The future is here… and Sony delivers!

Guest post by Karen Hutton

It’s very rare that I have a guest post on my blog but I really wanted you to hear more about the sweet new Sony Full Frame Mirrorless cameras. Sony invited my good friend and uber-talented photographer, Karen Hutton, along with several other folks like Frederick Van Johnson and Gordon Laing to Nashville for a hands-on test of the new gear. After a couple of days of playing with them, Karen sent me her thoughts that form the blog post below. I can’t wait to try them out myself!

MIRRORLESS, SONY & TREY

Before we get rolling here, I would naturally assume you’re up on Trey’s take on mirrorless cameras and Sony in particular. But hey, you might be new here (Hello there!)… so for a crash course, go here, here, and here.

I’M JUST WAITING…

Personally, I’m a Canon 5DIII user (and love Nikons too, so let’s not go down THAT road!) that wants to, dreams of, awaits the day I can leave the bricks behind and fully embrace mirrorless… which I know is the answer for me. It’s the future, no two ways about it. My elbow and wrist want it NOW!

I own a Sony NEX-7 which I love for certain things… but as cool and groundbreaking at that camera was in its day-before-yesterday, it just didn’t quite cut it for my particular needs. I shoot a lot of landscapes – and use HDR a great deal. I also love wildlife & birds and will do portraits now and again. I shoot in low light a fair amount. Sometimes at night. The noise, menu system and auto-bracketing system on the NEX-7 were all dealbreakers for me… I’m not nearly as patient as Trey is! And as much as I hoped it would enable me to switch from DSLR to mirrorless, it just wasn’t going to happen on that round. At least not till full frame came of age in the mirrorless camera market, along with a few other advances.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The new Sony DX10, A7 and A7r are unequivocal game changers!

I got to try them all for a couple of days at a Sony event in Nashville, TN, where a bunch of photographers, journalists, press and bloggers were trying out pre-production versions of the new gear (first roll out is on Dec. 1). Let’s face it, the only way I could ever offer a full-on, in depth review is to work with these cameras for a good while; so consider this a “first impression”. Plus, there is SO much more yet to come!

My first impression… WOW!

The A7 and A7r are the smallest interchangeable lens full frame cameras out there. They pretty much match, size wise… and aren’t too much different in that respect than the NEX-7.

I loved their weight, the way they fit in my hand and all the features that Sony has added – and fixed! What’s more, it’s all in a brand new menu system that actually makes sense! I had no problem getting up and running with it. The old NEX-7, chinese water torture, “what the hell were they THINKING??” menu system is gone. I couldn’t be more thrilled!!

You can also assign functions to several buttons and dials on the camera, to put the functions you use the most often right at your hot little fingertips instead of diving deep into the depths of Menu. And while you still have to memorize where everything is, it’s finally laid out more intuitively.

P.S. That photo of me is by Frederick Van Johnson.

LOW NOISE

I was really amazed at the low noise under all the situations I that shot with them in. That was one issue that bothered me alot in the NEX-7 with its APS-C sensor. Noise! Ack! It particularly bugged with wildlife shooting and was pretty much a deal breaker on that alone. But all three of the new Sonys are pretty darn clean in the noise department.

THEY SPECIALIZE

Each camera has it’s specialities, so deciding which one to buy will completely depend upon what kind of shooting you want to do most. Once you figure that out – then you’ll know which camera to consider. For instance:

The 24 megapixel A7 excels at portraits, sports, is faster focusing, better in low light, has phase detection – and I hear is a bit better at video than the A7r, but I didn’t get a chance to test that for myself before writing this.

The 36 megapixel A7r was built to make photos with incredible resolution and detail and is ideal for landscapes. It’s not as snappy as the A7 to auto focus… and isn’t quite as good in low light, although that’s not to say it’s a total slouch. It actually does pretty darn well. It’s just that I noticed the difference between the two, and found myself grabbing the A7 when I wanted super quick focusing and extra confidence dealing with less light. I’m not sure if the difference is something I’d just get used to… or if it would become a problem. That would take a longer time with the camera than we had!

The A7r has no low pass filter, which means more likely to show moire on video – which again, I didn’t have the chance to check out for myself. It also has no phase detection. Video is like uncompressed RAW… can put on DVD and it’ll play on blue ray. If you’re more of a filmmaker, this is good… more of a YouTube video content creator, the A7 is probably better.

Here’s a landscape photo from the A7r… a hand-held HDR of this cool bridge in Rock City, which is up on Lookout Mountain in Georgia.

Photo by Karen Hutton

HDR & AUTO BRACKETING

It took me a bit to crack the code on auto bracketing and HDR. Setup wise, it’s super simple to find and use the function. But I have to say, I’m still not a fan of how any of the Sony cameras handle auto-bracketing for HDR.

