#325. Waiting for an epiphany that ain’t gonna happen

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Feb 15

Rumours spoil us. I’ve been longing for an A7r replacement since the first faint suggestions of curved sensors, 50Mpix medium formats and other exotica were aired on the interwebs.

Not that it’s a bad camera, but my past experience with Sony has not been one of extreme reliability, and 18 months – 30.000 frames – into my noisy, lazy, wonderful A7r’s life is long enough to hanker for fresh blood.

Lothlรณrien - Sony A7r & OTUS 85/1.4

Lothlรณrien – Sony A7r & OTUS 85/1.4

Plus, change is nice.

Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to test exotics glass from Zeiss that made me realize how much the “it’s not the gear, it’s the photographer” mantra is hocus. Yes, the photographer creates the art. But excellent gear just makes the experience so much more easy and natural. That’s why photographers are willing to pay obscene money for average-testing lenses, to the bemusement of those of the lab-rat persuasion. The Soul always kick’s the mind’s arse (butt).

A frozen puddle makes patterns like a first and a foot. Zeiss Distagon 35/1.4 ZM and Sony A7r

Foot and fist – Zeiss Distagon 35/1.4 ZM on Sony A7r

With all the recent agitation around 50Mpix FF sensors, my fear is that Sony will soon reveal to us more of the same: tremendous sensor technology built into passable bodies. When current sensors built into better bodies is so much more like what I’d like to see released. Using a truffle to make average broth usually isn’t a chef’s excuse for cooking more of the same from even better ingredients, yet that’s the line of reasoning I’m expecting from Sony HQ.

The Opera Bastille in Paris, France. B&W in contrasty light

Opera Bastille, Paris. Zeiss Loxia 50/2, Sony A7r

Follow the lenses. Is, always has been, always will be my line of reasoning. If the recent Canon 5DS and 5DS R Image Samples prove anything (to my eyes) is how easily glass can water down good sensor technology. Lenses give the shot its soul and style, or lack of. The 3 photos above were made using the same camera and 3 lenses, each excellent, and each very different in rendering.

Even more so than the stunning OTUS 85/1.4, my current favourite is the new Zeiss 35/1.4 ZM. For me it is in a class of its own, so much so that I’ buy a camera for that lens rather than search for another great 35mm for the A7r. As inspiring as the ZM’s results are on the A7r, articles such as this Second go with the Leica M Monochrom By Chris H, on SteveHuffPhoto, remind me how much more copacetic the results when photographer, camera and lens bond deeply.

But a Leica M Monochrom ? I love the idea, but paying that much money for outdated electronics and a shooting style that’s never been conducive to great results for me, not happening.


Constant planks – OTUS 85/1.4, Sony A7r

So here I am, hoping for an epiphany such as the M4/3 open format to happen in the Sony – Leica world.

Hoping for a more Leica-like A7r successor : built to last, ergonomically sound and uncluttered, and more inclined to exploit the goodness of M-mount designs, starting with the landmark ZM 35/1.4 from its very own partner company, Zeiss.

Or for a more Sony-like Leica body: superb sensor, great live view, great rear screen, great EVF.

Knowing full well neither will happen.


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  • philberphoto says:

    I am always puzzled when I read comments like “I couldn’t possibly buy this otherwise excellent camera because I can’t set a minimum speed on auto-ISO”, or “I can’t possibly buy this otherwise excellent camera because the shutter is sooooo loud”. Simply put, if I like the camera, I couldn’t care less. So, what does “like the camera” mean? First, get good output. Second, that it let me take the shots I wanna take. There is no third. Sure, I’d love a camera designed by Apple and built by Porsche, but I have no illusions that it would yield a single extra keeper (maybe I’m wrong, eh?). What I bond with is not a camera, it is a not even a lens, it is a focal length. Get me a really good 50mm equivalent FF on any camera, and I feel I’m home. Call it my limitation, and I’ll answer HCB. Not that I care, so long as I’m home…

    • pascaljappy says:

      Well, I can certainly “buy” it, have and will again. But I just can’t help thinking we’re reached a point were better sensors in a so-so body is not the way I’d like cameras to evolve.

      Apart from more disk space, 50Mpix won’t change anything to my photo life, compared to 36. But a smooth, quiet shutter, a camera that doesn’t die on me every time it rains or take the best part of an eon to wake up would not go amiss.

      We’ve now reached a point in imaging quality where I feel the needs of photographers (at least, mine ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) would be best served by ergonomic improvements and – even more importantly – the ability to use the best lenses available to the full. Today, neither the Leica M-240 or the Sony Ar are using the genre-defining ZM 35/1.4 to the full, and that’s a real shame.

  • Henryk Kierzkowski says:

    Thank you for very insightful review of camera lenses. You add a fresh dimension to endless discussions so often (mis)focusing on technical aspects.

    While modern Zeiss lenses are amazing, some old ones are not bad either. Have you ever tried such oldies as Distagon 28/2.8, Planar 50/1.4 or Planar 85/1.4?

    30,000 shots with your Sony A7R in 18 months amounts to an average of about 500 frames per day. If the number stands, then Sony A7R
    represents an exceptional quality.


