The struggle is real when you’ve got an established set of equipment you work with, and then you’re in a position to upgrade. Should that be a Sony camera lens or body? Zoom or Prime? Which focal length and aperture? The sweet spot for price? Agonising over the many facets of making a decision can be paralysing indeed.
Here’s me thinking out loud and an invitation into my thought processes… I’ll update once I’ve bitten the bullet and jumped all in on my upgrade path of choosing.
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I’ve always kind of held myself back, trying to extend the mileage as much as possible and shell out as much as I could afford to pay. Over the last 5 years, my equipment has developed sideways with additional audio and desk setup, but not vertically to improve my existing shooting kit. Minimal and trusted, I’ve operated these for the last 5 years:
SONY A7 III
My first significant upgrade was when I took the step from being an amateur to taking creation more seriously. I bought it while on my 9-month travels in Sapporo, Japan, the home country of Sony, which was quite fitting to say the least. Leaps and bounds over the Sony A7, it was my first step into full-frame. The attractive price and upgrades at the time were huge. After hitting the ceiling of the Sony A7, the A7 III gave me plenty of room to grow as a creator. Better autofocus intelligence, 4K recording up to 30 fps and a much more satisfying body than the plasticky A7, this was a statement of intent.
Besides the basic kit lens, the Sony 90mm f/2.8 macro G was my first additional lens and cost a lot for me at the time. I remember being excited to try its macro capabilities shooting very close to the object (I was doing a lot of product photography at the time), doubling as a portrait lens too. The focal length gave me the extra reach I was lacking with some pretty sharp G lens quality. It was also my first prime lens and I found it further the ways I’d position myself for the shot.
I used it for portraiture for some lifestyle shoots outdoors with the f/2.8 aperture providing solid background separation and bokeh. The lens is fairly long, not too heavy and has inbuilt Optical SteadyShot stabilisation. It’s played a peripheral role in usage over the years but when I come to need it, the 90mm f/2.8 G has been dependable. The noticeable downside is the noisy focus system that isn’t great for video but manual focus and sharpness are very good.
This was my second lens after doing some research, one I bought 3 years ago. I decided the 35mm was the right focal length for me, an in-between the standard 24mm and 50mm portrait lens. Not too tight with some room but not too wide either. It would cover a range of situations my lens could perform in. The f/1.4 aperture is beautiful for depth of field and bokeh, often overlooked due to the 35mm f/1.4 GM lens. The Zeiss is noticeably front-heavy and can fatigue the hand, especially if held in a vertical orientation, but I’ve generally enjoyed the sharpness of what it produces.
I’ve had to rely on it heavily over the years so I can definitely say it paid its dues. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the 35mm prime as it helped me find a unique look, an eye for framing and excellent results when looking back. I would probably still keep this or at least a 35mm, especially when adding Super 35mm crop and clear zoom for extra reach and the less tight 50mm if space is a little limited.
.. and that’s it. That is my current lineup of body and lenses over the last 5 years. I’ve tended to try and stay minimal since I’ve lived and travelled a lot over the years. But I’m finally removing the shackles that bind me to really give it everything and allow my creativity and craft to really flow. We’re only just getting started!
I’m finally in a position where I can take that next upgrade path in my creative journey, but the question is which, what, how much and why? The crazy amount of lens options, focal lengths, aperture, zooms and primes for Sony cameras is great but overwhelming to break down. The questions I asked myself are the focal lengths I need, the aperture sI tends to operate, the lighting conditions I find myself in and the luxury of time when shooting.
Ranging from making youtube videos at home or outdoors, to shooting photography and expanding more into videography in live motorsport and projects going forward. I find myself leaning towards zooms or at least a combination of zooms and prime. I’m a hybrid shooter and need strong video and photo capabilities. This opens up the option to upgrade the camera body, putting my A7 III as a secondary, B-cam or backup (which is a far better alternative if something goes wrong than my A7. I’m glad I brought it with me to Vietnam however!).
Could it be a lens and a body? 2 or 3 lenses? zooms and primes? We’ll see. But below is where my mind is in why these choices are the front runners to upgrade!
