In the last few weeks I’ve found myself replying to Facebook Sony user group posts where new owners building their systems have asked about the Sony 90mm f/2.8 G OSS Macro FE lens. Over the months before this, I’d seen so many comments saying this was the best ever Sony and perhaps the second best lens ever.Continue reading »
Sony reaches a Hire level
Sony full-frame mirrorless system owners keen to find out how good the fast Sony GM lenses are can now hire from Lenses For Hire for as little as £69. The hire service has been evaluating the demand and quality of the Sony offering, and recently decided to add the system alongside their regular Canon and Nikon professional stock.
A three-day shoot with the 24-70mm f/2.8 FE GM OSS, delivered on a Thursday and picked up on the Monday by courier, would cost under £100 including insurance and carriage both ways and only £69 direct from the Maidenhead hire specialists.
System lenses stocked include the new 12-24mm f/4 G, 16-35mm f/2.8 GM, 24-105mm G OSS, 90mm f/21.8 OSS macro, 70-20mm f/2.8 GM OSS, new GM 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 OSS and the versatile travel-friendly 24-240mm.
Tele converters, the latest Metabones Mark V Canon EF adaptor and accessories are offered. Sony A7II, A7RIII, A7SII and A9 bodies can be hired from £94.
With GM lenses costing from £2,269 upwards an affordable hire period helps you make the right buying decision, saves you money and gives you the best choice for your work.
Lenses For Hire Ltd
+44(0)1628 639941 – or UK only 0800 61 272 61
Read David Kilpatrick’s review of the Sony A7RIII
Cameracraft January/February started the A7RIII test report, and March/April 2018 continued it. Both are free to read here. In the second issue you’ll also find the review of the 24-105mm f/4 FE G OSS lens. In the first issue, Gary Friedman looks at the RX10 series and one-inch sensor quality as well – and David tests the Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f/1.2 Aspherical FE manual focus lens, Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DN DC, and Samyang 35mm f/2.8 AF FE.
Sony has announced two new lenses for E-mount mirrorless cameras.
The FE 100mm F2.8[i] STF GM OSS is the first Smooth Transition Focus prime since the acclaimed A-mount 135mm and is designed for the best possible bokeh without any trace of aperture-related artefacts. The compact, lightweight FE 85mm F1.8 portrait prime lens may put an end to sales of Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM lenses mounted on FE adaptors… but at £550 and not stabilised it’s just over the typical cost of that combo, which also enables the use of other Canon lenses and of course the use of the Canon glass on native bodies.
It’s a slightly disappointing lens as the 80cm close focus is no improvement over the 85mm G-Master f/1.4, and much less useful than the 85mm A-mount SAM f/2.8 which focuses to 60cm. With the 85mm such a popular choice for portraits, food photography and creative close-ups (short of the macro range) this is a missed opportunity even it is also very much an industry standard. In contrast to this the 100mm STF has an excellent close focus of 57cm and the same close-up ability as zooms like the classic ‘Beercan’ 70-210mm f/4 by Minolta, the magic ‘quarter life size’ which covers the area of a 6 x 4″ postcard print when used on full frame.
Sony also introduced a new flash HVL-F45RM with radio-controlled wireless communication ideal for off-camera multi flash TTL work with Sony’s line-up of α7 full-frame cameras. This flashgun uses the Sony Quick-Navi visual system for its rear panel – so they did learn something from the success of this in the old A700!
(Sony information follows)
A specially designed mid-telephoto, full-frame prime lens, the new 100mm STF is built to produce truly unique, magnificent and beautiful bokeh while maintaining the exceptional standard of resolution that is showcased throughout Sony’s entire line-up of flagship G Master series lenses, making it a powerful photographic tool for any portrait, fashion, nature or wedding photographer.
These impressive defocus capabilities are made possible by the lens’ advanced optical structure, as it features a newly designed 11-bladed aperture and a unique optical apodization lens element. Similar to a neutral density filter that increases in density towards the edges, the apodization element creates beautiful transitions of in-focus to out-of-focus areas within an image, making for exceptionally soft, smooth bokeh that adds depth and dimensionality. This allows the subjects to stand out against beautifully defocused elements in both the foreground and background, producing an image that is naturally pleasing to the eye. The design of the lens also ensures that vignetting is kept to an absolute minimum, ensuring optimum image quality.
David Kilpatrick writes: The STF function is available from full aperture (an effective T=5.6 despite the f/2.8 physical aperture) over a one-stop adjustment range to T=8. This is less than the f/4.5 to f/8 (T) range of the original STF design and indicates that a more powerful apodisation element (radial/circular graded element created by using neutral density in a double concave glass) or apodisation filter (a cheaper method using a conventional radial graduated ND filter inside the lens near the aperture position). This should actually mean that f/5.6 looks smoother than f/4.5 could have. Confusing, but true. You can the depth of field of a more-or-less f/8 lens with the bokeh of an f/4.
Additionally, the new 100mm lens supports both contrast AF and focal-plane phase detection AF[ii], and has a high-precision, quiet direct drive SSM (Super Sonic Motor) system that ensures exceptionally fast and accurate AF performance. The SEL100F28GM also offers up to 0.25x close-up capabilities with a built-in macro switching ring, built-in Optical SteadyShot™ image stabilisation, a customisable focus hold button, AF/MF switch, aperture ring and is also dust and moisture resistant.[iii]
The new SEL85F18 mid-telephoto prime lens offers an extremely versatile, lightweight and compact telephoto prime lens solution for a variety of Sony camera owners ranging from working professionals to emerging enthusiasts that have stepped up to an APS-C or full-frame camera for the first time. With its wide f/1.8 aperture, it can produce impressive, exceptionally sharp portraits with soft background defocus that take advantage of its 85mm focal length and wide f/1.8 maximum aperture.
The new prime lens features a 9-bladed circular aperture mechanism that ensures smooth, natural looking bokeh, and a double linear motor system to allow for fast, precise and quiet focusing. It also has a focus hold button that can be customised and assigned together with functions in the camera body like the popular Eye-AF feature. There is a smooth, responsive focus ring and AF/MF switch and the lens is also dust and moisture resistant.iii
Sony’s new HVL-F45RM flash enhances the radio-controlled lighting system capabilities of their growing system, offering a compact professional shooting solution when combined with the currently available wireless remote controller FA-WRC1M and receiver FA-WRR1.
The new flash, which is designed to complement the compact bodies of Sony’s E-mount camera line-up including full-frame α7 models, produces a maximum lighting output as expansive as GN45[iv]. This ensures sufficient illumination even when shooting with bounce lighting or high-speed-sync (HSS) flash. The radio capabilities of the HVL-F45RM allow it to be used as a transmitter or a receiver at up to 30m (approx. 98 feet[v]), making it an ideal fit for creative lighting with multiple flashes. Additionally, unlike optical flash systems, radio-control flashes do not require a direct line-of-sight between components to function properly, while also minimising any impact that bright sunlight has on signal transmission and control.
The HVL-F45RM flash has an impressive battery life of up to 210 bursts, and can tilt up to 150o vertically, a complete 360o horizontally and up to 8o downward to maximise versatility. Usability has been maximised with a new large, bright and highly visible LCD display, an LED light, dust and moisture resistant design3 and a revamped menu system that mimics those of Sony’s newest camera systems.
Pricing and Availability
The new lenses and flash will start shipping in March 2017. The SEL100F28GM will be priced at approximately £1700, the SEL85F18 will be priced at approximately £550 and the HVL-F45RM will be priced at approximately £420. Further information can be found on the Sony Camera Channel: www.youtube.com/c/ImagingbySony/ and the Sony Photo Gallery: www.sony.net/Product/di_photo_gallery/
[i]T-number (T) =5.6
[ii]With compatible α camera bodies. Please visit Sony support webpages for details.
