I’m still a firm fan of the Sony A7 and A7R and think this system is only in its infancy. Since my first camera reviews, I have added a number of Sony FE lenses to my personal inventory and I have plans to incorporate one of them (the Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8 FE) into a project I am shooting at the moment. I’m not going to say too much about that now, but have a few files I will show you to perhaps give further insight into where such cameras put in an incredible performance. In this case, it is in the air!
The following shots were all taken through the windows of a variety of medium-sized aircraft, which I have travelled around Afghanistan in. Unfortunately, I have not been able to clean the glass (!) but I have been able to make flare, glare and other snags work for me. This is one of the benefits to leaving editing until quite late in the process. Capture images that ‘feel right’ through the viewfinder…. shoot intuitively…. worry less about details and really get into a rhythm and then, once everything has calmed down and you have shot plenty of frames, sit down and get a feel for what they look like an where you can take them. Hell, if you worried about clean glass and perfect performance, a project like this would be impossible. I have not one single frame that isn’t in some way affected by the experience of shooting in the way I did, but that’s the whole point.
I wanted to show these because shooting from the air is not easy. In some cases the plane has not been all that far above ground level, meaning the closing speed of the terrain (and therefore composition) has been extremely demanding. I won’t deny that a camera with the responsiveness of a Canon 1DX would have been nice, but I am aiming for big prints with some of this work so I would rather have 36MP to play with thanks. Can the A7R do the job, with its clackety-clack shutter? Yes… in a BIG way. You just have to be more careful and recognise that the camera is a bit slower. You need to think (and look) ahead and be ready for what’s coming.
I’ve already commented that the real boon for me has been the exceptional performance of the Sony Zeiss lenses at wide apertures, which has meant f4 on the 35mm has allowed for very high shutter speeds and also delivered stunning file quality. Now that I have the 55mm here in Afghanistan, I am really excited. This stuff is what this lens was borne to do! All of these files were shot with the Sony Zeiss 35mm FE, but based on some experience in Iceland with the lens, its going to excel with this work.
Due to low altitude, the closing speed on some of these city shots was pretty high, hence the very high shutter speeds being used to be sure of sharp results. Are the corners perfectly sharp? In most cases, yes. But not absolutely completely perfectly in all cases; however, I can say with certainty, the only camera system that could even begin to compete her would be Leica M. Even then, it would be no better and you’d not have the incredible 36MP to play with and there are other considerations too:
- The cost of having TWO Leica M bodies on your lap with two different prime lenses on?
- Manual focus, as terrain drops away and height changes rapidly when coming in for landing, or after take off? No thanks.
- Carry $20K or equipment with you in Afghanistan, or $5K?
- As for a D810 with the best primes, who is going to make that work in cramped seats, no room for manoeuvre and only one lap to place both cameras?
The greatest challenge has related to often extremely low contrast in the original files, because most were shot in the summer when there was a great deal of atmospheric haze and dust. The situation became so bad that by August I was not able to derive any workable files from my last flight. The good news is that the summer is now over and the air is clearing up, so of course I am going to find every possible reasons to get airborne and shoot more frames, but with a different approach that suits the changed subject matter (there should also be more snow at altitude). Its therefore fair to say that many of these files have been subject to very heavy ‘bending’ with respect to curves and contrast, globally and locally (in some cases).
Now for fewer straight edges: this landscape really grabbed me. This area is beautifully subtle and seems to writhe and crease before your eyes. its quite small and I hope to overfly it again soon.
I’ll post from shots from the Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8 FE in due course and hope…. fingers crossed…. that I have a productive few flights in the next ten days or so. I can’t wait. I just hope light levels aren’t so low that I have to hike ISO too far.
So, THIS is why I am excited by these Sony cameras. They are helping me produce work that I am happy with. I am excited about shooting with them. I feel they are making ‘more’ possible. Of course it all comes down to personal application and preference, but I see some criticism out there that just sounds like ignorance talking. I still believe these cameras are absolute game-changers and, as you can see, I am not saying this after posing photos of my cats, or test chart. They really can do the business. Remember that these are 100% crops, so imagine what 30+” prints are going to look like!