Just over three years ago I wrote an article titled "Why the A7r is not for you" shortly after I sold all my Canon gear and made to switch to the newly released full frame Sony e-mounts. The a7r was by no means the perfect camera and Sony's e-mount game wasn't ideal for prime time. I had some specific gripes about the A7r, has Sony addressed any of these? Since the initial release of the A7 and A7r we have been greeted with the A7S, A72, A7R2 and A7S2. But has anything really changed over the past three years? Lets have a look...
Problem 1: Charging up
First thing first....THANK YOU Sony! I was pretty bummed that Sony decided to only include one battery and no actual battery charger with the A7r. This was pretty shitty of Sony to do, but third party options were available at the time and I picked up some spare Sony batteries and an external battery charger. I don't remember which camera was first...but Sony finally started including two batteries and a proper battery charger with the A7X series. Battery life still isn't the best which can be an issue for wedding and event shooters. I've read about people carrying 5+ batteries. I've never gone thru that many batteries personally, 2 max, though I can see someone going thru 3+ during a long wedding. If constant power is an issue for you time lapsers, you're covered as well. B&H sells this: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/712856-REG/Sony_ACPW20_AC_Adapter_for_NEX3_5.html (non-affiliate link, there are some other cheaper options out there...this is just one I came across that gets pretty good reviews and is genuine Sony)
Solved: I'd call this one solved, at least when it comes to charging by including an actual battery charger. The battery life isn't great...by any means, however there are some battery saving tips out there if you google it. For me battery life isn't a huge issue. Regardless, with previous digital cameras I'd carry at least one spare battery anyway (which were considerably bigger). If you're shooting 1000 photos in the span of a few hours...perhaps these cameras aren't for you. And maybe...just maybe...you could be shooting a bit less.
Problem 2: Lenses
Since three years ago, things have REALLY changed in the lens department. Are people still complaining? Of course...it's the inter webs for the love of god and we're dealing with a bunch of Prima Donna photographers. As I mentioned previously, there is an endless possibility of lenses you can mate to the A7x series by using adapters. Majority of these will be manual only and there are a few adapters that allow auto-focus, however results may vary. I personally use a Metabones IV adapter, BUT I don't have any AF Canon EF lenses remaining so I cannot personally comment on how well things work these days. I've heard some good, and some bad. Maybe I'll see if I can borrow some AF lenses and try them out. The thing to keep in mind is Metabones offers firmware updates to their adapter...make sure you're updating, and not all Canon lenses preform equally well when adapted.
But the big news comes in the availability of native e-mount lenses:
For starters, lets look at actual Sony branded glass: There's the 55/f1.8, 35/f2.8, 35/f1.4, 16-35/f4, 50/f1.4, 50/f1.8, 50/f2.8 Macro, 90/f2.8 Macro, 28/f2, 70-300/f5.4.5-f5.6, 70-200/f4, 70-200/f2.8, 28-135/f4, 24-240/f3.5-f6.3, 28-70/f3.5-f5.6, 24-70/f4, 24-70/f2.8, 85/f1.4 and two teleconverters, a 1.4x and 2x. (Update: Sony has just announced a 100/2.8 STF and a 85/1.8) Well...that's quite a few lenses (no shortage of 50's...sheesh). Not the cheapest lenses around which is the biggest complaint. But lets admit it....Sony doesn't have the volume of sales of Canon or Nikon...it's not really surprising they are more expensive, then of course, it's Sony. If this a problem for you, go buy something cheaper, it's that simple. Pick up some of the cropped sensor Sony's like the A6000 and the cheaper lens offerings. Now lets look at other offerings from third party:
Samyang/Rokinon: In the manual focus round-up: 12/f2.8 Fisheye, 14/f2.8, 24/f1.4, 24/3.5 Tiltshift, 35/1.4, 50/f1.4, 85/f1.4, 100/2.8 Macro, and 135/f2. Recently, Samyang has released two auto-focus lenses, the 14/f2.8 and the 50/f1.4.
Zeiss Loxia: 21/f2.8, 35/f2, 50/f2, and 85/f2.4. (these are all manual focus)
Zeiss Batis: 18/f2.8, 25/f2, 85/f1.8 (these are all AF lenses)
Next you have offerings from Meyer-Optik, Venus Optics, SLR Magic, HandeVision, Mitakon, Tokina, Sigma now makes an EF-E adapter and I'm sure there are some I'm missing...maybe.
