My pet rant over recent years has been against Sony.
Sony got me into the mirrorless world with the wonderful NEX-5n. That and tiny Zeiss and Voigtlander lenses reinvented the way I traveled with cameras. Right up to the point where, in the middle of a remote West Australian national park, the damn thing suddenly died on me. A major frustration, to say the least, but nothing compared to the sub-abysmal way in which Sony after sales treated me after that. Unprofessional is a mild way of putting it.
The honeymoon was over, but my replacement NEX-5n brought some of the love back. Until that too took a premature and terminal nap.
That ushered in the age of the Olympus OM-D and the Nikon D800e. Until the sirens of the A7r swayed me back to camp Sony.
Call me a sucker. In fact, my house is Sony sucker land. BluRay player, TV, camera … all Sony. No idea why. The products just sell themselves to me. Clever marketing to a persona I must fit perfectly, I guess.
The A7r proved to be the most irritating camera, though. Loud, hugely loud, with colour shifts so large that the tobacco filter industry went bust. And with ergonomics to make Sicilian urban traffic seem positively civilised.
All of this preamble not to complain about Sony (although, that is a lot of fun) but to show that my previous rants weren’t entirely biased and unfounded. Shit happens, but in my past relationship with Sony, a special order of fans was needed in order to keep up.
The ill-feeling lingered enough to compromise my enjoyment of the thoroughly improved A7rII. Better sound, faster shutter, much better colour fidelity, ergonomics that subjectively climbed from idiotic to meh, all in all a very compelling package but one that failed to engage. A product of the mind rather than the heart. Particularly at the lofty asking price.
Whenever you spend a lot of money on a car, you (at least I) want to be happy to look at it every time it is parked. You want to feel your neck tingle every time you sit in it. You want your heart to rush every time you hear the engine exhaust. Irrespective of performance data.
And, in the same way, you (at least I) want to feel the blood rush to your cheeks (what did you expect ??!!) every time you look at it attached to a lovely lens, you (at least I) want to feel a shiver of pleasure when you hear the shutter click with refinement and so on. None of the really happens, not in the way of a Mamiya 7, anyway. Not by a long shot.
So what does this all mean ?
It means I’m a grumpy old fart, that’s what!
Imagine the photographic legacy we’d have if Ansel Adams had said “stuff these heavy glass plates, I want my easel back”. Or if Edward Weston had complained about the uninspiring polish on this view camera. Or if … you get the idea.
The fact is this: I’m attached to a certain style of shooting that has been dead for as long as silicon has made gelatin obsolete. No point in complaining, it’s dead, and it ain’t coming back. Leica, particularly with the recent M10, have made some efforts to keep that alive, but even that fails to convince, ultimately, when you hear the modern shutter.
Let’s face it, “traditional” cameras are dead. What we have now are content producing devices.
This little epiphany came to me when Sony sent a newsletter my way that described the whole range of photo, illustration, video, storage, e-younameit products and services aimed at content production and distribution. This is probably where the main distinction lies. Modern cameras from Sony are content production tools. They cram a huge amount of content production capability into a tiny package. This gives them universal appeal. Some, like me, use them for their superb sensor and vast range of non-native character lenses. Others will go full native AF/stabilized video. To each his own.
At the individual level, this can be a pain as no one really gets exactly the camera he or she dreams of. But as a whole, is this a good thing or not? Is this genericity helping the creation of more and more content or of better content? This is a question to which I do not have an answer.
On the one hand, in recent competition exhibitions (Nat Geo and similar), 99% of winners and finalists own Canikon gear. Sony is nowhere to be seen. So it looks like more doesn’t equate with better, in the traditional arena.
On the other, more and more non traditional stuff, such as this superb Frozen Worlds video, is popping up every week. And that has to be good news for the community as a whole.
So yeah, I’d love it if someone created a digital Mamiya 7 with a low-res large sensor, sublime shutter and ergonomics, the whole 27 feet. But it’s not going to happen and I’m not going to bicker about it again. Finally, I understand what Sony are doing for us and (while I’d personally prefer other choices) don’t want to write another anti-Sony rant again.
