At a workshop given by John Denton for The Flash Centre, with Elinchrom lighting and Pentax 645Z demonstration. model Laura posed for a comparison pair of shots using the Pentax with 90mm macro lens and the A7RII equipped I regret to say with a much inferior lens, the basic 28-70mm.
To compare the quality bear in mind that the Pentax was ISO 200 at f/5.6 and the Sony was ISO 400 at f/8 as I felt it necessary to stop down – I should not have, as I had forgotten than the 28-70mm is sharper at f/5.6 than f/8, which introduces local unsharpness to the left hand end of the image (landscape) and did with all three samples I have used. This means the model’s face is smeared on the Sony shot, because this lens can’t produce a sharp image under these conditions in that part of the frame. Yes, I’ve had some OK results, but this was the first time I used the 28-70mm on the A7RII. It is OK on the A7II and A7S, as the blur is not so visible at those magnifications. It’s really not good on the A7R or A7RII.
So, please examine everything except the face…
This is the Pentax shot. Despite the matched for theoretical exposure, it is much darker and the ISO 200 is only equal to ISO 100 in Sony terms. Daylight balance set for the flash, Adobe Camera Standard profile since no other is available.
Here is the full resolution link to 146MB (if opened or downloaded) original:
This is the Sony shot. The Camera Portrait profile in ACR gave much improved skin tones, so I’ve used this. The pBase link appears to have scaled the images proprotionally, so the 42Mp image is correctly smaller than the 50Mp.
Here is the link to the 120MB original:
Enjoy – John teaches retouching and has set up deliberately harsh lighting to create over-sharp skin and too much detail, which he then expertly ‘fixes’. My shots are un-fixed. His workshops are worth every penny as he delivers an entire set of notes and his Photoshop actions to all delegates.
– David Kilpatrick
I’m under pressure to take endless pictures with the A7R II which arrived from WEX (Warehouse Express) on Thursday superbly packed. I am also finishing off f2 Freelance Photographer magazine to go to print over the weekend and have many hours of work to do – and despite having the camera, I won’t be removing some other article to rush a scoop into print.
It’s actually pointless to attempt to review any camera until you have used it for a few days at the minimum, with deliberate testing in mind, or several weeks with normal unplanned uses to confront it. Nothing tests a camera (and photographer) quite like real world pictures which are not hunted down as test subjects.
But of course I have gone out and taken a few shots during a brief period of sunshine which has returned after days of rain, and replicated a set-up I shot few weeks ago on the A7R, also to test a new type of combined LED and flash lighting head (Bowens IC12).
First of all, the £2695 UK price has to be compared against the A7S, A7II, or A7R with due accounting for its useful bonus – this camera body comes with the usual USB charger block and a battery, and then a further Sony external battery charger (remember them?) and a second battery. At Sony RRP this is £76 (battery) and unavailable (charger) but surprisingly expensive when it was. It’s definitely £100-worth of extras. There is also a screw in, not clip in, screw clamp grip twin USB/HDMI tethering lock device which could also securely grip mic and headphone leads.
Unboxing should hold no surprises now, but firing up the A7R II was a familiar experience as so many of setting customisations turned out to be factory preset to my own preferences. It still needed the image size and filetype setting up, AdobeRGB, Date Form folders and a few other things I used. And then, at last, the entry of copyright and byline information to be embedded into every image!
The A7R II takes the same GGS screen protector as the A7II and the RX100 series, not the same as the A7. First job was to stick a temporary protector on, and order one of these. All my cameras have GGS glass on them from day 1.
I used the CZ 16-35mm f/4 lens for a few outdoor shots and also for a test or two I will not release (too many tripods, cat trays and empty boxes in shot!) indoors at up to ISO 6400. Basically… you can use Auto 100 to 6400 and as long as you set Luminance NR to 25 from 400 up and increase it gradually to 50 at 6400 (LR/ACR) the images will be smooth and noise free as well as sharp. I also enter NR 10 even at 100, because it helps keep sky blues smooth.
You can view or download and examine, as you wish, a full size 120 megapixel from this from my pBase library – http://www.pbase.com/davidkilpatrick/image/160888201
You can view at ‘large’ which is really small… select ‘Original’ to see the original, of course. Or a tiny corner of it! If you think the 16-35mm is at the edge of its performance at f/9 in this shot, you are right. Anything wider and the corners and ends of the shot become visibly soft at 16mm. This test shows me that where f/9 was fine for 24 megapixels, I’m probably going to go for f/11 or even f/13 as a standard setting with the A7R II.
This is not a fair test even yet, but it says a few things. It’s taken on a late 1960s Asahi Pentax SMC Macro Takumar 50mm lens (I enter 75mm in the App data on the camera to ensure correct SSS) set to f/11, which is actually around f/14 at this working distance/extension. The camera is hand-held, with a Sony mini flashgun on top bounced to trigger two Bowens IC12 heads set to flash mode, after first doing the lighting and subject adjustments in LED Video mode. With these unique heads, the flash and the video modes are 100% identical in terms of how they cast shadows. The flash was set to 1/1 power at 1/1000th for a bare fresnel spot on the left, and 1/2 power at 1/1000th in a small Apollo softbox above and to the right. Focusing was done using the magnify function by moving the camera (or head and hands, in effect) over the subject.
