A Tale of Mirrorless Magic for a Tiny Person…
When I walk into a room full of excited, (often tipsy) wedding parties, I usually start with, “Hi! My name is Adrienne…think of Rocky and you’ll never forget!” I spend the rest of my day hearing, “Yoooo, Adrienneeeeee!” and getting small jabs thrown at my abdomen. I kinda love it. I’ve been a professional wedding photographer in New Jersey and the surrounding area for the past 10 years.
Although it’s been a while, I still get nervous before every wedding! I would spend the morning reflecting on my inner creativity with the hopes of finding a cool new thing to do for my clients. Interestingly enough, I’ve come to discover that the ‘cool new thing’ will inevitably be the old thing.
What matters to my clients the most are moments, and my new gear has allowed me to focus on capturing just that! So if you’re thinking about moving over to mirrorless, this write up is for you!
I had been a Nikon shooter my entire career. I had a full kit of almost every pro lens, (a healthy investment to say the least.) As a petite photographer (5’1”, 110lbs), I found my gear was weighing me down and holding me back. I mean, I can do one-armed push ups on a bar, but ask me to walk around with a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 attached to a Nikon D750 with a battery grip all day, and I’ll shed a few silent tears. I’d honestly rather guzzle vinegar.
I always use two camera bodies on a wedding day and regularly came home with bruises from lenses banging into my legs. I made adjustments to my RL Handcrafts Clydesdale Pro, but it was never enough to compensate for my short torso. (Who am I kidding; short everything!) No matter how many Pigeons and Downward-facing Dogs I did, I continued to feel abused and beaten up after each event. Yes, I drink lots of water and eat snacks all day, literally, all day. This was something more. Aside from my chiropractor scolding me, I knew I needed to make a change for simplicity, maintaining ninja abilities and physical longevity.
After a year of peeking over the other side of the fence, ahem, the Sony side, I decided it was time to give it a whirl. The features of the Sony a9 intrigued me with its EVF, eye auto focus tracking, and silent shutter, just to name a few. My first experience had been a rental for a wedding test drive. I said, “What kind of wizardry is this?” after experiencing the magic of eye AF tracking. I also rented the Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM lens. Wooohoo, what a beauty! I used this combo all day and was sold… much like my Nikon gear (sting)!
An exorbitant amount of research went into my Sony shopping list. My ego wanted all f/1.4 primes, but my body said, “No, let’s be smart!” which means looking at some f/1.8 and f/2.8 lenses. (Sad music plays) I had to be sure that this transition would not reduce the creamy look that my old fast lenses could give me. Whelp, Sony makes me giggle like a little schoolgirl. My gear is now lighter, sharper, smarter, faster, and I’m spending less time doing things, and more time making awesome pictures! Enough of my babbling over this love affair with Sony, and on to my gear! (Crowd cheers!)
Sony a9 – I bought two of these babies! I just love, love, love this camera! It’s super small compared to my previous set up. I have tiny hands and although the grip is blocky, I am not having wrist and forearm fatigue anymore. The focusing on this system is so amazing. My in focus hit rate is well beyond anything I ever did on a Nikon. Period. I don’t have a percentage calculated for you number freaks. Let’s just call it ridiculously superior. Setting up the menus isn’t that big of a deal and I love assigning functions where I want them!
I program my client’s faces at the start of the day and this thing keeps a purple box following around their faces for focus priority in groups. IT FINDS THEM IN A CROWD, PEOPLE! I’m able to relax more and trust the camera to do its job (what a notion).
Pro tip – make sure you delete your bank of saved faces under facial recognition before each wedding. I had a previous wedding’s groom still saved and a groomsman who looked just like him was getting priority!
Ever shoot in a dungeon basement, then run into a bright room where bridesmaids were roaring with laughter while drinking champagne from the bottle, only to realize the first 10 shots were over exposed because you were still in dungeon mode? Then you adjust and try to reshoot it by telling them they were blinking the whole time but now the bottle is empty and the moment is over? Bummer. We’ve all done it. Well, that doesn’t happen anymore. EVF solves that problem. I’m so ready for everything and can see exactly what’s happening with exposure. I’m not missing moments; I’m nailing them!
Oh and guess what else, if you think silent shutter isn’t that big a benefit, think again. The people I’m photographing stay in their moments, they’re being natural, and I don’t interrupt what’s going on. It’s a big deal. I had 1 week of using only my Nikons between renting the a9 and buying them. I was cringing at myself as a groom was in the groove of writing his vows. Here’s little me, dangling like a monkey over his shoulder to catch a glimpse of what’s on the paper, whilst blasting the shutter away in his ear. Smooth. Real smooth. Incognito wins.
To address the elephant in the room, why 2 a9 bodies and not an a7 III? My wallet really wanted me to purchase 2 a7iii cameras and spend the rest of my money on lenses. There’s one big issue that directed me straight to the a9. BANDING. In certain lighting situations, the a7 III can experience banding in the images while using silent shutter. Of course I could switch over to mechanical shutter, but that would defeat the purpose of my original intentions which is to use silent shutter whenever possible. I want my gear to do what I need it to in ALL situations. For my use, the a9 wins, case closed.
Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS – Let’s just get this over with. I HATE strongly dislike using a 70-200, but I also respect church rules so I pull this baby out for exactly that. If I’m using a 70-200, 9 times out of 10, I’m shooting it at 200mm. Know what? At 200mm f/2.8 and f/4 look pretty much the same. This lens is almost half the weight of the f/2.8 version and does exactly what I need it to in moments where a prime won’t work. You may be wondering about a dark wedding venue during receptions. I use plenty of off-camera speed lights and never find myself needing more. Oh yeah, the a9 also has extraordinary ISO capabilities, so I can just bump that up a stop… or 10. (Insert evil laugh.)
Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 – Nikon 85mm f/1.4 was always my go-to portrait lens. Although I rented the Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM lens, it was like wearing a brick around my neck. Stand me near the Hudson and I’d be swimmin’ with the fishes! This was an extremely tough decision. Could I really take portraits with an f/1.8 lens? What would people think of me? It felt like I was messing with something sacred like a perfect snowflake or grandma’s Sunday sauce! f/1.4 is glorious! f/1.4 is what angels are made of! f/1.4 is, ehh, I’m over it. f/1.8 is light, beautiful, sharp and still gives me amazing bokeh. I’m not missing f1.4.
Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA – What a cute little surprise this lens is! It’s perfect for when I’m in a tight space and the 85mm is too long. I also love to use this on the dance floor to get some tight expressions in the natural casted glows from Joey and his technicolor dj lights. I often like to get close with this one for a tight headshot from above. Of course while they’re sitting down or I’m balancing on some sort furniture with wheels.
Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM Lens – This lens stays on one of my a9 bodies for almost all of the night following ceremony. It’s great for scenic compositions as well as quick group shots. It’s amazing on a packed dance floor. Most of the time my screen is flipped down and I’m shooting with my arms extended as far as I can reach, albeit, that’s not much. I just measured (throwing a bone to the numbers people) I can reach exactly 2’, and 2’6” if I get on my toes!
Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA – Ok, so I didn’t completely give up on 1.4! This lens was a must have. Even though I had the Nikon 35mm f/1.4, this one is so much more special. I pretty much stay between f/1.4 and f/2 MAX! Unless I’m taking a group portrait, then I’ll go to f/5.6. It’s just freakin’ beautiful. I like using this during bride and groom prep as well as close range up the aisle. It usually rides along side my 85 as a dynamic duo. It’s such a smooth lens, and with the AF abilities of the a9, I’m able to trust this baby at f/1.4 without fear.
Nikon D750 – It’s a secret, but I saved one. I’m using it unabashedly and recklessly for any dangerous things I don’t want to do with my Sony gear. Period.
Commlite CM-ENF-E1 – This adaptor allows me to use Nikon lenses on my Sony bodies. Specifically my Nikon 16mm f/2.8 fisheye and Nikon 105mm f/2.8 macro because who want’s to buy those again? These are my least used lenses but crucial when needed.
Godox AD200 – I love this light as a bare bulb in an Octabox. I use this light all day for portraits and formals. It seems to have all the power I need.
Godox v860 II – I have 5 of these and I use them all! I’m constantly changing my lighting. Sometimes I’ll shut off certain groups then turn them back on moments later. This system allows me the flexibility to make quick adjustments without walking over to the flash.
MagMod– I use EVERYTHING MagMod! I have 8 MagGrids, 2 MagSpheres, MagGels, 1 MagBounce, 2 MagSnoots, 1 MagBeam, and I’m anxiously awaiting the new MagBox and all of the goodies they sold with it on Kickstarter! These products are perfect for a wedding day. I use lighting all day on a wedding and these modifiers allow me to control the light very quickly and efficiently. I find myself using the MagGrids the most, as I light a tight, controlled light with very little spread. It allows me to get a spotlight type look on my subjects. I also like to use them for lighting details.
Godox XPRO S Wireless transmitters– I use 2 of these to control the functions on all of my Godox lighting. They are on my cameras for most of the day until I need to add a little bounce from on camera, usually during receptions. This new model is so much better as I can turn groups on and off with a button vs. spinning a wheel. Every second counts!
Manfrotto Alu Master Air-Cushioned Stand (Black, 12′) – I have 3 of these but only bring 2 out on weddings. I like my lights as high as they can be in a reception to avoid flare in my lens.
Flashpoint 9′ AutoStand – When I give my assistant a break from holding my light, or I’m alone, I can quickly move this around and set it down without effort.
Lastolite 48” gold/silver and white reflector – If ya don’t know, now ya know… reflectors are the bomb.
Shooting mirrorless allows me to be present and enjoy what’s happening in front of me. I really should have made the jump sooner! Additionally, I’m using less gear and making better choices with what I have. I’m so much happier (physically and mentally) after a 10-12 hour day. I’m confident in what I’m producing and I don’t feel like a Mack Truck hit me. All kidding aside, wedding photography is a very physical job. I take care of my body, and still had issues. For a long time I let my thoughts and the opinions of others get in the way of where I knew I wanted to be. I finally feel like my gear can keep up with my shooting style and I’ve made a smart move for my own well-being. Thanks for reading, and a special thanks to Mark at Shotkit for the platform to share with you all!