I’ll be tempted next time my A7rII stops working in a light drizzle. Or when the app I have downloaded fails to install on the camera. Or when the shutter scares that unsuspecting squirrel shitless. But, when I do, I’m counting on you to remind me to shut up and enjoy the unprecedented push in technology we are experiencing, the type that allows me to pack an exquisite 35/1.4, 50/1.5 and 90/2.8 M-mount trio plus 42Mpix camera in a tiny Crumpler shoulder bag (the three B&W shots above are made with that combo), and of which the above misadventures are just an unavoidable collateral.
Please shut me up 😉
#1274. Do photographers remember their travels better?
#1268. The Intimate Joy of Printing Small
# 391. Sony’s A7RII (formerly Leica it or not)
#287. The Susans’ day out.
#217. Should you buy a Pentax 645Z (implied: or a Sony A7R)?
#210. The Leica Macro-Elmarit-R 60/2.8, the soulful engineer
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Hmm. Well for starters, the A7rII 42MP is one hell of a camera. That said – like every other camera, it isn’t necessarily the “right” camera for everyone.
Me for example – I’m hooked on Zeiss glass – I’ve ALWAYS been hooked on Zeiss glass, ever since my first Zeiss cam, which was a second hand post-World War 2 folding camera – shooting 6×9 on roll film – that I bought with cash I earned, weeding other people’s gardens, as a kid. My very first question on any cam, then, is can I hook up my Zeiss lenses to it? If not . . . .
Another issue that needs consideration – which was highlighted by the unfortunate experiences of one ‘tog here in Oz. Sony support in the US is much better than what this man experienced in Australia, and “you should use gear that is professionally supported in your region.” I can’t claim to have been treated badly by Sony, here in Oz, but I know of at least one person who was – and having had a bad experience on similar lines many years ago, with a different bit of gear, that – for me – is a fundamental question.
And a while back, when people were pushing Sony’s RX100, I found a few sad tales in Sony chat pages, stemming from the fact Sony chose to have the RX100 manufactured in China, resulting in quality control issues. Most, no doubt, were happy – but one poor ‘tog tried the first 4 models (mark I through to mark IV), before he gave up and went elsewhere. Dunno where the A7rII is made, so maybe that’s completely irrelevant.
Three negatives already, and I’ve never owned an A7rII. I have 2 Sony TVs, and they’re great – I had a Sony Beta video cam, but alas, Beta went the way of the dinosaur.
What do I know about the A7rII? Nothing, except what I read. It seems to be an exceptional cam, with a devoted following. It has features few other cameras share. In many ways it’s setting the standard. It takes great photos.
Some of the “criticisms” I’ve seen are nonsense, as far as I’m concerned – because they wouldn’t be meaningful unless you are producing enlargements the size of a bath towel, and who does? If you do, why aren’t you using a medium format, and why criticise a cam for not producing a result it was never intended for in the first place? In my not-so-humble-opinion, that kind of criticism comes from trolls, not photographers.
I would have thought you would be very happy with your A7rII, Pascal. I envy your weatherproofing – your low light “advantage” (although I must say, so far I’ve had no trouble on that score with my gear) – the built-in ELV (the one on my Canon is detachable and a bit of a toy), the tilt screen (my Niks have fixed screens, which is a handicap at times). It’s a helluva lot lighter than my big gun Nik (which is probably why I take the Canon Powershot out as often as I do). And by all accounts, fun to shoot with.
And I REALLY envy the focusing trick that locks onto an eye, to keep the focus correct for portraits. Especially after the AF on one of my cams locked onto the wrong object in one of my photos recently, so that instead of a nice sharp shot with a blurry (and irrelevant) object in the foreground, I got a nice sharp foreground object with a blurry photo in the background. Thank God (and Carl Zeiss) for manual focus lenses !!!
Even if we could all afford to have one of everything, we’d have nowhere to store them all, and we’d never get used to handling them – we’d stall, trying to remember how to do what with each one we pulled down of the shelf.
I didn’t get why you think it stops working in light drizzle, if it’s weatherproof (as Sony claim) or what frightened the squirrel (since you have the choice of a noiseless shutter). And you certainly don’t need an Indian porter to lug your gear around, for you.
If I hadn’t already gone a different route (before the current 42MP version of the A7rII came onto the market, I’d be sorely tempted, Pascal. I think you ought to keep enjoying it, and just ignore all those people who shoot Canikon to win prizes in NatGeo.
