The Best Sony Mirrorless Cameras for Travelers
Sony has one of the best mirrorless camera lineups out there and with the constant release of their new mirrorless cameras, the Alpha series that combines the professional functionality in a smaller compact body, each year, there are more options for you to choose from than ever before.
That said, with more options, comes the overwhelming feeling for you to pick the right Sony mirrorless camera that fits the type of travelers you are. That is why I decided to write this guide, to help you choose which Sony mirrorless cameras from the Alpha Series is perfect for you.
First, let's begin with why you should consider buying a mirrorless camera from Sony instead of the regular DSLR offered by other players like Canon.Table of Contents
- Why Choose Mirrorless Over DSLR?
- Why Choose Sony?
- Differences Between Full-Frame and APS-C Cropped Sensor Cameras
- Understanding Sony Mirrorless Camera Lineup
- So Which Sony Mirrorless Camera is Perfect for Me?
Why Choose Mirrorless Over DSLR?
There are 2 main things you need to learn about camera lens specification that will help you pick the right lens for you, focal length and aperture.
This debate can take days to discuss but to sum it up without going into technical detail, it all boils down to the compact size and cheaper cost that comes with picking the mirrorless camera system over DSLR.
DSLR used to reign supreme for ages when it comes to cameras of choice for professionals but with the new mirrorless technology and its fast-pace development spearheaded by Sony, the mirrorless cameras have since catch up and even surpasses DSLR in many fronts.
The mirrorless is also new technology with many companies investing heavily in its research and development. It is the future of photography and since buying a camera is like investing in an asset, who wouldn't want to invest in a future-proof asset like the mirrorless technology?
This is why I use a mirrorless camera and why I would recommend anyone to make the switch especially if you are a traveler and are looking for a professional-grade camera in a more compact size than the DSLR cameras.
Why Choose Sony?
When you are buying a camera from a brand, you are also investing in its ecosystem by buying lenses and accessories and it can be very expensive if you want to switch from one ecosystem to another.
That is why picking the right brand to invest your money in is one of the hardest decisions you will have to make when you are buying a new camera. There are quite a few options out there but no brand has developed as fast as Sony when it comes to mirrorless technology.
Canon may be the #1 camera brand in the DSLR world, but no one can compete with Sony right now when it comes to mirrorless cameras as they have many years of experience developing and refining their cameras while Canon stuck to their guns until only recently where they caved in and released their mirrorless camera lineup.
It is due to this commitment by Sony at an early stage that allowed them to propel and lead everyone in the mirrorless industry and with its fast release cycle, we are sure to expect more and exciting features from them every year.
When it comes to lens selection, Sony used to lack behind the others but not anymore. As Sony mirrorless cameras gained popularity worldwide, so is the lens selection with manufacturers like Sigma and Rokinon jumping on the bandwagon as well as the forever-expanding list of official lenses by GMaster and Zeiss that they created for the Sony E-Mount system.
All in all, if you are looking for a new mirrorless camera to buy, Sony is the way to go.
Differences Between Full-Frame and APS-C Cropped Sensor Cameras
Without being too technical, the main difference between full-frame and cropped is the field of view the sensor can capture. Full-frame refers to a sensor size that is equal to 35mm format, a gold standard used since forever and any smaller sensor size is referred to as cropped.
The cropped sensor Sony used on their a6XXX series is called APS-C and it has a crop factor of 1.5X. Basically, this means that the field of view you get from the APS-C cropped sensor is smaller than what you will get from its full-frame counterparts.
Full frame cameras are generally better than the cropped cameras with the sensor being bigger allowing you to capture more. It will also let in more light allowing for a higher quality image and a better low-light performance than the cropped cameras.
But with great power, come great responsibility and that responsibility comes in the money you will have to spend on it. Full-frame cameras and their lenses are usually more expensive. It is also larger and heavier than cropped cameras so it might not be ideal if you want to travel light.
Cropped cameras, on the other hand, are more compact, much lighter and more affordable than full-frame cameras. The sensor is smaller on the cropped sensor and so the image quality may not be as great and low-light performance not as good as full-frame cameras.
That said, I have used the Sony cropped sensor extensively for the past 2 years and I have to say that the quality is more than enough for traveling. The images are crisp, the videos are as sharp as it gets, and best of all, the size of the camera and its accessories are still manageable especially for a light traveler/backpacker like myself.
Now that we have laid the groundwork for Sony cameras, let's explore more about what Sony has to offer in its extensive list of mirrorless cameras.
Understanding Sony Mirrorless Camera Lineup
With every new release, the Sony camera lineup gets more and more confusing, but in all this madness, there is actually a pattern to it and once you understand them, it becomes a little easier to grasp which should help you decide which to buy.
First, we can divide the Sony Mirrorless Cameras into 2 categories, the APS-C cropped sensor and the Full-Frame Sensor. You can easily recognize this by its naming convention where the names of APS-C cameras start with a6XXX whereas the names of their full-frame cameras start with a7.
The Sony APS-C Cameras (a6000 - a6600)
Let's begin with the APS-C cameras as it is the simplest one to understand. There are basically 3 main cameras for the APS-C series, A6000 for beginners, A6300 for enthusiasts, and A6500 for advanced users.
These 3 cameras released in 2014, early 2016 and late 2016 respectively were the 3 base models that had been the face of Sony's APS-C cameras for years, until they release the new and confusingly named cameras, Sony A6100, A6400, and A6600 in 2019.
