I've had my a7 for about 2 months now, and took it on a full day wedding shoot over the weekend as a second camera, with the FE 35mm f2.8, plus a Zeiss ZE 50mm 1.4 with the Metabones adapter (5DmkII as main camera). Having used the a7 for some time beforehand, I felt comfortable enough with it to rely on everything but the AF, which I was worried would be too slow at critical moments. I also had concerns about the battery life, since my second battery was still on back-order.
The experience Iíve already had with the camera has been fantastic. Such a portable package with so much to offer. Image quality is simply outstanding, and the viewfinder so closely matches the feel of an optical finder, while adding the advantages that come with an EVF (focus peaking, live visual exposure check, live colour rendering or black and white visualisation, live histogram in view, live highlight clipping, etc.) that I would choose this over an OVF in most situations from here on out. Usability in terms of the user interface is a little lacking, with a clunky menu system (maybe Iím just not used to it yet), and a few options notably omitted, specifically:
- the ability to set a custom button for easy switching between viewfinder and monitor
- a setting to have the viewfinder/monitor act in a DSLR style (shooting through viewfinder, playback and menu on monitor)
-a way to turn the sensor off, for times when shooting with an add-on optical finder, or for taking a series of photos on a tripod, or for any number of other situations where one would not want the sensor powered incessantly
On the AF (with the 35mm FE), I was wrong. Even in a dimly lit chapel, I found my keeper rate was very high, and the camera never struggled to find focus quickly and accurately (in fact I was never bothered by any difference in AF between the a7 and the 5DmkII I was using alongside it). I will say that I don't yet find the face-detect and eye AF (both of which are fantastic) predictable enough to rely on, but I think that will just be a matter of getting better acquainted with those systems. I do feel confident with "center" point focus, and it proved plenty fast, and very accurate. For this, Iím glad I opted for the a7 over the a7R (lacking on-sensor phase detect AF).
On using manual focus lenses, the a7 has been an absolute breath of fresh air. My ZE Planar 50mm is a lens I absolutely love, but do find hard to focus accurately when shooting close to wide open. Iíve often switched to using live-view on my 5DmkII with the Magic Lantern software hack so that I could use focus-peaking, which REALLY helps get the focus right. With the a7 Iím getting focus peaking in the viewfinder, with native software, plus Iíve set a custom button to quickly zoom in right in the viewfinder for critical focus. My beloved ZE 50mm lens has been given a new lease on life!
On battery life, I was unfortunately right to be concerned; the a7 crapped out right at the beginning of the reception, having taken around 250 photos. I was ready for it, so it was no big deal, and had I had a second battery ready, it would have only been a minor inconvenience. Having said that, this (battery life) is a stark contrast from a DSLR. My Canons have always had amazing stamina, and Iíve NEVER had a single concern about battery life, even on a full day shoot with just one battery. Moving to mirrorless, the battery is suddenly powering the sensor and viewfinder constantly, and when that sensor is full-frame, that viewfinder is as brilliant as the one in the a7, and that battery has been designed with capacity taking a back seat to portability, itís no wonder weíre living with shorter battery life. To me, this will turn into a minor gripe once I have backups, and for long days I would consider the vertical grip in which 2 batteries can power the camera for (presumably) much better life.
On build quality, I see nothing wrong with the a7 at all, and I love that it's weather sealed. I feel the body is very well made, with materials, engineering/design, and workmanship/QC all of very good standards. I don't, however, feel as confident having it bumped around and generally "man-handled" as I am with my 5DmkII. This could absolutely be nothing more than a perception of mine, and I don't doubt that the a7 can handle its fair share of abuse, but my feeling is that semi-pro and pro series DSLRs are built a little closer to "tank-like" than these Sonys. That may or may not cause any problems at all, and it may or may not be enough to make a difference to you, but that's how I feel here.
All in all, I agree with those who say that mirrorless cameras will populate the future of photography, and for very good reason. I personally value a full-frame sensor very highly, so the a7 is the obvious choice for me. That this camera happens to have arrived from Sony has meant that it gets one of their fantastic sensors, and is being matched with lenses from my favourite lens-maker, Zeiss. All this, and the camera has come pretty damn close to hitting the nail on the head with everything Iíve been hoping for from a digital camera for a very long time. So close in fact that I have <i>almost</i> no complaints about it at all. The a7 gets a 10/10 from me, without a momentís hesitation.
As a quick note, the two reasons I opted to go with the a7 over the R version were Auto-Focus (better on the a7, with on-sensor phase detect), and electronic first-curtain shutter (for the sake of both sound and vibration, the a7R falters badly here IMHO, with a ďclose>open>expose>close>openĒ shutter sequence, which is both annoying and silly). I would love the sensor on the R, but I am not prepared to make those sacrifices in order to get it, especially not when the a7 sensor is already so damn good! I'm thrilled with the choice I made here.