Sony unleashed the Sony A7 and the A7R in October of 2013. With the Sony A7 aimed for general use sporting a 24 MP sensor and hybrid autofocus, the A7R differs primarily with its 36 MP sensor, therefore making the A7R more suitable for specific types of photography that need high resolution such as landscape, architecture, studio and product photography. I had an opportunity to test both cameras in 2014, however, I did not have a chance to write detailed reviews for a number of different reasons. Hence, this is more of a catch-up type of a review showcasing some images from my recent trips, along with the usual analysis.
There have been some interesting debates lately about what’s ‘wrong’ with the digital camera market as people try to understand the rather dramatic decline in unit sales that has been happening over the past 4 or 5 years, with volumes down by half from their peak. I let my old, porous brain muse on this for a while and have some perspectives to share. One way to look at this situation is to simply accept that there is nothing fundamentally ‘wrong’ with the camera market at all in terms of sales volumes. From a macro-economic perspective we could view the digital camera market as functioning exactly as every other market has done when a breakthrough technology burst onto its stage. If we look at the history of various product markets the basic rise and fall of market volumes are predictable when they have been impacted by fundamental technological shifts – in the case of cameras it was of seismic proportions going from film to digital. When any kind of ‘game changing’ technology takes hold in any market there are initial and dramatic volume surges as consumers leave their current technology and adopt the new one. That huge upward spike in initial demand then declines quickly as soon as the initial ‘change-over’ market demand for the new technology has been met. Product life-cycle planning is based on these fundamentals.
If you haven’t noticed, camera sales are down. I mean, they’re way down. Unsurprisingly, everyone’s scrambling to find a reason why. There’s a video floating around from Mayflower Concepts that, at the very least, explains what is not the cause for the camera sales drop. If you don’t have 50 minutes to watch it for yourself, here’s the “TL;DR” version: It’s not due to the rise of phones with cameras – at least, not in the way you think. It’s not because the economy is in the tank, as most camera manufacturers claim on their financial reports. There’s simply no strong correlation between any of the global financial crises, or the simple existence of cameras on phones, to have any reason to believe either is the cause for a huge drop in sales.
Someone at Sony must be finally realizing cameras don’t make a system. As numerous and capable (crippled RAW format notwithstanding) the A7-series cameras are, the real pull of any system is the lens lineup. And so the Japanese manufacturer has announced four new FE lenses for full-frame mirrorless cameras. It is very much worth noting that just one of the lenses is a superzoom with a disappointingly slow aperture of f/6.3 at the long end – the other three are prime lenses of 28mm, 35mm and 90mm focal lengths. On top of that, Sony has also introduced two new lens converters, one for wider angle of view, the other – for fisheye effect. Let’s take a closer look at the new products.
October 16 of 2013 marks an important milestone in the history of photography, because it is the date when Sony announced world’s first full-frame mirrorless cameras, the Sony A7 and A7R. The Sony A7, being the cheaper model aimed for general use, sports a 24 MP sensor and offers hybrid autofocus, while the A7R with its high resolution 36 MP sensor is targeted at more specific types of photography including landscape, architecture, studio and product photography. Since the official release of these cameras, I had a chance to test both in 2014 as soon as they were available. However, I did not write detailed reviews for a number of reasons including native lens shortage and availability, all kinds of initial firmware bugs and lags, shutter vibrations (A7R), slow start up time, compressed RAW, terrible menu system, poor battery life and a number of other annoying issues. On top of that, 2014 was also a year of personal transformation for me, so I was incredibly busy trying to shuffle a lot of things at the same time. To put it short, my lack of time and my negative experience with these cameras contributed to reviews being put off for a later date. When Sony released the A7S a bit later, I did not see drastic changes aside from the camera sensor, so I put off reviewing that camera for a while as well. However, when Sony announced the second iteration of the A7-series, the A7 II, I immediately requested a review unit for evaluation. By then, Sony already had a few more native lenses to choose from and I had high hopes that Sony perhaps addressed many of the concerns from the original A7 in this new camera. In addition, the Sony A7 II came with in-body image stabilization (IBIS), which interested me a lot – with so many different adapters available for other lens mounts, the A7 II looked rather promising as a versatile tool that could stabilize pretty much any lens on the market. And that in itself sounded really good, so off I went with my journey to assess the new Sony A7 II.
The introduction of the original Olympus OM-D E-M5 turned out to be a very successful move for the Japanese manufacturer. For the first time, it wasn’t just the compact dimensions or style that could lure potential customers towards m4/3 format mirrorless cameras (even though both aspects were taken care of by the slightly older PEN camera lineup), but some very impressive functionality along with all of that. Great EVF, speed (both AF and regular operation), great sensor (given its size), tons of customizable controls and impressively rugged build with dust and weather sealing turned a fashion object into a serious tool to tempt even DSLR owners. And it was still quite handsome with an obvious nod to those compact Olympus OM cameras of old. Why wouldn’t you? The OM-D E-M5 was a success. I am pretty certain the successor – version two – will be as well. At closer inspection you will notice the OM-D E-M5 II holds the same strengths at heart, but with everything slightly improved.
I’d be hard-pressed to call Samsung an inconspicuous company. After all, whenever you talk about electronics of any sort, there is a good chance Korean giant is leading that market or has the potential to. And yet when it comes to interchangeable lens cameras Samsung is very easy to overlook. Pay attention, though, and there is a lot to be impressed with – the recent NX1 looks genuinely capable on paper (with some specifications that are simply unheard of in its class) and puts a lot of well-received, high-end cameras to shame. It is also the reason why I am not surprised by their most recent impressive announcement, the new NX500 mirrorless camera. On paper, this is yet another strong move from a manufacturer that is not really known for its digital cameras, of all things. Yet.
The choice of the first camera system is an exciting one. Why would it not be? You get to pick the first camera to buy, the first lens, and you spend so much time reading reviews, forums and asking friends for advice. I know I did – some eight years ago, I was admiring such cameras as the Canon 30D and 40D, and was seriously eyeing the 400D which was then within the budget of a teenager me. Nikon D200 looked out of this world and the then-announced D300 was a camera of dreams. All of these models, now obsolete from a technological standpoint (much like the D700 I now own and love), were as desirable as any current equipment you can think of. Maybe even more so, since the refresh cycle was longer and digital photography in general not as widespread as it is today.
Yes, the choice of the first camera and lens is a very exciting one. But, inevitably and at some point, a different question arises for just about all of us, and one much less pleasant – should you stick with your first decision or is the grass truly greener somewhere else?
The subject of sensor crop factors and equivalence has become rather controversial between photographers, sparking heated debates on photography sites and forums. So much has been posted on this topic, that it almost feels redundant to write about it again. Sadly, with all the great and not-so-great information out there on equivalence, many photographers are only left more puzzled and confused. Thanks to so many different formats available today, including 1″/CX, Micro Four Thirds, APS-C, 35mm/Full Frame, Medium Format (in different sizes), photographers are comparing these systems by calculating their equivalent focal lengths, apertures, depth of field, camera to subject distances, hyperfocal distances and other technical jargon, to prove the inferiority or the superiority of one system over another. In this article, I want to bring up some of these points and express my subjective opinion on the matter. Recognizing that this topic is one of the never-ending debates with strong arguments from all sides, I do realize that some of our readers may disagree with my statements and arguments. So if you do disagree with what I say, please provide your opinion in a civilized manner in the comments section below.
It did not take long for Sony to bring its new A7 II full-frame camera to the US market. But then, even from the Japanese announcement article, it is clear that the A7 series of mirrorless cameras are very popular among photographers, and this new model adds the very welcome sensor-based 5 axis image stabilization that works with any lens. Ought to be a real success for the manufacturer, especially at this price.