More thoughts on the Sony a7R

Gary Hart Photography: Rocks at Sunset, Garrapata Beach, Big Sur

Rocks at Sunset, Garrapata Beach, Big Sur
Sony a7R
Sony/Zeiss 16-35
1/15 seconds
F/20
ISO 100

Read my original thoughts on the Sony a7R in my November 25 post, “New trick, old dog.

It’s been about two months since I switched my primary camera from a Canon 5D Mark III to a Sony a7R. After a lifetime of seeing the “actual” world through my viewfinder, (for me at least) there has been some adjustment to trusting a digital facsimile of the world. I’m actually surprised by how long the adjustment is taking, but I’m getting there (and your results may vary). And this is really more my problem than the camera’s—I have no significant complaints with the camera’s interface or handling.

Another thing to prepare for is a lot more sensor dust. Unlike and SLR, which has a mirror and shutter to protect the sensor, a mirrorless sensor is pretty much exposed to the elements when the lens is removed. At the very least you’ll want to blow the sensor after each use, and do more aggressive cleaning very regularly.

On the positive side of the ledger, I appreciate the a7R’s extreme customizability. And I’m finding focus-peaking and (especially) the focus magnifier to be a godsend for my shooting style—I obsessively seek subjects from near to far in my frame, and am more than happy to forego the speed of autofocus for the precision of manual focus. As my trust in the a7R’s electronic focus aids grows, I find manual focusing so effortless that I never even attempt autofocus (nor do I miss using it).

But more important than interface and usability pluses and minuses, I continue to be blown away by the quality of the images I get from this camera. The a7R’s dynamic range is the stuff of dreams, and the sharpness and resolution continue to thrill me. I’m admittedly not a pixel-peeper, but I’ve not encountered any of the lens concerns some have reported online—my Sony/Zeiss 16-35, 24-70, and Sony 70-200 lenses are sharper than my Canon L glass. Period. I purchased the Metabones Canon-to-Sony adapter fully expecting to use my Canon lenses a lot, but so far have only used the Metabones once (it works fine).

I do have a concern about the sturdiness of the the a7R lens mount—all my lenses wobble too much where they connect to the body, and with minimal pressure can be removed without pressing the unlock button (some more easily than others). Conducting workshops gives me unique exposure to other cameras, and I can say that I’ve seen several a7Rs and they all exhibit this problem. But in a refreshing change of pace from my Canon experience, it appears that Sony has quickly (albeit tacitly) recognized the problem and improved the mount in its newer a7S and a7II bodies. While I’ve heard nothing about a lens mount recall of the first generation Sony a7 bodies (a recall that I feel would be justified), I won’t stress it too much because I found a simple and inexpensive solution: The Fotodiox TOUGH E-Mount completely fixed the problem on my a7R. I consider the Fotodiox mount a must for any Sony E-mount body the preceded the a7S. Installation is quite simple, but here’s a word to the wise: Before attempt the replacement, watch the video on the Fotodiox page; also note that you’ll need a Phillips #000 screwdriver (despite the picture on the website, one isn’t included with the mount).

And since we’re talking about things you might want to purchase, the a7R does not come with a battery charger. Instead, Sony gives you a USB cable that plugs into your camera and connects to the provided adapter (or any other USB adapter—I can plug their cable with my iPhone, Kindle charger, or computer). The problem with this is that the battery needs to be in the camera while you charge, making it impossible to charge a battery while you use the camera, not a great scenario for such a power-thirsty camera. You could spend another $50 or on Sony’s charger, or you could do what I did and buy a third-party charger. For about $27 on Amazon I got a Wasabi charger that includes two batteries (haven’t tested them, but at the very least they can be backups that hold me until I can get a primary battery charged), a car charger, and European adapter. I also ordered one more Sony battery as my primary backup (but I’m kind of obsessive about having backups).

And speaking of backups, perhaps the best indication of my level of commitment to the new Sony is that I just ordered a Sony a6000 (and the Fotodiox TOUGH E-mount). I can’t afford not to have a backup body, and the a6000 is a perfect complement to the a7R—in addition to its rave reviews, the a6000 is quite compact, is only around $700 (even cheaper if you shop around), takes all my EF mount lens, and with a 1.5 crop sensor, gives me extra focal length when I need it (in other words, it’s more than a backup). So it looks like I’m all-in with Sony. Stay tuned….

