#660. Is Sony the Un-Leica-ly company?

By philberphoto | Opinion

Oct 26

In the old days – God, I hate posts that start like that – photography was at least a two-tier world. The first tier, with Kodak Brownies and Polaroids, was for home consumption. Document precious moments, go to print or slide and populate albums.



The second-tier was professional, photography for sale. Sale of classroom pictures. Sale of war pictures. Sale of studio pictures. Sale of street, landscape, etc…



This type of photography entailed a fair bit of glamour. The war photographer, the fashion photographer, the artsy photographer, the nude/studio photographer, they all cut a dashing figure. And part of their glamour came from/went to their gear. Ansel Adams and his large format, as well as Henri Cartier-Bresson and his diminutive Leica.



Then came the Japanese onslaught on the camera market, as it did also on the motorbike market. Today, Triumph ride again, Harley have reinvented themselves, Ducati and BMW roar on. Japanese bikes are fine, but without much of what the Germans so admirably call “Gestalt”, or “soul”, for want of a better word.



Similarly, Leica and Zeiss claim to offer more than just performance. Their products have “soul”, so their supporters claim, which they deny the very competent products of Canikon. Which is why, just like riders of European thoroughbreds tolerate Japanese wheels with a modicum of condescension, shooters of German persuasion tolerate Annie Leibowitz shooting with a Canon.



But then come Sony. Sony, mass-market company to a fault. Sony, who when they innovate, innovate for the masses. Come again, the what? Ah, yes, the masses. You mean, make digital equivalents of Kodak cameras? Sure, why not, that is their turf after all. And, sure enough, Sony’s first steps, with DSLRs, are underwhelming. Then their first original cameras, called NEX, are definitely mass-market. Borderline toys.



But when Sony, underpinned by what are generally considered the world’s best camera sensors, dare to appeal to up-market customers, nobody serious takes them seriously. They don’t understand photography. Sure they bought Minolta, and that was a proper photo company, but they don’t understand it, they have failed the Minolta heritage. Their UI is the worst. Their quality sucks. Their support is awful. They don’t provide meaningful firmware upgrades. They make too frequent model changes. The shooting experience is a nightmare. They don’t have lenses to fit their bodies. The Sony E-mount isn’t suitable for full-frame. And so on. The epitome of a soul-less, unlovable piece of consumer electronics.



Problem is, the market didn’t listen to the so-called, often self-styled “experts”. Sony are gaining market share. Worse, they are growing even as the market is pretty much in free-fall. They are innovating, taking chances, pushing the envelope. Doing what Canikon aren’t. Doing so much that, by comparison, Leica’s efforts are almost laughable. After all, their much-vaunted Leica Q is just a response to Sony’s ground-breaking RX-1 and most of it is made by Panasonic anyway.



Does that earn them a modicum of respectability? No, not a bit. Whatever they do, it cannot please those in-the-know. Conversely, whatever Leica do is hugely respectable, irrespective of price and performance.



Because, deep down, I think that, for Leicaphiles in particular and other fans of the gentle side of photography, seeing Sony succeed is the final insult. Even Fuji, another successful player is more acceptable, because (a) they have a past in film, and (b) their styling pays homage to the past and Leica.



But Sony? Pulleeeze. No, definitely not Sony. Not now. Ever. This, just as (it seems) the next generation of Sony A7 is going to be released, with the previous one not yet challenged by competition. OMG, what has photography come to?



By the way, should you be in any doubt, the pictures on this post are taken with a Sony A7RII. Before you reach for the barf bag, think again and relax, because I have chosen to grace that camera with Zeiss lenses. Thus you are safe and free to enjoy them without getting tarred and feathered for terminal lack of manners, taste and style. Whew!



PS for those of you who want the latest and the greatest: Sony have just released the A7RIII. More goodies (higher fps, higher DR, touch screen, joystick, dual card slots, improved IBIS, pixel shift, better EVF, etc…) for the same introductory price as the A7RII. Impressive, say you? Not if what you have in mind is “the soul of photography”. That cannot belong to Sony, whose name rhymes with for example, ugly. Who cares that their sales of both cameras and lenses are up 50%+ in a down market? Who cares that they are now NΒ°2 in the interchangeable camera market? Who cares that the key features of the new cam (IBIS, pixel shift) cannot be replicated by the D850 or Canon 5D xx? Well, that is for you to decide. Whether the high priests of our cult are right, or the faithful.


