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Sony a7R Field Reports

On February 14, 2014 I took delivery of my newest camera body – the recently released full-frame mirrorless 36.4MP Sony Alpha a7R digital camera.

Photo Feb 15, 12 35 18 PM

I purchased this camera expecting it to be a replacement to my old Canon 5DII digital SLR camera body. As a fine art photographer who specializes in primarily landscape photography printed large (currently up to 10 feet) resolution and image quality are among my top requirements for a camera.

I passed on the Canon 5DIII when it was released a few years back, finding it not too much more impressive spec-wise than the 5DII. Not wanting to wait any longer for Canon to release an update to the 5DIII I decided to jump ship to Sony, who seems to be innovating at a breakneck speed these days.

What follows is a collection of field reports as I learn how to use this camera and incorporate it into my fine art photography. 

Before I begin the field reports – which will be posted unscheduled over the course of the next month or so – I want to make note of a few things. First off if you are looking for a full blown review talking about every camera function, studio test shots, downloadable sample files and such take a look at the great review on dpreview.com.

These field reports will cover how I use the camera for my type and style of photography. I won’t be photographing brick walls to analyze distortion or edge sharpness and I won’t be commenting too much on photos and image quality (IQ) prior to their processing and enhancement in RAW software. What you will see is reports and commentary from real world usage, under the normal conditions I photograph regularly.

With that in mind I hope you find these reports beneficial and feel free to ask questions or add your comments below.

Field Report #1 – Feb. 15, 2014
Field Report #2 – Feb. 19, 2014

On to the first report:

The first 24 hours.

Random collection of thoughts and observations

– Immediately after taking the camera out of the box I was impressed with the solid feel of the camera. With the sharp angles on the body I am reminded of old rangefinder film cameras that I used to be fond of.

Photo Feb 15, 12 40 12 PM
– Camera is definitely smaller than my 5DII
– Put the battery in the camera along with a 16GB memory card, and found out there was not enough juice in the battery to format the card. Had to charge battery first before use. Camera needs to be plugged into an outlet via an included USB cable to charge the battery. Disappointed it doesn’t come with a wall charger – something I will have to order. I did purchase an extra battery as I heard battery life in this camera is poor.
– Lots of pages in the poorly designed manual, which doesn’t go into much detail on anything specific. Read the review from dpreview.com to better understand the camera and functions.
– Speaking of manuals, there was none included in the Metabones III adapter I purchased to allow me to connect my Canon EF lenses to the camera. In fact there was no paperwork at all included with it – no warranty card, no manual, no paper saying go to such-and-such website for more info. Had to google Metabones website to look up how to use the adapter.
– Can’t figure out a way to remove AF from the shutter button and use a rear camera button for AF like I can on my Canon cameras – a big annoyance as I have shot like that for almost 20 years.
– Wish exposure compensation dial had a lock on it to avoid accidental turning – which has already happened once.
– Electronic viewfinder (EVF) is sharp and bright – could use a higher resolution though.
– Like how the EVF turns off and back LCD turns back on when you stop looking through the EVF, and likewise the LDC turns off and the EVF turns on automatically when you look through the EVF.
– Rear control dial is hyper sensitive.
– Very cool focusing function: when set up properly, manually turning the focus ring on your lens instantly brings up a zoomed-in version in both the EVF and LCD allowing for critical manual focusing accuracy. This function I am going to enjoy a lot – I don’t use AF much and always fine-tune focusing manually.
– Metabones adapter larger than I would like, but I do like the tripod mount on it. Can’t take it off the camera when you have a tripod head plate attached to it however.
Can’t find any mention about auto exposure bracketing (AEB). Is it on this camera? Such a basic function should be easy to find. UPDATE: Found it buried in the Drive Mode menu – . No way to use self timer with it – not very good.
– What is the technique for shooting in the panoramic mode? In 10 attempts, I had one pano. The manual of course doesn’t help.
Tried transferring images via wifi from camera to smartphone – was able to connect but how does one transfer images? The manual doesn’t mention. Do I need an app? UPDATE: Found out one needs the free Sony app PlayMemories Mobile to transfer wirelessly from the camera to an iPad/iPhone – cool. 
– Dust spots on the sensor already. At least this camera should be easier to clean with the sensor being so close to the lens mount.
– Shutter is noisy – but weirdly has a nice sound to it.

Photo Feb 15, 12 39 55 PM
– With camera, adapter, and Canon 17-40mm f4 L lens the setup feels well balanced and solid.
– Camera shows up on my Mac just like an external hard drive when connected via USB cable – nice! My Canons never did.

Onto some images I photographed the first 24 hours:

– I already had an idea of the IQ of this camera prior to purchasing, having downloaded some RAW files on the net last week to play with. I found with those images that with using Capture One Pro to process the RAW and Perfect Photo Suite to upsize it, it looks like I could print 40″x60″ files at 300dpi with this camera – just what I want it for!
– Noise levels are down quite a bit from the 5DII at 100 ISO and the difference between the two cameras increases as the ISO increases.
– The Canon 17-40mm is tack sharp with the Metabones adapter.

