Cameracraft Magazine

Cameracraft is our new quarterly magazine for all enthusiasts, keeping a special connection with the Minolta/Sony Alpha systems. We have just printed issue 8, Third Quarter 2014 with a detailed practical article on using shift, tilt and stitching adaptors on the NEX and A7 bodies. Visit our web pages to learn more, or subscribe below..

Subscribe to Cameracraft

Postal Region

Photoclubalpha Forum

Join our free Forum for a wealth of info, great company and some fantastic photo sharing threads! Registration on the Forum is separate from Registration on the website, but you are allowed to register using the same name and password.

New Forum Posts

B&H Product Finder

B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

Past Article Calendar

December 2014
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031  

Sony Alpha 7R – the Swiss Army Knife camera

I guess it’s time to publish another field test review of the Alpha 7R despite rarely having used the camera in anger, or in any state other than anger. It arrived in late November and caught me at a time when I was not going anywhere or doing anything, nothing was happening and the weather was just plain ordinary. We didn’t have floods, or snow, or anything else like the rest of the country. It also came with a set of problems to be solved some of which turned out to frustrate any affordable solution.

I started writing this page in February 2014. It may give you some idea of my issues with the whole current Sony system that I’ve taken almost until May to publish it. Additions have been made on December 2nd 2014.

SONY DSC

When you’ve got a wonderful new tool to work with, it doesn’t help to have no work to do which requires that tool. This really is the Swiss Army Knife camera, a strapline I used on the first issue of the new-look f2 Freelance Photographer magazine which I took back into ownership at the end of January. The A7R has the potential to fit in my pocket and replace every single other camera I own, to use all the lenses I have bought for all other systems and formats, and to remove stones from horses’ hooves.

SONY DSC

But, and here’s the problem, it also replaces nothing at all as well as it could. There are maybe no more than half a dozen reasons why, but they are critical reasons and any one of these reasons will limit the use of the A7R.

  • No in-body stabilisation and not all lenses are stabilised
  • No electronic first curtain means the shutter cycle is noisy and causes vibration see later comments
  • The sensor design prevents optimum use of rangefinder type lenses under 35mm focal length
  • No native full frame wide-angle lens under 24mm is likely to be available before September 2014
  • Any Sony FE-mount lens with a performance matched to the sensor is going to cost double its true value
  • No on-board GPS and (to date) no multi-function shoe GPS module to add
  • Single card slot only and consumer size lith-ion battery
  • Very slow start-up and wake up from sleep especially when not using Program, Manual or intelligent fully auto modes
  • Slow optimal AF/AE performance continuous shooting
  • Slow laminar shutter blade transit speed and flash synchronisation limit
  • Firmware compatibility problems with some existing E-mount OSS lenses
  • No provision for IPTC copyright information entry
  • Custom lens app can be used with manual adapted lenses but does not embed metadata in EXIF
  • User memory settings don’t cover functions from some menus
  • Apps are charged at additional cost for functions which would reasonably be free or included in a camera body with a price-tag of £1,800
  • No battery charger is supplied and default charging method is by micro USB cable
  • The rear LCD screen can only be tilted and is not reversible to face the body
  • The EVF even at its brightest is not up to tropical or desert viewing conditions
  • Auto switching EVF to rear screen is unreliable
  • As I have now found after five months’ use, not as durable as it looks (I have repaired the worn metal showing through the sharp edges on the ‘prism’ and body with a black Sharpie pen, but I’m tempted to use a guitar fret polishing sheet to make all the sharp edges into bright silver… just rub that thin black coating off!)

In case you’re thinking this is a completely unfair list of negative points to start a review with, well, you may be right. It’s here to make up for the usual lists of star features which *end* reviews. I’m also going to need to explain all these points. Here, to balance the negatives, are the positives.

