Putting the Sony A7 to the test. By Jimmy Emms

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Putting the Sony A7 to the test.

By Jimmy Emms

This is a very quick user review based on a month of shooting with the Sony A7 in a variety of situations. I got my Sony a7 coupled with Zeiss 35mm last month. I have shot with Sony gear ever since purchasing my first dslr, a Sony a100 a number of years ago now. I immediately put it to the test shooting a powerlifting competition at the Slaughterhouse Gym, in Tasmania, Australia. This is not a place for the fainthearted, but getting up close and personal with these guys can result in some great moments.

I’ve been shooting in the Slaughterhouse for a while now and have in the past relied on my trusty a850 or the a99.  With a big competition scheduled for the day after my a7 arrived I thought why not put this thing through its paces. The moment someone enters the venue they are greeted with a sign that says ‘Welcome To The Motherfucken Slaughterhouse’. This warm welcome was almost immediately followed with a chorus of questions about the little camera I’m using. The guys are used to seeing me with a an a99, a large zoom lens and Metz 76ct as my normal shooting gear and were not sure if this little machine would do the job required. Trust me I’m not going to risk letting these guys down and I have my a99 at the ready if need be.

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It’s easy to form an opinion of a camera based on its reviews from the big photography sites. Sometimes it seems that they put the microscope on so heavily that they are reviewing elements of the camera that in the real world we are unable to see. “The atoms in the Sony don’t quite equate to a quality we would see of the atoms in the Canon”, said some reviewer somewhere at some time. Fact is it’s usually total rubbish unless they’re talking about something with real impact on the shooting experience such as autofocus. Mirrorless system autofocus has been the whipping boy of dslr users since it’s first implementation. And rightly so, if you wanted to replace your dslr with a Sony, Fuji, Panasonic or Olympus and go out and shoot Usain Bolt for Sports Illustrated Magazine. They are two different tools, just as a builder has a big wrench and a little wrench for different jobs, we have the same. Many photographers will only ever need to undo the little nut. That said our little wrenches are being designed in such a way that we can now start to undo the bigger nuts and this could end up being a real game-changer when they nail it.

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I was concerned about the a7’s autofocus when I entered the Slaughterhouse Gym; I’d heard so much negative press about it. The light was low and I was shooting mostly iso 3200 but I found it to be snappy and accurate with very little hunting. The camera did miss a few shots and although it was not as quick as the a99 or as consistent as the a850 it was good enough. I have two boys and shoot them a lot. Being high-energy fast-moving subjects with no desire to pose, this can be a real test for a camera. With selective spot focus and continuous af the camera locks on quickly and doesn’t rest until they do, which is never. The next generation of these cameras should have an autofocus system similar or the same as the a6000, which will make something pretty good, even better.

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I only shoot raw files so I can’t comment on jpegs but the image quality is really, really good and the higher iso results are better than my a99. I’m not sure if the a7 and a99 have the same sensor, but they are both the same resolution and size and it seems to me that Sony have either produced a new improved sensor or improved the existing one, or the translucent mirror in the a99 makes a difference. I love to shoot landscape and although the 35mm is not a focal length I would normally use for this type of subject, I have found it a good challenge and the quality of the full-frame sensor just shines in these situations. Sony/Zeiss please bring out a 24mm prime soon.

I read on the dpreview review of the Fuji xt1, that in comparison the a7 ergonomics were nowhere near as good. Despite sensor size differences I believe these two are natural competitors and having handled both cameras I’m not sure I agree with the assessment of the review. The ergonomics of the a7 were as I would expect of a small but higher-end mirrorless camera, with a solid, well-built feel and a grip that feels great for a small camera. I won’t be checking the millimetres but they both feel around the same size and build quality, certainly the xt1 looks and feels an amazing and beautiful camera, but the a7 with the zeiss 35mm more than holds it’s own.

Another complaint I hear is startup time. Initially my thoughts were ‘seriously, it takes 2 seconds to startup instead of 1’. Annoyingly I have had the evf freeze up on me a couple of times now and I have to turn it off and back on, which is when the startup time seems to drag as I am mid-shooting. This can be painful but the evf freezing up is probably more of an issue. Speaking of the evf, it’s really a joy to use. As I said it has frozen a couple of times but only a couple, it’s not a regular occurrence and I am shooting all day sometimes. I know the purists hate them but they will be dragged kicking and screaming into the future, while viewing all the shooting information they need, because I can’t see too many cameras being produced with an ovf in ten years time.