Pete, the A7rII is indeed a spectacularly good camera, as far as image quality is concerned. The tremendous ability, tremendous compatibility (not one of my 8 lenses is a native lens) in a small package are what sold it to me.
What used to drive me nuts is that fact that Sony didn’t package this technical wizardry in a body more devoted to “traditional shooting”. The weatherproofing is lousy. The rear screen dies at the sight of a humid weather report, the camera shuts down completely in the rain … There are enough buttons on the camera to make a teenager jealous. The menu system feels idiotic to me. There so much on that camera (and associated native lenses) that deters from the shooting experience rather than add to it that the lure of simpler, less technically-magnificent camera systems has been constant over the years.
But I just realised that’s my problem, not Sony’s. Not just because traditional shooters like me are a minority in the market but, mostly, because the camera system Sony has created has prompted so many others to explore a ton of creative avenues and produce superb results along the way. Kudos to them and kudos to Sony.
I’m sure the A7rII can accomodate the various publics and be better. I’m also sure the successor will. So rant over 🙂
Such a discouraging essay, Pascal!
Sad to say, I empathize with your feelings about the A7rII not calling out to me as once did my Pentax 6×7 (Yes, that clunker!), and I fully agree with your assessment of the market’s concern with content vs just about anything of lasting value. Alas, this has become one of the saddest losses of our daily lives in every arena – the political, not least.
That said, my solution for the time being is to narrow my field of influence – on me, I mean. I won’t watch television news and ignore Yahoo’s home page, and I avoid all websites that perhaps once set out in the “right” direction but have since been taken over by trolls. I submit to fewer aches and pains this way. I enjoy my friends and better food more. I watch Inspector Montalbano instead of CSI-whatever.
Lately, I’ve taken to revisit my digital photographic work over the past decade or so and find – no surprise – that the images I feel are my best have nothing whatever to do with the camera or lens that I use but rather: opportunity, discipline and approach. I can take satisfying photos and make demonstrable prints from any camera I’ve ever used, including my iPhone. I replaced my DP Merrill system with the A7rII and I can say without reservation that the prints from the one are no better or worse than from the other. The only thing that changed was how much work it took to click the shutter. Lazy photographer that I am in my refusal to use a tripod, this means that I can click that shutter more often with the Sony than the Sigma over the same period of time.
YIPPEE – Leonard, you score 12 bonus “purple bear stamps” for that comment !! 🙂
(I’ve also rummaged through some of the old analogue films – scanned them on the computer – fed them through the system as if they’d always been digital – and I’ve been VERY happy with the results on most of the ones I’ve done. And the 3 cams I’m using now could well be described as varying between “the sublime and the ridiculous”, but they all give me very good quality photographs).
Sorry Leonard, I didn’t mean to bring you down 😉 The post was meant to be more positive.
Yes, the tactile pleasure we derived with our respective medium format film favourites seems gone forever. But the new possibilities opened-up by newer offerings does compensate, and more.
Shielding from negative influences is always a good thing. In photography, but also in any other activity or part of your life. There’s a lot more good in people than the web lets us imagine. The business models of the online social behemoths simply doesn’t show it. It feeds on viral. Viral is animal instinct let loose.
I am curious to know the lenses involved in the three monochromes. My guess is the first image was the 50/1.5 ZM; the second was the Leica 90; and the third was the 35/1.4 ZM or Voightlander 35/1.4 newest version. The 35s and the 50 are lenses I am very curious about for my own use.
Hi Mark. The lenses in those ate the 35/1.4 ZM Distagon and Elmarit-M 90/2.8.
Pascal – did I ever tell you that you can plug an Otus into an A7rII? One good way is to use a Novoflex NEX/NIK adapter with tripod collar (the Sony is very lightweight, compared to this lens). Then you can shoot on a ‘pod – or if you feel adventurous and support the lens with one hand, you can shoot hand held. (Have fun – remember, it’s heavy and it’s manual focus! And I don’t think you should hold it VIA the camera body, in this configuration – I’d be nervous about doing it anyway – not so long back I read a note about someone who’d split or torn the mounting ring on the front of his cam, with a heavy tele lens on a comparatively light cam, and I can’t remember the exact details of the lens OR the cam.)