Again, you can view a 100% 120 megapixel version of this: http://www.pbase.com/davidkilpatrick/image/160888192
Because this is very low power LED burst flash I need to set the ISO to 800, which would never be chosen for detail. NR is at Luminance 25 in Adobe Camera Raw (adjusting only that top slider). There is a full dynamic range with deep shadows and brightly caught surfaces. No adjustments have been made to the raw file in conversion for contrast, colour or exposure. I think it represents a very highly quality for ISO 800 and to see the level of microcontrast and detail, you need to examine the lowest contrast surfaces – the rounded bodies of the poppy heads. Throughout the image you will find areas of sharp focus and softer focus and it’s easy to tell the maximum sharpness zones. I also made an exposure at f/16 and this is significant softened by diffraction as you would expect. At f/8 this macro lens is likely to be sharper but with a file size like this, depth of field rules go out of the window. You need to use the same technique as would be employed when planning to make a 20 x 30″ print from a 35mm negative!
I will have more images soon enough. My initial impression is that the A7II really fixed the ergonomics of this camera type, the A7R II is identical; its functions cover all the functions found on every different A7 series body sufficiently well to make it one camera for all purposes.
– David Kilpatrick
The link to Warehouse Express is an affiliate link and purchases made through this link benefit the publisher
Of interest to UK full frame owners – Amazon EU (and also at least one other vendor) has the 16-35mm f/4 FE on sale with a 37% discount at £799.99, on top of which Sony has a £100 cashback on this lens – and I can confirm that these cashbacks work 100% reliably. This makes the lens £699.99 including VAT which in my case is recoverable, which may also apply to others outside the EU or in specific zones.
Update 12 noon July 21st: all were sold within 12 hours of the this story going live. Sorry, they are now at least £190 more from authorised sources eligible for the cashback, still a substantial reduction but not this exceptional deal.
Sony Vario T* FE 16 – 35 mm F4 ZA OSS Lens
I’ve been using a loaner review sample of this lens for three weeks and conclude from tests that (performance being equal) it will be up to the A7R II – and Sony would not sell me the lens directly even with a press/trade discount for any less than this. Even secondhand ones fetch £695.
It may seem odd when I’ve got various other ways to cover this range, but it’s simply a lens I have grown to like a lot in use. The 72mm filter thread and its overall size and weight seem just right. Some other lenses may be sold to cover the cost and all, in their own ways, are better in some aspect – my 20mm VSL II is very versatile on a tilt-shift adaptor, my Samyang 24mm TS is equally so, and I’ve been making good use of a trio of Canon fit lenses adapted including the Sigma 12-24mm. It’s always difficult to decide which to use, how big a kit to assemble for a job, and the 16-35mm kind of solves this for me. OK, no 12mm, no TS but 42 megapixels will give me the ability to crop a 16mm shot instead of shooting a shifted 20mm or 24mm.
Today I visited the press preview of Photography: A Victorian Sensation at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. It’s a major exhibition which actually goes beyond the wonderful huge collection of mint condition Daguerreotypes and other early examples, ending with a Nikon D5500 as an example of today’s tech.
You can visit this entirely free if you are member of National Museums of Scotland. For non-members, it’s £10 (adults) £8 (concession), or £6.50 (children 12-15) and free for under 12s, until November 22nd. The museum itself is free entry, and if only one person in your family wants to see this (Exhibition Gallery 1, Level 3) there’s plenty for others to see and do.
I wanted to see the Nikon – I had helped the curator with this, putting her directly in touch with the right individual at Nikon, after a mutual friend in Edinburgh asked for assistance. Why not Sony? Well, the museum acquires representative technology for the permanent collection, and specifically wanted a DSLR not a DSLT or mirrorless – and the Nikon fitted well with a 1990 first generation digital camera displayed close to it, another Nikon. No doubt at some future date, mirrorless will be so much the flavour of the era that they acquire a Sony.
It’s a superb show, with wall-high prints blown up from unexpectedly early originals. Although it is not a huge exhibition area, I would recommend sparing half an hour for the casually disinterested family member, an hour to two hours for this who actually look at the exhibits, and half a day for anyone who wants to access the touch screens, study the work and really learn something. The good thing about the museum is that if you DO have family members who want to do something else, there’s plenty to see and much of it is rather fun, whether Dolly the Sheep or the kids’ painting and crafts corner. It also has a café which is not overpriced and Edinburgh’s Old Town tourist attractions are a five minute walk from the door. Parking cost me £2.60 for one hour on a nearby meter, paid by mobile phone, and there are cheaper options.
One of the best bits must be the use of touch screens (above) which replicate a cabinet (as below) of small original works. Tap the corresponding thumbnail, and it fills the screen. Do an ‘expand’ gesture with two fingers (or hands) and the super-high-res copy of the Victorian work – often only a few centimetres wide – expands to show microscopic resolution. Daguerreotypes, in particular, are almost grain-free and reveal as much detail as Sony A7R II… who needs 42 megapixels when you have countless megamolecules?
The exhibition includes National Museums Scotland’s extensive early photographic collections, including Hill and Adamson’s images of Victorian Edinburgh, and the Howarth-Loomes collection, much of which has never been publicly displayed. The cartes-de-visite and cabinet photographs below emphasise the huge volume of these portraits produced 150 years ago.
Highlights include an early daguerreotype camera once owned by William Henry Fox Talbot; an 1869 photograph of Alfred, Lord Tennyson by Julia Margaret Cameron; a carte-de-visite depicting Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as a middle-class couple and an early daguerreotype of the Niagara Falls. There’s a special niche for Eastman and his Kodak.
