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A Bit of A7R Sanity

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A while back I wrote a post I humbly called Roger's Law of New Product Introduction, complete with the graph shown below. The release of the Sony A7R has demonstrated the accuracy of that post as few other releases have.

A few weeks after the A7R release we seem to be following the path quite nicely.

There were a lot of unreasonable expectations prior to the camera's release, and, as usually happens, those unreasonable expectations aren't being met. Of course that has resulted in the usual strident Fanboy smack talk on forums everywhere. It's also resulted in some desperate magical thinking among the group of people that wanted the A7r to fulfill all of their dreams. So let's get some of the things the A7R is not out of the way.

  • The A7R is not a 36-megapixel Canikoleica MD900 Mk IV that will shoot all lenses from every brand amazingly well.
  • Little batteries do not carry as many watts as big batteries, and when they power big sensors and electronic viewfinders they don't last very long.
  • A good electronic viewfinder is still not an optical viewfinder.
  • While improved, Sony's menus do still seem to be created by someone leaving a 'Menu Item Suggestion Box' on the wall and letting the intern add them all in two days before production.
  • Yes, they apparently tweak the raw files when they compress them.
  • The shutter is loud and causes some vibration. The 1/focal length rule isn't going to work for most people. (Truth is, it already doesn't work for most people.)
  • There are only a few native-mount lenses, and adapters are still adapters.
  • It's slow. It wakes up slow, focuses slow, and it takes 1.5 images per second.

I'm sure I left out some more reasons it's being trashed in various forums as the worst camera ever, mostly by people who haven't even touched it and probably never will. The last time I remember a camera being trashed this hard was the Canon 5D Mk II. You remember, that overpriced camera that did nothing well - except become the best selling full-frame DSLR that revolutionized what people do with DSLRs.

So despite everything this camera isn't, I think it's still a game changer. And trust me, I'm no Sony fan. I don't like the menus. Except for the glorious 135mm f/1.8 there are few lenses in their lineup I'm even impressed with (until now). With recent improvements by Nikon and Olympus, Sony clearly has the worst factory repair service of any manufacturer (at least in the U. S., not that they actually repair anything in the U. S.). So I don't like Sony. Despite that, I think this is a fascinating camera that is going to change the industry a bit.

I'll carry the 5D Mk II analogy a bit further. The 5D Mk II disappointed a lot of people when it was released because of what it didn't do. What most of those people missed was it did something really well and really inexpensively. It produced movie-quality HDMI video through excellent lenses for a small fraction of the price of the other methods available for producing movie-quality HDMI video. It didn't do it gracefully. There were all kinds of problems and constraints, but they could largely be worked around. A whole industry sprang up to help people work around those constraints and problems.

The A7R gives us something we don't have, too. It's arguably the highest resolving camera (it may be slightly higher resolving than the D800e since it really has no AA filter, but maybe it's a tie). It's small and mirrorless, which some people really want. (Notice I don't say YOU really wanted it, but there are definitely some people who do.) And it costs $2,300. A Nikon D800e is $600 more even on special. A Canon 5D III is $1,000 more. A Leica M is $4,600 more. Let me put the good points in a list like the one above:

  • Small.
  • Relatively inexpensive.
  • Incredible resolution.
  • Easily adaptable to other lens mounts.

It's not going to be the camera for everybody. But it is going to be a camera for a lot of people. I may even (gasp) buy one for myself. Despite all of the negatives, there are some game-changing positives. The fact that the two superb prime lenses were released with the camera makes it even more interesting. The last time Sony released awesome lenses with a camera was right after they rebadged the stuff they bought from Minolta.

Since I'm a lens guy, I think it's worth discussing two things. First, is how good are those Sony lenses, really? They're great on this camera but is that because the lenses are so good, because the camera is so good, or because they're manipulating the hell out of the raw data in the camera? The second thing is what kind of performance can you reasonably expect out of an adapter, and how do you go about getting the best possible performance with adapted lenses.

How Good Are the Native Lenses

The native prime lenses have been assessed on-camera and resolution is superb. But I wanted to know why they were superb compared to adapted lenses. Are they really that good? Are they tuned for the Sony camera in a way that adapted lenses can't be? Are the Sony lenses just OK, but the adapters make the other lenses look worse than they are? Does Sony manipulate the raw data to make them appear better than they actually are?

Does any of that make a difference? Actually it does. If all adapted lenses can't perform well, then I have to look at this system based on the native lenses only, which makes it less interesting. If the raw data is being manipulated, then future raw upgrades or some third-party hack may help adapted lenses perform better in the near future. If third-party lenses are soft in the corners because they aren't tuned to the camera's sensor cover, then an optical adapter might improve adapted lenses in the future. If the adapters themselves are the problem, then people modifying adapters with optical absorbents and shims may be on the right track.

In an earlier article I compared A7R Imatest results of the Sony 35mm f/2.8 with the Zeiss 35mm f/2 and Canon 35mm f/2.8 IS lenses mounted on adapters. Since we also have an optical bench I can compare the lenses without any camera involved.

The bench we're currently using has some serious constraints when testing E-mount lenses because of the narrow backfocus distance. We can only test them about 10 degrees off-axis, which is most unfortunate since the biggest difference we saw on the A7R was in the corners. Still, it's worth a look.

