So much excitement surrounding the Sony A7R2. Is the camera really that great or do we all just need a big dose of new camera adrenaline on a regular basis?

Some Tues. morning observations. I've had three friends send me online reviews they've found for the new, Sony A7r2 camera. Two gushy reviews, and one less than glowing review from Ming Thein. Since there is nothing else at all even remotely as exciting happening in the higher end of photography right now the new camera has become a magnet for every variation of praise and criticism. In fact, there is little on or in the camera that isn't stirring debate among the various camps of image makers. From the armchair experts, who will surely never pony up and buy one, to the online, mercantile reviewing class like Steve Huff and Lloyd Chambers who both seem to have rushed into the frothy, early waters to claim their cameras and get out in front of everyone else with a click-driving review.

The thing that seems to make this camera different to a separate group of buyers is the video specifications. The camera is being hailed as a great video creation tool (for the money) but even in the motion market there are still multiple camps who see the camera either as the savior of small production videographers or the flimsy work of commerce's dark forces.

So, where am I on this whole A7R2 deal? Happily neutral. But most of my neutrality stems from already having two camera systems that I am mostly very happy with. And then there is the fact that I seem not to be as picky about perfection as a lot of the people who post.

Look, I was pretty happy with the performance I was getting out of the old Nikon D2X camera a few years back. I can't remember why I sold it and moved on but I'm sure it had to do with the excitement of the market, the seductive peer pressure, and the fact that the full frame D700 seemed to be such an alluring camera. It was the first, affordable, full frame camera from Nikon. But in my rush to share the glory of full frame I really didn't do much due diligence when it came to the actual image quality, the color rendering or anything else. But, on dear God! It was full frame!!!

I'll go out on a limb here and admit
I care a lot less about the ultimate performance of a camera than I do about how good or bad it feels when I'm using it, and how much confidence I have in the camera being able to really hit focus. All the dynamic range and resolution in the world is pretty much meaningless if the camera randomly focuses just in front or just behind a pair of beautiful eyes.

A good amount of our quick affinity with or disregard of a camera has to do with the general comfort level it provides the user. If a camera feels good and works well, and the shutter is melodic (or at least not so discordant that dogs and people with good hearing run screaming from the room when the shutter goes off), the finder clear and bright and the menus logical, that all goes a long way toward helping us engage with a camera. Many times I feel like all the technical specs that everyone obsesses over are just post purchase rationals for yet another camera expenditure, or they are incentives to prematurely buy again.

You don't have to convince me that some cameras are so technically advanced, at least as far as the imaging sensor and the processing pipeline are concerned, that they are easily capable of making images which are sharper, have more dynamic range and better color accuracy than any of their competitors. But this technical myopia is a bit of a chimera, really.

I read Michael Reichmann's short review of the Leica S (007) medium format camera today and he did a series of images that compared the high ISO capabilities of that camera and the Sony A7r2. He also compared the sharpness and resolution between the two. I didn't find anything particularly useful for my style of photography within the article's side by side comparisons because ---- both the cameras were locked down on big tripods --- (and I have no doubt that Michael's tripods are the ultra-state of the art...).  Being on tripods I am certain that both cameras and their attendant (nearly perfect) lenses were meticulously focused using the best methods. A person with a tripod mounted camera has the all the time in the world to be almost compulsively accurate; nothing pressing is happening. And by extension, usually nothing exciting is happening in the frame...

But I love to shoot handheld. I love using wonky lenses. I love grab shots. I love happenstance. I am not the kind of guy who would carry a tripod through a foreign city (unless I was being paid well to shoot architecture...) because I am rarely interested in shooting buildings, I am rarely convinced that sharpness is more aesthetically pleasing and I am too lazy to carry something heavy but unnecessary with me all day long as I walk.

The people I shoot are working, walking, flirting and eating their way through life. I don't want them to always be posing. I don't want to break the action of their existence when it is specifically the action of their unique existence that makes me want to take an image in the first place. So there is no time to fine focus in live view. There's no time to take an incident light meter and translate the readings to the cameras. There's no desire on anyone's part to slow down the genuine-ness of the process.

