My flirtation with the Sony A7 series

I don't really like doing gear posts, especially when it comes to reviewing a new camera or a lens. I'm not interested enough in the technical aspects of the build and features of a new piece of gear to really write an informed review. I cringe when people start talking about how sharp their lenses are or how many megapixels their camera has. I'll leave that to the DXO enthusiasts. Rest assured this is not going to be one of those type of posts. This is simply just a collection of thoughts about a camera system that I was given to play with a couple of months ago.

As many of my regular subscribers will know I'm a huge fan/user of the Fujifilm X Series cameras and lenses. The Fuji X system has been my choice of camera system since they released the X-E1 a couple of years ago. I even sold all my Full Frame Canon gear after using the Fuji system. It fits for me, it fits what I do and works without fail every single time I need it. But this is not about Fuji, or not entirely anyway. Fujifilm are my benchmark, hence the introduction and as I go through this post I will be using them as my basis for comparison.

So as I said, I was asked to have a look at a body and a couple of lenses and get some thoughts on them. I have spent roughly 3 months with the Sony A7R, the 24-70mm, 70-200mm and the more recently released 16-35mm lens.

Sony A7r with 24-70mm lens

Sony A7r with 24-70mm lens

Sony have produced the world's first full frame mirrorless camera system in the A7 series. It's an impressive feat from Sony who now have 4 camera bodies in this series; the A7, A7ii, A7r and A7s. One of the most notable and heavily promoted features of this system is that the cameras are lightweight but with very high megapixel sensors, even for full frame cameras. This is attractive to a lot of photographers, particular those who do work where large high resolution files are required. For example commercial and landscape photographers like... erm... me! The kind of people who supply large files for big posters/billboards and large format prints.

So without boring you any further, here's my thoughts about the A7 series from Sony.

The Edge of Light - Sony A7r/ 24-70mm lens

First of all what did I like? Well for a full frame camera, high definition system, it's a small camera body with nice controls, beautiful RAW files and overall impressive image quality. My first couple of weeks with the system had me excited about some of the photographs that I was producing, the amazing detail and resolution in my work, but this quickly wore off as I realised that this system was changing the way I work, and not in a good way. 

I started becoming one of the DXO enthusiasts, the pixel peepers, blowing up every individual photograph for hours at a time and admiring the clarity and resolution in my files instead of going out and making photographs. I was becoming everything that I hate about photographers. Let me just say there's nothing wrong with wanting your photographs to be perfect, I want that. What I was doing though was telling other photographers online and in person about how sharp my photographs were etc. In a strange kind of way this seems to be a common theme amongst the Sony A7 series photographers. The online groups dedicated to these cameras on social media and photo sharing websites seem to be flooded with these type of users. Way more than I've ever seen on any of the Fuji equivalent sites.

There were a few things with the camera that I really disliked as time went on. Terribly slow autofocus (almost impossible as the light fades) and a shutter that was so loud that I thought I was launching grenades from the end of the lens barrel.  These are fairly well documented so I won't say any more on them. You can read about those elsewhere. A quick side note about the shutter, a number of users complained about shutter shock on their A7 series bodies. I never noticed it during my time with the A7R.

There were also a few niggly things in the menus that I didn't like though, for example having to navigate to an option to enable the camera to use a cable shutter release. My Fuji's just allow me to do it automatically when you plug the cable in. The menu and settings don't feel very intuitive and it can be quite tricky and time consuming to locate a specific function or setting which is no good if you're working under time pressures.

One thing that bothered me the most was the lack of support or interest from Sony in terms of listening to their customers. Let me compare with Fuji again for a moment. Any flaws in a camera or new feature requests to Fuji are corrected and added regularly through firmware updates. For example, the X-Pro1 camera is now over 2 years old but has just recently been updated with new features (The ability to finely tune your autofocus with the manual focus ring), making it feel like a new camera again. Sony doesn't appear to be listening, or really attempting to fix things and add new updates in a way that Fuji does. The Sony user base are screaming at a brick wall as far as I can tell. The firmware updates do come with Sony however they are incredibly difficult and temperamental to install and never really seem to address the issues fully (see any Sony forum for scores of complaints). The process involves downloading an installer on your computer and connecting the camera via a usb cable. The process is laborious and finicky and many Mac users have been unable to run the installer or ended up bricking their camera. I had the pleasure of updating the firmware twice via someone else's windows machine and the only slight improvement in the camera was a slightly faster boot up time, that's all. Fuji in contrast make it very easy to update via a file that you simply upload onto an SD card and install directly onto the camera body.