You are also be able to visit a ‘stylised recreation of a Victorian photographer’s studio’ – er, not exactly a re-creation, as stylised is certainly the word! Victorian props and costume details can be used, and you can take a photograph, which will be displayed in a photomontage at the end of the exhibition. The lighting, however, appears to be Godox Witstro or a similar battery flash mounted into a big Elinchrom Octa.
At the press day, model Bronwyn Mackay was dressed in Victorian costume. My photo of her (top), not in the studio setting but holding a stereoscope with part of the display behind her, was taken using my Sony A6000 with 16-50mm OSS lens. Bronwyn is lit by the new ICE Light 2, which I’m holding in my left hand. The camera is at ISO 3200 and the lens at f/5.6, but it’s still a marginal 1/13th exposure, as the lights are low in the room and the ICE light is at minimum power to balance the shot and prevent distress to the model.
I am told there is a book and a smaller catalogue (neither available when I visited) and we’ll be looking at the book, for certain, in Cameracraft magazine.
For further information on the exhibition please visit www.nms.ac.ukphotography
– David Kilpatrick
We’ve had news of the new Sigma Art HSM high speed wide angle full frame zoom – 24-35mm f/2.
It will be available in Nikon, Canon and Sigma mounts only (release date not yet confirmed) according to Sigma in the UK.
Note that this will be a bit of monster with its 82mm filter thread, 117mm long barrel and substantial petal lens hood.
Sigma does not make a full frame DSLR. Sony is now a major market for high end full frame lenses. What’s going on here? We’ll just have to wait and see. Maybe Sigma just reckon every FF Sony mirrorless owner will have a Canon AF adaptor and maybe their HSM – which works pretty well on the A7II – will even allow fast AF on the new A7R II.
Well, I never really liked what Hasselblad did with the smaller Sony cameras – but what they did with the A99 is pretty cool, with the different body skin and control details. At the original price? A rip-off!
For $3999 including a 24-70m CZ lens and a special case – a bargain. This is still an amazing camera. OK, at the official price of $11,999 it would have been the badge of a wealthy eejit. At $3999 it’s a snap-up deal for anyone wanting the highly capable A99 in a form which will have wedding guests keeping their mouths shut even if they do have a cheap old Canon 5D MkIII round their neck.
B&H have this offer right now.
And for purists, they have an equally extreme reduction on the Sony NEX-7. Make no mistake, this is still a top end classic with excellent controls and it works with the older Sony hot shoe. It is only $498 with the 18-55mm lens, all in black. That’s amazing.
B&H NEX-7 with 18-55mm – reduced from $1248 to $498.
(Updated June 15th after press conference)
The new Sony A7R II is the camera I’ve been waiting for, which everyone has predicted, and which seems to tick every box without having a huge price label on its own. I find the $3,200 (UK coinfirmed £2,600) matches its stated specifications well. Others may disagree, but they’re probably influenced by the price collapse of the original A7R, now occasionally found for under £1k.
Even so, at $3,200 the A7R II commands a $1,500 premium over the A7 II and much of that must be what you pay the new sensor – which does not seem to be licensed or sold to any other brand. Not even to Nikon, yet. The A7S remains the most expensive model despite the minimal 12 megapixel capture and lack of in-body stabilisation (SS in Sony terms, or IBIS generically).
On Monday June 15th I flew to London to have a look at the A7R II and the new RX10 II (£1,200) and RX100 IV (£850). This was a bit like a motoring journalist going to a car launch and being told, you can sit in the seat, waggle the gearstick but don’t start the engine as no photography was allowed with any of the demonstraton cameras. I was surprised to find it was a European conference, as this normally means journalists from across the Channel have a facility trip to be present, and that seems very extravagant just to look at cameras which can not be tried out. I wish I lived in France not Scotland – it might not have cost me almost £300 to be there, eight miles from Heathrow (but an eight miles which might as well be a fifty Scots miles!).
Don’t expect to get one on June 17th, as B&H’s information and too many bloggers have repeated. We are told by B&H it won’t arrive until August even though pre-orders open on June 17th in the USA. It may be later arriving in some regions. Demand is going to be so high that if you want one, you’ll need to crash into that queue…
But you can snag a Canon EOS 5DS – 50 megapixels – for only $3,699 right now
A7R II – or A7 II R?
In brief, the A7R II consists of an A7 II body with a new 42.4 megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS sensor, same Bionz X processor allowing 5fps at full resolution, new 399-point Phase Detection AF on the sensor covering most of the field (up from 117 points), a similar EVF with improved eyepiece giving a genuinely impressive 0.78X instead of 0.71X virtual magnification, the same rearRGBW bright LCD, plus silent shutter and HD 4K movie functions improving on the offering of the A7S. The new shutter mechanism is claimed to have a 500,000 actuation life expectancy which puts it ahead of almost every pro DSLR yet made. The back of the camera body is magnesium, where it’s solid composite plastic in the A7II. And it has, unlike the A7R, five-axis sensor stabilisation which talks to Sony OSS lenses for the best blend of anti-shake methods ever devised.
The new EVF size, to the eye – compared with the old (A7II, A7R, A7) 0.71X view below (A7R, Sigma 12-24mm at 12mm, Canon EF fit, on Commlite EF-FE adaptor).
