There are times when technology makes a significant jump forward. I’m not referring to gargantuan events such as the invention of the steam engine or internet, but smaller incremental improvements that simply make our lives better. One such example would be the invention of USB-C. Another, mirrorless cameras.
Until the launch of the first mirrorless cameras just over a decade ago, interchangeable lens cameras used a reflex lens to reflect light into their sensors. Many still do, which is what happens in digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras. While this system produces the highest quality images, it meant these cameras could never get too compact.
The introduction of mirrorless changed that. Mirrorless cameras do away with the reflex mirror and use and electronic sensor instead. This makes the camera, among other things, the ability to be more compact. Initially, DSLR cameras far outperformed mirrorless cameras for image quality, but these days the gap has closed and mirrorless cameras can certainly compete with DSLRs.
Ruling the mirrorless camera arena is Sony. The electronics giant leads the competition and produces a substantial share of the mirrorless full-frame and APS-C currently available. Here, we’re looking at the Sony model’s best suited to the varied world of automotive photography.
Tell me about Sony cameras
Sony’s full-frame mirrorless endeavours began with the Alpha 7. Now in its fourth iteration, it’s still leading the mirrorless game, and a growing collection of models have since joined the α7.
Sony is also the world’s largest producer of digital sensors, which includes those used in most smartphones and even some of Sony’s camera competitors. Naturally, this gives Sony an advantage in sensor innovation – its cameras are blessed with fantastic image quality and autofocus.
However, Sony’s range of lenses certainly isn’t as extensive as those offered by Canon and Nikon because it hasn’t been in the camera game for as long. Sony’s cameras are also very compact, and while this has advantages, it also draws some criticism over ergonomics.
DSLR camera: The acronym stands for digital single lens reflex and is still top dog for image quality. That’s why most professionals still use DSLR cameras, but there are still plenty of entry-level DSLR cameras around too. DSLR cameras are very customizable, which is great but does take some learning to make the most from.
Mirrorless camera: DSLR cameras use a reflex mirror, but mirrorless ones do not. Instead, light passes directly through from the lens to an electronic sensor. It’s more compact and allows you to preview selected settings before taking the shot. Advances in recent mirrorless models means some can challenge DSLR cameras in terms of image quality.
Sensor size: Full-frame, APS-C, and micro four thirds. There is a lot that differs between the three sizes, but one of the major points is that full-frame sensors perform better in low light because they are physically larger and can capture more light.
The best Sony cameras for motorcycle photography
Sony’s latest α7 improves on the previous model and makes better what was already very good. For example, the sensor is 33 megapixels, up from 24.2 on the α7 III, delivering even higher resolution. The α7 IV will also shoot 4K at 60fps where the α7 III could only shoot at 30fps.
For action shots, the α7 IV fires off at up to 10fps and of course uses Sony’s fantastic autofocus system. It works very well for people and animals, and reasonably well for other subjects such as vehicles, but Canon’s system is better for the latter.
The α7 IV remains compact and one cannot fault build quality. But other cameras around this price point are more ergonomic, and Sony could definitely improve user interface.
|• Compact||• Unintuitive interface|
|• Solid construction|
|• 4K at 60fps|
There are different versions of the α7. There are the ‘standard’ models; some have an ‘R’ in the name and these possess a higher resolution sensor; and those with an ‘S’ are for low light and video. Thus, the α7S III is a brilliant camera for those as interested in video as they are photography.
What makes the α7S III better for video and low light is its higher sensitivity and it can therefore capture clean images when light is scarce. The α7S III can also shoot in 4K at up to 120fps, which far outperforms any competitor.
The α7S III’s fast, accurate autofocus and image stabilization also play important roles, both for video and stills. Users also get to enjoy Sony’s signature cinematic colours that it is well known for.
|• Stunning video||• Focus on video not for everyone|
|• Excellent in low light|
Predecessor doesn’t mean outdated. The Triumph Daytona 675 is still blimmin’ good, and so too is the Sony α7 III. The α7 III is still as good as some fresh competitors, such as Nikon’s Z 6II, and slides comfortably under the £2000 price point.
Its 24.2 megapixel sensor provides very high resolution – certainly more than enough for hobbyists. Sure, it’s 4K is limited to 30fps but that won’t be of concern to many. Crucially, the α7 III features a wonderful autofocus, 10fps bust rate, and a very impressive dynamic range.
Users will appreciate how much the α7 III (and α7 IV) does for them, making their life easier. Such is the benefit of 5-axis image stabilisation and focus points covering almost the whole frame, for example.
|• Good value||• Limited video ability|
|• Still a performer despite age|
The α7 series is brilliant but it is expensive. The α6400 goes a long way to addressing this by being a superb camera for less than £1000.
Kicking off with the physical stuff, the α6400 is even smaller than the α7 models, on account of its APS-C sensor. Despite that, it’s level of image quality is very impressive, including in low light conditions. The α6400 uses clever software to ensure subjects are focused on and tracked accurately and very quickly (0.02 seconds).
Some photographers may scrunch their noses over the α6400’s ergonomics, but it’s fine and certainly not offensive. In fact, there are even some nice touches such as the 18-degree tilting LCD touchscreen, making awkward angles awkward no more.
|• Good value||• Small viewfinder|
|• Super fast autofocus|
While this camera may look like one your aunt used at birthday parties in the mid-2000s, the α6000 is in fact an impressive little unit that is perfect for beginners.
With the α6000 you get introduced to interchangeable lenses and manual controls but without all the other daunting functions. Yet, the 24.3 megapixel, mid-sized APS-C sensor still captures very high levels of detail. Moreover, features such as Sony’s 4D FOCUS allow you to accurately focus on subjects, even those in motion.
The α6000 is a very compact camera to the point where it is pocketable (with a small lens fitted). You can even choose from four colour schemes.
|• Great for beginners||• Video only FHD at 60fps|
|• 4D FOCUS|
|• Very portable|
Sony’s lens line-up isn’t as extensive as those from Nikon or Canon, but that isn’t to say it’s rubbish. There are plenty, particularly for full-frame models. But they are quite expensive so trawl the second hand market for lenses first.
A-mount: These are for Sony’s translucent mirror cameras. You probably won’t have heard of this other camera range that Sony makes and with good reason: the company devotes relatively little time and attention to it. These cameras are similar to DSLR-type cameras.
E-mount: The E-mount range is for Sony’s mirrorless cameras. There are different lenses for the full-frame and APS-C camera models. Sony’s α7 and α7R cameras can also be fitted with adaptors so A-mount lenses can be used on them.
Mirrorless has come to the fore of photography very quickly, and it is the future. Thus, Sony is in a good position and already produces some cracking mirrorless cameras. There are niggles, such as ergonomics, but overall Sony deserves its reputation.
For automotive photography, any of the models recommended here will serve you well, dependent on skill level. Our absolute pick of the bunch is the α7 IV, due to its incredible still and video abilities. However, those less interested in video will be just as well served by the older α7 III.