#396. Exploring the A7rII, by a Sony newcomer

By Leonard Norwitz | Opinion

Sep 01

My first two weeks with the Sony a7Rii have been a mix of expected and unexpected frustration, balanced with expected and unexpected images and ease of workflow.


Unlike many reporters, I had never previously used any Sony camera, nor do I own a single “legacy” lens. I tend to sell off systems I no longer use to help defray costs of the next, but in fact I have never owned anything better than a Canon aspheric prime, unless you count the Linhof Technorama that I had for a time in the late 70s. And, unlike most contributors on photo blogs, I am less interested in what the image looks like out of the camera than how it meets my needs to achieve the result I imagine as a print when I click the shutter.

0014_deltaBy this time, Dear Susan readers don’t need to see more pixel-peeping images of the a7R2 in order to make up their minds about the camera. In any case, it’s not my interest. Instead I hope you will be entertained by what I do with those images. My one rule being that I do not add things from other sources to the image, save in stitching, only remove, and that my principle manipulation is contrast.

0077_lowkey2_san_joseWhat I had hoped for this camera was that the sensor and dedicated Zeiss lenses would give me enough latitude and resolution for the kind of work I do in post-processing. Since I do not use a tripod nor do I bracket my shots (out of laziness, I assure you), I need to able to obtain everything I need from the image transferred onto my card. With previous cameras and lenses, I was usually satisfied with what I could achieve in terms of IQ, what qualms I had being convenience and flexibility.

0031_fullcontrast&structure+lowkey_deltaAfter spending two years plus with the Sigma DP Merrill cameras, I soon understood the advantages of visualizing and composing with prime lenses rather than zooms and how they require of me a certain discipline and attention that zooms do not. I have often said that any picture I took with my Merrills I could just as well have shot with my Canon 5D2 – point being that the shot wouldn’t have occurred to me with the Canon and the zoom lenses I was then using.

0109_san_joseIt was much the same for me when I composed music in my college days: always by commission for performance, never because I had ideas in my head that required expression. The medium, whether string quartet, vocal recital, brass choir, piano, carillon or women’s choir, provided both challenge and inspiration. Ditto whatever camera I am using and whatever walkabout I am on that brings the two together.

0002_darkcontrasts_fort_cronkhiteI sold off my Merrills in January of this year in anticipation of this very camera – like the a7R, but with greater latitude and quieter in operation. As we now know, the a7R2 is much than this. I absolutely LOVE: the weight, size & balance, build quality and location of the various buttons, once I sorted out what they were and how to use them. The Zeiss Loxia lenses (35 & 50) are perfect matches to the camera – and I find both useful despite their focal proximity. The EVF is awesome, as is ease of focus (presently both of my lenses are manual focus.) Images are excellent. No misgivings there, so far.

DSC00016_grahamColor is very good (as we can see in the shot of my friend Graham at his workdesk, a frame I mistakenly, but revealingly, shot as a fine jpg instead of RAW), though accurate color is not to me as contrast. Latitude is phenomenal in both directions, especially the dark end. My basic mode of operation is Manual with Auto ISO from 100-3200, which is plenty wide enough for my purposes.

0009_darkcontrsast_ft_pointMy “default” shutter speed is 1/1000, with an aperture of f2.8~4.0. If I were using longer lenses, I would likely shoot wide open if the lens were good enough, but at focal lengths of 35 and 50 mm, I prefer more, not less, depth of field. Since I do not generally shoot moving targets, my need of fast shutter speeds is entirely used for its stabilizing effect. If I’m indoors, I find the camera’s in-body stabilization very effective.0009_pt_reyesThe camera’s greater resolution, latitude and pixel depth, if I may, makes workflow not only easier, but more accurate. I really can’t get over how much more there is to work with. I use Adobe’s Content Aware fill a good deal, so all those extra pixels come in handy. Up until now there has generally been a good deal of work to do to clean up the residue. Hardly any now.

0051_san_joseI worried I would not be able to trust the a7R2’s in-camera stabilization, but I find that 1/60 to 1/100 sec for the two Loxia lenses is not only sufficient, but jaw-dropping. Check out the bedspread in this shot at the Fort Point museum: I am standing more or less in the dark, while the room is lit only by two slivers that pass for windows.

0074_ft_pointOver the course of the past two weeks since I’ve had the a7R2, I encountered considerable frustration, partly due to my general inexperience with Sony cameras, but also the lack of on-line tutorials that might address my questions. I had heard about Sony’s near-useless manuals – in this case, little more than a litany of features – but I had to see for myself just how braindead their writers are. For example, once I realized to my astonishment that the camera itself has no designated shutter button, I rushed to the manual only to learn that I can designate this or that button for the job, while it stubbornly refused to tell me how to do it.

