Some quick impressions of the Sony A7 - Where does FE lead?


So, 24MP instead of 36MP, anti-aliasing filter, quieter shutter (one 'clunk' instead of two), but design wise and operationally very similar to the A7r.







Some very quick tests to look at the image quality difference indicate that this is a more 'conventional' looking sensor output, though still producing very sharp images. (I used the 28-70mm) There is an AA-filter on this sensor, as opposed to the A7r, but though there is a visible difference it's far from a large one. There is certainly a smoother look to the images and the high ISO shots I took seemed slightly less noisy than their A7r counterparts. I will be doing some more detailed tests, but I get the feeling that this will be a more useful camera in low light. The files do upsize to A7r size with no problem as well. 

I did think that the comparison between the two might be something like a Nikon D800E / D600, but having a look at some old files from those cameras, I think that the Sony files are sharper but have slightly more luminance noise. So Sony are probably letting more detail emerge in the raw files. The light is very flat today, but when I get some sun I'll be really interested to see if this sensor can equal or even surpass the A7r for dynamic range.

So it will be a nice complement to the A7r. My intention is to have it as a backup, obviously, and something more suitable for the occasions when I do need a better low light performance (and a quieter camera!) and also for video. On the video front there's a nice post by Mike Kobal using the A7 here.

I will be posting more on this and comparisons with A7r etc. However I'm pretty much decided that I'm going to go with the A7 and A7r only, with the zoom + my Nikon lenses (and 20mm Voigtlander) As I indicated in a previous post, the output from my other cameras is just a disappointment to me now. To have this kind of image quality AND good high ISO performance AND excellent video capability for the kind of video I shoot with AND DSLR type performance AND small(ish) size and light(ish) weight is something I thought I would never get in one camera. I just assumed that I would have to have a selection of cameras to achieve all those things. And though neither of the Sony's is the best I've got for video or for high ISO work, neither of those things are a priority for me. What the A7r has is the best image quality I have ever produced and the bonus that both it and the A7 seem to be really good all-round cameras as well, is pretty much a no-brainer in terms of what I proceed with regarding gear. In fact I would be handicapping myself and the way I make a living if I didn't move exclusively to Sony FE. And 'pretty' cameras and retro chic are all very well when I have a selection of cameras that are all pretty similar, but when the A7r is just so far in advance of anything I've ever used in terms of producing the kind of images I've always dreamed about, how would I not embrace it and make it my primary (and only) system?

And yes I've always liked the DOF m4/3 gives me, but the quality of the images that format produces is now severely compromised for me by this Sony sensor. And since the A7r kit I used yesterday isn't much bulkier than my GH3, my decision speaks for itself. Who would have thought that this would happen? I certainly didn't. Like everybody else I was aware of the impending arrival of the FE system from Sony, but I never imagined it would be as good as it is and that Sony would pull off something so good with their first attempt. And it does have to be remembered that all the rave reviews for these cameras are about something that is brand new. Just imagine how good this system is going to get in the next months and years. By then, of course we might have some more lenses. And though I need to test it more, the 28-70mm seems to indicate that Sony have finally got their act together and produced a decent everyman kit lens that does justice to their incredible sensor, and hopefully that will be the case with future lenses. 

As a company they have been up to all sorts of experimentation and innovation in recent years, from what I think is the blind alley of DSLT to the almost unqualified success of the A7 / A7r. And I can see this determining their future direction. My betting is that they will sell huge numbers of these cameras and they will make a serious dent in professional and enthusiast markets. Does it then make sense to continue with their other product lines when these cameras seem to embody the best of all the rest? 