Their goal is to discontinue the A6000, A6300, and A6500 and replace the APS-C lineup with the newer A6100, A6400, and A6600. Simply put, the A6100 is the newer version of A6000, A6400 is a newer version of A6300, and finally, A6600 is a newer version of A6500.
The Sony Full-Frame Cameras (a7, a7R, and a7S)
Now, if you think the naming convention for APS-C cameras is confusing, you are in for a treat. With full-frame cameras, Sony decided to use a different naming convention. Now the camera lineup is divided into a7 (the basic model), a7R (high resolution), and a7S (high sensitivity).
The a7 is the balanced or the basic model that is basically the jack of all trade full-frame camera, great for enthusiasts and advanced users who are looking for an affordable full-frame camera.
The a7R is the high resolution model that offers the best in class resolution and image quality, and a great all-around camera for most purposes.
The a7S is the high sensitivity model that focuses on capturing great videos especially in low-light but not much else.
For every iteration of these Sony full-frame cameras, they will add a roman numerical version number to it. For example, a7 becomes a7II, and a7R becomes a7RII, etc.
So if you look at there current full-frame camera lineup, you would see that the latest balanced model is a7III (third generation), the latest high resolution model is a7RIV (fourth generation), and finally, the latest high sensitivity model is a7sII (second generation).
So Which Sony Mirrorless Camera is Perfect for Me?
Everything in photography all boils down to the budget you are willing to invest in your camera. You can expect to spend from 550 USD all the way to 3500 USD for a mirrorless camera these days.
With the equipped knowledge of the Sony Mirrorless Camera lineup, let's explore the best mirrorless cameras out there and find the perfect one that fits your needs the most. Let's begin with the cheapest Sony mirrorless camera you can get now:
The Sony a6000, released in 2014, is the cheapest and the oldest of them all but it still offers a great value with its sharp 24 MP sensor and the unbeatable price of 550 USD for the camera body. Unfortunately, it doesn't come with a 4K video recording capability and it doesn't have a flip screen like its newer model, the Sony a6100.
I would consider the Sony a6100 as well since it is one of the latest cameras Sony releases in 2019 and it is meant to replace the aging Sony a6000, but the Sony a6100 comes at a much higher price point at 750 USD and that is a dealbreaker if you are looking for the cheapest one.
If you can live without built-in image stabilization, LOG color profile and a 4K video recording capability, the Sony a6000 is the best you can get for 550 USD. If not, then our next recommendation might be a better fit for you if you don't mind spending more than 550 USD.
Recommended: Sony a6000 (550 USD)
If you are looking for an affordable yet advanced Sony mirrorless camera packed with features in a compact body, you can't beat the Sony a6500. The Sony a6500, which was released in 2016, comes with a 24mp APS-C cropped sensor, a 4k video recording capability, fast autofocus, a built-in image stabilization, a LOG picture profile system, and many more.
Even though the Sony a6600 is newer (released in 2019), it is also 1400 USD, almost 200 USD more than the Sony a6500. The Sony a6600 has the same sensor and processor as the a6500 but it comes with better battery life, a faster focus, and a few minor improvements.
Personally, I think the benefit you gain from getting the newer model is minimal and not worth the 200 USD more that you can spend on lenses instead.
I was also considering the Sony a6400 (998 USD) which is cheaper and newer than the a6500 but it lacks an in-body stabilization which is a dealbreaker for travelers especially if you are into filmmaking and street photography where there can be a lot of movement, so I would recommend you get the Sony a6500.
Recommended: Sony a6500 (1,190 USD)
If you are looking for a great Sony mirrorless camera that comes with all the advanced features, packs a ton of pixels for you to print or post-process, and you do not mind carrying heavy camera gears, the Sony a7III is the best and cheapest option for you.
The Sony a7III comes with a full-frame sensor that allows you to capture more, especially under low-light condition, than the APS-C cropped sensor counterparts. It is also more expensive at 1999 USD and comes in a bigger form factor, something you would expect when you compare it with the APS-C cameras.
It is also important to note that when you are using a full-frame camera over an APS-C camera, your accessories like lenses and tripods will become heavier and more expensive.
If you are a light traveler, full-frame cameras like this may not be for you, but if you do not mind carrying heavier camera gear, the Sony a7III is a no-brainer.
Recommended: Sony a7III (1,825 USD)
If money is no object for you and you are looking for the best-in-class mirrorless camera, the Sony a7RIV is the best camera money can buy, period.
Priced at 3500 USD, the Sony a7RIV comes packed with a whopping 61 megapixels. That is 9504 x 6336 max resolution! It also comes with the best-in-class autofocus system, better processing power, better battery life, better duo SD cards support, all-in-all, better everything.
Nothing comes close to this camera, not even the best full-frame cameras from other competitors and so if you are looking for the most advanced mirrorless camera out there for your travels and do not mind carrying heavy loads, the Sony a7RIV is the one to get.
Recommended: Sony a7RIV (3,500 USD)
And there you have it, a complete guide on how to pick the best Sony mirrorless camera for all types of travelers. What do you think of the recommended cameras? Do you own one of these mirrorless cameras and have some experience or thoughts to share? If so, please do not hesitate to let us know in the comments below.
The Solo Traveler’s Resources is a series of posts by Bucketlistly where we will explore the ways of life of nomads including how we work, travel, and what we carry in our backpack.
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