Other things that I didn't like included the Sony FE lens collection being very limited too. There's only a limited selection of lenses, admittedly for a fairly new system. There are now however almost as many camera bodies available as lenses. Sony needs to focus on getting more lenses out there instead of a new body every 5 minutes. The few lenses they have are very well built but are a bit on the large and heavy side for a compact system. One of the arguments that I've heard against the limited lens selection is that you can get adapters which allow you to use lenses from Canon, Nikon and also legacy glass via the M-mount adaptors. But really you're adding to the bulk again, thus defeating one of the major benefits of the smaller mirrorless systems, not to mention it looks really weird and bulky. In some cases the autofocus doesn't work with these lenses either leaving you to focus manually. Fuji by comparison have an ever growing lens selection and they listen to what lenses their users want too. This is how to please your customers! Fuji do have a head start on Sony in this sphere so it's only fair to cut them a little slack.

Fallen Skies - Sony A7r/24-70mm lens

As I spent more time with the Sony, the little things started frustrating me even more. I loved the photographs that I could produce on the A7r but the other things that I described above were weighing heavily on my mind. I missed my X system. I have more fun with my Fuji's in a way that's difficult to explain. I guess it's like people and cars. They find their brand and then stick to them. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that there's much more to your camera gear than image quality and optics. You have to feel comfortable with it, it has to fit your needs.

Looking back I can get everything I need and more from my Fuji files. In terms of latitude with the RAW files I felt that I could get just as good an end product with my Fuji camera. The dynamic range of the Sony files was impressive but I like to get it right in camera anyway so it's not something that really bothers me. To be honest there's really so little difference between the image quality on the A7R and my Fuji X-T1 when you look at large format prints like a normal person, side by side at a sensible viewing distance. Sure if you want to look at them with a magnifying glass you might find something but who does that? My clients don't. 

I never felt comfortable with the Sony, not like I do with Fujifilm. Sony have a habit of dropping support for camera systems and creating a new system. Have a look at their range of camera systems and mounts. It gets confusing and not to mention disconcerting if you were to fully buy into one of their systems and have that thought hanging over you. 

When I'm photographing with my X system cameras, they don't get in the way, they're fun to work with, they let me get on with making photographs. I don't notice the camera stopping me when I use my Fuji setup. Too many times the I found myself cursing the Sony due to the menu layout or trying to activate a certain function. I never felt completely comfortable with the Sony A7 system due to the factors described above. You could say that may be due to inexperience with the system but it certainly wasn't for the lack of trying, it just kept stopping both me both physically to change a setting and mentally with my train of thought. The A7r is a beast of a camera and many people absolutely love it but the feel and experience of the Alpha system just doesn't work for my style of shooting and for that reason alone I'll be sticking with my Fujifilm X System.

Australia and New Zealand

Hi,

Let me first wish you a Happy New Year and I hope you had a great time over the festive period. For me it was something new this year. It was the first time that I've ever been away on holiday over Christmas and New Year and also my first time on a cruise ship. It was both a holiday and a delayed honeymoon for my wife and I after our wedding in the early part of last year. We had an unbelievable time on board the "Celebrity Solstice" and in the process visited some truly astounding places around Australia and New Zealand.

This trip was a great time to relax and refresh ready for whatever this year brings, but at the same time you cannot possibly visit a place like New Zealand and leave your camera at home. As I sit here now in my office and load the memory cards onto my laptop I'm already very excited to see some of the photographs that I made and I will of course, share them with you soon.

I went on the trip with a couple of bodies of work in mind as we saw a wide variety of places. As soon as I can I will start forming the photographs into these mini projects and begin to share them with you. As with all good holidays though we soon enough return to the reality of heading back to work. For me it begins tomorrow so it will take me a few weeks to get through the photographs and share them with you so please be patient in the meantime. 

For now I'll leave you with a single sneak preview of one of the most majestic places on the planet. The World Heritage listed 'Milford Sound' in New Zealand. I cannot possibly put into words what I was thinking as we entered this part of New Zealand's Fjord-land National Park, although playing the theme music from the movie 'Jurassic Park' would be a very appropriate backing track! The weather was icy cold from the Antarctic winds that meet the South West part of New Zealand's South Island. At the early hours of the morning this weather draped the sheer rock faces in spectacular mist and fog.

take care for now,

James

Milford Sound, New Zealand (Fuji X100T)

Creative constraints

As any photographer will know, planning what gear to take for a trip or holiday can be a bit of a headache. We like to travel but we also like to have all of our gear to hand. The problem with this is that we end up with too much gear, weighing us down to the point that it tires us and becomes a burden.

I'm very much that photographer. I like to have everything I could possibly need with me at all times. I'm also like this in my everyday life. This is why I can mostly be seen wearing cargo style shorts. Big pockets = more room for stuff that I might need!

I'm about to go away on holiday to New Zealand so choosing and packing my gear is very much on my mind. I've spent the last couple of weeks making a list of all my lenses and filters and other stuff that I will more than likely want and need for the work that I'm planning to produce. There's a lot there and even though I have a fairly small and light mirrorless system now, it's still going to be heavy by the time I carry everything on the list.