And that brings me back to my lukewarm reaction to the new Sony camera. Or a new Canon or Leica or Nikon. If I'm not going to embrace the camera tester's litany of techniques (tripod, mirror lock-up, electronic first shutter curtain, live view focus at 14X, etc.) the chances that I will be able to actually see any difference between last year's model and this years is silly.

We spent a decade (2001-2011) chasing better and better imaging in cameras until we hit a spot where we didn't see any difference in the final product even after making the big spend for the new tech. At that point the sexiness of a camera stops revolving around its technical imaging potential and starts to rotate around like-ablility and haptics. Ergonomics, if you will.

You might see the difference between files from the A7R2 and the Nikon D810 but I'm pretty sure that unless we use the best lenses and we do the whole "lock-down" approach to imaging (great for images of doors, landscapes and interesting products) I'm never going to see what you might be looking for.

Some reasons I would buy the Sony would include access to the allegedly great 4K video and the allegedly great EVF, along with the 500,000 actuation shutter life. But the reasons I would avoid the camera include: severely limited battery life, weird body feel, and a color palette I don't like as much as other cameras.

There are contingents out in wild who ravage the A7R2 because of the lower bit depth RAW files. I think this is more of a cult diversion than anything else. A disingenuous intellectual exercise. There are videographers who diss the camera because it apparently overheats minutes after you start filming. And just about everyone concedes that the battery life is a disaster. The reason I'm not hot on any of the A7 series cameras is that I just don't like the way they feel. But familiarity might remedy that.

The problem is I'm well situated now and don't need to go through the process of familiarizing myself with a product I am already neutral about because it doesn't seem to add anything more (4K video?) to what I already have and enjoy shooting with. But on another level I'm not anxious to try one because I don't need to try one.

I'll probably pick one up next year after the A7r3 comes out and the second model is on sale for half price. Or maybe I'll just buy another Nikon D750. I already know I like that camera.

A caveat when reading any article about any camera: so much depends on the subjectivity of the writer. I've used a lot of cameras but I still have a couple favorite form factors. You can read that all the way through the article above. I like bigger cameras. I like traditional cameras. I don't think the best thing about mirrorless cameras is compactness. What I like about mirrorless cameras is the constant live view through an EVF. Put a great EVF in a traditional DSLR body and I'll vote with my wallet. I'm still strong enough to carry cameras around. And the bigger bodies seem to do a better job with heat dissipation in video shooting. We'll need that more and more as we increase processor count and speed in all cameras. Larger size is also more convenient for larger batteries. Better one big battery in the camera that a bunch of pint sized batteries in a pocket.

I'm watching the A7R2 dance as Summer entertainment. Tom Wolfe had it all figured out in his book, The Painted Word. It's all about the Boho Dance. From outsider to insider to outsider again.


Anonymous said...

My response to the launch of the A7r II - to buy a traded-in a7 at a bargain price for full frame - last year's tech is good enough for me :) HowardH

JereK said...

Wise words. I ve been waiting for nikon or Canon to finally make a mirrorless with the ergonomics of a d750 / 5dmk3. I have too large hands for the a7 series. Hopeless ergonomics for me.

dasar photography said...

... and Sony seems to have a very efficient marketing dept. ...

amolitor said...

Camera reviews have largely ceased to be about the camera (the answer is always: the camera is incredible and can probably take whatever pictures you need or want to take) and are now largely about positioning the reviewer in the minds of his audience.

Anonymous said...

I'm sick of it all already personally. It's mostly click bait, and further click bait when every lens known to man is tested on the sensor with "fantastic results" (who cares wether it's a pain in the a$& to use non native lenses, right?).
If you really want an impartial review, good luck finding it

Max Rottersman said...