[iii]Not guaranteed to be 100% dust and moisture proof.
[iv]Guide Number (GN) 45 (105mm, in meters at ISO 100)
[v]Sony internal measurement
Sony has just announced yet another 50mm, and this time it’s different – a truly affordable 50mm 1:1 macro, only $500 US. We reckon this will become the most popular standard 50mm lens by far, even more so than the budget 50mm f/1.8. Now you can photograph your food properly at last!
It certainly looks neat and the specifications are good.
It features one ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass to reduce lateral CA (colour fringes) as the image scale increases. The optical and mechanical construction of the lens is claimed to have less glare and ghosting. The lens is also dust and moisture resistant.
Examples shot with the new lens can be found at www.alphauniverse.com, Sony’s new corporate pseudo-community site. We have to say the bokeh looks funky, not good, and this lens probably lacks the classical drawing of the more traditionally designed (and more expensive) SAL 50mm f/2.8 Macro A-mount.
The 6.25″ (16cm) minimum focusing distance is a clue why. The effect of the 7-blade circular aperture design can be studied in the Sony photo examples. It has a focus-mode switch, focus-range limiter and focus-hold button (the mode switch is valuable as you may not want AF for macro shots most of the time, and the focus limiter is similarly good for controlling frantic hunting and missing – all three switches/controls are important on the mirrorless bodies).
The lens is 7cm long, weighs 235g and during focusing it extends in length by only 26mm, not the 50mm required for a typical Tessar-type lens of this focal length. This, and the minimum focusing distance (should be at least 20cm for a 50mm macro at 1:1) indicate that the design relies heavily on internal/rear focusing groups, much like the 30mm f/2.8 DT SAM macro for A-mount. We would reckon the true focal length of the lens at 1:1, which can not be more than 40mm with a 16cm close focus, may be around 35mm as 1:1 is achieved with 76mm of overall focus extension.
The distance from the subject to this lens front rim at 1:1 is only 3.5cm which many will find a little too close for insects and even for plants, as the shadow of the lens and photographer may interfere. Even the SAL 50mm is not perfect, reaching 1:1 at 20cm from the focal plane with a 48mm dual barrel extension and 53mm front element focus travel (the extra 3mm is down to floating element correction which slightly changes the focal length). This places the lens rim 7cm from the subject, twice the working distance relative to this new SEL FE design.
Look – you don’t read Photoclubalpha to get sales blurb. You come here to find stuff out which you won’t read anywhere else and may not previously have been aware of. It may be difficult. But it will help!
– David Kilpatrick
A quintessential wide-aperture 50mm “normal” lens, the new ZEISS® Planar F1.4 offers high resolution, high-contrast and overall exceptional performance
Sony today introduced a new full-frame lens for their E-mount camera system, the Planar T* FE 50mm F1.4 ZA (model SEL50F14Z). (Press release 2pm UK time)
“This 50mm prime lens features a large F1.4 maximum aperture that offers impressive contrast and outstanding resolution that are hallmarks of the ZEISS® brand. It produces these consistently strong qualities throughout the entirety of the frame – from centre to corner – and at all aperture settings, even while shooting wide open at F1.4. The cutting edge optical structure includes high-precision AA (Advanced Aspherical) and ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass elements that reduce spherical and chromatic aberration, as well as a ZEISS® T* Coating that minimises flare and ghosting, creating the classic ZEISS® clarity. Additionally, its Planar design ensures minimal distortion.
The large f/1.4 maximum aperture of the FE 50mm F1.4ZA lens provides a level of brightness and speed that are advantageous for dimly lit indoor shots, night scenes, and portraits, while its 11-blade circular aperture allows for stunning ‘bokeh’, or background defocus, in images. The lens also features an aperture ring with de-click option, an AF/MF switch, and a dust and moisture resistant design[i], further increasing its functionality.”
(PR blurb slightly edited but leaving in all the garbage, Registered Trade Mark symbols and stuff including the gratuitous capitalisation of Zeiss)
Editor’s comments: AA elements have no orange-peel microstructure, and thus reduce the granular appearance of bokeh circles created by point sources out of focus – they resemble traditionally ground and polished elements, even though they are moulded aspherical. Those who say ‘I love this lens in the A-mount version’ or Canon or Nikon or Contax are misguided, as although this is a Planar, it’s not the same 50mm f/1.4 Planar in any way as a traditional design.
The new lens is also equipped with a ring drive SSM (Super Sonic wave Motor) system, which allows it to efficiently lock focus with speed, precision and in near silence, making it particularly useful for shooting movies.
Pricing and Availability
The new FE 50mm F1.4 ZA lens will ship this July and will be available across Europe for approximately €1,800 (this price given by Sony). US price from B&H for pre-order is $1498 which is considerably less, possibly because Europe has VAT tax generally between 20% and 25%.
Although the design is dust and moisture resistant, absolute protection from dust and moisture is not guaranteed.
With the 24-70mm f/2.8 new Sony GM FE lens selling for £1799 (UK) and the A-mount version two 24-70mm f/2.8 for a full £100 more, the cost of a basic mid-range zoom to use with a camera like the A7RII remains very high. There are good arguments to be happy with the 24-70mm f/4 FE zoom, or even the 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 though that is best limited to use on the A7 (24 megapixel) and A7S (12 megapixel) bodies rather than the A7R (36 megapixel) or A7RII (42 megapixel).
Of course there are good lens adaptors out there and 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses from Canon, Tamron or Sigma with ultrasonic focus drive in Canon EF mount offer one solution. The original 24-70mm f/2.8 for A-mount with its SSM motor of this type can also be found for a fair price. But there’s one lens which I sold after my A7R arrived, mostly because I was parting company with my full-frame A-mount body survivors. It’s the Tamron-based but Sony revised SAL 28-75mm f/2.8 SAM.
Although I did have an LA-EA3 adaptor to use SSM and SAM drive A-mount lenses on the E-mount bodies, the 28-75mm didn’t really work very well on the A7R so it remained on my A99 or A900. I made a few tests and saw that it was certainly OK on 36 megapixels, though even on the 24 megapixel A99 where it played nicely with the AF system it had slightly soft corners when used wide open. They were not any softer than the 24-70mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss of that time and in some ways the lens was better behaved.
The first thing to do was to fix this lens to the LA-EA3 creating an FE lens unit. Imagine the adaptor is just part of the lens (that’s pretty much how Sony makes many lenses for E-mount anyway). The total unit measures up at 115mm long including the adaptor, and 75mm diameter taking 67mm filters. The lens itself weighs only 565g, the combo weighs 683g with adaptor and lens hood. That compares with the new GM lens at 136mm long and 88mm diameter using 82mm filters and weighing 886g. As I already have a 16-35mm f/4 CZ which covers the 24mm requirement well, the 28-75mm range is just as useful to me as 24-70mm.
While the 28-75mm SAM activates PDAF and multiple AF points, it’s not the full works with tracking and Eye-AF. But it’s also not as noisy as some reviews imply. It’s much quieter than the 85mm f/2.8 SAM, and silent compared to the grinding focus of the 30mm DT SAM macro. Startup is fast, with the lens initialising quicker than FE mount stabilised zooms. The aperture actuation is slicker than with body-drive SAL lenses on the LA-EA4, and quieter. Focus is fast and the only downside is the rotating focus ring which does not support DMF or over-ride on the fly, or auto manual focus magnification. Manual focus requires you to set it on the lens and the body, and whatever you are doing, you need to avoid either turning the focus ring when there is any resistance, or blocking it from turning during AF. It’s a bit vulnerable and the direction of focus is the opposite to normal Sony/Minolta design. The zoom ring which locks at 28mm only operates in the normal direction.
