The Sony A7

August 13, 2016

In the beginning of the year, I got myself a Sony A7 (Mark 1). It’s a camera that has intrigued me for quite some time prior to getting one. I’ve now had it for half a year, and this is my impression so far.

First of all, I did not want a mirrorless camera per se, and I specifically didn’t want one for any weight savings – I just need to get that out. I’ve loved using my Canon 5D, and I’ve really loved using full frame, the problem with the original 5d isn’t really image quality, but more so that it lacks a couple of key features, like auto ISO for example.

I had been considering either upgrading to a Canon 5D Mark 2 or a Canon 6D, but my local camera shop dropped the price on the Sony A7 with the kit 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 to 999€ + 100€ cashback from Sony (this was back in January 2016), so I sent them an email asking them what they’d give for a couple of old lenses and bodies (some APS-C lenses and my 60D and a Canon M), they got the price down to 399€ (I would’ve probably gotten more if I had sold them myself on the second hand market), so that, with the cashback, meant that the camera would cost me 299€, pretty cheap for a full-frame camera.

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I still got my Canon 5D, I just like it too much to depart from it. Seeing as I also kept all of my EF, or full frame Canon lenses, I thought it might be good to have the 5D as a backup.

Once I had the A7 I was shocked how light weight it is, how plastic it felt, and how small it is (my hands are far to large for it). The kit lens is nothing to write home about, I’ve used it only a couple of times, and there’s something with the images that I just don’t like. I also noticed that the battery performance is anything but good. I’ve been spoiled by the performance from the 5D, where it can go months before I need to recharge the batteries.

Probably one of the biggest shocks I had when I unboxed the camera was that there is no dedicated charger. You charge the battery with the camera through a USB cable, which means it’s really slow, and you need to hook up the camera to a cable (increases risk of something tangling to the cable and ripping everything on to the floor).

So what I needed to get to make the camera “complete” (or extra hidden costs). A second battery, a battery grip, a battery charger. This set me back a good couple of hundred euros combined.

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Sony A7, Sigma (EF) DG 70-200mm f/2.8 + 2x Teleconverter @ 296mm, 1/1000, f/5.6, ISO320

I was tempted to get the Sony battery grip, but then opted to save some money and got the Meike version of it, which has worked just fine, and I haven’t had any problems with it so far, the build quality, whilst being completely plastic, is satisfactory, and I’m happy with it. As for the charger, I looked around, and didn’t really like Sony’s offerings from the get go.

After some googling I found the Hähnel ProCube Twin Charger, which has just been awesome, it can charge two NP-FW50 batteries at once, and show the current charge in percentage on the digital screen, and it’s not very expensive, clocking in at around 50€ – well worth it.

Side note: Even though I initially hated USB-charging, I have found one use for it, when you are on the go, instead of bringing the battery charger, or multiple batteries, you can top off the camera with one of those battery packs that you use for charging mobile phones.

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Sony A7 with a Minolta MD 58mm f/1.4

And now to the main reason I’ve been interested in (or intrigued by) the Sony A7, because of the design of the FE mount on Sony cameras, you can basically adapt any lens to it, from any manufacturer. I’ve been dying to play around with older vintage lenses for quite some time, they have fantastic build quality, they are very small, and most importantly, they are very cheap (the prices have risen in the last couple of years though).

My first adapter was naturally a Canon EF to Sony FE adapter. There’s a couple on the market, I decided to go for the Commlite, since it does support – although quite badly – auto focus, but the price is almost one fourth of the more expensive ones – which are just a bit better at auto focus. With the EVF and focus peeking (and digital zoom) manual focus is fairly easy and pretty fast, so I don’t mind the slow auto focus. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve used the auto focus for anything else but test it.

The second adapter I got was a Canon FD to Sony FE, quickly followed by a Minolta MD to Sony FE. I’ve then bought a bunch of vintage lenses, some of which have been really nice like the Minolta MD 135mm f/2.8.