Yes, the new Sony cameras ARE that great. For me, you're comparing them to the wrong cameras (Nikons) instead of their real competition, the Olympus MFT cameras. After all, Sony is, at heart, a consumer electronics company. I know I sound like a broken record, but the dynamic range of Sony's cameras (the sensors of which Nikon has chosen) crush the DR of the Olympus cameras--not to mention the higher resolution. The autofocus in the Sony A6000 is amazing. My arm-chair psychologist's view is that you LOVE the feel of a camera--which you say right in your article! So maybe I don't need to bring Freud into this ;) The Sony cameras feel like "electronics", not like metal/glass mechanical cameras. For crying out loud, the cameras used to turn on slowly because they had to load those silly Play Memories apps. You got it. They just don't feel like cameras.

Yet, 4K video from a full-frame camera with in camera stabilization and 40 megapixels AND AND AND small enough to fit in a fanny pack. I agree, I couldn't tell the difference between the A7 and D810. But, between the A7 and Olympus MFT camera?

If you want to have a nice nostalgic time with your camera, out shooting for fun, I get the Olympus. If you want to shoot state-of-the-art image quality, both still and video, with a light-weight camera, you tell me with a straight face that Olympus/Fuji/Panasonic can hold a candle to what Sony is putting out (money aside of course). I know I sound "Rah-rah", like a Sony fan-boy. But there are FACTS:

Olympus, Nikon: No 4K
Olympus: DR starts at 9, Sony 11
Olympus: Limited shallow DOF
Olympus: Poorer low light than Sony

Image quality does matter. If it didn't, there would be few favorable reviews, which are, face it, from fellow photographer nuts who ALSO prefer more mechanical/old-school cameras.

Get a Sony. Take it indoors somewhere, or out in the fading light, shoot. Make peace with Sony.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Max. I have owned many, many Sony cameras (next-6, next-7, a99, a850, a57, a58, a77, RX10, R1) and I concede readily that the APS-C sensors have more dynamic range and more detail. The Olympus cameras have better color. I agree that it would be nice if the Nikon cameras had 4K video. I guess that's next year's sucker bait for the Nikon faithful. As I've stated many times here... we are allowed to have more than one camera. In fact, we can own more than one system. I really like a lot of the technical capabilities of the Nikon D810 and the D750. I have those cameras for stuff that needs those capabilities. The Olympus cameras are more fun to shoot. And more fun to shoot than the Sony cameras. By far. At some point (which I have long ago reached) all of these cameras are just fine for my personal shooting. So, I may as well pick the ones I think look adorable and are fun to shoot with, and that's the Olympus stuff.

In Texas we can own a pick-up truck AND a sports car!

Max Rottersman said...

Everything is more fun to shoot with than Sony. Again, I totally understand where you're coming from. But I feel you're having trouble relating to others who are enamored of the Sonys and I believe the problem is that Sony is geared more for artists/consumers, who want great technology, instead of professionals (like you) who take image quality for granted (because you have Nikons) and want to have fun.

There are only so many hours in the day. To keep up with everyone you'd also have to shoot with Panasonics and Fujis (plus the Sonys). So I read the post more as a frustration that you don't have the time or energy to keep up with Sony, so would rather just think it's hype. Maybe I'm wrong, but when I read these posts they sound more like you're trying to convince yourself that you don't need another camera. Even in Texas, having two picks-ups and three cars is a bit over the top!

It's a testament to how much I love your blog that I read it every day even though I don't shoot with the same cameras (though you have me pining for a D750!).

Anonymous said...

One thing to remember about Reichmann's reviews -- his forum is called Luminous Landscape, not Luminous LED-Lighting Portrait-Scape. So he will be inclined toward high-res, tripod mounted cameras, as will be many (most?) of his readers. :-)

But I essentially agree with you. Almost any camera now sold as a professional or enthusiast camera, or even a high-end snapshotter like the Sony RX100, is going to take very, very good photos under a pretty wide range of conditions. IMHO, you take almost any of the cameras mentioned here and do a little tweaking in Lightroom, and print it to 22 inches or so, and you'd have a hard time figuring out which image came from which camera. Which leaves ergonomics, taste (like color rendition), shooting style and cost as the major determinants of camera choice. I'm a fairly large guy with big hands, but I like the Panasonic GX series a lot. I have a D800 system on the shelf, and really, I don't see much in their different image qualities to pull me back toward the larger camera and lenses, even though I spent most of my life shooting Nikon. I look at Reichmann's test images and even comment on them from time to time, and I know what he's doing when he tries to demonstrate ultimate quality -- it's simply demonstrating the limits of each machine, which might be worth knowing -- but basically, I don't need the new Sony, because what it offers, I don't need. Unlike you, I now prefer small, and if that means I have to give up a bit of image ultimate quality, that's fine.