So, what you get with the LA-EA3+28-75mm SAM is basic but fully controlled and communicating, EXIF accurate with profile correctly invoked. It will track with continuous focus and during movies, though slightly noisy for in-camera sound recording; it seems to do so when some SSM lenses, like the 24mm f/2 CZ, don’t play.
As for optical quality, it’s still a 14-year-old Tamron in disguise, but it can match up to 42 megapixels centrally across its full range. The performance over the APS-C image area is superb, even wide open at all focal lengths, with just a hint of misty aberrations slightly masking a super-sharp result on axis. On full frame, a marked ‘cap shape’ deviation from flat field towards the extremes causes strong softening on flat subjects and landscapes at 28mm and is not entirely removed at longer lengths. You would not want to use this at 50mm and f/2.8 if you had a faster 50mm you could fit and stop down to f/2.8. On real three-dimensional subjects at typical working apertures between f/4 and f/11 it can be extremely sharp. The respectable 38cm close focus and 0.22X subject scale (not as good as the new Sony GM 24-70mm) reveal microscopic detail on the A7RII at f/5.6. The shot below is at the closest AF on the large water drop in the centre, at 75mm and f/5.6 – you can see the bokeh is very acceptable, not complex or ‘nervous’ which it tends to be when used wide open for more distant subjects with a slightly defocused background.
A 100% crop from th A7RII file (converted from raw ISO 500 14-bit, without any sharpening for web and with minimal NR) gives an idea how good this lens is and also just how little depth of field you’re ever going to see from a 42 megapixel full frame image used this way!
It would hardly be worth buying an LA-EA3 and a new 28-75mm just to save about £1000 over the GM 24-70mm. If you already own an LA-EA3 and you can find a cut price or good used 28-75mm go for it. The way its aperture works means you’ll get very fast low light focus and minimal shutter lag (but you do need a mark II A7 series body to get the best functioning).
The zoom action is a real pleasure to use, very light but positive, and the overall build and feel of the lens will not disappoint. It also seems to get just the right response from the in-body stabilisation of the A7RII. Sure, 67mm filters may be smaller than many midrange zooms require, but I will either have to use a stepping ring or get a couple of new filters – not cheap, for the quality needed to maintain the lens performance. Also, it’s not weatherproofed.
Here’s a quick set of three hand held (with SSI) comparisons at 28mm – f/2.8, f/5.6 and f/9. I’ve loaded these up at full size so they should open the original Level 10 sRGB JPEG when clicked. The focus in on the foreground railing spike and the fine spider web gives the best idea of how the resolution and contrast of the lens improve from wide open. It’s clearly resolved at f/2.8 but with a gentle ‘glow’ at pixel level. First image – f/2.8.
Second image – f/5.6. If you download all three images and load them into Photoshop, it’s interesting to switch between tabs and see the depth of field change.
The third image is at f/9 and here the ISO is high at 2000. The A7RII can produce great results up to 3200 but I might not choose to have this at 2000. Even so, the sharpness can be judged without problems as the noise doesn’t have much effect on fine detail with current Sony sensors and processing. It always shows more in defocused, smooth areas.
Because I use other lenses – such as the 24-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Sony and 50mm f/2.8 Macro Sony on LA-EA4, 40mm f/2.8 Canon STM, Sony FE 28mm f/2, 16-35mm CZ f/4 and also the unrivalled 24-240mm FE zoom I have many choices overlapping the range of this lens. I remember that for landscape work on the A900 it was hard to beat. Here’s one of my images from that combination, using a 6 second exposure at 40mm focal length, f/8 and ISO 100 with a variable ND filter. With the restrictions on tripod position given by the location, the zoom range of 28-75mm proved just right for a range of studies.
With this lens arriving during a period (for my corner of the UK) of sustained white skies and drizzling rain, it’s not been out and about much. One thing it has done is to focus very well in dim room lighting on my sofa companions –
And, for those who don’t think f/4 is wide enough and desperately want 55mm f/1.8 or f/0.95 lenses, this is at 55mm f/2.8 and of course when the iris of the eye is sharp the fur around it is not and Willow’s nose is blurred. Once again, despite correction for tungsten light at the extreme limit of Adobe Camera Raw, and using ISO 3200, it’s pretty amazing what the A7RII can do seen at 100% (below).
But this super-shallow depth of field is what happens at 42 megapixels. Depth of field used to be worked out based on a 10 x 8″ print held in your hand, not a 6 x 4ft image viewed through the ‘window’ of a screen. Of course for social media you do indeed need very wide apertures because when your pictures are mostly viewed on smartphones, it’s like looking at a contact print from a Vest Pocket Kodak…
– David Kilpatrick
You can find deals for the Sony SAL 28-75mm f/2.8 SAM A-mount lens at B&H Photographic, Wex Photographic for the UK, or Amazon Sony SAL2875 Alpha 28-75mm F2.8 Standard Zoom Lens
With extremely expensive Sony-fit 85mm lenses in abundance and beyond my (economically sensible) reach, I’ve done good commercial work last year on the Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM and later the Sony 85mm f/2.8 SAM on A7RII. Some of my work relies on showing close-up details with strong differential focus, and hardly any lenses are free from ‘colour bokeh’ issues, so it’s needed some care to process the files and avoid that typical magenta tinge to the background and greenish hue to foreground blur.
This is a typical example. It’s on the Canon 85mm f/1.8, and although this is a fairly clean lens, the background at f/4 needed some post-process work to avoid a magenta colour shift.
In contrast, absolutely no work is ever needed on my Sigma 70mm f/2.8 macro. It shows no chromatic effects in defocused areas. But this is a studio shot at f/10 – and, like many commercial shots, the extreme f/1.4 or f/2 apertures which are so highly valued by the bloggerati simply don’t enter the equation. Differential focus here is precisely balanced against the legibility of the bottle wording at web size (these shots are for a 1440 pixel wide template).
I like to have a choice of wider aperture and macro lenses for this kind of work as they all produce different effects. My 70-210mm f/4 Minolta AF classic, for example, has about the cleanest foreground blur wide open on 0.25X scale 210mm close ups. My 85mm SAM is ‘dirty’ by comparison (but its 60cm 0.20X minimum focus distance still makes it the best 85mm for close work unless you use a macro or a zoom with good close range). Then, we get the Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 popping up followed now by the costly Sony G-Master 85mm f/1.4 FE. In both cases you get 80cm minimum focus and around 0.12X image scale (rather like the 70-200mm f/4 Sony G FE lens used at 190mm and 1m focus).
I really like, on a full-frame camera, to reach one quarter life size on the sensor. One-eighth, the 0.12-0.125X type of scale, means a full A4 magazine page fills the frame. One-quarter, 0.25X, means a quarter of that page or a postcard size fills the frame. There are so many things in the world, from a kitten’s face to a lily in bloom or a perfect cup cake, which are about this size. When I photograph food I often want to avoid including the edges of the plate completely. Those lenses which push me back too far prevent that. I know many users will be puzzled by my preference and see no reason to want to get any closer. Well, that’s just me. I have always done well creatively and commercially from surprisingly tightly cropped, close-up work.