Then you’d have the best full frame sensor setup and the best lens – WOOF !!! Think what you could do with that !!! 🙂
My 85 is an Otus. A gorgeous combination 🙂 And Philippe uses the 28 and 55 with delight !
I am not as accomplished as most denizens of this wonderful blog, so perhaps my love of the a7rii speaks more to my limitations than to the qualities of the camera. What I love is the range of conditions in which I can get a good image. On a grey winter day a 500 f4 is just too slow when you need at least 1/1000 to freeze a bird’s motion and your camera loses detail at iso 800. An 85 f1.4 can’t really gather enough light for shooting indoor soccer at the dimly lit facility in my area, unless of course iso 2000 produces bearable images. Learning to focus manually in above situations is far easier than coping with a camera that just loses too much IQ at higher iso. Same thing for dynamic range, I can do crazy things like shoot back lit people standing in front of a window, and get a decent image of people and view out the window with a little post processing. Forgot the wide angle today? Shoot a half dozen frames with a 50mm and get a 100 MP stitched pano, no problem. Find yourself wanting a little video, got that covered too. Small enough to go almost anywhere with a kit of small primes. Gets me almost any image I can imagine wanting in any crazy lighting that is available. Only problem is things that move too fast for me to compose or focus. The freedom from equipment related limitations is a real joy for a duffer like me. I completely agree that any camera, when used well, can capture a compelling image. Should I recognize such an image, however, I’d rather be holding an A7rii than all but a select few other cameras, almost all of which are far lager and heavier and correspondingly less likely to be in my hand….
Hi Bumpy, apologies for the delay before replying, I have been away for the past 10 days. I wouldn’t say it’s a question of accomplishment but of freshness. You are more open to the camera’s design because you see the possibilities it opens up more freely than others who have been conditionned over decades. Our loss, your win 😉 And I agree entirely, the versatility of the A7 range is enormous. I’ve just returned from 10 days with the camera, 4 batteries, 3 world-class lenses and a filter all safely packed in a postively tiny Crumpler bag (8×10 inches). You just can’t beat that 🙂
Nat Geo type competitions have photos that are predominantly taken with Canon and Nikon because they represent a very old fashioned arm of the photographic industry which is frequented and worked in by very traditional photographers who like the “certainty” that comes from them clinging to their preferred traditional brands because or market perceptions, professional after sales services, or simply that they are older photographers who are becoming out of time with an industry where change is inevitable. Canon and Nikon have made very nice businesses from basically making the same thing over and over again for about 3 decades, with minor incremental refinements over the years. Most of the innovation came from other players in the market – Minolta particularly who gave the world auto focus, TTL flash, wireless flash, and even managed to make an almost modern Leica M mount camera with their CLE – and clearly the business isn’t so comfortable after all with Nikon’s recent announcement of a £150m loss in one quarter.
Leica have found a profitable niche for them to plough, mostly made financially viable by customers who are either rich collectors or poseurs who regard the brand as desirable in some retro-fashionable way (Leica is often near the top of “cool brand” lists, which I have never understood). Whilst Canon and Nikon have made the same product for 30 years, Leica have done it for almost twice as long. They have innovated often only as a result of working with far eastern partners like Minolta and Panasonic, and somehow have managed to hoodwink their market segment into the belief that less really is more, as long as you can afford the price of entry. Their buyers are generally photographers of a certain type, probably most politely described by the use of the word “old”, who insist that an aperture dial and a shutter dial are the only way that one can take meaningful photos, but who ignore the fact that for about 98% of photography the cameras are entirely useless and unsuitable – basically anything that moves or requires accurate framing, long lenses, flash, quick responses, video etc. It’s easy to make excellent lenses when you are unencumbered by the need to actually make them affordable to most people who buy cameras – their lenses are often very good, even excellent, but my God they should be given the price and the lack of compromises of most other lens makers to hit a retail price that results in sales in the hundreds of thousands rather than the hundreds.