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Sony A7, Canon EF 20-35mm f/2.8 L + ND400 filter @ 20mm, 30s, f/22, ISO100

Anyway, so what have I found out about the camera? Well, lets start with something which really threw me off in the beginning, exposure metering. I’ve been a long time Canon user, and 99% of the time, the camera has metered the correct values (shutter and ISO). When I started shooting with the Sony I noticed that I was constantly blowing out the highlights, like almost every single image I took, the highlights were unsavable, so now I have the exposure compensation set to -1 constantly, most of the image gets pretty underexposed, but it seems like the Sony’s RAW files can be pushed pretty far on the shadows without introducing too much (and often not even noticeable) noise.

I also dislike the way the monitor/EVF (Electronic View Finder) combo works. Basically, when you hold the camera, the monitor is in live view, “streaming” whatever is visible to the camera. When you bring up the camera to you eye, the monitor turns off, and the EVF turns on, displaying the same image. All of this works, and it works pretty well. But I’d love if you could configure so the monitor is constantly turned off, unless it is previewing the last taken picture, or if I press the menu button.

You can configure so the monitor is always off, but then both the preview mode and the menu system is only accessible through the EVF. In other words; I’d love if the monitor could be configured to work in the same way that DSLR’s generally work.

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Sony A7, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 @ 50mm, 1/125, f/7.1, ISO100

On the subject of the EVF, I generally like having the augmentation that it provides, but the shutter lag can sometimes be really annoying. For example, take the image above, I had to wait for multiple buses, and take multiple pictures, in order to get it lined up correctly. I was so used to having the mirror in a DSLR which shows everything in real time, that the lag from the EVF made it hard to get everything timed correctly.

The buttons on the camera feel very cheap, and the scroll wheel on the back is prone to accidentally move, especially so when you try to use the direction pad that it doubles as. The camera itself is pretty small, too small for my hands, so I had to get the battery grip (with the added benefit of longer battery life). As I already stated, I didn’t get the A7 because of its size, but because of the price and for the possibility to use vintage lenses. I thoroughly believe the A7 would’ve been a better camera if they increased the size (from what I’ve read, the A7 mark 2 is a bit larger).

As is with all mirrorless cameras, the sensor easily picks up dirt, and the built-in sensor cleaning does little to remove it. The sensor on the A7 attracts more dust than the sensor on the 5D (which completely lacks any sensor cleaning functionality).

And finally, the mount itself, which is mostly plastic, feels like it might break off at any time. It has twice already failed to lock in the lens, which once lead to the camera crashing down on the ground, without any protection.

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Sony A7, Canon EF 20-35mm f/2.8 L @ 20mm, 1/640s, f/6.3, ISO100

Canon cameras are known for their color which after shooting with canon for 4 years is something that I’m very used to. The A7’s colors are on the other hand very different, while not bad, it did take quite some time to get used to them, and to work with them.

So what can I say after 6 months with the camera, do I regret going with it?

No, not really, I mean, at the end of the day, it’s a camera, it takes pictures and stores them on a memory card. Would I have been happier staying with a DSLR – maybe, but I wouldn’t have been able to play with vintage lenses.

The one thing I’d like to see, is more affordable lenses for the FE mount. The current line up is ridiculously expensive, especially for amateur photographers who don’t make any money on the hobby.

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Sony A7, Minolta Auto Rokkor-PF 58mm f/1.4 @ 1/60, f/1.4, ISO800

I do find myself using the 5D every now and then, mostly if I know timing will be critical, or if I absolutely need auto focus. And the interesting thing is that every time I pick up the 5D, it just fits perfectly in my hand, and I still remember each button location by heart — which is something I still struggle with the A7.

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Sony A7 with a commlite EF Adapter, 2x teleconverter and the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8

So for day-to-day photography, especially the kind of slow-paced work I usually do, the Sony A7 is more than adequate.

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