’t my style.

I hadn’t been excited by any of the images — from Nikon, Canon, OR Sony — because I was really just wanted my wonderful 85mm lens on the camera!

It ain’t no magic camera!

At the end of our tests, it felt like a bump in the road. I realized I had been rather bewitched by the camera initially but I now saw it in a more pragmatic light. I still wanted a Sony, but the sense of urgency had dissipated. This camera wasn’t going to make me a better photographer, though it might make my job a bit easier.

At the same time, I had found out how much my Nikon kit would be worth at trade-in, and it was less than I expected. I could sell it via private sale and no doubt get more for it, but as I hadn’t done that before I had no idea how likely it was to sell or for what price. So the hassle and expense of switching to Sony was starting to seem rather intimidating,

Charlotte was feeling similar. She knew that she would need to replace her backup camera, Canon 5D Mark II fairly soon, but for now it was working fine and she didn’t have much of value that she could even trade in to soften the financial blow.

So during January and February, we put our Sony thoughts on the back-burner. We could switch later in the year maybe, and meanwhile we could save up for it.

Then two cameras died and everything changed.

The first was in mid-February 2019. It was one of the Nikon D700 cameras of my Playground Portraits business partner, Aurelie Kennedy. Knowing that she would need a replacement, she rented the new Nikon Z6 mirrorless to try that out, and I could tell she wanted to love it, but she just didn’t. I discussed Sony with her, but I could see that I couldn’t convert her. She is a staunch Nikon fan and has always been Nikon. However, another option was to sell her my D750. She had a tight budget, and if I was switching to Sony, well then I could also sell her my Sigma 35mm Art lens I know she’d also been planning to buy. It was a deal that would work great for both of us.

The second camera fatality came at the start of March, in rather more dramatic circumstances.

In the middle of shooting a wedding, Charlotte’s Canon 5D Mark II just died. This is precisely why wedding photographers have two cameras — thank goodness. But having not anticipated the expense of a new camera coming so soon, Charlotte was left with the choice of replacing it with a Canon 5D Mark IV ($2,800) or opting for a Sony a7 III ($2,000). As she prefers to use two cameras at every wedding, buying a Sony would mean shooting a Sony/Canon combo and she was worried it would get confusing. And of course, the Sony would require a lens or at least adapter to enable her to switch. She pondered back and forth for quite a while.

Time for another girls day out. As luck would have it, it was time for our annual trip to The Photography Show. Perhaps if we were each buying a camera it be cheaper to buy it there?

We wandered around looking at various stands but soon found ourselves at the Cameraworld stand. At every show, this stand seems to be very crowded with, quite predominantly, male customers. We made our way through the throng of men comparing lenses to a guy behind the desk and I unashamedly got out my shopping list printout where I’d noted down the list price of all the items Charlotte and I were interested in. I’d noted down the best price I’d found for each item on the internet among the most reputable retailers. I like to be prepared but I have a terrible memory.

The first item I asked about was the Sony a7 III and I half expected him to give me the same price as I had on my list. I knew that at some points demand had outstripped supply for this model, so may they wouldn’t discount it, I thought. The Cameraworld referenced his huge pricing book and quoted me a price far lower than on my shopping list.

“Fantastic!” I thought and looked at Charlotte, she was wide-eyed. We went through my list of items and the discounts on each item started adding up and up… This was turning out a lot better than I expected.

We went away to gather our thoughts and decided to try another stand to compare. Charlotte hadn’t really anticipated spending any money today, but these cost savings were too good to ignore.

Squeezed in the crowd at the London Camera Exchange, I again asked the price of each item on our list. The discounts were just the same. Finally, I added, “So if we were to buy all these items TWICE, one for each of us, that’s over £6,000 ($7,600) we would be spending here today. So what extra discount can you offer?”.

She raised an eyebrow, the manager was called, and after a short discussion, they offered a nice discount.

Decision made. We were pretty excited.

As we left the stand with our bags containing 2 camera bodies and 5 lenses between us, we looked at the time. It was 11:30am, We had arrived unsure if we would buy anything, and after being at the show less than an hour we had spent over £6,000 between us. It was a little surreal.

After that, we went straight over to the Sony stand to show Kate and Brent our shopping bags. Kate welcomed us into the family with a warm hug, and almost as excited as we were. This had turned out to be a very good day.

We also had tickets to the see the fascinating Pete Souza, Obama’s resident photographer, who had fantastic stories about his time at the White House and some hilarious scathing remarks about the current President, which were met by an entirely receptive crowd with a lot of laughter. We explored the rest of the trade show, and then as our tradition dictates, when the show closed at 5pm we went for dinner at the airport before catching an evening train back.

While already a bit giddy after what we declared “the best day ever!” we might have then had a few large bottles of wine. Back at the station, we were a little early for our train, so a tiny bottle of wine in Costa Coffee seemed to be what was needed. And of course, the logical thing to do was to get all of our purchases out on the table and ask the barista to take a photo to mark the occasion.

Joining our new tribe
Nothing says class like wine in a paper cup

Was it the right decision? One month later, now we have both used our Sonys on several shoots, what do we think? Was it worth the money, or were we just bewitched?

I have had a couple of commercial jobs booked in which were proved to be a great test. And while I hadn’t yet passed my Nikon D750 onto Aurelie, I was able to use both cameras and compare. After initially using the cameras each about 50% of the time, I quickly started noticing a difference. It was no great surprise that the features that drew my attention to the Sony in the first place — focus and sharpness — are the main reasons that I was completely loving the switch to Sony.

Charlotte has just shot her first full wedding with her Sony/Canon combo and is loving it.

“It was a dream to use, plus I have more trust in the Sony getting the eye focus. Focus modes take a little getting used to, but it’s so sharp it’s phenomenal!”

As for her worries about using Canon and Sony?

“They seem to work alongside each other well but I do find it a little tricky getting my head around switching sometimes. Having the same camera would be easier, and I much prefer using my Sony anyway, so as soon as I can justify it I’ll ditch my Canon for another Sony!”

Meanwhile, I have said goodbye to my Nikon D750 and beloved Sigma 35mm Art lens, as these went to Aurelie. I will see them, like old friends, when we shoot together though, which is a nice in some strange, photography geek, way.

And then, after I mentioned moving to Sony online I got a comment from Kirsty at Cherry Blossom Photography: “Would you happen to be selling your Nikon 85mm?”. As it happened, Kirsty lives near Glasgow, and the following week we had a trip planned to Islay at Easter and would be driving virtually past her door. So that was one other large piece of my Nikon kit sold, and I was able to add a few other useful lenses to my kit.

Somehow it’s all fallen into place. So in summary, yes, it was totally the right decision. I haven’t once missed my Nikon, and Charlotte wants to go dual-Sony as soon as she can. We are pretty happy with our new babies.

Double Sony
Showing our best sides
With our new babies

Can’t you tell?

About the author: Ellie Cotton is a family and commercial photographer based in North West England. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Cotton’s work on her website and blog. This article was also published here.

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