My First Impressions
Let me get this on the table, first. I am not a professional camera reviewer. Before I buy a new camera, I scour the web for reviews and first impressions. Most reviews I read are all about what the camera can do…the specs….how many megapixels, is it full frame or not, what kind of glass can it use, ISO performance, menus, handling,…blah blah blah….then it is followed with a bunch of lame sample photos. Well, I would really like to write a different kind of review. I am not going to post any “sample” photos….YET….I WILL post some photos from the new Sony when I start using the camera for real. I mean, I can go out in the yard and shoot some plants, or shoot my house, but seriously? Do you want to see photos like that? Let me just write what I think about this camera…maybe you are trying to decide whether or not to purchase one, and maybe this review will help convince you one way or the other….that is what I want to know when I read a review….the “pros” are given a pre-production model, and asked to shoot with it, and then write a review…what I want to know is…”ARE YOU GOING TO BUY ONE YOURSELF?? AND HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE??”
So, this is a real “from the guts” review…a “real world” view from a normal, regular, average guy that happens to love photography and cameras.
A little background, first. A few years ago, I made one of the biggest decisions in my photography life to sell all of my Nikon gear, and buy the Leica M9. It was a good decision. The Leica is a fantastic camera and of course uses perhaps the best glass ever made…Leica glass. Going from a DSLR to a Rangefinder had its trials, and it was a steep learning curve for me. But, once used to manual focus, and manual everything, it is probably the most fun camera out there to shoot. Of course, the image quality from the Leica is incredible. Why did I sell all my Nikon stuff for the Leica? Well, in short, it came down to size, image quality, glass, convenience, and…at the time, it was the only full frame, mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera available…and it was smallish. I could carry the camera and three lenses without breaking my back….I’m telling you, the Leica is truly a pleasure to travel with, and it is FUN to shoot…So, that’s the Leica.
Fast forward a year or so….the Nikon D800 is introduced. THIRTY SIX megapixels….WOW!! Twice the resolution as my Leica!! I was in need of a new underwater camera, and the D800 with its incredible resolution, would make the perfect tool for underwater…especially for macro…I can now take a photo of a shy creature, and use the cropping power to “zoom in” on the creature, and still have a high resolution file to work with….and print. That is how I got back into Nikon….but, it sat at home most of the time when I was not diving, as I continued to use my Leica.
Then the Leica’s sensor failed. I was forced to take out the Nikon for my travel photography. I fell right back into the groove shooting the Nikon, and the files from the D800 are just incredible. The “Leica Look” as some see it, was not there, but the Nikon could do so much more than the Leica….sports, macro photography, kids moving, etc….I had a blast shooting the D800, and wondered if I really needed the Leica anymore. I started collecting more Nikon glass, but the damn thing is HEAVY….especially with Nikon Pro Glass…BIG…I was back to lugging around that big camera bag full of stuff. When my Leica came back from the shop a few months later, I took it on a vacation with me, and it was like my family coming home. The Leica comes out again to play, and the Nikon stays home except when I need to shoot sports.
The Sony is announced. At first, I didn’t think much of it…Sony?? Maybe I am just a brand name snob…Leica, Nikon, Canon…these are the big boys…Sony? They make TV’s….not cameras. But, holy cow…they really listen to the consumer. The consumer wants full frame, they want high resolution, they want interchangeable lenses, they want mirrorless, and most important….they want SMALL, simple, and affordable. Sony delivers! They caught my attention. My good friend called Cathay Photo in Singapore, and placed an order for two.
My Initial Thoughts
Last night, I took the new camera out of the box. My first thought….”wow, this thing is tiny…but bulky…solid”. It was well packaged. Cathay Photo threw in an extra battery and a Sony 32gb SD card for free….probably because my friend has spent thousands upon thousands of dollars there…but it sure was a nice gesture, and I was going to buy an extra battery anyway, so that saved me some money. I didn’t get to shoot the camera last night, so just charged up the battery while I slept.