You will read in the specifications and promo blurb that it has a new LCD double the brightness, new tough body and strengthened mount, new shutter release and controls but all these ‘improvements’ are listed by Sony over the A7R and already existed in the A7 II. Instead of making comparisons with the A7 II – which this is really a development from – Sony has listed many advances made relative to the A7R. It is not an A7R II. It’s really an A7 II R.
The eyepiece surround is much improved, wider and softer still than the A7II which in turn is softer on specs then the earlier models. Eyepoint and position flexibility both improve and there are no unsharp zones at all even if you shift your eye around.
It’s important to understand that many of the improvements already exist in the A7 II partly as a result of criticisms of the original A7R made by objective reviewers, not Sony artisans or staff or sponsored bloggers. You don’t owe this camera to the success of its predecessors or the daily Facebook sermons of awestruck evangelists – you owe its features to corrections made to the shortcomings of the models so far. And to those who have had no vested interest (other than ownership) persuading them to weaken critical appraisal. The further improvements in the A7R II are either extremely technical – serious core improvements in the sensor and focusing – or minor refinements and carries-over from the A7II.
42.4 versus 36 point anything
If you really think 42.4 megapixels is going to take you to realms far beyond your 36 megapixel sensor, think again. It is the same step up as from 18 megapixels to 21 megapixels, a move Canon made without absolutely transforming the images created, or about the same as from 10mp to 12mp. There’s one big difference – it does not make the jump to any larger common print or repro size. Remember going from 6 to 8? That was from sub-full-page to a decent full page resolution, for US or A-size documents at a touch under 300dpi. 24 megapixels took us to a really sharp A2, 36 megapixels takes us to a acceptable A1, and all that 42 does is to make a slightly better A1 but not 300dpi.
Above you can see the actual, real size difference (in proportion) between a 36 megapixel shot and a 42 megapixel shot. If you click on the bigger version, it will take you to my pBase page with a full A7R II sized version of this A7R shot. Zeiss? No – a 45 year old Asahi Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Macro Takumar 50mm f/4, used at f/11, and a 30 second exposure at ISO 50 lit using the ICE Light 2 moved round the subject in horseshoe shaped path for 15 seconds, laid flat, and then moved under the perspex for the remaining 15.
In practical terms, it’s 7980 x 5320 pixels (or very close – Sony has been extremely coy about releasing full specifications, even at the conference I could not find this out) versus 7360 x 4912 for the A7R. In perspective, make a big print from the A7R and it’s 24.5 inches long at optimum resolution; use the A7R II and you get one inch extra each end on the long side, 2/3rds of a inch extra top and bottom. The A7R makes a 16.3 x 24.5 inch print to perfection; the A7R II makes a 17.7 x 26.6 inch print.
Anything smaller than A4 printed, it’s got no great advantage over the 12 megapixel A7S – but you are getting close to enabling a 2X crop (one quarter of the frame) to look as good as the A7S full frame. Sony showed A3 prints. They could, honestly, all have been shot on the Sony A100 from 2006 and no-one would have been any the wiser. One enlarged section was the only real test of the camera. I’m sure the model’s dermatologist loves it.
Where it does count most is when using crop frame mode. In APS-C crop mode, the A7R II file is large enough for a 300dpi double page fine art magazine spread, just under 18 megapixels. I’d say that where 42.4mp is not a critical size, 18mp actually is. You can get away with 16, and for Nikon, Panasonic, and Olympus this had been an important baseline. Cropped frame FF from Sony now rises above that baseline instead of sitting just below it.
What I’d like to see would be 1:1, 4:3, 5:4 ratios implemented with the EVF and LCD screens cropped to match – and ideally the raw files reduced in size the same way. A square 1:1 would be 28 megapixels and that crop allows so many APS-C lenses (like the Zeiss Touit 12mm) to be used without vignetting or limits of coverage distortion issues. The example above is from the A7R and it’s a square crop 24 x 24mm from a frame taken with the 10-18mm f/4 Sony OSS, at 11mm; the lens would have allowed a 4:5 crop equally well.
Important edit: just read another ‘Sony artisan’ blog post asking the (redundant) question as to whether Sony lenses will be up to this new resolution. Anyone who owns an A6000, NEX-7, or A77 is already shooting at well above this resolution (full frame will need to match the Canon 5DS 50 megapixels to beat them). The resolution of the A7R II is slightly lower than that of the base level entry A3000. Don’t panic. Plenty of old legacy lenses will match it well, let alone any new Sony FE and A-mount designs.
I checked out the 20mm f/2.8 SEL lens with the new version 2 wide and fisheye black converters on full frame at the Sony event. Really, this lens comes so close to doing a good full frame and the converters even leave much of the area intact for a much bigger crop than APS-C.
And that’s all without removing rear baffles or doctoring the built-in lens hoods of the converters!
When we get a chance to use the camera, the following points will be of interest:
Has the mount been upgraded again? It still has only four attachment screws, compared to Fujfilm X system’s six screws (and the A-mount uses six too). My two camera bodies and two changes of mount on the A7R, to Tough E mount and then 2nd generation Tough E mount, all produce unpredictable degrees of slop, smoothness or jam-on tightness from various adaptors showing that no matter what, tolerances are broad. Comment: can’t tell from changing lenses at the event, it feels much the same as the A7 II.
Has the Memory position, 1 and 2 on the mode dial, been improved to remember MORE of the important settings – notable, Setting Effect ON and OFF, for saving a studio flash preset mode with the EVF/LCD setting effect disabled? Answer: No.
