Sony A7 review

Introduction

This is a new post for one of my favourite “off-topic” subjects – photography. I just recently (under 2 weeks ago) bought Sony A7 and wanted to share some my first impressions and write a mini review.

Why did I buy a new piece of photo hardware? Well, my main digital camera since 3-4 years was Fuji FinePix X100. I also owned some Nikon 35mm/FF DSLRs, but since my D700 (that I bought used cheaply with already big shutter counter value) got broken beyond repair I bought D600, I almost didn’t use Nikon gear. D600 is a terrible camera with broken AF, wrong metering (exposes +/- 1EV at random, lots of PP at home) and tons of other problems and honestly – I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone and I don’t use it anymore.

With Fuji X100 I share hate & love relationship. It has lots of advantages. Great image quality for such tiny size and APS-C sensor. It is very small, looks like a toy camera (serious advantage if you want to travel into not really safe areas or simply don’t want to attract too much attention, just enjoy taking photos). Bright f/2.0 lens and interesting focal length (one good photographer friend of mine told me once that there are no interesting photos taken with focal lengths of more than 50mm and while it was supposed to be a joke, I hope you can get the point). Finally nice small built-in flash and excellent fill light flash mode working great with leaf shutter and short sync times – it literally saved thousands of portraits in bright sunlight and other holiday photos. On the other hand, it is slow, has lots of quirks in usage (why do I need to switch to macro mode to take a regular situational portrait?!), slow and inaccurate AF (need to try to take a photo couple times, especially in low light…), it’s not pin-sharp and fixed 35mm focal length equivalent can be quite limiting – too wide for standard shooting, too narrow for wide angle shots.

Since at least a year I was looking around for alternatives / some additional gear and couldn’t find anything interesting enough. I looked into Fuji X100s – but simply a bit better AF and sensor wouldn’t justify such big expense + software has problems with X-Trans sensor pixel color reconstruction. I read a lot about Fuji X-series mirror-less system, but going into a new system and buying all the new lenses is a big commitment – especially on APS-C. Finally quite recent option is Sony RX-1. It seemed very interesting, but Angelo Pesce described it quite well – it’s a toy (NO OVF/EVF???).

Sony A7/A7R and recent A7S looked like interesting alternatives and something that would compete with famous Leica so I looked into it and after couple weeks of research I decided to buy the cheapest and most basic one – A7 with the kit lens. What do I need kit lens for? Well, to take photos. I knew that its IQ wouldn’t be perfect, but it’s cheap, not very heavy and it’s convenient to have one just in case – especially until having completed your target lens set. After few days of extensive use (a weekend trip to NYC, yay!) I feel like writing a mini review of it, so here we go!

Hero of this report - no, not me! Sony A7 :)

Hero of this report – no, not me & sunburn! Sony A7 🙂 Tiny and works great.

I tested it with the kit lens (Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS), Nikkor 50mm 1.4D and Voigtlander Nokton 40mm 1.4.

DSC00353

What I like about it

Size and look

This one is pretty obvious. Full-frame 35mm camera sized smaller than many mirrorless APS-C or famous Leica cameras! Very light, so I just throw it in a bag or backpack. My neck doesn’t hurt even after whole day of photo shooting. Discrete when doing street photography. Nice style that is kind of blend between modern and retro cameras. Especially with M-mount lenses on – classic look and compact size. Really hard to beat in this area. 🙂

Love how classic and modern styles work great together on this camera

Love how classic and modern styles work great together on this camera

Image quality

Its full-frame sensor has amazing dynamic range on low ISOs. 24MP resolution – way too much for anyone except for pros taking shots for printing on billboards, but useful for cropping or reducing high-ISO noise when downsizing. Very nice built-in color profiles and aesthetic color reproduction – I like them much better than Adobe Lightroom ones. I hope I don’t sound like audiophiles, but you really should be able to see the effect of full-frame and large pixel size on the IQ – like there is “medium-format look” even with mediocre scans, I believe there is “full-frame look” better than APS-C or Micro 4/3.

Subtle HDR from a single photo? No problem with Sony A7 dynamic range!

Subtle HDR from a single photo? No problem with Sony A7 dynamic range.

IQ and amount of detail is amazing  - even on MF, shot with Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f 1.4

IQ and amount of detail is amazing – even on MF, shot with Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f 1.4

EVF and back display

Surprisingly pleasant in use, high resolution and dynamic range and fast. I was used to Fuji X100 laggy EVF (still useful at night or when doing precise composition) and on Sony A7 I feel huge difference. Switches between EVF and back display quite quickly and eye sensor works nice. Back display can be tilted and I used it already couple times (photos near the ground or above my head), a nice feature to have.

Manual focusing and compatibility with other lenses

This single advantage is really fantastic and I would buy this camera just because of that. Plugging in Voigtlander or Nikon lenses was super easy, camera automatically switched into manual focus mode and operated very well. Focusing with magnification and focus-assist is super easy and really pleasant. It feels like all those old manual cameras, same pleasure of slowly composing, focusing, taking your time and enjoying photography – but much more precise. With EVF and DoF preview always on you constantly think about DoF and its effect on composition, what will be sharp etc. To be honest, I never took so sharp and photos in my life – almost none deleted afterwards. So you spend more time on photo taking (it may be not acceptable for your friends or strangers asked to take a photo of you), but much less in post-processing and selection – again, kind of back to photography roots.