  • The highest resolution full-frame sensor (24 x 36mm) currently made
  • The smallest full-frame system camera body
  • No moving mirror, no SLT mirror, and no optical low-pass (anti-aliasing) filter
  • 18mm lens mount register allows the use with adaptors of all current and past lenses from all systems designed to cover 24 x 36mm except those which used fixed rear assemblies and front groups
  • Custom lens app allows corrections for any lens, while built-in function auto corrects E and FE mount lenses
  • WiFi and Nearfield Connection transfer file to mobile devices or other hosts with automatic small JPEG creation even when full size JPEG or RAW is the selected shooting format
  • Sony PlayMemories Mobile Apps downloadable to camera and devices add functions such as remote control and intervalometer, lens corrections, sensor shading and colour shift compensation
  • The shutter is a professional specification speeded to 1/8,000th with motorized actuation
  • The body is reasonably rugged, very light magnesium with some composite surface panels and is sealed against everyday dust and moisture ingress
  • Although you can’t hear any sound, it has an Olympus-style ultrasonic vibration dust removal process and it is stunningly effective – no big buzz, no vibrational you can feel, but it really works
  • A full set of buttons can be customised for functions, and there are three adjustment controllers plus a dedicated exposure compensation dial
  • The electronic viewfinder with 2.3 million pixels and a 0.70X virtual view is only beaten by Fuji’s X-T1
  • Triggered or manual magnified manual focus allows exceptional focusing accuracy when needed
  • The high cost of Sony dedicated lenses is offset by the quality of many low-cost, older manual lenses and the option of two adaptors for Sony A-mount lenses, SLT mirror type or mirrorless
  • The interface allows manual selection of most functions, including APS-C format crop or using full frame with non-FF lenses, movie audio gain, finder/screen exposure simulation, and lens corrections

This last point may seem a bit vague but it’s actually what makes the A7R usable at all in many circumstances. The APS-C crop on/off has saved the camera from having zero real wide-angle choice during its first three months of release, as our December 2013 article on the use of the Sony E 10-18mm lens showed.

Although electronic viewfinder cameras are not ideal for studio work, the high resolution of the A7R makes it an alternative to medium format for the highest quality. It can be set to ISO 50 or 100, with 14-bit raw files using a compression method which is comparable to Nikon’s lossless option. If ‘Setting Effect Off’ is selected, the EVF or screen will always show a bright auto white balanced image allowing modelling lights to be used for composing and focusing even when the actual shot will be taken by flash with a fixed preset WB. The professional or advanced user will want to have all the settings for such work stored as a custom memory preset, but Sony puts the ‘Setting Effect’ outside the saved functions. This is most frustrating as getting to it requires menu-diving.

The same applies to stabilisation, which is a function of the lenses not the camera. It is turned on or off through a menu setting or by assigning a Custom button for direct access, making occasional tripod work need an excursion into the menus before and after, unless you are to end up with OSS enabled or disabled inappropriately. The E/FE lenses have no OSS switch, the body has no switch, and there’s no one-press shortcut. Sony’s decision to omit M/AF and OSS on-off switches from the FE lenses makes the system just that little bit harder to work with. Buy a Canon or Nikon and even the cheapest lens has a stabilisation switch you can use easily every time you mount the camera on a tripod, work with flash, or use a fast shutter speed and want the optimum lens performance (achieved, almost invariably, with stabilisation off).

SONY DSC

No in-body stabilisation is going to handle this anyway – luck, flash, a tripod or a very fast shutter speed provide the answers

Working speed

How much does ANY of this matter, if you simply fit the appropriate kit lens or prime, and just get out and use the camera? Not a great deal if you use the camera like a point-and-shoot and your objective is a small print or posting on Facebook. Given the remarks I’ve seen on-line from people buying an A7R with a view to catching their ‘toddler running around’, plenty of new owners fall into this category. They are lucky because no matter what camera they buy, from a £50 supermarket offer to a Canon EOS 1DX, they will be happy with the results and only criticise them when the family pet outpaces the autofocus in the ideal photographic conditions of their living room.

The main issue which will hit any user of the A7R is its overall operating response and speed. Acquiring focus, by contrast detection, normally seems to take around 1/4 second with an FE or E lens, but can take half to one second in low light or with a low contrast subject. It can also fail but confirm positive occasionally, and this is a little frustrating as we are not used to getting defocused snaps today. Even one fail in a hundred is a surprise. If you try the LA-EA3 adaptor, which provides a mirror-free light path and supports AF with SAM and SSM lenses, half to one second is normal in good light. You may find it worth disabling the ‘AF with shutter’ option and using only the AF button to set the focus, so the shutter release does not keep resetting it with each shot. However, after doing this I found it more than inconvenient NOT to have the familiar AF on half-pressure.