An honorable mention is Voigtlander who early last year started releasing E-mount lenses. I'm waiting to get my hands on one...but one that really stands out is the 10mm/f5.6. Currently the widest full frame lens (non-fisheye) that you can get and is available for (only?) e-mount. You can checkout Phillip's review of this ultra (hyper) wide here: https://phillipreeve.net/blog/review-voigtlander-10mm-5-6-e-hyper-wide-heliar/
Three years ago there were three lenses available for purchase in native e-mount. Now...well there's a considerable amount. Factor in the A-Mount lenses that can be adapted using the Sony LAEA# adapters. So now, what is there to bitch about? Well...we're photographers...we bitch about everything. Personally, I'd like to see a native AF 135 lens (F2 or F1.8), a long telephoto and a tilt-shift or two, though since tilt shift lenses are manual focus anyway...not a huge deal, I shot for three years with the Canon 17mm TS-E and am considering picking up the Samyang 24mm here soon. Please...no more 50's, for the love of god...no more 50's. And of course...as I spoke of before, vintage lenses and other brands have even more adapters available for them.
Solved: We can complain about the pricing of some of these lenses...sure. Have you seen the price tag on the 70-200 2.8 G Master? $2600...but it's still in the territory of the Nikon 70-200/2.8 if not slightly cheaper. The image quality and build quality of the Sony/Zeiss lenses is great and you're paying for that image quality. My only gripe about these AF lenses is the focus by wire manual focusing. There's no feeling to them, depending on how fast or slow you turn the focus ring, it'll throw focus differently. I don't know...if you haven't shot with standard mechanical focus rings, you probably don't know what I'm talking about, or at least don't have anything to compare it to. And Sony is not the only one guilty here, Fuji's lenses for their x-series cameras are all focus by wire as well. I've only read opinion pieces as to why these decisions were made...maybe it's the way of the future, I personally don't like it.
Problem 3: That damn hot shoe (multi interface shoe)
I didn't talk about this previously for two reasons. Back then I wasn't really using flash as all I was shooting was cityscapes. Secondly there were no flash systems available for Sony. Only option you had was to use standard center pin transmitters which worked fine with whatever flash/strobe you wanted to use as long as you stayed under the max sync speed. Over the past three years, numerous triggers have come out supporting HSS (high speed sync) and TTL (thru the lens 'metering'). My first question is this:
What the hell were you thinking Sony?!? The multi interface shoe? What are these multiple interfaces first of all? Secondly, you take a well known, proven standard, and you change it? Who do you think you are, Apple? Ugh!
Look, I'm all for innovation and even things like Apple getting rid of the headphone jack don't bother me too much (mainly as I only use bluetooth headphones with my phone), but this MIS is just silly and really makes me understand the people upset with Apple's decision to get rid of the 3.5mm headphone jack. You know those little protective caps that come with flashes when you first buy them or that sits inside of the hot shoe on your cameras? Normally, you toss those. Not with this connector! You need them to protect the tiny little strip of wires from getting damaged. We went from a metal connector with metal pins to a fragile strip of tiny wires. I just don't get it. This is a perfect example of Sony pulling a Sony. Silly. Just make sure you keep your hot shoe free of debris and check it before attaching anything.
Problem 4: Single SD card slot
This could be the number one thing that prevents a lot of professionals from moving over to Sony mirrorless. I feel that it's also the number one piece of evidence that Sony isn't serious about the A7x series being marketed towards professionals. While I personally have never had an SD card fail on me (knock on wood), the truth of the matter is, they can...and they do fail. I've often pondered to myself how I would explain to a client "I've lost all your photos because my memory card failed". Depending on the client...this could be a major blow to your business. For someone that's relying on income from their photography business as 100% of their income, every picture is possible profit. I would be more than happy if Sony made the camera 1 or 2 millimeters bigger in order to fit two SD card slots in there. And there's no excuse because Fuji has done it on the XT2. Get off your ass Sony! You were more than happy to force Sony Memory Sticks into everything a decade ago. Give us a second SD slot!
Problem 5: It's expensive
This isn't really a problem per-say. It's really more of who the audience is you're pandering to. A $3000 camera body isn't exactly something that everyone is rushing out to buy. BUT...this does show who the target audience is for Sony. Toss in another grand or more each for good lenses, you could quickly find yourself with $10K vested into the system. That's quite an investment.