Here are on-axis (center) optical bench and Imatest results for all 3 lenses at f/2.8. (Of course several samples of each lens were tested.)

Bench MTF Frequency Sony-Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 FE Zeiss 35mm f/2 ZE@f/2.8 Canon 35mm f/2 IS @ f/2.8
10.95.94.95
30.85.82.86
40.79.76.83
50.74.73.77
Imatest MTF50 on A7R132013101295

Here are the results 10 degrees off-axis (about 1/3 of the way to the edge).

Bench MTF Frequency Sony-Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 FE Zeiss 35mm f/2 ZE@f/2.8 Canon 35mm f/2 IS @ f/2.8
10.90.94.93
30.77.82.83
40.72.75.77
50.64.69.73
Imatest MTF50 on A7R118010951190

Don't worry too much about hair-splitting the numbers. Simply remember the optical bench tests are fairly pure tests of just the lens with no camera attached, while Imatest is a test of the lens-camera combination.

Imatest results and optical bench results in the center for all three lenses are about the same. which isn't surprising. Off-axis, though, the Sony on the optical bench is, if anything, a bit weaker than the other two lenses. On the camera as shown by Imatest, though, it's at least as good as the Canon lens and a bit better than the Zeiss.

So why would the Zeiss 35mm f/2 fare worse on the camera, while it is better than the Sony lens when tested on the optical bench? Well, it could be the adapter, but remember I matched best adapters for the camera and lens out of a large box full of name brand adapters. Plus the Zeiss is affected a lot more than the Canon 35mm f/2 IS.

The logical answer is that the location of the exit pupil is fairly far back in the Zeiss lens. People who talk in mathematics I can't really follow tell me that the further back the exit pupil, the more off-axis resolution (and color shift) will be affected by a thicker cover glass on the sensor. It's the same reason so many wide-angle M-mount lenses have problems when adapted to NEX cameras.

Adapter Variation and Sanity

People are going to shoot lenses with adapters on the A7R. I'm going to shoot lenses with adapters on the A7R. But some people are driving themselves insane trying to make things perfect, and that's not going to happen. So I thought I might save a few people a lot of hours by summarizing what we know about using adapters in general and on the A7R in specific.

Adapters aren't perfect, but most are just fine

We all know there is variation among adapters. Even the best and most expensive adapters. You can't add large pieces of metal between the lens and the camera without adding a little variation to tilt, centering, or backfocus distance. Here's some things I know. You don't have to accept them, but I've used hundreds of adapters of almost every brand and gotten more than a few peeks behind the curtain into places where adapters are made.

  • Even big adapter manufacturers buy their parts from some factory somewhere. Most change suppliers for components pretty regularly. Which means their adapters may change pretty regularly. There is no 'best brand of adapters'.
  • There is enough variation that an adapter that is great on this camera with that lens may not be so great on this other camera or with this other lens.
  • An adapter that really messes up laboratory testing results generally has very little to no effect on actual pictures.
  • People often try to measure the thickness of the flat part of the adapter. That doesn't matter as much as the thickness and alignment of the internal mounts (the part that locks into your camera or lens) for things like tilt.
  • The best way I know to check if an adapter is good is take some careful pictures with it, using the lens and camera you plan to use. If the four corners look the same, it's a good adapter.

So, taken to an extreme you might try a few copies of an adapter and find the best one. If you're really, really OCD, you might even match the best adapter for each lens. What doesn't work, though, is trying 16 copies of an adapter hoping the lens just gets sharper, or the corners all get better.

Blacking Out Adapters

There have been some well thought out posts and blogs from Marc Aurel and others who are concerned that light glare within an adapter might be causing increased softness in the outer areas of the image. Marc has even posted templates for cutting out black felt to line the Metabones III adapters that most people are using.

A number of reports have indicated this definitely is helpful for tilt-shift lenses, but it's unclear if it's of benefit for non-tilting lenses. I tested lenses on a Metabones III adapter, then blacked the adapter with some optically black ink and retested, then lined it with black gaffer tape (in case the roughened surface might be of further help).

Normal and taped Metabones III adapters. Not nearly as neat as Marc's but it covers the reflective surfaces. 

I won't bore you with tables of numbers, but none of the 35mm or 50mm lenses we tested showed the slightest improvement in the edges and corners. So this is probably worthwhile for tilt-shifts. It might (although I doubt it) be worthwhile for very wide-angle lenses. It's certainly not effective for standard range lenses.

So What's Left?

Whenever I don't know for certain what an issue is, I go talk to lots of people I know who are smarter than me and know optics better than I do. They were about 100% in agreement that the off-axis softening seen with the A7R and third-party adapted lenses (or, if you'd rather, the lack of softening with the native mount lenses) has to do with the thickness and composition of the sensor's cover glass.

Different manufacturers use different glass and the refraction of this material off-center causes smearing and color shifts to some degree. The effect is worsened with lenses that have an exit pupil near the back of the lens, it's less severe with exit pupils further forward.