They can all auto bracket 3-5 frames, depending upon your set up. You can bracket 5 images at .3, .5 and .7 EV increments. But the minute you hit 1 and beyond,
it goes back to 3 images only. I thought that was odd; I was told it goes back to film camera days when those ⅓ made sense. Apparently there’s an app that lets you upgrade these capabilities… though I haven’t tried it yet myself.

HOWEVER… being able to auto-bracket 5 images IS an improvement, so I’m grateful for that! I’m sure there will be new features updated between now and their Dec. 1 launch – and well beyond.

One weird thing; the bracketing has capability to go -6 to +6 at 3 exposures, which is silly. Makes no sense to me at all. I told Sony that and they said they’re working on it. I’m curious to see what happens in that department moving forward.

Plus: you still can’t use the countdown timer on the camera to trigger your exposures. Argh! You still have to either hold button by with your finger or use a remote, either wired or wireless. Not a fan of that.

Since the A7r and the A7 sport different sensors, the sound they make when they take a picture is different. The A7 makes the standard single ‘click’ sound, alot like the NEX-7 and NEX-6. Butt he A7r makes a much more robust sounding double click. It’s louder too, and we all found ourselves wondering if that might seem VERY loud in certain circumstances.

LENSES

Lenses are a hot topic when it comes to these cameras. They’re differentiating the NEX-7 era E-mount lenses by calling the new ones FE-mount. Yeah, new lenses! But Sony is also opening things up with converters for all kinds of lenses. I tried the native 35 f/2.8 mm, 55 mm f/1.4 mm and 28-70 f/4… plus a Sony 16-35 f/2.8 with adapter ring, the new kit, the new 70-400 monster lens with adapter and a Leica 135 prime lens with an adapter.

Personally, I think it’s going to be a bit of a messy go for a bit, while lenses and adapters and what not all get sorted out. But this is such a huge launch that I’d expect that, no matter what. It’s going to be worth it in the end, even through growing pains.

SAMPLES

To give you at least some idea about images, here are a few for you:

Photo by Karen Hutton

A pensive portrait of Gordon Laing (www.cameralabs.com), taken with the A7 and 35mm f/2.8

Photo by Karen Hutton

A close up of from a whiskey barrel at the home of Jack Daniels, also taken with A7 and 35mm combo

 

I mentioned Gordon Laing earlier. He brought his highly coveted Nikon 14-24 and adapter for his own testing; but let me use it on this shot of the Ryman Auditorium. I was so lucky!! (Thank you, Gordon!)

The Ryman is the original home of the Grand Old Opry; a place where Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and countless other country music greats either played or got their start. They all call it home.

Photo by Karen Hutton

As many of you know, Gordon has a website where you can get ALL the technical details on all the new gear. I hung out with him while he did some of the testing on this new gear: it’s going to be a fantastic breakdown on all the comparisons! Find him at www.cameralabs.com.

Anyhow, this particular combo of Nikon 14-24, adapter and A7r does make everything become manual. Same thing with the A-mount 135mm f/1.8.

Thing is, if you use the Peaking Level feature, it’s pretty easy to handle manual focus in a situation like this. Not sure what it would be like if the subject were moving alot.

I have to thank Brian Smith, since this is his personal lens that he lent Matt Kozlowski and me. I was blown away by the quality – and hoped that maybe a piece of his incredible talent fell in my pocket somewhere. A girl can dream!

THE RX10

Finally – though far from the least exciting Sony camera I tried was the RX10. It’s awesome! It’s a fixed lens, 24-200 f/2.8 camera with a 1” sensor. I haven’t seen the video – but I hear it shoots the best video of the three cameras. I love how simple it is to use, the quality and the range. It’s like a point and shoot on crack!

Here is an image where I was testing the bokeh. This one was taken at the Jack Daniels Distillery… that fire is how they make the charcoal to later filter the whiskey in the distilling process. It was so hot I was sweating from clear across the yard! The whole set up struck me as really macabre.

Photo by Karen Hutton

One noteworthy thing about prints from these cameras. I wondered how images would print. Brian Smith uses this new gear and said that he recently made some prints up to 84” wide and was amazed at the clarity. Good to know! I can’t speak from personal experience, but figured I share that since it came up during this event.

I think this new gear is truly turning photography on its ear. And it should! This isn’t an incremental step forward – Sony has taken the mighty leap. Is it all perfectly in place yet? No. But wow, what a launch they’re making. Impressive.

I suppose you’re wondering, after all that – will I be switching immediately? My answer: I’m not sure. I do know that I WILL be switching. I’ve known that all along. It seems like this is the beginning of the iteration where it could happen. But unlike Trey, I still need enough of the capabilities in my Canon 5DIII still that I can’t quite let it go. But it’s coming…

A million thanks to all the folks at Sony for bringing me into this eye-popping, show-stopping week. They are true pros and steady guides into new territory. They listened to all the feedback, took notes.. and had a couple of their guys from Tokyo there taking notes right alongside. Can’t wait to see what to see what happens next!

- Karen Hutton

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