Is the hot shoe part of the Multi Function Accessory Shoe hampered by paint, or tolerances in fit, or does it readily accept all standard ISO hot shoe simple flash devices and triggers? Looks clear.
Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM on Focus EF-FE adaptor (also works perfectly with Commlite) on A7R. The 40mm f/2.8, and Sigma 12-24mm in EF mount work well on my A7R with these two sub-Metabones price adaptors. At the press event we found the 85mm just didn’t focus at all with any adaptor on any of the pre-production A7R II bodies, but the 40mm was fine.
Will the promised ability to use PD-on-sensor AF with Canon and other lenses rely on Metabones as the only adaptor, or is it generic? The microlenses on a backside illuminated sensor have a large effective aperture than traditional design, and this means the PD-lenses (a special variant of the microlenses used on sensel pairs) will be similarly improved. This may make some difference, but it’s actually the focus motor control via lens to body data communication which will enable fast and sure operation with Sony SSM on LA-EA3, Canon USM on EF-adaptor, and so on. Remember, this does not make screw drive or SAM, or micromotor Canon AF pre-USM lenses, function any better. It will only apply to ultrasonic, piezo, linear motor and similar finely controllable AF mechanisms with close to zero play and accurate (8 contacts, not 5) distance and ‘state’ reporting. Note, too, that Sony’s revised lenses (SSM II) are not just optical and weatherproofing reworks – the new SSM is designed to work with contrast detection, as found on the A7R, much better.
Comment: we found that the Canon 85mm f/1.8 USMdidn’t work on any adaptor on the A7R II, while the 40mm f/2.8 activated the PDAF points and focused very rapidly, and a 24mm f/2.8 USMf/2.8 focused fast – and that various different demo A7R II bodies responded differently and one malfunctioned a lot of the time even with Metabones. Sony said this was known and the final retail stock should at least work OK with Metabones IV and probable firmware updates, but other cheaper adaptors will not be tested.
The new camera’s mode dial has a central lock button, and a slightly lighter click action without risk of being turned by mistake. We’d had liked to have seen a lock on the +/- EV compensation dial too, but this just has slightly strengthened clicks.
The same small battery has been used yet again despite the II body design having what looks like enough room for a full sized Alpha battery (see below – carefully positioned batteries with A7 II body). Let’s hope for upgraded batteries from Sony.
Please, Sony, you provided a GPS pinout in the new shoe – you have never rolled out a GPS module or firmware. It’s three years now and no news. Hell, I nearly bought a brand new boxed A99 at Dixons Heathrow Terminal 2 shop for £1075 inc VAT maanger’s special, I miss GPS so much!
Please let the Lens Data entered into the menu for SS of manual lenses, without data communication, be embedded into EXIF so if I enter 50mm, my files say so. And ideally, please make it possible to enter the focused distance (this would improve stabilisation) and the aperture in use (just to complete the EXIF data).
Sony pointed out that the latest version of the lens correction App will record the focal length and aperture as you enter them, in EXIF. It has its own SS on/off setting and automatically recognises whatever focal length you have entered. You can name and recall each different lens, and if for example you normally use your 24mm f/3.5 Samyang shift lens at f/16 for architecture, you can enter f/16 as the lens’s aperture and that will be corrected embedded in your EXIF. But to get this you must run the app, not just shoot with a manually set focal length for SS.
Please change the Memory 1 and 2 registers to save and recall ALL the camera settings and not just those in the first bank of the menu system (but see the vital point above about Setting Effect On/Off). Until I test the camera, no more to say – but Sony does not usually keep quiet about changes, and has not mentioned this aspect.
The existing rear screen – the II design, left, improves on the original A7R but this is still a basic, amateur level screen to be working with and a fully articulated design would be better.
Though you’ve missed the boat with this camera, the crudely hinged and angled rear screen needs to be replaced with a fully articulated screen that can be reversed to the camera for protection and to prevent distracting light when working in the dark.
Out of the loop
I’ve been out of reviewing new Sony gear for some time, as it has not proved possible to get hold of it early enough or for long enough to give any meaningful assessment which Joe Photographer anywhere in the world couldn’t appear to do themselves. For six or seven years I have bought and sold new Alpha gear to fill the gaps between the occasional availability of review kit, but recently that has become so expensive it exceeds any margins available from the three magazines I publish, or any fees I can obtain from other media. Like politicians, people who write about gear either need an independent mind or independent means – without one of these, you’re always in someone’s corporate pocket or feeding from crumbs under the main table.
The result, as we see all the time, is that many early users or reviewers of Sony kit are no longer all that independent and much of the first wave of information now comes through the channel of ‘artisans’ (as it does with ‘ambassadors’ for all makes). And we see plenty of others who are clearly of independent means, whose main purpose in life is to be the first to post pictures taken with new item X regardless of the cost.
So maybe I don’t need to push to get hold of an A7R II for the too-short two week period of any review loan, after a six month wait while other consumer-orientated magazines and blogs take priority – or indeed rush to buy one.
But… like the RX10 which I use all the time… like the A6000 kit which is co affordable and compact it’s essential… like the RX100 MkIII which goes where even the RX10 is not welcome… like my A7 II with stabilisation which has transformed a box of assorted lenses into a solid outfit… this one’s possibly something to buy because I actually need it and will use it.
I may not even cosy anything as it will make both the A7R and A7II redundant, because it does both jobs and also covers the A7S I did manage to borrow but never bought. And it does more.