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The complaints about a lack of native lenses in the system seem a bit disingenuous, as it is such a young system. I cannot wait for the new 16-35 to become available. The thought of being able to go into the wilderness with a small tripod and a 16-35 as the only lens would be a tantalizing prospect for many bushwalkers with limited room for heavy camera equipment. There is now a native focal length range spanning 16-200mm and if Sony adds a couple of truly fast primes, some more affordable fe lenses and maybe a longer telephoto in the next 12 months it will round out the available lens selections at this early stage.

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Battery life is one issue that I do have. I don’t own a charger yet, so in-camera battery charging is the annoying way I have to do it. Why can’t Sony throw a charger in to the package when we are spending well over a couple of grand for the lens-camera combination, especially considering the battery life is at best average.
As a Sony Alpha user I am used to their user interface and am happy with the way it works. The fact they are implementing it in their mirrorless system is a testament to the many complaints they received regarding the very confusing NEX version.

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In the next incarnations of these cameras I would simply like to see an improvement in the autofocus, a faster frame-rate and improved battery life with a battery charger included in the package. All the bells and whistles will come with it I’m sure, but frankly I don’t care about those, I shoot a lot and just want an easy to use device that is lightweight and capable of producing high-quality images if the photographer is doing the right stuff.

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I have used this camera in a variety of different shooting situations and overall find it to be a fantastic backup for my system. It’s not perfect, no camera is, but it allows me to shoot all sorts of stuff from big, ugly powerlifters, to my kids and the very beautiful Tasmanian landscapes that dominate where I live. I have really enjoyed the shooting experience and feel that the full-frame makes it more versatile as I like to print and hopefully sell some of the shots I take.

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To view more images go to www.facebook.com/jimmyemmsphotography

 

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57 Comments

  1. The photos are good, though a bit overcooked, I would like to say it is a matter of liiking

  2. “The complaints about a lack of native lenses in the system seem a bit disingenuous”

    I disagree. Sony has a valid reputation for not fleshing out their systems, as well as a decades long history of abandoning tech after really really pushing it and promising to support it (all the way back to betamax, then mini disc, etc. etc.). Is the a7 still three bodies and four lenses (or have they created a new lens or body). And what happens now with the NEX mount? Are they forced to use adapted FF lenses with the higher price and larger size?

    Until Sony shows consistency and abandons the “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” approach to development , any criticism or caveat seems valid, despite their high level of innovation.

  3. I would far rather look at the photographers imagination rather than test’s of a camera. Why we need non-lab tests of a modern camera is beyond belief as no cameras are rubbish at what they do. A lab test can talk about the fine differences, but in the field it should just be about the images, and the camera relegated to the EXIF file.

  4. Art is subjective, not everyone has the same tastes, just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There are no rules on how and what you use to create art, it’s the end result. Either you like it or not. I like all types of photography including HDR 😉

  5. Has no one else noticed that the Sony cameras seem to have an HDR quality to their images naturally? If you boost micro contrast a bit and flatten or lessen the overall contrast of the image you get a very HDR feeling photo. But the native dynamic range and excellent sharpness of an these full frame, even APSC, Sony images gives the HDR feel automatically… For better or worse depending on who you ask.

    • Natural? That would not be good and I don’t think that’s correct. Have a look again at the sharpness; tell me if you think it looks natural. I don’t think it does, particularly in the b&w images, where the leading edges have a white glow. Just look.

      • I mean’t natural as in native to the Sony image processing algorithm and sensor. I agree that the images have an HDR feel to them but the Sony images lend themselves to that look. He may have done some processing to intensify that such as boosting micro contrast and shadows and midtones, but these do not look like multiple image HDR composites. It could be a setting in the camera or just the way he likes to process. Every image I’ve seen from the RX1r w no AA filter has this look too. When you put nice glass on the A7 models or even the high end NEX models, or the Ricoh GR by itself, the images all have this surreal sharpness to them that looks HDRish especially if you lean toward that look in processing.

        • Thanks for your reply Nathan. I used “natural” in two different meanings, which was slightly confusing.

