Photography should never be about the numbers. Photography should always be about how it makes you feel.
We live in an age where photography has become about comparing cameras, their sensors and lenses, with charts and graphs. Then proceeding to argue about which one is better. I mean, really, charts and graphs? Keep those Microsoft Office creations in the boardroom and off photography websites!
It’s a sad time for photography. But when you step back to look at how amazing every camera on the market is, you’ll then realize we’re actually in a golden era for digital photography. The full-bodied professional digital SLRs are photo capturing monsters, the smaller entry level DSLRs pack a gigantic punch, the compact mirror-less cameras are phenomenal in every way, and the cameras on our cell phones have become better than consumer point and shoots! No matter how you look at it, if you wanted to be a photographer, now is the time to do it. And you can do it on the cheap and still be able to capture sensational photos!
Since the invention of the digital camera, the dream was to have a full-frame 35mm sensor packed into a small and compact body. And now, that dream is now a reality thanks to Sony and their new a7.
I’ll be the first to freely admit that using a DSLR camera is not fun. The act and creation of photography itself is fun. But the cold black mass we call the DSLR is not. There is none of that jinba ittai (“horse and rider as one”) feeling. There is a detached feeling when using those black behemoths. It is more of a tool than it is a paint brush.
The a7 changes that.
The biggest reason for the Sony’s much more connected feeling is its built in electronic viewfinder, or EVF. Gone is the traditional optical viewfinder. Gone is the dependence on metering. Gone is the uneasy feeling if you actually nailed the exposure.
Whether photographers like it or not, the future is the EVF.
I know there are those that swear by optical viewfinders, but the one Sony put into the a7 is on a different level than the ones previous. It’s bright, fast, responsive, and has fantastic image quality.
Look through the viewfinder, and you see exactly what the camera sees. You see exactly how the photo will be exposed and can then compensate from there. The viewfinder image underexposed? Rotate a few dials, observe the change, and presto! Your photographic creation will turn out exactly how you envisioned it.
It’s this feeling of instant gratification that connects you to the camera. This is where the future of photography is headed. The smart phone camera has already proven that, and the a7 brings that idea onto a whole new level. Jinba ittai.
Why did I choose the a7 over its 36 megapixel counterpart, the a7R? Simple. There would rarely be a reason I would realistically be able use that much megapixel for my day-to-day workflow. I don’t have the hard drive space to hold it, nor do I want to process that big of a file for simple photos from my travels, chicken nuggets, or my Lego Star Wars collection, or a photo of ramen from shop down the street. The use of 36 megapixels is reserved for one type of person. The studio photographer.
For my general automotive work, the a7’s 24.3 megapixels is more than enough. If I really needed any more than that, I would call upon the power of the almighty medium format.
When it came down to the actual fact of swiping plastic for the camera, I decided to go body only, and the only other lens available in FE mount at the time, the Zeiss 35mm f2.8.
Since I was dealing with a Sony camera, I also was able to get the lens I’ve been eyeing heavily for a few years now: the A mount Zeiss 135mm f1.8 with the Sony LA-EA4 E-mount to A-mount adapter.
The E-mount to A-mount adapter also a fantastic piece of kit that doesn’t slow down AF too much. Plus, having the adapter also opens up your lens selection to the already amazing line up of Zeiss glass that Sony DSLRs currently have.
That said, I just have to mention that the Zeiss 135mm f1.8 an absolutely stunning piece of glass.
Now, let’s talk about the auto focus system on the a7.
With the native FE mount lens, like the Zeiss 35mm, I found the focusing to be responsive and snappy. I had the chance to shoot a wedding with the a7 and I found zero complains with the autofocus. The autofocus system of the a7 is somewhere between the Canon 5D Mark II and the brilliant 5D Mark III. It’s good, but not quite as good as any of us would like it.
When I switched to the 135mm with the lens adapter, the focusing was noticeably slower. I found myself switching to the a7’s awesome manual focus system very often when tracking moving objects at the wedding.
The a7’s back button layout is simple enough. Everything function is exactly where you’d think they’d be.
My only nitpick with the back layout was that I was hoping there would be a dial or a pad where I can move around the focus points myself –an old habit that transfers over from the DSLR world. The dials are in the perfect position –especially the exposure compensation dial in the top right. A simple flick of the thumb for exposure compensation is all that’s needed for most situations.
Many people find the shutter button in an odd location: right above the camera’s grip. But that’s another habit we all have from using DSLRs for so long.
After a few days of using the a7, I found myself adapting to the new shutter location with zero complaints.
Aesthetically, especially looking from the top, the a7 is a beautiful camera. It the perfect marriage of the retro stylings of old film cameras with a clean modern design of today.
I have two huge nit picks about the a7.
First, is the rather loud shutter slap. I was under the impression that the a7 would be as quiet as Sony’s RX1 –which is pretty much silent. Could definitely use the awesome leaf shutter thats in the RX1.
My second complaint is the battery life. It’s absolutely atrocious. A full charge runs you about 300 shots. Sometimes less. To plow completely through a 16gig SD card, it’ll take about two and a half batteries. There’s definitely something to be desired here. A battery grip will alleviate this problem a little bit, but it also leaves you with a camera that is much more conspicuous than it should be.
The a7 is and amazing travel camera and also more-than-enough replacement for those bulkier DSLRs. Its small, lightweight, And weatherproofed. When you couple it with a few choice pieces of Zeiss glass with the brilliant full-frame sensor, you will have a powerhouse of a camera wherever travels take you.
One of my favorite features, which I think every new camera on the market should have, is its built in wifi. You can instantly send photos to your smart phone or tablet via the Sony Play Memories app and upload to whatever social media you choose. Editing on your phone with a photo you JUST took on your camera is a fantastic feeling. Who would’ve known pushing little sliders with your fingers can make the editing process actually feel tactile and that you’re an active part of the whole photography process. Think of it like being in a dark room, but instead you’re outside, sitting on a train to your next destination, editing away.
Yes, the a7 has faults. Yes, this is the first generation of camera, in what should be a fantastic line of cameras in the future to come. Yes, there are much better cameras out there. But when it comes down to the actual choice of picking a camera, it should never ever be about what wow factor gizmos it has, but instead, the main decision factor should be if it would fit into your personal life style or not.
Think of it like buying a car. You pick your car because you feel that it is an extension of your life or brings some benefit to it. Your car could be for fun, or it could be your reliable point “A” to point “B” car, or it could be a rare collectible where you can go into your garage, at any time, and stare at your marvelous car –whichever it may be.
A camera should be the same. How its sensor functions, how its ISO sensitivity is, and how fast its autofocus system are all moot points. Questions of how the camera makes you feel when you use it, and how it fits into your life should be right up on top of the list. Trying to be the cool guy and having all the nice cameras with all the nice lenses will just make you look like a douche bag. Don’t be one.
Be the person that uses their camera because they love it, not to impress the internet.
Is the Sony a7 right for you? Because it is for me.
Sunrise at Sacré-Cœur Basilica. Paris, France.
Palace of Versailles. Versailles, France.
Outside the Musée d’Orsay. Paris, France.
Palace of Versailles Gardens. Versailles, France.
Louvre Museum. Paris, France.
St. Eustache Cathedral. Paris, France.
Fontaines de la Concorde. Paris, France.
Rodin Museum. Paris, France.
Louvre Museum. Paris, France.
Top of the Effiel Tower. Paris, France.
The Centre Pompidou. Paris, France.
USS Midway Museum. San Diego, California, USA.
Wedding shot in Simi Valley, California: