A Week with the Sony A7: First Impressions

Discussion in 'Mirrorless Digital Cameras' started by lou_meluso, Mar 23, 2014.

  1. I stirred anxiously in my seat at work Friday afternoon wondering if today my new camera would arrive and be waiting for me at home. I rarely buy a camera brand new. I prefer to wait a year or two to pick up a better deal on used gear. However, this past year I was at Photo Expo in NYC when the camera was introduced, and after playing with it at the show, I developed a powerful urge to get one. I rushed home to discover....dang...not yet.
    The Sony A7 seemed to embody everything I wanted in a new camera. A compact size, light weight, a full frame, high quality sensor and a mount that would allow me to use many of the good older lenses I've acquired over the years. Years of carrying heavy medium format cameras have left lingering issues to my neck, back and shoulder areas. Combined with normal age-related entropy, I found myself gravitating toward smaller and lighter gear the last five years or so.
    The Sony NEX 5n was my first entry into the Sony mirrorless family and it changed everything for me. With it I found a small system that I could carry and use both for traveling and day-to-day use. The camera was so light and the image quality was fantastic. A full frame solution, I imagined, would be similar yet be lower noise and let my wide angle lenses work without additional optics.
    Saturday morning the box finally arrived. Although short-lived, there is a special feeling in unboxing a brand new camera. Something akin to a new car experience overtakes one. Immediately, the sensations I felt at the camera show came flooding back. The small camera feels so well made and instantly comfortable in my medium-sized hands. I attach the supplied Sony 28-70mm kit lens and was amazed at the light weight of the pair. After about twenty minutes of fiddling with the menus, I was ready to shoot.
  2. One of the main reasons for getting the camera was to use my stash of good Nikkor and Canon FD lenses. Since I had adapters from my NEX camera I had all I needed to try one of my favorites, the Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 AI-s lens. The wife had brought home some Daffodils in a pot from the supermarket so it seemed to be the perfect first subject. This good first results was encouraging.
    Yellow Daffodil
    Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8
  3. I had been a Canon FD user for many years but those lenses were hard to adapt to the EOS system that I later adopted. They worked very well on the NEX so I looked forward to using them on the A7. I spun the FD 50mm f/1.4 on and took the elevator down to the front door where I ran into Carlos, the doorman for my building.
    Portrait of Carlos
    Canon FD 50mm f/1.4
  4. Out in the street, I found the camera handled easily and quickly. The small size seems less intrusive. The shutter fired smoothly with no perceivable lag. The EVF on this is GREAT! A really crisp image with no smearing. Focusing with this lens, on this camera, was easier than on the original Canon F-1 that it was made for. Focus peaking works well with two levels of image magnification for critical focus.
    Man with Flowers
    Canon FD 50mm f/1.4
  5. I put the new Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 kit zoom on to try it out. With both contrast and phase capabilities, focusing was lighting quick. Using the fold up rear LCD I could shoot from waist level with great ease.
    I did notice I had to hold the camera away from my body a bit in this configuration or the LCD would turn off with the camera thinking it was my face and turn off due to the proximity sensor. There is a way to turn the viewfinder or rear LCD on all full time in the menus but I haven't tried that yet. A minor annoyance, though.
    Under the EL
    Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS
  6. The kit lens is VERY good! It's easily as good as any kit lens I've ever used from Canon or Nikon. The anti-shake OSS did it's job well. Around this time it dawned on me just how quickly my camera battery was draining. You really need a spare, or two, in the bag with the A7. They are small and light so no big carry impact but this camera drains batteries more quickly than the NEX camera did.
    Winter Wheat
    Sony FE 28-70 f/3.5-5.6 OSS
  7. Later, in the studio, I was back to my FD mount lenses. The A7 sensor is full frame 24.3 MP. That is plenty for size for me. I chose the A7 over the 36 MP A7R due to the faster focusing of the A7, electronic first curtain, slightly lower noise shutter noise and lower price. I think it's a better all-round shooter although the high resolution and lack of AA filter of the A7R are attractive features. With the superb Canon FD 100mm f/2 lens on the A7, I don't feel like I'm missing much resolution-wise.
    Portrait of Robert
    Canon FD 100mm f/2
  8. It seems when any new camera is introduced there is always a flurry of problems that come to light both real and imagined. Raw compression artifacts, light leaks in the mount and problems with jpeg production are among a few that I read about. None of these issues have jumped up to be a concern this past week. I pay attention to image quality but I tend to think more about the pictures I'm taking. I didn't notice any problems with the images or camera.
    My Father's Gold Watch
    Kiron 105mm f/2.8 Macro lens.
  9. Walking around the museum, the good high ISO capabilities I was hoping for came into play as I took a couple of shots hand held in the low light of the galleries.
    Egyptian Relief
    Canon FD 50mm f/1.4
  10. I have a lot of older manual focus lenses I've collected over the years. I like AF but for my style of shooting, MF works well much of the time. For my basic kit of 24mm, 50mm, and 100mm, I tested lenses from Canon FD, Minolta Rokkor-X, Nikkor, Olympus OM, Pentax SMC (M42), Leica-R, Contax G, Canon EF and a few Vivitars. There were many good ones in the group. Some looked great but had high CA like the Nikkor 28mm f/2. Some, like the Contax G lenses, worked super but have a terrible MF adapter making smooth focusing difficult. Overall, the best of all the lenses were the Canon FD line. Super sharp, no or low CA, good corner quality as well as light weight (FDn) and smooth, precise focusing. The FDn 24mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4 and 100mm f/2 were all great on the A7 and they are not even L lenses. The Kiron/ Lester Dine 105mm f/2.8 macro and Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 were also standouts. The Minolta's, odd to say, did less well in the group I tested. The Canon EF lenses were not as good on the A7 as they are on my 5DmkII but were OK. The Viltrox adapter I have does allow AF and it works well if a bit pokey. Not recommended for sports use. I'll try my Leica 500mm mirror, and a couple of L zooms I have next. I may pick up some other Sony or Zeiss AF lenses later but these lenses I have, along with the kit zoom, will work for me for a good while.
    Staircase-Thorne Miniatures
    Canon FD 24mm f/2.8
  11. Although I don't generally buy new cameras, I'm glad I bought this one. It's like a dream come true for someone that's wants a small, lightweight camera that's full frame and good in low light. It's perfect if you have a nice quiver of good MF lenses you still would like to use and the Sony AF kit lens seems exceptional.. And the A7 body, in particular, seems responsive enough for all around shooting needs. Nimble enough for the street/travel use and high resolution for studio use with image quality that belies it's small size.
    Thanks for looking.
    Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro
  12. Mr. Meluso...
    "With the superb Canon FD 100mm f/2 lens on the A7, I don't feel like I'm missing much resolution-wise."
    But...The Canon FD 100mm F:2 might be one of the few lenses that could take full advantage of a 36MP sensor.
    A. T. Burke
  13. Louis, an excellent write up with some very compelling imagery attached. I to have recently purchased an a7 for my continuing love affair with old manual lenses that started some time back on a Canon 40D and then came to maturity with the use of my NEX 7. Mirrorless camera technology has been a huge boon for those who like to shoot predominately with old glass.
    I mirror your sentiments almost exactly. It is simply a wonderfully compact full function camera that only a few years ago would was a pipe dream. I find it to be a perfect compliment to my NEX 7/speedbooster combo, with both cameras, 7 prime lenses and one small zoom fitting nicely into a relatively small camera bag. The size and capabilities of this camera, along with the paradigm shift it represents, simply astound me.
    Thanks for the great post. If you like my small but growing a7 set on flickr may be viewed here. http://www.flickr.com/photos/8539414@N07/sets/72157641534772013/
  14. Thanks for showing
  15. "the best of all the lenses were the Canon FD line" Louis M.
    I agree with that Louis.
    2nd only to the slightly better performing Zeiss Contax C/Y lenses, the Canon FD units are a steal of a deal.

    My two favorites are incredible performers:
    The FD 55mm f/1.2 (Bokehlicious) and the FD "L" 80-200 f/4 (Put it up against any prime)
  16. Louis, thank you for posting your impressions. Extremely useful for those of us who considering to purchase this little wonder. Vlad
  17. 2nd only to the slightly better performing Zeiss Contax C/Y lenses, the Canon FD units are a steal of a deal.​
    Sorry, but Im going to have to slot in the Yashica ML glass in that little equation, and not necessarily behind the Zeiss glass....sometimes in front of it. :)
  18. Thanks for the comments, gang!
  19. Lovely images, Louis. I particularly like the fact that your 24 mm lens provided fine results, with apparently no difficulty of degraded corner response. But is this due to its apparent retrofocus design? I understood, perhaps wrongly, that rangefinder system (short back focus) wide angle optics are problematic with the full size sensor.
  20. I really can't say why one lens looks better than another on this, or any other camera except to say that the pairings are unique to the specific camera, lens and possibly, the adapter used. Why the Canon FD lenses stood out compared to other good lenses is unique to the A7 as far as I can tell. I got somewhat different results on my APS-C NEX cameras. Of course I don't have every type of lens and only one example of the ones I do have but they are all in good, clean condition. The Canon FDn 50mm f/1.4, in particular, stood out as stunning. To be fair, some were close in quality to each other. Others performed better at certain apertures than others, for instance wide open at f/1.4, the Leica Summilux-R was the best of the group sharpness-wise and bokeh but stopped down to f/2 and beyond the Canon FD pulled away. I thought the more modern Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 would do better but was among the worst in the group, a flat, mushy mess, not just wide open but across the aperture range. Then again, if a "dreamy" look was appropriate for the subject then this might indeed be considered the "best" lens.
    A really amazing result was achieved by the small, garden variety Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AI-s. Zeiss-like clarity center to edge equaling the Canon FD 50mm f/1.4. The Canon was, of course, faster with smoother OOF but the little Nikkor bested even the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AI-s in overall performance.
    I don't have any 24mm rangefinder lenses, but the Contax G Zeiss 28mm f/2.8 Biogon has always been the best 28mm I've ever used but the humble Canon f/2.8 version looked clearly better on the A7. The Nikkor 28 f/2 was right up there in resolution, contrast, color rendition and flat field/edge quality but had strong CA, which is correctable but was quite noticeable. The Sony sensor is supposed to have angled sensor lenses along the edges so perhaps that has something to do with the results.
    I'm quite sure that without the advantage of doing direct A/B comparisons, at every f/stop, much of the subtle differences between the lenses would be hard to detect. Another advantage of testing was not only determining a "winner" but to discover what was the optimal aperture for that particular lens. Most maxed out between f/4 and f/5.6 and most started to visibly go downhill by f/11.
    I didn't really care which lenses won. It just so happened that the Canon FD lenses kept coming out on top.
  21. Louis, I can only echo your experience with the A7. Like you, I have an arsenal of manuaf-focus Canon FD, Nikon AiS and - in my case - three Leica M mount rangefinder lenses, all of which perform marvelously on the A7. In addition, I have been hanging onto a Tokina 17mm f3.5 AT-X Pro lens for 7 years - and despite all the complaints about how poorly super- wide lenses perform on the A7/r, this performs perfectly (see http://www.flickr.com/photos/melsnyder/13300854624/) I echo your evaluation of the FE 28-70mm kit lens - one of the best kit lenses I've tested. The results with mine surpass many/most of the 24-70mm pseudo-Zeiss priced a 4X the cost of the kit added to a body purchase. Enjoy your A7 - I'm enjoying mine! Mel
  22. Louis, congrats on your new camera. I'm really looking forward to seeing the pictures you create with it. It's very satisfying to know that such a fine tool is in the hands of a master craftsman and artist!
  23. Thanks for your comments Mel and Andy, much appreciated. Nice crisp flower shot, Mel.
    Since I talked a bit about my normal and wide lens selections, let me covey a bit about the short tele range. This was a more difficult focal length as all were very good. The top four were Canon FDn 100 f/2, Nikkor 105 f/2.5 AI-s, Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 AI-s and Canon FDn 85mm f/1.8. Again, the Contax G 90mm f/2.8 was optically super but fell out of the running due to the rough focusing adapter. Still, it might be useful for tabletop/still life work. The Olympus, Pentax, Minolta and Canon EF variants were all good but fell behind these four. The old, Pentax M42 SMC 100mm f/2.8 did have a wonderful, buttery bokeh and a delightful "glow" to it's rendering. Again, none of these lenses were really poor.
    The legendary Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 AI-s held true to it's mystique. Absolutely smashing performance, super sharp, rich color and creamy bokeh and somewhat less contrast than the others (not a bad thing). The main problem with it was it's size and weight. It's a big, heavy bit of glass which goes counter to my primary purpose which was to lighten my bag.
    The Canon FDn 85mm f/1.8 was the true surprise of the lot. Amazing results from f/2.8 on (a bit hazy wide open)! If not for the fact I like the 100mm focal length better for most things I would have gone with it. The choice between the two top contenders was tough. Both were excellent. The Canon was a bit faster and actually looked good wide open and the image quality at f/4, where I shoot a lot, was a hair better. And I mean a hair. The Nikkor had a bit warmer color rendering and creamy bokeh that was attractive. Either would be a great choice on the A7.
