I’m really enjoying my Nikon Z50 and dipping my toe into Nikon’s mirrorless capabilities. I’ve been able to try out its much-criticized autofocus and I can see how it affects my shooting situation. I’m willing to wait for the Z9’s autofocus to trickle down, but I still can’t stop thinking about how much better Sony and Canon’s autofocus capabilities are supposed to be. I still think I’ll be able to do some things more easily on my Z50 than on my other Nikons, but I’d also love to experience these “amazing” autofocus features that the other brands are famous for. I don’t want to buy fully into another system and I’d like to try something for more than a one-week rental. It would be nice if I could pick up a used camera in the same class as a Z50. As it turns out, Sony has an answer to my dilemma.
Enter the a6100
When reading reviews of the Nikon Z series, one author mentioned that Sony makes its advanced autofocus features available all they way down into its consumer crop-sensor cameras. I figured that if I could find one that was cheap enough, I might be able to get one used that would fit in my budget. It would be similar in capabilities to a Z50 and I’d be able to try out the features and compare. I’d only need one lens and it wouldn’t even have to be a full-featured camera.
The a6100 is Sony’s lowest-end crop-sensor mirrorless camera. It was released in 2019 for $750 and features a 24 MP sensor, 11 fps shooting, and Sony’s eye / animal / tracking autofocus. It’s a consumer-focused camera and it’s even smaller than the Z50. It doesn’t have many dedicated buttons, its body is all plastic, its EVF is low-resolution, the continuous shooting buffer isn’t very deep, and it only has one card slot, but none of that matters for my use case. It has the same autofocus capabilities as the high-end a9 and is still very customizable. It would be a great way for me to get exposure to the Sony system if I could find something cheap.
The body still sells used for $689 on its own and the 16 – 50mm kit lens sells for about $60, making it about $750 all in. Since I don’t have any other lenses that I can use on it, I’d also want the kit 55 – 210mm that goes for $140 used, bringing the total to $894 or about what I paid for my Z50. There are some that sell for a bit less on eBay, but it isn’t too much.
So Why Would I do this, Again?
You could make the argument that if I spend $900 on a Nikon Z50 and another $900 on a Sony a6100 that I might as well just buy a used full frame Nikon Z6 II and be done with it. You would be right, but it’s not as simple as that. I couldn’t do an extended comparison of Nikon and Sony autofocus performance. I couldn’t compare the two systems either — the controls, customizability, dynamic range of the sensors, or the “look” of the files. I couldn’t learn what it was like to “shoot Sony”, both good and bad.
This hands-on experience with Sony can inform my future decisions. If Nikon takes too long to trickle the Z9 capabilities down, if I don’t like how they do it, or if there is some amazing Sony deal that comes my way, I’ll be much more informed about what a switch would actually feel like. It’s a relatively inexpensive way to be “dual-system” for a bit before making a big decision.
Given my understanding of Nikon’s autofocus performance right now I also don’t think I’d be happy with a Z6 or Z7. They are generally good cameras, but I want my next camera to be significantly better than my current one. I want it to allow me to do things I can’t do today. My Z50 has shown me the kind of advantages mirrorless can provide, but I need the autofocus up to par to really make an investment in my next 5-year camera worth it. There is a lot of promise in what Nikon has done with the Z9, and the Z50 and a6100 can tide me over until it trickles down.
A6100 On the Way!
I scoured eBay and discovered that a6100s aren’t selling for that much less than they are at used camera shops like MPB. I saw bodies going for $650 without any sort of warranty, which isn’t worth it since MPB gives me 30 days to return it for a few bucks more. Thanks to the chip shortage, Sony stopped manufacturing the a6100 in November 2021, keeping the price of used models rather high. I ended up buying the body, 16 – 50mm lens, and 55 – 210mm lens from MPB for a total of $912, shipping included. That’s only about 9% off the price of that kit when new, but it is what it is.
The a6100 should arrive next week and I’ll be able to take it through its paces and compare it to my Z50. I already know it’s a smaller camera with complicated menus so I expect usability to be a bit of an issue. I expect autofocus performance to blow the Z50 away, but who knows? I’ll find out soon.