Sony A7r at ISO 100 in great light - Is this the best digital camera sensor yet? The polarisation of photography.


Yesterday I got out in some great light with the A7r and had an extended opportunity to use it for my core stock work. No testing here. I took my Nikon 28mm f/1.8G and Nikon Series E 100mm f/2.8. Two main impressions. 1. WOW!!! 2. If the bookies were interested all bets would be off for Soundimageplus camera of the year.











Please note - All images above are OOC jpgs. with only slight levels adjustment in Photoshop.


So Is this the best digital camera sensor yet? Well it's certainly the best I've used. Slightly sharper and more attractive colour than the Nikon D800E for me, plus marginally better at high ISO's. Usable pictures at ISO 6400, though the Fuji X cameras still beat it for ultimate quality in this area in the cameras I've used. Absolutely and unequivocally the best jpgs. I've ever seen. I'm actually struggling to improve on them from raw and have almost come to the conclusion that for the majority of what I shoot I'm not even going to bother. And yes I think they are better than Fuji X jpgs. Mind boggling colour depth and like nothing I've ever seen before from a CMOS Bayer sensor. Great dynamic range, superb resolution and beautiful clean images with little CA and fringing even with the non-native lenses I'm using. VERY commercial eye-popping yet realistic colour. Finally I've got reality in a rectangle.

Yesterday I was working in really beautiful clear and cold Autumn / Winter light. The colours were jumping out at me and there were blinding highlights and deep shadows. Harsh yet glorious light, that the A7r captured perfectly. No need to use Photoshop to 'punch-up' the files here. And if you think these are over saturated and over contrasty images, then you've never photographed in light like this in the UK. This is what we get on cold fresh days like yesterday. 

I wrote in a previous post about how I thought it might be interesting to use the three different formats I currently have, m/43, APS-C and this 35mm / 'Full-frame'. However when I was editing these files, which actually took me very little time, I did keep wondering - WHY? The images this camera produces are just so perfect for what I do, that I'm beginning to wonder about the point of using anything else. Poor lens choice to be sure, but between what's available now plus some adapted lenses, I could easily put together a workable lens selection. But I must admit after focusing cold metallic lenses on what was a very chilly day I would really appreciate some AF lenses.

This was one of the reasons I was initially reluctant to get the A7r and indeed tried to talk myself out of it. I knew that once I started using one of these, I would probably begin to wonder about everything else I use. And so it has proved. I did love the output from my D800E, but the size and weight of it plus the size and weight of the lenses I used meant that I was often reluctant to take it out. The A7r of course has no such downside. It's also possible to get very high quality small light lenses to go with it. The Nikon Series E 100mm f/2.8 is by no means a heavy or large lens, neither is the Voigtlander 90mm f/3.5 Apo-Lanthar I use. Voigtlander also have the 20mm f/3.5 and 28mm f/2.8 Nikon fit lenses that are small, light and superb quality. Other alternatives are the Voigtlander m-mount 35mm and 40mm f/1.4 and it seems that the Voigtlander 21mm f/1.8 is actually less affected by the vignetting / colour cast problem than other m-mount lenses. Plus the newest a-mount AF adapter is apparently very good, though I'm not a great fan of Sony a-mount lenses. The three f/1.8G and f/1.4G Nikon lenses I have currently, 28mm, 50mm and 85mm aren't really that heavy either. So I would be able to work something out. I do however need to do some more tests and I've allocated today for a video shoot. Plus I really need at some point to use an AF lens on the camera, if possible.  

The A7r is actually a pretty exciting camera. This kind of quality in this size of camera is pretty amazing. The file size is of course total overkill for the majority of my sales. I've reposted a comparison I produced a while ago to show exactly how big 36MP is in terms of reproduction.


As you can see, it's way bigger than A3 and you can almost get three different A4 crops from the same image, which does of course go some way to dealing with the lack of long lenses problem. Now in terms of comparison with other formats, there is less difference than you might think. Below is a 16MP m4/3 file size compared to the A7r output.


Digital files also upsize very well, so there's less of an advantage to the 36MP than might be imagined. However there is a distinct perceptual advantage in terms of selling images and the larger sensor does have advantages in terms of dynamic range and noise. The point is we are way beyond what is required for virtually all print reproduction needs and have been for some time. But that assumes things will remain the same and that's always a dangerous assumption to make. Who knows how we will be viewing images in future years.

This then leads to the inevitable conversation about the current polarisation of photography and what we use to create it. On the one hand the A7r with it's monster files and on the other the increasing use of smartphones to create images with. Now the Nokia Lumia 1020 phone creates a 41MP image. However anyone who looked at one of these files knows that at 41MP it's truly awful. However you can downsize it to around 6MP and then it actually looks (relatively) decent. If however you're happy with soft corners on all your images and a truly appalling high ISO performance. So the ultimate in mobile phone camera technology is producing images that can compare (if you're not very critical) with what DSLR's were coming up with 10 years ago. And for some people, though for the life of me I can't understand why, their camera phones are enough. Exactly why some consider that preserving memories on something this poor is a good idea is beyond me, but it seems that's what people want. Though how much this has to do with fashion and having desirable tech. rather than actually achieving the object of meaningful life experience recording is another question.

But we do have this polarisation. And yes phone cameras will get better, because they will become more camera and less phone. Which will kind of bring us back to where we were before. Maybe Samsung have the right idea after all. Now it is actually in my interest to convince people to throw away their cameras and just use their phones. Less to compete with in the already overpopulated market place I compete to make my living in. However I'm not going to do that, but choose the other option. i.e. use the most MP'd and highest quality image creating machinery I can. Currently virtually no one is going to publish one of my A7r files at full size, but they may crop one and publish that. Plus it's in my interest to make my images as 'future proof' as possible, whatever that future may be. So that's another reason why I find the A7r so attractive.

It's going to take me a while to work out the best way to go with this and it may involve some buying and selling of lenses to find out what works for me and what doesn't. However I think it's pretty obvious that what Sony have come up with in terms of the size / weight / quality equation I was always going to be drawn to the A7r. It's obviously not perfect but for a first attempt it is actually pretty impressive. Currently that noisy shutter is the only thing I really don't like about it. And the images it produces are just sublime. Already, unless something truly marvellous turns up, I've ruled out ever buying a DSLR or a Leica again. As I asked yesterday, "Why would I?' Buying either would result in a quality drop for me and more expense and less comfortable handling as well. 

The A7r is a marvellous camera and those of you who read a lot on the internet will know that I am far from an isolated voice saying this. It is one of the best received and critiqued cameras I can ever remember. Hardly anyone seems to have a bad word to say about it. And once I started using it I can see why. My hope is that Sony will sell container loads of them and concentrate on getting the lenses out ASAP. In the meantime, I'll probably carry on with a few adapters and picking my jaw off the floor when I view the images on my monitor screen. 

For my continuing SONY A7r OWNER ASSESSMENT - Click Here


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