    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Henryk! I’ve not used the lenses you recommend, but other legacy lenses are part of my daily package. Their drawing style is really different and lovely on some subjects.
      As for the daily count, it’s 50, not 500, which is about par for the course for me, yes. My A7r has been reliable and I’m not criticizing it. But my previous Sonys have all failed and that has left worries at the back of my mind ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Ron Scheffler says:

    I still wistfully hold out minute hope that Ricoh will resurrect an improved GXR with a full frame module compatible with Leica M, and hopefully many other lens mounts. I bought into the first GXR once the M mount module became available, even though I knew it would be an obscure and likely dead end product path. I thought Ricoh did a good job of blending all the desired modern camera functions with a sensible user interface design. Definitely not Leica simplicity, but also not annoying like Sony’s layouts. Given they’re now finally committing to a FF Pentax DSLR, maybe there’s still a glimmer of hope that whatever they release as a mirrorless platform might be FF, yet won’t be married to the current, adaptability-restricted K mount.

    As for Leica… based on my uses of the M240 compared to the M9, it has definitely moved much more mainstream, though still has a ways to go in terms of the functionality and refinement of certain features such as live view. But that feature alone means compatibility with so many more lenses while the camera retains optimum performance with legacy rangefinder optics and respects the Leica tradition of basic, but good, layout design. Who knows, maybe the next model will refine this even more? Cost will remain inhibiting, without doubt. If it’s any consolation, it seems the M240’s resale value is slipping faster than the M9’s did at similar points in the product cycle, hinting at softer demand allowing for lower second hand prices. If or when your perfect Leica finally materializes, it may just mean waiting it out long enough for the used price to reach your threshold.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Ron, very interesting comment, thanks.

      You know I hadn’t thought about the GXR. That’s a lovely idea. They’re quirky and slow but anything with a Sony sensor, decent ergonomics and a “proper” filter stack would suit many people just fine. Definitely a niche product, but niches are what make a sector interesting. Let’s hope your wishes are heard. Maybe we could ask Ricoh to start a fundraiser ๐Ÿ™‚

      Slipping Leica prices are not good news, though that’s probably what the future holds. I wouldn’t mind paying for the Leica experience, providing bodies held their value well. After all, what I’m after is a camera to keep 5 years at least, rather than sell every 18 months, taking a 1000$ loss on each. As for the current M240, it’s a superb machine, but I can’t help feeling it’s not making the most (neither the sensor or the focusing) of the best lenses around. And that’s the frustrating part : Leica and Zeiss are releasing the fabulous lenses and all manufacturers seem to be rolling out bodies that compromise on that ultimate quality. When I do buy the ZM 35/1.4, I’ll try to rent an M240 for a couple of days a make a more informed decision. As you say, prices seem to be slipping ๐Ÿ™‚

  • amos says:

    Have you had a chance to look at the a7m2? Just curious if you’d feel that closer to something a bit more solid?

    • pascaljappy says:

      Actually, I wouldn’t want to sound too harsh about the A7r. It’s fantastic camera. And it’s very well built and has been very reliable so far (it gives up in the rain but comes back to life after it dries). My gripes with it are a long wake up time. Really too long (I believe the A7MkII is much better). And a very loud shutter that becomes really tiring after a long session and makes it impossible to shoot in many situations. But I just mainly to replace it because of my past history with Sony NEX cameras. Out of the 3 I owned, 2 died on me in very inconvenient and remote locations. But most other photographers I know have been just fine (one did see his A7r pack it up during an expensive workshop in Greenland, though). My main complaint today, however, is the odd lens-camera situation, not the camera itslef. Zeiss has created a lens, which I honestly think will go down in history as one of the all-time best 35mm lenses. And not one camera on the market exploits it to the full. The A7r’s filter stack is not ideal for M-mount lenses and the M240 sensor is not quite in the same league. So silly and so sad ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • amos says:

    Well, I’ve got a couple of ZM (50/2, 35/2, 28/2.8) and a couple Voigtlander (75/2.5, 35/1.2m2) lenses. Oh, and I have an old Jupiter3/1.5. So I’ve been looking at the A7M2 anyway, or perhaps even the A7S. In my state of indecision, I’ve rented all the A7* cameras, even the latest A7M2. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    In terms of handling I really do prefer the A7M2. Still, I remember when I rented the A7R at being blown away by the detail and “depth” of the images, even if processing them was a bit tedious due to their size. (I’m not sure I’ll be that interested in a 50MP sensor, either, for that reason.) And I’ve got on the wall an image I took with the A7S at night that I’m fond of, so can’t help to be drawn to that one.

    It’s almost evil that Sony put these varying qualities into different cameras. ๐Ÿ˜‰ It used to be to get different results, or to shoot in different situations, you would use different film. Now you have to use a completely different camera! Not sure that’s a step forward.

    I guess in the end I’m leaning most towards to the A7M2 because it probably is a good medium ground. Of course that could all change in a couple of weeks(?) when Sony is supposed to announce the update to the A7R????? ARRRGGGGHHHH! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • pascaljappy says:

      Sure know how you feel. The wait is killing me too. I’m glad you find the A7M2 a real improvement in terms of handling, though. That’s a sure signs things are improving.
      What does the Jupiter look like on that camera? Very interesting combination, right?

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