And, being more critical of these new hyper-expensive lenses, we’ve had 80cm focus 85mm lenses for SLR focusing for 70 years now. Really, any new lens in this focal length should focus to 60cm or ideally 50cm without calling itself a macro. That suits the way we live, in our cars, at desks, at home, at tables, in small spaces, giving other people space. I really like to be able to place an item in front of me, or even hold it in my hand, and focus on it. I can’t do that at all with 1m minimum focus (the old rangefinder Leica standard!) and only just with 60cm.
Then I started seeing some work taken on an interesting old lens. It’s small, taking 49mm filters. It is fast, at f/2. It was originally designed by Carl Zeiss and if you were really lucky you might find an 85mm f/2 Sonnar. But for around £100/$150 or a little more for guaranteed condition you can buy the Russian Jupiter 9 85mm f/2 manual preset lens in M42 screw (Pentax/Praktica). And since it’s a screw mount SLR lens, you can add an extra layer of focus extension for very low cost between the E-mount body and the lens.
So last week I assembled a relatively low-cost eBay rig to enable even closer focus than the 60cm of the SAM . This is partly just experimental, our of curiosity to see how well a 1930s Sonnar type design made in 1980s Russia with 1950s technology and coatings can peform. The 85mm f/2 Jupiter-9 is often used to get an attractive f/2 soft-focus with core sharpness, gradually cleaning up until around f/3.5 the softness is gone. It is also used to get neat circular bubbles from strongly out of focus light sources beyond the subject, or a generally very attractive focus transition at any aperture since the 19-blade mechanical iris forms an almost perfect circle at all settings. It focuses slightly closer than 80cm.
With the well-made Camdiox helical adaptor costing under £28 delivered, this is extended in a continuous range to 35cm from the film plane and 0.51X. Obvously, it takes up no more space than my plain M42 adaptor as it is exactly the same thickness at infinity setting – and it does allow true infinity focus. Being solid metal, the combination is not all that light, a dense 490g in its 88mm long by 63mm maximum diameter, 20g more than the Batis. But it feels good. The aperture mechanism is crude and difficult to see and use, but would normally be set first to a chosen aperture such as f/2.8 for the best sharpness with a shallow depth of field, or f/8 for landscapes. It would not be much fun for anyone who likes taking a range of shots from f/2 to f/16, or for anyone wanting accurate half or third stops.
First of all, is this lens even remotely sharp, and can the Sony A7? bodies use it well? Both answers must be yes. Just set the focal length for normal distances to 85mm and the in-body SSS of the A7SII, A7II and A7RII will give amazingly effective stabilisation. Work between f/4 and f/11 and this simple old lens design outresolves the A7R. I was just checking the focus on some calendar text in very dim room light, using ISO 1600 on my A7RII, when I pressed the shutter with 1/40th hand-held –
This was never intended to be seen, just a casual target. These pictures open out to Facebook size, by the way, when clicked – 2048 pixels. Here’s a 100% pixel friendly section from this. I was surprised. The lens was at f/4 and focus was done at max magnification, at the taking aperture.
You need to check this JPEG out by clicking to open/view at 100%. It’s like this right across the frame, corner to corner. There’s a pleasant dimensional quality to the rendering this old lens gives, but it has one massive failing – it flares up dramatically if any light at all reaches the front glass. The only solution is a very deep lens hood indeed.
Making more considered tests, I headed for a target I had set up to explore colour bokeh, that unpleasant magenta to green shift in defocused areas. With this set-up, my 85mm SAM is not bad at all and does benefit from a proper lens profile. As you can see, the music doesn’t seem to change much in colour from front to back though in the full size 42 megapixel file, especially without lens CA corrections, some funky colours do appear.
Here’s how the Jupiter-9 worked out – first of all, it’s one of a number of shots at different distances and angles, not identical to the SAM shots, and this one takes advantage of the closer focus combination of adaptor and lens:
The colour shifts are different, with a bit of a rainbow including red and cyan fringes as well as magenta and green, and the contrast is lower. However, the detail in the very limited f/2.8 focus zone is very fine and over a range of tests the blurring (from the circular aperture) just looks better. No doubt I need to take many more shots with this lens (once the deep 200mm lens hood I’ve found arrives…) but it seems like a worthwhile creative option alongside a number of older manual lenses.
What really interests me is that this same design, with a few refinements of modern manufacture, would surely be worth having. Tamron’s forthcoming 85mm f/1.8 will focus close – it is the special feature of this new lens series – and maybe along with the 35mm and 45mm f/1.8 designs will one day appear in native E-mount. I’d love to see a half-price Batis, a Sonnar f/2 variant instead of f/1.8, with a decent close focus limit around 50cm. Until then I’ll use the SAM on LA-EA3 or LA-EA4 (works well with either) and my assortment of manual set-ups including this Jupiter-9.
Here’s a revision to the post, got some sunshine this morning (day after writing the original post) and with focus peaking and f/5.6 even a little moving target comes out whisker-sharp!
– David Kilpatrick
On Tuesday, February 2nd 2016, Sony UK held a press event to which I was invited. Well, I’m in a different country and about 400 miles from their Weybridge offices, so as usual my trusted English office editor at large (and son) Richard made the still substantial journey from Leicester. The result was a completely wasted day, his time and our company’s money, looking at a mixed bag of TVs, camcorders, headphones and all the Alpha and RX gear we already had seen long before.
Then on February 3rd, mid-afternoon, the same PR agency which had extended this generous invitation to come and gather ZERO editorial content for our magazines announced the new G-Master series 24-70mm f/2.8 FE, 70-200mm f/2.8 FE and 85mm f/1.4 FE, 1.4X and2X extenders, and upgraded A6000 successor A6300.
I was attending an excellent event with Graphistudio on the road in Edinburgh (they do try to cover the whole of our surprisingly large and still united kingdom) and returned to see the news. Talk about mixed emotions! I was furious that they should cost me a very real £300 or so (that’s what it costs, whether I do it, or Richard, or a hired freelance) to cover yet another of their red herring events just 24 hours before a major announcement like this. We get nothing free from Sony, they don’t advertise in our magazines, and unlike Minolta they don’t offer pre-launch access to pre-production samples.
And that’s why I should not even be writing this. In the past, I would never – as a responsible journalist and technical editor – have made any comment on equipment I had not been allowed to handle and preferably use if only for an hour or two. But these days a thousand bloggers try to drive traffic to their sites by doing exactly that.
Here are my thoughts, anyway.
It’s 24 megapixels like the A6000 and does claim a slightly faster and wider zone AF. But the A6000 is already close to perfect and I normally shoot with centre point focus, not any of the wide zone modes. I really don’t want the collar on a dog sharp and its face out of focus just because the collar is the more contrasty target which the wide area focus finds first. It’s also twice as much as I paid for my A6000, which happens to have been selling for a market-beating price. I have a great set of lenses – 10-18mm, 16-50mm, 35mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8 and 55-210mm. All except the 10-18mm cost about half the official retail because Sony did some great deals. Basically anyone like me who has invested in a decent A6000 (or NEX-6, even) kit and already own an A7S, SII, or RII can take the A6300 or leave it. In fact my now-outdated RX10 and RX100 MkIII do pretty neat silent shooting, one of the main upgrades over the A6000.
If you need the very fast (120fps) refresh of the new EVF, 4K video and the improved audio functions (whether using jack plug mic or the MFAccessory shoe mic choices) then it’s easy – it will cost you less to get these than any other comparable route. Even the RX10 MkII no longer looks so attractive. As others have commented, it’s partly a matter of waiting for the body price to fall by the end of the year. In the meantime my A7RII actually does all the movie stuff I need (its APS-C 4K is superior to its full frame, and makes full use of line-up of lenses above).