So, thinking whether or not to bother with this upgrade is a bit irrelevant. Even if it was still ‘just’ 36mp the other improvements would mean it still replaced the need for a handful of A7 models, all in one.
My one doubt is that the A7R II may be beaten in practical terms by the RX10 II. Please note that so many incorrect snippets of info have gone around about the ‘stacked’ sensor design, I thought it referred to RGB stacking. It does not, the sensor is a conventional Bayer pattern, and what is stacked is the electronic substructure. This does not affect the top side of the sensor and the performance in image quality should be similar to the existing models. What it does is greatly speed data transfer and enables over 1000 (lower resolution) frames per second to be clocked through from photon received to movie frame recorded.
The RX10 and 100 new versions offer ridiculous levels of high speed slow motion capture, clean 4K video and other technical benefits which come with a very small chance of dust on sensor, unlike the A7R II which is almost guaranteed to be a dust devil. Why do I say that? Because a backside illuminated sensor renders dust on its cover glass even more sharply than a conventional one! We know the RX models are not dustproof and if you are unlucky enough to get a spot on the sensor it’s a service visit to get it removed, but in my experience with five or them so far I have never had a single dust spot.
So what? Just retouch? Not when making movies! Admittedly most movie makers will open up the lenses to max or only a stop down on these 1″ sensor cameras, and would open up lenses just the same on the A7R II and never see dust even if it was there. But what about the time you want that ‘American take’ – f/22 at 20mm? Traditionally they were taken in dusty settings for the spaghetti westerns!
All I can say is that the RX10 has come very close indeed to removing the need for any other camera and it’s been a pleasure to work with the raw files. The RX10 MkII might be so much better that I forget about DSLRs or mirrorless systems and just get on with capturing great images. Or then again…
– David Kilpatrick
Twenty years ago I was operating one of the first full service digital photo studios in the world. I had already published, back in 1986, the world’s first desktop published commercial periodicals and won the UK Printing Industries Research Association inaugural DTP Awards, in 1987, for this. We’d bought the first Apple laser printer in provincial Britain and when Letraset’s ReadySetGo layout package failed to produce usable output for our first such magazine, Aldus stepped in and provide a pre-release beta of PageMaker. In 48 hours, I had to re-create the entire magazine – and it worked.
From then on we progressed, through having the first separation-capable film imagesetting in Scotland to reproducing the first magazine cover from Kodak Photo-CD and soon after the first full colour page from a Kodak DCS camera. By the beginning of 1995 we had Photon, the first major photo-mag style website, in by the end of that year we had a Leaf Lumina based studio with Scandles lighting. There’s an article about this in our repository of occasional articles, dphotoexpert – http://www.dphotoexpert.com/2007/08/06/the-leaf-lumina-scanning-camera-1995/
That year, Shirley had planted an entire bed of flowers specifically for drying. They make good photographic subjects. The (now relocated) university college of St Margaret’s in Edinburgh asked me to give a lecture about the new technology – and so the Leaf Lumina (a scanner on a tripod with a Micro Nikkor up front, and an Apple Mac Powerbook on the end of a SCSI-2 cable) went along with the fluorescent studio light heads and a tray of the dried flowers. We also took our Kodak dye-sub printer, which had made hundreds of prints alongside other printers during that year, when Shirley completed her M.Sc.Colour Science and created pre-ICC colour tables to reproduce fabric colours accurately. With this carload of gear, we were able to shoot and produce a print on the spot.
The picture remained on file – a 25MB TIFF, roughly 8 megapixels, but equal to 8 megapixels in the Sigma Foveon sense as every pixel was true RGB with no Bayer filter involved. The exposures took over a minute, limiting it to still life, but the quality was not exceeded until 12 megapixel Bayer cameras like the Sony A700 appeared. And a few months later, we were producing Paterson’s catalogues and price lists and needed a cover. One list covered black and white and colour chemicals, the former mostly from Paterson and the latter from Photo Technology. Photoshop offered an easy way to take the image, and divide it accordingly. So that’s what we proposed, and what was used for the cover.
It was intended to show the gamut from plain monochrome through toning to colour and it did look very good in print, because relatively low overall contrast combined with high detail contrast is easily handled by litho.
Now, forward two decades, and I’m looking for subjects to test out the latest Elinchrom ELB400 portable li-ion powered two head flash kit. This has LED modelling lights over twice as bright as its predecessor and they now really show how the light is falling even when using light shapers. I wanted to show texture using my optical Mini Spot attachment, which works very well with these new heads and their cool-running LEDs.
On top of a wardrobe, in a basket, were the dried flowers. They are called everlasting and apart from gathering loads of dust, they are. The most difficult job was holding each flower against the nozzle of a handheld vacuum cleaner to remove 19 years of dust.
The first shot I took was with the Sony A7II, 24 megapixels, using my Pentax SMC Macro Takumar 50mm f/4. Like the flowers, this is also everlasting. It’s not yet 50 years old even though the lens design, a simple Tessar-type corrected for magnifications from 1:2 (50%) to 1:10, is well over 100 years old. It’s also a tolerable lens for general scenes, though the extreme resolution it achieves centrally only covers the full frame when you focus close. With Pentax’s original multicoating in every way a match for the latest Zeiss T* as found on new Sony Zeiss lenses, and a deeply recessed very small optical unit, it has a contrast and colour saturation you just don’t find from lenses using hybrid or moulded aspherics or many more air to glass surfaces.
