As a pro mountain sport photographer, and someone working and playing in the mountains more than 300 days a year, I used to dream of having a camera light enough to not be a burden but also capable of producing the highest quality image files. I tried many systems but all came up short, the quality was not there. Then in 2012, we bought our first Sony system, the RX10o II. We shot it here and there and it seemed very good, but of course we were still shooting our big Canon systems for all our work. Then our first experience on the Hardergrat came and we decided to take only the RX100. The Canon was much too heavy for the trail that we had heard was long and difficult, staying light seemed best.
And so at sunrise, in one of the most beautiful places I had ever been, I was left standing with this point and shoot cursing my decision to not bring the “real” camera. I shot anyway, and thought everything looked ridiculous on that tiny screen. But at home that evening when I imported the images into Lightroom, they seemed okay. I figured they would at least be good enough for social media or blogging. Then I started developing them and suddenly they came to life, they looked nearly as good as the Canon DSLR images. We processed them properly in Photoshop and put them into our stock collection. These were some of the first images made on the Hardergrat and they were picked up everywhere. From that little Sony RX100 we had major magazine covers, advertisements, and even huge 3 meter wide trade show displays. I had found my super light camera system! I hope our story of discovering what is possible with the the Sony systems can help you make a camera decision.
This seems like a good time to announce that I am in no way affiliated with Sony. My enthusiasm about their products comes only from the fact that I am a professional user appreciative of the quality they provide, and the incredible bulk and weight savings. I am not here to explain any technical aspects, only real world, hands on usage and experience with the Sony systems and why they might be right for you. For technical specs, and quality comparisons, I use the DXOMark site.
Our evolution as Sony users continued when we next bought the a6000, a slightly larger body with the ability to change lenses. Now we had a camera that was more versatile and with even better quality, plus with the a6000 we had a viewfinder to look through allowing for more creativity and easier viewing in sunny weather. With the a6000 we were shooting many of our trail running tours and ski mountaineering days, the images were getting published and the quality outstanding.
In early summer of 2015, I got involved with Ueli Steck’s 82 Summit project. I would be joining Ueli for some peaks and photographing the experience. I figured I’d take along the a6000, but I was limited at the time to a 24mm lens and climbing often requires wider. The a7II system was the next choice, done! Now we had all three of the Sony Alpha cameras. I used the a7II for the entire summer of 2015, never touching my Canon gear again.
At this point I was convinced that the system was right for me, the quality of the image files from the a7II were better than the Canon 5d Mark III and 1D Mark IV and the weight savings tremendous. My only issues with Sony were the battery life and tiny buttons. Shooting Sony with gloves on is nearly impossible. I decided that before getting rid of all the Canon gear, I’d spend a winter shooting the a7II and the new a7RII. Winter came and went with no problems, then 7 weeks in the Himalaya with Ueli Steck and David Göttler at Shishapangma with only the Sony systems – and still, zero problems. I returned from the Himalaya and took 15 years of Canon gear to the used shop.
At this point, all our work was being shot with the a7 systems, while the RX100 II was being used for more fun trips. The a6000 with its 12fps was along for running days. We had our system. But like every piece of technology these days, it only got better. We upgraded to both the RX100 IV and to the a6300, which has since become my favorite camera.
The vast majority of the work we shot in the summer and fall of 2016 was with the a6300. All our work this year was from very real trips in the mountains, photoshoots more about real experiences than about production – the a6300 is ideal, pro quality files and super light. There are a huge number of high quality lenses now available for Sony users. Our a6300, once limited to 24mm, now has a razor sharp Zeiss 12mm lens which converts to an 18mm, perfect for much of our work.
What does all of this mean for you? Good news… For mountain sport folks wanting the lightest, most simple systems, you have two incredible options. The RX100 IV and Sony a6300 are, in my opinion, perfect cameras for most everyone.
Sony RX100 IV
This little camera has an electronic viewfinder, shoots 14fps, and produces images you can do most anything with. That 14fps number is important if you shoot running or skiing, all but guaranteeing you’ll get the shot with the best body position. In addition, the camera is completely managed by Sony’s phone app Play Memories, allowing you to set up the camera and shoot with your phone – action selfies!
This is, hands down, my favorite camera ever. I am able to completely rely on this little machine for work, and hardly feel it in my pack or pocket. I ran with it on the Dynafit Speed Transalp, a 3 day 90km trail running shoot, and my pack wasn’t much heavier than any other runner’s. I can’t recommend this camera enough, for both mountain sports or for general travel. I’ve found that the ideal lens for it is the Sony Vario Tessar Zeiss 16-70 which I always take with me, but so too the Zeiss Touit 12mm f 2.8, a very light option that gets you to 18mm with the a6300’s conversion.
Batteries : There is no denying that the Sony cameras go through batteries. It’s only a problem if you don’t have enough power, so I always carry multiples. Any day out will include at least three total batteries. In temps over 15° you can expect to get about 350-400 photos. As it gets colder things rapidly deteriorate, so it’s up to you how you manage the system. I keep batteries in my pocket, close to my body and continually rotate them in and out to keep warm ones in the camera. We have 12 batteries total for the a7 and a6300…
Small Buttons : I found that customizing the UI was crucial for minimizing issues with the buttons on the back of the camera. I made things as simple as possible by keeping most all my controls in the Function (Fn) button menu. One big improvement I found was to keep all the dial buttons turned off so I don’t accidentally hit any of them when moving quickly. There is a wealth of info online about the button functions and set up – find what works for you and learn it perfectly. Rumor has it that in the next weeks Sony will be releasing a major Firmware update with an all new Menu system. Let’s see if things improve…
Focusing : There are many options for focusing, both for action and still subjects. I’ve found the “Wide” mode to work best for subjects moving horizontally through the frame when in Continuous Auto Focus, while for still subjects, the Single Shot Auto Focus mode combined with the small Flexible Spot is very reliable. These are my go to combos, find what works for you.
Our lens selection is:
Sony Zeiss Touit 12mm, f 2.8
Sony Zeiss 16-70, f4
Sony Zeiss 16-35 f4
Sony Zeiss 24-70 f4
Sony Zeiss 70-200 f4