I took the camera to work this morning along with my Leica 35 Summicron and the Leica 18mm Super Elmar. I had bought a Kiwi M to E adapter earlier in the week, and the lenses fit nicely onto the Sony. My first photo was with the 35mm. It was really weird looking into the electronic viewfinder. I am not used to that…I am used to an optical viewfinder with the Nikon and Leica. I am not sure yet if I like the EVF or not, but have read that once you get used to it, many prefer it to an optical viewfinder. We shall see. I had heard there is a way to use the EVF to “Zoom-In” for better focus, but still can’t figure out how to do that with my Leica glass. But it seemed relatively easy to focus the camera. I think I like the focusing on the Leica better, though. Then I clicked the shutter….WHOA….what a clunky sound it makes…pretty loud…especially compared to both the Leica and Nikon. I am not really liking the sound, but not a big deal…I will get used to it.
A couple of things bothered me….one, I had to dig around to find out how to change the ISO…maybe there is a way to pre-set one of the buttons to get quicker access to the ISO…I laugh at myself for NOT reading the directions…maybe it is just a guy thing, but I don’t want to dive into the instruction manual….I want it to be just intuitive enough that I can do it myself. The menu system is nice, though, and easy to stroll through. I like the fact that there is only one “page” for each option, and not embedded pages like there is on the Nikon. Keep it simple, and Sony does. Second thing that bothered me was the monitor. I don’t like shooting a camera holding it out in front of me…I prefer the “old fashioned” way of shooting….looking through the viewfinder. I finally found out how to turn off the monitor…I have heard the battery life is not good, so turning off the monitor is one way to conserve battery power, I hope. I haven’t figured out how to auto bracket yet…will look into that later…might have to break out the instructions for that….will report on that later after giving it a try…
I turned off all of the auto stuff…turned off the noise reduction, and set the camera to take RAW. As soon as I got home from work today, I downloaded LightRoom 5.3…it now supports RAW files from the Sony A7R. By the way, as a side note, if you are an Adobe CC user (I subscribed to the Photoshop and LR deal for $9.99 a month), you have to dig around for version 5.3…it is not yet “officially” released..they call it a “release candidate”, and want feedback from customers before “officially” releasing it…but it works just fine….here is the LINK … if you want to download it…
So, what do I think? I like it. I like it a great deal, and can recommend this camera to one and all. The big question is, “how does the Leica glass work on the Sony?”. Well, both the 35mm and the 18mm work superb!! I had read that anything wider than 28mm was bad on the Sony. NOT TRUE!! My 18mm worked just as nicely on the Sony as it does on my Leica…I was VERY pleased to see that. I will provide some “real” photos with both the 35mm and the 18mm as soon as I take some….but the samples I took for myself looked fantastic. No CA, No color fringing, no color casts as previously reported by some of the “pro” reviewers. My files look excellent.
Seriously, I am really thinking of selling my Leica. I mean, really, why keep it? I do have an emotional attachment to that camera, but this Sony is smaller, takes my Leica glass, is twice the resolution, works better at high ISO’s, can take movies (probably will never use that function), and is a more versatile tool. If I am going to sell my Leica, I better do it sooner than later, as I am sure the price is going to fall drastically as more and more find out about the Sony.
If you are on the fence about this camera, jump on over. One hell of a camera!!
Since this post is titled, Sony A7R vs Leica M9 vs Nikon D800….well, here are my thoughts on THAT…
Fun to shoot. Small and convenient to carry around. Leica glass native to the camera. Image quality one of the best around. 18 MP is plenty for large prints. Simple to use. Rangefinder.
EXPENSIVE. Totally manual (could also be seen as a “PRO”). Not good for sports or fast action. Not good for macro photography.
36 MP. Fantastic image quality with the right glass. Great for ALL types of photography. Very versatile. For me, easy to use since I am very familiar with the menus of Nikon. Comfortable to hold, and buttons and switches all in the right place. Well built and durable.
Big and Heavy. That’s it….the only “con” in my mind.
Small and convenient to carry. Simple to use (so far, anyway). Affordable. Mirrorless. Can use my Leica glass. 36MP. Excellent image quality…right up there with Leica and Nikon. EVF.
EVF. As of today, only 3 native e-mount lenses available…therefore, manual focus for third party lenses. Must get used to new “feel” and where buttons and switches are located….a new learning curve.
More later….stay tuned for some photos…