In the interim, let me leave you with just one picture. Taken handheld with my trusty (now superseded) A7R II, in an unsteady position, shooting upwards. With a 28mm, I didn’t quite manage a razor-sharp shot. Sharp enough, yes, but not razor-sharp. Did it have anything to do with a shutter speed of 0.2s? Try to do that without IBIS…



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  • John Wilson says:

    Some years ago while I was still in the camera business I asked someone who was definitely in the know about the Japanese camera industry why Nikon or Canon had never made a Leica style digital rangefinder camera. They did back in the film era and it seemed logical to me that they could clean up on that portion of the market that Leica dominates. The response I got was that the Japanese – photo industry and photo public – revere Leica and have no desire to destroy the brand. Ironical that the companies who have left Leica alone when they could have put it out of business long ago are so reviled by the Euro brand cognoscenti.

    Still … if Leica was REALLY smart, they’d be using Sony sensors.

    • philberphoto says:

      John, not that I disagree with you, but, if Leica were indeed to incorporate Sony sensors, then their cameras could be directly compared to others in the sensor/electronics performance department, especially the un-rangefinder ones (S, SL, TL). A comparison that Leica actively disourage.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    ROTFLMHAO – you really have a way with words, Philippe! πŸ™‚

    I have no experience of Sony cams – although I did have one of their Beta movie cams, and it was sensational in its time slot. And still have a much more portable, much newer Sony video cam – which may not be “sensational”, but is well up there in terms of performance and quality of output. Like practically every digi cam owner, I can vouch for their sensors.

    The rest of the article seems to centre around mega doses of opinion-itis. For which, it seems, there is no cure. Except perhaps in some cases it wears off and the patient recovers – only to step on a different nail and contract a whole new dose of it, with a different brand.

    Are you feeling miffed, because Leica owners don’t respect Sony cams? If so, please stop right there – my first contact with a Leica bigot is (was) my awful brother, who has been fixated on Leica since we were kids – it was repulsive then, and fortunately it immunised me against catching Leica-opinion-itis. It has proven to be an immunisation which is effective for the whole of the rest of my life. Not that I have anything against other Leica owners (just my brother – who turned it into something that would bore even Mount Everest to death).

    I have been sitting back saying a lot less than is usual, for me, ever since Nikon released their D850 and Sony (more recently) released the new A7RIII. Thinks – are they both ditching their beloved A7RII’s, and trading up to the new A7RIII? πŸ™‚ Nikon would obviously like me and a cast of thousands to ditch our D800s and D810s, to grab a D850 before it’s rendered obsolete by the next model. Does this disease afflict Sony owners in a similar way?

    I can’t do your homework for you on that one – I’ve never studied the form of the A7RII, let alone had the opportunity to try one out – all I can claim is that I’ve enjoyed all the photos you Sony fanatics have posted on DS since I joined the group, and sit back (once again – or is it just “remaining seated”?) to see what happens next – which of you stays with the RII, and which one now switches to the RIII. Either way, I will continue to enjoy your photos.

    For what it’s worth, I can add this. I have been following all the hype and the reviews on the D850. It’s a bit disappointing in some areas, because it is becoming apparent that some of Nikon’s claims for the camera simply aren’t true, and its performance is less than they’ve claimed, in several areas.

    One is its ability to shoot continuously – it falters and slows substantially, a long way short of the number of continuous shots Nikon’s spec sheet claims for the camera. Not that that concerns me – but it would be a concern for sports photographers, for example.

    Another is the auto focus – Nikon claims it’s as good as the one on their flagship D5, but it turns out that’s not true either – although it’s better than the one on my D810 (as if I care – I shoot on MF – but other ‘togs will be stressed out over that one).

    Then there’s all the hype – best ever cam – the only one with a perfect score from DxO – some idiot on DxO claiming that’s a lie, DxO gave one of Sony’s cams a score of 103% but marked it back to the high 90s because they wanted to give some other cam 98 or 99 or something – but clearly that’s twaddle from a troll, because DxO isn’t stupid enough to give ANYONE 103 out of 100.

    Oh – and more megapixels – God, I’ve been dragged through that one so often – I don’t have the technical skill set to evaluate it, but it seems to be nonsense to suggest that 47MP is a zillion times better than 36MP. It’s a jump of just over 30%, which is NOT huge – and that’s a jump in area, not length or width – the jump there is only about 12%. What is missing from the discussion of the enormous advance in image quality which this is supposed to produce is two things. One – no matter how small the gap, there HAS to be a gap between each pixel – so inserting more means more space is consumed by gaps (non-pixels) and unless the sensor area is increased (which I seem to recall it has been, with the D850) more pixels simply means a lower overall area of pixels vs. space. And two – regardless of all of that – smaller pixels it must be, to increase to that many. And with the best will in the world, smaller pixels can only contain less information. The technical discussions of this also suggest that smaller pixels leak from one to another, further attacking image quality.

