An evening spent writing a personal review of the Sony A7ii in a small hotel in Baton Rouge.

While the most flexible and most Swiss Army Knife-like of my cameras is the RX10iii with it's great, long lens and remarkable 4K video, the camera that most matches my personal vision of the perfect personal camera is a different one. You would be forgiven for thinking it has to be the Sony A7Rii but you would be wrong. While the R-2 is a great camera the one I reach for to do my work is almost always its sibling, the A7ii. Plain vanilla personality with the ability to deliver great images.

Let's take a look at this one now, even though it's been on the market for a bit less than two years now. Especially since it's been on the market for nearly two years.

Like the A7Rii the A7ii is a small, mirrorless body that fits well in my medium sized hand. It feels dense and durable but is much smaller and lighter than the Nikon bodies I had been shooting with. In truth, it feels (and probably is) smaller and lighter than the RX10iii.  It's more the size of an M series Leica than a traditional DSLR. The camera has all the good stuff inside. The EVF is the same as the one in the A7Rii and it will make a believer out of most photographers, when it comes to electronic viewfinders. There is little to no perceptible finder lag in my style of shooting and both of the A7 cameras I own have finders that are able to give accurate indications of exposure with a much better correspondence with what I eventually see on my calibrated monitor at the studio. One of the reasons I switched systems was my inability to accurately judge the actual, optimal exposure on the back screen of my Nikon D810 or D750.

Along with the exposure accuracy I have been preaching the benefits of "pre-chimping" via EVFs since 2010. You can assess color shifts, contrast, effects and, of course, exposure as you are shooting, and even when you are just looking through your finder, lining up your shots. It's a time saver and a shot saver and eventually all but a handful of camera models will be "upgraded" to use this viewing system.

The A7ii is staid and boring and reliable. The images coming from the 24 megapixel imager have great color and a high degree of sharpness. There is supposed to be an anti-aliasing filter in the make up of the sensor module but it does little to diminish the overall sharpness of the system. I recently did a series of portraits using electronic flash and my one issue was the need to tame color aliasing in the fine fabrics of several mens' suits. This is an indicator of high sharpness. For nearly every use I have (in taking portraits) the 24 megapixel sensor is more than enough resolution, and that resolution is coupled with ample dynamic range.

I tend to use the A7R2 when there is no limit to the sharpness and resolution I think I'll need. It's the perfect camera for big group shots (lots of detail for every face) and technical images of products that potentially need to be produced at extreme sizes for trade show graphics. But the uncompressed 14 bit raw files are huuuuge. They take up a lot of disk space. They require a lot of computer horsepower to batch process.... And that's exactly where its less endowed sibling, the A7ii, comes in most handy. It's 95% of the image quality of its sibling in a file that's half the size. I'm comfortable using it for any portrait, no matter how big, and for most advertising images as well.

I never intended to use the camera for video work as I'd heard from various review sites that the 1080p (no 4K) files were nothing special. The implication being that the files were less than sharp or less detailed than other available, 1080p, options. One day I grabbed the A7ii body entirely by mistake (the A7x cameras are nearly completely intentional on the exterior) and used it to shoot an interview for a video project. When I realized my error I was very nervous about how the video would cut together with the "higher quality" materials I'd already shot on the RX10iii and the A7Rii. I was anxious until I got back to the studio and ingested the material into Final Cut Pro X. The video looked great. Absolutely great. The quality reinforced what I've believed for years: You can't take my word or anyone else's word for the performance of cameras. You have to test them yourself. You have to shoot them and look at the files. Everyone has a point of view and it's highly probable that their points of view don't align with your preferences. Test the cameras that interest you yourself. You just can't rely on website reviews. Even if you like the way the guys write....

So, what's not to like?

We can bitch about the batteries all day long but they are what they are. You give up one thing (battery life) to get another (body size).

If you want to bitch about EVFs you've wandering into the wrong blog. I think a good EVF is a major plus for a camera.

