This post started as a semi-rant as you’ll soon see.
While I was dithering whether to click the post button, an e-mail conversation sprung-up between myself, Scottish photographer and friend Bob Hamilton and DS’ own Pascal Jappy. Predictably, they were both rhapsodising about their new A7RIIs, making my decision process quite a lot more difficult than the original (first) part of this post might suggest.
Later… for those remotely interested, I’ve still not decided and sticking with what I’ve got for now. At least either camera choice (see examples below) will still slide surreptitiously into a pocket.
I’m normal and it’s entirely predictable that as a photographer I’d want a Leica. I’ve even done some research and keep looking at the photographs I take and in most cases, can find a solid reason to justify a buy. But I don’t.
And, I’m not sure I ever will.
For street photography, an M should really lift the quality of the pictures I take – they’ll be the same subjects as I’d take with any camera, but the uptick in imaging quality on offer makes me feel that I could easily justify the extraordinary cost.
In the landscape, I’m increasingly finding myself shooting at 28mm, 35mm and 50mm – the optimum for a Leica and its lenses. So, I could retire (read sell) my D700 and D800e and concentrate on one set of kit for just about everything. At a time when I am less and less inclined to haul DSLRs around the world and the airlines seem hell-bent on making the traveller’s life as difficult as possible, Leica-based photography appeals more and more.
Oh yes, the M’s got a full frame sensor too and did I mention the IQ?
You can see that I’ve been plotting this awhile and had managed on several occasions to overcome the negative feelings that other bloggers generated with their stories of Ms that failed and had to be returned to the mothership in Germany, fell short of specification or generally disappointed.
Then there is the recent spate of new cameras Leica has introduced; the X2, T series, the M, Monochrom and more recently, the Q. How could any company keep up with that product churn? Now, I find myself asking asking if I would I buy an M when the sensor in the Q is so clearly superior? When would Leica update the M with the Q’s sensor? On and on the questions go.
Despite all that, I had the credit card out and was ready to commit.
But I didn’t and now, probably won’t.
It’s Thorsten Overgaard’s fault. In The Leica M 246 goes to Paris, he rhapsodises about both M and Monochrom, but then moves on to discuss the M’s performance against Ansel Adams’ Zone System.
I’ll save you 60-odd pages of reading and gazing longingly at beautiful black and white photographs; neither camera seems to function terribly well below Zone I and not at all at Zone X. Now, without wishing to get into a war of words here – this is my buy/no buy decision after all – my understanding is that around 80% of the light captured by a digital sensor is at the right hand end of the visual spectrum – roughly Zones VIII to X. And, if the M series sensor topples in Zone X, what the hell is going on?
In his post, young Thorsten spends a lot of time waxing lyrical about the M’s ability to render mid-tones – it does, they’re magnificent. He does admit having to work hard at the blacks though.
But Zone X? Nope. He prefers to shoot in European conditions; soft light, not too much direct sun and maybe even some rain. That’s maximum Zone IX territory which will artfully avoid the trap of the brights and makes a mockery of Michael Richman’s Expose To The Right (ETTR) theory.
Well, Mr Overgaard, I live in Africa and down here the sun blazes from moments after sunrise, to moments before sunset – hard light and pure Zone X land, so how do you propose I use my M then?
I suppose I should write to Mr O – I’m currently waiting to board an Emirates flight from Europe back to Cape Town and have just had (yet again) hassles with the airline about my photographic kit/computer bag – and wanted to get these words down before the irritation wore off. If I do and he responds, I’ll let you know.
Bob: You knew I wouldn’t be able to help myself, especially as I own several lenses for the system.
Took delivery of an A7RII yesterday – surprised as I only ordered it 2 weeks ago.
First impressions are that it is a grade better made and more robust than its predecessor – especially the lens mount which shows no real movement now.
From having one of the worst shutters I have heard, Sony have transformed the camera into having one of the best – a marvellous little “snick” and no more.
Not processed any images from it yet (merely used the rear screen) but a minor miracle appears to have occurred in that even two of my favourite M lenses – the 18mm Super Elmar and 24mm Elmar – appear to show no colour fringing, whereas they were simply awful on the original A7. I’m sure there’ll be an issue still with those lenses but the unprocessed image looks good.