The shutter cycle

Having acquired focus, you complete the shutter release action. The A7R then executes a pre-exposure shutter action which involves closing the shutter with a movement of both blinds. This takes 250ms, or one-quarter of a second. That is longer than the mirror lift timing of a DSLR. After the exposure is made (a minimum period of about 6ms) there is short blackout dwell and the shutter re-opens to restore live view. The complete cycle is between 375 and 385ms as timed using audio and video recording and analysis.

This is not so very much worse overall than the Alpha 99 full frame SLT used with mechanical first curtain, but more of the cycle happens before the exposure, creating a surprisingly long shutter release lag. The A99, like the A77 and NEX-7, NEX-6, A6000 and indeed most other new Sony models including the A7, can use Electronic First Curtain. This means no mechanical action happens before the exposure at all. By the time you see any blackout or hear any noise, the image has already been captured, silently; the second shutter curtain closes to end the exposure and allow electronic readout. The shutter lag with an Alpha 99 or A7 in this mode is 20ms, or 1/50th. The shutter lag with the A7R can not be reduced to less than 1/4 in single shot mode.

This is also why the regular continuous shooting offers only 1.5fps, with AF and AE supported for each individual frame and 14-bit raw data. If you set Speed Priority mode, you can get between 4 and 5fps at the most with the exposure locked but AF active – however, you don’t get a real time viewfinder display, and you also get 12-bit recording instead of 14. This lowers JPEG quality in-camera as well as the headroom and dynamic range of the raw file. You’ll only get this performance by using the best SD cards. Some which claim 90-95Mbps speed only write are half or less, and are quoting their read speed.

The A7R will often remain in a card-writing state for several seconds (as long as 16 seconds if a raw sequence has been shot and buffering is queuing the images). Playback or review is not always possible without a brief wait. Since turning off auto review (which is not subject to this wait) greatly improves EVF performance for rapid fire shooting, you may have no clear idea of your shots until well after they are captured.

The simple fact is that where many competitors including Sony’s own A7 have fast responses, the A7R has an operating speed closer to a 1970s film SLR with ‘auto winder’ (the slow alternative to a motor drive), or being more charitable, to a Mamiya 645 with a power winder. It’s essentially medium format operating speed. This is in contrast to the Nikon D800/E, which offers the same file quality without a speed penalty.

Sensor shading and lenses

The A7R sensor microlens and coating structure produces not only a strong magenta-purple shading towards the frame ends with short rear focus wide angle rangefinder lenses, it also throws up a yellow-orange discolouration at the top of the (horizontal) frame. It shows some degree of this effect with nearly all lenses under 40mm focal length made for Leica M, screw, Contax G or similar mounts.

A month after releasing the camera, Sony issued a PlayMemories App which can be loaded up and invoked to record and re-use manually adjusted corrections for named lenses. These include distortion (barrel or pincushion), vignetting, and colour shading. The app does not allow the creation of a reference image or mapping mask. You can do this for Lightroom (shading only, saved as data) or Capture One Pro (shading and colour, dust and defects saved as an image). Consequently it actually won’t correct properly as it ignores the yellow-orange patch. Its limits are insufficient to correct full fisheye to normal (as found in the onboard correction which Nikon use for their 10.5mm lens) or handle typical shading from lenses like the Voigtlander 12mm, 15mm and 21mm.

sensorshading21mmCSf8a7r

This is typical of a non-retrofocus wide angle shading map produced from the A7R. The slightly magenta vignetting can be cured easily. The piss-yellow patch can not and it’s there, to one degree or another, with more lenses than you would imagine.

A different aspect of the sensor construction produces smearing. I noticed that this was minimal with the 15mm Voigtlander and strong with the 21mm. It seems to depend on the rear group geometry relative to the sensor. I ended up selling both these lenses.

Since then, I have given up on the idea of a super-compact Leica style outfit though I still have a 40mm f/1.4 Voigtlander and an 85mm f/4 Zeiss. Sony’s FE lenses are not very small and not all that attractive in specification. They do little more than return me to the kind of lens choices I had thirty years with the launch of the Minolta AF system – a slight step backwards at the time, losing the 17mm f/4 option, 24mm VFC, 35mm VFC Shift, Varisoft and many other unique bits of glass. I’m using a bunch of vintage Pentax, Minolta, Canon and other lenses in the 17mm to 85mm range. They don’t suffer from sensor shading or smearing problems and have generally proved far better than modern zooms.