Unfortunately, I don't have a list of exit pupil positions in all the lenses, and don't know if anyone does. In general, M mount lenses and wide-angle lenses will have a rear exit pupil, telephoto and tilt-shift lenses tend to be more forward. Hopefully as more people  report their experimentation with alternative lenses someone will start a database for those who are interested.

I'm also told it's not too difficult to make an adapter with an optical element to correct for sensor glass differences. Assuming there's enough demand I expect someone will be releasing something like that in a few months. Sony lenses designed for FE mount certainly already take this into effect, which is why they seem better in the corners and edges. It probably also explains why some NEX lenses, despite vignetting, also do well. Whether Alpha cameras had a similar sensor cover I do not know, but maybe someone out there can tell us.

Conclusion (for now)

There's no question the A7R has some issues. Some of them we can expect to be improved with a firmware update or two. Some are the nature of the camera and won't clear up until the A7X or whatever comes next. Given the limitations the options are to either trash it on forums or to learn how to work around those limitations.

The camera does some things very well at an excellent price. That will be enough to assure some people will learn how to work around those limitations. In another month or two the screaming will die down and some people will be using the camera regularly and making superb images with it. Because it's fully capable of making superb images.

It's never going to work for action photography. It may (or may not) be a great walk around camera. But it will do certain things better than any camera out there at a price that's going to attract a lot of attention.

And lets not forget what may be the biggest change Sony seems to have made: it already has at least two excellent lenses, maybe more. And more are coming. I expect when Sigma and the other third party manufacturers release FE mount full-frame lenses they will have corrected for sensor glass effects and we'll see good performance from those, too.

That doesn't help those who want to shoot native mount lenses on the A7R right now, though. Right now it seems that most people buying the camera are planning to use lenses on adapters. Despite spending a lot of time discussing the problems off-axis, lets remember that most lenses perform every bit as well adapted to the A7R in the corners as they do on their native mount cameras. They perform much better in the center on the A7R, which makes the edges seem problematic. For people shooting landscapes it's something of an issue, but for many other types of photography it's insignificant.

Sony did some things very wrong with this camera. They did some things very right. Mostly they did things very different. I applaud the differences. They may not all work, but at least they're shaking things up a bit. And I do predict when all the dust settles in a couple of years, we'll look back on this camera as one that created some changes.

 

Roger Cicala

Lensrentals.com

December, 2013

 

46 Responses to “A Bit of A7R Sanity”

Matt said:

Thanks, Roger. Another great article. I bought a bunch of Sony Alpha stuff, only to be continually frustrated. I decided to go back to Canon. To me, Sony is an enigma.
Matt

Samuel H said:

* If Sony lenses are taking glass thickness into account, then the A7x with non-problematic glass cover that I was expecting to see soon is unlikely to appear.

* The Canon 35mm f/2 IS works on full frame DSLRs, so it already has a quite-distant pupil. Anything wide-angle is going to have this issue, even my Leica-R wides.

* This corner softness... does it appear because the focal plane is further curved by the thick glass, or because of some increased aberration? That is: will corner sharpness also be affected when focusing at the corners?

simon said:

great article thanks.

so if the the native lenses account for the thicker glass cover does that mean they will be worse with a slimmer cover that would be better for adapted lenses?

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Very possibly, Simon

Peter Starmead said:

Very well put Roger, I have had the A7R for 3 weeks and agree. I have no FE lenses yet but Canon and Nikon adapters. From both test and real world shooting, above 24mm results excellent, corners OK and good when shut down F8+. Using 24-105L, Samyang 35, C40mm, 20-200L F4 IS, Tamron 90 macro results very pleasing. Compared with 5D MkII, A7r blows Canon away in the centre and at least matches on the edges. Nikon DX with APC mode all fine (results would not excite anyone here) including 10-24DX. BUT - very, very poor left hand edge with 17-40L, Samyang 14mm, Canon 15mm Feye. Using cheaper HK adapter, hacked to give FF so the cause may be obvious! Nikon adapter from Fotodiox is well made and gives even edges so ordered their EOS manual version ($30) to try, if good I will be hoping they bring out an electronic version as Metabones seems way overpriced. Very interested in the results if you were to test the 55mm and the forthcoming 24-70 FE.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Peter, I probably won't test the 55: SLR gear did a thorough evaluation with it and it's at least as good as the 35mm, probably better. I'll be testing the zoom for sure, though.

Taildraggin said:

Nice work, Roger! The most succinct review on the web.

Chris said:

Hi Roger, does the corner/center analysis of this article pertain equally to the Sony branded LA‑EA3/4 adapters for adapting Sony Alpha-Mount lenses?

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Chris, I don't know about those - I haven't tested them.

Randy said:

Thanks, Roger. I think this is one time when people who say "If you wait for the new model, you'll wait forever" are wrong. There's enough right and enough wrong here to make Photokina look pretty promising.

Neal Spero said:

Hi Roger. Thanks for your brilliant insight. I have to compare apples to oranges. I recently rented your RX1R. The images are better than my Canon 5D Mark 111. It is quiet Why not this for as a walk around camera? Thanks Neall

Michael R said:

I agree, in a couple of years we will look back at the A7R as a game changer. if the Canikon people aren't seriously looking at this camera to come up with a competing model, then they may go the way of the dodo

derek said:

great article as always.

