Friday, January 17, 2014

My First Month with the Sony A7 and A7r



It's been a busy month, and during that time I've been putting both the A7 and A7r through their paces.  Let me share with you both the good and the unexpected.

Studio

My most jaw-dropping experience with the A7r came the very first time I used it - in my studio where all of the conditions were ideal (great light, great optics, great light, and great light.  (And great subjects)).

There's 90 years between these two.


This was a test shot taken with the A-mount Zeiss 135mm f/1.8, the sharpest lens I own.  Absolutely incredible detail!  Download the original here so you can pixel peep for yourself!  (Look at the eyes in particular.)

Let me say that the A7r practically demands that you pixel peep - perhaps because you know what the camera is capable of; perhaps because you just spent many thousands on your new toy tool and you want to make sure you're getting your money's worth.  And usually pixel peeping while out in the field leads only to disappointment.  Not here.  The camera absolutely fulfills its promise of being a teensy weensy medium format camera.  I can count every eyelash.  I can enlarge these to fill the side of a bus.  I'm pretty ecstatic.

Here's a quick comparison between the Sony 28-70 FE kit lens and the A-mount Zeiss 24-70 in these same ideal conditions.  Everything was on manual (including the wireless flashes) - notice that one picture looks darker than the other.  This is the result of the 2/3rd of a stop light loss from the SLT mirror embedded in the LA-EA4 A-mount adapter.

Left: FE 28-70 Kit lens        Right: Zeiss 24-70 A-mount lens with LA-EA4 adapter
100% Crops of both.  The shortcomings of the kit lens (left) are pretty clear.  You can download this one too.

Harraseeket Inn

Next I headed to Freeport, Maine where I was hired to shoot promotional pictures of a historic inn.


These shots were taken handheld with the A7r and kit lens - about 1/3rd of a second.  Had I run in to get my tripod the beautiful blue in the sky would have been gone.

A shot of the bar staff using a wireless flash and umbrella off to the side.  Here you can see that the kit lens has added some distortion to the face of the bartender on the right.

Birthday Party for a 3-Year Old

Next off to Boston (during a snowstorm), where I attended a 3 year old's birthday party and so I took some snapshots.  Talk about the wrong tool for the job!  The A7r has some serious shutter lag (around 1/8th of a second or so) making it less suitable for shooting kids, so I used the A7 instead.  (I don't have permission to post any pictures of the folks at the party so I'll just mention that they look like snapshots.) (Well, snapshots taken with a Hasselblad.)

There is an image I can show you, though.  I tried to take a picture of the cake, but because of the shallower depth-of-field I had a hard time getting both the number "3" and the banner behind it into focus.  (I could have used a smaller f/stop, but a tripod wasn't handy and besides -- it's a kid's birthday party!)


So I did what any self-respecting photographer would do: I took two pictures (one with the "3" candle in focus, one with the banner in focus) and merged them in Photoshop. 


Sequoia

Then it was off to Sequoia National Park for a family vacation.



12-minute exposure.  It was so dark that I had to guess focus on the trees.  Good thing I was using an A-mount lens where I could feel where infinity was, and then turned it back a bit.  It would have been much more difficult to focus using the E-mount's fly-by-wire focusing where the focusing ring rotates without a hard stop.

Since this was a family vacation, I had a great opportunity to test both cameras' abilities to track focus of a moving object.  The A7 has a theoretical advantage when using an FE lens since it has some phase-detect pixels baked into the sensor.  Let's see how each was able to keep up.


A7 on the top row; A7r on the bottom.  Kit lens on both, continuous shooting in .jpg (to make sure a full buffer wouldn't slow it down).  Not exactly a scientific test, but it does affirm Sony's claims that the A7 can track focus better.

The biggest (and admittedly unexpected) shock I had using the A7r came when I was trying to shoot some landscapes.  Here's just one example of a test shot (a boring test shot, but a test shot nonetheless):


Now let's pixel peep out in the field:


Yowza!  That's awful.  Could this be the Shutter Shock phenomenon that everyone's talking about?  I switched from 1/60th of a second to 1/250th of a second and shot again:

Both images: 100% crops, handheld, Minolta 28-75 f/2.8 A-mount at 75 mm.

Better, but upon closer analysis this is deficient too and both were the result of a shaky hand.  I'll be doing more controlled tests for the upcoming book (some with a tripod and some without), but it brings to light something about this camera that really bears mentioning: If your technique, focusing, or optics are not top notch, the A7r will reveal that to you in a hurry.  I used to think highly of the Minolta 28-75 f/2.8 and the 70-210 f/4 "beercan" lens, but the A7r shows off these lenses' deficiencies quite clearly.  The sensor is no longer the weakest link.