My gripe with these solutions is that even if I enter a lens identity in the App, my images show no focal length data in the EXIF info, and certainly no aperture data. At the end of a long day, I have not made notes on every change of lenses. I have no idea what lens or settings may have produced a good or bad result. What I need is for every lens to be a properly dedicated FE mount one whether AF or manual focus. And I don’t want to pay Carl Zeiss a thousand pounds to get a sharp result from the type of lens and aperture specification which has been easy to make to an outstanding performance level, at modest cost, for the last half-century.

There are three lenses made by Sigma – 19mm, 30mm and 60mm f/2.8 designs in E-mount – which prove it is possible to make low cost, lightweight lenses which deliver results almost beyond criticism. Just making the direct translation of these lenses to 28mm, 45mm and 90mm f/2.8 for (say) 50% extra cost would give the A7R exactly the kind of glass it needed from the launch day. Sony’s Carl Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 and 55mm f/1.8 may be wonderful in their own right but they appeal to me as much as 35mm f/2.8 lenses and 55mm f/1.8 lenses did back in the 1970s. Not at all. They are the focal lengths and apertures you used to find on twin-lens film compacts and they’re what you still find in the scruffiest old bag of 1960s worn-out SLR kit at a junk sale. They are what my father’s Pentax kit had (plus the inevitable 135mm).

Fuji’s launch of the X-series with a fast 28mm pancake equivalent (18mm f/2), very fast 50mm equivalent (35mm f/1.4), and good 90mm equivalent macro (60mm f/2.4) paid off well and they followed up with a 14mm f/2.8 (21mm equivalent) and pro portrait 56mm f/1.2. Though not cheap, these lenses are all affordable and have been supplemented by further excellent kit, tele and wide-angle zooms. What the A7/R needs most is a direct counterpart to this Fuji system and it simply doesn’t have it.

As for the long end, I see almost no point in buying any lens made for the FE mount longer than something like 100mm. The 70-200mm f/4 may be attractive, but it’s forever limited to the FE mount while being as long as a regular Alpha lens. Had Sony made a clever two-part SSM lens for FE and Alpha, with a detachable rear tube like a dedicated LA-EA3, they would have had a winner. Instead they have the lens which Alpha A-mount owners have been waiting for – pressing for ever since the digital system arrived – made in the new mirrorless mount only. After seeing the final prices of the CZ 24-70mm f/4 and the Sony 70-200mm f/4 G, I’ve bought an LE-EA4 Alpha SLT adaptor as well as an LE-EA3 mirror-free adaptor.

But longer lenses are still much better on the Alpha mount, with its sensor based stabilisation and the larger bodies with true phase detection AF ideally suited to the wildlife, action, news and sports for which lenses over 200mm are destined. You can add an LA-EA4 SLT type adaptor to the A7/R, but these are still full-frame cameras one of which (the A7) has extremely low resolution for tele work compared to the ultimate telephoto capture machine, the neglected Alpha 77 (or its lesser spec 24 megapixel siblings).

From my point of view I’ve got an amazing camera body with a few limitations, but a menagerie of odd lenses all with even greater limitations or lack of connectivity. If someone came out with a Canon FD lens adaptor with a chip able to tell the camera I was using a 20mm and what aperture was set, that would be great.

What does work is any LA-EA adaptor with Alpha lenses. You get all the EXIF data, and aperture control from the body. What you don’t get is the smooth focusing of a manual lens, or contrast detect AF, though you do have AF calibration to fix the inevitable inaccuracy of phase detect systems. It’s just a pity the 20mm Minolta/Sony AF design isn’t as good as the 1980s Canon last version manual focus FDn.