          I must say I much prefer the “soft sharpness”, as I now – fondly – call it (and immense dynamic range) that my D800 gives me, to the oversharpened look of these images.

          That’s probably oldfashioned. I always go for the “less interference is better” look. Must be something carried over from my b&w film days.

    • I don’t think most of the comments regarding HDR have anything to do with the perceived dynamic range of the photography, but rather the sharpening (read halos and white outlines) on many of the subjects in the photos. The dynamic range of this camera, and even the NEX cameras is very impressive and certainly useful, but when teasing it out, you have be mindful of the halo effect it can have. I shoot mostly landscapes in Washington state and can attest to having been too aggressive on my earlier photos where you will see the halos around trees against a blue sky.

      Impressive set of photos though, and the OP has a very good eye for photography.

  6. It seems more like putting HDR to the test here. Lovely images, though. I really like the long exposure shot on the beach. Sadly, the rest seems to be over processing. I believe the A7 is a good camera,and i wish i could see more from the camera point of view. Not from the post processing point. :-)) Keep shooting here, Jimmy. You have great eyes to capture the moment. :-))

  7. I don’t understand why people attack anyone who dares to make a critical comment about the photos people send in. If the only allowable comments for what frequently are mediocre, often very over processed (at least to some of us) photos are “wonderful”, “some of the best I’ve seen”, “amazing”, etc then the comments section becomes totally worthless except as an ego boost.

    • The problem is that many critical comments are purely mean spirited and worthless. It’s fine to express one’s opinion but why not be constructive and helpful rather than be derogatory and demeaning. Would a teacher yell at a student because they can’t paint like Picasso?

      • I don’t see you commenting on the positive critical comments. You just seem to be a member of the ethics police.

  8. Thanks for the article and photos and your enthusiasm for the a7. I have discovered that my photos which are out of focus all have registered a very slow shutter speed. And I don’t know.where that speed came from. The usual 1/60 can be cracked by S priority or M. But why the speed gets so much lower and out of control, at times, I don’t know.
    I rented the Zeiss FE 55mm. Addictive!
    Always wanted to go to Tasmania, but usually in Oz Aug-Sept when not the best time.True?

  9. I am just soooo curious as to why a gym is not “for the fainthearted”.

    What, do they beat up the weaker kids in there?

  10. I really enjoyed the novel look, HDR or not. The cow almost looks drawn with pastel chalk and the image is really impactful. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Nice article. I found it informative. I like your pictures also. The “boys on the beach” is brilliant. PP is a bit over the top for my taste in many images.

  12. To the people who hate negative comments: Why can’t you stand it if someone doesn’t like some pictures? A negative comment is a contribution. I think a blog, where every picture is commented as “great” “wonderful” “loved” is completely worthless.

  13. I concentrated on the power lifting shots (for consistency, ha ha) and found them very interesting. Nice little subculture there. I wonder if all those “supplements” enhance your health but hey, that’s all part of the attraction I guess.

    Two comments. Although I recognize the difficulties one would meet shooting there, for some shots I woud have preferred to get in closer, and use a wider aperture. As for the processing? The sharpening looks very unnatural; take for instance a close look at the body outline of the female power lifter. Weird.

    • And I can’t really see why the heavy sharpening (if that’s what it is) was necessary. I feel the images were great as they were.

  14. Nice article, Jimmy. With beautiful pictures.
    What surprised me is that you mention the freezing of the EVF. I own an A7r, one of the very first that came to Belgium, and had an NEX-7 befor that. I never experienced any freezing of the EVF – I even didn’t know that it could occur. So I wonder if this an exemplary issue for your camera, or if more people experienced it.
    Regarding battery life, there’s already so much written about it, that I can say only one thing: to everybody who orders this camera, order the charger with it from the start. It makes it a bit more expensive, but it’s still so much value for the money… And another consideration: if you ad the vertical grip, you can mount two batteries, you’ll be able to monitor them both in the viewfinder, and if you carry one extra battery, you’ll never be in trouble. You’ll never have to charge a battery before it’s completely empty and will always have two full batteries to start with.

  15. Well done! Although I’m not to fond of HDR images in my own photos, that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate one’s that are appealing; yours certainly are!

    I love my a7r and am patiently waiting for the 16-35 as well!