I bought this camera in early November this year and I tested it against my D800E and EOS6D in every possible way.

Well,it is a great camera on paper and actually produces almost MFDB quality file in a lab.
But in actual use , it is super slow to operate , the AF is extremely weak, the VF is not as good as the rival brands', the LCD is prone to scratches , the sensor has heating up issue in video mode.

Oh and most importantly " the mount adapter idea" while on paper is good , never actually works well in real life since its mount is too weak to take a big lens (I wanted to use my Canon TSE or Zeiss MPs with the Sony), I put my Zeiss 100f2 ZF2 lens and the weight of the Zeiss lens really puts too much pressure on the weak mount of the A7R, and the mount keeps wobbling after having used with the Zeiss ZF lens for a couple of days.

In the end , it is only good for those who have a lot of Leica M glass or just happy with 2 decent quality Sony FE primes already available now.

For any one else, there are many better more practical options than this camera.
Personally, I think this camera is something shouldn't have been actually released in this year, it is still not a finished product, and I guess not so many people want to be free beta testers for Sony.

I am selling it even though I will lose a lot of money.

derek said:

one more thing to add to my previous post is that it is a dust magnet , even worse than my D600 was.

it collects a lot of dust even without changing lenses.
I just have 4 Sony E mount primes(2 APS-C lenses, 2 fullframe ones) , so I used only 4 lenses and I only tested them in my studio, though , it's got a lot of dust spots on the sensor already showing up at f2.8.

but I think Roger is right. despite of all its well documented flaws here and else where(lu-la for example), still, it is a historical camera and will become one of the most important cameras released in the last 5 years or so.
I think there is no doubt about that and the concept behind this camera(the D800E IQ in a coat pocket) is great , even a game changer, but just not executed right.

PS. if you have tested this camera and compared it to the D800E, you might already know the Sony A7R is the new resolution king in Fullframe or 35mm camera league.
despite of its heavily processed lossy RAW compression, this Sony resolves a bit more minor contrast details than the Nikon D800E + one of the best Zeiss ZF primes(at least in a studio).
so, even with so many shutter or mechanics related issues , it is still one of the most amazing cameras announced in the last five years.

Chuck Jones said:

As always Roger, another excellent article. Puts the whole "New Camera" thing into perspective. Well done!

Like yourself, I'm down officially as one of the "Fanboys" in some quarters as I also have come out stating the A7R is one of the rare cameras that are truly going to be game changers. I have not been as excited about a small piece of technology since Leica announced the M8. While nothing technological will ever be perfect, nor will there ever be one perfect camera that fits every situation, this A7R has capabilities no others have. Small, light, extremely portable, and small enough as a video rig for people to ignore are all going to change the boundaries of the documentary game. New things will be possible. Just the ability for a solo artist to carry everything necessary for top quality production is feature enough for me!

Sitting here in Hollywood you pick up the talk. One of the latest items of "chatter" is the A7/A7R. Word on the street comments after seeing footage "Dang, I could shoot a whole movie on this thing!" and "Wow, these files really do grade up well." Of course, along with "You have to be nuts to even consider trusting a multi-million dollar production budget to something that small and cheap!" and "If it doesn't shoot 4k it doesn't have any future for me."

Dan Euritt said:

There is no such thing as perfect media acquisition gear, be it video, audio, or stills. It's your ability to overcome the issues that makes you a good shooter. In my case, that's included moving to cheap adapters that all have tripod mounts, which I've improved by replacing the mount screws with bigger stainless steel screws.

I've put a dozen lenses on my A7r, I've seen dark corners on most glass that's 50mm or smaller, including that 14mm Samyang dark left side that Peter mentioned. I'm swapping mounts in an attempt to mitigate that problem.

Thanks for a great article, this camera is a game-changer.

Rich Thompson said:

Excellent article.

I've been using the A7R with contax zeiss adapted lenses.
(28/2.8, 35-70/3.4 and 100-300/4.5-5.6)

The quality of image in the centre AND the corners is just amazing.
In fact, as you cannot put these stella lenses on a D800e, i I'd guess I am getting the best image quality possible without spending £xx,xxx on Leica glass or Medium format digital backs.

I'm smitten with the new A7r and thr 35/2.8 and 55/1.8 are great too :-)

Steve Singer said:

Roger: Kindly respond to the following. In this article you state that "a good electronic viewfinder is still not an optical viewfinder". There are those (Lloyd Chambers) who would like to see his Nikon D800E equipped with an EVF and makes it sound as the OVF is inferior to an EVF. I own a Nikon D800E and have never used an EVF. In the aggregate, is an EVF superior to an OVF when comparing like cameras? As I read comments from photographers I get the impression that and EVF would make the D800E a better camera. Your thoughts? Thanks.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Steve, it's 6 of one, half-dozen of the other. OVFs are preferred by a lot of people because there's no lag and even the best EVF has some lag. Others, especially those using focus peaking or other features, prefer the EVF because of the cool things it can do. An action shooter generally wants an optical finder for the speed. Someone doing careful manual focus often prefers an EVF.

bruce bender said:

I think the A7R is a most interesting camera, combined with the Sony 35mm 2.8 lens. But I don't understand why it is "revolutionary". I don't want to start a pissy discussion, but for us mere mortals (who don't make prints larger than 8x10 or God Forbid 13x19) I don't understand what it has to offer over the Canon EOS M with the equivalent 22mm 2.0 lens.

