The New Camera - Sony A7R

To predicate this post I’d like to remind everyone that it isn’t the tools that make the art. Sometimes we get so caught up in gear that we forget that cameras are simply our paintbrushes and we are the ones that choose the final image through selection of light and composition. However, I receive many questions about cameras and lenses so I’m offering my opinion about my own gear here.

Why the new Camera?

Last fall I purchased my wife a Canon 7D for a few reasons:

  • I wanted her to have a way to capture the family while I was at the dental school.
  • I wanted a semi heavy duty camera so it was safe from the hands of toddlers.
  • I was hoping she’d get more interested in photography.

After a few months and only a few hundred photos taken (half of which by me) I decided the camera would do better in someone else’s hands. So I placed it for sale and off it went. Around this same time I was also selling a Sigma 85mm f/1.4. I wanted to see if it was a focal length I’d appreciate as so many other portrait photographers have. Short story, I didn’t. There I was, with an influx of camera oriented funds just waiting for me to invest in my future work. It’s been about a year now that I’ve been itching to get the Sony A7R. It was in the running for my “real” camera when I bought one last January. Though with such a large price tag and such a limited collection of lenses, I couldn’t justify the cost. So I went with Canon and it was a great choice! My 6D has served me very well. Though taking a large camera for anything we did as a family just wasn’t going to cut it. I needed something portable, and I was spoiled by the power of having a full frame sensor. My iPhone just wasn’t going to do. Then I saw a steal of a deal pop up for the A7R and new it was time for me to snag it up before anyone else did. So I did.

Initial Thoughts

I’ve only had my new tool for a few days, but I’ve played around with it enough to get a fairly decent first impression. In order for me to give you a run down on this camera let me give you an idea of my setup: The A7R, a fotodiox EOS to E-mount adapter, all of my existing Canon glass, and a ZE 35 / 2,8.

Shooting

One of the biggest benefits of having a mirrorless camera is that you can see your shot before you take it. Meaning you can see your exposure, white balance, histogram, even compositional lines. I almost feel like I’m cheating! It makes taking the shot quick and easy. As I always shoot in manual, another benefit is having three different dials controlling each point on the exposure triangle (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO). This means I can adjust my exposure and depth of field without even thinking about it.

Focusing

As mentioned earlier, the mirrorless full frame cameras from Sony offer an extremely limited collection of lenses. Especially in regards to fast primes (my personal favorite for doing portraits). Luckily adapters exist and I have a decent set of lenses all ready to go. Though the adapter does allow electronic signals to pass through from the camera to the lens, the autofocus is just about unusable from a practical sense. Fortunately, there are two tools that help with that area: focus peaking and magnification. Focus peaking places colored highlights on your image where it is in focus. This helps you visualize where the photo will be sharp. This is great for areas with higher contrast, but not so great for indoors or times with limited light. That’s where the focus magnification comes into play. This zooms you far into your shot and lets you see if that particular field on the screen is tack sharp or not. The downside to this is that you’re unaware to what is going on outside of that frame or what your composition looks like. It’s still possible to get what you want in focus even with super shallow depths of field. Here is a shot I took the hour I received my adapter.

RAW Files

Something that I was initially drawn to was the power of the sensor’s dynamic range. I’ve played with a few images and am just blown away. My 6D is super powerful, though the ability to pull out the shadows and highlights on these files are spectacular with limited amount of degradation. The files are also very modest in size. A 36mp image was only 35 megabytes. I was able to edit the photo above on my little Macbook Air with zero hiccups.

Am I Ditching Canon?

Absolutely not! I love my 6D and will probably run it into the ground (though at under 20k shutter actuations, I’m far from doing that). It’s powerful, easy to use, and well built. The majority of my glass comprises of Canon L lenses, so having a camera that works with them natively is required. I am getting the hang of manual focus on the A7R, but I like the ease of autofocus. The 6D will probably remain my portrait lens, and the Sony will be my “around the house” camera, as well as my landscape camera.