People hate Sony ergonomics yet ignore that much of the control system comes from their SLR line, which traces it’s operational roots back to Minolta AF film SLRs – a company whose Dynax 7 was regarded by some as one of the best handling SLRs ever made. Why on earth shouldn’t I be able to EV lock, use the metering scale in the viewfinder to see how the spot meter compares to the locked exposure, and then use the exposure compensation dial to bias the exposure as I see fit? Try doing any of that with a Canon and their users will look at you in bewilderment, unable to understand why you wouldn’t want to do it with some far more arcane and convoluted sequence of button presses. Leica owners will tell you to shoot manual, and then adjust their little dials by hand until the machines match meter needle hits the machines centre spot because that gives them some misguided illusion of control. The A7 series ergonomics aren’t perfect, but what a relief that the original cameras actually made full frame SLRs something close to the size and weigh of mid-range film SLRs from a decade ago, rather than the 1.2Kg behemoths that Canon and Nikon insist we need because customers from America think bigger and heavier cameras take better pictures.
Convergence is an unavoidable theme, and stills photography will just become an arm of image capture. Look at what Panasonic are doing with their features to grab an 8Mp still from 4K video. Global shutters will make mechanical shutters redundant, but Canon and Nikon’s dorky SLRs will still need them to make them work in spite of the sensor technology. Sony’s A7 cameras have a fraction of the moving parts of an SLR, don’t need to same fine tolerances required for much of the latter’s manufacture, being effectively auto-correcting for things like AF tolerances, and because of that simplicity allow greater profit or lower retail prices. Their avowed financial recovery strategy from a few years ago made it clear that using disruptive technology to offer unique products that command higher prices and greater margins. RX1, RX10, RX100, A7, A7rii, A6500 etc. all demonstrate this philosophy. Nikon have just withdrawn their Dl 1″ sensor cameras before they ever got made because they were uneconomic. Canon make what appear to be “me too” 1″ sensor offerings with horrible limitations that the faithful but because they say “Canon” on the front and apparently they like the Canon colours (go figure).
History is littered with stories of dominant players in markets that changed and who failed, and the odd story of companies who saw the change coming and adapted. Sony may not get everything right, their products range is filled with devices with strange compromises of specification, but my god they are trying and have gained far more press attention, internet buzz and sales from their E mount and RX lines than they ever did spending a fortune on A mount and getting nowhere financially (apart from into the red). Maybe Canon and Nikon will adapt and destabilise Sony’s lead in some areas – but they aren’t showing much sign of it yet, they just copy what Sony has done, whilst continuing to evolve their traditional product line that they have made for 30 years at a fairly glacial rate. Canon make one half decent camera for video with the EOS 5D2 and it’s a revelation, and then hobble all it’s replacements in some way – Sony make a string of still cameras that can shoot half decent video and get little credit from some quarters and get constantly criticised for their compromises as huge failings. Look at some of Canon’s half-baked efforts, or Nikon’s quality control disasters, and think carefully if they are really doing anything better, let alone even “new”?
“Old farts” keep the traditional camera makers profitable, but the young turks who Instagram their lives during every minute of every day don’t care about the same things, and they will change the image capture market forever.
I appreciate I may sound like a Sony fanboy – I’m not, I was a highly critical user of their A mount system as a Minolta refugee – but it’s too easy to criticise them without looking at the wider market and seeing their competitors stagnation and the iceberg on their horizon.
No, you don’t sound like a fanboy. And, yes, the Sony range is all about making things possible. Which is a valiant strategy. Interesting that you mention the Dynax 7 lineage. My very first digital camera, bought before taking the plunge with an expensive Canon setup, was the dimage 7. A lovely little bridge camera. I really wanted the Dynax 7 and should have bought that instead of the Canon …
The Dimage 7 series were very good cameras in their day.
The Dynax 7 film SLR was an excellent “pro-am” camera with incredible refinements – rear lcd of shooting data, depth of field calculation, view of the matrix meter cells values, ratio wireless flash, lovely handling. The Dynax 7D was its eventual digital offspring, very similar I style and handling. I never owned a 7D as they were expensive, but did buy a Dynax 5D – it’s younger brother – as my first digital SLR. It was built like a tank but a great camera.
It is strongly rumoured that the Sony A700 started development under Minolta (it looked just like a Minolta SLR!) and the same was said of the A900, a full frame version that was very similar except larger.
Fortunately much of the ergonomics have found their way to the E mount line, although the menus have become rather complex. I really like the “quick navi” feature that allows the settings on the rear display to be changed directly from the screen.