Choosing between a Nikon D810 or Sony A7RII ?

I often get asked for my opinion on comparing a Nikon D800/D810 to a Sony A7RII/A7II.  Just recently a long time shooter of Nikon wanting to switch to a smaller body who is on the fence asked for my thoughts on the matter. So, as a long time photographer who has used various cameras over the years, I thought I would chime in and give you my feedback based on years of real usage and experience rather than just comparing specs.

I have been a long time user of Nikon dating back to the late 70’s. That being the case, I have grown very fond of the brand and have a place in my heart for certain bodies. However, over the past few years I have been shooting Sony almost exclusively and more recently with the A7RII and A7II.

The following are a list of thing to consider when thinking about switching from Nikon to Sony.

Size

There is no question that Nikon has bigger and heavier body’s than the Sony A7x cameras. From the Pro D4S and downward to their entry level models, the majority of the Nikon DSLR’s are much larger and heavier. While the Sony offers a much smaller package there are some things to keep in mind. Depending on what type of photography you do, the A7 can be a God send or a pain in the neck. There are times when you just want that extra bulk in your hands that the A7x does not provide.

I personally find almost all the ergo factors of the Nikon D750 to be superior and more pleasant to use than those of the Sony A7x cameras. With the D750, your grip is firm, solid and reassuring. With the A7RII you’re constantly moving your hand around looking for that sweet spot where you feel you have a good grip. And once you do, you never really have that comforting reassuring grip you get with the D750. On the other hand, the D810 with it’s slightly more bulbous body, larger than the D750 and A7x, Is not quite as pleasant to hold as the others.

If you’re doing studio work, travel or street photography, the Sony could be your primary choice. It is small, discrete and quick to focus with phenomenal glass. Need to shoot sport or other events with big fast long lenses, than the larger DSLR will be more pleasant to work with regardless of adapting lenses to the A7x. However, when I have the need for pure joy, shooting film and an overall better shooting experience, I turn to the Nikon F6. Nothing comes close to it. It is possibly the best SLR body ever built. Actually, I am quite sure it is the best.

Buttons and Menus

I often hear of the dismal menu system and button layout from Sony compared to Nikon or Canon. Quite honestly, this is a non issue for me. I find little need to change settings once the camera is configured and if I do, I have memory settings available to me at the turn of a dial. Customizable function buttons also make life easier when shooting the Sony. The fact that just about any function can be reassigned to a button is very impressive.

Lens Choices

Native lenses for Nikon and Canon outnumber FE lenses by a large margin. However, the FE lens selection continues to grow and the available options address most photographic needs quite well with exceptional image quality thanks to offerings by Zeiss and the G series from Sony. While the native FE lens line up is still maturing, the ability to use just about any other lens with an adapter simply makes the A7x the camera of choice for using your lens of choice.

Reliability and build

There is no question that Nikon would be the clear choice if you are looking for build quality, reliability and ruggedness. Although the 2nd Generation A7x body’s are built substantially better than the first generation, they still lack the robust weather sealing, solid build and reliability of Nikon. I have owned Nikons for decades and in those years I have only had to have two body’s serviced. I left a battery in a Nikon F2 which caused corrosion and I dropped a Nikon F6 on it’s head. Both occasion where self inflicted damage. On the other hand, I have sent in two A7II for service in the past 12 month for camera failures. It scares me to the point that I am aware of every action and movement I make while carrying a Sony so I don’t accidentally do something which may damage it.

Image Quality

This is a no brainer. Shooting with a D810, D750, A7II or A7RII will yield excellent images which only a pixel peeper can take apart. I do like the files out of the A7RII a little more than what my Nikons have yielded in the past. But, that is subjective. Most viewers of your work will be more than satisfied by images from any of these high end cameras. However, there is no denying that when shooting higher ISO in low light situations, the A7S or A7SII is the goto camera. And, when you need high resolution, the A7RII is the goto camera with it’s 42MP sensor.

VR or IBIS

Sony is the clear winner here. Every lens you put on your A7II, A7RII or A7SII will work with image stabilization regardless of the age of the lens. To achieve this with Nikon or Canon, yo need to buy lenses that have vibration reduction built into them at a premium.

The advantage

Sony has the clear advantage when compared to most other DSLR’s thanks to it’s wonderful electronic viewfinder. I can tell you first hand that when using an EVF it becomes almost impossible to go back to an optical viewfinder. So much so, that I am willing to accept the short comings of the camera compared to a DSLR just to have the EVF.  Don’t listen to the naysayer who will trash the EVF and defend the OVF. He or she knows nothing. Thats right Jon Snow! You know nothing! Try one for a week. Shoot in near total darkness then go back to an OVF, do the same and tell me what you think.

Conclusion

I chose the A7x over a DSLR for various reasons. Although sometimes I prefer the body and feel of a DSLR, the A7 still works for me quite well with some benefits which are mentioned above .

I love the choices of auto focus Zeiss lenses that I can use with the A7x including A mount lenses with an adapter. You can get Zeiss lenses for Nikon or Canon but the drawback is that they are manual focus. I have grown quite fond of auto focus technology and find it difficult to focus manually these days unless I am photographing the sky.

Lastly, the deciding factor for me was the EVF. Until Nikon comes out with a FF mirror less camera with a premium EVF, they are nothing but an afterthought camera. Go try a camera with an EVF and you will fall in love immediately.

