Review: The 2013 Sony A7R

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Sony are known for pushing the technological envelope; the first NEX-5 showed us just how small an APS-C camera could be – with decent frame rates and AF speeds, no less. However, the rules of optics are not so easily breakable: lenses still have to be a certain size to cover a certain image circle at a given aperture and focal length. The NEX kit lenses were no smaller than APS-C DSLR lenses – because that’s pretty much what they were. Unfortunately, Sony are also known for serious attention deficit disorder when it comes to products and systems; recently one of their executives (Kimio Maki, GM of Sony’s Digital Imaging Business Group) was quoted as saying he wanted to do something new every six months. A good example is the RX1, superseded by the RX1R a year later, and effectively killed by the A7 and A7R now; new RX1Rs that sold for approx. US$3,300 in Japan plummeted to just US$1,300 or thereabouts in used value the day after the A7 twins were released. I don’t know whether that represents a relentless commitment to innovation at all costs, or whether it’s just sticking it to your customers. Nevertheless, the like the NEX-5 (which I owned, didn’t mind the limited controls, but found pretty good except for tonal palette) – the A7R pushes things a bit further; far enough to be in interesting territory. We now have full frame – and the best full frame sensor at that – in an E-M1-sized body. Surely there has to be a catch somewhere?

Images in this review were shot with the A7R and Zeiss 55/1.8 FE. An extended set on flickr with more samples is here.

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You’ll notice a lot of still lifes in this set: it’s because this is the kind of subject that seems to suit the A7R best. It doesn’t AF track well enough to keep up with moving objects, and DOF is shallow enough and the camera sensitive enough to shake that it isn’t the best choice for street or reportage work. All images in this review were shot with an A7R and Zeiss FE 1.8/55 Sonnar.

During my initial thoughts piece, I said that neither camera would make sense with adapted lenses. I stand by that, for several reasons: firstly, you lose autofocus. Even though the EVF with peaking and magnification makes it easier to focus than a modern DSLR without focusing aids, autofocus for critical work and moving subjects is definitely valuable. More so when it’s the on-sensor variety that doesn’t suffer from back or front focus issues (as with systems involving mirrors) since you are focusing on the actual imaging plane. Beyond that, the moment we bring additional mount surfaces into the mix – two more with an adaptor – you’re going to start introducing planarity and decentering issues. Even with the best adaptors, there are a range of acceptable tolerances; that applies to the camera’s own mount, too. You could land up with a combination that cancels out, or becomes worse. And with a high density sensor like the A7R’s, you’re going to notice that. After some testing with various adaptors I had handy from the NEX-5 days – I came to the conclusion that unless your adaptors are perfect, you really will not see the difference. Adapted lenses will generally not perform the same as native ones.

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The reasons go beyond planarity of adaptors: there’s also the lens-sensor interaction to consider. The reason why fixed-lens large-sensor compacts like the Ricoh GR, Nikon Coolpix A and Sigma DP Merrils are so good is because the lens was designed specifically for the sensor; the optical formulae are typically telecentric and take into account the fact that the sensor may or may not have offset microlenses to deal with very short back flange distances. Legacy adapted lenses do not; and something designed 20 or 30 years ago certainly did not have digital in mind. Even the modern lenses that are designed for digital are designed to work well generally with one system – witness how consistently good the designed-from-scratch lenses are for the M4/3 system, or Leica S tend to be. Or even the new Zeiss Otus. On top of that, you really have to ask yourself if it makes ergonomic sense to put an enormous SLR lens on the front of a very small body; it simply doesn’t balance or handle well. And remember, it will also have to be manually focused, too. Small RF lenses would make more sense, but these tend to be a lot more particular about which sensors they will play nice with; they are almost always short-flange non-telecentric designs that require offset microlenses and hue shift/ vignetting compensation. We can correct for some of this digitally, but it will not solve edge softness and resolution issues. At this point I’m sure somebody is going to ask about use with Leica M lenses: I can’t comment as I no longer own or have easy access to any.

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The good news is that the one native lens I was given to test along with the A7R a very, very pleasant surprise – the Zeiss FE 1.8/55 Sonnar. It is not quite up to Otus levels, but then again, at this price and size, I wouldn’t expect it to be. I’d say it has much of the character of the ZM 2/50 Planar. By f5.6, the differences shrink between the three (2/50 MP or 1.4/55 Otus on D800E, FE 1.8/55 on A7R). The 28-70/3.5-5.6 kit zoom, on the other hand, is a dog, and a large one that feels imbalanced on a body this small. The corners are a bit of a disaster at any aperture; they never fully resolve nor do they rid themselves of CA. So far: with the right lenses, this camera can sing. The problem is, there are only two of them – a 2.8/35, and 1.8/55. I can only hope that we eventually get a wide – maybe 21 or 24 – and a tele of some sort to at least make for more of a complete system. These lenses were designed for the A7 from the ground up, and it shows – especially in corner performance.

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However, the A7R is a very, very demanding beast to shoot in the field. The small size, relatively low mass and very loud/ rough shutter mechanism mean that you need higher than expected shutter speeds to yield perfect pixels; we’re talking 1/125 at an absolute minimum for the 55mm, and ideally 1/200+ for consistent results. Below 1/200 you may well see very faint double images; it’s as though something ‘jumps’ halfway through the exposure. Compare that to 1/90 minimum for the D800E/ Otus, and 1/125+ ideal. Curiously, at lower speeds – below 1/30 – and on a tripod, it’s fine. I personally found that the A7R tested my shot discipline to the maximum; a tripod is really required to make the most out of the available resolution. Note: the A7R lacks the electronic first curtain of the A7, which makes things worse. It also trades PDAF on-sensor and an AA filter for no AA filter, some magnesium in its frame and 12 MP more. Otherwise, excluding price, both cameras are identical.

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This brings me neatly to the question of ergonomics, haptics and tactility. I recently conveyed my thoughts on the Nikon Df and received a lot of heavily polarized comments and emails; that is one camera that either ‘works’ for you, or it doesn’t. Despite being a long time Nikon shooter, I fell squarely into the latter camp. The A7R is less contentious: whilst opinions may vary on the aesthetics of the design, handling is actually very, very good, and it’s comfortable in my hands. It does balance much better with smaller lenses though; the native 1.8/55 is perfect. In fact, it felt remarkably like an E-M1; so much so that psychologically I kept expecting the stabilizer to kick in when I half pressed the shutter. Dials and buttons are in similar places, even if they don’t do the same things – but you can always change a custom function for that. Build quality feels similar – both are all metal and feel like they’re all metal, though I don’t see any gasketing/ weather seals on the A7R other than around the left-side ports. They both also put their right hand strap lugs in an uncomfortable place…

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So then, I set up my A7R to behave like my E-M1 – which was reasonably easy given configurability of most of the buttons, and an extra two control dials – one for exposure compensation, and one for…well, it seemed to duplicate the function of the other dials. In any case, other than navigating the confusing menu system, the camera is pretty cooperative in use. On the menus: although Sony is self-consistent amongst its cameras with the horizontal tabs, what doesn’t make sense is that most other cameras use a downward-scrolling list for the functions, with a right arrow press giving you sub-options. The Sony uses a list that scrolls both down and across, with enter giving sub-options. This is confusing, though I suppose you’d probably get used to it if it was your only system. I have to give them several huge credits in the UI though: you can have live overexposure zebras in any mode (not just video); playback is not only fully-functional, but the one-press zoom takes you straight to 100% actual pixels view. In short: there are a lot of things to like about this camera.

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A word on the EVF: it’s good enough that I didn’t think ‘oh, this is a small LCD panel’ in practice; showing actual depth of field and overexposure means it’s easy to nail focus and exposure. The viewfinder optics aren’t quite as good as the E-M1’s, and that’s obvious at the edges; they just aren’t quite as crisp. The one problem is when you try to use it in very bright (i.e. tropical, where I live) sun: though it maintains pretty good color accuracy and tonal separation, it’s just too dim, even turned up to the maximum setting. I haven’t had this problem with the E-M1.

As ever, nothing is perfect. And there are a few fairly big gotchas with the A7R: firstly, the shutter vibration problem we’ve already talked about. The next problem is related to that: you could theoretically work around it if you could set auto-ISO to a minimum shutter speed above 1/125; you can’t. It defaults to 1/focal length, or as near as it can get to it. The only way I’ve found around this is to enable auto-ISO and shoot manual; this way you can set shutter and aperture, and the camera chooses the sensitivity. If you need exposure compensation, the separate dial on the top plate still works. It’s a bit slower, but usable; in practice, I’ve set the 1st custom position on the mode dial to aperture priority, and the 2nd one to manual with 1/125s, which I flip over to the moment the light gets too low. The final major issue is the fact that a camera of this price does not include an external charger. You have to plug the camera in to the USB charger, or a computer; this of course means you can’t shoot with it while it’s charging batteries – and that’s made doubly worse by the small battery, long charging time, and very limited battery life; 200 frames was about my absolute maximum. Sony, for a camera that costs $2,300, this is just cheapskate.

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Note: My evaluation on the A7R’s image quality isn’t going to be as comprehensive as I’d like, simply because I only have one native lens. And it’s also clear from tests with the adapted lenses that something in the optical system – adaptors, lens formula, sensor microlens array – just isn’t doing the sensor’s potential justice, especially in comparison with the single native lens I have. It would therefore be unfair to come to any conclusions off this.

However, there is no question that under optimal conditions, this camera is capable of matching the current king of full frame 35mm cameras, the D800E. (I will be conductiong a more detailed direct comparison when I find some time, specifically between the D800E/ Otus and A7R/ 1.8/55.) Resolution and tonality are pretty much identical; that isn’t surprising as they probably have the same base sensor design. Color reproduction is different, however. I personally prefer the D800E, though this may well be because I’ve got a lot more experience in dealing with its files. Dynamic range and noise are also identical, as far as I can tell; and if they’re not, they’re pretty darn close. The A7R certainly shares the D800E’s seemingly never-ending deep shadow recoverability. Assuming similar level optics on both, I would have trouble distinguishing results from the two cameras in a blind test. In short: this is a D800E body in a much, much smaller size.

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Now comes the contentious bit: how does it stack up against its competitors? Note firstly that the A7R has no obvious direct competition because it sits in a niche of its own. I’m just guessing from my own needs and thoughts that buyers may well also be considering (or moving from) these cameras, and more importantly, systems:

Vs Nikon D800E: Here, it all boils down to the system of lenses and flashes: if you need any special purpose gear at all, or longer lenses, then the balance tips heavily in favor of the D800E. I think the shooting envelope is a bit wider, too – given the much better shutter mechanism. Of course, if you’re travelling on a strict weight budget, then I’d go with an A7R, 55mm and Ricoh GR.

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Vs Leica M 240: From what I understand from people who do use the A7R and M glass, not all lenses are great; you need to try individual ones to see what plays nice and what doesn’t. And be prepared to do software correction on all images. However: if you have trouble focusing your rangefinder, use the EVF more, or are adapting lenses to your M 240 anyway, it may well make more sense to go with the Sony option to gain some resolution – if the lenses you want to use agree with the sensor.

Vs Olympus E-M1: Same size, same weight, very different image quality. Quite a big difference in price, though; less so to the regular A7. The E-M1 has three aces: firstly, its stabilizer is so good that you claw back most, if not all, of the high ISO advantage of the A7 and A7R for handheld shooting in low light. It also means that you don’t have stability issues – my ‘technical’ hit rate with the E-M1 is close to 100% because of this. You can shoot at pretty much any shutter speed with impunity. Ace number two is weather sealing: I’m sure you’ve all seen [what I did to the E-M1 in the shower]. The final, largest ace is the lens system: not only is the M4/3 lens system arguably the most mature mirrorless system with the greatest diversity of options – the lenses were all designed specifically for digital from the ground up. Even the kit lenses are pretty good, and the excellent glass – like the [60/2.8 and 75/1.8] is really special by any standards. This one is a tough choice, to be honest. I think it’s like doing a present value calculation and trying to figure out a discount rate: do you want images now, or later, and how’s your nerve (or how shaky are your hands)?

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Vs Sigma DP Merrills: Now, this is an interesting question: from previous tests, we’ve determined that the D800’s sensor and a good lens will match or slightly outresolve the DPMs. However, there are only three focal lengths – 28, 45 and 75mm. The A7R’s native primes split the difference with 35 and 55mm. High ISO is unquestionably better with the A7R, you get a viewfinder and much better ergonomics, and on top of that, there’s more depth of field control, but if you need to stop down – the Sigmas handle small apertures better with later onset of diffraction. Both have poor battery life. An individual choice, I think.

Vs Sony A7: Perhaps the A7R’s biggest competition is going to be its sibling. I haven’t said much about the A7, because I think the two cameras are aimed at very different markets. The A7 has a much more forgiving sensor and shutter mechanism; it will tolerate lower quality lenses, adaptors etc and not show as much compromise at the pixel level due to its lower resolution. It will focus faster due to PDAF. The files will be easier to handle, etc. I suppose the answer boils down to your end intentions for the files: are you chasing ultimate image quality for very large prints or not? If the answer is no, then the A7 will probably be a better choice; you’ll save money for glass, and won’t feel frustrated if your files aren’t perfect. On the other hand, if you do print…you probably wouldn’t even be asking.

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You’ll notice a theme here: it really comes down to the lenses. This puts me in a bit of a dilemma: I don’t know whether to go out and buy one, or stick to my D800Es. Let me explain why: on one hand, the A7R unquestionably raises the bar when it comes to the quality/ portability equation; yet it has an extremely limited shooting envelope because of its demands on stability/ shutter speed, and very limited native lenses – just 35mm and 55mm so far – that can make the most of that potential. Perhaps the most telling question would be whether I missed the D800E/ Otus combination when using the A7R/55; the honest answer is not at the time, but yes when looking at the files afterwards. The irony of course was that I was also carrying the D800E and Otus for much of the testing to determine the answer to just that question.

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One assumes that systems generally grow and thus populate their lens lineups with time, but the problem is that we haven’t really seen this happen with the NEX system; frankly I’m a bit concerned that the lenses I want won’t ever exist, or will come so late that there will be a second generation body to go with them. Adapted lenses are hit and miss, for reasons detailed earlier. As ever, the old advice of ‘buy the glass’ makes sense: if 35 and 55 are all you need, then either the A7 or A7R – depending on your printing needs – is probably the camera for you. If not, you might find it an intriguing idea as part of a lightweight system – I could see the aforementioned A7R/ 55 and GR being a good travel pair, for instance. I like the direction Sony are heading in with the A7R: now if only they would hold the course and not get distracted…

Both the A7 and A7R are available from B&H here in various kit or body combinations.

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Comments

  1. Michael Newsom says:

    If only the a7r had a 5:4 crop mode. 30:24 would be wonderful for us who despise the 35mm format. I would buy the 7r in a heartbeat because this format would also work better with my M lenses.

    • You can always crop it afterwards. M lenses were designed for 3:2, but I’m sure you’ve discovered they don’t work well on anything but an M because of the corner issues…

    • Isaac Lewton says:

      Yes, some crop modes would definitely be a useful firmware update. It’s so simple to implement. I hope that Sony will release a firmware with crop modes in the future.

      ‘The Zeiss FE 1.8/55 Sonnar. It is not quite up to Otus levels, but then again, at this price and size, I wouldn’t expect it to be’. Dude, the Zeiss Sonnar 55mm f/1.8 is almost as good as that ugly manual behemoth. For that price (especially in Asia) it’s a steal! At f/2.8 it’s razor sharp from corner to corner. I never had a Nikon (or any other brand) standard lens that was that good.

      Paired with the a7r it delivers awesome image quality. It even betters my 6×6 Hasselblad with Zeiss lens. It has an all metal body and it’s lightweight and compact. What more could you possibly wish for at that price point? Some people are never satisfied.

  2. WoW !!! I wonder what Ansel & Edward would have crafted with this combo: as a comparison ? …

    • Good question, actually. There’s always been a lot of speculation over what the masters would make of modern gear…

      • I think both of them would be embracing our technology ‘up-to-their-necks’ for want of better words, but for different reasons. They both would possibly use contemporary camera and lens technology as a means to express their photographic goals, objectives and targets … that is, as the image as crafted for us to react to …

    • Ansel Adams would not be using this combo as it would be a step or two backwards from using 10×8/14×11. He would either still be using 10×8 or a medium format camera like Phase One for the extra quality.

      • Point taken and valid. I was curtailing my response to the above technology and, I suspect Ansel would possibly hanker for the A7R , whilst Edward would be at home with the A7. Then again the Phase One Achromatic would severely bias their decision, I feel …

  3. Jim Smith says:

    I was looking for an alternative for my Olympus E-M1 (serious shutter vibration issues and slightly disappointing resolution) and I found your article. The A7R is a much better camera for me and I’m very happy with it. It does have some shutter vibration, but nothing like the E-M1. The resolution and dynamic range are stunning.

  4. I actually made a choice that most said I’d regret- I bought an a7r purely for event photography. I do have a problem with the shutter lag and the evf gives me tendency to underexpose from time to time, trying to capture those specific moments I want to, but hey- no camera is perfect. Auto focusing I have ditched altogether. However, here comes the fun part: I dropped 1Dx because of this and have not had a single moment of regret. Now I use the native 55/1.8, Leica 24/2.8 Elmarit R and Zeiss 85/1.4 Planar (latter two naturally adapted).

    Yes, I agree that adapters can cause issues, therefore I did some research and my retailer was nice enough to go through a LOT of adapters to find the best match for the lenses I bought, minimizing any tolerances. The found adapters seem to be just as tight fit, if not a bit firmer even, than the native lenses and I haven’t had any issues with them. The image quality is more than adequate.

    Why did I choose to take the harder route? Because, after testing it out I found that this thing makes me work and think a lot more to get what I want. I find that to be a very positive thing, and it shows in the improved picture quality I produce with this thing compared to what I got with 1Dx. Forces me forward, one might say.

    • If you can find a good set of adaptors, then there should be no issues at all.

      To be honest, I find the fully manual cameras – my ‘Blad and F2 – to be just as fluid and easy to use in a reportage situation, if not more so. Less messing about with the electronics, and you concentrate on the next shot instead of staring at the screen. I’ve been using a pair of D800Es and Zeiss MF lenses for recent corporate reportage work, and that worked out just fine too – when you nail it, the files absolutely sing.

  5. Interesting review. A subjective point, but I was interested in your reaction to the ergonomics, particularly given your negative reaction to the Df. I just picked up an A7 to replace my X-Pro1.

    I was prepared for the NEX shaped hand grip but not for the way my fingers seem squashed against the lens/hood. It’s odd, the len mount seems closer to the grip than I remember from my (since sold) NEX-5 and NEX-7. Perhaps I’ve banished previous ergonomic issues from my mind… It may surprise you to learn I actually prefer the Df ergonomics, but more significantly for the market the A7/r exists in, I think I materially prefer the E-M1 grip/body, which seems closer to the shape of my hand. Of course that’s not entirely fair, M43s lenses can afford to be smaller so my issues with the lens mount wouldn’t arise. However, to my mind the grip of the E-M1 is much better shaped than the Sonys.

  6. Having used the A7R for 3 weeks now, I can tell you that it certainly works for street photography. Also, phenomenal prints come from this camera. I had mpix print a 16×20, and it rivaled anything I’ve seen from any other digital camera I’ve owned. Incredible detail. Get an A7R and mount a Leica lens on it, and you won’t be disappointed.

  7. Enjoyed the review, thanks.
    I’ve used the D800e extensively and now a Sony A7r. While there are some points I agree with you on, there are some either not mentioned or I disagree with.
    White balance: The A7rs AWB is superior to the D800e in every lighting condition I’ve shot it in. The A7r nails it 95% of the time.
    Color: Subjective. You seem to like the D800e’s color better but to me the Sony’s color is much more life like, pleasing and skin tones are much better.
    Sharpness: I agree its pretty much head to head. But I find the A7r marginally sharper than the D800e. The A7r is a true AA less design unlike the D800e.
    Non native lenses: I’ve shot Leica glass on both systems. Novoflex on A7r. Leitax mount on D800e. There is absolutely not difference in resolution that i can see, granted in my non scientific testing. Also being a mirrorless design, the A7r opens up the possibility of using a range on non native lenses on it.
    Manual focus: The A7r is the superior system for MF glass period. With it focus peaking and EVF with zoom capability it is no contest.
    Tilting EVF: I dont understand what a $2999 wouldn’t have this. I didnt know what I was missing till I used the Sony. Just seems commonsense to include this in a DSLR.

    Both are great cameras for sure. For me as a landscape, street and family portrait shooter I much prefer the experience the A7r offers me. Also dont underestimate the weight aspect. The D800e was a bear to lug around. An absolute bear. The Sony is much much lighter.

    I keep hearing AF. If I’m a sports shooter or someone needing lightning fast AF I wouldn’t pick the D800e for it. perhaps a D4. Yes the D800e has much superior compared to the A7r.