  24. Thanks for the comment on the flower, Lou. Shot hand-held at the Boston Flower Shot 2 weeks ago. Lou, I don't own the 100mm f2 you used for "Robert," and possibly your excellent lighting accounts for part of my observation, but that looks like a brilliant fit for travel portraiture. I do own the 105mm f2.5 and 85mm f2 Nikkor AiS lenses; the 85mm may be lighter than your f1.4, but I wonder how you found the 105mm. I was fortunate enough back in 1982 to have acquired at bargain pricing a demo Leica M4P with a 50mm f2 Summicron, and then on travels in Europe with a high dollar, a near-mint 35mm f1.4 Summilux ($325) and a 90mm f2.8 Tele-Elmarit ($200). They are tiny by comparison to modern lenses - each has a 39mm front objective - and all but the 35mm are excellent wide open. The A7 is actually smaller than my M4P. So my travel portrait length is the 90mm. I also own an 85mm f1.2L Canon FDn - optically excellent but by weight the antithesis of a travel lens. I looked up your bio on DPR (I am banned there for a week for having posted a link to an online processor offering 30x60 inch prints for $24). I see you're a pro, and the portraits sure show it. The lighting on "Robert" represents a near-lost art. Back in the early 70s, I had the good fortune of being accepted into a 2-semester portrait lighting class with Philippe Halsman, offered through the New School, and "Robert" image would certainly have won you an "A" for the week assigment! Your image reminded me I MUST start using again what I learned there. I just got a Meike wireless trigger set on eBay, and I have an embarrassment of old strobes I can trigger with phototriggers. How are you triggering from the A7? I bought my A7 in a kit with a Sony strobe from B&H, but quickly sold the strobe when I saw it had a fragile plastic foot, and was way too heavy to sit on the A7 hot shoe. Great to see your work and opinions, Lou! Thanks for contributing both!
  25. Yes, Mel, the Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 is a gem and would would well on the A7. It was hard to choose between it and the Canon FD lens. One lens I did not try, is my small rangefinder Canon LTM 100mm f/3.5 HERE. A bit on the slow side but very sharp wide open and positively petite. I'll bet your 90mm Tele-Elmarit would be a good one to try.
    The portrait of Robert was done with three Broncolor heads into two SENSO power packs and fired with the Bron hot shoe radio trigger. I do like a B&W rendering for a male portrait for a more classic look.
  26. like the photo of mother and baby in hospital. but it showed lot of noise.
  27. Thanks for the details on the Sony A7!
    I am definitely teetering between the A7 and the Fuji TX1 now.
    BTW, i agree on the Nikkor 50mm f2.8 being a stunning performer. Heres a recent pic from this lens on my NEX3N
  28. david_henderson

    david_henderson www.photography001.com

    Its a pity there aren't more small dedicated lenses yet. Frankly I see little benefit in buying a smaller, light body if I have to use big heavy lenses with it, and the effect on bag weight would be rather small- I may as well get a Canon 5Diii and continue to use my Canon L lenses. I'm quite keen to reduce the weight and size I carry, the question is whether I should wait that long for Sony to act, or take a Canon upgrade that's ready now and would be cheaper. And then it seems like the 70-200 Sony have launched is as big and slightly heavier than my Canon 70-200 f4 IS. I wonder if Sony are going to be able to see this concept through properly, and if I wait am I still likely to end up with the Canon anyway, because Sony just don't get around to making a wide range of quality lightweight FE lenses?
  29. David, you might check out the NEX 6 or new A6000 for real compactness and weight saving. As a life long EOS guy, it shifted my paradigm with a jolt. Especially when I discovered the image quality from the Sony sensors was better (to my eye). I use very small AF primes with the NEX 6 and using mostly MF Canon FD lenses with the A7 and they are plenty small and light. Olympus OM, Pentax K and rangefinder lenses are even smaller. Of course it's understandable that some folks don't like manual focusing. It works fine for much of my work. Using legacy lenses on a decent full-frame platform is one one the prime reasons to get this camera.
    That said, Sony and Zeiss are filling in the lens chart and soon, especially with the new A7s out, third party makers ( like Mikakon) will be chipping entries to the lens field. Heck, with near Otus-like performance in an AF lens, I'm considering the Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 lens myself.
    I still have my EOS kit, and it's still is nice gear, but I have barely touched it of late. I carry a camera constantly. The Sony's have made a difference.
  30. Im so excited seeing this. I can't wait for my FD to Emount adapter,.... My EF to E mount Metabones IV works great. With old FD in the mix I feel vindicated from the old film days.
    Great stuff and thanks for sharing

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