SONY A7R QUICK REVIEW
As promised, here are a few thoughts I have about the new Sony A7R 36 megapixel camera matched up with my favorite Canon tilt/shift lenses. By no means a thorough review, these are just my personal thoughts and initial impressions of the camera after a week in the field.
The Sony A7R, with its AA-filter-less 36mp sensor, provides a noticeable increase in resolution over my previous camera, the 21mp Canon 5DII. I can honestly say that the resolution I’m seeing directly rivals and perhaps even surpasses the resolution of my large format 4×5 drum scans! 60″ wide prints will be possible.
However, the caveat is that in order to utilize the full potential of the 36mp sensor, you absolutely need to use razor sharp lenses, and probably stopped down more than you might prefer. The high resolution sensor clearly displays the limits of every lens, and even the sharpest lenses will need to be used carefully to get everything in focus. With my lenses I’ve found that apertures of around f/8 or smaller are often needed, or else the corners are going to be soft. I think many landscape photographers shooting the A7R are going to find that if they want to get tack sharp photos from corner to corner, near to far, they are either going to have to use tilt/shift lenses or they’ll have to do multiple exposure focus stack blending. If you’re shooting a normal lens at around f/8 or so, you’re simply not going to get near-to-far sharpness in a scene with any kind of foreground; and if you stop down too much, you’re going to see the degrading effect of diffraction. Focus blending could be a solution, but in my opinion it is an inherently flawed technique, not to mention an unpractical pain in the ass for most field work. This leaves tilt/shift lenses as the best option for maximizing the potential of the A7R sensor.
It’s also worth mentioning that the A7R sensor offers excellent dynamic range, and you can really pull the shadows out without any unwanted artifacts. As a test I took a deliberately underexposed shot and when I pushed the RAW exposure by 3 stops in Lightroom, the image still looks perfect. I can push it a full 5 stops and see a bit of grain but nothing like the ugly color banding that the Canon would show in such a situation. Impressive stuff.
Coming from the Canon, I’ve found the Sony to be a pleasure to work with and a comfortable transition. The tilting LCD screen is a joy, especially since I’m always doing manual focussing with live view. No more bending down to see the LCD; I can just tilt it out and stand straight. I do miss an optical viewfinder from time to time; the EVF (electronic viewfinder) is quite good but not as useful as an optical one, particularly in very low-light situations or if you want to hone in on a composition with the camera turned off. I pretty much only use the EVF in bright conditions when it’s difficult to see the LCD.
Live view focussing works great, even a bit better than the Canon which already did a great job. The magnified focus is very sharp and can move around the frame quicker than the Canon. You can also use focus peaking to makes things even easier.
I have seen that the camera tends to underexpose and it’s not reliable to use the LCD image alone for judging exposure since the screen shows the images brighter than they really are. So I makes sure to use the live histogram along with “zebra” highlighting (set to 100+) of blown out areas to judge exposure. Basically I adjust the exposure compensation until the brightest highlights are almost blown out, and that generally gives me an accurate exposure.
There are a few quirky things about the camera; the main thing involving the playback magnification, which uses two separate odd buttons that aren’t really intuitive. The live view focus magnification uses a different button as well. It would have made more sense to use two dedicated zoom-in zoom-out buttons for all instances of magnification. But this is all minor stuff since you get used to it eventually.
All in all, I really don’t have much else to say about the Sony A7R, which is a good thing. I’m pleased with the interface and how the camera works (which is not something I say for every camera I use!) and the image files are very impressive, not only in resolution but also dynamic range and color characteristics. If and when Canon ever comes out with their version of a higher megapixel camera body, it better be damn good because Sony has set the bar pretty high.