8 Comments on Choosing between a Nikon D810 or Sony A7RII ?

  1. I currently own a A7R2 with 6 lenses as well as a D810 with 9 lenses.
    I am also in my late 50’s and wear glasses.
    The pelican case I use to host my nikon gear weight probably around 20+ Kg (Pelican 1610).
    The pelican case I use for my Sony is probably less than 10Kg. At my age this is a big difference.

    – I won’t trust my Sony in humid or dusty conditions or any other potentially harsh conditions, I will use Nikon for this. I suppose any mirror less camera will be at a disadvantage in such conditions.

    – Sony battery is pretty annoying and you’ve got to bring plenty of spares. No problem with Nikon.

    – Sony is lighter but it is slower and sometimes shots are missed because of the startup time for instance and the AF.

    – Sony is very expensive. The new 70-300 G lens cost 3+ times the price of the Nikon equivalent for instance.

    I have as well a Fuji X100T as a backup camera for travel so I am just wondering if I should keep both full frame systems or may be limit myself to one and pocket the money.
    I like Sony but still photography being my main interest I should stick to Nikon. Right now I am still hesitating whether I want to go ahead and sell off 1 system.

    • I totally understand your concerns about exposure to humid and dusty conditions. They are the same concerns I have which is why I also have a Nikon DSLR which I know will hold up in just about any environment. I am reevaluating my entire setup and am leaning towards the larger DSLR’s again but reluctantly because of the lack of EVF in them.

  2. Figured I’d toss my two cents in. I’ve owned and shot the D800E/D810/A7R2.

    High ISO
    Surprisingly, the D800E had the better ISO performance of the 3. It’s marginal (like .25 stop), but its there for the pixel peepers. D810 and A7R2 were neck and neck. For color retention it’s D800E>>>A7R2>D810. I was so shocked by this, that I shot multiple test sets. The D810 is last because it has a purple cast in dark areas at high ISO.

    Sharpness
    Naturally, you’d think the A7R2 would be the sharpest of the bunch…but it’s not. D810>D800E>A7R2. Again, I took multiple shots just to confirm. Lens is out of the question as I used the same Sigma 35 ART on each camera.

    Viewfinder/Liveview
    I’m sure I’ll get flack for this, but the A7R2 EVF and live view was pretty bad. The EVF is wayyy too pixelated and the live view is all but useless in very low light. I was using the Sony to take pictures of the recent blood moon and couldn’t make out any moon detail while focusing….even at 600mm. It looked like a pile of mashed potato. I had to run back in the house and grab the Nikon to get good pictures.

    D810>D800E>>A7R2

    Battery Life
    D810>D800E>>A7R2

    Sound
    A7R2>D810>>D800E

    Video
    A7R2>D810>>D800E

    Ergonomics
    We all know the size ranking. But handling I’d say is D810>D800E>A7R2. I have fairly large hands for my frame.

    I know this sounds a bit biased, but I really did approach these cameras with a completely objective mindset. In fact, I would have tried to be biased toward the A7R2 because lugging the Nikons up mountains on hikes isn’t any fun. The A7R2 is a huge step in the right direction, and I’m eager to see how BSI helps sensors in the future. As of right now, I didn’t see any tangible benefit to it. I’d really like a D820 with the sharpness of the 810, high iso performance of the D750, and color retention of the D800E. More megapixels (for my landscape shots) wouldn’t hurt so long as the DR and ISO performance doesn’t take a hit.

  3. The optical viewfinder on my Sony A900 is as good as any out there. I also have an A7r and recently owned an A7. The EVF is no doubt fantastic in low light. … WYSIWYG is a wonderful thing particularly in low light.. However, I wear glasses and, in bright light, outside, the EVF is still pretty bad IMO.
    A good OVF allows me to get right in the scene to compose .. I get right in there and wander around.. I do not get that sense of being there with the EVF s. The newer EVFs are far superior to the first few that came out.. I once bought an A65 .. I had it for approximately 10 minutes before I had to send it back … I hated the EVF.
    I have already invested thousands in the A7 series, and I am not about to switch to the Nikon D800 series ..however, the OVF is not what’s keeping me from doing that.
    Rick”

  4. Hi,
    Very nice and instructive post. I agree with almost everything. Almost because I think the grip thing is very subjective as well. In my case I think it fits perfectly my hand. My fingers find there place naturally and it is very confortable. I actually like it a lot better than any pro or semi pro DSLR grips and ergonomics. I choose to shoot exclusively with my A7II for all the reasons you have listed but also for the grip.

    One of the other reasons the EVF is superior, is also when you shoot against the sun, sunset/sunrise, in macro for instance. You cannot use an OVF for obvious reasons and have to use the liveview which usually are not great on DSLRs.

  5. I actually own and shoot A7r II, A7s II, D750 and D810.
    They are all excellent cameras with different use cases.

    The Sony’s are the best hand-held.
    The Nikons are best at fast and slow.

    The Sony’s are best at short and light.
    The Nikons are best at long and heavy.

    The biggest advantage of the EVF over the OVF is the built-in diopter.
    Needing reading glasses now that I’m in my 50s, I find going back to an OVF and constantly requiring my glasses, even to change a menu setting, let along look at what I’ve captured is a constant pain.
    The Sony’s make this a dream and it’s the #1 advantage for me now…

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