    Cheers

  16. Great shots. Just by the way, I don’t think that these are HDR at all. Im pretty certain that all the photos have been edited from a single raw file. Having used the A7r extensively, I can vouch for the fact that the dynamic range of the sensor is insaneeee. You can pull out the shadows and pull back highlights like you have never seen before.

  17. Great photos. Don’t pay any attention to the no-talent keyboard jockeys polluting your article.

    • couldn’t agree more. don’t like hacks that use HDR as a crutch. obviously, this photographer doesn’t fall in that category as his images demonstrate solid composition and artistic style – the HDR simply enhances his art. good job! (…and i love my A7 too!)

  18. Not as bad as the hipster coup shots on the DF but way over processed. Could of shot these in snapseed on the phone. Can you please put some less software crazy snappers Steve?

    • Dear Ed
      Who the heck do you think you are?
      Why should Steve filter posts to suit your taste!
      I am not a great fan of HDR but think these shots are excellent

      • Why should Steve filter comments to suit your opinion?
        Of course it would be nice if Ed would patiently explain why he doesn’t like them, and maybe he could even give some friendly advise, like ‘keep an eye on the results, do they look like they went through a lot of processing? Do they look natural? Do you even want them to look natural? Do you want your viewers to be able to tell you’ve been post-processing and how you’ve been doing it?’ But not everybody is a soft spoken tender teacher.

      • I don’t think only photographers are allowed to have an opinion about photos. Even a weight lifter should be able to say he doesn’t like them.

    • According to YOU. I think art is a matter of ones personal taste. Life ain’t a one way street.

    • When you feel a little more positive, please feel free to elaborate on why its terrible and how you think the processing can be improved.

    • I just simply couldn’t disagree more. I love the processing. The images of his two sons on the beach is “great” IMO. It’s an artistic expression, and the article is about the usefulness of the camera, why the need to poke at the processing?

      • @Jon McGuffin, I love the photo of the sons on the beach but not the post processing, @Be Positive, to be more positive I’d say that that wonderful photograph didn’t need an extreme processing, the halos are distracting and give it a less happy atmosphere. They’re in public to public feedback. I think that the gentleman is in the phase several had: to discover for first time hdr software, filters packs, saturation sliders, etcera. But I see he has a nice eye so I’m sure in the future he’s going to get even better photographs.

  19. Loved the black and whites… I honestly didn’t notice the HDR if there was any. But great use of the camera and great eye and photography by the photographer. Like you said Different tools for different jobs. I owned the RX1 for 5-6 months str8 with no other cameras and I took some amazing work despite the limitations.

  20. I ‘m using a7+35mm f/2.8 for wedding snaps mostly.
    My main problem is the color rendition of the faces.
    It produces reddish skin tones that need big manipulation to go away .
    The problem occurs when set in Portrait mode both in-camera AND during raw processing in LR5.4.
    Do you suggest any other settings for PORTRAITS ?

    • Can’t say I’ve noticed that problem but it might be worth double checking your WB. IMHO that’s still an area where the Sony’s can drift a bit.

        • the upper row, 3 on the right should be D4, the first 2 in that row and the last at bottom are a7. I do not need to open them individually, you see on the thumbnails how much more fine the resolution of the A7 is. I only opened the lady with the boy, and must say that D4 resolves quiet a lot of detail. For general use it is a good camera, just much too expensive.

          • I was hoping the reddish skin of a7 shows up odd enough but it is not so pronounced in web pages. Perhaps it has to do with ICC profiles of web page and/or user monitor.
            01,04 are from D4 – 02,03,05,06 are from A7.

    • Don’t use portrait mode. Set it to P (A or M would be better) and shoot raw + jpeg. Portrait mode is handy for new folks but as your skill improves, leave it behind. The color on Sony’s are excellent.

      • Creative Style (Sony) or Picture Control (Nikon) has nothing to do with Exposure (P,S,A,M) nor Quality (Raw, etc).
        It is the tonality translation and reproduction.
        We want the lowest possible contrast for smooth skin.
        Portrait Mode is ideal except for the reddish flesh (Sony only)

  21. Nice article and images. FYI, Sony/Zeiss does have a 24 mm f/1.8 prime available. Not sure if it’s FF though.

    • They have a 24mm for the “E” and Alpha mounts but not the “FE” mount. The Alpha version is great with the adapter as it focuses rather fast but it’s a little heavy.

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