This picture appears, fairly small, in my review of the ELB40 in f2 Freelance Photographer magazine July/August 2015. When editing it, I was struck by the extreme resolution. Within the planes of sharp focus, it was exceptional.
So, I decided I’d shoot a new shot, and improve on the use of the spotlight attachment on the Quadra head to cast the shadows and create a sunlight-like effect – and this time, use the A7R with its 36 megapixel resolution. Although the A7R has no AA filter and is sharper in theory, the larger pixel count calls for a smaller aperture to secure a little more depth of field for the larger viewing scale, and this when using any macro lens always risks diffraction limits on fine detail contrast. For example, at half life size a setting of f/12.5 (between f/11 and f/16) which I found desirable for best sharpness distribution gives an actual f-stop of c.f/19 and this does cause some sharpness loss. If the lens was extended on a tube to give 1:1, a setting of f/16 as nearly always needed for depth of field is really a true f/32 for diffraction calculations and light readings alike.
Fortunately, our brains are sensitive to perceived scale, and we ‘see’ close ups as sharper than distant subjects even when they are not. The A7R and the Pentax macro lens also combine to produce an extreme level of textural detail, the information our eyes and brains use to see 3D solidness, shape and form in a flat photograph. So in practice you can shoot macro and use whatever aperture the subject depth demands, without resorting to focus stacking techniques.
And here, anyway, is the result. You can click on this image and it will take you to a pBase hosted full size, JPEG compression level 12 version (this is over 24MB of image data, and it is not compressed like Facebook or indeed a WordPress image – though it’s still not ‘virgin’ data).
In a couple of days, I have another SMC Takumar of the same era arriving. It’s a 35mm f/3.5, which was the cheapest of the line back in 1970 when Shirley bought me my very first brand new, marque brand lens for Christmas! We were both only 18 and that represented an entire month of her basic salary working behind the counter at Dixons in Sheffield… helped by a staff discount. It was my first Super-Multi-Coated lens and I can remember still how the high contrast and bright colours could even be seen through the viewfinder – and how amazing the first box of slides looked, midwinter close-ups of fallen leaves rimmed by frost and frozen puddles.
These lenses have never lost the edge they had, if they have been looked after, but the truth is we never knew how good they really were. We can now focus them within a fraction of a millimetre. I’ll probably never compare the 50mm f/4 SMC Macro Takumar with the 55mm f/1.8 CZ (I’ve used it, but only for low light high ISO tests on the A7S) or the 35mm f/3.5 with the CZ 35mm f/2.8 because it’s unlikely I’ll ever buy the new lenses with their inflated prices and reliance, however marginal, on software correction to be ‘good’.
I know I have not written much about the A7R, or the A7II I’m using, or about any of the new lenses I can not manage to borrow from Sony and can’t afford to buy. I have an amazing set of lenses from 12mm to 500mm for full frame, including tilt-shift, wide aperture and mirror but just one single Sony FE lens for convenience (the 28-70mm FE kit lens). In contrast, my A6000 kit is all Sony plus the Samyang 12mm f/2 because it is just so good it had to have a place.
So, please do take a look at the full size file. The critical plane for focus crosses the smooth surfaces of the two poppy seed heads and it’s in this relatively low contrast zone that the quality of the lens shows up. Elsewhere in the image the defocused quality is very pleasant (there was no CA to correct and there’s no bad colour bokeh) and the plane of sharpness passes through a few other more interesting flower details.
Finally, a word for A7II users. If you use a manual macro lens, as I do, remember that when you program in the focal length for Steady Shot you should only enter the actual focal length for distant views. For my 1:2 macro Pentax, most often used in the range from quarter to half life size, I program in 70mm as the focal length because this represents the view angle. Using a macro at 1:1, you should enter double the focal length to get the correct Steady Shot compensation. Sony and Minolta macro lenses with the D chip (eight contacts) convey accurate extension information, so the auto Steady Shot works perfectly with them. But manual, or Canon lenses on adaptors which may or may or not pass the right information through, are best used with the Steady Shot focal length entered via the menu screen and adjusted to allow for the actual lens extension.
– David Kilpatrick
Check out B&H prices for all full frame lenses for the Sony FE (A7) system here
Check out B&H Secondhand Department for all ‘film camera’ manual and vintage lenses
Check out B&H Secondhand for Sony E-mount adaptors to allow you to fit your vintage/legacy lenses
Check out the huge list of new adaptors for almost every lens ever made!
Sometimes you find a chunk of glass which just works. One of the problems with lenses is that you can never have too many. They overlap, they duplicate each other, and yet they can be so different that you need every single one. The new Samyang 12mm f/2 for mirrorless APS-C systems is one of these. It’s the budget alternative the Carl Zeiss Touit Distagon 12mm f/2.8 T*, and so far everyone I’ve found who has used both lenses – including me – rates it as better optically. This isn’t what you expect from a lens with twice the maximum aperture at half the price.
I have good reasons for not owning a Touit 12mm. I already have a Sony 10-18mm f/4 OSS E, and rather like the Fujinon XR OIS 10-24mm f/4 this lens offers nearly perfect performance as a working ultra-wide zoom and adds the benefit of stabilisation for video or tripod-free interior shots.
The Sony appears to have very fine detail sharpness wide open, little sign of fall off in illumination or sharpness, and good geometry.