Problem 6: Lighting
So this is separate from problem number 3 and as of the past few months is really no longer an issue. Specifically here I'm referring to off-camera flash specifically systems made for Sony's MIS with HSS and TTL support. Options were originally limited to nothing. This meant you could still shoot with off-camera flash using any standard center pin trigger. But now you have lots of options. Most recently Profoto has introduced their Sony trigger. When a company that sells $2000+ strobes starts supporting, that's a very good sign and will only result in other companies adding support.
Personally, I use Godox flashes and strobes. You will find these Chinese products rebranded in a wide variety of names. Adorama has their own line that's based off of the Godox brand. Same with Neewer and CheetahStand (and countless others). I'm a huge fan of CheetahStand. Their customer service is absolutely outstanding. I recommend you check them out at www.cheetahstand.com
Speaking specifically about Godox models (each rebrand has their own model names so it'll get too confusing if I start mix and matching) I own a few of their lights. Really this is going to be a whole separate blog post, but I thought I'd gloss over it here real quick. All of their newer lights support HSS and have built in wireless receivers, and you have TTL versions of most of their lights. And most importantly, they are crazy affordable! I can purchase a multiple light setup for the cost of one Profoto B1.
The only lights I haven't purchased is their QT series. These are non-battery power lights. But their TT600/TT685 speed lights have served me amazingly. The AD360 bare bulb flashes are mobile power houses and lastly the AD600 which will give the B1 a run for it's money.
So why is it not for me?
I think only you can answer this question. If you're shooting any of the upper range Canon's or Nikon's...the question is why do you want to change over? At the time when I transitioned over three years ago there was a gap that Canon wasn't quite filling. The ability to use legacy glass, the high MP, the smaller form factor, and my willingness to try something new.
So how about some positives
- The build quality of the A7R2 has gotten better since the original A7r. It's beefier and has a better finish. It actually feels like a professional camera in your hand which the A7r didn't really have.
Autofocus has improved drastically since the original A7r. While it still frustrates me at times the improvement is undeniable. Just last week I shot a poorly lit football practice at ISO 12,800 and used continuous AF and it worked like a champ.
- It does some video crap. Sorry I don't do video and can't speak to any pros and cons of the A7R2's video capabilities. I read that it does a good job, but that's all I can really tell you.
- That 42MP sensor is absolutely amazing! I can push/pull shadows and highlights an insane amount. The detail in photos is simply amazing.
- 5-axis SteadyShot image stabilization is quite impressive. Even if shooting with manual lenses with an adapter. Admittedly I tend to forget to turn it on at times when I probably should. *sigh*
- The electronic view finder has seen some improvements and is a blast to use. If you still haven't bought off on dropping the optical view finder in favor of the EVF, give the A7R2's a try. If you don't like it, then you're not going to find one that meets your liking. So there's another reason why the A7R2 is not for you. Also, just a side note....remember that using the EVF uses more battery than using the rear LCD. Just something to remember if you're getting low on juice.
- Eye-AF - If you're shooting portraits then Eye-AF may be for you. A single press of a button and the camera automatically focuses on the subject's eye or face if eye is not viewable. I don't use it very often as my experience has been hit or miss with it, but I know some incredibly talented portrait photographers that swear by it. Maybe I just need to practice with it more.
- A whole lot of custom buttons. I actually initially forgot about this and am adding this.... The only real drawback of custom buttons is you can't just pick-up a camera and run with it. How often do you find yourself in that situation though? And honestly I can hit the custom button menu and have it all setup to my liking in less than 2 minutes. I wish there was some 5 digit (or however many digits you'd need to cover all the possible combinations) pin where you could recall "your" setup on any camera. I don't know how feasible that would be...anyway I digress. And it's not just limited to the "C" buttons either. Almost every button is customizable.
The magic question huh? Sony has put out a hell of a camera here. But it's not for everyone, and not anyone can decide that for you. Is having dual card slots important for you? Hate EVF's? Don't want to carry more than 1 spare battery? Do you print? Print LARGE?
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Have a specific question on the A7R2 or any of the A7x series or anything else for that matter? Leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer.
Now that my move to back to Dubai has finally calmed down I can get back to blogging more. Currently in the works: (if you have any specific questions about any of these...leave a comment and I'll be sure to include it in the review)
Peak Design bags (every day messenger, backpack and sling)
Fuji GFX 50S