However, if they manage to lend me a test sample and the new sensor turns out to kill the already wonderful noise/ISO ratio of the 6000 I could be won over early at a high price. Had this been a 36 megapixel body I would be thinking very differently, and perhaps even considering a switch from full frame to APS-C.
The 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 G-Master FE
With a 77mm thread and an overall size not far removed from the A-mount equivalents, the weatherproofing and generally improved design of the AF system will win buyers. The longer lens has the 0.96m close focus I’ve been campaigning for now for several years, and it’s disarmingly simple. If you study lenses, you’ll have realised that SSM, stepper or linear motor type AF (silent, no gears) has caused the increased and restrictive focus distances I’ve covered in Cameracraft and elsewhere. It has just been unable to provide enough movement. As an example, compare the old screw-drive 28-75mm Konica Minolta with the ‘identical’ Sony 28-75mm SAM. The 24-70mm f/2.8 A-mount models are actually amongst the better in this respect, managing the magic quarter life-size to important for many subjects. The 24-70mm f/4 FE is not as good though you would have though it easier to make close focusing with a simpler, slower lens – only 0.20X. At least the 24-70mm f/2.8 FE matches up to its A-mount equivalent.
In these new fast FE zooms Sony has improved performance by using more accurate asphericals, designated as XA (extra aspherical, presumably meaning a curve which was out of reach before). Combined with expensive glass types (low and extra-low dispersion) and complex design (23 elements in 18 groups for the 70-200mm) this enables apochromatic correction although they do not use the term. This removes ugly colour bokeh effects. A ‘floating’ internal focus action for the rear unit gives a wider fully corrected focus range, affecting both the focused distance and the flatness of field. An SSM (ring) motor drives the heavy, larger forward group focusing and a linear (rail) movement shifts the rear assembly but the whole focus action is internal.
I welcome the 96cm close focus (I trust it applies across the whole zoom range and with AF all the way). This lens achieves 0.25X scale at 96cm. Compare that to the Tamron Di VC USD 70-200mm which can only manage 0.125X, half the subject size, at 1.3m and that’s by switching to manual focus – it forces you back to 1.4m from the subject if you use AF.
It’s also worth comparing size; most new 70-200mm DSLR lenses are around 185mm long, the Sony is 200mm long. But it’s really ‘smaller’ than the original Sony A-mount 70-200mm’s 197mm. That 15mm extra length is almost entirely dead space, a kind of extension to the barrel in order to handle the 18mm register of the E-mount, and also enable the use of the 1.4X and 2X extenders. This extension falls behind a fixed, not removable, rotating tripod mount collar which has a removable foot instead.
I’m sure that the dual focusing will be fast, with two simultaneous actions combined, and ideal for contrast detection as well as on-sensor PDAF. My reservations are simple enough though – these are lenses for one-system users, dedicated to mirrorless. There really is no saving over the latest A-mount versions in weight and size, and many photographers (like me) may want to use both A and E mount bodies. I’ve been considering investing in another A99 even though I sold mine. That’s because it is so much more comfortable and complete with my longer lenses than the A7RII with LA-EA4 or 3, both of which I have. If I did so the 24-70mm and 70-200mm A mount would be on the shopping list, and what reason would I have for buying even more expensive new FE versions which could never, ever be used on a A-mount body?
The 85mm f/1.4 G-Master FE
One guide to acceptable minimum focus distance is the simplest formula imaginable. A lens should be able to focus – at the least – to the same centimetre distance as its millimetre focal length. So, a 50mm lens should manage 50cm, a 100mm lens 1m, a 200mm lens 2m or closer. But that’s the least you need. The ideal is HALF the mm in cm. A 50mm focusing to 25cm is brilliant, a 200mm focusing to 1m is amazing (Vivitar once made one, with a bright f/3 maximum aperture too).
So, for me the 85mm f/1.4 with its substantial 82mm filter thread, 850g weight and focusing down to 80cm (some data tables say 85cm) with 0.12X image scale is just acceptable. A Samyang 85mm won’t go so close and most 85mms don’t break the 1m barrier. But an ideal new, modern 85mm would focus to 50cm. It’s just pretty hard to enable this using SSM or linear AF drive. Even the Carl Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 is the familiar 80cm, 0.126X scale.
What I actually use right now is an 85mm f/2.8 SAM lens on LA-EA3. It’s not 100% free from CA and colour bokeh issues, but it is exceptionally sharp and it focuses right down to 60cm with 0.20X scale. Above all it is very small and light, and for me that is most of the point of the A7RII and all the A7 series bodies. It focuses perfectly on my LA-EA3. I can use it with A-mount extension tubes or my Meike metal full frame FE extension tubes, but that’s a bit of a crude solution.
Results from the MG 85mm so far seen, disregarding some fairly cheesy portraits, show that its 11-blade iris and apochromatic XA correction do deliver more than you will ever get from an 85mm f/1.2 Canon or a Samyang or a Sony 85mm f/1.4 ZA. The manual 1/3rd stop clicked or click-free aperture ring combined with the absence of magenta-green bokeh shift mean this lens will be massive for vids, whether creative porno or music promo. It should be on the same level as Zeiss/Arri ciné lenses if the claims stand up, and I would not be surprised to see a dedicated cinema version.
It’s a long way from the 85mm SLR lenses of Minolta’s past – six iris blades!
Sorry, but most FE and E lenses can never (ever) use a a tele extender. That’s why you have not seen any. It’s also why I use that 85mm SAM… it makes a neat 170mm f/5.6 wth my Teleplus 2X MC-7. Way back, one of my favourite travel outfits including the Minolta XD-7 with 85mm f/2 and a 2X converter, 170mm f/4 was a sweet spot in every respect.
These two converters can only be used with the new 70-200mm f/2.8 G-Master FE. When you look at how far the converter unit extends into the lens barrel, you’ll see that this is a combination designed from the start. The rear element of the FE lens is deeply recessed, midway between a typical E-mount design (18mm register) and an A-mount (rear element no closer than 42mm to the sensor).
The extenders add less length than an A-mount variant would, and the back focus of the FE lens is shorter. But it’s a mid-way compromise. Extenders are easy to make for DSLR back focus register, they are difficult or impossible to design for 18mm register mirrorless like Sony or Fuji unless the host lens is matched exactly to the extender. And the 70-200mm f/4, for example, is not…
And, having mentioned compromise, I should explain the great compromise which has made the entire Sony E/FE system much larger than it needs to be.
It’s all down to the A7R 36 megapixel sensor. This sensor, more so than the 24 megapixel full frame, requires a very telecentric lens design. That is, more like a DSLR lens, despite the slim A7 series body. In order to perform acceptably with this sensor, the FE lens range could not be designed to be as small as a rangefinder system equivalent, or to take full advantage of the 18mm mount to sensor distance. Brian Smith, whose images are great (not cheesy portraits) but whose technical info clearly comes via Sony PR, says this: “Mirrorless camera design has allowed Sony’s lens designers to place larger than normal lens element close to the body”. Actually, they don’t, as the design of the extenders will tell you. They’ve used a stronger degree of telephoto construction in the long zoom, allowing a smaller than normal rear element and they have taken measures to move it further away from the body – and this is a general trend. If you want to see what a properly small 85mm f/1.4 looks like try a Carl Zeiss Planar 85mm f/1.4 ZE in Canon mount – 72mm filters not 82mm, 570g versus 850g and really solid all-metal manual focus. The mirrorless bodies do provide a zone from around 16mm to 42mm from the sensor surface which can accommodate the rear of the lens, and can’t ever be used on a DSLR. But Sony does not make full use of that and can not do so because of the microlens, filter layer and structural characteristics of the A7R sensor.