Timing and shake

The A7R shutter is a full size mechanism. A shutter like this running at 1/8,000th maximum speed should be achieving flash synchronisation at 1/250th. The fact that this camera is restricted to 1/160th shows that the transit speed of the shutter blinds is slower than normal. There must be a reason, and the discovery (by me, and others, despite vehement denials in some quarters) that a shock-induced form of camera shake happens could be it. Sony has also disabled OSS support for many E-mount lenses. I believe this is connected to the typical shake pattern in the hands of the average user. Update: because it occurs less with unstabilised lenses, for example my 70-210mm f/4 Minolta AF used on LA-EA4 shows none of the typical patterns, I now think this is not a ‘shutter shock’ or ‘user shake’ issue but is due either to mistimed communication between the camera and most stabilised lenes, or more likely, to a brief loss of the power needed to maintain moving lens groups or elements in position whether stabilisation is active or not. A need to moderate the drain on the battery is indicated by the slow transit of the curtains (slow motor speed to operate the shutter). Otherwise the A7R would surely have had a full speed 1/8000th shutter with X at 1/250th.

I made recordings using video, audio and motion sensing methods and observed the typical results from repeated exposures with different lenses. I found that shutter speeds from 1/30th to 1/160th could be affected by a shake or double image which occurs 1/250th after the shutter has opened, looking like a reflected or transmitted shock. At speeds longer than 1/60th this jolt occupies less than a quarter of the overall exposure and is not so clearly visible as a double image. It can look worse at 1/160th than 1/80th, because at 1/160th about half the exposure can be in one position and half with the image shifted a tiny degree. A distinct double image is often shown and it’s always in the vertical direction when the camera is held horizontally.

2870-70f5p6-handheld-OSSon

FE 28-70mm handheld 1/80th, OSS switched on (100% detail click to enlarge). Pre-update firmware. It’s very hard to be sure, but I think the April firmware update has made the 28-70mm (originally NOT recommended for the A7R or sold with the body) perform better.

2870-70f5p6-handheld-OSSoff

FE 28-70mm handheld 1/80th, OSS switched off.

70300sigOS-70f5-handheld-OSon

Sigma 70-300mm OS switched on, on LA-EA3 adaptor. One problem with using any non-Sony lenses is that firmware updates have no effect on them at all. Sony don’t make a stabilised lens going as long as 300mm, yet.

70300sigOS-70f5-handheld-OSoff

Sigma 70-300mm OS switched off. All images at 70mm (many tests made, these are accurate representations of the results and tend to show that stabilisation is likely to produce no benefit).

Since some stabilised lenses including my Tamron 18-200mm Di III VC also produced this distinctive double exposure, I believe that Sony’s disabling of OSS in the 55-210mm E lens for example was done because their engineers identified the problem before the camera went on sale. I also think it can be fixed by firmware updates to Sony E lenses, but probably not for others. Update: they did not update the new black 55-210mm OSS. I think it just imposes too much battery load without an entirely redesigned OSS mechanism, or perhaps a combination of OSS and focus. Fuji has overcome this problem using very carefully balance triple linear motors in their new large lens for the X-system, the 50-140mm f/2.8 – it’s a stabilised, fast focusing lens with minimum power consumption.

In response to those who say oh, it’s a super-high resolution camera, your technique needs to be (bla bla bla!) it’s actually slightly lower resolution than my NEX-5n and far lower than my Alpha 77 or the NEX-7 I no longer have. It’s also lower than the A3000 I owned briefly, and the NEX-6 I have used as a second camera since early March. 35 megapixels full frame is 15 megapixels APS-C and that’s a lower resolution than any E-mount camera made except the original NEX-5 and NEX-3 14 megapixel bodies. I can enable mechanical first shutter curtain on any other NEX or Alpha SLT body and never see the same ‘jolted exposure’ effect with the same lenses. I can also shoot with our Alpha 700, 900 and 580 bodies and never see this shake fingerprint despite their mirror mechanism and mechanical first curtain combined.

Of course I may get shake with disabled or absent stabilisation, hand-held, with almost any digital body. I use many different cameras through the year and sometimes I get very poor stabilisation, as when using certain Nikon lenses with the earlier VR zooms on their 24 megapixel DX format bodies. This shake is random and variable, and reflects my own instability, body sway, wind chill and so on. It’s not one type of shake visible too often in shots which should not normally be affected.

Reviewers have been incredibly cautious to observe this effect. I don’t know why. I’d spotted it within a few hours of trying the camera out. Others have been fast to defend the A7R and suggest that you just need to avoid that critical shutter speed range of 1/60th-1/160th. If this was not such an extremely useful speed range that would be fine. It’s actually the precise range you most want to be perfectly stabilised and least want to have to avoid. It’s also favoured by Sony when program mode and auto ISO are used.

