Sony A7 & A7R Part 4 – Verdict
In my opinion, these two cameras are game-changers.
Stunning IQ, a simple and intuitive interface, a good level of responsiveness and jaw-dropping file quality all from a mirrorless sized body. Is it a mature system? Not at all, but with the massive interest and heavy sales, Sony will clearly reinforce and invest in the success these innovative cameras have demonstrated.
Will they kill Leica? No way. Will they steal some sales? Yes, probably, as they will give some people a non-M full-frame alternative to a DSLR without the technical quality compromises that come with smaller sensors (when printing big). The M240 has plenty of appeal – it’s a great camera, but to a certain extent it had a certain niche all to itself as a Full-Frame compact, super IQ platform. Now the A7/R is there alongside it…. Not on top of it. There is a different balance of qualities, but very appealing ones, so aren’t we lucky?
The best bit here is that you don’t have to jump on the A7/R ‘Love Bus’, now or ever. They’re just another exciting option that may or may not suit your needs. They have proven hugely popular and so you can be sure that there will be A8 and A9 cameras to follow, with better AF, quieter shutters, faster processing and of course an expanding native lens line up.
This is a very exciting new beginning from Sony and with a much more polished first model than was the case with Fuji’s X-Pro1. While the X platform is maturing beautifully, the Sony is already there, but a real push is needed from Sony on the lens front. Glaring gaps for me are:
- 16 to ?? zoom, with slow aperture and stunning IQ for scenic.
- 24mm prime.
- 85-100mm portraits lens.
If you see what you need now from the native lenses, or have third party lenses that work well (as I do) they why wait? More will come. Sony may have had false starts before but they aren’t daft. This platform is a huge money spinner.
Comments from the Photographic Community
I thought I’d comment on some of the criticisms out there because, as always, perspectives vary as much as needs. I should also point out that some will seek to ‘shoot down’ a camera that is beyond a person’s means, or where the critic is committed to another system and wants to convince themselves that the new camera is not all it seems to be. I’m going to try to be objective here, so here goes:
The lenses are too big!
There have been complaints that the lenses are too large, but lets not forget they still have to cover a full frame sensor and this is what governs the size of the lens, not the size of the camera that houses the sensor. This is why the 24-70 is f4 and not f2.8, because the latter would have been much larger and heavier, destroying the handling of these little cameras and making this middle ground compromise no longer make sense.
If you compare the A7 with 24-70 f4 Zeiss attached with a 6D with 24-70 f4L attached, the Sony is a substantially smaller package overall, but granted, most of this comes from the body. The similarly ‘specced’ Sony Zeiss 24-70 f4 OSS is quite a lot lighter than the Canon lens (430g vs. 600g) but only a touch smaller (same length at 93/94mm, but 10mm narrower).
What this means is that the size of the Sony package is smaller (due to the body) and because of the light weight of the lens, compared to the Canon, the overall heft is much lower. Because the lens is light, the balance is much better than you’d expect with a lens of this size on a body that’s so small. My experiences with the 28-70 f3.5-5.6 confirm this. It balances beautifully and feels very small compared to my DSLR combos.
The AF is too slow!
It depends on what you want to do. Yes, compared to my ‘race car’ 5D III everything apart from a 1DX or D4 feels slow and so does the A7/R. But the Sony cameras are much quicker and slicker than the X100 is, even with the latest firmware. To me, it feels comparable in terms of speed to the X100S in good light and nobody is really complaining about that. With the Fujis you feel a number of components moving and settling as focus does its work, but not with the Sony. Its silent and you feel nothing moving. Once it has locked, that’s the end of the process (no clunks or feelings of things locking on). It feels nicely polished.
The AF in both cameras, because there is very little difference worth noting between them (despite the phase AF in the a A7), feels very slick and positive for static, scenic and what I’d call ‘compliant portrait and people’ work. If you are dealing with children or animals, you are going to wish you had a fast DSLR.
The RAW files are compressed!
