That’s right…I recently delved into the world of mirrorless cameras and bought a (barely) used Sony a7. Don’t worry, I still have my collection of Canon DSLRs and lenses. For those of you who don’t know, the a7 is a 24MP full frame camera and is well known for great image quality and high dynamic range along with good low light performance. Mirrorless cameras don’t use a pentaprism and associated mirror which means many things. Namely, the viewfinder doesn’t look through the lens but rather the camera uses live view for everything.The a7 has an electronic view finder (EVF) which basically duplicates the main screen inside the view finder. MIrrorless cameras are quite a bit smaller and lighter than their DSLR counterparts.
Why did I buy the a7? Well, I wasn’t in the market but saw one become available through a post in Facebook. The “kit” included the body (less than 2000 clicks), an L-bracket (which I love using on my other cameras), and a Metabones lens adapter for Canon EF lenses. I want a camera that I can use for travel and backpacking. The a7 fits this bill very nicely because of the small size and light weight.
Here are my initial impressions. More to follow as I use this camera more.
The EFV takes a little getting used to but the display is bright and sharp with no noticeable lag when things move. But it is not as sharp as and SLR’s viewfinder.
Even though the Metabones adapter transfers electrical signals to the camera from the lens for aperture, image stabilization and auto focus, AF performance is sluggish at best. Not a good setup for sports or wildlife photography. I setup the camera for back-button focus (which I use on all my cameras), and it works fine…you just have to be patient. I will use this camera as a manual focus camera most of the time.
I also setup the camera to allow focus magnification. This means I can magnify the image in live view to get focus spot on (manually of course). But the really cool thing here is that the image in the viewfinder magnifies too. I tend to use a viewfinder most of the time anyway because my close vision is not that great for looking at the LCD screen. One thing I found out is the focus magnification does not work with every lens unless the lens is set to manual focus.
I have taken a handful of mages so far and my first impressions are mixed. Image quality is very good. Dynamic range is noticeably more than the 5D II (2.3 stops more). I have not processed many of the images yet but the RAW images look a bit HDR-ish….meaning a little un-natural.I do like not having as many blown out highlights and lost shadow detail. Much more to come on this front as I start processing these images.
Exposure metering seems to be very good. Canon DSLRs tend to under expose (at least my 1DX, 5DII and SL1 do). I have yet to use exposure compensation on the a7. I have highlight warning turned on for all my cameras. This provides instant feedback on over exposed portions of an image (blown out highlights blink on and off black). The a7 takes this once step further but showing you blown out highlights AND lost shadows…VERY nice.
The build quality seems quite nice. Feels like a solid chuck in your hands. Weather sealing seems to lack a bit. Even though Sony claims it is sealed, I would not want it out in the elements without protection. The battery and memory car doors do not have gaskets.
The controls are nicely laid out. But the small size of the body means the controls are bunched together fairly close. I may get used to this but for now I have to look at the controls to make sure I’m pressing or turning the right button or dial. One control I’m not fond of is the dial on the back of the camera. ISO is set up on this control, and turning it is a bit cumbersome and inaccurate. Again, getting used to it is probably the key. The a7 is one heck of a customizable camera. There are three custom buttons and you can assign functions to several other controls. Very nice.
Battery life on the a7 is less than stellar. Batteries are small because if the small size of the body. Compounding this is the fact that the viewfinder and rear LCD screen suck power since this is a live view centric camera. I’ve read that the a7 will only shoot around 300 shots on a single charge (the 5Dii will shoot about 1000 shots on one battery). I have no reason to dispute this. Hence…extra batteries are a must. The camera came with three and I just ordered two more along with 2 AC/DC chargers (one for home and one for the car). So even though battery life is lame, I should not have a problem with this setup.
Overall I’m pleased and look forward to learning much more about this camera.
Sony has terrible documentation and help with this camera (and probably others). The a7 has built-in WiFi. A great feature. One aspect of WiFi is the ability to shoot remotely via a mobile device with an app. Sony offered no help repaying how to set this up. So onto Google. Better but still not what I needed to get this working. It seemed simple enough. Download the free app on my iPhone (PlayMemories). Then go into the camera to get the WiFi name and password and enter this into the WiFi connection on the phone. The camera then said “connecting”. OK…we’re on our way. NOT!! After hours of research, I still could not find the solution. But alas, I figured it out (on my own). In the a7 menu, activate “Smart Remote” which brings up the camera’s WiFi hotspot name and password. On the phone go into Settings > WiFi and type in the name and password. The camera says “connecting” but it won’t actually connect until you get out of Settings on the phone and activate the PlayMemories app.
The a7 has what’s called ‘focus peaking’. Basically this is a feature that provides visual feedback when focus is achieved. The sharpness of edges is detected and turns a color when focus is achieved (white by default or other user-selected colors). Focus peaking even shows you your depth of field near to far…VERY powerful. Since I use the a7 with my Canon lenses and primarily with manual focus, this feature is extremely useful…especially considering that the EVF is not the best for determining focus…particularly at night with moving objects.
I’ve been using the a7 quite a bit since getting it about 5 weeks ago.
Things I really like:
Focus peaking … but with a caveat. I like it because auto focus with the Metabones adapter is too slow so I use the a7 as a manual focus camera. Focusing manually via the EVF or LCD is not easy unless you magnify the image. Focus peaking does offer very useful things I talked about in the 12/20 update.
The small size and light weight is turning out to be a nice feature. This is a camera I don’t mind taking everywhere.
WiFi is turning out to be a great feature for shooting remotely.
Things I don’t like:
Some controls are a hard to use – especially with big hands/fingers. The rear dial which controls ISO doesn’t have a very tactile feel. It needs more resistance and needs to be larger.
I’m a big view finder guy. I don’t like shooting a camera like a point and shoot/phone. It feels un-natural to me. Holding a camera’s view finder up to my eye not only feels better but it helps stabilize the camera. My arms are closer to my body and there’s another point of contact to my body. Yes, the a7 has a view finder and I use it. But being electronic has its drawbacks. Namely resolution and refresh rate. Images are too grainy and the image it too bright. Objects in motion jitter because of the slow frame rate. Nothing better than an SLR’s view finder in my opinion.
White balance indoors leaves lot to be desired – even with RAW. Incandescent light results is very orange images. I have to turn down the color temp all the way in post processing for a natural look.
Things I’m on the fence about:
Image quality…images are sharp with lots of resolution. At first I thought the increased dynamic range would be a big benefit. I’m finding that it’s the opposite in certain situations. Some images have an un-natural look to them – almost a light HDR look.
Overall I still very much like this camera. I think it’s best suited for tripod work with subjects that allow me to take my time with.