There is a lot of hype over the new Sony full frame cameras the A7 and the A7R and yesterday (Sunday 17 Nov, 2013), the kind folk at Sony Singapore gave a few of us photographers the chance to take the A7, the A7R and the RX10 cameras out to see how we liked them.
Before I carry on, I have to let you know that I am only going to talk about the A7R as it was the only camera body I was really interested in.
Having a bunch of Leica M-mount lenses in my dry box (and having sold off my M9P earlier in the year) the A7R promised me what Leica had yet to give users in a digital body. An affordable tool that I wasn't too afraid to bump around, reasonable low light performance, and an electric viewfinder (EVF) that would allow me to shoot my 21mm without having to constantly recompose using an external viewfinder (though the new Leica M does have an optional EVF that allows the same thing). When you shoot at f1.4, the slightest deviation in distance to the subject can throw the focus (even of wider angled lenses) off.
Armed with 50mm and 28mm Summicrons and 35mm and 21mm Summiluxes, I decided to test the lenses to see how they performed on the A7R and to see how the Sony could handle these manual rangefinder lenses.
- The camera is extremely customizable. The only other camera that can be fine tuned this much would probably be the Ricoh GRD. I didn't get a lot of time to play with the customizable features and buttons, but suffice to say there are enough of them to keep me happy and allow me to personalize the camera to a great degree.
- As mentioned in some of the reviews, the shutter IS rather loud. This is no big deal when you are shooting on the street or in normal situations, but no matter how much you as a user might get used to it, it WILL call attention to you, especially if you are in a quiet area and trying to be unobtrusive. I have done several shoots for HBO where they are concurrently filming video interviews as well as shooting stills, and I guarantee you the second the shutter button is depressed, a dirty look will be shot at by my the sound person and I would have to stop shooting in order to not botch up their sound feed. Ditto that for anything live theatre related.
- The unit i tested came with a vertical grip that made the camera feel nice and balanced, I didn't have the chance to take off the grip to see how it functioned on it's own (ok, I didn't really think about it), but I am guessing it will still feel pretty comfortable. A couple of the button placements felt a bit strange (like the zoom button for the review image) but it was overall a pretty easy camera to get used to.
Shooting and Images:
- - When I popped on the 21mm Summilux and picked up the camera, it didn't feel off balance, but when I lifted it up to my eye to take my first picture, I was overwhelmed at the amount of red that was showing up as part of the camera's focus peaking function. As mentioned earlier, when you shoot wide open on fast lenses, the chances of being off focus (by even a little bit) are quite high, and as the depth of field is so shallow, it's not hard to see where the mistakes are. I found myself having some trouble getting used to the focus peaking as it wouldn't just show the one sharp area that I wanted to focus on but also a myriad of other red lines and squiggles. Don't get me wrong, when you turn the focus ring on your lens, you will generally see the different planes of focus light up, but fine-tuning the EXACT focal point proved to be a bit of a challenge through the EVF if you don't use the zoom focus function.
- This problem surfaced more with the wider angle lenses like the 21mm and 28mm and far less with the 35mm and 50mm lenses. I daresay I would be able to get sharp images even without focus peaking while using the 35 and 50, but note that the darker the environment, the tougher it's going to be to focus.
Now users of the wider lenses will definitely find some vignetting on your images. I however, actually like that look so that doesn't bother me in the slightest. Some users will also complain of chromatic aberrations at the edges of the frame (especially with ultra-wides) but since I shoot mostly in black and white, this too is fine by me.
It would seem that the optimum environment for the A7R to thrive would be in well-lit (especially outdoors) areas with anything from a 35mm and longer lens. The camera worked exceedingly well in these situations. Focusing was easy with the now bright EVF and the familiar Leica signature look of the lenses shines through.
At the end of the day, I am looking for a camera to fit a very specific niche. Something that can (for the most part) replace my M and make use of the collection of M-mount lenses I own. Color is not a priority, but sharpness and ease of use is. While we were loaned out prototype cameras to test with, I was assured by the Sony techs that the production models would have better low light performance and more accurate focus peaking.
Is it a great camera? Well by all indications, Sony has themselves a winner here and are definitely leading the pack at making cameras that people want at this time. I have no doubt that users looking for a full frame system without the weight of traditional DSLRs are going to love this. The AF of both the A7 and A7R is pretty zippy (with the A7 being ever so slightly faster in most situations) and the lens catalogue for the system is only going to get more impressive.
Does the A7R check all my very specific boxes? Based on the prototype's performance and my experiences so far, my heart says "go for it, it can do most of what you want it to" and my head says "don't rush, test out the final release and then decide."
I have a tendency to follow my heart.
The A7R, A7 and RX10 are currently on pre-order from your favourite camera retail shops and will be available for pick up on 27 November, 2013.
RX10: SGD$1,599 (includes one free 16GB SD card, one free 32GB SD card and a portable charger)
A7R: SGD$2,799 (body only with a free 32GB SD card)
A7: SGD$1,999 (body only with free 32GB SD card)
A7 kit: $2,399 (body with 28-70mm f3.5-5.6 lens and a 32GB SD card)