    I bet that paragraph spurs other comment – I’ve seen the sparks fly on that one, on a number of other sites. πŸ™‚

    So – do I want a D850? Not really. It has a minor advantage over my D810, but nothing worth spending another $5,000 on. I’ve just about finished post processing another thousand photos taken with the D810, and I am well pleased with what it does do – can do. I rather think that if I can lay my grubby paws on another 5 grand to blow on equipment, I might get a decent Sigma, so that I can have a play with one of their Foveon sensors, and perhaps another photo flood. Or perhaps SIGMA’s new 14mm w/angle – or a really powerful zoom or tele lens, capable of being used for shots of the moon (at night) or bird photography (by day). Not that I need any of that either, but all or any of it could be fun.

    You see, buying a D850 and replacing the D810 – no matter what the attractions are – would simply be “more of the same”, even if marginally better. I’d rather spend that kind of money buying something that would enable me to do something different – that, I can wrap my head around.

    More of the same simply seems to be an attack of GAS, with no obvious return on the expenditure. It would add little (if anything) to my learning – and I did this switch to digital for the purpose of learning about digital, so that would simply be counter-productive and wasteful expenditure. Anyway, right now – with minimal expenditure, compared to the cost of one of these new cams – I am having the time of my life, learning more about post processing, and trying various different programs to do it. Highly educational, also productive, good fun, an extremely useful (essential?) life skill, and one which enables me to share my photos with other people, as well as helping them to get decent prints of their photos.

    That’s MY position. I don’t suppose it is anyone else’s.

    • Steffen says:

      Hear, hear! Everyone with A7R3 GAS should read this.

    • philberphoto says:

      Well, Pete, it is horses for courses. Pascal for example is very much more annoyed with the A7RII shooting experience than am I. He also got burned by NEX failures in the field, and not I, and he hasn’t forgiven Sony for that. So build quality is something he is looking at with a suspicious eye, and I understand that.
      So it boils down to what we’re looking for/what resonates in each of us. Including GAS resonance …:-)
      As for your question, am I looking for Sony to get recognition and respect? A few years ago, I would have answered “yes!!!” with passion, because I wanted the world to see that I AM RIGHT. Now I let younger folks lose time and energy down that cul-de-sac…:-)
      That being said, high-end cameras are a significant investment, and not everyone who spend thousands in them can see their money less-than-well-spent with the carefree attitude of someone wealthy enough to change over as easily as buying a pain au chocolat. I believe that DearSusan has a duty to both (note the: both) (a) let each one be the photographer he/she wants to be, comfortable with his/her informed choices, whether it is Sony, Leica, or any brand, format, technology. After all, DS’s total independence (no advertising, no fee, none!) would be wasted if we were cultist followers, wouldn’t it? And (b) inform readers that some avenues do seem to be more promising for certain quests than others.
      And publish pictures, more pictures and yet more pictures, because each one says more than a thousand words. Have you ever “measured” the percentage of DS “acreage” taken by pictures over verbiage? πŸ™‚

  • Georg says:

    Hi. Nice photos. Even if they were taken with the A7Rii. Don’t worry about your Sony being outdated. The A7Riii adds pixelshift (turn off Ibis and use a tripod), which will be good for some landscape work (+100 MP). For street photography the A7Rii is awesome, especially with Zeiss glass. If you want an un-Leica I would recommend the A7ii, modified by Kolari with a thin sensor cover, with the Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZM and a helicoid adapter. That combo rocks.

    • philberphoto says:

      You are a man after my own taste, Georg! Yes, it rocks! If I would have only one camera-and-lens, it would probably be my combo of choice. Yet, I am not so sure about the debate of A7RII Vs. III. On pics seen so far, and it is a very small sample, so I am treading carefully, I am seeing the III doing things that my II can’t do, and that with JPEGs only. I have been told that the III JPEG engine is better than its predecessor’s, but I can’t imagine that this is what lets it best a III outputting RAW. Interestingly, Pascal saw the same shots and came to the same conclusion before I said anything to him, so either both of us are wishful thinkers, or there is something there. Which would mean that Sony have done an unspectacular, un-flashy job of improving IQ in subtle but superb ways. If you want to know which pics I am referring to, look at Huff’s taken with a CV 40 f:1.2. Then loook at many taken with the 24-105 zoom, and ask yourself if that is not better than a premium-but-not-balls-out zoom has the right to be?
      The jury is out. I haven’t ordered the first III to be received by my dealer, but I have forbidden him from selling it to anyone else… πŸ™‚

  • paulperton says:

    Some brilliant images and a stimulating argument, Philippe. I’ve now got Zeiss envy.

    • philberphoto says:

      Thnaks Paul! As you know, my Zeiss are in Nikon mount. Just sayin’… πŸ™‚ And the latest Milvus are IMHO so very close to Otus except in CA which you can clean up in post. Just ask Dallas about his 35 f:1.4.