All Sony FE lenses and all CZ independent FE lenses have been designed to work well with the A7R. The 28-70mm kit lens was not, but most owners find it acceptable. They could have made some of the lenses a fair amount smaller and lighter if the A7R had never existed. The A7RII is so tolerant towards short back focus, oblique ray angle imaging, that a whole different range of lenses could be designed for it… but never will be.
The system has to remain compatible with its earlier components, especially the first ‘flagship’ body A7R. And that is going to constrain design and increase costs for ever into the future. In contrast, see the Fujfilm X system. We have yet to find whether the new 24 megapixel Fujifilm sensor disagrees with any older lenses, but all new lenses no matter how fast, small or clever have full compatibility with all the earlier bodies and don’t seem to have any compromises in design.
Here’s my view, after doing a lot of digging around over the last two days (Sony PR does not supply any of the technical data for the released lenses – all that had to be found, and cross-checked, from Sony corporate and various dealer sites). I have found some interesting historic lenses like the 50mm f/1.5 and 85mm f/1.5 Zeiss Biotar. They are simple and perform poorly by today’s standards but they are very small. I am familiar with many excellent lenses I’ve used in the past like the Minolta MC/D 45mm f/2, the MD 85mm f/2 and of course the ‘beercan’ 70-210mm f/4 AF. I loved my first serious freelancing kit, Pentax Spotmatics with 20mm f/4.5, 35mm f/3.5, 50mm f/1.4 and 105mm f/2.8. I’ve used some good lenses which have been perfect with all A7 series bodies, such as the Voigtlander 21mm f/1.8, the Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM, and several rangefinder 35mm f/2 or f/1.4 lenses. All of these have been small and perfectly in keeping with the A7 series mirrorless bodies. I think Sony’s inspiration for new lenses should have come from classic rangefinder and compact pre-digital SLR glass, rather than from the bloated f/2.8 zooms of professional digital SLRs.
In 1999, with a multi-state road trip in the USA to enjoy, I left the SLR kit at home because I was using two Minolta CLE bodies, a 20mm Russar, 28/40/90mm Minolta set and a Leitz Elmar 135mm f/4.5. SLRs in the AF era had started to became big, plastic and clumsy with fairly poor zoom lenses. I opted for the NEX/A/A7 system because I thought we were heading back to light, elegant, unobtrusive little jewels of lenses. Ah well, not so. We’re going to be sold lenses built like a Kardashian ass and learn to live with it!
– David Kilpatrick
A zoom specification comparison
- Sony Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f/2.8 ZA SSM II – focuses to 34cm, 0.25X, 77mm filters, 975g
- Sony Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f/2.8 ZA SSM – 34cm, 0.25X, 77mm filters, 955g
- Sony Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 ZA FE SSM OSS – 40cm, 0.20X, 67mm filters, 430g
- Sony GM 24-70mm f/2.8 FE SSM OSS – 38cm, 0.24X, 82mm filters, 885g
- Sony G 70-200mm f/2.8 SSM II – focuses to 1.2m, 0.21X, 77mm filters, 188mm long, 1300g
- Sony G 70-200mm f/2.8 SSM – 1.2m, 0.21X, 77mm filters, 197mm long, 1500g
- Sony G 70-200mm f/4 FE SSM OSS – 1-1.3m*, 0.13X, 72mm filters, 175mm long, 840g
- Sony GM 70-200mm f/2.8 FE SSM OSS – 0.96m, 0.25X, 77mm filters, 1480g, 200mm long, 11-blade aperture
*Focus to 1.3m at 200mm, 1m when set to 190mm or shorter focal length. 0.13X at 1m and 190mm.
All the pictures used here have, linked to them, the full sized unwatermarked official Sony PR images except the first image which we have cropped a load of useless white space from – Sony likes useless white space, as the others show. Web and magazine editors hate it and constantly have to crop product shots…
Sony’s A7R II has a unique position in the mirrorless ILC world, creating the largest image files at over 42 megapixels from an in-body five axis stabilised sensor with exceptional performance given by backside illuminated CMOS.
My reviews in print of the Sony A7R II have now appeared, in the British Journal of Photography, f2 Cameracraft and Master Photography magazines. All three make slightly different points, and reflect growing experience of the camera which I bought from WEX as one of the first despatched on July 28th. The UK best body-only price then fell from their £2,695 to just over £2,000 from one main Sony dealer (at an event promotion) in under three months.
Despite finding bargain deals or importing directly, since the introduction of the A99 only three years ago I have lost about £3,500 keeping up with Sony full frame camera bodies. I’ve also spent around £2,000 buying other Sony models like the NEX-6, RX100, RX100 MkIII, RX10, and A6000 to cover the shortcomings of every different full frame model – and £2,000 or more updating my lenses.
So why invest in the A7R II when experience tells me the Sony system loses value faster than any other, yet so often falls short of performing as required?
One body for all lenses
The A7R II almost matches medium format digital, and gives great results with rangefinder (Leica) fit wide-angles. It has enabled me to add a 12mm f/5.6 Voigtländer Ultra Wide-Heliar to my kit for sharp, tint and vignette free 120° architectural and creative work. I write about lenses, and with current and future adaptors, this body lets me focus and make test shots with all lenses from Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Leica and many others. Click the Heliar image below for a link to a full size (slightly cropped and straightened from 42 megapixels) file. It’s actually shot at f/11 though the pBase data says f/5.6, that how the camera’s Lens Correction app works.
There’s no lens made which disagrees with the 42 megapixel sensor as far as I can tell. My kit includes the 12mm mentioned above, the 16-35mm f/4 Carl Zeiss OSS, the 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 Sony OSS, the 28mm f/2 Sony OSS FE (look out for individual reviews shortly); a 40mm Canon f/2.8 STM pancake, a 24mm Samyang tilt-shift, 85mm Sony SAM f/2.8, Sigma 70-300mm OS and a whole bunch of interesting older stuff used on adaptors.
With the Lens Correction App configured for SS with each manual lens, the very high resolution of the A7R II sensor allows a stable view for precision magnified focus well beyond the ability of any AF method or reliance on focus peaking alone. Doing this at working aperture ensures no focus shift on stop down. The results show me quickly which lenses are excellent performers without needing an optical bench or test charts (give me a single LED light and a darkened room, and I can find out what I need to know about any lens very quickly).
Most Sony and Sony Carl Zeiss zooms do yield good sharp images on 42 megapixels but it’s easy to exceed their best by fitting something like my 1970-ish SMC Takumar 50mm macro (used for the shot above), or even my Russian 50mm f/2 tilt-adapted Zenitar. I found the 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS which was fine on A7 II inadequate for critical quality on the A7R II and after tests concluded the 24-240mm was the best option to replace it. To learn why FE/E mount zooms and OSS lenses are never likely to blow away fixed focal length unstabilised types like the Zeiss Loxia or adapted classic RF and SLR optics, wait for my 24-240mm review.
Having said size matters, I downsize many of my final images to as small as 9 megapixels. I don’t need 42 megapixels (7952 x 5304) for every image and for some it’s ridiculous. I’m still selling thousands of stock images* taken with DSLRs from six megapixels up. So for general ‘field’ use, most lenses are more than OK, as I can reduce the file size right down 3600 x 2400 pixels when noise needs cutting, depth of field is a problem, or general sharpness is poor.