My wife photo shot using Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D - no AF gave me such precise results...

Photo of my wife. It was photo shot using Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D and MF – no AF ever gave me so precise results…

I like the composition and focus in this photo - shot using manual focus on Nikkor 50mm 1.4D

I like the composition and focus in this photo – shot using manual focus on Nikkor 50mm 1.4D

Quality of kit lens and image stabilization

I won’t write any detailed review of the kit lens – but it’s acceptably sharp, nice micro-contrast and color reproduction, you can correct distortion and vignetting easily in Lightroom and it’s easy to take great low-light photos with relatively longer exposure times due to very good image stabilization. AF is usually accurate. While I don’t intend to use this lens a lot, I have much more fun with primes, I will keep it in my bag for sure and it proves itself useful. Only downside is size (zoom FF lenses cannot be tiny…) – because it is surprisingly light!

Hand held photo taken using lens kit at night - no camera shake!

Hand held photo taken using lens kit at night – no camera shake!

Speed and handling

Again probably I feel so good about Sony A7 speed and handling because of moving from Fuji X100 – but ergonomics are great, it is fast to use and reacts quickly. Only disadvantage is how long it takes default photo preview and EVF showing image feed again – 2s is minimum time to select from a menu – way too long for me. There are tons of buttons configured very wisely by default – changing ISO or exposure compensation without taking your eye off the camera is easy.

Various additional modes

Pro photographer probably doesn’t need any panorama mode, or night mode that automatically combines many frames to decrease noise / camera shake / blur, but I’m not a pro photographer and I like those features – especially panoramas. Super easy to take, decent quality and no need to spend hours post-processing or relying on stitch apps!

In-camera panorama image

In-camera panorama image

What I don’t like

Current native lenses available

Current native FE (“full frame E-mount”) lens line-up is a joke. Apart from kit lens there are only 2 primes (why 35mm is only f/2.8 when so big?) and 2 zoom lenses – all definitely over-priced and too large. L There are some Samyang/Rokinon manual focus lenses available (I played a bit with 14mm 2.8 on Nikon and it was cheap and good quality – but way too large). There are rumors of many first and third party (Zeiss, Sigma, maybe Voigtlander) lenses to be announced at Photokina so we will see. For now one has to rely on adapters and manual focusing.

Lack of built-in or small external flash

A big problem for me. I very often use flash as fill light and here it’s not possible. L Smallest Sony flash HVL-F20AM is currently not available (and not so small anyway).

Not too bad photo - but would have been much better with some fill light from a flash...

Not too bad photo – but would have been much better with some fill light from a flash… (ok, I know – would be difficult to sync without ND filters / leaf shutter 🙂 )

What could be better but is not so bad

Accessories

System is very young so I expect things to improve – but currently availability of first or third party accessories (flashes, cases, screen protectors etc.) is way worse than for example Fuji X-series system. I hope things to change in the next months.

Not the best low light behavior

Well, maybe I’m picky and expected too much as I take tons of night photos and couple years ago it was one of the reasons I wanted to buy a full-frame camera. 🙂 But for a 2014 camera A7 high ISO quality degradation of detail (even in RAW files! they are not “true” RAW sensor feed…), color and dynamic range is a bit too high. A7S is much better in this area. Also the AF behavior is not perfect in low light…

Photo taken at night with Nikkor 50mm and f/1.4 - not too bad, but some grain visible and detail lost

Photo taken at night with Nikkor 50mm and f/1.4 – not too bad, but some grain visible and detail loss

Not best lens adapters

The adapters I have for Nikon and M-mount are OK. Their built quality seems acceptable and I didn’t see any problems yet. But they are expensive – 50-200 dolars for a piece of metal/plastic? It would be also nice to have some information in EXIF – for example option to manually specify set focal length or detect aperture? Also Nikon/Sony A-mount/Canon adapters are too big (they cannot be smaller due to design of the lens – focal plane distance must match DSLRs) – what’s the point of having small camera with big, unbalanced lenses?

Even with mediocre adapters can't complain about MF lens handling

Even with mediocre adapters can’t complain about MF lens handling and IQ

Kit zoom and tiny Nikkor 50mm 1.4D with adapter are too big... M-mount adapter and Voigtlander lens are much smaller and more useful.

Kit zoom and tiny Nikkor 50mm 1.4D with adapter are too big… M-mount adapter and Voigtlander lens are much smaller and more useful.

Photo preview mode

I don’t really like how magnification button is placed and that by default it magnifies a lot (to 100% image crop level). I didn’t see any setting to change it – I would expect progressive magnification and better button placement like on Nikon camera.

Wifi pairing with mobile

I don’t think I will use it a lot – but sometimes it could be cool for remote control. In such case I tried to set it up and it took me 5mins or so to figure it out – definitely not something to do when willing to take a single nice photo with your camera placed on a bench at night.

 

What’s next?

In the next couple days (hopefully before the Siggraph as after I have a lot more to write!) I promise I will add in separate posts:

  • More sample photos from my NYC trip
  • Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f/1.4 mini review – I’m really excited about this lens and it definitely deserves a separate review!

So stay tuned!

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2 Responses to Sony A7 review

  1. Pingback: Voigtlander Nokton Classic 40mm f1.4 M on Sony A7 Review | Bart Wronski

  2. Pingback: Sony TidBits… | sonyalpharumors

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