When I plan a trip or a shoot, I like to set myself a creative constraint in order to help me think differently about how to approach the work and also to flex my photographic creativity and skill. This trip is going to be no different. After a lot of thought and consideration I've decided to travel light this time, really light. I will be travelling with only my Fuji x100t and a couple of filters. The fuji x100t* is an extraordinary camera that every photographer should own. It's a small, fixed focal length (35mm equivalent) camera that you can fit in your pocket. It's perfect for travel, for portraits, for all different types of work. Many pro's swear by them, for example Zack Arias who recently said if all of his gear was to be taken from him then all he would want left would be his x100 cameras. It produces gorgeous photographs, aided by fuji's film simulation modes which were designed based on the film rolls that fuji used to make.

By using a single camera with a single focal length it will force me to be more aware of my composition, my proximity to my subject. It will force me to think outside the box and think creatively about how I photograph. Also it's such a lightweight kit that it won't be hard work or tiring to carry it around all day, thus allowing me to stay fresher and be more receptive to my surroundings. It's going to be quite different from my usual kit that I carry and a challenge for sure but I'm very excited about it. I think the results will be facinating and I'm looking forward to sharing them with you on my return. My kit list, for the nerds among you is as follows:

 

Think Tank Retrospective 7 Bag

Glanz 110cm 5 in 1 reflector

Fuji x100t camera

Fuji WCL-x100 wide angle lens converter

Binoculars

X-rite Color Checker Passport

Lens pen and blower

Gorillapod mini tripod

49mm Kenko circular polarising filter

A couple of spare batteries and charger

Lee Seven5 Soft Grad ND filters (0.3/0.6/0.9)

Lee Filter holder

Think Tank memory card holder with 6 16GB SDHC cards

 A couple of lens cloths

iPod

Notebook and pen

 

Finally it's time for me to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a fantastic New Year celebration. I may post the occaisional photograph from my trip as we go, depending on the wifi situation. Apart from that I've nothing more to say other than I'll see you in 2015!

Best wishes,

James

My travel kit, ready to pack.

My travel kit, ready to pack.

* There are actually now 3 cameras in the x100 series, the first generation x100, the x100s and the most recently released x100t.

My Gear

Hi,

A question that I'm finding that crops up (excuse the pun) more and more frequently these days, both in conversation and my inbox is "What gear do you use?". 

It's not any big secret that I use Fujifim X Series cameras. A look through my blog would certainly give you enough information to deduce that! I do however get asked about the other equipment that I use on a regular basis. Often if I'm out making photographs I may get asked about my filters or which software I use. Sometimes even what computer I use.

Well to help answer these questions I've now created a page on this website (under the "About" heading or click here) specifically to help answer these questions and provide some useful links to the different companies that I use and trust and the excellent range of products that they produce. Please feel free to check out that page. I will also add another page in the near future that lists some of my trusted suppliers and "go to" people for equipment and supplies. Feel free to have a look whenever you wish.

Take care for now,

James

The Fujifilm X-T1, first jpegs..

Today i managed a short trip out up to the forests of Mount Coot tha, overlooking Brisbane. My plan was to see how the jpegs turn out from the new Fuji X-T1. As it happens they are just as beautiful as the previous line of Fuji X cameras that have the X-Trans CMOS II sensor. I'm really surprised how good they are and it's even made me contemplate shooting jpegs more often instead of RAW files on work that is not so critical. You can see some examples below of the type of quality that you can expect from the Fuji X-T1 jpegs. All of these images used Fuji's Velvia jpeg setting which is designed to mimic the Velvia film that was produced prior to the digital revolution. Velvia is designed to be more vibrant and is ideally suited to landscape and nature photography. Click each image below to see it in a nice lightbox format.

New Gear, the stunning Fuji X-T1

So this week I've just picked up a second body for my Fuji X System gear. I've been very excited since I first heard about the arrival of the beautiful Fuji X-T1, a change in design from a rangefinder style to a camera with more of a DSLR style. This is the camera that i think is going to persuade a lot of people, who have so far been reluctant, to give the X series gear a serious go. The many reviews have been excellent so I'm looking forward to being able to give this camera a good test over the next few weeks. I'll post a some thoughts on it once I've spent some real time with the X-T1 in my hands. Just holding it and making just a few photographs, I can tell this is a very special camera indeed.

As my X series collection grows I'm finding more and more the joy of being able to do everything that I've done in the past on a smaller, compact system. I love the photographs that I can make with the Fuji gear. The image below was taken last night on my X-E2 at the beautiful location of Lake Samsonvale, just NW of Brisbane.

Fuji X-E2 with XR 18-55mm f/2.8 lens - 22mm / F11 / 20secs / ISO 200

Fuji X-E2 with XR 18-55mm f/2.8 lens - 22mm / F11 / 20secs / ISO 200