    For me, the A7r is one of the significant milestones in photography in recent years. Class leading resolution, mirrorless, compact form factor. Is it perfect ? Heck no. But which camera is ?

    • Forgot a couple –

      The real time histogram in live view or the EVF is an amazing feature.

      Live view: I found the D800e’s live view pretty much useless. The interpolation when you zoom and its sluggishness pretty much ruled out obtaining critical focus for me. The Sony’s live view is a much better implementation that is actually usable.

  8. I was asked the other day to look at some photos taken with the 28-70mm using a A7 as the user was thinking the lens was faulty as he said the edges were very soft. The problem was at the wide end. I had a look at the photos which were taken at 28mm at each aperture setting. His test subject was a long wall taken at a fair distance away. Wide open you could see it was soft on the edges but things got interesting at f5.6. It first of all just appeared to be soft/smeared but on the right hand side there was a metal gate. All the photos were horizontal shots. I then noticed that when viewed at 100% the gate was showing double imaging. Either side of the gate were two sheets of paper pined to the wall both of which again showed double imaging. The double imaging was strangely enough vertical and not horizontal. When closed down to f8 the double imaging started to get closer together. After that it started to merge in. The more the lens was closed down the worse the softness/smearing got. See the double imaging like that though does make me wonder what the problem is with the 28-70 as it might not just be a poor optical design. When you tried the lens Ming did you have I.S on or off? Just that the performance does appear to improve when it is switched off even on the straight A7.

  9. Sample photos taken with the Zeiss 24-70mm f4 are starting to appear. Going by these photos things do not appear to look great. Too much sharpening and noise reduction has been used but you can still see the quality loss on the edges at the wide end is poor. Left hand side of the third sample photo is a good example, or not as the case may be:

    http://www.mobile01.com/topicdetail.php?f=254&t=3732365&p=1

    • You can’t really conclude anything from these images. valid point on the corner sharpness at the wide end due to potential astigmatism. But I’d wait till the lens is released and there are some real life usage pics with it.

  10. hoi Ming, thanks for thy nice review :-)
    do you think, based on results, that either A7/A7R + 55||35 touches MF quality (vs CFV-39 or S or 645D etc..) in details, colour, DR etc..?
    would it be a viable studio-landscape alternative?
    cheers!

    • Short answer: probably not, because of system completeness. Resolution is close, but color is not. You also won’t have the 1/500 flash sync, either. Of course, you may well be photographing things that don’t require any of that, so it ultimately boils down to what you intend to do with it.

  11. Ming, I would be very interested in your conclusions from your pending D800E/Otus A7r/55FE shootout. For me, the A7r is much more affordable than a D800E/Otus and within a few whiskers of the latter’s results from what I can determine from research. Your images with the A7r are very crisp and have a rare glow that comes from pinpoint high resolution sharpness. It is almost ultimate image quality from an affordable and highly portable setup. That is what it should be all about and your shootout should determine the number whiskers that separate the Otus from the 55FE.

    • After examining more images, I do not believe it would be a fair comparison at anything above f5.6, so I’m not going to do it.

      • DXOMark finally compared the Otus with the 55FE. It’s close but the Otus definitely exceeds the 55FE in sharpness above f5.6 in the corners as you observed. It also has a tad more CA, but I was surprised that the light transmission on the 55FE was so close to the Otus given that it’s a f1.8 lens. Probably because it has fewer elements. The 55FE does seem to exceed all Nikon lenses in centre resolution.

  12. Ming, I have read every camera review that you have ever written here. Within the last six months, I think that the polarized readers were yanking your chain and you responded in kind. But here, YOU ARE GREAT. What an enjoyable, well thought out, insightful review. I think you have become such a great reviewer and writer that even Ken Rockwell will go into hiding. I really mean it. I have never enjoyed reading one of your reviews more than this one. It made me feel wonderful.I thought about a Sony but their lens leave you with slightly less than top notch clarity as a group, but I do not trust that Sony will make high quality primes. I don’t want the extra work that you speak of and I want to have video… I would guess there are many of my peers like me who love our D700s. I enjoy shooting 85mm G, 135mm and 200mm f2. So, I have decided to buy a Sony FDR AX100. My camera sees in the dark. I do not print posters. I think the lens (all things being equal) makes the image pop. Thank you Ming!

    • Enjoy. Thank you, but I’m not sure Ken Rockwell is a benchmark for anything; he doesn’t even use most of the stuff he reviews, nor does he publish images.

      I will always be a photographer first and foremost. There will come a time when I’m not going to do any more reviews, because frankly, they are a waste of my time and as you say, only seem to bring out the trolls.

      • I might have agreed with you a while back, but now I’m not so sure. Ken is very American in tone, granted, and extols JPEGs over being bothered to use raw, which seems to give the impression of a lack of seriousness, but, he seems to have a pretty sane approach to the next best camera/lens, which is that quality wise the differences are incremental, often very small and probably won’t make much difference to most people’s ability to mak a decent image. He is a bit of a contradiction: speaking regularly about new gear but hardly getting excited about any of it, saying often that almost anything will do. He seems subversively anti-consumerist, while probably living a typically consumerist lifestyle. Cheesy pictures of his kids don’t help his image, at least not for me.

        His reviews do, though, get to the point quickly, are quite incisive, typically acurate, and he does often do quite useful comparrison photos.

        • plevyadophy says:

          @Robert

          I am in agreement with you.

          KR used to review gear without having actually used it, but now he makes it clear whether he has or hasn’t used a bit of kit he is commenting on.

          And like you say, his reviews are far far far more to the point than many reviews and offer useful info/tips that a user will want to know in advance e.g. whether a lens hood from another lens (albeit with a different Part Number) will work with the lens he is reviewing, whether the filter threads are metal or plastic, exactly what settings to plug into Photoshop to correct distortion etc etc

          His Reviews are also well laid out, logically ordered and with sensible headings.

          However, I do feel that he is not for the inexperienced photographer because an inexperienced photographer will not be able to tell when KR is being mishieviously sensationalist and rhetorical (which is very often) or when he is being serious/sensible. He also does tend to express himself in a VERY dogmatic and, unfortunately sometimes, jingoistic way. If one can overlook those flaws, his site is very useful (for example he has the best Canon -v- Nikon differences analysis I have seen and his Leica reviews database is very good).

        • Except a lot of the time, he ‘reviews’ things without ever having used them. And that throws all credibility out of the window, along with his mediocre images. Would you trust the opinion of somebody who doesn’t know how to use the gear? I know I wouldn’t.

          • plevyadophy says:

            Ming,

            I have to disagree with your last sentence most strongly (and I think we have had this conversation before). What you say there, is tantamount to saying you wouldn’t trust Angelo Dundee (Muhammed Ali’s trainer) or Cus D’Aamto (Mike Tyson’s trainer) because neither of them were World Heavyweight Champion.

            Some folks are cut out to be champions or photographers and others are just cut out to be reviewers or trainers (and of course you get the exceptional talents, like your good self, who can do the lot). It sure doesn’t mean that they, the reviewers and trainers, can’t be trusted.

            As for KR, he is a bit of an enigma I find. He can often says some silly things, and he can often say some things that are quite sensible; his images on this blog, often of his family, are horrendous with the most horrid yellow colour cast (from tungsten based light sources I guess) and then there is his love for, in his words, Mickey Mouse colours (i.e. highly saturated), but yet I have seen images of his, his serious images, that are quite nice and come as something of a shock when compared with the horride mess on his blog.

            • True, but the signs of credibility are missing – why post crap if you have better work?

              • plevyadophy says:

                Like I said Ming, he’s an enigma.

                I actually think what he really needs is two blogs, one for his fun personal stuff (the way blogs started out years ago) and a more professional serious one; it seems to me that he has mixed the two together, and that’s where it gets all confusing, with him having fun and messing around one minute and posting horrid shots that aren’t correctly, or decently, white balanced and then the next minute he posts serious stuff.

                He is an acquired taste, and takes some getting used to. I guess, the reason I am not so harsh on him is that I am one of those who have got used to him.

            • I’m not sure that’s a good analogy because both D’Amato and Dundee consistently produced champion boxers, which is more important than being champion boxers themselves for what they do. A teacher that can consistently produce good students is a treasure!

              That said, I have to defend KR a bit: as you said, his reviews are succinct and to the point. He also has a great archive of older equipment commentary, which I found really useful when I was shopping for an MF film system, and for older Nikon lenses, especially because he takes haptics seriously. He’s also doing some audio reviews now, and I admit that our philosophies are sympathetic, and his reviews sure beat the mostly useless verbiage dedicated audiophile sites spew. It’s not a site I read regularly, but he is on my RSS feed.

  13. michael frey says:

    THANKS !

  14. Ming, good review, as always. I just wanted to say, I don’t get all this excitement on the FF mirror less talked up everywhere. Why there is so much discussion for changing from DSLR for these cameras. I am sure Nikon and Canon are not going to sit by and I am waiting for theirs. Maybe I can use my glass. I shoot the D800/D4 and have a GR for the pocket. I don’t have any real complaints with my cameras (of course I would like to have a few other features) but the IQ on all are outstanding. I don’t know about most of your readers, but I use a speed light a lot. I don’t see much discussion, if any, on the ability to shoot mirror less cameras with any speed light, and with low, bad or mixed light. I have yet to find a better speed light TTL-BL situation than my Nikon (or Canon for that matter). Everything I read is about static or scenery shots. I don’t walk around town just shooting scenes. If I did my GR is great for that. And, my GR more than likely is as good as the A7 and would be hard to tell apart. Sure the EVF on the mirror less will be great (LV is horrible on the Nikon) but, I am not in a position to not rely on AF or TTL for all occasions. As far as I am concerned, when you load up real good glass on the mirror less, a 85 or 24-70 for work, or even a 70-200, there is no way I would do a A7 or A7R, especially when I have a grip available for compensation, and a diopter for me. I will say, the RX1R does look sweet from a sensor non cleaning advantage. I like FF, depth of field and lighting. Anyway, for what its worth, I enjoy reading your review, take your comments and opinions seriously to better my techniques and output. Keep up the good work. Van

    • You and I probably shoot the same way – same conclusion, too: one big system for when you need something that can do everything, and one good pocket tool for the rest of the time.

      • Maybe the big boys (Nikon and Canon) are watching the mirror less revolution now to learn. I would but not wait this long to enter. Maybe they are too proud still of their armory, the test of the Nikon 1 was a mis calculation, and the Coolpix A just was too much money. The A could have been a real bellwether if they just gave in on price. I almost went for the A cause of the Nikon menu and hot shoe, but no regrets, as the GR just amazes me more and more. The UI is smart and the optics and IQ is something, and a APS-C for $650 now. I would buy a few more if each had a different lens like the Sigma. And the raw posts well in Lightroom to add. Its really interesting to see all this unfold. When I have some time I plan to get your tutorials and learn more on the sharpening techniques you employ. Your files just amaze me when I see them.

        • I can only hope that’s the case, though I think it’s more likely to be because of corporate indecision than anything…

        • The simple reality is really twofold:

          1) Mirrorless is no threat to Nikon and Canon’s DSLR sales in their largest markets, namely North America and Europe; in fact, their DSLRs outsell mirrorless by several times over in those markets. So there is no incentive to change just yet.

          2) Both companies are probably well aware of the engineering conundrum that many here have already expressed―that while you can make a full frame body smaller, engineering a suite of useful lenses that are small enough to balance properly on said body is a major undertaking. Without that, the whole kit becomes unwieldy to shoot…and redundant; might as well just use a regular DSLR.

          I believe for this trend to succeed (full frame sensors in small ILCs), the challenge will be a rethink of lens engineering. Meanwhile, I expect sensor technology will advance much further first, and you won’t need a full frame sensor in a tiny body, because M4/3 will have a reached a quality level beyond 90% of users needs (whether amateur or professional).

          At this point, cameras like the A7 become white elephants, IMO.

          • 2) Is precisely the point I’ve been trying to make for quite some time. And we are already there in terms of image quality. Way past it, in fact.

            • You were absolutely dead to rights in your assessment of the OM-D E-M1. It gives up little in overall IQ.

              Looking forward to trying it out with the Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 lens over the next week. Should be fun!

              • The OM-D E-M1 is a great camera. Image quality is great, but it really lacks the depth of field that I often (but not always) want and get from a full-frame camera.

                • Shallow DOF is not everything.

                  • Of course not, but it’s nice to have when you want and/or need it.

                    • It’s really a non-issue now. The Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 offers enough compression that it’s roughly the same as using my Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 D AF lens on my D3s. Of course, I can’t work in quite as cramped quarters (aka close-up with my subject) to get that effect … but I can technically get it with the Zuiko 75mm and the E-M1. Plus, there is now also the Voigtlander 42.5mm f/0.95 Nokton and Panasonic’s just-announced Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens (really wanting to try that one out).

        • Hi there Van,

          Just on the CoolpixA: I have come very close to pulling the trigger on one. Three times. And it’s the hotshoe, and flash, that stops me everytime. I can live with the pedestrian AF [which doesn't seem so bad to me, I have to say]. I can live with the high price [and you're so right about that]; and the similarly overpriced hood and maybe even the optical hotshoe finder [I used used on my DPMs and even though it doesn't make sense, had a great time with them---you had to just drop everything and trust you've focused on what you thought you'd focused on, but that was the fun, to me]…

          I can’t live with:

          1) No Su800 compatibility. Come on Nikon: even my wife’s crappy D60 consumer-targeted camera from 2008 talks to the Su800; the 1000+ at launch, now 700 USD+ Coolpix A can’t!?

          2) And at that, no CMD mode on the little pop up flash. I could’ve forgived the Su800 thing in a minute if they’d put that in. They didn’t. No sale. Just on principle.

          And it’s a really idiosyncratic complaint, because when I am I going to be using multiple flashes on a pocket walkaround? I don’t know—but with 1/2000 sync on the table, maybe I might have wanted to do that a lot. Maybe not. That’s why we wanted a camera that offers us the chance to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. It’s not like we’re talking about an unreasonable add on here.

          So close—the Nikon menu and controls all in place… Alas!

          I pray that they try a Coolpix A2: same sensor and body — drop the “Coolpix” name, please God — maybe put a bit more grip on it, sculpt it a little more and put an APS-C interchangeable mount on there. Make it the Nikon version of the Canon EOS M, basically. Which is lovely to hold [and if they'd only gripped the surfaces up more, even better] and a great idea; but the total lack of exterior controls kill it [I get what they were trying, but it doesn't work, for me]. All the EOS M ads are 20y/o “I’m out in the world now!” girls holding one, taking pictures of potted plants on their windowsills, etc., so I think that’s what Canon thought this camera should be about. Who knows, they might be right… I doubt it — just look how much better Olympus did when they stopped trying to sell m43 to girls and went back to a more traditional constituency [as 4/3 originally set out to do, and failed, the irony!] — but sure, 20y/o girls want to take pictures too, and why not.
          [But why not with their iPhone. And save 500 dollars for shoes and bags. Does anyone at Canon live in today's day and age?]

          I hear a lot of guys very happy for having chosen the GR over the A. So I think that settles it. But I always liked the A, and like you, Van, it’s just a matter of price. If I walked past a used shop and saw one for 200USD and less, I’d jump on it in a minute. I reckon if I gave it a year or so, that could actually happen…

          • They’d never do it, because it’d kill the 1. Personally, I can see a reason to have both – one for color and one for monochrome – but the problem is again justifying the price…

          • Practically speaking, a speed light is not right for the Coolpix A. Its really top heavy and again you need the DSLR to counter balance. I have not tried the smaller version speed lights. I have 4 SB900/800. If you are still thinking of getting a Coolpix A, I’d still suggest the better priced GR and the low light capabilities are really outstanding. Or the new RX10, Ming reviewed. I like what it has to offer in one package, and if it had their APS-C it would be a killer.

            • Actually, both the A and GR are interesting for speedlight work because of the control/ creative possibilities offered by the high speed sync of the leaf shutters. That said, you can always use the built in set to minimum power to trigger other speedlights in SU4 mode, and I’m pretty sure an SB900 will work in commander mode attached to the A.

              • Good workout around. However, for me, if I use speed lights I use the DSLRs. I have enough issues with sight of line on the speed lights. And if using the SU800 want the option to remote dial in compensation. The SB900 whether in commander mode or not on a GR hand held is not working for me. But, I would though prefer and have more confidence with Pocket Wizards on a GR or A to trigger the remotes. Have to try that one day.

            • Van, I photographed my daughter’s birthday with a Nissin Di822 on a Sony RX100mk2

              It actually made the haptics of the camera pretty good—a bit… Unorthodox. But good :)

        • I ended up buying a GR over the A for a few very small reasons, the most important being slightly higher shutter speed, and built in ND, as i shoot alot in harsh light. But it annoys me when people complain about the price of the A. It is a noticeably higher quality product, and it a pretty good deal. The lens is amazing, and you would be hard pressed to find an equivalent lens for the aps-c system for less than a grand .
          Its to bad because a few small tweeks would have really put the A over the top, but I think nikon is done with the concept

      • harold1968 says:

        Ridiculous, why not have a light weight system that does everything.
        90% of people don’t need anything more then the AF performance of the A7.
        The A7 already finishes off most DSLRs for IQ, build and handling.
        The next version will finish them off for AF as well

        • Why not? So the camera makers can make more money by selling a half complete product to people who want it now :)

          Technology is always released incrementally to maximize profits.

          • John McMillin says:

            That’s it, exactly! The leaders of Sony, Canon, and the rest aren’t struggling to build a perfect camera, the best camera that can be built, or the last one you’ll ever need. They prefer to follow a deliberate roadmap of incremental improvements, in measured doses of new product that generate new interest and sales. Every new generation is better than the rest, but looking backwards, that only proves how imperfect the previous products are.

            Mirrorless and other EVF cameras fit this strategy perfectly. EVF tech is advancing quickly, and it’s easy to demonstrate on the retail sales floor. By contrast, it would be quite difficult and expensive to improve on the OVF of my a850, or a Leica M OVF. They’re the pinnacles of a mature technology. But it’s more profitable for the makers to leave that summit and march up a different hill.

            • Its no different with other industries. They test the market, or let others, before committing. (I’m not trying to defend the camera makers) Not everyone is so critical, as those that follow this blog. :-) But I do not think the DSLR will go away. There will be a market for it and those long lenses. I really don’t have a problem shooting with it. Love the bokeh! Yeah, its nice to want a light weight system but, unless you are doing one particular style there will be a need for a versatile system that will also pay for itself (pro). When I saw the low light capability of the D3 when it came out, I couldn’t care what it weighed (and it was the largest). And my D4 is amazing in every regard. Let’s not forget, the MF also. Heck that is a big enough system. I couldn’t shoot it on the run. (But I do like the sync speed 1600). And you know what, the look of a 135mm on a MF compared to a FX is something, especially compared to DX. Anyway, I will gladly trade in for a mirror less EVF when it arrives full featured and mature. Meanwhile them figure it out.

  15. harold1968 says:

    Ok Ming. I understand you don’t like Sony, but this review is not too bad ;) I agree that the lens system is very important to the success of this camera and hope Sony “get it” this time. They appeared to with the RX1. I strongly disagree with you views on replacement. The RX1 remains a popular small, silent shutter and excellent f2 lens combination and we have strong hints that Sony is planning a RX2. The Nex series did take ages to get its lens act in order but the range is very good now, with a high quality 24mm, 35mm and 50mm and some excellent 3rd party additions.
    As Sony went for two extremely high quality FE lenses first (I say that as a Leica user) it seems that they do perhaps “get” the target audience. Their big problem with me is that 35mm and 55mm pretty much cover 90% of my shooting so Sony may not be selling many more lenses to me (although I would be partial to a 24mm of the same quality).
    Have a good weekend!

    • As a former owner of the Sony A580 and A77, a word of caution about Sony: I briefly switched from Canon to Sony in 2010 (and I now shoot Nikon), and the honeymoon phase ended very quickly, primarily due to lack of lenses ad Sony’s reluctance and/or inability to produce a reliable stable of lenses. Only recently did they announce a 50mm Zeiss for the now-obsolete A-mount—a terrific lens, but too little, too late. What happens if, in six years, Sony decides to abandon the FE mount as it is currently doing with the did A mount? Then you’re stuck with a bunch of lenses that no one wants.

      I also have to disagree that they started with two high-quality lenses. To me, those lenses are concessions to keep the glass small (i.e., an f/1.4 or f/1.2 prime would likely be too large for the body), therefore convincing people that the a7/a7r and the concept of a slim, full-frame camera is a worthwhile purchase. I love the concept and I am the perfect candidate for this camera—a D800 owner who owns a small number of lenses. A 35mm f/2.8 and 50mm f/1.8, however, aren’t going to get me to abandon my D800, my Zeiss 21mm f/2.8, my sweet new Nikon 58mm f/1.4, or even my cheap—but tack sharp—50mm f/1.8. It certainly won’t convince people with a larger stable of lenses.