The one costs 10x the other.

Personally I am highly amused by my EOS M. I use it almost every day. I think it was the bargain of the age at the current price.

I confess that I have not tried the Sony, but from the reviews I presume the same style of slow-focus faults on the negative side, with the same high-resolution benefits in terms of pixel size/density on the positive, and lots of nice lenses if you use adaptors. One presumes that Canon and Sony will both remain committed to providing lenses for the respective systems. I think I should also mention that I am not a Canon fanboy, being pretty much a Nikon fan.

My DSLR mostly sits idle. Not to mention that as far as I know there is nothing particularly "full size" about 35mm, remembering it as the revolutionary new small format compared to 2 1/4 square format, and view cameras before that.

Samuel H said:

For me:
The EOS M is "good enough".
The A7r is "best in class".

(and for people like me who don't need AF or fast operation, it's nearly perfect)

Jeff Titterington said:

Great article, Roger.

Despite all the A7R shortcomings, I just ordered one. Why (aside from size and weight)? Focus accuracy.

I constantly fight lens calibrations on my D800E and D7100. This is no problem for general shooting, but for model and tight “bokeh” shots, it is a serious problem. Even with constant lens to camera calibrations, I will sometimes end-up with slightly soft eyes and sharp nose or ear focus when shooting wide-open. I belong to a number of photography clubs, and it is apparent that I am not in a minority with this problem as it seems to be shared by many others shooting DSLR's. It is very frustrating to capture the “money shot” and then get home to see that the focus was not precise.

When I shoot my NEX-7 or RX1R, the desired focus is captured every time (on autofocus)! I repeat, every time!! I will never use the A7R for action or nature photography, so if it focuses as fast as my other mirror-less cameras, I will be a very happy camper, indeed. Also, having shot many, many premium lenses over the years, I have found that the Zeiss lenses yield a fine image quality that the test charts do not seem to quantify. I am rarely brand-loyal, but I am partial to Zeiss lenses and Sony seems to have closely aligned themselves with that supplier -another reason for ordering the A7R.

bruce bender said:

Samuel H - very nicely said!

Sggs said:

I start using mirrorless because I wanted a camera to convert to IR: with a dslr I cant have a correct viewfinder, since I will be seeing visible light and the af will be wrong. (or with the filter in front of the lens, just live view finder. I had a great time with the lumix, tha have a evf and a tiltable lcd, alowing waist level finder. I had two gh1, after, 2 gh2, one for IR, one for visible light. I use all kind of lens in it, from old fd primes, 851.2, 135 2.0, to supertelephoto, 300, 2.8, 500 5.0 etc, and even machine vision and surveilance lens. Its wonderfull be to be able to use any lens -almost- and vary the flavor of the optics. There are adapter for everything to mft. Now, most of the time, let my canons rest. Now I'm want to use a a7 for IR and a a7r for visible. Will it work the same way? In the article is mentioned a thick glass in front of the mirror. I can imagine that it is the hot mirror, since, as said, the a7r does not have a anti alizing filter. To convert to IR the filter must be removed and replaced for a IR filter. How will that modify the sensor behavor is something to see. Maybe it will have issues with focus on the infinite. But, anyway, the possibility of having such a plethora of lenses, for me, that have learn photography in a time that all cameras and lenses were manual focus, and have patience and time to do it, in full frame, is absolutely amazing.
We can taste all the flavours, mix all the systems, find personal combinations. Who could ask for more?

Joe C said:

Roger

Another good report that keeps me following yours.

I'm considering the A7R and you've gone directly to my concerns. I'm not ready to move yet, so I may wait. For me it would be a second camera sometimes used as a primary but the FF is big for me. The role is currently being filled by the NEX 7 and the size-weight issue sometimes make it a travel primary. I haven't shot for money in years, but EVT despite some advantages just don't measure up to a good OVT - maybe because I've been shooting high end SLRs for more than 50 years. EVTs are disconcerting on actions sports can be done, but it's a cobble. Running dog with all for off, hope on timing and focus.

I've been all but a Canonholic,in particular all three 5ds, still have the 2 as backup to the 5d3 with a lot of glass. It could have as easily been Nikon and I've soft spots for several others as secondaries,e.g.the M-9P that let's me use my Leica glass and other.

What concerns me is age and advancing arthritis that make it more difficult to travel with the FF kit of only a few years ago. I've been paring back in other ways, I.e. Laptop weight has been cut 1.25 pounds, the next change will drop the laptop from the 6.5 pounds of a couple of years ago to a bit more than 1.5. Targeted lens selection cuts make a bigger difference. I count every plug and adapter.

Recently I was in Barcelona and carried the NEX as A walk around and second, the 5D3 and lenses for interior and exterior of Sagrada Familia. With limited time to work the NEX got use there as well.the A7R would seem a logical way to carve out about 1.5 pounds of camera, but it would provide the quandary of yet another set of lenses, however minimal. Sure you get the picture. Had also considered a Canon APS-C SLR which would allow a lighter lens mix.

