Update 2: Here is the latest blog post from July 2014 with brand new photos and the most current thoughts after almost a year of using the Sony A7R for wedding photography.
While I wait for the computer to do some CPU crunching with this wedding video I’m working on, I figured I would do a quick real world review of our latest toy, the Sony A7R Interchangeable Lens Camera! We are primarily Canon shooters using the 5D Mark III for wedding photography and videography, but even when taking photos of our son Miles around town or on vacation we have sort of become accustomed to a certain level of quality. We bought the Olympus OM-D E-M5 for that very reason, a higher end compact system camera that would surpass our iPhone 5’s camera and be light enough to carry anywhere, and honestly I still enjoy the camera. The Olympus 45mm f/1.8 is a dream lens and if I bought the new 17mm f/1.8 lens to replace our Panasonic 20mm I think I would be set with the Micro 4/3 system.
My only gripe with the E-M5 was the file’s flexibility in editing and really pushing the dynamic range. The few times I took the E-M5 to shoot time lapse or any time I really pushed the RAW files around it just wasn’t the same experience as the Canon 5D Mark III’s files. Of course, this is comparing a $3500 full frame camera (5D Mark III at launch) with a $1000 micro 4/3 camera (OM-D E-M5) and a $400 lens (Olympus 45mm or Panasonic 20mm) with a $1500 lens (Canon 85mm f/1.2L or 50mm f/1.2L). For photos of Miles being a kid it was fine but I did crave something more and wasn’t totally in love with the system (though the newly announced Olympus OM-D E-M1 seems to address any concerns people had with the E-M5). Being a casual reader of Trey Ratcliff’s Stuck in Customs travel photography blog since I took his HDR workshop a few years back, it was interesting to see him create amazing imagery with the tiny Sony NEX-7 that he switched from using huge Nikon DSLRs over to shooting with these tiny mirrorless cameras. This put Sony on my radar and upon hearing the rumor and eventual launch of a full frame mirrorless camera, I pre-ordered the Sony A7r on the day it was announced. We got our camera as soon as Amazon shipped it along with the Sony Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 ZA lens at launch. I also picked up the Metabones EF to E Mount Adapter Mark III to be able to use all of our existing Canon lenses with the Sony A7r, another huge selling point of switching from Olympus Micro 4/3 to the Sony system.
We’ve had the camera for about a week now, and I took it out for some casual shots around our neighborhood and the ultimate test, trying to keep up with our 2 year old son. I also brought it with me on this past weekend’s wedding shoot to use as a second camera. After finally having some back issues from carrying around this heavy gear for wedding after wedding week after week, I’m also very excited at the prospect of switching to a mirrorless camera that is much lighter but still delivers the same full frame experience I demand in professional work.
All photos should link back to Flickr where the full size JPGs are available to view as well.
All photos above taken with the Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 ZA lens, which did reasonably well keeping up with an energetic 2 year old playing in the park. While the 5D Mark III would have focused faster, with him moving that much I think I still would have gotten a number of out of focus photos. The limiting factor is the Sony A7r’s low frames per second where I can let rip 3 or 4 photos quickly on the 5D Mark III and nail focus on a kid running around, but their is a noticeable lag on the A7r by comparison. It’s waiting for the “decisive moment” versus spray and pray photography. Shooting the A7r really makes me slow, and I don’t think that is particularly a bad thing. I took the A7r out on another evening when I was running errands around downtown Atlanta and grabbed a few wide angle Canon lenses with the Metabones adapter. Later that I went out again with my travel tripod for some night photography. I spent a little over an hour or so shooting some long exposure landscape photos in Centennial Park and got these results.
Here are the night photos taken around the park on a tripod. World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium first:
Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park and the Fountain of Rings with the new SkyView in the background.
Can I just say that I love all of the technical bells and whistles in these Sony cameras? Focus peaking is seriously the coolest thing ever and works really well when using the Canon lenses and the Metabones adapter. You can still autofocus using the adapter but AF speed is like using live view on a Canon camera, much slower than looking through the viewfinder. Getting back home I really loved editing the files in Lightroom, their is a lot of flexibility and everything looked great. I guess I have a bit of Nikon envy with your access to the D800E but now their is a camera with pretty much the same sensor (Sony makes sensors for Nikon, including the one that goes into the Nikon D800) in a much smaller package!