You say you like to shoot while moving, and so on, so a question would be, after factoring in movement, does sensor quality mean much of anything to you? I would think that simple handheld movement would obviate any quality differences at the margin...

John Camp

Kirk Tuck said...

"You say you like to shoot while moving, and so on, so a question would be, after factoring in movement, does sensor quality mean much of anything to you? I would think that simple handheld movement would obviate any quality differences at the margin..."

John Camp

John, Yes. That's exactly what I'm saying. Unless you are willing to work at the far end of the technical Bell Curve buying the ne ultra plus camera (sensor holder) is an exercise in quickly diminishing returns.

Kirk Tuck said...

Max, I think you may be on to something but there's really no rush to change cameras on my part. I'll give you more details this Fall as my friend who works on videos with me is getting ready to go "all in" on the Sony A7R2 as his primary video production camera. It could very well be that I am mistaken about the holistic value of the camera. A few weeks of heavy duty, industrial video work should ferret out the pluses and minuses quite nicely.

Of all the Nikon cameras I've owned (digital) I have to say that the D750 is the nicest all-arounder. Not nearly as bulky and heavy as the D810 but so close in imaging potential.

Anonymous said...

Prediction: Tuck will own two of them by Christmas.

typingtalker said...

What is the opportunity cost to a busy commercial photographer of reading a bunch of long-winded equipment reviews?

My impression is that busy commercial photographers talk to colleagues and after much jawing and not a little time (months or years), may borrow or rent something new and interesting. "Will this new thing make my life easier or make me more money or give me more time at home with the kids?"

Kirk is the exception that proves the rule but he may suffer from technology related ADD.

Bill Stormont said...

All the dynamic range and resolution in the world is pretty much meaningless if the camera randomly focuses just in front or just behind a pair of beautiful eyes.

There's the game, in a nutshell.

JMR said...

Didn't expect to see anything so soon on the new Sony. I have Pentax K3 and would never have given up the first K10- built like a small tank with no video. If I didn't smash it when I fell, and ripped the lens right off the body flange, I would still be using it today. Still have lens and the camera itself didn't break, just the flange! I still have the very first film camera with multipattern metering, when I was just learning; helped me a lot- the Nikon FA.

Today I would have try a camera before buying it. The Pentaxes are so easy to learn and use, and their image quality is excellent. Why give them up? I have limited means and budget, yet hanker for the Sony. Why? Because when I read the specs, it's a camera I think I can use for years and not worry about upgrades. However, as I have taken up in-camera motion photography, I wouldn't look at it twice if it doesn't have multi-exposure capability. That's the way I look at cameras today- how long can I use them!

Like you I admit to being influenced by everything around me, but in the end, would I buy it? No. They have poor service quality and warranty. Now, that Nikon 750 you write about, is winking at me... and I have some very good older Nikon lenses...but I better keep reading the rest of your Blog.

BTW, love the mix of Professionalism, play and reality in your Blog. Even your more realistic portraits. But my those lenses are sharp- can see every dimple on such beautiful and often, character-filled faces...


Anonymous said...

Looking back at the cameras I've loved, it's all been in the lenses.

In MFT I properly adore the Lumix 20mm. For the Bronica SQ the 80mm 'kit' lens. For the Pentax ME the 50mm 'kit' lens.

Clearly, I'm a 'normal' kind of guy. And like the (relative) portability.

Pricewise and image samplewise I see no point in getting one of the Sony's. Sure, it'd be nice to use the Pentax lenses at native length, but for that outlay I'd balk at having no AF (besides, I might as well just shoot film on the old camera, which I still use from time to time).