I like the NEX, it's focusing is good and very high percentage, but it doesn't always get where it needs to be. Not often but less than I'm used to. As for the EOS M, I bought one early Asa possible solution to weight. It was an unmitigated disaster with the first firmware which Canon took its time upgrading. It is somewhat better with the new firmware but I couldn't rely on it. I've found a niche for it as a pocket camera with 22mm for meal blogging. Also very short trips where I use it with a 50-255mm alongside the NEX - pockets full of batteries.

Maybe you have a suggestion. I use a Pelican roller carryon which has done yeoman service for years for cameras and a laptop. I have a shoulder back I try to keep empty as much as possible

Max said:

The # 1 issue is the 8 bit files. Once the crowd works through the Wifi and silly attempts to use RF wide angles they will finally start paying attention to the banding, splotching, tonal transitions, aliases and artifacts caused by Sony's 'lossless compression'.

14 bit files should come out of the camera at 63mb. No A7r RAW file is bigger than 37.4mb. in that missing 26mb is a lot of color loss.

Imatest resolution testing only looks at B&W transitions and the A7r is a fine B&W camera - perhaps the finest in the world. But when it comes to color Sony's 'lossless compression' is cheating you out of the potential you should be getting in IQ.

The A7r is not a sports camera - it's slow - very slow. But it's in one place - fast to market. Sony may have rushed this camera to market to meet the fiscal EoY 2013 and Christmas season. The algorithm is a shortcut and perhaps the Bionz engine isn't up to the task of 36mp.

But Sony give us the option for Zero Compression (even at the expense of frame rates). Fast computers and terabyte storage isn't a problem.

After extensive testing I returned my A7r. The NEX7 makes more consistent and trustworthy photos when it comes to IQ.

art said:

Sony's compression algorithims have been discussed on the web (analyzed with Raw Digger). They are not lossless, but equating them to 8-bit files seems like a stretch. I haven't seen any legitimte examples of problems with tonal transitions, banding or artifacts. I haven't come across these problems yet in rather heavy processing of several A7r files. I am looking for these things because they are concerns to me, but I can say that so far I have tried and havnen't been able to make them look worse than raw files from other cameras.

Samuel H said:

Are we sure they are 8-bit files?

5D2 files are, on average, 24 MB each, and they would be 35 MB at uncompressed 14-bit.
7r files would be 60 MB at uncompressed 14-bit, so, with the same compression, they would be 41 MB. At 8-bit and with the same compression, you'd end up with 24 MB files.

OTOH, with increased resolution there's less detail to encode, per pixel, and you could easily end up at 35 MB with the same compression that Canon uses. From what I read, files are usually around 35 MB.

I'm not saying the banding issues are not there. I just wonder if it's really 8-bit that they are encoding, since I think that would be a total disaster if you have 14 stops of DR to encode (with pure log, you end up with 18 values per stop of light, which is really really low).

Samuel H said:

10-bit log, that I would believe. And, if done right, it would be absolutely non-problematic. 73 values per stop of light is plenty, even if you're going to add heavy image processing in post.

Max said:

It's right there in the math guys - (36mp*14)/8=63mb RAW files. No file comes out of the A7r larger than 37.4mb - where's the missing 26mb? It's been rounded off and when you go to do some post you'll find your very limited in what you can do and often can't do anything. Simply outputting with no post results in banding and other issues. Orange peel, improbable lines of alternating color, injection of faux magenta pixels - etc. If you care about IQ at 100% this camera is a disaster. Sony rushed it to market for the 2013 XMAS season.

What else explains the crappy packaging, poor manual, buggy performance ?

Samuel H said:

I've just shot some pics with a 5D2. 21mp*14/8=37mb RAW files, but these CR2s are around 24 MB each. Where did the other 13MB go?

Again, not saying those issues are not there, just that it's very unlikely that these are 8-bit files (though it would be nice if I could see some samples, I googled a7r banding and found notihing).

GeorgK said:

NEFs from a D7000 are 20MB average, DNGs from a K5 about 19MB. Both are 16MP cameras. There is a lot more redundancy to be expected in 36MP pictures (esp. when used with "average" lenses), so 37MB for a compressed RAW seems quite reasonable.
The "lost bits" argument is crap, sorry. There is a little bit more in compression mathematics then "/" and "*".

Claus said:

the 5DmkII uses ITU T.61 lossless compression (the standard is available in PDF on the net, but it basically takes the difference between neighbouring pixel and makes a Huffmnan-compression. Canon adds its own remapping of the sensor to this, but it is easily disentagled. I wrote my own version of an unpacker some years ago). Apparently Sony uses a logaritmic compression (similar to a or u-law in the fixed telephone voice digitizing) This is not "rounding to 8 bit" as Max implies, but it do introduce some loss of information. If this turns out to be a major problem, it can be repaired in Firmware (unless Sony has contractual reasons e.g. with Nikon not to that)

Max said:

I spent 10 days looking at several hundred shots and there were all sorts of tonal issues.