While in Sequoia I also started experimenting with time-lapse videography.  To take this video I had the camera take about 6,000 still images on a tripod (the camera didn't move, and there was no motorized control to move the camera left or right.)  Then I converted the images into an .mp4 video on my computer. The A7r is ideally suited for this because there's so much resolution there you can do some pretty extreme pans and zooms in your video editing software and still keep a full-res 1080p video.  My first attempt at this is below.  The dirt you first see on the left-hand side of the screen is actually dirt on the hotel window.

video

You may be wondering how I set this up since there's no known way of doing an intervolometer function on the A7 and A7r.  All will be revealed in my upcoming ebook (or perhaps a future blog post).

Vegas, Baby!

I only spent about 36 hours in Las Vegas, long enough to attend the PMA (Photo Marketing Associaion) show and shoot some video for another project I'm working on.

video

In Las Vegas, some idiot put a roller coaster and other carnival rides atop a 108-story tower. It first swings you over the edge and then spins you like a centrifuge. If you look down you are reminded of what it means to be human.  We were filming a pilot for a Cable TV show and here I am demonstrating that I will do ANYTHING to get the shot!  (This is just before the camera flies out of my hands...)

Berkeley

Then off to Northern California for another family event.  Although I was officially "off duty", many members assembled themselves into a group and then asked that I take a picture.  Of course they chose to stand in an area with the splotchiest lighting imaginable.  It looked good to them; but it looked awful awful to the camera.  Raise your hand if you're surprised.


Thank goodness for fill flash, RAW, and Lightoom! :-)


It may not be perfect, but I didn't want to turn it into a big technical production.  I'm not happy with it, but I'm sure none of my family members will notice the imperfections of this image.


RX-10 Ebook

Whenever a new camera comes out, I track all the requests I get to write a book about it.  When the RX-100 came out, for example, I had no intention of writing about it.  But literally hundreds of requests for a book on it made me change my mind (and now it's my favorite everyday camera!)  When the RX-1 came out, even though the camera sold very well, I I received only about five requests.  I concluded that the demographic for that camera already knew how to figure it out.

So in last month's blog I mentioned that I wasn't planning on writing an ebook for the RX-10 due to "low interest".  In this case "Low Interest" was defined as "To date I received only three email requests to write a book".  Since then I've received a lot of enthusiastic emails, so many in fact that I've now added the RX-10 to the list of ebooks slated for release in the 2nd quarter of 2014 (the other books being the Olympus OM-D E-M1 being written by Mike Hendren, Fujifilm X100s being written by Tony Phillips, and the A7 / A7r being written by yours truly.  Drop me a line at Gary at Friedman Archives dot com if you'd like to be on the notification list for any of these cameras.

In The Next Cameracraft


Imagine being flown all over the world so you can document the world's most extreme objects and record holders.  That's what Richard Bradbury has been doing for the Guinness Book of World Records for the past several years.  Read all about his lighting challenges (he shoots into the sun most of the time) and the techniques he uses to make sure every assignment ends up being a "Wow!" shot.  It's fascinating stuff.

Cameracraft magazine is designed to inspire you with great portfolios (and some technical insights) you just won't find in today's gear-oriented photo magazines.  Subscribe today, send me your receipt and I'll send you a free copy of my new "Ways to 'Wow!' with Wireless Flash" ebooklet (USD $9.95 value!).

Until next time...
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman



34 comments:

  1. Wondering how you did off-camera flash with the A7. Either you have an adapter or you used a couple of HVL-60s.

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    1. The same way I trigger wireless on the A99 - using an HVL-F20M flash. (And the A7r is faster than the A99, even with it's infamous 1/8th of a second shutter lag!)

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  2. Gary, thanks for this. Maybe I can give back something now: For focusing in the dark I use small but strong LED torch light (brit.) or flashlight (amer.) which is always in my photobag. Think about it....
    And not to forget: All the best for 2014 - Happy New Year!

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    1. Hi, Jörg. Thanks for the tip! I actually carry such a flashlight in my camera bag, but the trees were too far away for it to be effective in this case! :-(

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  3. Great post Gary and you are nutz for going on the ride!

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  4. Would love to hear a comparison of the strengths/weaknesses of the a7 vs a99 at some point.

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    1. Well, other than the fact that the two have the same sensor, it's comparing apples and oranges. The A99 has better ergonomics, a more useful tilting LCD, and a longer battery life. The A7 is smaller, lighter, and doesn't have the A99's annoying wireless flash delay. The A7r might also produce better high ISO JPGs due to its newer Bionz processor - that's something I'll be investigating for the ebook. GF

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    2. Great succinct comparison. (Btw, loving your a99 ebook).
      Do you miss ibis on the a7/r?
      I'm afraid that shooting primes on the a7, especially with the possible shutter issues, requires very fast shutter speeds, giving back the low light advantages.

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    3. Do I miss it? Keep in mind that I grew up without it, so for me it's not a big issue. But I do feel that this camera is at its best when used with high-end FE lenses (whether stabilized or not). That LA-EA4 adapter, as compact as it is, makes the whole design even clunkier. :-)

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  5. Gary, thanks for your interesting take on the A7/A7r. I'm very happy with my A7 and Minolta MD 35-70 f/3.5 Macro - they make a great pair.