One sensor for all image shapes and sizes
With the A7R II, unlike the A7R, all the APS-C E-mount lenses work properly (they never have their OSS forcibly disabled). The auto cropped image is 5168 x 3448, 17.8 megapixels, and that’s a perfectly useful size for all personal and most professional work. The 0.78X EVF is, of course, completely filled to exactly the same visual quality as when a full frame lens is used – the user experience with an APS-C lens is identical to that with full frame.
As with downsizing or lens based cropping, I can crop full frame captures right down to less than a quarter of the A7R II image and have a file acceptable to Alamy for stock library use, or to a client directly for almost any reasonable editorial use. That same crop can go full page in a wedding album, or make a fine A3/16×12 print. It’s like using 120 rollfilm again, you can find pictures within pictures.
A 240mm shot clearly not close enough…
This is a 3600 x 2400 crop. That is, an image large enough for full page publication or a 12 x 18″ photo/inkjet print (click to view full size)
With many lenses which don’t cover full frame, a 24 x 24mm crop is perfect. The Sigma prime lens ART trio (19mm, 30mm and 60mm f/2.8 AF without stabilisation) all do well on this basis. I had a 16 megapixel square format digital back on Hasselblad V and the square format is a favourite. Unlike Olympus, who offer a 1:1 ratio capture, Sony only includes 3:2 (35mm shape) and 16:9 (HD widescreen) – I’d love them to add a proper 1:1 square image seen in the EVF and on screen, a perfect 28 megapixel crop.
The high resolution FF image also means there’s less need to stitch panoramas or use shift lenses. Canon’s 17mm f/4 TS-E tilt shift lens was introduced in 2009 when their full frame 12 megapixel 5D has just been upgraded to the 21 megapixel 5D MkII. On the A7R II, using its maximum 12mm shift reveals serious loss of outer field sharpness even at apertures like f/10, f/11 and f/13 which are optimum on other ways. It’s not a sensor cover glass problem as the Canon 5DS R revealed exactly the same weakness. Downsize the image to 12 megapixels, which the lens was probably first designed for, at everything looks sharp. But here’s where 42 megapixels can pay off – I just need to use a 12mm Voigtlander or a Sigma 12-24mm, crop a 14 x 21mm area from any part of the 24 x 36mm frame, and I have a 14 megapixel image allowing even more effective ‘shift’ than the Canon. And I can, of course, use the Canon via an adaptor if needed.
The same kind of strong cropping works for telephoto wildlife shots (300mm lens, better than 500mm on 14 megapixels) and for macro work (1:1 on full frame, 2.2:1 at 14 megapixels). You need to remember all the time that traditional depth of field calculations just don’t work well with sensors of 36 megapixels and over. When you view a full size A7R II image at 100% on a non-Retina iMac or HP 27″ monitor, you are looking at part of a six foot wide ‘print’. Depth of field tables, still used today, were based on viewing a 10 x 8″ print from a similar distance! This problem is reduced by higher resolution screens but sometimes, you simply need a smaller image size.
Canon 5DS/R (in proportion with earlier models) have useful M-RAW and S-RAW formats, allowing the cameras to become full frame 28 or 12 megapixels with a single menu change. This function is missing from Sony raw files and would be a great firmware enhancement, if it was possible.
Reasons to buy the A7R II
Having used two other A7 series bodies, and started the transition to the FE lens series with some mix of adapted glass on the way, why didn’t I stick with the far more realistic and practical A7 II, or the A7R which was paid for and at 36 megapixels just as useful a large file size?
- Internally or externally recorded 4K video though not a commercial offering from my side might well be a request from a future client. I don’t make videos though many years ago I did made 16mm films and many 35mm slide based dual and multi projector AV programs. However, I know many still photographers who have found sufficiently high-end clients for video to invest the time. I wouldn’t touch any video production, even a brief 20-second ad clip, for under four figures. It’s fun to experiment with until any serious use emerges. Also, excellent Super-35 crop format video.
- Completely silent operation when needed – though not compatible with any kind of flash, the fully electronic shutter is an option for wedding ceremonies and I’ve used that function already. It is also useful for shooting stills when someone is making a video, or during quiet concerts, in meetings, or when you simply don’t want the sound of a shutter to be heard. When silent is not needed, electronic first curtain (not provided on the A7R) improves shutter lag time and cuts vibration
- It’s also got a 500,000 actuation life shutter built to more than pro specification and a superior 0.78X electronic viewfinder, a slightly improved body flange for the lens mount (now common to all the II models, tighter and more precise than the original machining), no light leaks. And the mode dial is improved with a locking button, the Multi Function Accessory shoe is further improved in contact reliability, the ocular is T* coated and gives better eye relief.
- It will perform well with all kinds of lenses and the 399-point wide area phase detection AF array built in to the sensor functions partly, or completely, with more native Sony and converted Canon lenses than ever before. It betters the A7R and A7 II in this respect, though I sold the Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM above as it didn’t work with the II having worked well on the A7R. Metabones have now fixed this, but my adaptor is a cheaper non-programmable type… you get what you pay for!
This is what you get from the Canon 5DS at ISO 6400, default, for shadow detail and noise (click to enlarge a 100% view of this section from a much larger file)
- The back-illuminated CMOS sensor has a dynamic range – and a contrast curve or gamma function through controlled A to D conversion – which provides an ideal raw file for subsequent adjustment at lower ISO settings. Here, the difference seen above between the Canon 51MP sensor and the Sony 42MP is striking. The Sony images may often look softer and lack punch, but they reveal two stops more detail in the tones close to deep shadow. It’s probably been designed this way to allow s-Log gamma settings for professional video, producing flat neutral results ideal for grading to match from take to take. This happens to be very flattering to skin tones and it’s no surprise the A7R II is rivalling Fuji’s X-Trans sensor amongst fans of the flesh.
- The same sensor has awesome practical performance in low light without sacrificing resolution, and noise levels which allow surprisingly high ISO settings for critical subjects like wildlife where fur and feather textures are easily damaged by noise (or noise reduction). Properly processed from raw, or shot as JPEG in camera, ISO 800 can be used as an everyday setting and 1600 will not even harm landscape detail. Up to 6400 an effectively noise-free full size image can be extracted, and at 12,800 to 25,600 some downscaling is all that’s needed to clean up. Admittedly, it’s never going to match the 12 megapixel A7S or A7S II at 51,200 and has a limit at 102,400 rather than marching on to an insane 409,600 EI as that body does.
- Compared to buying an A7 II, remember that with the A7R II you get two Sony batteries and an external charger (about £150 in official value) as well as the ability to operate the camera from any 5v 1.5A USB source (not just to charge the battery internally, but to shoot using USB power)
You also get a neat tether-trap locking cage which screws into the camera side and can secure your USB and HDMI cables against accidental disconnection or strain on the connectors.
- Final reason – going beyond the A7R II specification does not seem to offer further compelling advantages. It doesn’t have any major flaws or shortcomings except perhaps the single card slot and some doubts about the durability of the body, weatherproofing, and the quality of the lens mount (see below). I’m not in need of more than 5fps and 22 continuous raws before slowing down, and if I am the smaller Sony models like the A6000 and my RX10 do some pretty neat extra high speed sequences. So, for the first time since the sale of my A900 to get the A99, I feel I have a long-term camera no matter what Sony does in six months to make it hopelessly out of date.
What’s could be wrong?
First up, the poorly specified and designed lens mount and low precision body/lens relationship. Where Minolta A, Fuji X, Pentax, Leica and nearly all good makes secure the body and lens bayonet mounts using six screws, the E-mount uses only four even for the top end bodies which may have to support lenses approaching 1 kilo in weight. The four-screw fitting creates two axes of potential tilt restrained only by diametrically opposed screws, six-screw design is better but actually a five screw design beats both as you can’t draw a diameter across any two screws and create a tilt axis.
