Yorm Bopha, Land Rights Activist Cambodia. Image taken with the Sony a7
For some time I have wanted a compact full frame camera. I have been looking for a while and several cameras caught my eye. I went to the shop, tried them and could not get to grips with them; but then along came the Sony A7. It seemed to fit what I was looking for, compact full frame, interchangeable lenses, view finder, and quite(ish).
I spent a great deal of time whilst in New York visiting different shops, some multiple times, to get hands on and ask as many questions as I could. It’s been a real investment of time and ultimately money.
I finally bought the camera about 3 weeks ago whilst in the UK. Since then I have been asked many times about it; what’s it like, how’s the auto focus, what’s the battery life etc. These are many issues which have been reported in reviews of the camera which then rate it 4 out of 5 or 5 out of 5… I am not a tech guy at all and I don’t intend to review the A7. I wanted to post some thoughts on what I have experienced using the A7, the reality is that every photographer is different and will look for a different combination of attributes.
First off it’s a nice camera to hold, feels good in the hand, and it’s small, when I place it next to my usual camera its tiny, which is what I wanted so that’s a plus. But there is a lot crammed into that tiny space, and I have not yet fully mastered how to perform multiple functions, such as exposure compensations smoothly, but I guess that’s just a matter of time. The people who I don’t want to notice the camera don’t, those in the frame and those around, which makes me look and feel more relaxed. I am a big guy and add a big camera into the equation and you start to stand out.
There has been much written about the auto focus with the issues of back-ground/fore-ground tracking being mentioned. Until last night I had not experienced this problem because I had been shooting on bright sunny days, even then the A7 was not lightening fast. However, I recently shot a story which required night photography, the auto focus was not terrible but it certainly was not ideal. I have the camera set up so I can change the point of focus on the dial (I will talk more about custom set ups later) so that in the same way as on my D700 I can quickly move the point of focus (although you need to double click in the first instance to activate the dial to shift the point of focus which when you’re used to a dedicated directional pad for focus point adjustments feels a second too slow). Last night even after making a significant adjustment of the point of focus directly onto the subject’s face the camera tracked back and forth. Whilst I did not have the same experience throughout the rest of the night, it did knock my confidence slightly. I was carrying my D700 ‘just in case’ and it came out of the bag. I spent the rest of the night using both cameras which actually worked well. I was still able to sneak a discreet shot with the Sony but then swapping back to the D700 when I was not fully confident the Sony would perform.
The way the Sony A7 feedsback the exposure of the scene to the photographer is slightly odd, then brilliant, and then slightly odd again. The first odd thing is the EV scale, which is visible in the view finder, and shows + – 5 stops. However, 3 stops are shown on the scale in bright white the remaining 2 stops are shown in off white. When you expose under or over 3 stops the indicator arrow disappears and the final two stops are not shown making the inclusion of them in the viewfinder very misleading; added to which when you go off the scale there is no clear indicator which side of the scale you went off. On the D700 an arrow blinks to show you which way you need to adjust to get back on the scale. I hold my hands up and say you should know, and of course you do, but that arrow just adds a touch of confidence and makes your response instant, not a hesitation to think then adjust. The Sony has a live exposure setting which almost makes the EV scale redundant …. well almost, but it’s not quite right. When you look through the view finder it represents the exposure based on the settings, so if you’re over exposed by several stops then the view finder will just show white and inversely if your greatly under exposed then the screen just shows black, it’s quite a neat way of monitoring exposures However if you walk into a completely new environment with harsh changes in light you need to adjust the settings before even being able to frame the shot, I guess it’s only the reverse of having to adjust the exposure after having framed but it just does not feel right.
Battery life has been much discussed in the reviews. I have found that using the camera with all the functions on, WIFI connectivity, monitor and just having the camera on you will tear through a battery in less than half a day and that only making a small number of images. I had been warned it was bad but I was shocked by this and started to get post purchase blues. I started to strip away the superfluous battery hungry functions (or what I assumed to be battery hungry), so switched off the WIFI connectivity, (I just don’t need it on every day, it’s fun and all that but I feel it’s something that’s been added as its on trend for social media etc. In fact it’s a faff and I can do everything on my smart phone more effectively). I also switched off the back monitor, and the battery life has been vastly improved. As it stands I cannot give you times or number of exposures but I don’t get as stressed by it. Turning off the monitor was OK to begin with but then when I wanted to make adjustments to the settings I found it tricky to do in the view finder so switched it back on, then battery life got hammered so switched back off again.
It’s quite…. it’s not Leica quite, but it’s quite enough. There is an audible clunk but not the clattering noise made by most DLSR. I can get really close to people and not affect then into changing what they are doing, which has been fantastic for me. I am quite shy and this helps me to get closer with confidence… like I say it’s not Leica quite but if you are heard its small enough to be forgiven under the nice tourist code… I will let you know if this jumps up and bights me in the arse.
I love how customisable the camera is. I think almost every dial and button can be set to an adjustment or setting you choose. I think the exposure adjustment dial (which I don’t use) is dedicated to that, but it can be turned off, which is fantastic as I catch it all the time. Being so customisable I really could get the camera close to the set up I am familiar and comfortable with.
The sensor is a massive 24 mp. Honestly, day to day, I don’t need it and it’s gonna create a stack of full hard drives on my desk sooner rather than later. If you were shooting press with this it must be a nightmare as the files are big and processing time is increased, that being said it does make wonderful exposures. The colour tone is warm and seems to deal well with shadows, I feel that I cannot trust what I see on the monitor if I preview the images, it seems a bit flat to me and as its early days I am not confident enough in the camera, so I just keep shooting and the confidence will come.
I opted for the 35 mm 2.8 and so far I have been happy with it but it’s expensive and I need to take it through its paces further before commenting. I have been asked about the range of lenses etc., sorry I don’t really care, I will only use primes on this so that does not really affect me. Nor does the frame rate, I have not missed anything because of it.
I guess I am getting used to it, it demands you to work for it, I find it quite demanding as a camera, always needs to be tweaked etc. but I don’t mind that, I like that I have to push it a little bit, and as I get used to it those battles will become less and less. It’s by no means the prefect camera for what I want but it will help me in some way to achieve the goals behind its purchase.
Am I happy with it? (I was asked to give a yes or no the other day !!!) The fact of the matter is I am getting used to it…. it’s a very different size for me and a different way of shooting, but I think together we will get there. However, for me it’s missing something, a bit of a spark, I want it to be slightly more responsive at times, but for it’s size I am impressed…. it goes everywhere with me..
If I have anything wrong or you know how to fix some of the issues do let me know. I stress this is not a review just the musings of a man who has a lot on his mind and has been asked a lot of questions recently.