Those of you who followed my last trip know that I brought along my new Sony a7R camera. Before this trip, I was working exclusively with my Canon 5d Mark III and thought it was the best camera I could use for long exposure…
So it was a challenge at first for me to make the decision that I would mostly use the a7R for that trip. I was concerned that not being familiar with the system and might have issues while shooting and realize later that all my pictures were junk. I could not have been more wrong… but let me elaborate.
The gear I used during the trip:
– Mirex Canon to Sony E mount tilt/shift adapter (for manual aperture control lenses)
– a bunch of Canon lenses including 24mm TS-E, 17-40mm f/4.0, 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.2
My first impressions after I received the camera:
Initially, I thought that the camera itself was small, maybe too small, compared to my Canon 5d Mark III. But rapidly I realized the size and weight of the a7R was were actually a great advantage compared to my Canon. Smaller means lighter, and lighter means less strain when you carry it around, or that for the same weight you can pack up an additional lens. Cool!
On top of the obvious increase in resolution (36.4MP for the Sony a7R; 22.3MP for the 5D), another huge difference in my opinion the absence of anti-aliasing filter on the images. I was very curious about that point, I after shooting a few images, I want to stress out that they are EXTREMELY sharp, much more than the 5D. So much that I had no idea what my lenses were capable of until I used the a7R . Really impressive! (see images below)
My other first impression was “I still can’t believe this is a mirrorless camera, and I can attach any FF (or MF) lens I want. This is amazing!!” And true to its promises, with an adapter, I could mount all of my very precious tilt shift or fast lenses on it.
My third main focus was the back screen that can be oriented in almost any direction, and allows the photographer to shoot from very high, or very low, which is almost impossible with Pro Canon or Nikon cameras.
My first day using the camera “seriously” was in Death Valley National Park, CA. As you can imagine, there are smarter ideas than going there in August, and it was 120+F (52+C), but I still braced myself, and thought it would be a test for both the machines and the man 🙂 I spent almost two days in the area, and used my a7R most of the time. I have to say that I was very much impressed by the little guy. It worked very well, and looking back at the pictures from then I am surprised by the low noise level and very small number of “hot pixels”. One thing I should say is that after almost a full day under the unforgiving blazing sun, the a7R internal temperature was over 120F and the firmware shut the camera off to prevent it from burning white. Only solution for me, use the 5d instead and cool the a7R in the car with the A/C running. I shot with my 5d for about 30 minutes until the a7R was ready to go, and the 5d turned extremely hot because of the insane heat. Here is a behind the scenes image of when that happened:
I need to state now that one of the things I like the most with the a7R is the Electronic ViewFinder (EVF). Some people say they don’t like it… well, especially for long exposure, I think it is amazing! Why? Two main reasons: 1/ no need to tape the viewfinder anymore to avoid diffraction, it’s electronic! 2/ I use the back screen a lot to setup my camera at the best spot, and it implies that the outside isn’t so bright that you can’t see a thing. With the EVF, you don’t have this issue anymore. You can just take a look with your eye stuck to it, reducing the ambient light to virtually zero, and use the zoom in function to digitally zoom on a detail and precisely focus on it. Something impossible on any other Pro SLR out there!
Along the trip, it became clear to me that another very important feature makes the difference between the 5d Mark III (and other high end cameras) and the Sony a7R. Only the a7R allows you to shoot at ISO 50. Why is that important? Because some day, the sky is just too bright to use exposure times longer than 2 minutes at ISO 100, even with 16 stops. Sure it’s rare, but it happens and why not have the advantage? But my main reason why I love the low ISO follows: if you want to shoot wide open with fast lenses or tilt/shit lenses, you’ll need to either increase the filter attenuation (sometimes not possible), or reduce the sensitivity of the sensor. Impossible when you’re stuck to ISO 100. Going down one stop to ISO 50 can make all the difference between an OK photograph, and a killer shot 🙂
The one drawback of the camera to me is the absence of a counter during long exposure shooting like that of the 5D. This is not a big deal, since you’ll always have a watch or cell phone with you, but it would make things easier, especially that the screen at the back actually stays on during the acquisition. No doubt a firmware update should solve that issue and allow time to be shown on the screen in a future version.
Side note: you know I do long exposure, and use mostly tilt/shift lenses when I work. Being able to rotate, tilt and shift such lenses implies that they have cracks on them. And having cracks for long exposure photography is an issue since it will create diffraction patterns and ruin the photograph. This is the reason why every time you see a behind the scenes picture of my camera, it is wrapped in a cloth. Old school, but effective method 🙂
A few test shots:
You will find here a few pictures I shot with the A7r during that trip. They are plain Raw images, with absolutely NO PROCESSING. To give a better idea of the quality, I also added a couple 100% crops of these images.
Bodie Ghost Town, CA:
Yosemite NP, Vernal Falls, CA:
Please note that these photographs have been shot with my 24mm TS-E lens. They are two horizontal images (top, bottom) that have been stitched together. Exposure times of at least 4 minutes for each, and I used the new Firecrest Formatt-Hitech ND 16 stops filter. I will write another article later focused on this filter alone.
I would recommend the Sony A7r camera in a heart beat. It is a great camera for most subjects (with the exception of action shooting when using third party lenses), and especially for long exposure.
In my opinion, the a7R has a number of advantages compared to the competition that make all the difference: the EVF makes focusing much easier, especially in bright environments, and no need anymore to cover the viewfinder to avoid diffraction during LE. The size and lightness are also nice features, and above all, being mirrorless, the a7R can be used with any third party lens provided the right adapter (Nikon, Canon, or even medium format lenses!). Of course, that is without mentioning the absence of anti-aliasing filter, increased resolution, lower ISO, and the exciting new and future native lenses…
So seriously… what’s keeping you from switching over to Sony? 🙂
As a bonus, here is one of the images I showed you before, fully converted to B&W:
Details: 24mm TS-E lens, two horizontal pictures stitched (top/bottom); f8; 275 seconds; ISO 50; 16 ND stops Firecrest from Formatt-Hitech.
For more photographs from that trip, or to order Fine Art prints, please follow this link to my website.