A few words about this image

The image at the top of today’s post is from my Big Sur visit early this month. I share it here because it’s a great example of why I’m so excited about the dynamic range of the a7R. Since I don’t blend images (just my personal style), I needed to capture this scene with one click. Even with the great dynamic range, I used a Singh-Ray 3-stop graduated neutral density filter to hold back the sky, had to pull the highlights down and shadows up the shadows a little in Lightroom, and do a little dodging and burning in Photoshop. But all things considered, this was a remarkably straightforward capture with the a7R (not much work to expose and process).

If you’re thinking about purchasing filters (like the graduated neutral density filter I used here), you can’t to better than Singh-Ray. For a 10 percent discount on the Singh-Ray site, use the discount code gary10.

A (growing) gallery of Sony a7R captures

Click an image for a closer look, and a slide show. Refresh your screen to reorder the display.

12 Comments on “More thoughts on the Sony a7R

  1. Gary – When the A7R first came out there were rumors on the web that the electronic focus peaking was not accurate; the hi-lighted areas on the LCD were a bit off. From your comments I am safe to say you are not finding this to be true with your camera?

    Thanks,
    Mike

    • Hi, Mike. I’m not aware of any problems with my camera’s focus peaking, but I’ll stop short of making a blanket “no problem” statement. I don’t test my cameras, I just use them. If I think there’s a problem, I look closer. I can’t imagine that it’s flawless, and I don’t think I’d rely on it for precision focus, but I find it a great aid. I particularly like the automatic focus magnifier, and do rely on that very heavily in virtually all of my images.

  2. Hey Gary, This may be a little off the subject, but thought I would seek you opinion. I have a friend who has the Sony A-65 and is having a really hard time with trying to use it in manual mode. Apparently the manual is intimidating and the camera has a wide array of unfamiliar settings for a new photographer who wants to move away from just auto settings. Your advice/opinion is appreciated. Thanks!

    • Hi Pam. I’m afraid I won’t be much help. I’ve never touched that camera, and know nothing of the interface. With most cameras, the image style settings are image processing options that don’t apply to raw capture, so I just ignore those. As far as the exposure settings are concerned, your friend should be able to put it in manual mode with a switch/dial on the body (it shouldn’t require going into the menus). Then it’s just a matter of figuring out how to set aperture, shutter, and ISO—usually with a dial or button/dial combo on the body.

      I can tell you that the manual that came in the box with my Sony was a thin “Get Started” guide with extremely limited info, but they also provided a link to a pdf of the full manual (which isn’t great, but at least it covers everything). Make sure your friend is using this manual: http://pdf.crse.com/manuals/4287953131.pdf.

      Here’s a good resource for getting specific questions answered: http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/board/56

  3. I’ve used the A7r since the First Grand Canyon Rafting Trip, and have seen it gradually replace my “main” camera (Sigma SD1). In addition to the advantages you mentioned, I would call attention to two other attributes: size and low-light capability. I’m an avid backpacker/kayaker, and have been through several other cameras in search of a small, lightweight camera that would still produce quality images. I used the Sony NEX7 for a bit, but upgraded to the A7r for the full-frame sensor. I was initially pleased, but frustrated with the limited choice of lens. That has slowly improved, but Sony still does not offer any telephoto beyond the 70-200. I purchased the Sony adapter that lets me mount Sony A-mount lens, and a 70-400 f2.8 to solve that problem. If manual focus doesn’t hinder you, Rokinon/Samyang makes several prime lens (I have a 14mm f2.8) that are tack-sharp, and very afforadable.
    Most noticeable to me is the camera’s low-light capability (not the forte of the SD1). It has received extremely high test scores for low-light performance, and this has proved true in my real world experience.
    Lastly, I’ve not experienced the problem with the lens mount (knocking on wood at the moment), but have noticed the sensor dust issue.
    Good luck on the Second Grand Canyon Rafting Trip; wish I could be there.
    Ed Alexander

    • Thanks, Ed. Yes, size and weight—absolutely. I haven’t thoroughly tested it in low light yet (that will change next week in Death Valley), but I’ve heard great things. I’m most curious about how usable the LCD/EVF is in extreme darkness (like a moonless night at the bottom of the Grand Canyon).

  4. Gary, I know that you really did some soul searching in switching to Sony. Is the a7r going to be your “go-to” camera? The Sony’s must really be good for you (and Don) to have made the transition. You’ve posted some beautiful photos. Best to you in 2015 and in the future.

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