I started shooting professionally 8 years ago with my business JC Lemon Photography, with both weddings and elopements being on my radar. I didn’t really start being an NYC elopement photographer as a large portion of my work until maybe six years ago, doing city hall weddings. Since then it has become a majority of my business. It’s a different kind of wedding photography and I absolutely love it. 

For a while I had been reading a lot about Sony’s focusing capabilities, and being a DSLR shooter for years, wasn’t really sure what that would translate to in practice. I picked up a Sony A7 III a few months ago to try it out, and since then I’ve transitioned pretty much all the major workloads of my business to the camera. Aside from some reception and dance floor work where I still employ my Nikon D750, the Sony A7 III is now my go-to because of what it allows me to do as a photographer. 

Seeing first hand what Sony has done with focusing reliability and speed really turned me into a believer. Everything about the autofocus is so incredibly reliable compared to my DSLR. Especially with Sony’s Eye-AF, it’s stupid easy to grab focus in very fast-paced, unpredictable environment that are people-centric. It is especially important for candid “people” photography.

Before switching to Sony, the main issue with my DSLRs would be subject tracking. It was not reliable enough with how I move through and around guests, so instead of being able to use it I had to switch to AF-S focusing, which is far less ideal. Without the Sony, it’s now become impossible for me to move through crowds while also getting the quality of work that I expect of myself. 

Focus was also an issue on the Nikons, especially with my 35mm where my subjects were far away. You would get to a certain point in the camera where a single focus point covers more area than just your subject. That is to say, the little green focus square on the camera is bigger than the entire subjects I’m trying to focus on. I would have incredibly frustrating focusing issues here and especially when the light was also tricky. My DSLRs would often grab the higher contrast point of the background because the focus point was being shared between that background and the subjects. I could maybe use live view, but it was way too slow on the Nikon.

The Sony can grab focus from far away, and because it uses the eyes instead of contrast, it reliably grabs the eyes over the backgrounds. I can trust it like none other, whether that be in continuous focus mode or in subject tracking, and especially if it catches an eye I’m going to get the shot. 

Subjects can leave the frame, turn their back to me, and then when they turn back the camera can catch their eyes again nearly instantly. It can catch one eye on one face in a group of eyes and faces consistently and without problem. If I lock on to someone’s face, it takes a lot for the camera to decide to focus elsewhere. The eye autofocus is the key feature of this camera. It’s a game changer. It completely lets me focus on other parts of photography like framing or waiting for the right moment. I feel like I take more artistic photos because I can make my brain just work on art instead of caring about if something is in focus. Screw that, I want to focus on the art, not worrying if I got it in focus or not.

A lot of people will up their aperture to compensate and allow me to make sure certain faces are in focus, but with eye AF, I can shoot wide open and not worry about not getting their eyes in focus. 

The shot above is an example of an image that would have been extremely hard to get with a DSLR, but was stunningly simple thanks to the A7 III. 

This shot was taken in Gemma’s cozy wine room at the Bowery Hotel. The angle was needed for a couple reasons:

The place where the photo was taken is the only place the servers could come and go into the room, but it also happened to be the only place I could capture the entire room in one shot. 

I wanted to capture the entire room, but also include the baskets hanging from the ceiling because of the mood and atmosphere they add to the image.

Additionally, this angle, high up, was the only way I could hide myself in the mirror behind the bride and groom. 

To get this shot, I raised the A7 III over my head, tilted the rear LCD down, and used Eye-AF to lock on to the bride’s eyes. I then held that position for about 30 seconds. I had to lift the camera near the ceiling, look at the back of the camera and was able to watch for a single moment I could grab that I wanted.

I’m extra clear on this situation because I can’t help but think how much this would have sucked had I been using my DSLR. Without the Sony, I would have either had to rely on live view (bad idea), or I would have had to stand on a chair in order to bring my eye to the viewfinder. Standing on a chair, blocking the only means of entering and exiting the room for both the guests and the staff would have been incredibly intrusive. I also would have been firing as many shots as possible in an attempt to get something usable quickly, since I would have been in an intrusive spot, and would just have to hope to get something properly focused with good facial expressions out of a batch of a ton of images. Hope. No guarantees. 

With the Sony, I was able to stand there and get the angle, lock on, wait for the right moment, get it, and then move out of the way. The Eye-AF allowed me to spend my brain power on watching for the right moment, rather than have to also think about all the other factors. 

I hate being that person who is in the way, so getting a shot like this easily and without clogging up a pathway was really awesome. I was able to be in the crowd but not be in the way.

As incredible and game-changing as Eye-AF is, it’s not the only reason I have come to lean heavily on the A7 III for my work. In the photo above, the background is in full sun and they are in full shade, so you can imagine that heavy contrast between the foreground and background. Getting the focus right on their eyes would have been a bit tricky with my DSLR, but as I’ve said several times and I’ll beat this dead horse again: the Eye-AF is super reliable. 

That… and this was not lit with any lights. Thanks to Sony’s incredible dynamic range, I didn’t need them. It’s like bringing a reflector without actually bringing a reflector. 

For me, with my intimate wedding style, I can’t just go full force with lighting. It’s just not an option all of the time. This wedding did not have a ceremony, as it was a city hall wedding which is pretty common in New York. They had a very nice hotel room booked in the Bowrey with a terrace. Any time you have a terrace in NY, you use it. The problem was the time of day. Full sun on the entire city. But the terrace we were on was on the shady side of the building. So I was underexposed there by several stops. I knew I had to be mindful to keep them framed all in shade as much as I could, and then expose kind of in the middle to bring down the highlights and bring up the shadows and meet it all in the middle. 

This is just a different angle of the same location, this time going with the sun so it looks more saturated instead of blown out. They are still in shade in this photo, so same thing as in the last one, I underexposed and then brought them up in post; all this is possible thanks to that dynamic range.

This is a good example of a walking shot. And I know, walking shots are walking shots, but with my DSLR I would definitely have to be very mindful of how I was tracking them, and how I was walking with the couple. In the process of allocating brain space to that, my shot would suffer in terms of composition, or the moment I would capture. I feel like my hit rate is much higher for natural moments while in motion using the A7 III. 

In this specific shot, I believe I was using Eye-AF, but even outside of that the Sony will lock onto a body with the subject tracking focus mode. So even if I’m in a flex point, if the camera sees a body it will switch to tracking that entire person. So even if I don’t use eye AF, I still get an excellent result. And this was shot at f/2.2, so that’s a bit more open than you would typically see when the subject and I are both moving. I feel more comfortable leaving it pretty wide open because I trust what the camera can do. 

With DSLRs, you always have to fine tune your AF. Otherwise your camera might go “Yep, that’s in focus!” but then through the optics it actually isn’t. WTF. With the Sonys and any other mirrorless, there is no AF fine tuning necessary. This is so simple yet so profoundly amazing.

The real takeaway here is that I can trust my camera. Like, really trust it. It takes autofocus 100% out of my brain. So while my other cameras were good, they required supervision. With the Sony, I can put my 100% trust it it to not screw me or my shot, and I’m rewarded for it.

All images copyright JC Lemon Photography 2018.