One way to minimise this shake seems to be to use manual focus, mechanical lenses and to favour short focal lengths. The A7R never feels or handles better than when you’ve got a rangefinder lens in the range from 12mm to 28mm fitted. It becomes like the Leica that never was, the eye-level camera which doesn’t need a separate viewfinder to handle a 12mm, 15mm, 18mm, 21mm or 24mm lens. Leica may have a good rear screen to help with this issue now but no EVF. So the next point has been a big issue for buyers.

For the latest firmware updates, and new Apps and software, see:

http://www.sony.co.uk/support/en/product/ILCE-7R

And for the rest…

While I do miss the dual card slots of most of the Alpha cameras I’m using, I know the NEX and E-mount models have never had this, and with a 32GB card installed I have adapted to using the USB cable to read off new images and let the A7R charge. I do not miss the separate battery charger as I have one, and spare batteries. Nearly all the time, the camera is kept fully charged by its time spent overnight attached to the Mac. Since my RX100, RX10 and NEX-6 all work the same way using the same cable life has been simplified.

My favourite designs remain the A55, A77 and A99 all of which have had GPS on board and rear screens which enable self-filming for video demonstrations, or folding away to face the camera (how I normaly use EVF cameras now). The shared battery across the A55, A7R, NEX and A3000 models and RX10 makes it likely I might travel using a combination of these. I don’t have much use yet for the WiFi functions but I understand their importance to others, and they will really come in useful for remote camera operation in future. That can include skypole or kite work, or having a camera tripod mounted 10 metres away from the main shooting position for a different viewpoint of an event, operated from a phone or tablet.

kerelanchurch-web

GPS identified this as a church at Mailadumpara on the highway to Munnar – the 10-18mm lens used on full frame enabled this uncropped 36 megapixel shot at 14mm, f/11 (the shading is due to natural sky polarisation and the vignetting of the lens which I have not corrected).

I found a solution to my GPS problems in the form of a £40 igotU device from Maplin. It’s tiny (I am tempted to put a hot shoe mount on it but so far have just popped it in my shirt pocket). Free igotU2gpx file reading and low-cost PhotoLinker (buggy and unreliable in the extreme with 36 megapixel raw files) let me write GPS data into full day shoots on all cameras used. It’s not as accurate as built-in GPS and the process is tedious; the GPS data also exists in sidecar files until MediaPro is used to embed it into finished JPEGs. I’ll still buy the GPS module for the multi function shoe just as soon as Sony release it.

Top quality files

The appeal for me of the A7R is the sheer quality of the image. Even at ISO 3200, it is completely acceptable when processed carefully with Adobe software from raw. The JPEGs are mediocre with the exception of multi-shot modes and I don’t use them except for panoramas and night shots. The raw file has been criticised but compared directly with competitors, I find it has what I need – excellent highlight recovery from normal exposure levels, very low noise across a wide range of ISO, an ISO 50 setting ideal for studio lit subjects, and extreme pixel level sharpness.

Lomography Petzval lens

The Lomography Petzval lens used on the A7R with Nikon adaptor. This reproduction lens from an 1840s design is a wonderful tool for portraits.

RTK-silverfex-faded-petzval

Richard Kilpatrick as a Victorian portrait subject with our Interfit background as a drape – A7R, ISO 50, Petzval lens at f/5.6 (Waterhouse stop) manually focused, Elinchrom Ranger Quadra RX flash.

Manual focusing with peaking and magnification combined tells you a lot about your lenses. Find a good lens, and the peaking will be present even at Low setting, with a very narrow band of activation. A poor lens (or aperture setting) usually fails to show a peaking line at Low setting, then shows one at Medium or High which has little discrimination. I’ve been able to identify my best manual and A-mount lenses by using the 14.4X magnification and the peaking function to examine targets.

Having done this, the extra performance squeezed out of almost lenses by super-accurate focusing makes AF seem inadequate. The contrast detection AF of the A7R is good, but just invoking magnified manual after it has locked on proves that it rarely hits the perfect mark. It gets to ‘good enough’. Like many new A7R owners, I find myself often using manual focusing without noticing that it is any slower than AF used to be. It’s a quantum leap ahead of any optical finder accuracy.