I get Max's points, but 1-3 make no difference to me and my existing cameras are good enough for me at low light.

I picked up my Oly EP5 for half the price of a secondhand (original) A7 and I properly enjoy using it. For the kind of photography I do (for pleasure and for work) I had no complaints (and lots of compliments) from the work I did with the EPL1. While the EP5 gives me a bit more leeway it really doesn't seem to matter to anyone else. The EP5 also is absolutely lovely in use, and once I'd spent a couple of hours setting it up is now, to all intents and purposes, invisible in use (for me, the holy grail).

So, for me, the geartalk is a weird sideline to the more interesting talk (and pictures from) the work itself. That recent EP2 theatre shot of yours was fabulous - as were the impromptu portrait session shots of Noella.

The lens discussion (50mm art lens) is interesting too - I've never quite got to grips with the telephoto range for my style of shooting and am currently having a play with wideangle for the first time. My next purchase may be the 65mm for the Bronica, just that little bit wider than normal (like the Lumix)


Paul said...

I think there needs to be the equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous for photographers. I've managed to go all year without buying any new photographic toys - and surprisingly it hasn't limited me at all.
If I need proof of what my gear is capable of I resort to reading blogs like VSL or Robin Wong. It reinforced that for me that my OM-D gear is capable of meeting my needs and for what I do a max ISO of 3200 is fine (most people manage with a much lower limit using film)

PS If you want a baby brother for your EM-5s you might like his latest post on the EM-10 Mk II

Godfrey DiGiorgi said...

All the hype turns me off. I expect it's a nice camera, and it will have its pluses and minuses, like any. The forums and blogs will be gaga for a while. Then the next new thing will come along and those that bought and enjoy it will be happy with it, or move on.

I'm happy with my present gear. I'll keep taking photos with it, adding and subtracting to it as interest and needs move me.

Robin said...

I completely agree with Kirk on this one. Agree about the non-event of the 12 vs 14 bit files. It's a good camera, but so what? There are plenty of other really good cameras. Like Godfrey I find the relentless enthusiasm about the Sony off putting. The arguments seem to be: it's mirrorless (already better than any other camera - because it's mirrorless you fool); 2 stops better dynamic range (one just cannot manage without this can one?); 42 MP!(provides even higher resolution for all the usual dull pictures we take), 5-axis stabilization (other stabilization systems are failures in comparison), it's not Canon or Nikon (they don't get it, they are not new and cool). Anything I missed? Oh yes, it's smaller and weighs NOTHING. No doubt I would be moderated out of the Huff site just for daring to think I start my day without exploding with happiness because Sony have just brought out their 20th camera in 5 years. Glad you are resisting at the moment, Kirk, although it will be difficult to hold out over time.

Mark Farrelly said...

Hi Kirk,

I like reading your articles as they come in daily to my email, (I don't know where you get the time to write so much).

I started reading your writing a couple of years ago when you were using the A99, and its funny as you justify buying or not buying a new piece of gear, you obviously love your cameras. It would be great to go to a camera shop with you one day and the guy behind the counter, who you know on first name basis, says, "Hello Kirk", his eyes light up as he anticipates a sale. :)

I have been a pro photographer for over 20 yrs, I'm not a tech head, I love my cameras, but photography is not all I have in life. I used to just go and buy the latest canon every two or so years, I obviously use L lenses, so upgrade the body and I am set for a few more years.

I got a bit sick of doing that, I bought a Olympus EPL2 as you were also using the PEN cameras. I loved it and then realised that I need a camera to have fun with. I sold that camera and bought a Sony RX100, absolutely great fun camera.

I realised that the camera world is going through amazing advancements, so I bought a Canon 6D, as a transition camera, great image quality, and I use it for Architecture and for portraiture, I then sold my 7D and bought a 70D, for action and video, as I can't pull focus, it has a touch screen and pulls focus using that, they are great, I have minor complains, but nothing major, they do the job and do it well. Because, really my clients wouldn't know one camera from another, its me they employ, not my camera system. Actually if I had the 70D in a full frame I would be TOTALY happy. I love the touch screen.