One analysis shows that Sony does the following in their compression

http://tinyurl.com/kuhakb8

0-800 contains 801 unique values ​​(ie is continuous)
801-1424 contains 320 unique values ​​(skips 1 out of every 2)
1424-1427 contains one unique value (skips 2 of 3)
1428-2023 contains 149 unique values ​​(skips 3 of 4)
2024-2029 contains one unique value (skips 5 of 6)
2030-4093 contains 258 unique values ​​(skips of 8)

http://www.dpreview.com/forums/thread/3358494

Art said:

Max, there is a consensus that Sony's raw compression is not lossless. But as has been explained, that doesn't mean they are equivalent to 8-bit files, and it certainly doesn't mean that image quality is "a disaster." This kind of hyperbole is just what Roger was talking about. Is the camera perfect? No. Is IQ a "disaster?" Certainly not. If we are to discuss the flaws of this camera, then let's do it truthfully and with sanity :)

I have not been able to find any samples to support the notion that there are any obvious issues showing up with the raw files. The so-called "orange peel" texture is something I have seen in D800 files as well when oversharpened, and it looks exactly the same as when it happens in oversharpening A7r files. Other people have reported seeing it if they oversharpen files from other cameras. This leads me to believe it is not an issue exclusive to the A7r (though since A7r files are already sharper out of the camera, we can speculate the effect might appear sooner than with other cameras when sharpening is applied in post.)

As far as the other issues, again, I haven't seen anything yet to convince me the A7r raw files are not as good if not better than any other camera I've used. I have seen no banding or any of the other issues you purport to see. I can make the files fall apart if I push them to crazy extremes, but the same holds true for every other camera I've used. I will hold out the caveat that because the compression is lossy there theoretically could be issues I just haven't come across yet. But saying such issues are widespread in A7r files and creating disastrous image quality is wild exaggeration at best. Sure, I'd still be more comfortable with a true lossless raw file. But in the absence of evidence, I'm not going to try and convince myself into finding a problem that isn't there.

Gary Morris said:

First, this was a well presented analysis. Thanks.

When I was younger, I used to stress over all manner of little detail. Not anymore. I'm now way too old to worry. And I don't make a living as a photographer, so a little softness in the corners isn't a big deal. In fact, I've shot maybe a few hundred images with my A7R, a Voigtlander M-E adapter and my slightly dented Noctilux .95. In a word the images are superb. Way better than anything my M9 ever captured. The detail is amazing. The focus peaking is a feature sent from heaven for old eyes. And the corners aren't much of a concern because I usually do a little cropping anyway. Add to this the fact that I almost always shoot between .95 and 2.8 which means corners are almost always soft. I can unequivocally recommend the combination of the A7R and the Noctilux (as well as Leica's little jewel lens… the 50mm Summicron). Next up is experimenting with Leica's other Summicrons. The fun has just begun!

A Ronald Gallant said:

I rented the A7R with the Sony 35mm f/2.8 lens to test it for street photography. It was a bust. Auto focus was inaccurate and high ISO performance was poor. The focus problem was most pronounced when the subject was at about 20 feet or less from the camera; less of a problem for shots at 60 feet or more. The closer distance focusing errors were not minor; they were gross errors. Previously I rented the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8. In my hands, the Olympus worked far better for street photography than the Sony A7R. But it did not please me enough to buy one. Too many tiny buttons that got pressed accidentally and the limits of a M4/3 sensor were what put me off. For me, so far, what works best for street photography is a D800 with Zeiss 21mm f2.8 lens with a guess at the focus distance and cropping to about 35mm equivalent to fix composition errors.

Samuel H said:

@Max
That sounds like 10 bit log, which is absolutely perfect if you ask me. Encoding images in linear light is awfully inefficient, because all those values in the highlights are useless and because difference encoding doesn't work as well in linear as it does in log.
I seriously doubt 10 bit log is the source of any IQ issues here.

Max said:

The problem may not always be apparent in the first iteration, eg compression out of the camera. But when you go to push or pull in post if the values are missing (cut out by Sony's algorithm) then you're set up for poor IQ because you can't manipulate the truncated values. Uncompressed truly 'lossless' RAW is something all of the 'lesser' cameras do including Nikon, Canon, Sigma, Leica, Fujifilm etc

Why doesn't Sony offer true 14 bit output as an option?

You're paying for it and memory cards and processing are cheap.

Some may not see the effects today but they will be visible in your 4k screens next year and 8k screens of the future.

It's an easy fix for Sony for this 'landscape' camera. Even if it makes the FPS < 1 it's worth it to get a camera that can be trusted to produce images that will stand the test of time.

Samuel H said:

Ok, let's look at the numbers you posted...

The brightest stop of light is encoded with 2048 different values in 14-bit linear, Sony is using 256 values. For a single stop of light, that's way more than I need.

The second-brightest stop of light is encoded with 1024 different values in 14-bit linear, Sony is using 356 values. For a single stop of light, that's way more than I need.

The third-brightest stop of light is encoded with 512 different values in 14-bit linear, Sony is using 400 values. For a single stop of light, that's way more than I need.

From the fourth-brightest stop of light, Sony is using just as many values as you get with pure 14-bit linear.