      • harold1968 says:

        Its true that at this point there are too few FE lenses to convince people who want massive lens collections.
        There are many and excellent A mount lenses, its dishonest to say that the A range is no good. Sony have always had a f1.4 lens, about the same quality as the Nikon f1.4G. Nikon has only now released the 58mm f1.4G and the performance is disappointing to say the least.
        The A mount can’t be used for the A7 as its a long back focal designed for a mirror box.
        Its perfectly logical for Sony to run two lens mounts, unlike Nikon which runs three, FX, DX and CX.
        Short back focal lenses are still smaller. As the telephoto increases the size advantage diminishes of course.
        You can’t compare the Zeiss 55mm f12.8 to the Nikon 50mm f1.8 of f1.4. If you read around the internet you will see that it performs better then the Leica 50mm Summilux which is 3 x the cost.
        Posts like this are just defensive post justification for the ancient bulky heavy mechanical mirror boxes which frequently go out of alignment.
        In 10 years time no one will be justifying DSLRs any more

        • Peter Boender says:

          “… lens mounts, unlike Nikon which runs three, FX, DX and CX.”

          This is technically incorrect. The Nikon FX and DX lenses both use the Nikon F mount. Nikon CX lenses use a different mount. So Nikon also runs only 2 mounts.

  16. MT, I have just discovered your site. Really terrific. It is gratifying to find you have come to roughly the same conclusion… If I want really detailed, high res images… D800E and its lenses are very nice. For everything, there is the OM1 and the sweet set of MFT lenses. BTW, I also still have my DLUX 5 with me, just in case. Sony has left me very disappointed with their lack of large assortment of high quality, native lenses. Thanks for the time you put into the site.

  17. MT, I’ve noticed that you enjoy doing some landscape photography. Im really into it and I would like to ask if you think that GND Filters are needed for challenging light situations or if you rather go with exposure blending in post. Thanks in advance and keep up with the outstading work!

  18. Thanks for the review. I’m quite surprised to find you’re considering the Sony Zeiss and the Otus Zeiss in the same camp in terms of initial image impressions. Perhaps once that new Sigma 50 Art is out, it may offer a compromise: Sony Zeiss quality but for a DSLR (like the otus). Also, you sold all your M glass?? Is it because you weren’t finding a commercial use for the M system that couldn’t be met with a m4/3 or FF SLR?

    • They’re not in the same camp. I think you misread me.

      I sold my M glass because there was no reason to keep it around, nor was there any reason to buy an M body. It does nothing that I can’t do cheaper, better and more reliably with systems I already own. And frankly, I waited six months for a body and gave up at that point. Leica seems to be happy to send first units to bloggers with no credibility or ability, but real photographers have to take a number. That attitude stinks.

  19. Dwaine Dibbly says:

    Thanks for the insightful review. Bodies come and go. It’s all about the lenses. You allude to the facts of optics, that in order to cover a given sensor at a given focal length and max aperture, the minimum size of the lens is constrained by physics (barring some revolutionary change in lens or sensor technology). A smaller body doesn’t really make for a much smaller system if the lenses are going to be large, so if system size is important to you, the A7(R) isn’t going to cut it. For those reasons, I’ll stick to M4/3.

    • bluetwango says:

      Right– I’d advise anyone, first pick a format. Then list the lenses you’d use and carry with you often. Total their weight and size. Then, and only then, pick a camera body to mount them on. See if the weight differences between camera bodies of various designs (DSLR, SLT, Mirrorless) makes more than 25% difference in the weight of your whole kit. Often, it won’t, so it’s meaningless.

      I don’t enjoy lugging around a six-pound camera, though I do so professionally. The extra weight is mostly in brackets and flashes, so a smaller camera body would be of no help there. My preferred solution is to use smaller, lighter lenses, when possible. I’ve never owned an f 2.8 zoom, and I don’t want one. I can cover 24-200 mm with two Minolta zooms that each weigh about one pound. With that lightweight kit, a 2 lb. a850 body is no burden. The whole thing is probably lighter than an a7 with a big Zeiss zoom, plus adapter.

  20. Another good read Ming. Only thing I would say is my D700 is still looking good with against this generation of cameras….let’s see later this yr!

    • Maybe I’ll send you a full-size D800E + Otus file for you to reconsider :)

      • The D800E is the replacement for the D700…I think we are only realising it now!

        Ah I know my next purchase….no temptations please! I’m getting a gitzo traveler tripod and an arca ball head ;) . Oh that reminds me….did you find a cheaper L plate to use instead of the horrendously expensive arca one?

  21. So happy I’m not alone in finding the A7R a challenge. I rented the A7R with the 35mm Sony-Zeiss native lens. My main testing was street photography. I could hardly ever get a sharp picture, even at high shutter speeds. I was driven to full manual operation right down to manual focus to get anything useful at all. The manual focus aids also seemed inaccurate. So glad it was a rental, not a purchase.

    • Great article that confirms my own experience over the last 4 weeks.

      I am also having issues with my A7r shooting anything but stationary objects with extreme hand holding techniques… I have tested this camera longer than any other previous camera I’ve owned and that is because I get complex results. Some times the quality is there but getting there is hit or miss. I would never take it with me for an important shoot.

      I love the portability of the A7r and the results when I actually nail the shot…. but I am so frustrated with it… it is a tease machine. I have been shooting for 20 years with anything from a view camera to a D800E and I never had to deal with so much uncertainty. I am also disappointed I cannot use my Leica 50 Lux ASPH or the Nokton 50 1.5 manual lenses without issues. The Sony Zeiss 55 1.8 is great but at night it is a dog to use with AF and in MF mode it is light years behind a mechanical lens.

      I believe Steve Huff claims his keep rate with the A7 is higher than with the A7r… does anyone else share that experience? will the A7 do better (keep rate) as a hand held camera than the A7r?

      • The lower the number of pixels per angle of view, the higher your keeper rate will be (everything else like shutter mechanism being equal) because it’s less likely to show camera shake – camera shake is an angular movement that’s constant regardless of the resolving power of the system. However, one additional thing working in favor of the A7 is that it has an electronic front curtain, which means no vibration from the shutter mechanism until *after* the exposure. The A7R has a very poor shutter mechanism that vibrates a lot.

        • I have a high keep rate with the D800E with the same shooting technique I use with the A7r so I think the shutter design may have a lot to do with my issues. I will try out a different hand holding shooting technique to see if it helps. I wish Sony could address this shutter issue somehow but I doubt there is a fix for hand holding style shooting…

    • Same problemI have with my A 580. Great camera, if everything can be done by hand.

  22. I would trade my D800 for this camera in a heartbeat if I could rely on Sony to produce a decent stable of lenses. Only recently did they announce a 50mm Zeiss for the now-obsolete A-mount—a terrific lens, but too little, too late. With its concededly aggressive shutter and high megapixel count, this camera would fit my needs as a landscape and cityscape photographer, but I don’t see Sony releasing a Zeiss 21mm or 24mm prime in the near future, and boy do I love my 21mm Zeiss when paired with my D800.

    • I think that’s the way a lot of us feel – right now, as a system, you still can’t beat the big boys.

      • And it’s the system—not a single camera—that matters most in the long term. Sony has the ability to compete with Canon and Nikon, but chooses not to and seems truly seems incapable of sticking to a single, consistent product strategy.

        That being said, I wonder if or when Canon or Nikon will truly move to mirrorless, full-frame cameras for professionals. It would require the creation of a new mount and a heck of a lot of new, professional glass, which is a serious undertaking and one that will likely not catch on for a few years after it is introduced. It would also mean the maintenance and continued development of DSLRs for sports and wildlife photographers, resulting in two separate product lines for two different types of professional photographer—sensor-based focusing or using a 400mm prime on an a7r, for example, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for those photographers.

        • Personally, I doubt it. If mirrorless is all about size and weight, then M4/3 makes sense since the optics are also small – there are some physical rules of optics that simply cannot be broken, which is why a 400/2.8 is always going to be a certain size and weight.

  23. Whatever Sony does next with full frame mirrorless is, I suspect, far less interesting than how this first iteration impacts the marketplace. I’ll venture it’s a bit of a bow shot. I found these remarks from Thom Hogan today quite interesting (particularly with respect to Olympus) >>

    “Everyone has full frame. Fujifilm, Olympus, and Pentax will probably all succumb and show their full frame hand either at Photokina this year, or no later than early next year. Sure, the volume will be low, but look at the profits! Pentax is the easy call here, but Fujifilm will have seen and envied the Sony thrust with the A7 and likely follow. Olympus can’t survive as an m4/3-only company in my opinion, so they’re going to have to come up with a second line strategy, and full frame would be as good as anything for them now that they’re emphasizing high-end, especially if they tried to preserve the small/light OM legacy.”

    • I doubt Olympus has the resources to develop another body AND lens lineup. The others – Pentax already has current FF lenses, Fuji has money.

      • If full frame continues on a trajectory of being introduced into smaller bodies, then Olympus’ survival in the camera marketplace could come down to a race between two competing technological advancements: 1) the ability to miniaturize full frame AF lenses down close to Leica M size vs. 2) continued advancements in sensor technology which would allow M4/3 to reach a level of overall quality sufficiency such that the full frame advantage is only necessary for the very biggest enlargements of the greatest acuity.

        To wit: All these sensors are getting better and better. We may eventually reach a point in a few years where a M4/3 sensor can produce IQ that is superior to today’s Nikon D4, along with dynamic range and high ISO capability that is very close (e.g. it’ll be interesting to see what Fuji and Panasonic’s organic sensor tech yields). The current state-of-the-art M4/3 cameras are now fully able to challenge APS-C cameras like the Nikon D7000 (which is no slouch itself for IQ, even 4 years on).

        At that point, the argument about how much IQ is “necessary” vs how much weight you want to tote around starts to look very different for a lot of shooters, particularly documentary, reportage, and travel shooters. Never mind that full frame sensors will always technically be “better”. If it’s beyond the ability of the human eye to perceive (even with big enlargements); if M4/3 is good enough to make excellent prints beyond 24×36″, then I’ll opt for the smaller system every time. The sensor quality will get “bigger”, but the cameras and lenses won’t.

        At this point, Oskar Barnack’s original vision will have been realized like never before.

        This race could be the new battleground going forward.

        • There are rules of optics against 1); 2) is more likely, though of course any advances that apply to M4/3 will also apply to larger sensors.

          We are already at that point of sufficiency, regardless of intended output usage. I print 36×50″ from the E-M5/E-M1; people never think that something like that can come out of a M4/3 camera. When I ask them how often they print with the D800Es, they shake their heads. Then I point to the 60×90″.

          • On occasion, people ask why I need 36MP. When I point to my 60×90″ metal print, they instantly understand. What they don’t know is the cost of that print . . .

          • I think in case 1, it’s more a question of limitations in electro-mechanical engineering to get the autofocus etc down in size, as Leica M lenses are full frame and quite diminutive (though obviously lack autofocus mechanisms and/or stabilizers).

            But I do agree that 2 is more likely. And even though bigger sensors will get better, too, as you reiterated, your second graph answers that issue because we may exceed sufficiency such that you won’t need a full frame or larger sensor unless you’re making wall sized fine art prints.

            If M4/3 reaches the point of providing better quality than what most amateurs or professionals need for 90% of their work, having the advantage of a much smaller, lighter system will become increasingly appealing. At that point, Olympus and Panasonic’s M4/3 bet 10 years go could end up paying big dividends in the long run. Again, assuming the sensor tech continues on its current trajectory.

            Heck, Jay Dickman, who is a National Geographic shooter, has been using Olympus M4/3 for his assignment work since 2003. I believe they approached and sponsored him, but still, he’s not going to shoot with an inferior product if it doesn’t get the job done for Nat Geo.

        • Peter Boender says:

          Good observations Robert.

          “At that point, the argument about how much IQ is “necessary” vs how much weight you want to tote around starts to look very different for a lot of shooters, particularly documentary, reportage, and travel shooters.”
          I’ll you what. I didn’t even wait for “at that point” :-) I’ve ditched all my Nikon DSLR gear for my worldwide travels (I retain a set for stuff around the house, and at my children’s sport games). My Olympus m43 gear is treating me very well, I’m seriously happy with the output (admittedly not printing a whole lot), and my back thanks me for it. The most wonderful thing however: all this lightness is not only physically better, but mentally as well. I feel much less constrained, and am able to put myself in situations that were previously unthinkable, shooting close-up while being “invisible” (I’m nowhere near Ming’s Ninja moves BTW). It’s liberating, and that’s helping my photography much more than all the technical geekery out there :-D

  24. calvin yee says:

    hi ming, how easy was it to focus the otus on your f2 titan? which focusing screen would work the best? thanks.

  25. Appreciate your viewpoints. There has been some discussion that the A7(R) mangles compressed raw files by lossily compressing them too much — did you run into that issue? I believe it could be a valid concern for scenes with gradations on some critical tonal areas.

    I’m of a slightly different view regarding adapters, namely that adapted lenses can be desirable, but certainly not all of them. I only use manual focus adapted lenses on my Nexes anymore, I don’t like its AF and I don’t like how I’m losing control of focus. Ergonomically, manully focusing Sony’s lenses is not that exciting. OTOH, I use native lenses on an E-M5 99% of the time. There has been some discussion on lensrentals about adapted lenses on the A7R, with the current consensus being (and I’m agreeing with it) that the problems stem primarily from the sensor’s filter pack and the sensor itself. We’ll see how the whole thing develops, but lack of high quality compact wide angle lenses is a major problem with this system. I’m playing with the thought of how well a Zeiss 21/2.8 would work on an A7R or similar, given that the longer lenses could be compact.

    One additional problem with the A7(R) as a system is that the lenses are quite expensive. For an A7R and 55/1.8 we are talking more than 3 grand (dollar or euro), a steep sum from a brand new, unproven system. At least with Canon and Nikon one can assume they will have the basic things in place and the 2nd hand market is vibrant.

    As for comparisons to other systems, I think one advantage for the D800 (and I guess E-M1?) is the fast AF and also working tracking AF. The D800 may have accuracy problems with AF, but tracking is just sometimes required. Another thing is that the bulkier body of the D800 works better with long lenses and when stabilizing it for very critical shots.

    • I didn’t see it, but I did notice something that looked like slight NR smearing even with NR turned off – that might well be it.

      The current D800s are fine regarding AF – in fact my latest one from last week is significantly better than my first one from the very first batch in 2012.

      • Thanks for that. I don’t have my credit card out, just following early reports and seeing if it will be worth buying (to be used with a ZM 2/50 Planar, ha), but the lack of wides, vibration and the tonal compression are the biggest challenges. Apparently some M-mount wides work when stopping down enough, but that’s far from optimal.

        Maybe I need to have my D800 checked, though accuracy is usually a problem in low light at large apertures.

        • That’s almost certainly either an AF fine tune issue or a mirror calibration problem. After adjusting both, both of my D800Es nail it consistently with all lenses (though not with the outermost vertical column of AF points, strangely).

  26. John McMillin says:

    I finally looked at the a7 yesterday at a camera store. In about six seconds, I lost all interest. That’s how long it took the camera to start up from “off” and deliver a live view. Then the salesman tried the a7R, and it took about the same long time to light up for action. “Whoops, it’s gone now,” he quipped. Did you encounter this? It seems like a real deal-breaker. I haven’t waited so long for a camera to boot up since the first-generation Coolpix I tried to use in 1999.

  27. Ming, can you please provide a link to these cheap, sub $1500 RX1R’s. I would like to buy one. I’ve been searching via ebay and there’s 30 or so for sale, ranging in price from $2500 to over $3000.

  28. Very disappointing to read about the same tonal response as with the D800E (which I already owned). I am still looking for a decent camera with interchangeable lenses that can also produce very nice black and white output. I love the image quality of my Ricoh GR and Sigma DP2 + DP3 Merill and their b/w tonality is superiour to most other cameras. Problem is: Holding the camera at arm’s length is just not my cup of tea and I’d love to have a viewfinder.
    And although you praised the b/w performance of the Olympus sensors, I can’t really get warm with the small sensor :-/ Running out of alternatives here… You don’t have another tip for me?

    • I agree. Somehow, the GR – even though it has the same sensor as many others – does an incredible job for B&W conversions. You could always add a Zeiss optical finder…

      Nope, no other tip for you. Other than MF digital. Or film.

      • The Zeiss optical finder doesn’t let me change lenses on the GR ;-)
        The ideal camera for me would have the b/w tonality of the GR and the flexibility and handling of a smallish DSLR like the D3300 but with the features of the D7100.
        Hmm, who’s gonna build this for me? :-)

        Thanks anyway! It’s amazing to see you read and answer so many questions! One gets the impression that your average day has at least 48 hours ;-)

        • No, that’s true, but it does solve the arms’ length problem, and the view is fantastic. There’s always the GW3 converter for 21mm, which actually works very well optically.

          My average day? Not 48 hours, but contains far less sleep than most, I suspect.

          • I had the GW3 converter and didn’t like it. Maybe mine wasn’t as good as yours due to quality control or whatever. Although I have to admit that I only tried it on the DP1 Merrill which works very well in general and without the optional hood of the GR.

            However, I had to stop down to f/5.6 for acceptable results and even then the edges and corners were worse than at f/2.8 without the converter. Guess I’ve been truly spoiled by the image quality of the Merrills ;-)

            • There are definite sample variation issues with every lens; some more so than others. My converter is still fine in the center at f4, excellent at 5.6.

              It’s also with considering the possibility that the DP lens was never designed to work with the converter, so you’re using a suboptimal optical formula; whereas the GR was designed to play nice with it to the start.

              • I think your last point might very well be the reason.

                Well, my main problem is not that I can’t live with 28, 45 and 75mm alone. From time to time 21 or 150mm would be nice to have, but in general I don’t need them very often. My main problem is that I’d like to have one camera (for the sake of a more convenient workflow mainly) that feels solid in the hand (E-P5 was too tiny for me) and ideally would give me at least 1 stop DOF advantage over the f/2.8 lens + APS-C sensor combinations AND above all delivers a black and white output similar to the Monochrom or GR or DP Merrills.

                My concern is that no one will build this for me, EVER! If it’s a Ricoh/Pentax thing with the black and white tonality, maybe I should download some RAW samples of the K-3 and examine them.

                I don’t want to go analog, although this might be the only affordable way…

                Sorry for bothering you with this. I know you can’t help me, because the camera I want doesn’t exist ;-)

                • Analog is actually very affordable when you consider the class of camera you can get, and do the film development and scanning yourself. And the camera is unlikely to depreciate more than it already has, too! Even a medium format Hasselblad system with several German-made Zeiss lenses can be had for very little money; not much more than a midrange DSLR body only.

                  • Maybe I should give it a try… The Blad plus Zeiss lenses definitely sounds tempting!

                    One last question anyway: Wouldn’t it be possible to create a preset for let’s say a D800E that matches the b/w tonality of the GR? If I shoot the same subject (ideally something that exceeds the dynamic range of the sensor I guess, so that I can have pure blacks and pure whites and everything inbetween) with the same focal length with both cameras and manipulate the D800E file until the look matches the look of the GR, can’t I just save the settings and use it for every picture?

                    • All of the V series ‘Blads use Zeiss lenses only. I think there was a Schneider tele zoom or two, but these are very uncommon.

                      Presets: no. You just don’t have the same degree of control over tone curves etc. In any case, I’m not referring to the JPEG tonality of the Ricoh’s B&Ws – I’m referring to the easy conversion of the DNG files.

    • Andy Gemmell says:

      Leica Monochrome Stephan…:-)

      • Been there, done that! Great experience and output but I can’t justify such an investment for 1000-3000 photos per year (excluding vacation)…

        I sold it and the money went into a brand new Toyota GT86 (body and lenses were enough to pay half the car). I enjoy every kilometer with it. Definitely the better investment for me. :-)

        But I don’t regret having owned the Monochrom anyway. Now I can put “Own a Leica” off my bucket list :-D And furthermore it was quite useful to compare it with the Ricoh GR. To be honest: The differences in the tonality were so marginal (to my eyes) that I really can’t recommend the Monochrom to anyone who has to work hard for his money and without too much money in the bank.

  29. I really can’t see the same person trying to choose between the D800 and A7r. The only thing they have in common is similar IQ. Other than that, they are totally different beasts.

    I think it’s real competitors are…

    – Fuji X1-Pro
    – Leica ME
    – Leica M

    The above camera’s are all for the same type of shooter. Not world beater in terms of performance but excellent IQ and compact. You can actually get DSLR level IQ out of the A7r and those mentioned above.

    The EM1 performs well but in terms of total IQ the A7r is in a different class. The D800 is a fully featured DSLR with a rugged body and all that goes with a pro body. These camera’s are different enough that it would be fine to own all 3.

    • I’m not sure I agree: I’ve had a surprising number of emails from D800/E owners. And I was considering it myself – coming from a regular user of several D800Es. With the right lenses, it would be a very interesting alternative since it would also fulfill the small/ light requirement that the D800E most definitely does not.