After having used the Sony A7ii for a good while I've got the menu items I use memorized. I've got my function buttons committed almost to muscle memory and I've got my back button AF squared away. I've heard horror stories about service but I'll just keep buying the used bodies and hope Sony has their QC shortcomings conquered for the long term.

I am pretty certain that Sony will soon come out with a replacement for the a7ii and I can't wait. The used price on the existing models should (given a quick look at Sony history) drop like a rock. At a certain price we can even start thinking of them as disposables....

As far as I can see the A7ii is a boring, reliable, small, easy to handle package. Big performance. Small used price. Fun to use with older, manual focus lenses. So far, I love mine.

Just thought I'd share where I am with cameras at the moment. I started writing this last week in Baton Rouge but just finished up after lunch today. July was the busiest and most prosperous month in my long career. Just amazing. Sometimes the blog fell between the cracks.

Thoughts about mixing business and pleasure with the same camera and lens...

Just a few random thoughts about the separation of "church and state" when it comes to work and fun photography. Not that work and fun cannot combine but..... it's that "mindset" thing.

When I travel for most event assignments (trades shows, symposiums, speeches, etc.) I have to travel light. I've got to get my stuff on and off airplanes and wrangle it in and out of taxis, etc. by myself. While I always want to take all the cameras and lenses I own I am also trying to fit in lights, light stands, a tripod, some light modifiers and a couple of suits and pairs of dress shoes. 

This means I've settled on a combination of two, mostly identical, camera bodies and two zoom lenses. Right now I'm using the Sony 24-70 and the 70-200mm lenses but in the past I've used Nikon's versions and Canon's versions. Trying to wrangle a bag full of primes for that kind of work isn't practical. And yet when I leave town and travel to some times beautiful places I like to spend some personal time walking around, seeing new cities and shooting the kinds of images I've been pursuing for decades. Somehow, if I try to use the "work" lenses I just can't get the work stuff out of my head. Even the stuff I look for to shoot seems to be filtered in some subconscious process by the "work lenses." Everything feels very f8 and very visually "safe." 

The workaround that seems to satisfy my need for a personal/work life firewall is to bring an "art" camera and lens that is separate from the work camera system. It doesn't necessarily need to be a totally separate system or format, the gear just has to be different from the stuff I'll be using to make the work photographs. 

On a recent trip I was shooting with the Sony A7R2, the 24/70 and the 70/200. I used the Sony A7ii and the Contax 50mm f1.7 as my "personal" or "off the clock" system. It made a big difference for me. And when I really need more separation I'll stick my personal camera into the black and white mode. The limitation of one lens and one body is a nice, formalist exercise. It also helps by keeping the personal images out of the workflow of the work images. It's nice not to have to remove random images from a Lightroom catalog or a delivery folder....

Not sure how the rest of the world handles this but that's my method. 

Quick test of the Rokinon 135mm t2.2 Cine lens I bought a week ago.

Very early on in my photography hobby I got by for a year or two with only two lenses. One was the 50mm f1.8 Canon FD lens that came as part of a kit with the Canon TX SLR camera. The other was a Vivitar 135mm f2.8 lens I bought from Capitol Camera, from their shop in the Dobie Mall. The 50mm was my everyday lens but the 135mm came out when I traveled and when I took portraits. While I am certain that there were better lenses around I was always pleased with the sharpness and the overall look of the images I took with that lens. 

I've owned and used plenty of 135mm lenses over the years but seem to have gotten side-tracked in the last decade by the use of 70-200mm and 80-200mm zoom lenses; especially the f2.8 professional variety. Last week I was up at Precision Camera buying some attachment or accessory for some other stupid and unnecessary piece of gear when I came across a very slightly used Rokinon 135mm t2.2 Cine lens with the Sony E mount. I bought it. Then I went on a commercial job for the better part of the week and didn't have the chance to check out the new lens. 

