Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A walk in the park with the Sony α7R (Review)

If you have not been living under the rock or any mountain far from civilization, you may have realized how the camera market has changed over the years. It is all about having the biggest sensor in the smallest body now and Sony has always been a forerunner with it's RX 1 series. With the introduction of a new compact body running on a 36.4 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor, topped up with its interchangeable lens flexibility. This might just be the game changer everyone is waiting for... (Oh, did I also mention that it is much cheaper than the RX1 too?!)

I was given the opportunity to test run the Sony α7R with a Metabones adapter for my collection of Canon EF lens. Many of you may have already known that to use any 3rd party lens on a camera body, you will need a specific adapter and with such adapter, you will often lose the ability to auto-focus. Not with the Metabones EF to E mount. In theory, the Metabones adapter allows you to use your EF lens on the α7R without compromising on it auto-focusing capability. Sounds great... or is it?!

Let's check it out...

Since looks are equally as important as the specifications, here are a couple of iPhone images of α7R with the Canon EF lens attached via a Metabones adapter. 
The Sony α7R with the Metabones adapter on a Canon EF 24 F1.4L and EF 50 F1.4
Here are my initial thoughts when I first handled the α7R; it felt really good on the palm of my hand, much better than the RX1 actually. The ergonomic works really well for me and the rubber grip gives me the extra hold that is much needed especially with a larger lens like the 24mm F1.4 or even the 70-200mm F2.8. The buttons are all well placed and I'm able to figure out the functions pretty quickly. The camera looks and feels great and that is definitely a good start. 

For a Canon user like myself, it will be a dream come true if the lens can work on a beauty like the α7R without compromising the autofocus capability. Sadly, a dream will only be... just a dream. It seems that not all Canon EF lens are compatible with the Metabones. Although I am able to get the auto-focus working on the 24mm F1.4, it just doesn't work on the 50mm F1.4. A check on the Metabones website revealed that the adapter only works on a certain list of Canon lens (in the table below) and unfortunately, the 50 F1.4 is not one of them.  

Canon EF primes

EF 14/2.8L II USM
EF 24/1.4L II USM
EF 24/2.8 IS USM
EF 35/1.4L USM (Ver.19)
EF 50/1.2L USM
EF 85/1.2L II USM
EF 85/1.8 USM (Ver.18)
EF 100/2.8 USM macro (Ver.17)
EF 135/2L USM (Ver.17)
EF 200/2.8L II USM (Ver.17)
EF 300/2.8L IS USM
Extender EF 1.4x III
Extender EF 2x (mark I)

Canon EF zooms

EF 8-15/4L USM fisheye
EF 17-40/4L USM
EF 20-35/2.8L (Ver.18)
EF 22-55/4-5.6 USM
EF 24-70/2.8L USM II
EF 28-80/3.5-5.6 II (Ver.18)
EF 28-90/4-5.6 III
EF 35-350/3.5-5.6L (Ver.18)
EF 70-200/2.8L IS USM II
EF 70-200/4L USM
EF 70-200/4L IS USM
EF 70-300/4-5.6L IS USM
EF 70-300/4-5.6 IS USM
EF 100-300/5.6 (non-L, not USM, push-pull zoom) (Ver.18)
EF 100-400/4.5-5.6L IS USM

Canon EF-S

EF-S 10-22/3.5-4.5 USM
EF-S 17-55/2.8 IS USM
EF-S 17-85/4-5.6 IS USM
EF-S 18-55/3.5-5.6
EF-S 18-55/3.5-5.6 IS
EF-S 18-135/3.5-5.6 IS
EF-S 60/2.8 macro USM

After figuring out the basic function of the camera, I've decided to take it out for walk around the village and here is what I've got... 

Taken with the Sony α7R and Canon EF 24 F1.4L on auto-focus. 

The above image is taken in Jpeg with minor adjustment done in Lightroom to recover the details in the highlight & shadow. It looks really good for a Jpeg and retained the quality of the lens itself. However, although the autofocus works on the EF 24 F1.4, it is excruciatingly slow. I am not sure how it will perform on other listed Canon lens but on a EF 24 F1.4, it just doesn't work for me. Unless you are shooting a still object, you will never get the "fleeting moment" kind of shot with the Metabones auto-focusing. A factor you might want to consider before spending more of your hard-earned money on a Metabones.