Pascal: Early days yet but this has a different feel to it than the “old” model – a much more solid and capable camera and more like the RX1r which is why I was lured into buying the A7R in the first place. If, as I suspect, its performance with legacy rangefinder lenses (especially the wides) is significantly improved, it will be a complete game-changer and signal the end of the Leica M for all but the rangefinder diehards.
I’m going to experiment deliberately with the 2 M lenses – the 18mm and the 24mm – which performed so poorly on the A7R, despite their stellar performance on the M, and will report back. If the new camera performs well with those, it will perform well with anything – Nikon glass included.
I gave up too early and sold my M wide angles, there is that Distagon 35/1.4 which I bought on a bet that the A7RII would handle it better.
Bob: First “serious” snaps taken yesterday with the new toy.
First image taken with the Sony Zeiss FE 55mm, second taken with the Leica M 16/18/21 Tri Elmar at 21mm and final one taken with Leica R 28-90mm at 90mm or so.
I have to say that I find focusing manually quite difficult (the EVF is nowhere near as good as the Olympus one in this respect) and the performance of the Leica R lens is maybe not the best on the camera, especially at the wider focal lengths. The Tri Elmar seems to behave well as it did on the previous model. Jury still out on non-native lenses.
Bob: It’s strange, Pascal, but I find it quite easy to manually focus native or A mount lenses on the A7RII but not so easy, in fact downright difficult, to focus legacy lenses, even when the lens is opened right up to the widest aperture. The subject matter makes quite a difference – buildings are easier than landscapes – but the native lenses are easier regardless of subject. Tried the A mount Sony Zeiss Distagon 24mm (used via the latest A to E adaptor) both in auto and manual focus modes and the auto focus was way off with the manual focus being spot on which was the same experience as I had with the A7R1 – infinity focus was almost impossible with the lens continually focusing on about 5 metres instead.
Initial impressions are very favourable as I said yesterday. The camera is much more robust, the sensor stabilisation is good, if not as good as the Olympus offering and is probably round about 3 stops as opposed to 5 which not surprising given the difference in sensor size and the shutter is now magnificent – as I said a real “snick” as opposed to the cacophony of the A7R1. It now feels almost like a professional tool.
The resolution is greater than the Leica S type 006 but the image quality, although excellent, is not quite on a par – I don’t know whether it’s the CCD sensor (16 bit colour as opposed to ?) or what must be among the finest lenses ever made but the S still holds the crown for me. As I said, though, early days yet and I need to print something decent to get a real flavour of the camera’s capability. What I do know is that yesterday’s walk was a lightweight pleasure with camera, Tri-Elmar, 35mm, 55mm and 70-200mm lenses…!!!
I’ve ordered the Batis 25mm lens and look forward to its arrival.
Bob: Printed one of the waterfall images, taken with the Tri Elmar at the 21mm setting, at the largest my printer is able to do – 620mm by 430mm (328dpi) – and I have to say that the resulting print is quite impressive with pretty good tonality and plenty of detail across most of the frame with only the very (and I mean very) extreme corners being slightly less sharp.
Bodes well for future Batis lenses.
Pascal: I’m surprised you are having difficulties focusing legacy lenses. Are you using focus peaking or simply magnification ? Focus peaking works wonderfully, although it is a total pain for composition. I must learn to dedicate a custom function button to it to be able to switch it on and off at will.
Your findings on the printer are great news indeed (thanks a lot for keeping me informed like this). Though not entirely a surprise as the Tri-Elmar was one of the best performing Leica M lenses on the A7R. Have you had similarly good results with other M-mount lenses?
One thing I’m curious about: how responsive is the camera? My A7R takes really (reaaaalllly) long to wake up and has cost me numerous shots and popped veins. Is the mkII version any better in that respect ?
Bob: I do use focus peaking, Pascal, but don’t totally trust it and I find the 5x magnified view of the EVF not to have sufficient detail to focus accurately, especially as the line between being in and out of focus is so fine. I must learn to trust the peaking facility but, like you, dislike the distortion it brings to the viewed image – a bit like the blinking zebras which must be capable of bringing on epilepsy in a susceptible person…!!!
The 18mm Super Elmar and 24mm Elmars still have some problems (vignetting and softness at the edges) but are much, much better than they were on the A7R1. I would think anything from 35mm on will perform well. The camera is extremely responsive now and there is no longer the really worrying clunking noise on turning it off or on. They really do seem to have sorted the shutter.