The E/FE lens-body system is built round a concept of achieving final accuracy in alignment and focus without needing precision in every component. The nominal 18mm mount to sensor register doesn’t have to be perfect (and seems to vary by at least ±0.1mm). All Sony E and FE mount lenses compensate for variations and use free-floating magnetic focus often combined with floating OSS – they don’t have fixed infinity stops. Just as the bodies don’t have to be all that precise, the lenses themselves don’t need to be. As long as both work with the sensor to AF perfectly, the overall system is self-correcting.
You soon find out the limits of E-mount precision when buying adaptors for older manual lenses or modern Canon EF lenses. I’m sure Zeiss makes due allowance in the design of manual focus Loxia lenses, and Voigtlander has specifically allowed the new E-mount range planned for 2016 (10mm, 12mm and 15mm) to focus past infinity because they are aware of the variable register of the system. I have measured many adaptors and the only safe decision for the engineer is to fall short of the target register. Some very expensive adaptors turn out to be 0.3mm thicker than others for the same mount (I’ve found this in Leica M, Canon FD and Canon EF adaptors). The lenses being adapted often have a fixed infinity stop and are designed to hit this precisely. Combine a 0.1mm ‘plus thickness’ Sony body with a 0.2mm plus adaptor, and your manual wide angle lens won’t focus on infinity.
So, one overall issue is that despite the high cost, the Sony FE/A7 series range of bodies and lenses lacks the precision engineering of past systems and it’s designed that way. When you find one side of your pictures always seems soft with wide-angle, wide zoom or very fast lenses you have encountered the limitations of Sony precision and quality control.
Secondly, the A7R II has such large files and a slow overworked processor relative to those files and the massive task of running a high resolution, high frequency EVF and many clever software functions. Any kind of systematic ‘chimping’ to check each shot after taking may leave you frustrated. Depending on your choice of card and some unknown spin of the CPU’s internal dice, you will sometimes encounter long file writing times and a brief lockout from playback.
Install the 14-bit (in 16-bit container) raw uncompressed format introduced in October 2015 through a firmware update, and the situation may improve. With Firmware V2.0 I’ve seen typical write to card times halved but identical shots could take varying times and the worst case remains close to 10 seconds for the light to go off on a single shot. Most of time it’s clearing about 1 second after 2 second auto review, and disabling auto review has no apparent effect on this, or the time the camera takes to respond to a fresh shutter actuation.
Since you’ve been patient, and listened to why the A7 system in general has a few failings, here’s how to get the best optical performance and general response from it.
First of all, for the best optical performance use lenses where OSS can be disabled but in-body SS allowed to operate. The internal 5-axis sensor based stabilisation of the A7II/RII/SII is awesome. In-lens OSS is impressive but by its design will always lose you some resolution, often more towards one side or corner of the image than centrally. Amended paragraph, see comments: To see how good your stabilised lens really is, turn off stabilisation and shoot something using flash or at a high shutter speed.
But… if you turn off Steady Shot or OSS on the A7R II, you disable it in the body and the lens. You can not turn it off for the lens, but keep it working in the body. Only the 90mm f/2.8 Sony G OSS Macro, the 70-200mm f/4 Sony G OSS (above) and the 28-135mm f/4 Sony G PZ OSS offer the on-lens switch. So if you want stabilisation, you can’t choose to have it provided by the body with these lenses. You can do so with Canon, Sigma and Tamron lenses used on a Canon EF adaptor – their IS, OS or VC will operate normally when the SS in the body is disabled. In fact you must never use these lenses with both methods turned on together, or the result will be unsharp. This is a problem we first noticed with the Olympus system, where their lens and body stabilisation do not communicate and it’s possible to us none, just body, just lens or ruin shots by turning on both together. The Sony body used with third party lenses does allow this; used with Sony lenses, it prevents it.
The A7R II will switch between internal SS, lens OSS and a combination depending on settings. But it won’t tell you what it is doing, which makes this intelligent function something of a handicap. As a rule, if you can lock the camera down (tripod) or use a very fast exposure (studio flash, shutter speed 4X the focal length of the lens) shooting with no stabilisation at all will offer the best results.
Secondly, don’t use ‘AF With Shutter’ all the time. It’s convenient sometimes, but every time you take first pressure on the shutter, your E-mount AF lens will initialise a short routine involving focus position recalibration followed by AF. It costs you a variable extra lag before the shutter fires, maybe 1/15th to as long as 1/4 second. Instead, turn this off and AF will default to the centre button of the rear controller (you can change this assignment). You then use this to AF for each change of subject, composition or distance but if nothing’s changed you do not touch it and you do not re-AF. You save battery life, and you eliminate the whole shutter-button-AF delay cycle. You can now capture pictures, using electronic first curtain shutter or silent mode, within 1/20s of pressing the shutter.
Thirdly, for action shots prefer stops close to full aperture on E-mount lenses for the same reason – the aperture closing action involves a delay you can clearly identify and it’s longer with apertures like f/16. But for maximum reaction speed, use a purely manual lens. The camera knows there’s no aperture to be closed so it misses out that stage. It knows there’s no AF. You can get down to a mere 1/50s shutter lag, faster than most photographers can think. If you are used to older DSLRs which typically fire the shutter between 1/15s and 1/8s after you have pressed the button, you’ll anticipate and fire too early for action shots. Beware the LA-EA adaptors for A-mount lenses as you can’t turn off the aperture lever actuation. These adaptors will always add a delay even if you fit a manual lens.
I’m not going to delve into how you use focus peaking, magnification, setting the slowest shutter speed to be used by the Auto ISO function and so on. You can find out about this from countless videos and blogs, not all of which feature grandmothers, sucking and eggs. Nor will I recommend JPEG noise reduction and image settings in camera, since I don’t use JPEGs. Remember that your picture style and adjustments, like extra sharpening or contrast, will be reflected in the view you see through the EVF and on-screen. They will affect focus peaking, the histogram and what the image looks like when you use magnified manual focus, too. My tip is ‘stay neutral’ for the best EVF experience and ability to judge and control your results, especially if shooting raw. Camera Standard – boring but it won’t fool you into making adjustments which are not needed.
A 16mm landscape with careful focus checking, and only just enough depth of field even at f/16 if the end result is going to be a 1m wide print
Read the manual, think about all the functions of the camera, assign your custom buttons, set your parameters. My set-up includes (routinely) Auto ISO 200-1600 because within that range the A7R II files have low noise and good textural sharpness and there’s no great benefit in dropping to 100; AWB; 1/250th slowest shutter speed because the world moves and I’m very happy with 1/250th at ISO 800 rather than 1/125 at ISO 400 for nearly all my walkabout shots; AdobeRGB because I need that but actually sRGB is better matched to the EVF and rear screen, and will give you a more accurate histogram; no JPEGs because I don’t need them; Airplane Mode on; compressed raw unless there’s a really good reason; AF-S and Centre point focus; no face recognition, no smile shutter, no tracking, nothing clever with AF; single shot; generally Aperture Priority but sometimes P, M or very rarely S; Date Format file folders; SS on; electronic first curtain; setting effect on; finder and screen at default brightness and colour; grid lines 3 x 3; focus peaking low, yellow; lens correction enabled; 2 secs review, or none.
– David Kilpatrick, all images except front and rear views of A7R II body and 70-200mm lens are ©David Kilpatrick/Icon Publications Ltd; please do not link directly to images or copy
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