Photography has been a tumultuous journey for me. As members of the India analog community know, I have been compensating for my artistic inadequacies and lack of talent by buying and hoarding gear. My first interchangeable lens camera was the Fuji XT3, and along the way, I have acquired some Canon and Nikon bodies too. However, things are settling down and today, I consider myself very much a Nikon man, shooting AF-D and AI lenses on my Nikon D700, and film on the F100, F90X, and Nikomat FTN. However, while working with Vintage lenses, I’ve found that a Mirrorless camera works best. While Fuji’s in-camera simulations work well with my vintage lenses, its APSC sensor wasn’t making the best of them because the “character” of vintage glass stems mostly from imperfections that manifest close to the edges of the 35 mm frame. A few months ago, I encountered a Sony A7II listed near me, and I decided to take a look. The camera was in really good condition, having been cared for well by its previous owner. Furthermore, it had under 2000 shutter actuations. Though above my budget at that time, I decided to pick it up.
Unlike Fuji fans, who generally tend to be condescending at best and ferocious trolls at worst, Sony enthusiasts project a quiet confidence in the capabilities of their gear. Sony detractors, on the other hand, have strong opinions that are something like “that’s not a camera. Tried it once, never again.” I nearly joined the latter club right off the bat. Within an hour of getting my A7II, I hated it. It handled Indian skin tones terribly, and in the Vivid setting, my daughter’s skin was orange. Being used to dials on my Fuji X-T3 and my film cameras, navigating purely by control wheels didn’t feel right. The camera went up on a shelf, and stayed there for many weeks. As a practice, I never let gear sit for long. I went back to my Sony a couple of times, even got a manual focus 35 mm lens, but never really connected with it.
One evening, while reviewing some of my old photographs, I pulled the Sony’s RAW files into RAW Therapee. I was pleasantly surprised. I realised that this camera was capturing so much data, that there was a lot that one could do with the files. In fact, using RAW Therapee’s film simulations, I could easily get the vintage film vibe that I like so much. It also struck me that this vintage film vibe was inherently problematic to the image. In most cases, it increased contrast, resulting in a loss of tonality, and added a colour shift one way or the other. In fact, even with the Fujifilm simulations that I used, the colour was pleasing – yet not accurate. However, with Sony’s neutral mode, setting the camera and my laptop to Adobe RGB, I found that the colour reproduction was great. I could then pull the RAW file into RAW Therapee and get the exact look that I wanted. Though my intrinsic preference is for the kind of saturation seen in older Canon and Nikon digital cameras, I developed a healthy respect for the capabilities for my Sony gear. A huge plus was the Sony community – unlike the Fuji cesspit, there were no trolls or extremists – just a lot of kind people who were generous with advice on getting the best out of my camera.
One thing that struck me is that the 24-70mm lens that came bundled with the camera is fantastic. I always thought that Fujifilm’s 18-55 lens was great, and this Sony lens is as good! Its optical stabilization works in conjunction with the body’s IBIS to give razor sharp images at shutter speeds as low as 1/15th of a second despite my coffee shpilkes.
What really changed the game for me was finding the Sigma MC11 Canon to Sony adapter listed by Map Camera Chennai, a purveyor of High Quality near-new gear. At my nagging, the proprietor, Mr. Jayakumar dug out the data cable for it so I had a complete set. So why was this a game changer?
Everything Sony is expensive. As a mostly prime shooter, getting a 35 mm or 85 mm prime by Sony is a substantial investment and beyond my means as of now. On Nikon, I have been able to ride the wave of Nikonistas transitioning to Z mount, and have picked up really nice AF-D lenses at attractive prices. Canon EOS lenses, by their ubiquity are inexpensive and often show up on the secondary market in really good condition. The MC 11 allowed me to use my Canon lenses on this body with great autofocus performance. Note, though the MC 11 literature only claims compatibility with Sigma EF lenses, I can confirm that it works splendidly with the EF 50 mm F1.8; EF 50 mm F1.4; EF 85 mm F1.8; EF 28-105 F4-5.6; and EF 75-300 F4-5.6. The autofocus performance of these lenses on the MC 11 is as good as it is on a 5D Mark III. My Yongnuo 35 mm F2 lens however, does not work with this adapter – it does not focus beyond 5 feet. I have since discovered that there is an acclaimed Yongnuo 35 mm for Sony E mount, and that is on my list as a future purchase.
Given that my A7II works so well with vintage optics, and now my Canon EF lenses, I have been using it more than in the past. My connection with my Sony gear is growing slowly and soundly, in the way that all lifelong relationships develop.