Pascal: Wonderful. If the wide angles have become usable but not perfect and the 35+ lenses essentially perfect, that will be a stellar companion. Cannot wait to use mine.
The responsiveness is very welcome too 🙂
Pascal: Hi Paul,
Have you decided to take the A7RII plunge, yet ?
If so, let me know what you find with the Biogon 25 and your Summilux. There’s a fair chance the Biogon will work a lot better than with the A7R and that would be mighty tempting to me 😉
Mine should arrive on Thursday. Counting the minutes. It’s been a long time since I’ve been excited about a Sony. Could this be “The One”?
I haven’t made a decision. I really want an ILC the size of the Fuji X100 – a Leica would be a fair fit for my wants.
Meantime, Sony seem to be moving inexorably towards pushing Nikon and Canon aside in the FF marketplace – the exercise made significantly easier by the latter’s almost complete disinterest in delivering anything innovative.
There’s also the issue of cash – something you’ll understand having just got home from the US – I’ve just had to order a new Mac notebook – part of a plan I’ve been working on for a while – but way before I had intended. It’s been driven by my 1998-era desktop system, which has done extraordinary work, but is now crashing on a regular basis. It might be memory. It might be the video card, Whatever it is, a repair is going to be a significant portion of the cost of a new notebook, so…
The A7RII will have to wait (a while).
Pascal: Yeah, I do understand all too well 😉
Bob and I will let you know, but this iteration should last longer and keep its value better. I’m getting the 3-year warranty, because it’s Sony.
Getting a new Macbook is also a treat, I’m sure. The downside of larger files is longer processing time, so uping the ante in the silicon department is the clever move. My compter is the fastest I could afford 2 years ago but is still stuttering on A7R files, so the mind boggleth when it comes to the larger rII pics. We shall see. Any hardware purchase will have to wait until 2016. A new camera and an OTUS have dug a big hole in Vault Jappy. Crap.
Canon has at least produced a camera that has its flaws but will appeal to landscape photographers. Nikon’s immobilism is staggering and inexplicable. It’s like they’re already planning their way out of the market, which could happen by 2020 … A bit sad, as my D800e was a true pleasure and much more of a camera than the A7R. Just hoping rII fares better.
Bob: More from the A7R2 taken yesterday on a jaunt down the Cowal Peninsula – awful weather but suits the mood of the place I think.
The Sony Zeiss FE 55 f1.8 is a stunning lens. The micro contrast is quite superb and the autofocus works a treat. The picture of the wild orchid was taken with the new Sony G FE 90mm Macro and the first 2 images were taken with the Sony Zeiss 24mm f2.0 Alpha lens on the LEA4 Alpha to FE adaptor.
The resolution is excellent but the tolerances with manual focusing are so fine as to be unbelievable, particularly when using the 24mm f2.0.
Overall, very impressed so far.
Pascal: Oh WOW, Bob. These are absolutely stunning. All the stars aligned for those; scenery, weather, camera and photographer. Feels like being there, without the drips down my neck.
I find the colours really lovely on the A7R2. Some of my first pics are attached. There was not a lot of colour and a strong cast and I pushed everything hard to see how the file would hold. With my A7R, there would have been a horrible yellow dominant. Here, the files don’t do that at all. Nowhere near as nice as yours, but I’m happy at what manipulation the system allows when needed. Can’t wait to actually leave the house/village with that camera.
I couldn’t find much difference between the two in terms of dynamic range or resolution, but white balance is a lot better and I think the whole system looks a lot less digital.
Bob: Thanks Pascal.
Your images are lovely – I doubt I’d leave your village if I lived there….!!!
Early days yet but the feel of the images, especially those taken with the 55mm lens, is quite similar to the Leica S which is quite encouraging – as you say, quite “undigital”.
Do you have any experience of the Loxia 35mm lens? Reason for the question is that I find the FE 35mm f2.8 a bit disappointing in terms of its resolution and micro-contrast and always have.
And that’s where we are today. Bob is a happy man – usually is with a new camera. Pascal is just starting his discovery process and I’m at the beginning of the usual angst over what to take on my next trip (India). It definitely won’t be an A7RII – the South African Rand has plummeted to above R20 : £1 from around R11 : £1 a year or so back, effectively increasing the local price by about 40% 🙁
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