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Sony Alpha a7 Mirrorless Digital Camera

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Review Date: Mar 25, 2014 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: IQ, size and weight, fantastic EVF, superb Zeiss lenses, weather sealed
Cons:
a few omissions in operation options

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.


 
Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T*

50mm
Review Date: Mar 25, 2014 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Beautiful rendering of images. What more do you want?
Cons:
Not very sharp, no AF, chromatic aberrations, field curvature, focus shift, stupid little fiddly lens cap.

This is my absolute favourite lens on my 5DmkII. Every other lens I have is sharper, most other lenses I have are AF. This Zeiss suffers from field curvature, focus shift, heavy CA wide open, and isn't particularly sharp unless you stop down a fair bit. I don't care, I love it, I want to marry it and have little half Zeiss half man baby lenses; they'll call me Papa, and they'll take amazing photos.

What I love is the way it renders. A combination of colour, contrast, micro-contrast... I don't really know what it is, but I find the look and feel of images made with my planar to be more pleasing than those made with most other lenses I have. It just makes amazing photos, and makes me want more Zeiss glass.

Also, whoever designed the lens cap was a sadist. The design does seem good, but for some reason it takes 3 tries to get it on right, and even then you're not really sure. Get an after-market pinch cap.


 
Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA Zeiss Sonnar T*

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Review Date: Mar 25, 2014 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Compact, light, SHARP, great colour, good AF, sealed.
Cons:
f2 would have been nice, but we can't have everything.

I've been a fan of Zeiss for a long time, and have had their lenses on Hasselblad (V system) as well as on my Canon 5DmkII (ZE 50mm 1.4). I've always found something about the way Zeiss lenses render images as really special, and different from most other lens makers. These FE lenses can't really be thought of as "true Zeiss", but I am finding that same quality of rendering here that I've seen before in the "proper" Zeiss glass. When it comes in a tiny package like this, with good AF and weather sealing as well, I'm diving in head-first!

What's more, this teeny little 35mm is SHARP. I mean REALLY sharp, even wide open, even to the far corners. Colours are accurate as well as rich and vibrant, and contrast is beautiful. Oh sure, you'll find little flaws here and there, but this lens can hold its own on technical quality with anything I've ever used.

I'm sure these lenses will drop in price a little in time, but to be honest they're worth every penny. Like most, I would have liked an extra stop to make this f2, but for all this lens offers, I'll take that any day.


 
Canon EOS 40D

40d
Review Date: Dec 30, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: fast and accurate AF, great Image Quality, 14bit, HTP, Live View, well built, ease of use, love those custom settings!
Cons:
1.6x crop, not 100% viewfinder coverage (I'm just wishing)

This camera FINALLY convinced me to go digital, and i'm not regretting it.

I do miss the colours and subtle tones that are only possible with film (at this stage), also the 100% viewfinder coverage and full frame imaging area (obviously) of my 35mm EOS-1, but the trade-off has proved well worth it.

I'm finding that the (slight) drop in IQ over images I get on film are well and truly off-set by the added useability of the 40D, and the digital medium overall. You may think i'm crazy for waiting so long to go digital, but this is truly the first D-SLR that has fallen into my price range, with useability and IQ to warrant the change. In my opinion, a 30D did not have enough advantages to make the change, the 40D definitely does.

I recommend this camera to anyone who won't be able to afford the upcoming update to the 5D. I do wish I could afford full-frame.


 
Canon EF 100-300mm f/4.5-5.6 USM

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Review Date: Feb 18, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

Pros: Sharp for it's price. Light weight. Cheap.
Cons:
Zoom creep. Slow.

I bought this lens about 6 months ago because it was the best quality telephoto zoom i could afford, and i would do the same again if i was back in that position. The optics are as good as can be expected for the price, and FAR better than the canon 80-200mm which i have used before.

Unfortunately, most of my shots are taken with the aperture at f8 or wider, which makes the image a bit soft. If using with ISO 100, the aperture basically needs to be left wide open to get any reasonable shutter speeds, and this gives pretty average results, especially at 300mm.

I do find though, that using the shallow DOF that 300mm and greater than f8 gives to remove foreground and background distractions (like cages and people) is great, especially in zoos, where my lens does a lot of it's work.

All in all, i would recommend this lens to anyone who can't afford L, and isn't prepared to go prime. I am confident that anyone in that situation will be as happy as a pig in the proverbial with their purchase. Personally i plan to upgrade to the 200 f2.8L prime, with a 1.4x TC for versatility as soon as i get the cash, simply because it will be tougher, faster, and a hell of a lot sharper. But it was the 100-300mm that has built my love for long lenses, and i think it can do the same for you!

I also recommend the lens hood, as i found lens flare a bit of a problem until i fitted one to mine.


 
Canon EF 20-35mm f/3.5-4.5 USM

ef20_35mm_1_
Review Date: Feb 5, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Cheap, light, reasonably sharp. Close enough to 'L' for me.
Cons:
AF hunts a little.

I bought this lens second hand for AUS$400 about a year ago, and have been very happy with it for the price. I use it with film, and the wide angle range is great for landscapes and creative close-ups. I find it is a great lens for carrying around on the camera because it is reasonably light, and the focal lengths can prove very reasonable for most wide shots. Just stay outdoors unless you have a flash or mono/tripod, as the f3.5 is generally a little slow (especially using ISO 100 as i usually do).

On the down side, i find myself disappointed sometimes with the sharpness, especially closer to the edges. Comparing it with the 17-40mm L lens, there is a noticeable difference in image quality. Having said that, though, for the amateur photographer, the difference seen there is not worth the cost, so i will happily stick with the 20-35mm.

All in all, i would recommend this lens to any non-professional who can't afford L-glass. It will keep 98% of people very happy, as it has done for me. Probably the only lens in my kit that will stay there until it dies.