RAW file with no processing

RAW file with no processing

– I wanted to check out the dynamic range (DR) of the camera. By exposing for the highlights in this image, my foreground came out nearly black. Using Capture One Pro I have found I can bring back quite a bit of shadow detail (with added noise) from RAW files and wanted to see if the Sony a7R could compete in that regard, as this is very important for my photography.

Not bad with some quick processing in Capture One Pro.

Not bad with some quick processing in Capture One Pro.

With some quick adjustments in Capture One Pro I was able to bring out quite a bit of shadow detail. I found less noise than I am used to seeing in the Canon 5DII as well. This scene was photographed hand-held at 1/50s at f/13. Below shows a 100% crop from the lower left.

There is noise - but not bad considering how dark the original was and that it was shot at 640 ISO.

There is noise – but not bad considering how dark the original was and that it was shot at 640 ISO.

 

I took the camera outdoors when the sky was nearly black and photographed the outside of this restaurant at ISO 12800 to check out how it handled high ISO’s. The camera was hand-held braced on the side against a solid object and was photographed at 0.1s at f/4. I have to say I am impressed with the results.

Hand-held braced against a solid object at 0.1s at f4 at ISO 12,800

Hand-held braced against a solid object at 0.1s at f/ at ISO 12,800

As you can see in the 100% closeup sharpness did suffer – in particular the tree – but damn, it was so dark outside and camera was not on a tripod…

100% view, photographed at 0.1s at f4 at ISO 12,800

100% view, photographed at 0.1s at f/4 at ISO 12,800

 

And speaking of high IOS’s – can you imagine ISO 25,600?

ISO 25,600 at 1/80s at f/4

ISO 25,600 at 1/80s at f/4

 

I wanted to see how the sensor preformed when photographing directly into the sun. This type of photography is very demanding on the equipment, and if this one scene is any indication, the Sony a7R will preform very well in these types of situations.

Hand-held at 1/640s at f16 at ISO 320

Hand-held at 1/640s at f/16 at ISO 320. This was photographed and processed just like the earlier sample, using Capture One Pro to bring out all of the shadow detail.

 

And lastly, here is another sample that I processed into a black & white in Capture One Pro.

Photographed at 1/1000s at f/5 at ISO 320 and processed in Capture One Pro.

Photographed at 1/1000s at f/5 at ISO 320 and processed in Capture One Pro.

 

Conclusions after my first 24 hours with the Sony a7R

I know this camera isn’t for everyone. If you depend on quick shooting and need superior AF speed this camera isn’t going to be for you. If you work a lot slower, use a tripod often, and are looking for superior IQ, so far it seems like this camera is going to fit the bill.

I will be updating this field report again soon, as I continue to explore the possibilities with this great little camera. To get updated on new posts to this report you can subscribe to my blog by submitting your email address in the appropriate spot on the right hand side of this web page.

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4 comments

  • Jim Parker February 15, 2014   Reply →

    I’ll be very interested in what you report on followups with this body.
    I found that Sony’s interface was pretty lacking on the NEX-7 as well. It took a long time to figure out how to work it like a pro normally would. For a while, you couldn’t do a auto-exposure bracket with anything other than .3 of a stop. Firmware finally fixed that, along with a lockout for the very annoying video button next to the thumb rest.
    Things I like about the Sony that you can’t get on the Mark 5D without Magic Lantern:
    Focus Peaking: you should be able to turn that on in the interface, and it will give you a red pattern when using manual focus. Quite helpful.
    Exposure bracketing may be under the shutter dial selector, along with the self-timer and other shutter modes.
    The thumb dial on the NEX-7 holds a myriad of charms. One direction is display mode, one direction is shutter mode… once you get used to it, it’s quite quick.
    I am assuming that the A7 improves on the NEX-7, and adds some charm of its own.

    PS: I tried the MetaBones adapter for the NEX-7 and sent it back. For the smaller NEX-7, it just didn’t make sense to carry a tiny camera with a ginormous lens. Worked fine, but added a LOT of weight to a very small package.

    • Matt Suess February 16, 2014   Reply →

      Thanks Jim for your thoughts!

      Been trying to use the focus peaking – gonna take some time to find out it’s strengths and especially it’s weaknesses. I eventually found the exposure bracketing – but man, they still haven’t allowed it to be used with the self timer yet!!

      Really looking forward to new Sony lenses, as yes it isn’t ideal using Canon glass with the adapter – smaller is better, right?

  • Ted Wendel February 15, 2014   Reply →

    Matt,
    Bought Sony A7 as an additional light weight body. Your comments are great and accurate. I wondered if you could document the focus zoom function you mentiond.

    • Matt Suess February 16, 2014   Reply →

      Sure thing Ted – I will talk more about that in a future field report!

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