Feeling pretty confident with the Sony I decided to keep it with me all day at my Vietnamese wedding I was shooting this past weekend. It wasn’t a true test of the camera because I was still shooting the most important moments first with the Canon 5D Mark III but supplementing that here and there with the A7r. Also, since this was an indoor wedding and I wasn’t using a flash on the Sony A7r, that limited what I was shooting. Luckily, or unluckily, the videographer had a video light on all day. Gave all the photos a warm color cast but it also meant that the A7r could get some “natural light” wedding photos with interesting shadows as opposed to what I was shooting with the Canon using flash. I shot all day with just the Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 ZA lens but did throw on the Metabones adapter and the Canon 100mm macro for some shots during the reception. Here are some of the keepers!
Still have to deal with iPhones even when shooting in someone’s house =)
A lot of detail in these photos, especially when I had to crop the top off where I caught a guest’s flash going off at the same time as me. Same photos, just uncropped:
The wedding day “competition” haha =)
Wow, crazy wedding! 8am to midnight, with breaks here and there in between of course but yeah. I did change the battery once on the A7r, though I only shot about 360 photos in total since it was just a secondary camera compared to the 3,000+ I shot with the 5D Mark III. Focusing was again slower than the 5D Mark III as expected, though we were indoors all day in pretty low light. I ended up shooting in Manual but with Auto-ISO enabled to account for the variations with the videographer’s video light. I found this combo gave me the most flexibility to keep the shutter where I wanted it to freeze movement but still bright enough, I was typically 1/100 to 1/200 on the shutter with f/2.8 and Auto-ISO varying up to even 6400. Using the exposure compensation dial was a breeze and made it very easy and quick to change my exposure one handed (since I had the 5D in my other hand and would just be swinging the A7r around). Using the EVF made focusing seem to increase and improved my experience, however I have to admit I loved being able to maneuver such a small camera that I can hold in one hand for lower or closer angles since I could see everything on the LCD. The flexibility and light weight were huge positives, the negatives were low FPS to capture things like dancing or movement where I had to look more for the “decisive moment” than letting the shutter fly like I could with the 5D Mark III’s. Again, just changes your approach to be more methodical – not necessarily a bad thing! I wish I had a flash to really get the power out of this camera since this wedding and most of our weddings are indoors. Also, the bootup time for the camera is a bit slow, you can’t just flip a switch and immediately start shooting like with the Mark III so I tended to leave it on here and there even when not using it. I had spare Wasabi batteries that I picked up on Amazon that worked like a charm.
In the digital darkroom I processed all of the photos using the new Lightroom 5 Release Candidate with A7r RAW support. Not being used to working with the Sony’s RAW files, it is taking me a while to get a “look” that I really enjoy. It took me a while to really dial in my Canon RAW file editing so I’m assuming my look when editing these files will slowly evolve slightly. I would think if you are a current Nikon shooter the transition to editing these A7 files will be much smoother as Sony makes Nikon sensors so you are already a bit familiar with how the colors are looking.
Overall it was a really fun experience shooting a wedding with the A7r and I will definitely be bringing the SOny A7r to all my weddings from now on. Unfortunately since it’s December this was my last wedding after a crazy Fall 2013 wedding season, but I do have another right after Christmas and then another in January as well. I wish I could just second shoot with someone and use the A7r exclusively but I don’t quite trust it enough to be my main camera in low light scenarios, and of course the native lens selection is limited at the moment and I won’t be replacing the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS Version 2 anytime soon for critical shots far away. I am very optimistic on the Sony system and would seriously consider picking up the other version of the new camera, the Sony A7, which has smaller file sizes and the hybrid auto focus system. Sony if you are reading this and want to sponsor someone to shoot weddings with the A7 and A7r, I have a wedding on December 26th, 29th and January 18th coming soon as well as an already packed 2014 schedule! =) I am having a lot of fun slowing down and working with the A7R, more to come!