      Nothing wrong with owning everything, but in practical use – I don’t think I’d be able to deploy them all. For the kinds of situations where I’d be shooting fast/ loose/ need a stabilizer and not be able to fully use 36MP, the A7R is moot anyway since you also can’t make the most out of a D800E.

      • I agree with Ming as well. As a current D800 owner, this setup is very appealing to me. I don’t need fast AF for landscapes and cityscapes, which is what I shoot most often. My principal concern is long-term support for the mount, i.e. lenses. Sony has a history of burning early adopters and die-hards. Ask anyone who own an RX1 or an A99.

  30. On the question of the A7r being better for printing than the A7, what is the definition of a “big” print? Is it 20″ x 30″ or is it 30″ x 40″ or bigger? What is the magic point at which you can actually start to see the difference in print?

    • Between 24MP and 36MP? Assuming you’ve got perfect pixel-level quality from both files, it depends on how much fine detail your subject has, and your viewing distance. I would say around the 24×36″ point, in general. Less if you’ve got lots of fine detail.

  31. calvin yee says:

    happy new year ming, have you tried the otus on your f2 titan?

    • Thanks. Yes, I have to see how easy it would be to focus, but not shot any film through it. I’d probably use the F6 though as it balances better with the size of the lens.

  32. Nice review. And the images are nice…a few are really, really excellent.

  33. Great review as always.

    I have a theoretical question for you.

    Since there is a partnership between Sony and Olympus do you think in the future there could be an A8 or A10 with a chip and an adapter specially designed to accept m43 lenses in crop mode?

    Why I ask this? Recently (less than a year) I bought an EPL5, a great little camera and I’m quite happy with it but sometimes I think I would like an EVF and better low light performance.This new Sony camera could give me that in a not that much bigger body but I really like the lenses in the m43 system and I don’t want to lose the “investment” on the ones I already have: Also, like you already mentioned the Sony does not have that many lenses right now and probably is going to take a while until it matures. So a solution like that could benefit both Sony and Olympus. Also it would make the camera more versatile making it really portable with the m43 glass for travel and street but also could do professional work with the dedicated glass.

    I know this is a problem a lot of people have when they are considering switching systems and I’m probably biased and trying to justify my purchase but nevertheless I would like to heat (well read) your opinion.

    Thanks.

    • I don’t see why not…

      • Well like you said adapted lenses almost never work as well as dedicated ones, what I would like to see is full support for m43 lenses and take advantage of great lenses like the 60/2.8 and the 75/1.8. In a move not unlike what Olympus tried to do with the EM-1 and 43 lenses.

        The way I see it there are two main concerns about this option. One is the technical side, which by your comment it’s not as difficult as I though I could be. The other is the commercial aspect; the way I see it with the EM-1 Olympus is showing that m43 sensors are close to reaching their peak (performance-wise) and maybe a Sony-Olympus full frame camera with integrated m43 lenses support could offer an upgrade path for existing m43 users.

        I know m43 cameras are more than enough for most of my needs (probably for a lot of people also) but there is always this little voice telling me that there is always something better in the future…

  34. I believe you are one of those photographers that has the ability to make any camera they review look like it takes great photographs.

  35. Dear Ming,
    Excellent review on the A7r. Several weeks now I am enjoying the A7. To be used with Minolta MD legacy lenses and Novoflex adapter. I am very happy with the results, and impressed with the enormous dynamic range. The combination of the Sony body with Minolta lenses is very balanced. The Sony A7 combination performs a lot better in comparison with the Leica M 240 Minolta MD Novoflex combination. Most Minolta lenses disappoint with the Leica M240, with the exception of the 135mm f/2.8. Leica M 240 with Leica lenses however outperform easily all other cameras I have used in terms of clarity, microcontrast and out of focus transition.

  36. Gary Morris says:

    Comprehensive experiential review (the lack of charts, graphs and endless CA examples is appreciated). I bought an A7R when it was announced. I bought this specifically to see if I could get some more mileage from my Leica glass. After using my M9 for three years, I found my rangefinder accuracy slowly declining (me, not the camera but I do somewhat blame Leica for not building in a diopter adjustment but instead charging hundreds of dollars for replacement diopters).

    I’ve thus far only used my 50mm Summicron and Noctilux .95 on the A7R with the Voigtlander adapter. I shoot the Noct almost always wide open (but sometimes stop down to 5.6). All I can say is that with the A7R I am nailing focus on about 95% of my shots while on the M9 I was lucky to approach 50%.

    I understand the various negatives you point out but I guess for my style of shooting and my simplistic criteria, the A7R has breathed new life into my Noctilux. And maybe that’s what all of the evaluations of any camera come down to… do you feel that in the end you’re getting the shots you want at the quality you expect and do you experience zero buyers remorse? So far the A7R works for me.

    • I leave all that to others. I have better things to do, like actually make images.

      It’s quite possible your RF could have drifted out of alignment after that much use; I know mine definitely did after just a few months.

      You’re right about the evaluation: for the A7R, sometimes I got what I wanted, sometimes it was just frustrating. No idea about buyer’s remorse, this was a loaner. Curiously, I’ve felt buyer’s remorse about cameras that make perfect sense – the D600, for instance – but not about other things, like the second D800E or Otus.

      • Gary Morris says:

        I didn’t mean buyers remorse specifically to the A7R; just generally. And maybe you had it with the D600 because you really wanted the second D800E. We have a saying in our family… when you buy the best, you only cry once.

  37. It is a nice review as usual. I guess this time I will pass on this camera despite that I wanted to move to FullFrame and retire the nex5 (and keeping the nex7 for some more time as I am quite happy with the SEL50/1.8 combination). I wanted a way to print significantly bigger for landscape and the a7r + 35/2.8 seemed a reasonable approach, and I wanted to use It as well for portrait in studio and outdoor environment.
    However, the flash sync is quite limiting for studio giving little choice on the aperture. And then if I am only using 35mm it seems that the rx1(r) would make more sense, this doesn’t have a swiveling LCD screen (It has a nice flash synch with leaf shutter but It will be rarely use for landscape).
    So in the end nothing really fits my need (unless maybe the Ricoh camera to replace the nex5).
    It seems that there are not many lenses around 50mm with a leaf shutter, I suspect because it need to cover a larger area than a wider angle, I am not sure it’s reasonnable to wait for one on any brand.
    forgive my ignorance, but I didn’t understand the angle explanation as why a 36 mpx FF (15 mpx APSC) is is more demanding than a 24mpx APSC.
    And about the previous comment about resisting to 24 from 36, I don’t think it will work as well as expected: if there is a small movement on the 36 is could affect two pixels then the effective resolution would be 18 mpx(or less), as if you’re using a 24 mpx you have chance that movement is still constrained within the larger pixel, giving you an effective 24mpx. But that’s my naive vision reality may be different; any explanations are appreciated.
    Eric

    • Agreed re. resizing. You simply will not see the shake as much with less pixels, unless you’re downsizing 2-to-1 or more.

    • mosswings says:

      I had to wrap my head around this as well, but the operative quantity is pixel/degree of field of view, not absolute pixel size. By this logic, a 24MP DX sensor will be just as sensitive to shake as a 24MP FX sensor for the same angle of view. Where I think we’re getting thrown off is assuming that camera shake is a purely translational motion, and that translation would thereby seem to relate to pixel size, which is smaller in the smaller format sensor if resolution is held constant. But camera shake subtends the same angle of view for identically framed scenes regardless of the sensor size (assuming other factors such as camera mass and grip are held constant), which translates into the same number of pixels affected. Cameras with increased resolution do show increased sensitivity to shake at 100%, but if you’re viewing at the same image size, there shouldn’t be a difference.

      • Basically correct, but sometimes increased resolution and a discrete viewing medium – i.e. pixels – means that the downsizing isn’t always clean for the higher resolution camera, and this can sometimes improve or make worse the impression of shake.

  38. What do you think Sony has planned for the Alpha system, A77, etc.? Are the lenses compatible with the A7r format? Does this new format signal the end of Alpha, once again supporting your observation about how easily Sony gets distracted?

    • Anybody’s guess what Sony has planned. The lenses are compatible via a clunky adaptor; one adds PDAF, one is just a tube/ electronic contacts.

      I think the lack of new Alpha DSLR lenses should be pretty telling about the future of that mount; why invest money in a system you’re going to kill off?

      • Too bad. I invested in an A57 and five lenses. It was great except for fast action AF. I thought newer bodies would rectify and I would be set with a reasonably priced system good lens coverage. Seems to me they could have made the Alpha format mirrorless and continued developing the format. But everyone now wants FF in a small body. That’s why I’m headed to E-M1. Who needs FF for posting on the web and the occasional print?

        • bluetwango says:

          Sony hates old-mount alpha users like us, I bet. I have eight Maxxum AF lenses for my a850 that suit every need I have, at affordable prices. Although the Minolta legacy helped Sony make a credible start in the DSLR business, all those legacy lenses continue to compete with Sony’s new ones. Old Maxxums never die. They don’t have built in AF motor and stabilization to break down over time, and they’re ruggedly built. I’m sure that Sony’s hidden agenda is to make these lenses obsolete, by whatever means necessary.

      • I can’t agree more with your views on Sony’s fickleness. I have a a77 and I don’t know whether to keep it (and keep buying lenses for it) or sell it while its still supported by Sony. I wish sony had branded this a nex (due to the native e mount) rather than an Alpha. Atleast that way we would have been sure about the direction that the company was/is going to take.

        • I’m surprised Sony doesn’t hear/ acknowledge this kind of feedback from its users; or maybe their target market isn’t the enthusiasts at all, but rather the general public…

  39. Ming, excellent review. I also recently got an A7R when my brother wanted to buy my Nex 7. My own assessment closely matches yours, but I did have a few comments.

    The first is on shutter vibration. I shot a wedding recently with the A7R and 55, and I was absolutely in love with the input while it was “on”. ISOs of 4000 or even a little over 5000 were just as good if not better than my Nex 7 at 800. However, shutter vibration was all over the place. I found something strange: I had more keepers (not counting content, just shutter vibration) near focal length than at 1/100. Going up, as noted in your review, improved the keeper ratio as well. I am starting to grow a suspicion that there might be something uniquely unpleasant about that shutter speed. Additionally, when I broke out my flash, I found I could shoot at nearly any speed and get a vibration free image. I know how flash freezes motion, but I’m a little curious to know how it freezes shutter vibration. Is it the same thing?

    My other comment was to adapters. Without considering the extra vibration that might be induced by certain adapters and lens combos, there was a rather interesting post on the lens rentals blog about the A7R and adapters. They tested the resolution of adapted lenses on both the original mount and the A7R, and found that while there is a lower relative resolution in corners on the A7R than on the original mount, the total resolution was still higher in most cases than on the original mount. For example, a canon lens might be 900 center 800 corner on a canon, but 1100 center 875 corner A7R. Etc. Don’t know if this would still be undesirable, but I thought it was interesting food for thought.

    Anyways, keep up the great work! Love your site, and you’ve been a bit of an inspiration for a while.

    • Flash duration is almost always in the thousandths of a second. Shutter vibration becomes irreleveant because there isn’t enough ambient to see it, though it will be there if you look carefully – much like slow sync/ second curtain flash.

      Adaptors: Canon vs Sony isn’t a fair comparison as Canon doesn’t have a 36MP sensor-ed camera, and their resolution measure also takes into account sensor resolving power! Comparing Nikon lenses on a D800E vs A7R would make a lot more sense.

      • I never said it was fair, haha. Only a D800 can compare in resolution. On any other system (Canon, Minolta, Leica, etc) you’re generally going to get better overall resolution with the A7R. As I said before, I don’t know if that would equate to a better overall image or not. It was just an interesting point to think about, as in this case adaptors might not be the resolution eating nightmare everyone thought them to be.

        • It’s not whether it’s fair or not, it’s that the comparison is meaningless. It’s like saying using 91 octane instead of 95 octane on a Ferrari will still be faster than a Toyota, but it says nothing about the ultimate performance of the Ferrari under optimal conditions.

          • I wouldn’t go that far. If canon came out with a 36 mpx model tomorrow, there would of course be resolution differences and you would be back to pointing out that you lose resolution with adapters. Due to the shifts in planarity. Etc. Etc.

            Because of the shifts in planarity, there might be increased CA, slightly greater distortion, etc. However, resolution is a measurable metric. If something has higher resolution, it has higher resolution.

  40. compulady says:

    Pretty fair review and conclusion, I know in general you are not too hot on Sony. I have both the a7 and a7r thinking the A7 as more of a street shooter. I just wish it had in camera stabilization like the EM-1 and that Sony will come out with a good set of native lenses as projected over the next 12-18 months. Stay the course Sony.

    • Not hot on Sony at all, but I can appreciate the idea – just that the execution needs work. As for stabilizers – only in the lenses. There isn’t enough room in the body or a sufficiently large mount/ lens image circle to do sensor-based IBIS.

  41. Some people are using their Canon and/or Contax Conurus lenses with the Metabones adapter on the A7(R) and have autofocus. It’s really slow, but it would work for landscapes, still life and (patient) models. I just got the adapter and I’m trying it myself.

    • I wonder how they back-engineered the AF protocol…interesting.

      • I would not recommend buying the Metabones adapter if you are hoping for AF with Canon EF lenses.
        I think it’s accurate but I find it painfully slow. Not at all suitable for action.

        As someone else pointed out, for static subjects it could be used but I find it just as fast (and accurate) to use manual focus using live view.

        The adapter is really nice in that it does transmit EXIF data and allows electronic control of aperture.

  42. pascaljappy says:

    Ming, thanks for that examination. Could you explain why you missed the D800e + OTUS when you looked at the A7r + 55/1.8 files ? I own the A7r and am terribly tempted by the OTUS but cannot “measure” what is lost with the 55/1.8 … Thanks for the help.

  43. Ming,

    Great review, thank you. The accompanying images are excellent and lead me to wonder what software you are using to process your ARW files.

    I am an architectural photographer and I purchased an A7R to use with Canon TS-E lenses, via the Metabones adapter.

    My experiences thus far have been extremely positive – with respect to image quality of the sensor as well as performance of the adapter. Of course I am using it with 1) a very sturdy head and tripod and 2) manual focus, via its very good implementation of live view.

    In direct comparison with the 5D Mark II the 17 and 24 TS-Es seem to perform at least as well on the Sony, even at extreme shifts. I’ve not noticed any issues with the adapter. I do really appreciate the additional latitude the A7R sensor provides. There seem to be two additional stops and I can pull more detail cleanly out of the shadows than I can with the 5D2. The additional resolution is also welcome. What I do not appreciate so much is the relatively poor battery life and Sony’s tethering solutions.

    I have yet to use it yet for client work – I’m still making sure that I am comfortable enough with the camera’s performance and workflow before committing to use it on a job. However my testing so far has led me to believe that it will probably work well for my intended uses.

    All of that said, I do not think that I would recommend the A7R as a general travel or street camera.

    • PS/ ACR – I’ve got a workflow video here.

      If you’re using it only with the TSEs, it makes sense; it’s much easier to work with live view than the optical finder for judging alignment and DOF. I almost never use the VF when using my tilt-shifts either, especially since the camera has to be on a tripod anyway.

  44. I handled this camera in a Sony store. Didn’t really feel right for me, not that I was ever going to get one. You have to give them credit for getting a full frame sensor in such a small body though.

    I’m more interested by the comments about how “demanding” some cameras are getting, due to these huge pixel counts / densities. I remember shooting at a firewalking (for religious purification reasons) festival a couple of years ago. I had a Nikon D3S with its pathetic (sarcasm alert) 12 MP and a lens with no stabilisation. I set it to auto ISO and didn’t cap it, because I genuinely wanted to see what the upper limits looked like. And it was D A R K. Other than one or two halogen lamps, the fire was pretty much the only source of light.

    After I got back I loaded them into Lightroom and I could barely believe what I was looking at: 10,000 – fine. 12,000 – fine. 18,000 – usable. 20,000 and 25,600 – usable after some work. I still haven’t seen anything like it. Of course my shoulder didn’t work for the next week, but it was worth it.

    Almost makes one nostalgic!

    I wonder what would happen if sensor technology continued to improve (which it surely will) but some brave company took the risk of LOWERING the pixel count. This would suggest absolutely unbelievable low light performance, would it not? Of course it would probably also be commercial suicide because megapixels are what sells. But from my (still relatively undeveloped) knowledge of the way cameras work, lower pixel densities (like 12MP on a full frame sensor) should theoretically provide superior low light performance to higher pixel densities if sensor performance is equal. So imagine a low pixel density on a top level sensor – something like the Exmoor. Could be insane.

    I understand the point about printing, especially printing very large, but then again how many photographers print? Not many (be that for better or worse). For the screen, even 12mp is more than enough. Heck, 5mp is (I say this as a former Digilux 2 owner).

    I’ve taken to a new strategy to combat GAS: whenever I read about these new super-cameras (even in well-written, even-handed reviews like yours) I head over to David Burnett’s site and look at what he does with his gear. The last time I heard (a couple of years back, maybe) he was using the Canon 5d Mark ONE, as well as old film cameras, Holgas, and so on…and producing absolutely incredible photographs.

    The other thing I took from this review was how good the Merrills are. Unless I misread what you wrote, for a fraction of the price of the A7R (or the D800) with good glass, you get entirely comparable IQ (at low ISOs). That says an awful lot about the Sigmas.

    Interesting times!

    • Those 12MP FX sensors were definitely a sweet spot in terms of ‘forgivingness’ – you could handhold at 1/0.5x FL without much issue, and push the ISO high. They had a huge shooting envelope. The 36MP sensors might be far better for print, but they are demanding as hell to get pixel-crispiness. As for high ISO, it’s a wash – downsize to 12MP and the 36MP camera is actually a bit cleaner because there’s more information going into each output pixel, even taking into account slight shake.

      The 16MP Df has pretty amazing high ISO performance. I just wish they put that sensor into a D800 body; hell, I’m even thinking about a used D4 for situations where I need that kind of thing. Maybe once prices drop after the D4s is released :)

      As for your GAS issue: maybe you should look at the iPhone set I published a couple of days ago :)

  45. Your images in this review are magnificent. Internet pictures are usually so blah but these are a pop n big time. Very M9ish.

    • Thanks. The M9 ‘look’ is more a question of color grading rather than anything else.

      • I’m not convinced about that. I’m sure it’s a factor but their seems to be a certain subtlety in the rendering/lens signature that really speaks to your creativity even more so than your D800E . I’m very familiar with your work so I can say with a high degree of certainty that this camera / lens combo compliments your shot discipline nicely.

        • Chas, interesting observation. Just like Ming who has no brand/camera loyalty, I frequently shoot with different cameras but in post I strive to produce a consistent style. In fact I’m working on an assignment right now trying to figure out how much if indeed there is any difference in my final output given different “rendering/lens signatures” that you mentioned.

        • I’ve always felt the native tonal response of both the Leicas and Sonys are blue-biased, whereas the Nikons are neutral; that might well be it. I like the cool tones, but not the cyan shifts of the Sony; the magenta shifts of the Leica are more easily correctable. And the Otus/D800E combination is just perfect clarity; ditto the Hasselblad/ Zeiss/ CFV-39 combination.

  46. Ming, For me an additional claw back for the E-M1 is that for most of my travel photography at National Parks and big landscapes are done at F4,5.6, or 8… while with full frame I’d need F 8, 11, 16. I can shoot at base ISO forever!! And since I hate using a tripod this DOF advantage coupled with IBIS fits my needs incredibly well.

    Peter F.

  47. Thank you for this review! It shows how much real world experiences matter. It’s amazing that I’ve read about this, yet hadn’t heard much on its light weight causing shutter vibration problems despite this now making complete sense. It seems like an amazing camera for its size when everything comes together though, and when the situation is good for its native lenses. Still, this is not the first time I’ve got the “technology first” feeling from Sony gear.

  48. Good and to the point review, albeit slightly on the harsh side.
    I am also not sure if I agree with a couple of elements from the “vs E-M1″ section. The Sony is weather sealed too. Granted, no idea how well, but it should be mentioned, I think. Also, aren’t the new FE lenses also made for digital from the ground up and performing quite well?

    • The Sony is NOT weather sealed. There are no gaskets around the battery door or card compartment.

      The FE 55/1.8 is pretty good – somewhere between the ZM 2/50 Planar and the ZF 2/50 Makro-Planar, which are both excellent lenses – but not in the same league as the Otus. But you have to remember there is also a 4x price differential and significant increase in size…

  49. Brilliant write up as always. I was also very curious about these new babies from Sony (I’m considering replacing my X-Pro1 kit with other) but after trying one (A7) there are few things which really don’t work for me:

    – the layout of the dials: the front one is OK but the rear one, for some reason I kept changing PASM dial instead of the rear one
    – very nervous shutter release button: small touch and it initiates ‘half press’ so in other words I couldn’t rest my finger on it as I’m used to with other cameras which meant that I had to change grip on camera when shooting which wasn’t very comfortable
    – build quality: was quite surprised that it isn’t on the same level as RX1 which feels more solid, I’d say that A7 has similar build to X-Pro1
    – lens selection: pooooor, they should do what Fuji did when they released X-Pro1, wide, normal, portrait and all of them fast, all Sony had to do is give us 28mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4, 85/90mm f/2(2.80) and call it a day

    I will try to get E-M1 (in my mind the best mirror less on the market) and compare it to X-Pro1 in terms of DR – I shoot only raw and having great DR helps a lot – I can pull/push quite a lot X-Pro1 files in Capture One.

