Not Really a Blog

Moving to a Sony Alpha 7R (A7R)

It feels a bit like entering into a new relationship: the challenges and joys of change
I guess I’m not what you would call a “first adopter” when it comes to photography gear. I didn’t switch to digital until I realized that I’d go broke paying for the cost of developing film. I have had a tendency to wait until a product is almost ready to be replaced by something else, before buying it. I have invested in good-quality gear whenever I’ve been able to do so, but I usually choose “the best” over “the latest”. That practice of photo equipment acquisition led me into a recent purchase of a Sony A7R. Not a new Sony A7R, and not a Sony A7rii, but a used Sony A7r; mind you, the new-to-me A7R had fewer than 3,000 clicks, and it is in great condition, so I’m confident that it will last me a long time.

Here, then, are my initial thoughts on my new relationship with the Sony A7R, along with some lingering wistful comparisons with my last camera system, all within about two days of the beginning of the “Sony relationship”.

D3S, it’s not you: it’s me:

The Nikon D3S was - and is - a superb camera. I’ve taken more than a hundred thousand photos with it, and I’ve been very pleased with the results. It has served me well in a variety of environments (snow, rain, sand, dust, heat, and cold). It has produced great results in a variety of projects, in a broad range of subjects (still life, wedding, portrait, landscape, concerts, other performances). Lately, though, my needs have changed. Even though a large part of my photographic effort has been conducive to schlepping large amounts of equipment with me (at least, a large back-pack full of lenses and other gear), I have lately been craving the opportunity to be more spontaneous with some of my shooting. I’ll still be taking photographs of plays and concerts, and I’ll still have flash units and other lenses with me, but I’d like to be able to wander about without having the weight of the D3S.

“No, D3S, you’re not too fat - I just sometimes prefer a bit less weight.”

Also, I’ve developed a bit of a need to wander: I’ll soon be heading away for a holiday (or two or three), and I don’t want to be stressed over carry-on baggage restrictions, and I don’t want to be too weighted down with a heavy pack while wandering around the Cotswolds or Scottish islands or glaciers in Iceland.

A7R, you’re not the same as D3S:

Here I am in a new relationship with the A7R, and I’m already comparing the new one with the old one. Your buttons aren’t in the same place: I used to know how to push the buttons on the D3S with no problem at all, and I used to know how to get around that D3S with little or no effort, and get the D3S to do whatever I wanted. Now, I have to start learning things all over again. I wish the A7R came with a good manual. I’ll try to learn, but much of the learning might be trial-and-error, so there will be a learning curve.

  • “How can I easily change the ISO?”
  • “How can I easily change from aperture-priority to manual priority?”
  • “How do I move the focus point while I’m shooting?”
  • “Isn’t there some way to set-up the A7R for back-button auto-focus?”
  • “Why can’t the lens-thread work backwards the way it works on the D3S?”
  • “Is there any way I can use my Nikon speedlights on the Sony A7R?”

A7R, you’ll never be able to do some of the things D3S could do for me:

I take a picture with the A7R, I look through the viewfinder, and I wait. The process has been a bit discombobulating, as I’m used to seeing the scene “as it is” rather than the scene “as it was when I took the photo”. The lag might be only a second or so, but the D3S showed me what was through the viewfinder as soon as the shutter closed.

I also have to admit that the D3S might have more “staying power” than the A7R. I could take photos with the D3S all night long, and it would still keep going. I have already found (after a couple of hundred photographs at my first “outing” with the A7R) that the battery started to lose power. I bought a new batter the day after that, and I might yet buy a couple more (and perhaps a dual-battery charger). Given that I often take large number of shots at concerts and other events, there could be a need for more battery power at those types of events.

A7R, you can do things D3S can’t do:

One of the main attractions of the A7R is the sensor: the A7R is much more “sensitive”: with 36MP, I’m looking forward to being able to crop images (if I have to), and not be limited to 5”x7” prints. The increased pixel count should give me a greater opportunity to pull context out of the raw photos I take. Ideally, of course, I should to all my cropping in-frame, but that’s not going to happen. I enjoy the process of taking a photo, and sometimes I’d prefer not to diminish that process by deciding what part of a scene to include or exclude.

Another attractive feature of the A7R is its portability. I’m hoping there will be fewer occasions when I regret not having a camera with me. That will require that I actually take the A7R with me, but that will be my challenge, and not any shortcoming of the Sony Alpha camera.

And then we have those ego issues:

Yes, I know size doesn’t matter, but one of the main advantages of the A7R (its small size) is also a disadvantage: some subjects/models/clients just aren’t that impressed with a small camera like the A7R, as they might be with something like a D3S. I know that shouldn’t be the case, but it’s a niggling nagging thought. I have the advantage of having taken a large number of photographs with a Big Camera (the Nikon D3S), and people (at least, people who know me and who have seen my work) know I can produce good results with whatever camera I have.

Perhaps not exactly an “ego issue”, is the way this camera can be used. I had developed a good habit of holding the D3S properly (with my left hand under the lens), and I have already noticed a tendency to grip the camera on the new lens incorrectly (from the top, rather than from the bottom). Perhaps I’ll just have to retrain myself.

And - heaven forbid - I have been tempted to take shots while looking and composing through the back-display rather than through the viewfinder. I’ve managed to avoid falling into that practice, except for times when it is necessary or advisable (i.e., when shooting with the viewfinder from above or below, where it isn’t feasible to look directly through the viewfinder).

A7R, you take good pictures:

My first “photo date” with the new-to-me Sony A7R was a concert in a Vancouver auditorium, presented by the Rainbow Concert Band. I took several dozen photographs. Somewhat unfortunately, I didn’t realize the camera had been set for mid-level quality JPG images at 9MP. Even with those settings (which I have since changed to high-quality raw images at the full 36MP), the photographs turned out very well. I had good glass (a 24-70mm f/4 Zeiss) on the Sony, and might have preferred an even faster lens, but I have no significant complaints with the results. The images are very sharp and clear. Perhaps some highlights are bothersome, and perhaps there is a bit of a yellowish colour-cast, but those are minor problems, and could no doubt be corrected in post-processing (especially, if I had been shooting in raw).

Am I ready for a new commitment?

We’ll have to wait and see. Having been in my new relationship with the Sony A7R for only a couple of days, I don’t (yet!?) want to end the six-year relationship I have had with the D3S. I invested quite a bit of money in the D3S system, and now I have to decide what to keep and what to sell. Fortunately, the nice folks at Kerrisdale Cameras in Vancouver gave me a decent credit for one lens I traded-in when I bought the A7R a couple of days ago. I expect that they will also give me a reasonable credit for other gear, if and when I choose to trade-over to more Sony equipment. If that does happen, I’ll still be a bit sad about getting only a small part of the investment back. I hope to use a Metabones adapter I purchased, as a way of making use of some of my remaining Nikon glass (including my favourite, a 105mm micro/macro lens). I have yet to try the Metabones adapter, and I’ve been read varying reviews; I hope it will let me hang onto the investment I’ve made in at least a couple of lenses.