I spent the first part of Saturday (after swim practice and a family lunch) doing post production on the  jobs from last week and then, around 4:30pm I stood up from the desk, grabbed a Sony A7ii and the 135mm lens and headed out for a walk that ended up taking me back to the Graffiti Wall in the central downtown area. 

The Rokinon 135 is a fairly big lens and though it is not as heavy as its Nikon and Canon counterparts it is still more of a burden to carry around than is a good 50mm lens. The benefits of using a very fast 135mm lens are two fold: One is the additional compression the 135mm gives you over an 85 or a 105. The second is the ability to shoot close to wide open and drop foregrounds and backgrounds out of focus quite easily. Used near their minimum focusing distances and near their widest apertures the 135mm provide a focus isolation that is textbook cool.

While I haven't put the 135mm through an exhaustive test I can talk about a few of the positives and negatives of the lens. Intellectually I like the "cine" versions of the Rokinon lenses because I'm always thinking I'll be using the lens a lot when making videos and that I'd love to use it with a follow focus adapter. The rings are geared for just that use...  But that makes the focusing ring uncomfortable and knobby feeling. It's not optimized for still photography. It's the same with the aperture ring; "de-clicked" apertures sounds like a very cool thing, and I totally get the noiseless benefit when changing settings while rolling in video --- but to be truthful, this lens will see a lot more action in my use as a still lens and the aperture ring is too easily moved when shooting handheld to make it the perfect choice for a handheld optical tool. 

My third criticism is that these fast, long lenses push the envelope where focus peaking is concerned and make me fall back to using the (slower to implement) focus magnification features in the Sony cameras. I can't really fault the lens for this; it's more of an interface thing.

Weighed against these negatives is the fact that the 135mm focal length is interesting and fun, and that the Rokinon is a very, very good optical performer. Used close, medium and far the lens delivers a sharp image. I shot mostly at f2.8 and f4.0. I occasionally shot at f5.6 or f8.0 if I wanted to extend the focus range for more environmental detail inclusion and, at every aperture, the parts that were in the field of focus were nicely sharp and contrasty. 

I will keep the lens around because I like the look and I like the sharpness of the images. I will also start searching for some way to adapt, make or otherwise get my hands on a tripod collar that will work for this lens. With a good collar it would be a really wonderful studio portrait lens. In it's naked state it makes the smaller Sony cameras seem so small and delicate. I'm sure that the newer bodies are designed to take the strain of heavier lenses than this, after all, they've just come out with a 70-200mm f2.8 G lens that must weigh well over twice what this one weighs. But I hate it when the front of the lens/camera package starts to droop forward when in the vertical orientation on a tripod.  If you know of a tripod collar that fits please be sure to let me know....

This is a lens you bring when you have the image already in mind. It is not a "walk around" lens by any stretch of the imagination and yet, that's exactly what I spent Saturday afternoon doing. 

To recap: 

Videographer? Perfect lens for you. 

Photographer?  Look for the photo version of the lens instead of the cine version. 

But what about the lens? It's not outrageously big given the focal length and the speed. The plastic barrel assembly helps keep the weight down and feels very good in my hands. The lens is sharp at the apertures you've likely bought the lens in order to use (from wide open to around f8) and it does a great job doing out of focus backgrounds. The optical properties of the lens are as good as the MF units I've used from Nikon and Canon but the lens is available new for a price much lower than the "mint" used prices of its closest competitors. 

Finally, I would hesitate to buy this lens if I planned to use it on a DSLR versus a mirrorless camera. The focusing might be too tough to discern on an optical focusing screen and the live view on traditional DSLRs is too clunky to make the process much fun. The logical cameras on which to use this particular lens are the Sony A7 series cameras since they offer easy and quick focus magnification in addition to focus peaking. I have a good 70-200mm but my nostalgia for these old style, faster primes prompted me to buy it. You may not be subject to your own internal manipulation and, if you already own a focal length that covers this range, you may not feel that you need something like this (with all of its warts and foibles). You'd probably be right...

Good lens for some. Your needs may vary.