SONY 70-200MM F/2.8 G MASTER II
Shooting live motorsport, probably the least indecisive lens I want to get is the 70-200 GM II. Besides the insanely high price tag (that’s easy to forget because lens can be so expensive), It’s a huge upgrade over the first generation, being near 500 grams lighter in weight, faster autofocus and IQ, improved sharpness through the focal length and covers an excellent range that’s versatile to shoot with. Whether that’s for reach when I can’t get closer, it’s great also for portraiture, a compressed telephoto look, architecture, street, and travel, with great depth of field at f/2.8.
The Sony 70-200 f/4 equivalent is more than half the price, however, I prefer the extra stop in light. The 70-200 F/2.8 GM II is also compatible with the 1.4x and 2x teleconverters (not the F/4 version) which I plan to add to my kit when needed for that extra versatility (it does sacrifice a stop of light and two stops on the 2x). I loved the output and reach using the first and second gen of the 70-200 GM at the F1 French GP, so for me, this is arguably on top of my list with little to no resistance.. just need to shell out a bucket of cash.
I originally was considering the 24-70 GM II if I got a second lens to give me the full coverage of the standard lens, but then I started to lean into the Sony 16-35 GM II because of its ultrawide and wide aspects that compliment my existing 35mm nicely. The zoom gives me versatility in focal lengths without needing to change so I can find a look on the fly. It opens up a greater range of looks for landscape, establishment shots and room in tight spaces. The 24-70 has far more competition while the 16-35 is quite unique and limited in offerings. The price is very high though so while I lean towards it, that would be if I get a second lens.
The prime alternative to zooming in the 16-35 I’ve heard great things about is the 20mm F/1.8 Sony G lens. It’s super light, compact, has fast autofocus, greater aperture access for low light and depth of field, half the price of the G Master. I find 20mm to be a sweet spot for that wide look, and it makes any kind of vlog or documentary shots easier without looking too tight at say 24mm. It would make the gimbal work for video excellent to manoeuvre so the more affordable option at the wide end maybe this.
I’ve been quite conflicted in this focal range because there are many excellent options that it’s hard to decide. For run and gun, the Sony 24-70 GM II zoom would be great. The f/2.8 is fast to work with and the GM II would have my preference over the first gen due to the weight and size reduction, though not as drastic as the 70-200. The GM II is tack sharp throughout, doesn’t handle chromatic aberration or fringing as well as the 70-200 GM II and lacks OSS, but delivers exceptional quality if I’m aiming for that.
I’ve happily gone by with my 35mm and the crop capabilities, but certainly, for live motorsport and the real-time nature of the shooting, it would work well. It’s a toss-up with the 16-35 as personal preference is a wider zoom, but there’s a practical element to have the 24-70 GM II at similar price points.
I was happily using the Sigma ART 24-70mm f/2.8. It’s sharp, still manages fast autofocus and is half the price of the Sony 24-70 GM series. For the price difference, it represents excellent value for money. Where I’ve hesitated is my general tendency for weather sealed lens where quality could degrade over the years, depending on usage and care of course. It’s something with my Sony lenses I’ve enjoyed their durability all these years, while the Sigma I would slightly worry. The premium on Sony GM tends to hold their value well too so while they cost more upfront, the resell possibility and condition still make them sound investment options.
But there’s no denying, that on a budget the Sigma is an exciting choice. Over the 24-70 GM II or the 20mm f/1.8? Hard to say.
worthwhile mentions that I’ve also considered in the process are the Sony 135mm f/1.8 GM which I’ve heard excellent things about. More compact than the 70-200, it hits a sweet spot in focal length where I feel I get more than the 90mm Macro f/2.8 G I have in reach, while I can hit the 200mm or close to in super 35mm crop mode. The wider aperture makes for some amazing bokeh and low light conditions, with a nice compressed look to it. This would be the prime alternative to the 70-200.
I’ve heard nothing but high praises for the 50mm f/1.2 GM. A dreamy 1.2 aperture for bokeh and depth of field is great for portraits and low light shooting in a super compact body makes this great for both stills and video work. The focal length sits in between the 24-70 zoom but having a 35mm I’m not sure I want to carry both lenses and feel I’d miss the focal length. Maybe not now, but later perhaps?
So that’s it for lenses. I’ve researched endlessly on it but slowly feel like the options are shaping up before me for this evolutionary upgrade in my equipment upgrade path. Let’s look at camera bodies I could consider among the lens choices.