I really fail to see how this could be a problem for anybody. Also, the table you posted is clear indication that any possible issues related to this 10-bit-log conversion could only be found in the three brightest stops of light captured by the camera. Most of that range is only visible when you push real hard on the highlight recovery slider of your RAW image processor.

Art said:

I'm dubious that a 4k screen is going to show me something my 30-inch IPS panel isn't showing me right now. And I don't need a 4k screen to tell me what a print looks like. If it makes a good print right now, then I don't need to wait for a 4k or 8k or whatever screen to see if my images will 'stand the test of time.' Yes, I would like Sony to release a firmware update to give us a true lossless option (if for no other reason than to let us prove to ourselves if there are any issues with the compression). But in the meanwhile I'm not going to let that stop me from taking advantage of an interesting photographic tool :)

Oskar Ojala said:

There are two very big issues with lenses and adaptability. The biggest one is that there are no wides natively and DSLR wides are large, making the size advantage much smaller, especially since pro DSLR are easier to hold. There is the kit zoom, but it's big, slow and based on samples I've seen, the wide end is too bad to justify going full frame anyway. All this leads to is that smaller (=M mount) wides need to work decently.

The second biggest issue with lenses is that the high quality native primes (35/2.8 and 55/1.8) are quite expensive. Combine that with the fact that this is a new system and initial investment and risk goes up a lot compared to buying e.g. Nikon or Canon DSLRs or even a micro 4/3 camera. I'm hesitant to put north of three grand into something that I may have to sell later with a considerable loss. Buying into the two major brands carries less risk.

LensRentals Employee

harold said:

harold1968@yahoo.com

Submitted on 2014/01/08 at 5:07 PM
I have the A7. Its awesome. I dumped my 6D and E-M1 for it.
The LCD does not scratch more then anything, and anyway why not use a £3 LCD cover ?
The menus are logical and reasonably easy to use. More then Olympus no ?
The build is terrific. Why do so few manufacturers use a metal top plate ?
My sensor never gets any dust.
Sony’s problem is that the two primes are so good that most people may never need more then the 35mm and the 55mm.
The EVF is excellent.
AF is fast in good light but can hunt in bad light if you can’t find a contrasty enough bit to focus on. What’s new with CSCs ? Even my E-M1 hunts quite a bit in low light.
Roger, comparing it with the best points of the D4/1Dx will bring out loads of negatives, but they seem pretty unreal to me.
Sorry to the Canikon folk lugging around their ancient mirror boxes and massive lenses and justifying it with “the mechanical AF is faster!”. Yes for some folk it is critical, but not the guy obscuring my view in front of the Greenwich Naval College with his massive rucksack, massive tripod and 30 mins setup of a camera to take a picture I reckon was no better then mine, heck no better then the girl next to me with a Canon 550D and kit lens. He certainly didn’t need fast AF LOL!
I remember the 5D as a game changing classic. But it was attacked for years about not having good AF, only because this was the only point where it was quite average actually (centre point only) and opposers felt it was a point of weakness, open to attack.
I don’t criticise anyone’s choice of camera. People love their GM1s, E-M5s, 6Ds, D3, M240s etc. for a whole host of reasons, some real, some imagined. For those not making their living from sports or wildlife and can live with only a few lenses for the next few months the A7 and A7R are pretty much unbeatable if you value its mix of IQ, handling, quality, functionality and portability and don’t have a big investment in another brand’s lenses.

Martin said:

Interesting reading. I have a Canon 5D Mark III, an A99v and I bought the A7r for doing my very own find the right thing comparison. 5D3 is bulky. I travel 250k Miles on Airplanes every year to about 10 countries. Overtime to carry the 5d3, 16-35, 24-70 and 70-200L II begins to suck. So my preference, small, lightweight and the optical performance of a full frame sensor. Here we go. A7r sounds like a great thing. FE 55 with a much better performance than the EF 50L, a 24-70, sealed, which promises to be a excellent replacement for my Zeiss 24-70ZA and a 70-200G which finally is sealed, with the new coatings and less than 2k bucks which makes it less exaggerated than the new 70-200G2 which goes over 3k. A99 was way too much. 5D3 is good for my weddings and for my Airshow work. But I need neither for my children nor for my travels a 5D3. I sold the A99 because it was not as fast as 5D3 at sports nor it was much better than A7r in direct comparison. If Sony delivery a few FE lenses 16-35/4, 24-70/4 and 70-200/4 and a 100/2.8 macro, I am am well served for my Studio work, travels and my kids. 5D3 will remain for sports. The A7r is a very good walk around cam. The 55Z is an outstanding AL performer! and FE135/1.8 would be a gem. All looks very promising to me to complement my heavyweight Canon bag and replace it for all day use.

AmateurS said:

Thank You for great reviews! I really liked the idea of a sensor attached to the lens without any unnecessary obstacles between. It works! Good bye to backfocus, frontfocus! And you can focus manually with absolute precission - if necessary. No problems with 20 mm SLR lens on quality adapter. Sony A7r is superb in many ways. However - RAW compression artifacts do exist - unfortunately. It looks like they have developed compression algorithm few sensors ago and it doesn't work as expected with this spectacular sensor (to much DR?). Landscape photography using high contrast wide angle lens (with some vigneting) or sky with tonality gradients reveal the problem easily.

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