    • Thank you. The dials are a bit unintuitive to me too – they’re different from the Oly and Nikon setup. My shutter release was okay, so I suspect it may be tolerances/ adjustment. Doesn’t take much for the feel to be different; even the vertical grip on my D800E feels different (less sensitive) to the main release – other friend’s grips are different again.

      The XPro has better JPEG DR than the Oly, but the E-M1’s raw files are surprisingly good for a sensor of that size. Of course, it’s no D800E…

  50. Interesting that you’re having shutter vibration issues as I own a voigtlander 58 1.4 and using it at 1/60 still gives me sharp results when zoomed in 100% though I’ll admit that the camera does require more discipline in using it, both in terms of handling the camera and posture, I haven’t test this long enough, but I find resting my middle finger on the front dial instead of under it gives me better camera stability.

    Regarding adapters, de centering and planarism issues, what adapters have you tested? I’m using a Novoflex adapter and find the build quality much much better then the cheaper adapters.

    • It could be sample variation, it could be you have steadier hands than me. On a tripod, there are no issues at 1/60 – which points to my hands.

      As for adaptors: I’ve tried a whole range on M4/3 and Leica M, and given they’re the same manufacturers for the A7, I don’t expect any different.

  51. Dirk De Paepe says:

    Wow! This is a very good review, Ming. But of course, as expected, I still look at some things from a different angle.
    1. Lenses. I know I’m not the only guy in this situation. I bought the A7r body without buying any new lenses, because I keep on using all the FF lenses I already own, in different mounts and with adapters. To me loosing AF is no loss at all, since I’m a typical MF guy. And regarding planarity issues, I still need to see them pointed out in pictures. Theoretically, I believe I understand what you are saying, but I still wonder, if you would be able to determine in a blind test wether a picture is shot with native lens or with a comparable adapted lens (of course with the use of the best possible adapter). For sure, I can’t, because nobody (in all the blogs I read) ever pointed out a visual issue (in a well performed picture), caused by the use of an adapter (please don’t come up with a cheap adapter). You’ve posted a few of my pictures on your flickr reader portfolio (thanks for that!) and I wonder if there are some planarity issues in them…
    2. Battery. To me this is really a non-issue. Why? Simple: order an A7r with two extra batteries and remote charger from the start. You’ll still be way under the price of a D800E. Yet I agree that Sony would offer at least to batteries and charger in every package. Why two extra batteries? I always go shooting with two fully loaded batteries, plus the one currently in the camera. In this way I always have enough power and can always empty my batteries completely before charging, which is improving their lifetime. Using only one big battery, IMO makes you recharge it too soon. BTW, the Sony batteries are very small, so there’s no weight nor space issue. Replacing is only a matter of seconds.
    3. Use for street shooting. I think one must look at things in a different way. IMO it doesn’t make any sence to say: buy another camera (24MP or less), because you do street shooting and with the 36MP of the A7r, you’ll have some tiny motion blur. Well, I experienced that too. But in that case (when this occurs, which it doesn’t always), I resize the pic to 24MP – to a resolution where it’s no longer visible. Next question is of course: Yeah, but isn’t that rediculous, buying a 36MP body to reduce the files to 24MP? Well, if this would always be the case, it would be rediculous indeed. But it isn’t. And of course, for slower photography and all tripod work, I can always fully take advantage of the 36MP sensor. This is an opportunity that only the A7r offers for a price that is considerably lower than some 24 and 16MP bodies (not to mention the Df). The shutter sound is IMO not that bad, although I’d wellcome a quieter version. In really quiet environments, maybe it can be an issue, mostly when you’re candid shooting.
    After shooting some 2500 pictures, I love the A7r very much, and agree on most of it’s “flaws”, as pointed out by you. As far as now, to me, the planarity issue is a pure theoretical matter. Maybe I’ll change my mind on this after some clear, visible proof. Anyway, I believe this is a dream of a camera for some specific users. To me it is, anyway. For others it isn’t. But doesn’t this count for all camera’s? Thing is to clearly point out for who this Sony would be great. And I believe you’ve come a long way in this, not really being a Sony fan. :-) Great job! Really, this review again proves to me that you’re a top-level guy for reliable information. (BTW, your pics are wonderful, as always.)

    • Dirk De Paepe says:

      Type error correction in 2. Battery: Yet I agree that Sony should offer at least two batteries and charger in every package.

    • Thanks Dirk.

      1. MF isn’t an issue here, either. It’s a lot easier than on most DSLRs because of magnification and peaking. Can’t tell from flickr sizes whether you have planarity issues or not…it requires a controlled test; the methodology matters in the diagnosis, too.

      2. True – it’s at the price of the camera, I’d expect an external charger along with internal charging ability if you want it. Both are handy. Internal-only is terrible. That said, I can get anywhere up to 2,500 shots per charge out of the D800E, and even 600+ from the Ricoh GR, and that has a positively tiny battery…

      3. True, but it does bug me. I throw away anything that isn’t perfect, because it forces me to continually up my game – even if I’m using a MF digital back and Hassy for street photography.

      I’m not a Sony (or any brand, for that matter) loyalist – I think this and my Nikon Df review proved that already – I am a fan of good tools, period. :)

      • Dirk De Paepe says:

        1. In the batch, together with my “Church of Lillo” picture that you published, I added another one (“Total Petrochemicals”), not with the intention to appear in your Reader Portfolio (because it’s a more “obvious” shot), but just to demonstrate the technical abilities. So I hoped that you would have looked at it in full resolution. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/11401651623/) It’s shot OOH, ISO 1600, 1/100sec and as said, full resolution is available on flickr. But serious, if an effect can only be seen in a strictly controlled test, with the right methodology, I guess we’re talking about absolutely minor differences which wouldn’t matter to me. My conclusion, from what you respond: one cannot judge in a blind test wether or not a pic was shot with or without adapter. So I’ll continue to use adapted lenses with great satisfaction;
        2. Agree, there are better battery systems. But this one works really fine to me. I’m never short in capacity and if I’d ever need more, I’d simply add a few batteries and perhaps even an extra charger.
        3. I get your standpoint. And honestly, when I would be in your shoes – provides that I also had your skills :-) – I would make all the same considerations as you do, for sure. But in what I do, I have a different priority list, and that’s why the A7r proves to be a dream come thru for me, and I gues so many others.

        • Honestly, I don’t have time to look at every single image submitted to see if there’s a full resolution version. There are about 500-600 images submitted to the pool every day, which I have to curate on top of everything else I’m doing. If it’s strong in a small image, it’ll be good large, too. Pictorial quality doesn’t change with size – image quality does, but that’s secondary to ‘the idea’.

          Without looking at full size files, it’s hard to tell. Even so, if you stop down, DOF can mask decentering and lack of planarity. If it’s wide open, it can also be hard to tell if the subjects are all at different distances throughout the frame – short answer, you probably won’t see it unless you start wondering why one side of your lens is sharper than the other, or it’s not focusing the way you expect it to.

          • Dirk De Paepe says:

            Of course, I understand. 500-600, that’s even a lot more than I guessed – and I already thought something like: “Ming must be one of the nicest workaholics of the planet”. But with a good schedule, you go a long way… :-)
            Good small looks good in large, I agree. But sometimes, good large doesn’t look that good in small, I think. This one was only sightly stopped down, to /4-5.6. But thanks a lot (!!) for explaining that I can do some test shots from, let’s say, a wall, wide open aperture and look if there’s a difference in sharpness at the sides and if there are any focusing issues. This is the first time anybody tells me where to look at. Thanks again! Anyway, as far as now (in the 5 years that I use Novoflex adapters), these phenomena never occured to me.

            • Lots of coffee helps, insufficient sleep hours, not so much.

              Good large definitely doesn’t always look good in small – forests are a very good example of this.

          • Dirk De Paepe says:

            Hey Ming, I have a theory concerning planarity issues. But first I wanna explain how I got to it. Since your last repons, I tried shooting a wall (a vertical one, that I checked with a water level). Then I set the plateau of my tripod horizontal with its water level. I fixed my A7r with the Zeiss ZM Planar 2/50 (via Novoflex adapter) and oriented it straight to the wall. Aperture wide open and focusing in a corner for the first shot and in the center for the second. Well, I saw absolutely no difference in sharpness in any of the corners compared to the other. Then I thought: let’s stretch it as far as possible. So I put two Novoflex adapters on top of each other (NEX to M and M to FD) and mounted my Canon FD 20mm/2.8. I figured the wide angle and pretty large aperture would increase the possible planarity issue. Same two shots, but again no noticable difference. I really looked a long time to those shots, but really couldn’t make any difference.
            I’ve read you’re reply to a comment from another reader, explaining that in the past you’ve tried adapters on M4/3 and indeed could notice planarity issues. And you asumed that those issues should appear with all types of adapters. Well, I don’t doubt your findings for a second and wondered if you really see so much more than me (not thàt amount more, I honestly think), or if perhaps Novoflex takes more care fore the NEX adapters than for the M4/3 (LOL). And now my theory (which is also a question). One can express a planarity issue in a certain distance (the difference in flange distance measured at different places). What I reckon is that this distance plays a larger role with a small M4/3 sensor than with a FF, because, when we bring the two numbers (planarity distance and sensor size) in a division, we get a significantly larger value with a M4/3 sensor. Does that make any sence? Or is it just the other way around (having to switch the numbers from dividend and divisor)? If the latter is the case, than I’m really puzzled. The only plausible explanation that I can think of then is, that I got really lucky with my adapters or (and that’s more likely IMO) you really got bad luck with yours. Anyway, it won’t loose any sleep over it… Maybe one aught to perform the test yet in a different, more precise way to notice (or measure) the difference. But in that case, I’m sure in real world photography, it will never be noticed by anybody. So I believe to have made the very right decision, chosing the A7r as the body for all my manual focus FF lenses. Zeiss ZM, Leica M, Voigtländer Classic, Canon FD and FE and Jupiter, to me they all work well. (Yes indeed, some M mounts – Zeiss Biogon 28mm and Leica Summicron 35mm – show color shift in the corners, that I correct in PP in a matter of seconds.)

            • Planarity will be more obvious with shorter flange distances – note how lenses no longer focus to infinity, or go past it – longer distances are affected less because the relative tilt will be less, too.

              There is no guarantee of having issues: you might, you might not. All I’m saying is that you’re increasing the chances of it significantly since there’s another component in the lens-sensor system.

              • Dirk De Paepe says:

                No longer being able to focus at infinity definitely is a problem. But I never experienced that, even not with the cheapest adapter that I tried. Yet some of those go way beyond infinity. With mirrorless camera’s, going past infinity isn’t a problem to me (if it’s not too much), because most of the time, I hyperfocus and in all other cases I focus with my eye. So I never blindly turn the focus ring to infinity. Going past infinity occurs very, very slightly indeed, even with a Novoflex, but it doesn’t effect the image a bit, since the effect that you discribed (unbalanced focusing in the corners) is absent, and what you see in the viewfinder is absolutely correct, which wouldn’t be the case with rangefinders (here, adapter use is a no-go to me). Yes, it requires a slightly different way of working, and I understand that for you this isn’t an option. But for me, in the meanwhile, it goes naturally. So in fact I’m really very glad to be finally able to use all those “classic” FF lenses with a (wonderful!) FF sensor and all the tools that I desire (and more), since there’s a special feel to all of them (of course that’s subjective, but subjective feelings is a reality as well and cannot be ignored – many days I just feel that I have to go shooting with a certain lens, it kind of inspires me).
                I understand and agree that the chances of planarity problems increase with the use of an adapter, but what I would do in case of a problem is simple (and I believe I CAN do this, when buying an expensive Novoflex at a trusted dealership): I’d go back to my dealer with some test shots, indicating the problem, and I would demand a replacement with a new adapter that is OK. I’m sure they would accept this and return the old one to Novoflex. So it’s mandatory to perform some test shots, immediately after bying an adapter.

                • Most will go beyond infinity rather than not reach it, though you will inevitably land up having not quite the same minimum focus distance that’s on the scale. You simply cannot use the scale to zone focus anymore as a result…and test shots are mandatory for any new equipment.

                  • Dirk De Paepe says:

                    You’re absolutely right. But let’s see things in perspective: with a 50mm lens, I loose around 1cm of minimal distance. So what. And I still can use the scale, since I absolutely know how much the deviation is. Besides, when zone focusing, we don’t go from being 100% in focus to 0%, so there’s a transition zone anyway, that is way bigger than the deviation. In short, IMO the deviation is
                    negligible, because the scale doesn’t provide indications to the cm. And if I really want the blur to start at certain points (which I often do), the EVF is the best (if not the only) tool to determine my settings.
                    But as said, I can understand that basically you cannot work in that way. You have to choose, at least persue, 100% accuracy as a principle. You can’t settle for a neglegible deviation. I absolutely agree. In your position, I’d take the same standpoint.

                    • That’s because it’s not always 1cm – with shorter focal lengths, that extra bit missing can make quite a big difference because the helicoids are very short to begin with.

                    • Dirk De Paepe says:

                      We need to stop here, I know. Besides, my work calls. :-) So this is my last reply.
                      Anyway, as far as now, I never had odd results and I regularly shoot at minimal distance. But you for sure (need to) go further to the limits. The bottom line to me is: I can use all those lenses now! And it works in 99,99% of my shots. (I still need to encounter this 0,01% case). I’m so thankful to Sony for that. I said it earlier, I’ve been waiting for 5 years for a camera like this (it didn’t need to be a Sony). And at this moment, it’s the only body that provides all I desire. I’m very happy to work around its flaws (it’s really not that difficult), since I’m grateful for all the tremendous opportunities it offers me. That’s what I’m saying all along: for somebody like me, this is a dream come thru camera. Still, you’re absolutely right in everything you say, and I agree, you absolutely need to stick to it for your work. But to me, that’s no more than a theoretical truth. I (and I’m sure the very vast majority of your readers as well) am virtually never confronted with the negative consequences of those side effects (never has been as far as now anyway in my 5 year use of Novoflex adapters). I’m even convinced that I would have a very hard time trying to provoke one of those consequences…

    • plevyadophy says:

      I take it you are talking of shooting JPEG when you discuss shooting the A7r at 24Mp?

      If so, there is nothing wrong, nothing wrong at all, with ALWAYS shooting shooting it at lower resolution; Lloyd Chambers refers to it as “oversampling”, and it makes for a much better JPEG file reducing or eliminating artifacts such as moire, noise and poor edges. I have ALL my cams, all six of them, set to shoot low res (half or two-thirds size) JPEG as I never shoot a JPEG at full res. For full res JPEGs I think it’s better to shoot raw and then post-process.

      So if you are shooting your A7r at lower res, don’t feel as though you are cheating yourself because you are not; in actual fact, those extra pixels that you may feel are being wasted, are in reality contributing to make you a nicer file. :)

      Regards,

  52. mosswings says:

    I just love looking at your images regardless of the equipment you use.In fact, the images you get make me pay much closer attention to your “craft” posts, which I should be doing anyway.

    Seriously, I’m observing a trend here…the latest crop of cameras have crossed the border between fun and too demanding. I noticed it moving from a D90 to a D7100 – the D7100 had gotten really fussy to handhold and I had to really up the shutter speed to make it produce shakeless files, burning up most of the ISO advantage in the process. Others have complained of similar problems with their 24MP DX cameras; it would seem that they could be more sensitive to shake than a D800 – the pixel density is higher. The A7R is an incompletely executed tool; it should never have gotten out of the factory with that shutter. But with what I’ve observed with the D7100, I secretly hope that Oly never kicks up the resolution levels to D7100 levels. It also points out that balance is as or more important a camera system attribute than absolute resolution or color rendering. u4/3 has that balance. So far, mirrorless DX/FX bodies with legacy glass don’t.

    • Thank you. I agree with you re. demanding: if you print huge, we’re getting into new and exciting territory. For casual use…less so.

      The 24MP APS-C cameras are not as sensitive to shake: they have fewer pixels per degree for a given overall AOV. The reason this might not be the case in practice is also influenced by the shutter mechanism, mass damping, stabilizer effectiveness etc…

      Honestly though, we come around full circle: they’re just not fun to shoot anymore.

      • Regardless of the reason why if 1/200ish the best you can do handheld, that pretty much totally negates the low light ability this system should have. And it sounds like auto iso shutter speeds are the same annoying setup as on the RX cameras. Is IBIS really that good for handheld low light shooting, i might have to grab an old em5 and try it out.

        • Well, if you want pixel-perfection, then yes. If not, obviously no.

          IBIS makes an enormous difference. I can handhold down to 1/2s with the 12mm on my OM-Ds, and 1/20s with the 75mm.

  53. An excellent, rigorous examination of this interesting camera. Thank you.

    (It reads like a scientific paper – as a professional scientist, I mean this as a compliment!)

  54. “Leica M lenses: I can’t comment as I no longer own or have easy access to any.” — biggest revelation of this review!

    • Not really. I already said much earlier that I didn’t buy an M 240, and the last of my Leica glass went in the last garage sale.

      • I guess, it’s just slightly odd to see it in black and white; I still associate you with their stuff on some level, probably because I came to this site in the early 2012 days. You had an M240 on order at one point, didn’t you?

        • Yep. But they took so long to supply it to me – a good six months – that by that point it didn’t fill any of my needs, and I’d bought the CFV-39.

          • Shot themselves in the foot, then… Of course, two years, many thousands of words (and thousands of pictures that are apparently worth a thousand words each) and several videos later, I’ve learned that I don’t need actually need a Leica ;) Which is good, because I certainly can’t afford one…

            That said, your 2011 Prague M9 photos are still among my absolute favourites of your work. Don’t know if it’s the rendering qualities of the lenses, something to do with that “era” of your PP, because you were particularly inspired/enjoying yourself… maybe it’s just because it was among the first sets of yours that I saw :)

            • Nobody “needs” a Leica, but it’s sure nice to have one, even if it just serves as status symbol :)

              But seriously I had a chance to play with the M240 and a couple of lenses loaned by Leica Miami for a few days recently, and I fell in love with the lens focus tab, which makes me wonder, why aren’t more lenses designed this way? It’s so easy to manual focus and pre-focus by feeling where the location of the tab is!

              • The focus tab is awesome. But it wouldn’t work for larger lenses; there you need the right degree of grippiness, looseness and smoothness. Which the Otus has, and I think is the benchmark (for me at least) for MF lenses…along with the 2.8/21 Distagon.

                • I had a chance to shoot with the Distagon 21/2.8 a couple of weeks ago, its balance of grippiness, smoothness and focus throw is so amazing that my Nikon 1.8G lenses feel like plastic toys afterwards, seriously making me consider the Otus too, especially after seeing your images. To justify it, I’ll need to conquer 50mm FL this year!

                  • Certainly agreed there: once you’ve tried premium (Leica/Zeiss et al) or film gear, you pretty much give up focusing modern DSLRs manually :)

                  • The Otus is even better than the 21 Distagon in terms of handling/ focusing feel. I’ve been shooting with a pair of D800Es and the 21/Otus combination on a corporate reportage job for the last two days; it’s heavy but the results are stunning.

            • Thank you. Could be any one of those; could also be because I haven’t finished posting my Hassy MFDB images from Tokyo or the Otus ones from Taipei ;)

              • The Tokyo Hassy stuff is emerging as a new favourite. I don’t know if you’re doing something new processing-wise or it was just seeing you use the thing in the most recent videos, but the colour stuff especially is really beautiful.

                • It’s partially my new workflow, and partially because the 16-bit digital back produces the most natural color I’ve seen so far – the only DSLR combo that can come close is the D800E/ Otus, and even then I’ve got to fiddle with the tonality because tonal response is too linear.

                  • Tonal response is too linear = flat files?

                    • Yep. Very flat files; not at all natural vis-a-vis the way our eyes see in reality.

                    • Related note: what’s your take on shadow clipping? Don’t recall you specifically mentioning it in your original PS video (that’s the one I only have access to on my parents’ iPad… besides, your way of doing things may have changed since then). Should I be avoiding it like the plague in order to maximise shadow detail, or does it not matter in the grand scheme?

                      Sorry for you and anyone reading this if that was the most boring question ever :)

                    • I don’t mind things going black – our eyes see blacks all the time, but rarely clipped highlights. Of course, it depends on whether you want a ‘natural’ look or not.

                    • I’m talking PP here, and assuming a well exposed raw file… :)

                    • Anything less than a natural look is sacrilege in these parts ;) Thanks for the reply!