0074_deltaThe manual is also mum on how to use Sweep Panorama and its limitations, and says even less about stabilization – e.g. when you can use it or when you can’t. It took me a day or so to sort out exactly how useless is the camera’s Sweep Panorama mode. I get as good or better results with my iPhone, limited only by its single focal length. But there is an alternative – one that I could not have relied on, or even though of. . . until now. At first I thought that if I required high-res files, I would have to use the old tried & true method of shooting one frame at a time, carefully aligning and overlapping as I went. If you are hand-holding, as I do, alignment is even more important.

0070_lowkey2_san_joseThen it occurred to me that the a7R2 can maintain RAW capture while in Continuous Shooting Mode for at least 25 frames (as is the case in this experimental shot here – alas, I misjudged both my point of focus and DOF), and has the advantage of not having to pause between shots, which is where hand-held alignment usually goes to pot. I usually lost 10-15% of my frame this way. Not so in Continuous Shooting Mode – where its advantage is its only disadvantage: the camera being in motion throughout the shot, and thus requiring very fast shutter speeds to overcome the movement. In good light there is no reason why one couldn’t squeeze 1/2000 out of the camera with no ISO difficulties. (I calculated later that in best light: 1/2000 sec @ f/4.0 & ISO 125.)

0076_ft_pointSo, while I’m on WTF! issues, I should declare that in my 15 years shooting with digital cameras, I have never attempted to shoot pictures without a memory card – which is not to say that I haven’t tried. . . inadvertently. But with the a7R2, it is entirely possible – yeah, even likely, if you rely entirely on the EVF as I do, to click merrily along and not know you don’t have a card in place. Oh, there’s a warning all right, but it’s subtly placed above the frame that you could easily miss it. I did, for 30-odd shots before I noticed it. It’s easier to see on the LCD, but still: a warning should be just that; a WARNING! in neon lights and alarms going off. Not so here. Be Warned.

0069_san_joseThere remain a few assorted puzzlements, but nothing that affects my performance with the with camera. For example, why are the Tiff files six times larger than the RAW files? And why isn’t steady-shot information listed in the EXIF? Aside from such niggles, I am ready to settle in for the honeymoon, seeing as how I’ve already bought the ring.


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  • HoTell says:

    Thank you for the nice article. Regarding shoot pictures without a memory card: there is an option called “Release w/o Card”. Set to disabled the camera will not allow you to shoot without card.

  • philberphoto says:

    Whew, what a slew of lovely pictures! I am green with envy over at least half of them, because they are exactly what I’d love to shoot in both subject and manner. Talk about climbing up the learning curve like it is Pike’s Peak…
    Hearty congratulations!

  • Bumpy says:

    Your work is beautiful

    If you can stomach patiently exploring the menus, you will find a setting called something like ‘release without card’ which defaults to ‘on’, if you change it to ‘off’ the camera will not trip the shutter when there is no sd card. I believe that setting is next to ‘release without lens’ which also defaults to ‘on’ and allows the shutter to trip when legacy lenses with no electrical contacts are mounted. If you never use legacy lenses it may be marginally safer to turn that off to prevent tripping the shutter if/when you handle the camera with no lens such as inspecting or cleaning the sensor.

    Learning the sony mindset on menus requires patience and persistance, but a surprising number of minor aggravations can be alleviated, and helpful customizations can be achieved with some exploration and experimentation. Just be careful not to change too much at once, and keep notes so you can find what you changed.

    Best of luck as you continue to master your new tool!

  • Volker Hopf says:

    Good read! I am still at the beginning after having the camera for 24 hours.
    Just one comment – there is a setting in the settings menu screen No 4 which allows you to disable the shutter if there is no card in the slot.

    Have fun.

    Cheers, Volker

  • Leonard says:

    Dear Fellow Travelers,

    Thanks so very much for your appreciative and helpful comments. I feel an extra 100 pounds/feet of torque at my service thanks to Dear Susan and our readers, and especially to Pascal who has been in my corner from the start.

    Indeed, I am very much a Sony beginner, having yet to explore custom setting possibilities. I know that once i get the gist of that I shall be firing on all thrusters.

    If all goes as planned I hope to have a handful of photos to share next month from a planned trip to the Olympic peninsula in Washington state.

  • John says:

    I agree about the miserable manual A tremendous resource is the Gary Friedman e-book


    He is currently updating it to include the A7R Mark II, but the current book probably covers more than 95% of what the A7R Mark II will do. It is a fantastic reference and is “searchable” because it is an e-book.

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