SONY A7 IV
As a fellow Sony A7 III user, I’m not someone who pays for incremental upgrades, usually skipping a few gens until I feel it’s worthy. However, the next Sony A7 IV I didn’t expect it to be such a big upgrade from the solid A7 III. As a hybrid shooter, this feels like the right path versus the other two bodies for different reasons, but while the A7 III presented a big jump over the II, it still lacked against the A7S series. The A7IV however closes that gap among huge quality of life upgrades and developments in many areas lacking in the III that it feels worth the upgrade.
33MP for greater and retained detail in crop mode. oversampled 7K resolution into 4K for sharper image. greater 4K modes up to 60fps (cropped), articulating screen for better monitoring erognomics (vertical, vlog), improved port covers, updated menu system with touch navigation, quick toggles to video, photo and S&Q with customisable settings for each (important), improved EVF, button location and remappable dials, CF Express and UHS-II card slots. It feels like a significant update, especially on the video side as it now has 10 bit 4:2:2 4K, and S-cinetone profile. The real-time Eye AF and tracking system pose greater IQ shooting, and focus breathing compensation are many things I’m excited about. And for 1000 EUR / GBP / USD less than the A7S III, it feels like the best hybrid option out there.
I was so conflicted about getting the A7S III or the A7 IV and the price difference. The A7 IV bridges the gap for sure but no doubt the A7S III is still thetop for video versatility (alongside the FX3 but that’s way out of my budget). The extra depth in video had me deliberate if I could afford or worth the extra outlay and possibly reducing other options for lens etc. Having 4K 120 fps would be amazing with no crop, alonside it’s mighty low-light sensitivity, performance and grading options in post production specifically for video. It certainly would give me full access to really develop in this area.
My hesistations as much as it’s strong for video was the lacking resolution for stills at 12MP for room to work with, no super 35mm crop mode which I find super useful to have, and as yet no crossover for focus breathing compensation, focus mapping found in the A7 IV. The A7S III would work well alongside my A7 III as a backup but also go-to for video and the other for stills. But I don’t lug or currently use both cams at the same time, so having to switch between bodies onsite may not always be practical.
You can probably see I’m leaning towards the A7 IV for my use case and overall updates in-line with my workflow, but the jury may still be out on this one.
While I’ve added the A7R IVa, it’s discounted itself from the race on several fronts when compared to my needs. I initially considered the R series because the 61MP give splenty headroom to crop, crisp detail (although also room for noise), and makes printing a real viable option without loss of detail.
But it’s severaly outdated compared to the A7 IV and A7S III due to timing, as it has the same tiled screen as the A7 III, uses the older Bionz X vs XR of the A7 IV (same as the Alpha 1 flagship) and only has 8 bit 4K going up to 30 fps, same as the A7 III. And costing closer to the A7S III and my stronger desire in video, it just didn’t suit my needs well. Awesome as a photography camera however.
In reality, I could go the several lens excellent quality but not top tier (3 perhaps), two top tier lens (G Master range) zoom, primes or a combination, or 1 lens and 1 camera body. From my current setup, I do have a great desire to exapnd my lens line as that just options up more shooting options, but at the same time a new camera body adds some much needed IQ, video options and improved brains for dependable shooting and flexible post production I’m paying more attention to.
On that front the A7 IV makes the most sense not only in features as a hybrid shooter, but being easier on the wallet than the A7S III, which makes getting another lens at top quality still viable. My 35mm f/1.4 Zeiss still holds up well and I feel it holds the ground for that middle ground range, so If I had to choose it would definitely be a telephoto zoom or the ultrawide as a prime or zoom. The Sony 70 – 200 f/2.8 GM II hits a unique space that unless you’re doing sports, wildlife live events, your everyday shooter wouldn’t have in their kit. But I was mighty impressed on the reach, quality and added shots I could attain when movement is not possible.
So I think that is a strong front runner I want to add which would make a big difference to my professional work. Secondary if I went the two top tier lens would probably be the 16-35mm f/2.8 GM. Not too wide and covers all wide focal lengths I would need. Although the 20mm f/1.8 I still think I would want just because of the compact, fast and wide angle for those self recording shots on the move that isn’t heavy.
Stay updated as I’m not sleeping on this decision as the earlier I can do this, the more time I can kick my workflow up a notch. What do you think? Let me know your thoughts, hands on experience if you have any of the lenses mentioned above or advice. Update you soon!