I have tried to take the Canon cameras overseas but usually, end up leaving them in the hotel and take my RX100.

So my next endeavour is to find a travel camera, and I am hoping it will be the Sony A7000 when it comes out. As I realise there just isn't a camera that is right for every thing, I see a different camera for different purposes, although really, most of the new cameras can be used for commercial work, depending on the job and end use of course. You are totally right, the focus is the most important, if its out of focus its unusable.

Anyway, keep writing, I enjoy your experiences on the job the most, I'm hardly going to buy into the Nikon gear now, so I don't get much out of that, but I'm not your only reader.

Thanks mate,


Anonymous said...

Considering digital photography is pretty much about the electronic transfer of information, This may be appropriate here:

I recommend This new word for Webster:

ITiot: Noun. Individual who accepts, out of hand, that any advancement in electronic technology is needed and will advance humanity

neopavlik said...

Lol at the anonymous kirk will own 2 by Christmas :)

I'm glad the A7R2 is capturing a lot of attention, whatever camera allows me to auto focus as many different brands of lenses as possible is fine by me.

Bumpy said...

I mostly agree and admire your practical attitude, but I upgraded my nex7 to A7rII precisely because of my impatience with tripods. The IBIS is impressive, my casual tests (incuding the old nikon 500f4p at 1/60th, and contax zeiss 28 2.8 at 1/2) seem to get me 3 stops with adapted lenses. Since Nex7 is nearly useless over iso200 I get a couple more stops iso, though those with newer/better gear won't see that much improvement. But for me 5 stops was awfully compelling prospect and a delight now that I have my A7rii.

As a hobbiest I decided to control costs (relatively speaking) by going manual focus so nothing to say myself about autofocus - but you may find diglloyd's comments on 100% focus hit rate interesting: http://diglloyd.com/blog/2015/20150822_1402-SonyA7R_II-focus.html
I've seen other reviews rave about focus accuracy, esp. on subject eyes, when using fast lenses like FE 55 1.8.

Given your own description of what you want (and what I've seen on your site over the years), I think the a7rii is an awfully good fit. I'm with anonymous on this one....

For me, no camera is perfect, and this year's best rarely retains the crown for long. The Sonys fit my desires (all manual so I really learn the fundamentals) and I have not tried lots of brands so I have little basis of comparison - I just have to hope I have chosen well. Not hard when most every current camera is capable of capturing great images. What I am sure of is that the a7rii gives me no leave to blame my camera under all but pitch dark or other truly extreme conditions. From here on out IQ is up to me, l just hope I am up to the challenge!

On that front, thank you for all you share on your blog. Nice source of help and inspiration.

Chad Wadsworth said...

I get the tone deafness that follows when the hype machine gears up but what we are seeing with the a7R II is uncharted territory for the mirrorless platform, at least pertaining to full frame sensors.

With the first generation of a7 bodies, Sony was flexing its new muscles, but with the a7R II they have entered the Mr. Universe contest. Megapixels aside, the BSI sensor is allowing for unprecedented management of data off of the sensor, allowing it to do things like fast phase detect autofocus with vintage Contax G lenses: http://chadwadsworth.com/2015/08/30/913/ or focusing a Canon lens as quickly as a native FE lens.

The Eye tracking AF feature is truly amazing and I can't imagine a portrait shooter not falling in love with this new found freedom to compose at will and ensure that your subject's eye is sharp - if that is your intention.

I'm feeling more engaged and inspired to evolve the way I work than with any other camera I have used. That's what's important to me and why I would advise to believe the hype.

Danny Malik said...

I'm trying to buy Sony A7 R ii since July of this year but it seems like I can't afford this one due to its price here in UK it's like round about £ 900 or a little more. Now this thing is I still can't afford it, by my saving now at this moment I think I can go for Sony Alpha A6000 with 16-50mm + E55-210mm Lens at just £ 545.00 from a store which is pretty maybe that's why they're offering this cheap price named TRD Electronics.
If someone can do then please tell me the comparison of this combo with Sony A7 R II.