Taken with the Sony α7R and Canon EF 50 F1.4L
After a couple of painful experience with the slow auto-focusing, I've decided to ditch autofocus and went back to old school manual focusing and that was when the fun began with the α7R. Above is a straight out of the camera image taken in Jpeg with manual setting. Love the colours and the sheer sharpness of the image. The quality is definitely as good if not better than any of the high end DSLR you can find in the market.

Now, some of you maybe wondering how easy is it to manual focus with the α7R. It is actually quite simple. There are a couple of methods to manual focus and one of it is called Focusing Peaking, which is pretty amazing. Another way is simply pressing the C1 button right beside the shutter and the magnifying focus screen will pop up allowing you to focus accordingly. Although, it may not be as fast as the autofocus of an original Sony lens. The fact that it is slowing us down, allows us to "focus"and think better before we trigger the shutter. Another word; there is simply more thought process going into your final image. Something we may have missed with the convenience of today high speed camera.

While I usually shoot in colors, I've decided to try out the in-camera Black and White setting. The image quality is great but more importantly the experience is magical. As I paced myself down and focus solely on composing the image with the electronic viewfinder (EVF), I could see the details "popping" out in the EVF. It may be the fact that the α7R has a really well built EVF or simply because  I am so immersed with the camera, I could almost see and feel every details in the environment. I realized this was something that I've missed with the higher end DSLR. This experience reminds me of the joy of photography that I've not experienced for a long time.

Below is a series of images taken in Jpeg with the α7R in-camera Picture Effect set to High Contrast Mono. Only minor adjustment is done in Lightroom to recover the details in the highlight and shadow. Shooting in B&W, I hope to capture and emphasize on the texture and light itself... so let's see how the camera handles... 

The α7R is a delightful little camera that seems to hit all the right spots. With its 36.4 megapixel full-frame sensor, I'm not at all surprised with the high image quality. What really impressed me is the whole experience of shooting with this camera. It allows me to create images that are more intimate and the process is simply enjoyable and fulfilling. If you are a serious photography hobbyist or even a professional photographer, this is one camera you may want to experience yourself. And if you are someone with the good old voigtlander or leica lens collection, the α7R (with a right adapter) may just be the digital camera that you have been seeking... 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Torquay with Sony Cyber-shot RX1 (Review)

Over the easter holiday, I was given the opportunity to try out the much talked about Sony Cyber-shot RX1.

As a wedding and documentary photographer, I often dream of owning a lightweight camera that is packed with the goodness of a decent DSLR. When working on the ground, there are times when i wish I had a slightly more discreet camera that doesn't scream out photographer. This "serious" compact camera might just be the answer.

Special thanks to Sony Europe, Norihiko Sakura, I finally got my hands around a RX1.
Above is an iphone image of the RX1 with an Electronic View Finder. 
My 1st impression of the camera is that it looks like any normal compact camera. Its body is solid and feel just right on the palm of your hand. Although, the LCD screen is big and bright, I personally preferred shooting with an Electronic View Finder (EVF). Also, I realized that the camera responded a split second faster with the LCD screen set to manual. One thing I can't really comprehend is why Sony decided to leave out the locking mechanism for the EVF. With the camera sling over my neck, it is such a joy to have this lightweight camera accompanying you throughout your travel. However, not being able to lock the EVF in place, I am always conscientiously checking to see if the EVF is still on the camera. It is simple detail like this that could really make the whole experience a lot better for a photographer.

Nonetheless, the RX1 performed way beyond my expectations. This serious lightweight camera could be the dream of any professional photographers or photojournalists who are looking for a small and flexible camera with excellent image quality. Focusing is surprisingly fast and the time for the camera to respond while on sleep mode is pretty decent. The 35mm F2 Carl Zeiss len coupled with its large sensor meant that the camera can easily cope with any low-light situation. The main feature of this amazing camera is its full frame sensor. The 24 megapixel full frame CMOS sensor could outrun many of today's mid-end DSLR. The combination of a huge sensor in a compact body and a high quality fast lens set this camera apart from its competitors. Despite the steep price, the RX1 can easily justified itself with its capability and image quality that are paramount to most professional/serious photographers.

The obvious direct competitor of the RX1 is the Fujifilm X100 and X Pro-1 (both do not have a full frame sensor) and having tried both the Fujifilm cameras, the Sony RX1 is truly at a class of its own.

Now, let the pictures do the talking…