SONY DSC

I find the body shape and size ideal, and have no complaints about the position of anything except the shutter release, which could have been 3mm or so further forward, and also would have been improved by the addition of a manual cable release thread (found on the RX10). I don’t plan to get a vertical grip, as the whole point of the A7R is small size and light weight. The external finish feels secure, the battery and other doors are adequately sealed and I don’t tend to overwork them.

The small body size causes a few problems with tripod mounting. Even the smallest monopod head can restrict the rear screen movement making it impossible to angle the screen down if you want to hold the camera above head height. It doesn’t angle down much to start with. The position of the Menu button, needed to access some adjustments like OSS and Finder Setting Effect, isn’t ideal as the only button on the left end of the camera. The exposure compensation dial is unusual as a solus function using up an entire large mechanical control, and has no lock, so it can be turned a little easily.

The A7/R is so customisable that after a couple of months getting used to it and changing things you’ll have a camera as far removed from its out of the box settings as a typical Canon ends up. Mine, for example, has the AF/MF and AE Lock button/switch control set up to act as Focus when set to AF/MF (with pre-Focus and tracking lock and eye-start focus all disabled), and to act as Focus Magnifier when set to AE; while the shutter release is set not to activate AF, but to lock AE on first pressure (when using the camera in a controlled environment – when travelling, I soon reverted to AF with shutter). This makes the camera anything but point and shoot, as out of focus shots are guaranteed without a separate focus action.

In practice

Like far too many A7R users, I’ve spent half my time testing and experimenting, and not enough time shooting. I’ve had the RX10 as a companion at the same time, and needed to shoot with new flash systems, where that camera’s exceptional high speed sync makes it more versatile – there’s not much point having flash heads which manage 1/5000th duration when your sync speed is 1/160th, unlike the RX10 which can manage between 1/1600th and 1/3200th depending on aperture. I had a concert venue opening to shoot, with video, and once again the silent RX10 with its superb video quality was the obvious choice.

Then, at Easter, we had a nine-day tour of Kerala, an exceptional offer from Citrus Holidays providing us with a private driver and a packed itinerary covering 1000km and five locations. This was our first visit to India for 28 years, and would provide the first library images of India apart from a few scanned transparencies of subjects which do not date. Equipment mattered. Shirley always uses her Alpha 580 with Sigma 18-250mm OS original version; it’s heavy and the lens has been through one factory service already, but it’s been very reliable and survived a short period where a Nikon D600 kit was tried as a replacement (and sold pretty sharply, in favour of returning to the more reliable AF, AE and clean sensor of 580).

Logically, my A77 and A55 would have come along. They share the same battery type, and my basic lens set 8-16mm, 16-80mm and 70-300mm gives both exceptional wide angle and a good tele performance (300mm plus APS-C plus 24 megapixels) for wildlife. It is however a very heavy kit and we wanted to travel light and work light, in high temperature and humidity.

So, the A7R had to be my choice. Apart from anything else, this camera at £1800 had not so far proved ‘better’ for any given job – it was barely used. In the studio our A900 and A700 optical finders just work far better than any EVF camera, and for general PR and social photography the last thing you need is 36 megapixel full frame. It just creates oversized files and tends to have too little depth of field. The A7R had been used for tests, for some winter landscapes, and some architectural shots. We had not travelled at all since early November.

This decision also led me to leave the RX10 behind, and this was a big mistake. I took the RX100 instead because the RX10 is fairly large. Its zoom range and silent operation would both have been valuable. With the A7R and its 28-70mm OSS lens I took the 10-18mm OSS, my Tamron 18-200mm VC DiIII, NEX-6 body and 16-50mm OSS collapsible kit lens. This was really a backup in case any fault developed. In practice the A7R makes a better APS-C camera. I only used the 28-70mm lens once, and used the wide zoom and the Tamron fairly often on the A7R with APS-C crop, occasionally with crop disabled. While it’s possible to get a bit more wide-angle from the 10-18mm by shooting full fame, the 15 megapixel crop is a 100% perfect frame every time with this lens.

Despite the phase-detect focus of the NEX-6, this camera proved less accurate and slower in all conditions. Its main benefit was better timing for shots once the finder image is focused and stable, along with quieter operation. It may be a smaller body nominally but there’s little practical difference. Also, I was wearing a baseball cap, the minimum headgear needed in the sun. The left-end viewfinder eye position prevented a right hand ‘on top’ vertical grip on the NEX-6 while the central eyepiece of the A7R allowed a choice of grip style without having to remove the peaked cap.