And the fact is that nobody seems willing to challenge them either. m4/3 and Fuji have their own particular niches and they aren't going to compete in the same marketplace. There's nothing wrong with that either. I've enjoyed using both systems. But what of Canon and Nikon? As you know I'm not fond of predictions, since they are are fraught with unforseen circumstances, but does anyone else share my feeling that the question both of those comanies have to ask is where on earth do they go from here? Neither company can survive on Pro sales alone and while many of my professional colleagues can be somewhat conservative about changing, the enthusiast market is not. A recent interview with someone from Nikon shows that they still seem convinced that they are on the right track and that their reputation and history will carry them forward. But really, how can it? The DSLR concept must be holding them back and yes they have got it to a fine art, but more and more pro's are going 'hybrid' and surely Nikon and Canon cameras have to make video implementation easier. And Canon in particular are getting buried in the megapixel race. They are now so far behind it's getting embarrassing. 

Back in the middle of the last decade I was a serious Canon user. I went through three 5D's, two 5D Mk II's, a 1ds MkII and lots of the D's (rebels) But now if I was to consider any current Canon, I would see it as very much a backward step. Because all I see is a company going nowhere, treading water, unable to decide where to go and how to advance and one that suffers from advanced inertia. To me they seem bewildered. Not like a deer caught in the headlights, but like a deer watching the headlights go hurtling past. Yes they have their pro network, their pro cameras and lenses and nobody can deny that they make sturdy products that do the job. But how much longer can they survive like this? Whenever I think of Canon, I think old-fashioned. Now that's not retro, because they aren't old-fashioned enough to be retro. I look at the cameras and they are the same old design, I look at image samples and they are the same dull, safe, slightly soft renditions that they have always been and I look at their attempts to do something different, the EOS-M and the G1 X and I wonder if they are all lying around Canon Towers stoned into oblivion thinking 'That'll do man'. Because what else can explain this complete lack of imagination. I really have some sympathy for those people who run Canon rumour sites. I looked at one recently and the latest four posts are on new Sigma lenses and deals on current Canon gear.

Just as I hesitate to make predictions I'm also very wary of that horrible cliche 'game-changer' but I have to say that these Sony's do give every appearance of being just that. Just exactly what is left anymore to hold back the inevitable takeover by mirrorless cameras? And just what advantages do DSLR cameras with the flapping mirror still hold? 

Better viewfinder? - No. 
Better image quality? - No. 
More pixels? - No. 
'Full-frame'? - No. 
Faster AF? - No. 

Some time ago 'Can my mirrorless camera compete with a DSLR?' was superseded by 'Can my DSLR compete with a mirrorless camera?' and maybe all that's left is the macho, 'big boy' look that these systems still have. And there are of course the lens ranges. But exactly how many of us are in the market for a 400mm f/4 or a tilt / shift lens?

Certainly no-one can accuse Sony of extending themselves too far with lens production. It's probably still the case that they have more camera models than lenses. But you never know, maybe they are on to something. Maybe all the money is in the camera bodies and maybe the vast majority of us are indeed happy with kit lenses. I'm going to go over to the FE system with one native lens, so I can't be that bothered can I? But then there is the other killer advantage that the Sony's and all mirrorless cameras have, you can use your DSLR  lenses on them. And these days you can get those unaffordable specialist lenses. If you ARE interested in a 400mm f/4, then all you need is a Metabones speed booster and a lens that will give you 200mm f/5.6 to get exactly what you want from a m4/3 camera. The A7 and A7r are obviously different but with 24 and 36MP to play with you can do some serious cropping. 

So I'm not going to come up with any kind of "The DSLR is dead' headline. But I don't think anyone can deny that DSLR's are probably 'feeling a bit poorly'. And indeed, there is no reason to mourn their passing if they do succumb to old age. They are just machines after all and if a company like Sony can make a better, cheaper, smaller and lighter machine then it's surely a cause for celebration not sorrow. And if Nikon and Canon go bust, or more probably slowly fade into obscurity (or as it's otherwise known as - Pentax Market Share), then fair enough. Somebody else will prosper, the world will keep turning and we as photographers will have exercised our marketplace right to decide what we want and with any luck have got it. I'm sure that the A7r is what I want, until of course something better comes along, but I've got a feeling that could be a long wait. Unless of course the A7r Mk II comes along!


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