  55. Hi Ming,

    Thank you for the write up and sharing your thoughts about the A7r (no holds barred )
    I was just reading your initial thoughts about these 2 cameras yesterday and how you may not get a camera from Sony to test, and suddenly, you’ve got a A7r to review.

    I got a A7 to use for my collection of manual SLR lenses, and my experience with it has been largely positive.
    Where most people are looking to rangefinder lenses for their small lenses, I think the answer lies somewhere in between.
    Perhaps a mix and match between RF and SLR lenses. (and perhaps the FE ones mixed in too)
    The answer to a small setup with the A7/r does not come with Canon or Nikon.
    Rather, one has to look at the lens makers who have always made smaller slr lenses.
    Olympus, Pentax do make lenses that tend to be smaller than their Canon/Nikon counterparts.
    Especially the old manual lenses.
    Of course some old lenses, especially the wide angles may not stand up to the resolution requirements of the A7r, but the A7 has been largely forgiving.

    The A7 with small SLR lenses comes very close to the form factor to my old Pentax ME Super and LX film cameras.
    To me, its a nice small setup with 3-4 prime lenses covering 24mm to 85mm or 135mm.
    Good enough for most needs (esp. travels)

    Everyone’s needs and mileage will vary of course.

    JK

    • It didn’t come from Sony – I borrowed it from B&H.

      The A7 is definitely more forgiving than the A7R – look at the D800E with the same sensor; even with such a wide range of native mount lenses available, very few can do the sensor justice…

  56. Where can I get an RX-1R for $1300? – that’s the deal of the century!

  57. Torbjörn Tapani says:

    Nice review. I was very interested in a second body and what could be better than the same sensor as the D800E. But it would have to fill a niche that the D800 did not do so well (travel, handheld etc). Being so portable and taking almost any lens with adapter the combo would be sweet. I would only need the native 35 lens basically, and maybe the 55 as it’s better than the 50 Nikkors. But it just falls flat when it’s even more demanding to shoot handheld and has no electronic front curtain.

  58. I’ve been shooting with the a7 (not a7R) for a month now. I also own a D800E. I agree with about 90% of what you’ve said. To me, both the a7R and D800E are “tripod cameras”, at least that’s how I use my D800E. But as you suggest, the a7 is quite a different beast from the a7R. The a7 may, in fact, be more successful its mission than the a7R is in its.

    I’ve been using three M-mount lenses very satisfactorily with my a7: a 50-year old 135mm Elmar f/4, a new-ish 90mm Elmarit-M f/2.8, and a brand new Voigtlander Ultron 28mm f/2. The 90mm and 135mm are no problem at all. The rear glass is so far from the sensor that the incident angle isn’t an issue. The 28mm happens to work well, although certain other wide-angle lenses don’t. One has to be careful, read reviews, and run one’s own tests once you get shorter than 35mm. BTW, the Sony/Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 is (to my eye) even sweeter than the 55mm f/1.8. It’s pretty much the same as the lens on the RX1R, even though that’s an f/2. My guess is that the interchangeable-lens hardware just pushed the lens too far out to allow them to come in with the f/2.

    The one area where I might disagree with you is with adaptors, but even then my experiences are with the a7 not the a7R. I’ve been testing everything from $20 to $300 adaptors, and while there might indeed be slight planarity and decentering issues, I haven’t seen them yet, even with the cheapest adaptors. Because I’m focusing manually, of course, I can make sure the important part of my image is sharp, regardless of where it’s located in the frame. I’m not nearly as concerned with the corners so long as the vignetting is correctable and there’s no color smearing. And with my current crop of lenses, this hasn’t been a problem, nor has corner sharpness or any asymmetry. I’m just not seeing planarity issues, even with the cheapest adaptors.

    Later this week I plan to shoot and review some lens test charts, but that’s just for fun. I’ll also be creating a color profile for the camera. For some reason the default auto white balance in the RAW files is just awful.

    Thanks for all you do. I’ve been reading for a long time.

    • You’re probably right about the A7, but I’d personally rather have an E-M1 because of the lens selection and stabilizer.

      As for adaptors – you’re not going to see the decentering and astigmatism unless you’re looking in the corners. It won’t matter at f8, but it seems a bit pointless to go through the hassle unless you want a FL that isn’t offered natively.

      • Agreed, which is why I’ve been using the non-native 28mm, 90mm and 135mm in addition to the native 35mm and 55mm. And I agree completely about the a7’s kit lens: rather disappointing. If/when Sony/Zeiss flesh out the lens line, I may switch from the M-mount lenses. On the other hand, I was surprised by how large the 55mm f/1.8 is. The native 35mm f/2.8 is so tiny, as are the (admittedly slower) M-mount options. At this point I still have the D800E and D3S and the associated big glass, which I use when I need to (ie, decreasingly). The reason I’ve been interested in the a7 (and maybe the a7R) is being able to travel with a much smaller/lighter full-frame kit. I’m considering the a7R with the Leica 16-18-21mm f/4 as a much, much smaller alternative to the D800E and Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8.

        I’m still clinging to full-frame, although I own and NEX-6 and -7 and was very impressed with the Fuji X-E1. I understand that you may think the smaller M4/3 sensor size isn’t an issue, and given how great your OMD images are, I can’t really argue with you. :-)

    • “BTW, the Sony/Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 is (to my eye) even sweeter than the 55mm f/1.8. It’s pretty much the same as the lens on the RX1R, even though that’s an f/2″
      Not true about the 35mm/2.8, I shot some samples with the A7+35mm/2.8 and compared against my RX1R, the bokeh looks busier and field curvature seems different too. Only when it’s 5.6 or above then the two seem to equalize. But then these are my first impressions without access to a longer term loan. I don’t normally shoot wide open, but the RX1R is just begging to be shot at f2 with its creamy bokeh that I haven’t seen matched by the Leica 35mm/1.4 on M240 that I tested recently.

      • Was the Leica 35/1.4 the current ASPH FLE version? That I think has pretty darn awesome bokeh – my Thaipusam set is a good example…

        • Yes it was the FLE version, to me, its bokeh is still busier than RX1R at F2.

          Speaking of Thaipusam, your series is so awesome that it makes me want to fly to KL to join you next week! :)

          • Haha, thanks. Next week is off – scheduling issues for the participants, and also me! But you could always come over and shoot it anyway :)

            You need an Otus. That thing has pretty incredible bokeh.

      • Thanks, Ciao. Six months passed between my RX1R review and the arrival of the a7+35mm f/2.8, so I didn’t have the benefit of a side-by-side comparison. Interesting that you see such a difference. I’ve got to agree that the RX1R is just dreamy. The entire reason I bought the a7 was to (hopefully) get the quality of the RX1R in an interchangeable-lens format with a built-in EVF. So far, I’m not disappointed. :-)

  59. Tom Liles says:

    Hmm. I’ve been on the verge of just going for it with one these (7 or 7r) for a while and am still teetering on the edge. Peter, I’m going to mail you later about this. Please excuse me talking it over here, but please, if there’s anyone else out there feeling like they might go for one of these, feel free to join in the agonizing with me.

    I’d like to say that cameras are just cameras and vehicles for enjoyment to me: I’m the guy that will happily shoot with my wfe’s crappy D60 and consumer zoom, if I feel like it. And I quite often feel like it. Just as I’ll get the game face on and go out with a tripod and medium format film camera to do some damage with a roll of Kodak Ektar [n.b., I never do any damage and I never threaten to make anything noteworthy]. So the enjoyment thing cuts both ways. While I’m not innocent of secretly thinking a better camera might make me a better photographer, this isn’t that [it's indisputable though, that better cameras take technically better pictures]. The A7 and r genuinely tick almost every box I have… they fit my hand so so well it’s unreal, everything is where I want it and just feels like it was made for me personally, this haptic angle is definitely not trivial… they offer the chance for plenty of fun with legacy lenses that I already own, and 35mm and 50mm-or-thereabouts are my two undisputed favorite focal lengths, I can say, hand on heart, I wouldn’t need or want for anything else… so the A7 and r are so excruciatingly close, and hence, I’m teetering on the edge.

    I go through spurts of “just go the whole hog, sell the kids into slavery if you have to and get the A7r,” and then look at that flash sync rating and the eye watering price [I know, relatively, the body is cheap---but that's still seriously seriously expensive] and begin to doubt. I want the res for scanning medium format film, and would be downsizing files for everything else; but on this I’m a Hoganite: all else being equal, if I can have more pixels, I’ll take them. Anyway. I also worry about the EVF getting bettered next year or sometime and being stuck with the old tech [and anyone who knows the digital I have knows I don't have a problem being behind the state of the art] and paying for it if I ever wanted to p/x for the more modern version or to just liquidate the camera. Most of all I worry about my caprice and whether, really, I’m going to continue to enjoy the camera after getting one. This is a bona fide big issue to me.
    On the other hand: my hand—the A7s’ bodies really do fit my hand like a glove. Next, it’s 2014 not 2013. In 2013 I went through a lot of cameras and am easily the better for it; but psychologically I’m not in a place where I want to be camera hopping anymore, I’m going the other way: I want to get to two digital cameras, full stop [save one collector's item, the film cameras I have were all dirt cheap and it's not a consideration or necessity to thin down there]. Those two digital cameras will have to do everything between them; both have to be fun. The Nikon D3 is going nowhere and if I can blow my own trumpet, it has already earned half its original cost back in trifling photography jobs for friends; its AF performance is beyond dispute and the malleable data and clean pixels are just perfecto. But I don’t want it for round my neck on lunchtime walks or weekends in the park… it’s also not optimal [it's great, but not optimal] for scanning, not on resolution accounts [though I'd like more pixels on emulsion, no doubt] but on physical ones: it’s a heavy camera and the the tripod head droops with it on, pointing directly down, not to mention it’s a chore mounting up and lining up that beast every time: if there were a lightweight, compact alternative but with ferocious high res, but I could also get around my neck on lunchtimes and maybe mount an old MF Nikkor on and go have fun then… hey, wait…

    Once again, today, I’ve been in Yodobashi camera, and confused myself. I could be fine with the A7, and the flash sync is better and the price is definitely better [the DP2M is going to go to fund part of it; probably one Bronica SQ body too; maybe a lens]. But again, I catch myself… Is Sony going to leave me stranded? Is Sony going to bring out a mark II next year with all the bits that were excruciatingly close, but misses, fixed and better? Why not wait? But why wait—I have the money, the unused cameras to go toward it, the haptics are right, the fun will be there, there’s no big commitment to glass involved…

    Really thinking this one over hard. All because D3200’s were out of stock and made me reconsider things.

    Apologies for the… sharing :)

    • It will not fill your ‘fun’ requirement: more likely to be frustrating. Honestly. You’re probably better off with something else – also, didn’t they just launch a D3300? ;)

      • Tom Liles says:

        Seriously deep in thought over here…

        If Nikon’d just announce: we’re going to make a mirrorless camera like the A7s, I’d wait for that. I could just about do it.

        Yeah, I’d heard a D3300 was on the way; that’s perhaps why the leccy stores I went to hadn’t replenished their D3200 stocks. I was just saying to Peter in a PM, I felt like the Gods were talking to me the day I went to get a D3200 and that happened, because I did have a lingering thing in the back of my mind that the grip on the D3200 wasn’t as good as on the D60 [but at 30,000JPY brand new who can expect the world, realistically; that's why I was OK to go get one. I am, unfortunately for the electric stores, also deeply superstitious]. The D60 grip is like three leagues below how that A7 grip feels to me. But both bodies are about the size that I’ve figured out is what works for me [RX100 and that size being too small and frustrating] and both have what I’ve realized I need—the action of putting a finder to my eye. Finderless photography just doesn’t work for me. I really really really tried with it. And good that I did, because I figured that it’s not for me. That’s a positive.

        Thanks for the advice MT. And Peter is holding my hand through this too. Good friends.

        • E-M1 :)

          • Tom, if you tape over the EM1’s branding, you won’t know you are not shooting with the A7/A7R when in the dark, that’s how similar they feel :)

            Seriously, despite the sense of comfort and familiarity, the A7/A&R are just neither here nor there. All their seeming benefits are weakened by the lack of IBIS which was really frustrating during the short time I tested them. But then maybe I’ve been permanently spoiled by the EM5/EM1.

            • “Tom, if you tape over the EM1′s branding, you won’t know you are not shooting with the A7/A7R when in the dark, that’s how similar they feel”
              That surprised me too, especially given the difference in shape – to the point you expect the thing to have IBIS, and are surprised when you see evidence of shake at 1/125s…

              • Now finally I could point all the Sony reps to your review who thought I was crazy when I told them I need over 1/200 to get sharp images :)

                I thought D800E was bad enough when it needs 1/2xFL, apparently the A7R needs 4x!

            • Tom Liles says:

              Ciao! What a pleasant and rare treat to hear from you. Thanks for lending me your ear :)

              On the stablization — both you and MT have spoken about the A7s like they don’t have it — but I’m quite sure, as I found in the RX100mk2, there is some form of in-camera stabilization in there? It’s definitely an option in the menus. This said, and also from experience with the RX100mk2, and from play with Olympus’s tech in-store, is it anything like as effective as 5-axis IBIS? En-ope.

              On body haptics. I believe you about the EM1. I’ve put the in-store hours in on that one. And let me say, I was SO going to get an EM1 once I’d heard about it being in development, saw the release, read MT’s write up, etc. I was there all the way.
              The first camera I ever bought was a 4/3. The Panasonic DMC-L1. The Pana-Leica kit lens was, is!, awesome. The original D Summilux 25, which I also have for it, is awesome. Both those optics could be better exercised, and promise to be exciting, with what’s on offer sensor performance-wise thesedays [the old DMC-L1 is a belle, but she doesn't do so well after ISO 640 or so]. It was just that until the EM1, there was no m43 PDAF option [or worth it 4/3 option] to make it a realistic proposition. So, yeah, when the EM1 was announced, and from then on, I was ALL OVER that. Then it came out. Then I went to a camera shop. And then I picked it up in my hand; and I agree with you and Ming and Peter and Andre and all the other owners—WOW. That is good. Buttons, dials, grip position, shutter position, all brill.
              Then I switched it on and got lost in the menu and button system. A bit OTT for my simple tastes. OK, it’s a new camera to me, not a problem. And I used to deal with complex radiation flux around nuclear reactors, and the equipment to measure and model it, so difficult stuff doesn’t feel like a hurdle I can’t get over, or intimidate me [though I do have a fickle nature and a notoriously short fuse with inanimate objects; it doesn't take much for them to annoy me or get in my bad books. All my fault, but there it is].
              And then, the moment of truth, I called a store clerk over and asked them to get the Olympus m43 to 4/3 adapter on, and lets try a 4/3 lens on it [I'd gone in-store, proud as punch, with the old DMC-L1 and the D Summilux on it, to show off, mostly]… Adapter goes on, lens goes on, OK, ratchet that power button, bring finder to eye, half press and… NNNEEERRRRRR! NNEEERRRRR! Chug chug chug. NNNEEERRRRRR!
              What a sound. Instant “no sale.” I know that’s tough… what can I say. I know what I like; and that’s not it.
              That day, I walked away, still thoroughly impressed with the EM1, but resigned to defeat on the 4/3 lens thing. I know Michael Reichmann goes on about his premo Zuiko zooms on his EM1, maybe he’s going a bit deaf, or it isn’t an issue in his case? But the two lenses I own [yes, I did go back to try with the pana-leica Elmarit kit zoom; and third time after that. And then again] made a horrid racket, and it’s not only when you’re half engaging the shutter, it seemed to be trying to pre-focus all the time and just sounding godawful. But I walked away, thoroughly disappointed, and convinced that if you’re going to buy a system camera, you’re going to need to buy the system lenses. So you’re going to need some commitment and some money.
              [I know this argument can be used against me if opting for the A7, but bear with me]

              I didn’t, and don’t, feel like getting into yet another system. So that was that for the EM1. I have the utmost regard for them and the m43 format, too. I’m an OG 4/3 user, after all! The EM1’s EVF is just excellent; and on that, honestly, I like the eye point and VF position of the VF4 on the EP5, the PEN, the best of all. Hands down. That’s like an F5 with the sport finder, it is super good. Andre knows, I seriously have feelings for that set-up. But again, it won’t fly because I don’t have the GAS or financial appetite to start a system from scratch, again.

              So this could be my second chance to get an EM1? No. Because it doesn’t do two of my requirements to my satisfaction:

              1) scanning film. 135 and 120
              2) be strong at the wide end [my favorite lengths are 35 and 45/50; with plenty of good feelings towards 28, 24 and recently 20]

              with a cursory reminder that:

              3) I need to start from scratch on a lens system again…

              On the WA m43 lenses, I’m not sold on 4/3 or m43 being good at this. But the better point and one I’d like you to note is, I’m talking about using the manual focus Nikkors I have, having fun with them on a camera I can get around my neck, that I can also use for scanning; if it can mount other glass too, that’s a definite plus, if it feels perfect in hand, that’s even better, and etc., etc… I have all the WA I want, in 35mm terms, in MF Nikkors already. They’re just waiting for a digital body to mount to [I have an F2 for film]. If that body was an EM1, I have a problem because, of course, all my WA just became mid range to mild tele. The exact opposite of what I’m after. So it’s back to buying dedicated lenses again.
              What I like about the idea of going with an A7 is: I would buy one system lens—the 35 2.8. And with an f-mount adapter, saved for, bought and paid for in the following months, then that completes all the focal lengths I’m interested in: mostly for fun, with the native lens, in my *favorite* length, being on there most of the time and for when things are slightly more serious than fun. I might try something silly like the 55mm MF micro Nikkor for scanning, or get a used E mount macro, or just wait for the inevitable FE mount Zeiss Makro Planar. But all glass commitment ends there. The camera has fulfilled all the jobs I ask of it. Done deal. I think it works out cheaper than m43; and I get full frame.

              I might crash and burn on this. Just as I did with the RX100mk2 — but I am genuinely happy I tried that — likewise, with this I’m willing to try. I’ve never experienced focus peaking with the MF Nikkors and am supremely interested to do so. I shoot the F2 a lot and am well into manually focusing a lens; all I’ve used so far is OVF. And frankly, even a katz-eye in my wife’s D60 is not optimal and I’m lumped with green-dotting it—and that’s a lottery at 3m+. I know we have community that dispute it — and I know what they mean — but I have lived that for months and months, and can confidently say, green dot at distance does not return good focus: this is one three different model bodies, in different price brackets and from different model years. OVF plus green dot is not a disaster, by any means, but I’m interested to try something else. I was saying to Peter, earlier, a certain well regarded physicist once said to do the same thing over and expect different results is the definition of madness.
              [I am quite mad though: look at all this bumpf I've spouted just from wanting to say Hi to you, Ciao.]

              Last things:

              i) A-mount adapter, just like that m43:4/3 adaptor story above, is horrid—noisy I mean. The most expensive one claims to add a modicum of PDAF to the A7r, but I have played with the demonstration unit in Yodobashi camera for over two weeks now, and I am dammed if I can see the difference. Except that is it heavy and loud and annoying.
              ii) AF speeds of the A7: nearly every review of these cameras on the internet just says, rote, “the A7 has PDAF sites on sensor so that will make AF faster…” just like that, almost as if there’s no need to test if the practice matches the theory. In practice, only weeks of using and using and using them at the camera store, but I think that’s OK to proffer as valid—I honestly can’t see that the A7’s focussing is any snappier or faster. I think the PDAF sites’ role has been quite unthinkingly overstated or left untouched by internet reviewers. One thing’s for sure: up to regular SLR PDAF speed [in this price range] it ain’t. Entry level SLR speed PDAF? Yeah, prolly. But the speed of lock of the CDAF on the A7r is also indistinguishable from that. I didn’t even bother with seriously trying out tracking, both cameras seemed bad at this, to me. Which supports the case that reviewers are overstating the utility of those PDAF sites. Honestly, I question the EM1’s tracking capability, too [it's a mini D4 in every way, except that]. Camera stores aren’t exactly boiling cauldrons of high paced action, but there are plenty of middle aged salarymen giving patient camera-brand reps their philosophies on cameras, and moving from camera to camera as they waffle, interspersed with casual shoppers coming and going: I pick all these guys up to try out AF, and I couldn’t see any qualitative difference between the A7 and A7r’s AF responses [I can't do bench tests in a camera shop with a tethered camera, so I won't use the word "quantitative," though I'd like to].
              iii) I once complained about these cameras, and the mindset of the Sony engineers that made them, that you couldn’t shift focus box about like on a Nikon, and getting at the “flexible point” implementation meant going three layers deep into menus, just to set the box once. If you go through all the rigamarole once, then your subject moves again, as living breathing targets do, that is unusable and a massive deal breaker. Certainly on the RX100mk2, this was the way it was and there was no way around it; unless we focus and recompose, and then wonder what we spent 700 USD+ on a RX100mk2 for, just to focus and recompose. I asked the in-store Sony rep about this — “can’t be the case, right? How do I shift boxes about, quick, like I’m actually shooting a person, etc” — and he said, “yes, if you want to change focus box, you have to go into the focus menus and do it, then select position, then you can focus; to change again, you must repeat this process…” From the maker’s mouth to my ear. And so I’d given up on them there. But I found, this week, hidden back in the menus of the A7 and A7r, this “focus set” option, usually on the “c2″ button by default, that gives a one stop route to changing focus box, and hallelujah, working that focus box about the place is WAY quicker and realistic; and “deal on” again. Also if we set the d-pad center button to “standard,” pushing it also brings up the focus point for moving—another one stop route to doing that [you have to be in "zone" or any of the "flexible point" focus sets to do this]. After finding this, last Monday, I was very very happy; and by today, I’m now working those in-store cameras like no-one’s business and filling the demonstration buffer with photos of greybeards talking shop and taking pictures directly pointing down on demo cams while reps look on or random salary men passing through.