I have heavily worked files in B&W and seen no problem here. I do think Sony should give us access to uncompressed files with a firmware update, however. There’s just no reason not to, so please add this to the next firmware update Sony!
A7R Shutter vibration Issues!
There is no issue with the A7, due to electronic first curtain, but the A7R does feel ‘clunkier’ with its ‘double clack’. The net is awash with info on this topic, but I will start out by saying this based on my usage and my eyes:
With lenses up to 50mm, including adapted lenses, I have been unable to see any difference in resolution at any shutter speed, handheld or tripod mounted that could possibly, no matter how up tight you are, be visible in print. Hell, I couldn’t see it on screen despite going screwy-eyed trying.
With a 90mm Elmarit-M, I did see a loss of resolution between 1/10th and 1/80th. The speeds most affected were 1/20th to 1/50th, where I would say you end up with resolution comparable to the 24MP A7 in terms of fine detail. I tested and rechecked and there it was. I can therefore see that shooting in vertical orientation (which makes matters worse) and a really long lens, you have a serious problem here, but that has to be a tiny, tiny majority of users.
What we do not know is how native lenses will fare where an adaptor is not involved (and where OSS might reduce the issue). However, if you are like me and going to use this camera primarily with sort to medium lenses, there is no issue here at all. If you are going to shoot 90+mm lenses occasionally, you can shoot slower or faster to avoid the issue under 99% of circumstances. Considering how clean the files are, I would have ZERO hesitation shooting a frame at ISO 400 instead of 100 if I needed to avoid the danger zone with a long lens.
I realise that for astro-photographers or those shooting long lenses a lot, this is a killer, it is of not an issue for everyone. For those shooting long lenses, I personally don’t think the A7/R is the right platform anyway. You benefit greatly from a meatier body with more heft and grip.
The A7/R shutter is too noisy!
The A7 is a little quieter, but its smoother too. It just dips below objectionable to me and so it’s not something I notice. The A7R is just inside the ‘slightly objectionable’ zone and I do tend to notice when I switch bodies. The volume is not particularly great, but it lacks a smooth harmonious rhythm, which makes it seem worse than it is.
What does this mean? Well, in my book, neither is going to go down well in churches, orchestra pits or the like, but few cameras make this grade (including the M9, MM and many more). Here, you are far better off with an X100/s or RX-1, as well as some of the M43 cameras, which are FAR quieter than the mythical Leica M2/3/4/6/P standard of only a few years ago.
On the street, the A7 is quiet enough I think. It’s absolutely not going to get any real attention where there is background noise. It’s quieter than plenty of DSLRs. For landscape and general travel use, it’s a non-issue.
This means that unless you’re aiming to do lots of discreet photography, there is no problem. In my view, one of the greatest myths today is the notion that street/candid photography is done under a cloak of invisibility. This is not Lord of the Rings’ ‘ring on’ stuff. Henri Cartier Bresson was not effective because his Leica was silent (which it was not, certainly not by modern standards), but because of his expert use of ground/space, anticipation and his personal bearing. The vast majority of the time when I grab a sneaky shot on the street I am noticed. What delineates successful from unsuccessful is everything else that happens besides the sound of the shutter and I’m going to write an article about this soon. Sure, a quiet shutter can help, but assuming you are using a small camera, rather than a hand-cannon, noise is usually the least of your concerns.
36 MP is overkill!
Not if you intend to make very large prints it isn’t. It does allow you to crop more heavily and downsize files to reduce noise, but sticking to the resolution aspect, 36MP on the A7R gives you:
- More fine detail.
- Smoother tonal and colour transitions.
- A more organic and realistic photograph. You feel this as much as you see it.
The compressed A&R RAWs are only a little larger than 5D III files and so your computer works at a comparable speed. In absolute image quality terms, the A7R files have a very real edge once you start getting into the realm of very large prints beyond 30+” or 80cm, especially where lots of fine detail is involved. Urban scenes, due to the many straight edges and blocks of colour tend to uprez very well, but natural scenes, with blades of grass, fine textures etc don’t. The image quality gap between the A7 and A7R is not huge, but it is there.
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