  • Jay Hemphill says:

    I came into Sony from a different path. In 2007 I knocked up my then girlfriend(now wife) and the days of living in an apt where I transformed my bedroom into a darkroom were over!! It was time to dump my medium format Mamyia 7II and 4×5 Toyo 45AII film cameras and jump into the digital world. After I sold $10,000+ of film cameras, lenses and darkroom equipment for $3000 on eBay I cried for a few days and then I cried even harder when I looked at prices for medium format digital, WTF!!! I was a Medium/large format snob(If I could only go back in time and smack myself) and only photographers that shot for news papers used Nikon and Cannon, not artists that took their craft seriously. I just couldn’t wrap my head around owning a Canon or Nikon camera. So I stumbled upon a review on Luminous Landscape of a new camera, the Sony A900. At the time is was the highest MP of any full frame camera on the market and affordable. I grabbed one and never looked back.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Jay, that’s the most original explanation I’ve ever come across, for buying a new camera! ROTFLMHA0 πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

    • philberphoto says:

      Jay, you actually raise an interesting piece of history. The A900 was an early Sony effort, a conventional one. Many people who used it loved it, and do to this day. Its only real weakness was high ISOs, but colors were class-leading, and its overall rendering was lovely. And it failed to win Sony market share. My guess is that that is when they decided they needed not only to be “better” than the competition, but also to be “different”. Some “differences” were successful (NEX, A7) and some not (the SLT DSLRs). But overall Sony’s sucess against competition, primarily Nikon, in a sharply down market, is awesome. Their interview when they state that their mission is “vision over profits” should be taught in business schools IMHO.

  • Joakim Danielson says:

    Philippe, and others, I will most likely join you in Sony land but there is no way I am leaving Leica. For me a Sony A7 camera is something that complements a Leica M camera and I see a place for both of them.

    I am really looking forward to post #666 πŸ˜‰

    • philberphoto says:

      Joakim, I never suggested that an A7x would eliminate the segment served by Leica rangefinders. I just hope that Leica make better use of their R&D budget than some things we’ve seen recently. But not all, as I wrote very positive things about the TL2, if you will recall. And, when it comes down to the essentials, there is not a single M that didn’t output lovely IQ, even a M9 today can surprise and delight, in the right hands and with the right glass.

  • NMc says:

    [Warning- gross generalisation following] It maybe that the Europeans have an even more simplistic (dare I say xenophobic) attitude to Asia than the Anglosphere, but there is probably a less sophisticated attitude to brands in the west than the east. Asians can be extremely brand aware (and snobby), but also more sophisticated in regard to appreciating each product on its merit, particularly when dealing with the larger companies that cover very broad markets. Westerners tend more to see specific brands having socio economic status and/or superficial sub cultural associations rather than an ingrained spirit or quality.

    I think it may be a little unfair to single out the pretension of some Leica users (posers), or any other brand European or Asian. Unfortunately there are too many forms of snobbery and virtue seeking coming from all over the photo gear spectrum to list. Even old film compact’s saved from land fill are attributed with special visual powers in some quarters. Some days the world of photo gear discourse is like the scene in β€œThe life of Brian”, with all the false prophets claiming to know the real truth. πŸ˜‰

    Regards Noel

    • philberphoto says:

      Noel, I LOVE your bringing up the false prophets from the Life of Brian! You should have seen my huge smile and heard my uncontrolled guffaw! Thank you for that spurt of mirth!
      That said, I am not so sure that your statement that Asian customers are more free of brand fanboyism that Europeans jives with my onw experience. In Japan, for example, anything Leica and Zeiss gets cult-like reverence. I remember shooting flower pictures in a Tokyo park with a NEX, viewed with utter disdain by elderly Japanese shooters with film MF cameras (a common occurrence!), until they noticed that I had mounted a Leica R lens, which they nodded approvingly of. Yet some R lenses were “just” re-branded Minoltas…

  • Bstrom says:

    Brand envy has been around too long. Thankfully, the current selection among the many brands is help to diffuse the fervor.

    I’ve never known a soul who owns a Leica – and likely never will, so adding Leica to a discussion on Sony is a moot point. I judge each camera on its own merits, and the Sony line has freed me from the gargantuan Nikons I used for years. Now, they add features I want to cameras that others have also swapped brands to own.

    The a7rIII is not a repetitive model – it’s Sony’s a7rII upgrade and well worth the money. Don’t want/need the new features? Buy an a7rII – simply enough.

    At this point glass isn’t much of a discussion either. If you can’t find lenses that work for you, well, keep looking. They’re out there and don’t need to be Zeiss, Leica or any brand in particular.

    Will I ever own a Leica? Nope. Not enough camera for me. Sony makes all the models I need to choose from for whatever situation I’m in. That’s why they are growing in a shrinking market. It’s called success…

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