              Anyway, I’m 95% set on an A7 :o
              Will sleep on it…

              Cheers Ciao, MT!

              • Well, buy a second hand one then – you have that option in Japan. Hurts less when you decide the love affair is over ;)

                • Tom Liles says:

                  Only 100 USD price delta; I have checked :). I can swallow an extra 100 bucks in order to have absolute certainty on the provenance, and the pleasure of shutter click 0001 in data folder 100.

                  I will be p/xing one DP2M and associated bits, plus other bits and bobs for this; I don’t expect to pay more than x2 what I was about to drop on a D3200. The A7r would’ve been a different story, of course.

                  Only 95% though. My dreams tonight will be important. I’m only half joking!

                  • Don’t forget to factor in lenses and a good adaptor.

                  • Tom, Why are you giving up the DP2m? It is not best for handling – which you can work around, but the results from it………one of a kind and for such a small camera. I love the results so much i even bought an SD1. I also have a D800 with around 12 nikkors and zeiss lenses and full V1 kit amongst my extensive gear ( i have GAS!). Enough depth in my photography gear to keep me interested for a long while….until the V3 comes out.
                    But back to the DP2m, it’s a unique camera that has no alternative. The more I’ve used it, the more i like it. But it does take a bit of effort. The special look you get in the photos are worth the extra effort in the end though. I don’t use it all the time but for those special sunny days, it comes into its own.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Hi Jonno,

                      Good question. I’m like Mr. Sigma, I have supported the brand and shot their cameras a lot. I love Sigma: mostly out of local loyalty—their head office is just down the road from where I live and so I’ve always felt close, geographically if not emotionally. I had a DP1M, loved it so much got the DP2M when Sigma did a limited offer to Merrill owners [300 USD cash back if you bought another one in the "Merrill" series]. Came close to getting a DP3M just for the rendering in f/5 [the funny in-between stops] territory of that beautiful lens. I’m a fan of Dick Merrill, the Foveon, the divergent concept and all the great physics involved. I had my DP2M for almost a year to the day. Took more than 10,000 with it.
                      But I hadn’t used it as I used to for the last three months or so of that year. Something just changed. I would pick it up, take it out—the mojo just didn’t come. Wouldn’t come. I definitely gave this time, as, like I say, I have a lot of respect and good will toward Sigma [for completely random reasons, I know]. But whatever used to work for me with it, wasn’t working anymore. I got rid of the DP1M a while back and thought I’d never get over it; but found after the fact that I didn’t miss it at all. And I made the tough — really, I mean that — decision to let the DP2M go today.

                      I don’t have one single complaint about the camera. And if anyone out there is wondering about one: I would recommend them in a heartbeat. Like car enthusiasts and Alfa Romeos, I think if you’re a camera enthusiast it’s your duty to try a DPM. This isn’t about snobbery either, because they are eminently reasonable [more on this in a minute].

                      There are a few things that disappointed me over time, or I just got tired of:

                      1) SPP. As time has gone on, I have become more and more wedded to Adobe-based PP and file management, and the comfortable familiarity of bayer matrix data. Adobe software and bayer based data go together very well: all the tools work predictably, reliably and comfortably. SPP isn’t horrendous; but it’s an annoying intermediate step. When the DPMs came out, the incoming President of Sigma promised that they were going to work with Adobe and make progress with integrating support into the Lr/Ps environment. That hasn’t happened, and after waiting this long, I don’t think it promises to, either. Fair enough: Sigma is a lens maker, Adobe has bigger fish to fry. You look at the tea leaves and make your choice—I made a hard one. But it is easier, to me, than sticking it out with SPP. I might be a bit of a cleanliness freak here, and it just annoys me having the one sore thumb in my data and post-processing sticking out. These mountains grow very easily out of seeming molehills.

                      2) Colors. Which are drop dead gorgeous on the DPMs. But different. Ming coined a lovely phrase in his DP3M review: limpid clarity. As though we were viewing the images through mountain stream water. It’s the weak response of the red channel, the last layer in the Foveon sandwich [that gets the least light of the three]. The DP1M was the worst offender for this, I think. I wouldn’t say the colors were bad though. No effing way. I liked it, but as time went on, and I processed more and more files from other cameras—the DPM stuff was always just so different, it grated. Just when I think I know how to get consistent color across my cameras, the DPM files jab me in the ribs. This is a major plus on one view—so again, it’s all about what you want. I came to the realization that consistency [even if it's inferior] is better for me than difference [pp schizophrenia].

                      3) Limited shooting envelope. I have seriously put the man hours in to prove all the “it’s a go slow zen camera: you can’t shoot kids indoors; you can’t shoot high ISO; you can’t do this, you can’t do that…” people wrong. With some limited success. But, yeah, they are right and all that is true. As you have recognized before me. The other side of the coin, the awesome stuff you mentioned, is also definitely true. So it just becomes a question of whether that trade is useful and worth it to an individual. It was for me before. Not now. And as I can best tell [now I'm a little more mature as a photographer], not in the future either.

                      They are cult cameras. That’s exactly what drew me to them in the first place. I think the DP2M and DP3M will prove to be future classics. But this cuts both ways. Right now, they are not going for very much at all. I completely lowballed my private valuation of what I thought the camera shop would give me for mine and its associated bumpf; usually the actual valuations come out higher and it’s all good. As I mentioned, I have now said goodbye to my DP2M, and the price I accepted for it was low. Exactly dead-on my stingy lowball. This is the reality of it. Any camera shop here would have offered the same, or even less. My rule is, if I’m offered one yen less than what I’ve decided is the conservative valuation (decided before boxing a camera up and setting foot out the door), I’ll walk away—always. Today is the only day that I came close to having to prove I believe in that rule. And how close it was. If I’d left it even longer, the capital loss would’ve been even worse [not so bad in my case as I had 300USD back to start with]. I would be sitting here with a DP2M, thinking how to make lemonade.
                      Ming always reminds us, firmly, and he’s right, that digital cameras are NO WAY an investment. With digital it’s just about how much we’re prepared to lose; and this should always be in our head when buying one new. Think sub-50% on that new price, not years and years later, 6 to 12 months later, and that’s likely what we’re going to get if we ever trade in.
                      I said the Merrills are reasonable, and honestly the used prices here, now, are insane. I remind anyone who is interested, that is an AMAZING amount of quality for the price. It’s only going to get better. Don’t hesitate to try one. Like the Alfas, you might end up hating the machine, but I’m 110% sure the experience will be gold. And, as an enthusiast, you can say: been there, done that.
                      [how easy is that with, umm, Leicas, for example]

                      Yeah, that is one unique camera. And I’m committed to the concept of divergence in all things. The Foveon is really something different and a divergent link on the photographic chain. Bravo. And bravo to Sigma to taking a chance and putting themselves out on the line to show us this technology. I’ll always feel a deep respect to them, for this. When they can sort than red channel out and somehow broker integrated Foveon friendly RAW interoperation and tools into reliable software like Adobe, then I’ll be back for more. Right now I’m not into *that* level of uniqueness and want something with more utility [though maybe less flair].

                      I’m sitting looking at an A7 with the FE 35 2.8 ZA on it, on my desk… charging its battery. :o :)

              • Tom, I think one of the consequences of image sufficiency is that we no longer need to buy one camera that does everything. There are many affordable cameras of sufficient quality that we can have 2 (or 3 or 7) cameras, each specialized to do its own thing. And when you’re talking about a $2300 envelope, you could fit a lot of cameras under there! Keep the D3S for scanning duties (or maybe even use one of the Sigmas with a good closeup filter), get the E-P5/VF-4 and either a 20/1.7 or the new Panny pancake that Ming seems to like for the walks with the family.

                I wouldn’t think of getting an m43 system as starting all over again. Think of it as a fixed-lens camera, but with lots of future potential upgrade paths should you want a different lens. All you have to do is make sure that whatever you initially buy will meet your current needs.

                And there’s no reason why you couldn’t scan with an m43 system: there’re 2 excellent native macro lenses, and you could always adapt other lenses. The smaller sensor is irrelevant because you just have to bring to bear all 16 Mpixels onto your negative, or you could also stitch if you need more than 16. FWIW, I think 16 is more than enough for 135 film frames — my Sony NEX-5N that I use for film scanning these days is 16 Mpixels.

                For that matter, you could use the new D3300 for scanning, too and its usable effective resolution would be higher than an m43 system because the aspect ratio is 3:2, matching 135 frames, instead of 4:3, and it has a higher resolution sensor anyway.

                Anyway, some food for thought …

                • FYI, I find the resolution limit for a good 135 negative is about 15MP.

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    No doubt, I found that scanning 135 at anything more than 3200 dpi (works out to about 12Mpx) is pretty much fruitless. The D3 (I’m not lucky enough to own a D3S Andre!) is perfect for that. My goal, the point, is medium format film and to take a bit more of that beautiful film resolution back that I am leaving on the table with the D3 (I haven’t been happy with my first few tries at scanning 120 with the D3; that’s why you aren’t seeing them in my Flickr, if you were wondering).
                    Stitching is a fair option; but time costly and for the amount of negs I pile high, and my short attention and patience, an unrealistic option. For a select frame I’d like to print (and printing is my photographic mission for 2014), sure.

                    I appreciate all these great arguments for m43; but considering I have all those legacy lenses, in the lengths I want (assuming FX) then the mere fact that that is open to me with the A7 is a massive plus in the A7’s favor. It’s not a case of “I’m right, you’re wrong,” because as I said above, I’m completely prepared to crash and burn on this one. However, whatever I choose, I promise (to myself):

                    i) the only camera I’ll buy in 2014
                    ii) no selling it in 2014

                    Solemnly.

                    Unlike the RX100mk2, if the A7 or whatever is a mistake, it will be a mistake I’m prepared to — and will force myself to — live with. If I thought it were a mistake—of course I wouldn’t be ponying up money I worked hard for if that were the case.

                    20 1.7 would be a favorite FOV compromise; I don’t have to do that with the A7. m43 kills all chance of trying Nikkors on a digital back in the FOV God intended; I don’t have that problem with the A7. It’s super close but these two points almost take it over the line. But it’s still not that, if I’m honest with myself:

                    The ultimate issue is that m43 just doesn’t turn me on.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      P/S Andre, I did have a test run scanning with the DP2M, and I do own the AML-2 close up lens for it! I wasn’t happy with the results; but it was a while back and the fault may have been all mine (all my lack of know-how in post).

                    • I um…doubt you’ll manage to keep to i and ii ;)

                    • re. not liking m43, that’s a fair response — as Ming likes to remind us, the camera you like picking up is the camera you’re more likely to use. I’m feeling similarly turned off with my Fuji 6×9 rangefinder compared to the Hasselblad, despite the Fuji ticking all of the right photo fanboy boxes. Part of it may be that the Fuji feels like a toy that doesn’t do anything when you press the shutter button or wind the film, whereas the Hasselblad is like a barely housebroken, somewhat portable Rube Goldberg contraption.

                      I think postprocessing is pretty important with film scans to getting results that you like. I just shot and scanned the contact sheet of my first roll of C-41 120 film (Portra 400 shot with the Fuji), and getting the colors right with that is quite baffling at the moment. It’s gone from “OMG, I’m never doing this again; this looks awful” to “I can see how this might work if I worked it more” so patience and perseverance is essential. B&W was so much simpler.

                      Anyway, I hope the A7 works out well for you! Are you getting the 36 or 24 MP model?

                    • Ming, not sticking to i or ii sounds like the voice of experience speaking. ;)

                    • Unfortunately, it is. As much as I initially found the D800Es eerily perfect but soulless…I am changing my mind slightly after north of 50,000 images – the vast majority of which were commercial work shot under ideal conditions. I bought another one. :p

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      I’m in the rabbit hole of C-41 colors, Andre. And lost heart at one point. It does get better, and it is possible to get amazing colors and tones [I haven't properly yet, but on Flickr I've seen enough photos and spoken to enough people who got there, to know this is the case]. If it’s any use, here’s what I’ve found:

                      1) Scan it with your DSLR; Epson flat-bed scanners, even with everything turned “off,” will secretly try and do smart stuff that mangles the data, usually forms of exposure comp you didn’t want [which tend to overexpose a lot and wash colors out]. It’s AGONY to me, to go through each preview in Epson software, tailor the scan box [and you have to because auto-detect will crop off hefty portions of a frame or even, I've found time and again, choose 1/3 of one frame and 2/3 of the following one!] and tailor exposure and levels. For one or two frames, OK: when you want to scan a roll of 24, or oh God, 36… no way! And then you see the other seven developed rolls waiting in the stack [groan]. Camera scanning, as you know from your NEX experience, is a mile quicker with a camera and back screen histogram and pulling negs though a holder, one at a time [not exactly quick, either; but heaven compared to the above].

                      2) If you’re processing in Lr [I am], set WB to tungsten at capture. If you don’t believe me, do the test. You’ll probably also have to modify the tungsten setting to the roll [just do a series of five or so scans of the same frame, with the tungsten WB at various mods (to varying degrees or more or less tungsten-y, and offsets in the G-M plane too)… Reverse the scans in Lr, and see which puts the levels in a more workable position and the colors closer to your end goal. On paper, shooting RAW, this shouldn’t be an issue. In real life it is. Lr won’t let us change channels indefinitely, so you want to be “in the zone” from the get-go, after reversing.

                      3) The lettering in the negative’s borders is a great clue for black point; but using Lr WB tool off it, doesn’t yield real-deal colors. If you have Ps you are in a better position—as Ps offers us the chance to eye-dropper for black, white and grey points. In Lr, I select a negative frame I know is in standard issue daylight and with a, more or less, reference gray in it. I use the Lr WB tool off that and find it more reliable than the lettering. But it’s still just a guide: sync all scans to this WB, then tinker from there. And you will have to tinker from there. If you’ve shot mixed light, be prepared to compromise on your tones—the C-41 is chemically daylight balanced; that is locked into the neg itself, it’s more like a very flexible jpeg than a digital RAW file.

                      Anyway, I’m surely telling you things you already know. Let’s share intel on this [i.e., Andre, tell me everything you know so I can steal it! :) ]

                      Enjoy that Portra. I’ve heard a lot of people say “bias your meter, overexpose it 2/3 of a stop or so, i,e, 320 or thereabouts; Portra highlights are endless!” and I agree with them about the highlight DR of the emulsion. But I stick to metering as its written on the box [which itself is only a serving suggestion, I know] for now. When you get an exposure right, there’s nothing like the milky goodness of those colors and tones. Almost made for ethereal redheads in emerald green forests, clutching trees in white dresses, etc. I kid, I kid. But it’s beautiful stuff. I want to master this emulsion, so I can take some faithfully “portra” photographs of my kids with it. They’ll be heart-stopping when we look back at them in twenty years.

                      ——

                      24MP model, Andre!

                      I’d love the A7r, but the 160 flash sync [I WILL be using flash, outside, with it] and that price is just a step too far into the hubris. The A7, shoot it for a year [Eric Hanson is one of my photographic heroes for his dedication with the RX100 last year, and his example has given me strength to try: I can do it too; and, hey MT---naysayers! :) ] and if I do well and love it, that’s justification for trying the step up the the A7r [I'd trade the A7 in for it]…

                      That’s in 2015, by the by ;)

                      The DP2M is boxed up. The surrounding bits are boxed up. T-minus 1.5 hours, and I’m off to the shops to do this.

                      You all have the right to point your fingers and laugh and shout “I told you so!” if I’m here in three months complaining about the A7 and how it’s not the one for me :)

                      Just you watch though—I’m determined to show myself and the World what I can do with one!

                    • Thanks for the tips, Tom! I doubt any of us will point a finger at you if you should decide to switch again before 2015: we’ve all been there at one point or another.

                      Another C-41 conversion technique I’ve read, but haven’t tried yet, is to invert the image, and then use the frame number as the white point for LR’s WB eyedropper tool, and then apply auto tone. That person’s results look pretty good to me, much better than mine.

                      I did two different conversions: one in PS and one in LR, and both following the same method, but yielding markedly different results. Basically, set the levels for each color channel individually. I did this by bringing up the curves tool, and then for each color channel, move the left and right sides of the curve in until they just touch the left and right parts of the histogram. This is supposed to get rid of the orange mask. I then inverted the image. Note that in LR, you need to manually invert each color channel’s curve. Cmd-I in PS will do the right thing.

                      The other tricky thing is that since this was a contact sheet (I cut my 6×9 120 roll into 4 strips of 2 exposures and put them in PrintFile sleeves, and then photograph the entire sheet sandwiched between a piece of ANR glass from my framing shop and the lightbox) the global histogram contained information from the empty bits of the sleeve that allowed the lightbox to shine through as well as whatever writing and graphics is on the sleeve. That means my histogram usually has two lumps: one big lump where the actual film information lives, and a smaller lump which is all of the incidental stuff on the sleeves, so when I move the top and bottom points of the tone curve in, it’s not always clear where I should set them. Hope this makes sense.

                      Just for this thread, I’m going to make public one of my contact sheets for some RVP50 I shot (on the Hassy, obviously) so you can kind of get an idea of what I’m talking about in terms of the extra areas messing up the histogram. The C-41 sheet is too awful to look at so far. The white balance is off because I balanced off the lightbox, which isn’t true daylight, and yes, my lightbox has falloff towards the edges. RVP50 contact sheet

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      I’m right there with you, Andre. All that is sounding familiar, and you have me nodding and going “yep, yep” :)

                      I found this page quite useful. You may have seen it already.

                      I tried the auto-tone process [I'm sure we've been reading the same pages!] in Lr and was quite happy, but this was back when I was flatbed scanning so it was only happy in the sense of “better than the so far awful results…” At the moment, I find I can do everything with the R G B curves in LR: exposure, contrast, WB, the lot (save sharpening). As you very rightly point out though, the border tones are there in the histogram too, and I’m sure this buggers with auto-tone — it has to — so I crop all borders out [or just leave the tiniest sliver of black border in for effect] before doing anything as a rule.
                      On a related point, it struck me doing this, that we really have no idea what the true story of a color negative is: it might be that there are blown or blocked tones in there, yet our default mindset is to neatly put everything in between 0 and 255. In this sense, the scanning and post workflow is a very interpretative task, with no real clue as to what the absolute truth of the exposure was. If we are recovering and rearranging from a start point of “this is what was captured” with digital RAWs, I think of the color negative process from the other direction as a kind of discovering of the exposure—seeking to first uncover [and *then* enhance] the original photograph. But that uncovering is highly subjective. Always up for debate.

                      Put printing on top of this, and any immediate and direct objective links to the information in a color negative drift yet further still.

                      [An off the wall idea for digitizing negatives from a professional photographer I know: shoot the negatives, get them enlarged and printed---scan the print. Emulsion faithful colors every time; and as far as monitor display sizes go, no problem at all on res. And if you want prints, you already have them… I haven't tried it: but it's certainly a much more stress free and pragmatic approach; if we're prepared to give up on the idea of massive and heavy digital versions of our negs, for just in case… I doubt our bank accounts would last long doing this for every shot on a roll; but your workflow of making a contact sheet and cherry picking from there: I can see it working admirably with that]

                      I look forward to taking a peek at your RVP contacts, in a bit!

                      Now, it’s lunchtime. Here, I go… :o

                    • Peter Boender says:

                      Tom, thanks so much for that website link. I’m not scanning film at this point in life, but I bookmarked it anyway for possible future reference. Good stuff!

                      And… Back from lunch yet? :-D

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Peter, my friend, I am back from lunch.

                      The Sony has landed.

                    • You move fast – enjoy!

                    • Thank Tom! You made my day! I always enjoy reading your comments. You can do it!

                    • Peter Boender says:

                      Wow, Tom, you did it! Sony A7 with 35mm. I am very happy for you. With that 35mm, it may turn out to be the ultimate streetshooter’s camera. So, eagerly awaiting results and first impressions.
                      Promise to keep you on track through 2014 with this camera :-P

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Eric> And I meant it, too. Your achievement and dedication is both a lesson and great encouragement. I’ll be trying my best to follow your example. Please don’t embarrass me with compliments about my comments! :o

                      /all red in the face :)

                      Peter> You betcha. I’m not worried at all about my pals policing my GAS this year. I have this sense of calm, right now, that there’s no danger of anyone having to say anything. I’m all cool with the world and the prospect of the year of photos that lies ahead. It’s going to be good!

