Image from B&H.
The internet is going to be full of anticipation, excitement, speculation and various forms of virtual hand-wringing over Sony’s latest announcement: full frame mirrorless. I’m sure some bloggers have already had a chance to use one, but given the local market entity’s attitude, don’t expect to see a review from me anytime soon (if at all). As interesting as it is, I simply won’t be able to get a camera. What I can do is put together a few initial thoughts. I don’t normally join the equipment frenzy, but I think this is significant enough that it warrants some serious consideration.
- There are two versions: one with 24MP and PDAF on-chip (the A7) and one with 36MP, no AA filter and no PDAF (the A7R). It is supposedly not the exact same sensor as the D800E; this one apparently has offset microlenses to deal with the very short back flange distance.
- Bodies are weather sealed; presumably lenses, too. To what degree remains to be seen – for instance, there’s a big difference between the D7100 and the D4, but Nikon claims both are ‘weather sealed’…
- Yes, it’s slightly lighter than an E-M1, and about the same size – which significantly erodes the reason for going M4/3. However, the ergonomics look like a disaster – far too many sharp edges, not enough physical controls, and reading things like ‘same menu as the RX1’, I’m starting to cringe.
- It is not clear to me how one is going to consistently make the most of the 36MP model; from experience with the D800E, some weight or IS system is actually required to have sufficient stability to consistently extract all of the resolution of the sensor. Bottom line: most users may not see as much of a difference as they think between the A7 and A7R.
- Yet another new lens system: presumably Sony will make some G to A7 adaptors, but we’re back to buying new lenses again. There are 28-70/3.5-5.6, 24-70/4, 35/2.8, 55/1.8 and 70-200/4 lenses announced. Surely Sony can’t be meaning to support G, NEX and A7 lens lines in any meaningful way? That would seem like too much cost and business risk, to me.
- Smaller than a FF DSLR, but it can’t be too small – even if the body is compact, it still has to be big enough to be ergonomically comfortable with the larger lenses required to cover the larger sensor. So the whole thing is…I suppose somewhere around NEX-sized in the end, at a minimum. Which means there’s still a meaningful size advantage to M4/3: find a weather sealed, 24-80/2.8 equivalent zoom that focuses to 20cm at all distances (forget DOF, we’re looking at FOV and light gathering capability) with stabilizer for the A7R, and I guarantee the lens alone will be heavier than the E-M1 and 12-40
- Built-in EVF: good, and necessary for both focusing and stability (bracing the camera to your face).
- Price: at $1699, the A7 is competitive, I think. The A7R is quite a bit more expensive at $2299; neither is cheap per se, especially given the lack of lens choices. I think for most people, the smarter buy would be the A7, with PDAF on-sensor and less demanding pixel pitch.
- Lens prices: $3000 for the 70-200/4? What are they thinking? That’s Leica territory.
- Don’t think you can get away with adaptors: the planarity of such adaptors is going to be absolutely critical, especially with such short flange distances and resolution numbers. You’ll actually be able to see the effects of a cheap, out-of-plane adaptor – it looks a little like a tilt. (I know this because I tried Hasselblad lenses on my D800E; none of the three adaptors I obtained had sufficiently tight tolerances to avoid this problem.)
- Very subjective: Is it just me, or does it look a lot like an E-M5, but more square?
There are conflicting messages here. Sony obviously said: ‘let’s put all of the tech we can into the smallest possible package, to chase the highest possible image quality’ – which is fine as a goal in itself. However, the A7/A7R undermines the A99 – the smaller camera getting the better sensor (despite the 36MP unit being available for some time now) suggests that Sony may well be abandoning any serious further DSLR development. And where does this leave the recently-launched RX1R? Why would you buy a fixed lens option – granted, with a slightly faster lens – when you could have interchangeable instead? Then, we have the whole lens-vs-sensor problem: great sensor, limited and mostly unstabilized lenses. (Hint: look at Fuji’s initial lens choices for the X system; those said ‘we’re serious’. Sony is saying ‘we’re actually consumer; have two 2X-70 zooms and a couple of unexciting primes.’ It seems odd to be so ballsy on the camera side, but completely lack any stones with lenses). Then we have portability vs. usability: it’s small, but you’ll still need a tripod to extract ‘full value’ from the sensor, which means that we’re back to the overall system being big again. The lenses really need to be stabilized: all of them. Granted, this is also true with a D800E, but by the time you’ve added a decent tripod, the weight savings on the camera side pale somewhat.
Personally, even though it’s extremely unlikely I’ll ever buy one – I have pretty much all I need already – I really hope it succeeds: firstly, it really throws down the gauntlet to the other camera makers, hopefully forcing them to actually innovate (I’m looking at you, Nikon and Canon) to stay competitive. And if they innovate, Sony will be forced to actually look at UI for a change, and make something that works like a camera, not an electronic gadget. Secondly, it means that Sony/ Zeiss might actually develop some better lenses for it – yes, 35 and 55mm primes are nice, but some of us need a bit more than that in order to seriously consider the (re)investment required to justify this as a whole system.
Big, innovative changes like this are going to be necessary for survival; the further we move past the point of sufficiency, the less motivation buyers are going to have to open their wallets for incremental upgrades. It’s going to take a step change to motivate spending; step changes like this one. MT
Note: The RX10 was also announced at the same time; it has a 28-200/2.8 constant aperture zoom, the sensor from the RX100M2 and both EVF and top LCD status panel. Unfortunately, there is no free lunch: it’s enormous. But it does look like an interesting possible all-in-one, if the lens is up to snuff…
Update: I’ve been receiving a lot of heated comments and hate mail by people defending the cameras and accusing me of being negative and dismissive. Read the article again: I’ve said twice that the technology is impressive and I hope the camera succeeds. I’ve also said that it’s the local agent’s attitude I’m not enthusiastic about, and that precludes me ever trying or buying one. Furthermore, there are a lot of assumptions being made by most of the readers that are incorrect, or at best, flawed. Slapping an adapted lens on something does not guarantee great results; it’s highly variable. You will not know until you try that specific lens and that specific adaptor, Leica or not.
Finally, the photographer always makes far more difference to the final image than the gear. And a skilled one will be able to do more with the same equipment than an unskilled one, but better gear will not close the gap. What bothers me is the sheer number of people who think a new piece of gear is the messiah and will make amazing images just because of a spec sheet. Reality: buying new equipment will NOT change the way you shoot, especially if you care more about gear than photography. This site is about photography. I assess equipment only as a tool to achieve an end goal, nothing more.
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