Today I want to talk about the Sony A7 camera. I know that by this point there are many useful gear reviews on this amazing camera body as well as its bigger brother the Sony A7r. But there is one thing that has been missing from these reviews. Real life situations for the landscape and astrophotographer. First of all let start this by saying that you do not need the newest or best gear to create the best images. If you can not afford to get the top of the line gear, it is better to get an older body with some great glass then a new body with trash glass.
I have been in the market for a full frame camera for about a year now. I liked the ability of the Sony Alpha line to adapt to all camera makes. By this I mean I can use any lens by any maker with a small light weight lens adapter. This opens up a world of possibilities in the world of vintage manual focus lenses. Which I absolutely love because of how crisp they are ( the price is also attractive, on average the vintage lenses with a cult like following cost roughly $50-100 on Ebay), I even pick up a 135mm f 2.8 lens for $40 at a local used gear shop. The Sony Alpha line also accepts any brand flash which is great news for when I shoot weddings.
Keep in mind that with the massive availability of quality vintage manual focus lenses and even with the glass I already have (All Nikon glass), I have to manual focus.... this is not as big of an issue as you might think. The EVF (electric view finder), plus the Focus Peaking makes manual focus a breeze. ( full disclosure: I have yet to shoot a wedding with this camera which I will update in the future when I have had a chance to do so)
I digress slightly here but now that some of the basics of the review are out of the way I can really dive into what makes this camera special to the Landscape and Astrophotographer:
1. 24.3 MP, 35mm Full Fram Sensor (whats not to love about that)
2. Lightweight, Small profile Body (this comes in handy as I will explain later)
3. Build Quality
4. Live View and EVF
5. ISO capabilities (attention all astrophotographers!!!)
6. Post processing noise handling
The 35mm full frame sensor with all 24.3 MP greatness really comes in hand when shooting landscape. When focused to infinity the DOF (depth of field) is crisp and tac sharp corner to corner. This really matters most when you want to create big ass prints. Which if you are like me and enjoy shooting large panoramas then big ass prints is what you want! The sensor is also perfect for the vintage lenses I mentioned earlier because they were designed for 35 mm film cameras they cover the entire field of view with no vignetting.
Next big plus is the small size, lightweight body of this camera. Yes it is a big sensor in a tiny package so to speak. No I am not talking about Tyrion Lannister! This camera fits nicely in any camera bag that is packed with other gear. It also packs nicely into a small bag with one lens if you are trying to be as inconspicuous as possible this camera will let you do just that. I find that lightweight camera body really allows me to hike and climb to areas with more ease. Heavier gear like my Nikon D7000 makes the same hike and climb more taxing. It's also great because at times you are find a great location say while on a trip to a new place with tough rules (think no pro DSLR cameras), this small body is helpful with fooling those in charge of stopping pro-photographers.
The overall build quality is great despite the small size of the camera, it never once has felt like a toy camera. It feel like a pro camera and that is good for me because I hate when a camera feels like junk in your hands. Now there have been other reviews that I have read where people have complained how the lay out of the buttons has been an issue for them... To be honest in my own personal opinion there are only 2 buttons that I find to be an issue: the C1 button which is my full live zoom function (custom designation) and the video record button which as you can see in the above image is awkwardly place on the side where your thumb has to press it. Really though this does not distract me from getting the shot ever.
The ISO range and capability of this camera is top notch. I would put it on par with the Canon 5d MKIII. While the Sony A7s is by far the winner of and supreme ruler of the high ISO game. The Sony A7 is no chump when it comes to shooting in the 4,000-6,400 ISO ranges (it would be nice though to have the 12,500 ISO capabilities of the Sony A7s at some point in my future life though.... Just saying that is a really amazing talent for a camera.) The proof is really in the pudding so to speak (see the below image):
As you can see the images out of camera are clean, low noise and full of dynamic range. And the way the files interact with Lightroom's noise removal equations are among the best I have every used. The files retain sharpness while eliminating noise. This is so important when you shoot astrophotography. You don't want to lose stars and sky structure because of noise removal. Plus the lower the natural noise in your RAW files the less you need to remove and this camera produces less noise in my images then my D7000 does. I am not claiming that this camera is the winner of the Noise free battle but it is truly in the top 5 in my own personal opinion.
Sadly I have reached the part of this review where I need to discuss the negative drawbacks with this camera. Luckily this list is very short for me.
1. BATTERY LIFE!!!!!!!! ( I mean seriously? It is down right terrible)
2. Start up time (which I can live with but might be an issue at weddings)
3. No Infrared Remote! ( this is more a nit picky issue for me as I have been Spoiled by Nikon IR remotes for years)
So there is just no real way around this issue... The DAMN BATTERY IS AWEFUL! I really don't know what Sony was thinking here. You pack a 35mm, 24.3 MP sensory into a body but then only give it this tiny little midget of a battery????? I am sorry but someone clearly did not do their job right on that end of things. I get the idea of wanting to keep the camera body small but in my opinion and it is a very limited opinion because I am no electrician or engineer, BUT given the hand grip which is where the battery goes in at, could actually handle a slightly bigger battery. I mean my personal experience with the camera I get maybe 1 1/2 -2 hours of imaging landscapes if I am lucky. I don't know if I just have a crap battery that needs to be replaced or if this is common with other peoples A7 battery. Either way the original battery ratings were garbage to begin with. Luckily there is a plus side to this nightmare, the replacement battery are inexpensive and you can carry 4-5 of them in your pocket with out much issue and if you have a camera bag even more can be carried with little impact on overall weight. So really this grievance is more that I have to change it so often (this still would not deter me from buying this camera again).
Start up time is a bit of a drag too. If I change lenses then turn the camera back on it takes a good 1 second or 2 to boot up. Unlike my D7000 which is almost instantly booted. Now for landscapes and astrophotography this is not even a problem at all. But it could be an issue for when I shoot weddings (this just makes having the right lens on the body and ready to use before hand).
And really No IR remote is more of a convenience issue I have then anything. You need to get a tethered remote in order to shoot anything beyond 30 seconds in exposure. But I can honestly live with that issue.... just have to bring gaffers tape with me if I plan to be anyplace where wind will be an issue (you obviously don't want the cable for the remote to cause blur in your images).
Yes I love, love, love this camera. No it is not for everyone but it most definitely is for landscape and astrophotographers who want, and expect high quality images that are clean and low noise and still full frame size. I would say that while the A7s is the astro king the A7 will do for those who have a limited budget and the good glass already in their possession. I think that this body can fit nicely into anyones gear line up and is super easy to learn (took me less then an hour to figure out the camera). I love the way the A7 picks out so much detail in the Milky Way and yet my skies are still nice and clean (little noise).
If you are in the market for a Sony Body then look no farther then this. The A7 is really the sweet spot between top of the line imaging and affordable pricing. Plus who wouldn't love being able to shoot with all of your big name glass. Really the best way to prove to you is just to post another image because let's face it thats really what people care about. So this is what I leave you with:
Thank you.... See you guys next time