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      MT> A great philosophy on life passed down from Alexander the Great, via Dan Wieden and Nike:

                      JUST DO IT
                      :D

              • Tom, the image stabilisation option in the menu is because the kit lens doesn’t have a switch on it to turn it off. It just enables or disables the IS in the lens.

                With regards to the PDAF performance, for some odd reason PDAF is turned off by default on the A7. It needs to be enabled in the menu. You may have checked that already, but worth letting you know just in case.

                Glad you found how to move the AF point around. You can do it with both the dials and the d-pad. You can also adjust the focus point size and type quickly.

                The more I get used to the controls and mess around with the A7 the more I love the ease of use. It feels very intuitive.

                • Tom Liles says:

                  Thanks, Kevin. My morning coffee will be the final think-over, but I’m 99% decided on an A7 now. Thanks for your side of the story above, too!

                  • You’re welcome Tom. I see you’ve purchased one now, looking forward to reading your views once you’ve given it a run.

                    When I looked at the photos from the first A7 that I got I was shocked. Unfortunately not in a good way. The IQ was terrible. The files from my EM-5 blew it away. The noise even at ISO 100 was awful. I spent hours going through every menu setting, as I figured some setting was wrong.

                    Eventually I returned if and got a second copy. Thankfully the new A7 is a completely different story.

                    I obviously had a faulty first copy, but I’ve read a few on the comments on the web which seemed to mirror my first experience, so it may be that quality control has been lacking a bit.

                    I saw that you mentioned using flash above. I bought the Sony HVL-43M and it seems like an excellent flash if you need TTL. The 60M apparently has overheating problems and would be too big on the A7.

                    If you need wireless triggers the basic manual ones seem to work fine. If you want TTL triggers the Phottix Odin for Sony with a hotshoe adapter looks to be the only option at the moment. I went with the cheap and cheerful Yongnuo RF-602 trigger which I’m using with the Yongnuo YN-560III flash which has a built in radio trigger/receiver. It works well and costs little.

                    Hope you enjoy the A7 as much as I am so far.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      It’s really a strange feeling Kevin. I’d often been all giggly and excited when a new camera came into my life previously; but this is different. The A7 is still charging on my desk [through the computer; I knew from experience with the RX100mk2 I'd want a mains charging battery brick, so made sure to get one of those and a spare battery included in the deal, but they were temporarily out of stock today so gave me the money back and I'll go get them from another store tomorrow] but I don’t feel all childish silly.

                      I do feel good, really good.
                      It’s more like the assured “ahhh” of a post coital cigarette type vibe. A good sign in my view. Maybe it’s the knowledge that this is it for the year now, and I can, and will, settle down to using the camera day in day out. Let’s hope I didn’t get a lemon. Shocker for you there. I’m anxious to test my sample out and assure myself I got a kosher one.

                      Thanks for the flash advice, Kevin. Useful information. I run an SB-910 and Nissin Di822. Both Nikon flashes. I rarely use TTL for most things, as I came through the Strobist route: so camera and flashes in manual and seasoning flash and flash-ambient balance to taste with aperture and shutter and ISO is how I almost invariably do it. Though the CLS system is very neat and TTL results with more than one light are always spot on [but often a nice spot on even exposure is not what I'm looking for, I like flash for more stylistically lit photos]. I command with an Su800 IR unit; Nikon.
                      There are quite a few RF issues, apparently, in Japan so the pocket wizards etc., are not readily available over here; if available at all—I’ve only ever seen Comet brand RF triggers in-store [and I think they have the frequency band modified to stay on the right side of Japanese law]. And they cost about as much as new camera body. But it’s OK as the flash photos I’d ask of the A7 in every day terms are all fine on axis [flash in hot shoe] or off at arms distance [snaps, basically]. Since I know the manual route better than the TTL one, I’m fine using what I’ve got — though oversized for the body, perhaps — and I already have the little Nikon hot shoe PC sync adapter, the AS15, which works with any hotshoe out there [any ISO hotshoe] as it only requires the middle, the main, hotshoe contact. I have the curly PC flash cord too—so all set. Any flash photos more serious than snapping, and I’m indoors in a controlled environment and lights are in Su4 optical trigger mode, so I just need a blinker. A smaller sized mini-flash with manual power settings would be great in the coming months. I can get them for tens of dollars in the used stores here, so that’s no biggie at all.
                      I guess that Phottix Odin is great info for the wedding shooters and guys that need the TTL [because things, targets, move quick and you can't be messing with manual settings to keep up with that; though, on this, I have had some surprising success shooting my kids running about in a hotel room in all manual---just gauge a useful reference distance flash exposure, with enough pep in the flash power to make the aperture about 5.6 to 7 at that distance, then tailor aperture up and down as the targets, the kids!, move closer or further away. Kids unleashed on bouncy hotel beds do that a lot. You wouldn't want to do it for paid photography jobs, I'm sure, unless you're an avant grade fashion photographer maybe!, but it works just fine for non-professional snappers and family men like me :) ]

                      Anyway, thanks again Kevin, and everyone. There’s no worry about me not enjoying the A7!
                      We should worry about whether my wife will notice when I turn up with it at home tonight :o :)

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Kevin,

                      Snapping on my way home and everything is OK. But just for information’s sake [and maybe others following]: could you explain a bit more about your issue with the first one. Was it just lots of noise? Any other symptoms for people to look for?

                      The only thing that is confusing me is “DRO.” This can remain turned on in RAW shooting. What’s that one about?

                    • Dynamic range optimization. Shadow/highlight recovery. I suspect Sony leaves it on for RAW files because of the lossy compression – if you don’t do the tonal recovery before compressing, the results may be very different since some information is discarded in the saving process.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Hmm. Thanks MT. I’m going to try some stuff with DRO “on” and “off” this weekend. I haven’t got the data to speak on it at the moment. The “creative style” setting seems to remain on too. Curious considering other jpeg-centric settings all grey out when you switch to RAW only recording. But on the DRO and RAW shooting, how ever other reviewers banging on about “the endless DR of the full frame A7!” neglected to treat this sort of thing and how it actually affects the data… well, that’s why we all come here, isn’t it :)

                      I am seeing noise in the corners and shadowed tones with the A7 so far, green and magenta mottling, reminiscent of the Sigmas but more watered down… This is all the way to down to base ISO. But these are indoor shots at night; an illuminated room, but single lightbulb. Outdoor shots, seem clean [as far as shaded areas could be considered 'clean']. I haven’t tried the sub-100 boosted ISOs yet. My brain’s default setting is too stay away from voodoo like that. But, yes, it’s not world changing ISO performance. I do own, shoot and look at the files of the D3 a lot, so there is that.

                      But it’s early days here. Like not even a day, yet. Honestly though, the irrational side of me had hoped to see miracles like no noise in a base ISO shot; though I know that is radical over-expectation. In a signal to ratio analysis, even at ISO 100, we are talking about little signal in the darker areas, regardless. So the S:N is lower — has to be — i.e., every camera has noise in the shadows at base ISO; it’s a matter of physics. The DSP after photon-capture is of course another matter. I’m staying cool on this, because I’ve never been pixel peeping my other cameras this intensely across the frame and jumping on every little detail. So a rational comparison is in order. Will get out the D3 later alongside the A7 and satisfy my curiosity.
                      My initial impressions are that there is nothing to worry about; but also no jaw-dropping ISO performance.
                      I was shooting down to 1/30 on the walk home last night and there is definite camera shake blurring on many of them [I did a mix of rough snapping and really striking a firm pose: you can definitely tell which were which]. The blurring largely disappears completely if I down res the files to those of a 12Mpx camera. But for sharp handheld, just on last night’s snaps, 2.5x to 3x real focal length is a must. I remember similar experience from my time with the D7000. So, Sony’s lower bound shutter speed default in its ISO Auto implementation is not good enough for critical handheld stuff, I’d wager. Funnily enough, even though I have the 35mm Zeiss: the A7 ISO Auto won’t go below 1/60 with it mounted. Unless there is no more ISO for it use up… then and only then does it venture slower shutters. And I missed this one in camera shops, but you can’t choose intermediate ISO values when setting the ISO Auto bounds? Disappointing again. I never really go over 3200, so that’s lucky. But I’d have liked to be able to put another 1/3 of a stop on the upper bound: where I set the upper limit for my D3.

                      Another comparison: I have to say lining up RX100mk2 ARWs and A7 ARWs shot at similar ISOs, you can barely tell one data set from the other. This is before any editing etc.
                      What I am expecting of this new camera is plenty of DR, i.e., editing latitude. I’m expecting to see more recoverable highlights and we’ll see [and we'll hope] about the shadows. I understand the D800E is shadow biased; my D3 seems like it’s more highlight biased; I found the RX100mk2 to be surprisingly good at shadow recovery, and not much fun to be had in the highlights; I can’t, of course, say on the A7: I’ve literally only just put the first few RAWs into Lr (now on 5.3!) and had a first look on a computer screen at my snaps, while I drink a cup of coffee. So better to keep shtum for now. But Kevin has planted a seed there :)

                      I’ll let my science win over my superstition on this one, I think.

                      Besides the above: every thing about physically using and owning it is just bloody brilliant. Files seem a-OK. I’m a quietly happy man.
                      If it turns out I got a bad sample as Kevin did—it’s a 10minute walk to the shop where it came from :D
                      [to get another sample, I mean! Me and this machine are locked for the next 365]

                    • To me, it seems the A7R has similar DR to the D800E – which is the current champion – but isn’t quite as clean at the lower end. Can’t say with the A7R. Good luck!

                  • Tom, it looked like luminance noise to a degree, but not the same as shooting my current A7 at high ISO. It had more of an oval shape. It was all over the frame. Detail was also seriously lacking.

                    • Thanks Kevin. I had an ISO 5000 shot on my first day of ownership, walking home 23:00, which showed massive magenta pollution all over the bottom of the frame. And other high ISO showed it in the corners. Generally speaking the RAWs didn’t look any cleaner or noisier than what I’d been getting with the RX100mk2 at high ISOs… The corner magenta sounds, at first, like a lens thing [I am shooting the FE 35 2.8 ZA], but I think it’s just because the corners are darker, and there’s less signal. The magenta fog all over the bottom of that 5000 frame could only be the sensor.

                      That’s to say, I think this is a sensor thing.
                      It’s fine in daylight and lower ISOs.

                      All A7’s could be like this, I don’t know, so what I’ll do is take mine back to the shop on Monday and exchange for another. Only three things could happen:

                      i) Mine was sub-optimal, and I get a better performing sensor => Good result
                      ii) Mine was normal, and I get the same performing sensor => Good result
                      ii) I get lemon [even worse]; and I just switch again… => annoying but acceptable result and a yardstick for what “bad” is with the A7

                      I think that shows there’s no downside to complaining and having another one. I certainly haven’t seen anyone talking about magenta pollution issues that aren’t the standard issue “I put a 21mm Russian lens from 1950 on my A7 and the corners are magenta! What’s wrong!?” type complaints.

                      Did you have any links to people with similar issues to me Kevin?
                      Any experience of this yourself?

                      Cheers

        • Peter Boender says:

          :-)

  60. drbobbybones says:

    Great Review, Ming. I have the A7 + 35/2.8 + 55/1.8 and I love them so far. In comparison to my RX1, the files are tiny bit noisier and not quite as sharp/contrasty/microcontrasty with the 35. The 55 is a really nice piece of kit though. At 2.8 and above, it’s pretty killer and equalizes the playing field with RX1. One can only imagine how an RX2 with a 50/2 could do in comparison.

    I can’t help but wonder if at least some of the negatives you mentioned would have been mitigated if you tested the A7 instead of the A7r–or even more existentially, if the A7r did not even exist. Lets see:

    1) Shutter vibration–eliminated with the electronic first curtain shutter. I personally would have loved a fully electronic silent shutter (even with some slight quality loss) to shoot in quiet areas.
    2) Shot discipline–much more forgiving because of the pixel size and #1 above.
    3) Charger–I agree the charger should have been gratis. The new travel Sony one is completely functional and relatively cheap though.
    4) Battery–I carry a spare or two. No biggie for me.
    4) Lens map–for right now, only 5 lenses are confirmed (35, 55, kit zoom, Zeiss 24-70/4 zoom, G series 70-200 zoom). But there are 15 planned through 2015. I agree that Sony’s track record hasn’t been awesome, but I’m still hopeful for more quality primes.

    • The A7 doesn’t make sense to me. You gain a bit of latitude off the sensor, but you still have no stabilizer. I’d rather have an E-M1 and it’s lens catalog. There really isn’t that much image quality gain between 24 and 16, especially if you have to shoot at higher ISOs or have camera shake issues.

      • Ming, I’ve got both the A7 and the EM-5, and I’m amazed by how much better the IQ is from the A7, especially at base ISO using the 35 and 55 native lenses.

        I’ve been able to get a decent amount of sharp shots handheld at 1/60.

        I love the feel of it in my hands and the ease of changing settings without needing to go into a menu. The menus are pretty easy to get used to, and easy access to frequently used settings through the function button works very well. Surprisingly one of the things I love the most is the shutter sound. It just sounds right.

        The IBIS on the OMD is incredible, but I haven’t touched it since I got the A7. The overall look of the images is in a different league to my eye.

    • The thing though is they have also got a habit of not sticking to lens road maps either. It will be interesting to see how close they get to delivering all 15 lenses and then if they do it within the time frame or if they get bored and move onto something else. Would have been a little more impressive if they had named what lenses they intend bringing out. At the moment 15 is just a number. The 70-200 is huge plus very expensive for what it is.

      • Even their regular Alpha mount 70-200/2.8 is about 30% more expensive than the Nikon/Canon versions (at least in this country); it means not only is good glass expensive, but you’re probably also going to get hammered on the resale market since the ‘serious’ user base isn’t there.

  61. Thanks for your thoughts on this camera Ming. Not that I’m interested in purchasing one but it nice to see a review a few weeks after some of the hype has finally subsided and some real honesty in how this camera performs. Its one thing to make a great sensor, but another to package it with a “complete” system that the Sony A7(r) is not, yet.

    Only time will tell but if Sony’s past track record is any indication I just see this as another on of their experiments to see how small a box they can make something. It does appear they worked on the UI but its still more complicated that I would want to work with.

    Thanks again Ming and enjoy the New Year!

  62. Thanks for your review. Am I right to say that because of it’s Full Frame sensor size, technically it’s impossible to design any lens for this camera to be smaller than the FF DSLR lenses of similar focal length / aperture / zoom range ? In other words, for a FF camera (whether DSLR or ML), we can only reduce / lighten it’s body size (like this 7R) but no way we can reduce it’s lens to match and balance with it’s reduced body size ?

  63. I’m wondering if this was a typo… “– I came to the conclusion that unless your adaptors are perfect, you *really* will see the difference. Adapted lenses will generally not perform the same as native ones.”
    Did you mean to say “rarely”?

    I do enjoy stopping by during my lunch hours to read your articles. The images always makes me think, how might I go about shooting that? Then I am inspired to shoot more. In addition, reviews like this, presented in the Ming Thein Manner, is a great help to starve off G.A.S.” And after a momentary lapse of weakness, I go about thinking what I’m going to shoot and how I’m going to get it done.
    Thank you.

    • I’m trying to read between the lines here… … You seem to be implying that the A7R is a compromise between the D800E and the EM1. It intends to compromise the two cameras, trying to combine the best of both worlds. It seems to me there is only one choice to make… (1) D800E and EM1 or (2) A7R.

      • Pretty much. But a compromise is just that: flawed. It cannot replace the D800E for commercial work and special purpose applications that require tilt shifts, nor does it have the very forgiving stabilizer of the E-M1 that gives that camera a huge shooting envelope and the ability to get pixel-perfection under marginal (or even impossible for the D800) conditions.

    • Yes – rarely see the difference. Thanks!

  64. Food for thought. Some MF enthusiasts are buying the Sony to shoot with an adapter. I suspect you are right that it does not hunt. However, this mirror less FX with a small body could develop into something very nice down the road. Right now, there aren’t many native lenses for it.

  65. Peter Boender says:

    Hmmm. Nice idea on Sony”s part, however not well executed. Too many compromises. It’s basically a landscape/architecture/still-life camera, but without the appropriate lenses. The lightweight mirrorless format also rubs in various ways with this specific purpose. I suspect Sony just wanted to fill the full-frame mirrorless niche first, as proof of Kimio Maki-san’s recent company credo. I’m going to regard it as attempt 1.0. Let’s see what the future will bring, not only for iterations 2.0 and 3.0 of the camera itself, but also for the necessary advent of supporting lenses. Sony really needs to deliver here, as to put any sort of faith and credibility in the market (and they don’t exactly have a superb record in this department).

  66. Sony has a woeful track record when it comes to supporting its system cameras … and the lenses are a hit or miss affair.

    Notice that the only way to keep the zoom lens released with this camera to a manageable size is to [relatively] limit the focal range and use a variable maximum aperture that isn’t all that fast to begin with. A 24-70 f/2.8 on this camera would look like a tail wagging a dog. True, the FE mount lenses don’t have to have the large rear register distance as ones designed for DSLRs, but you can only shrink full-frame, IF, stabilized autofocus lenses so much.

    And as you mentioned, the company is notoriously fickle when it comes to camera development. Frankly, they’re an electronics company applying Playstation logic to cameras. Doesn’t work.

    Not a fan. If that wasn’t clear. ;)

    My personal belief is that it will take Nikon and/or Canon entering the full frame mirrorless market to make it viable.

    • There are slow or f4 options, but those are all compromised. To me, the way to use this camera is with stabilized primes of moderate speed and size; except we have none of those.

      Even if Nikon or Canon enter, they won’t have the native lenses either – look at the EOS-M and Nikon 1. So far, only M4/3 has a decent selection of glass; and we’re still missing the tilt shifts, teles etc…

  67. Interesting, contemplative review. This and the RX10 sound like they’ve made you question several things … maybe Sony’s product management isn’t as inept as we think it is.

    Anyway, I would shocked if you left the D800 for an A7R. You’ve mentioned several times that the D800 is an unpleasant camera to use, and it sounds like the A7R might be worse because of its shutter shock and slow speed. There’re barely any native lenses for it, and the specialty part of Nikon (micros, tilt-shifts, super teles, super wides, flash, etc.) walks all over the Sony. It’s got potential, but how likely will Sony follow through with that potential?

    And even if Sony does come through at some point in the future, they’ll just be matching the currently 2-year old D800E’s image quality in a smaller body, but giving up everything else: system library and support, and handling speed.

  68. Great review, Ming! I especially like the “vs other cameras” section, nice touch. Thanks for taking the time to test and gathering your findings for your readers.

    I was also considering the A7R 55mm + GR/GM1 as a lightweight travel kit but the lack of native lenses (where are the 28mm and 85mm, Sony?), ridiculous shot discipline requirement (shooting the D800E is hard enough) and omission of stabilizer (spoiled by EM5 and EM1) mean A7/A7R won’t be fun, especially since I don’t normally shoot 55mm, have no intention to torture myself with low hit rates and don’t have the steadiest of hands. Maybe A7R v2 and after Sony has released the 28mm and 85mm native lenses too.

    • The A7 might be a better choice for what you want to use it for? Or even a used RX1R, given his cheap they are now second hand in Japan…

      • Already got the RX1R via my Sony contact last year with good pricing, so got the 28mm and 35mm covered. But still missing a longer FL pairing that’s good for low light and travel/weight friendly, so as you have suggested, A7+55mm might just be the ticket. As much as I love EM1’s IBIS, low shutter speeds just can’t freeze certain motions such as those in your Thaipusam series. I could maximize EM1’s strength by stylistically shooting those types of scenes with long shutter speeds to show movements and crowd fluidity; or I could give in to GAS. But in the real world, my credit card bill might be the real constraint :P

        • Ah, I forgot about that. You might be better off buying that new Panasonic 42.5/1.2 instead of a A7/55…

          • Thanks for the 42.5 suggestion. I agree it’s the ultimate 85mm travel/lightweight pairing with GR especially when used on a tiny cam like the GM1 which will be able to take advantage of the built-in OIS. I will especially enjoy the aperture ring. Hopefully EM1’s firmware will be updated to use it, have you heard from Olympus about this?

  69. Rain Santiago says:

    As always much appreciated for the time you share with your viewers on the A7R, in regards to what you mention about Sony’s serious attention deficit disorder, I think Minolta once upon a time also exhibited that behavior as well in the past hence why they couldn’t compete well against Canon and Nikon.

  70. Wonderful Review Ming! Looks like a fun camera.

  71. Ming, I appreciate this post. I’m impressed that you have essentially retreated to some extent from your prior comments. That demonstrates real integrity.

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  4. […] D800E is a good case in point: together with the A7R, it is perhaps the most demanding camera at the moment in terms of resolving power. (The A7R is […]

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