Click this image for a full size, f/2 available light shot taken in a covered archaelogical dig
However, the Samyang when used on the same Sony NEX-6 16 megapixel camera forced a reappraisal. It offers sharpness on a different level and manages to do so even at f/2, with corners far more detailed and clean than any lens with a 99° angle of view should manage.
It is equivalent to an 18mm on full frame, and this is around my favourite angle for an architectural, street and general lens. Where the 24mm angle is a common feature of consumer zooms and easy enough to use, lenses in the 17-21mm equivalent range produce a distinctive result but need careful composition and an understanding of perspective and lens geometric projection. Lenses like this separate the experienced user from the unskilled masses.
Stopping down to f/16 secures great depth of field (the Canarian cacti are not huge, bush sized and very close not tree size!) with just a hint of sharpness loss. Click image for a full 16 megapixel file
Weighing only 245g, it’s not a big lens though it has a generous 67mm filter thread round a much smaller front element which does not protrude. The bayonet lens hood is removable and reversible for storage, with a soft pouch supplied to hold everything. You can use circular filters without cut-off provided they are reasonably slim-line, and filter systems from 75mm rectangular upwards. Our sample was in a matt silver finish, with conventional black as an alternative. The focusing down to 20cm is very smooth, with a travel of 135°, and the aperture is click stopped gently but positively in half steps all the way to f/22. The mount is metal, as is the barrel skin, though plastic components are used internally. It is an advanced design with 14 elements in 10 groups using both low dispersion and compound aspheric glass, nano-coated with Samyang’s water and dirt resistant hard NCS multiple layers.
Above: Auto White Balance and auto exposure with the Sony 10-18mm at 12mm, on NEX-6
Above: AWB and AE with the Samyang 12mm set to f/11 like the Sony (darker, and much colder colour)
Above: Samyang raw shot after colour correction to taste
Though this lens had to be manually focused and lacks any electronic connections, it rapidly proved to be a reliable companion. Auto exposure tended to be slightly under, and auto white balance was nearly always too cold. On the NEX-6 manual exposure and a fixed daylight or custom set white balance proved better than relying on auto setting.
The results are the reward. For its aperture and angle, it defies the laws of trade-off. The geometry, even without creating a profile or applying the slight barrel correction sometimes needed, is so good that uncorrected raw conversions worked perfectly. The example above is a full frame, with no correction at all (you can click the image to open the full size file, though remember it has strong compression for storage and display here).
Here is the same view taken with the Sony 10-18mm, at 12mm, and at f/11, exactly the same compression
For some subjects, a two-pixel blue chromatic aberration correction removed a barely visible tendency to purple fringes, more likely to affect high contrast patterns than high contrast edges. The lens has such high resolution that moiré patterns appear from many subjects.
Compared to the Sony 16mm f/2.8 fitted with a 12mm ultra-wide converter – the original Sony solution from 2010 – it’s like moving from small to medium format.
Here’s an example which shows the geometry of the lens pretty well (click for full size)
And here’s the same historic suspensioon bridge, again at f/11 to get the necessary depth of field. But the sharpness is not destroyed and a 100% clip shows the spiders have been busy (compression almost loses the strands of the webs which are easily seen in the original file):
It does not have enough circle of coverage in reserve to make it valuable on full frame, but a near-24mm square can be cropped on the A7 series.
This lens would be a dream to use if it incorporated a chip to convey EXIF data including the aperture. AF really doesn’t matter, after a few days I learned to preset the focus manually and only check the most critical wide-open subjects using magnified manual focus view. At under £300, it’s so tempting just to have it for the sheer sharpness right into the extreme corners and the straight-line rendering. Much though I like my £700 10-18mm it has had less use since the Samyang arrived – and that says it all. My main reason for sticking with the 10-18mm is its ability to work well on the A7R for 15mm shots, and its full recording of EXIF data along with full control from the body. Much though I like my boxful of manual lenses, after a year and more using them, I am missing the vital data – as going back a year to look at original files shows. Unless I made a special note at the time, I often have no idea what lens was used let alone what aperture. For these shots, of course, I noted the details.
This article original appeared in a slightly shorter form in f2 Freelance Photographer, our six times a year super-quality professional and enthusiast magazine, Nov/Dec 2014 issue published in early October 2014. You can subscribe to f2 at www.iconpublications.com
You can find the Rokinon (Samyang rebrand) at B&H – http://www.bhphotovideo.com
or in the UK, the Samyang at WEX Photographic (both these links benefit Photoclubalpha if you buy there, without costing you anything)
– David Kilpatrick
Just got this link from B&H, ideal for our US readers – http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/817858-REG/Sony_SLT_A77V_SLT_A77_Digital_Camera_Body.html
It’s for the original A77, body only, at $549.
This is a ridiculously low price for a body with GPS which, bar a small improvement in high ISO performance stated to be 20% (I think it’s a bit more) is not far from the A77 MkII and if you have older flashguns or triggers like the Pixel King set I’ve bought recently remains ideal for flash work.
That is a single shot at ISO 100 using an iLux Summit 600C flash head set on 10fps strobe, with the 16-80mm CZ lens at f/20 (it’s a powerful flash) and wireless triggering. Owl in our studio, working in complete darkness. The A77 didn’t suddenly stop being a great camera because the A77 MkII arrived! At $549 with (apparently) $77.38 of free accessories this ‘holiday special’ looks like a steal.
– David Kilpatrick