    I actually found your site while searching information on Minolta glass in Youtube: I found your "Best Minolta cameras" video and then watched your very interesting lecture on your Nasa years. Great stuff, and I will surely be following your blog in the future.

    Take care and all the best!
    Jaakko

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  6. "So I did what any self-respecting photographer would do: I took two pictures (one with the "3" candle in focus, one with the banner in focus) and merged them in Photoshop. " This is an application where something like the RX100 or other small sensor with a large aperture makes a lot of sense from a fast enough shutter with a deep enough dof

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    1. That's one reason why I usually reserve my full-frame cameras for studio and commercial work and use smaller-sensor cameras (like the RX-100 MK2) for family. The right tool for the job.

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  7. "You may be wondering how I set this up since there's no known way of doing an intervolometer function on the A7 and A7r"

    I'm not wondering. It's the time lapse app from Sony.

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    1. It's not! Although there is a Time Lapse app for the NEX-6, it is not yet available for the A7 or A7r.

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    2. Hey Gary! It was just released January 9th.

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  8. Any more specific comments on 7 vs. 7r vs. 99 flash delay? Primarily the wireless lag, but even straight ttl on the camera with 99 has a small delay compared to 900.

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    1. I haven't measured the delay with much accuracy, but the delay on all 3 cameras is frustratingly long. Tough to both capture the decisive moment and add dramatic light.

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    2. Gary,

      Any feel for if the A7R has a shorter delay with wireless radio triggers? My A99 seems like it has a slight delay even using an external trigger mounted on the hotshoe. I've tried both Pixel Soliders and Paul C Buff triggers. Thanks.

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    3. Using Paul Buff Cybersync radio triggers, the A7 is almost instant whereas the A7r has about 1/8th of a second delay (this is true without flash too) due to the first shutter curtain action. It's significantly longer than the A99 using radio triggers. If you're shooting kids, or want to capture a high-res portrait when the expression is genuine and just right, the A7r is not for you!

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    4. Thanks very much Gary! I'm waiting for the next full-frame A-mount camera then. Hi-Res portraits in the studio is my main focus.

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  9. I'm enjoying my new A7 with native 35mm F2.8 along with various legacy lenses. It reminds me of the Pentax Spotmatics I used a few decades ago with their match-needle stop-down metering.

    I've not heard a good technical explanation for why the A7R needs a mechanical first curtain shutter while the A7 utilizes an electronic first curtain shutter. Do you have an explanation or at least a speculation?

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    1. I have no special access to information - but all I have is an educated guess. There's no technical reason why it couldn't have been included; however it may have been cheaper for Sony to just use the same production line and masking they created for the Nikon D800e. (Again, that's only a guess.)

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  10. Hi Gary... Well after almost 5 years with my A900 (and your book) it is time for an upgrade. Considering the A7 or A7r (wish Sony would get their act together on lens' !) but am leaning towards the A7 (the A7r is great tech but I think I'll wait for the 2.0 model)! What is the estimated release date on your upcomign A7 / A7r book?

    best regards.
    Michael

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    1. Hi, Michael. Mid-April at the very earliest.

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    2. Just got my hands on the A7R...also looking forward to your book!

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  11. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)

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  12. Gary, your blogs are always so full of interesting and honest information. I was thinking about the A7,but for now, I will stay with my A77 for my every day camera Thanks for your honesty.

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  13. Hi Gary !
    I'm excited about the timelapse set up you used on the a7/a7r. When are you going to reveal this setup to us. I have the timelapse app form Sony installed on my a7 , but it seems to have some limitations.
    Have you tried the timelapse app from Sony on the a7/a7r?. And if, what is Your opinion about it

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  14. Gary your review is not that positive on the A7 or A7r - I have a nex-6 and was thinking of upgrading, do I understand that perhaps I would be going backwards if I did this?

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    1. The answer can only be "It depends". It depends on what you shoot, how big you enlarge, how careful you are with all your variables, how hard you're willing to work, how critical you are, how much you pixel peep, and how picky your customers are. Just like a medium format camera is not for everybody, neither is a full-frame camera, mirrorless or not. GF

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  15. Great post and photos!

    I love this camera and simply can't piut it down. The image quality, features and 3rd party lens options make this a creative tool.

    Lately I've been uising the Viltrox adapter with a Canon 50mm 1.4 to grab some amazing photos http://bit.ly/1pgvJqH The manual focus is actually desirable with this camera and gets back to what photography is all about.

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  16. Dear Gary,

    Could you talk a little bit more about Sony A7s? Thanks!

    Ben

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    1. I wrote a supplement for the A7s. You can purchase it here: http://friedmanarchivespress.com/ashop/index.php?product=83

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