The most significant loss my choice involved was telephoto power. Shirley’s 250mm f/6.3 reach on APS-C would have demanded a huge lens, a true 375mm or in practice a 400mm, to get the full benefit of 36 megapixels on full frame. It would also have demanded at least one f-stop more stopping down to match the critical long lens depth of field. I didn’t have an E-mount 24 megapixel body, but if I had one my 18-200mm would have slightly outreached Shirley’s 250mm as used on 16 megapixels.

162mmf8-anhinga-nex6

This snake bird (anhinga) was photographed using the NEX-6 and 18-200mm (162mm and f/8), from a moving boat. There is no trace of shake at 1/250th, indicating the VC stabilisation works on this body. I got excellent results from the NEX-6, which I picked up at The Photography Show on March 4th with its 16-50mm collapsible motorized zoom on a special deal. However that deal was not as good as the current B+H of $524 with free accessories.

There are no lenses yet made longer than 200mm for the FE mount. If there are any made other than an obligatory zoom to 300mm they will be expensive and limited to the E-mount system for ever. In contrast a Canon, Nikon or Alpha SSM long lens will always be usable on SLR-form bodies and also on mirrorless – possibly on various mirrorless systems. Canon EF lenses for example can be used on almost all mirrorless bodies, and Nikon teles have the possibility of fitting to their 1 system 2.7X factor bodies with totally successful functions and focusing. I’ve tried this and it works – an 800mm equivalent with outstanding image quality, from a 300mm.

It’s for these reasons I have succumbed to ordering an LA-EA4. I value the LA-EA3 because it allows me to use some lenses with contrast detect focus and a pure image path, but my favourite 70-300mm Sigma OS will not CD focus. Buy the EA4, and I can use all my screw drive Minolta and Sony glass.

This is why I sill feel the A7R can be described as the Swiss Army Knife! It can do APS-C as well as its 16 megapixel APS-C siblings, but switch to use full frame to squeeze extra angle from many lenses. My Tamron 18-200mm is only just compatible with the A7R – its VC stabilisation and general performance indicate that a firmware fix might be needed (see earlier comments) - but it can give me a 19 megapixel image sharp corner to corner with a range of image sizes from square to 35mm, at 18mm and f/11, making it as useful as a 16-200mm lens instead of an 18-200mm.

In March, I needed to write up the Samyang 24mm Tilt-Shift lens, which was only available for review in Nikon mount, and needed a full frame body. The A7R with a low-cost Nikon adaptor did the job perfectly and the magnified focusing function allowed full and successful use of the lens functions. I now have a wide range of lenses and adaptors, and there’s no manual lens I own which the A7R can not use.

SONY DSC

The Samyang 24mm Tilt-Shift f/3.5 manual lens has better control over movements (including 30° intervals for independent rotation) than the Canon or Nikon in the same focal length, though it lacks auto iris, EXIF data and focus confirmation. Here it is used with a low-cost manual Nikon adaptor.

24mmTSseriesmono

Using the 24mm Tilt-Shift – a lesson here in floor/ground and ceiling/roof relationships and camera position. First shot, a typical eye level architectural compromise in which a normal wide angle keeps the verticals straight. The trade-off is that you get a similarly generous view of both the floor and ceiling. Second shot, moving the camera close to ground level. Third shot, applying a full vertical shift; the floor is now seen from an angle giving it much less emphasis, while the vaulted roof is seen from below. For real estate shots, the camera is usually placed close to the ceiling on a tall tripod, and a drop front applied, to show the extent of room interiors better by emphasising their floor area. This is stuff I learned 40 years ago working with 5 x 4.

The A7R stabilisation incompatibilty issue with the Tamron 18-200mm was ‘tested’ at considerable cost in lost shots. During most of the Kerala trip, fortunately including a few chances to get close to wildlife like the anhinger shown above, I used the 18-200mm on the NEX-6 for the slightly higher resolution and faster response. I’m very glad I did this and put the A7R away. No shot shows any sign of stabilisation failure. Finding a dramatic sunset location with rocks and predictable spray from breaking waves, I used the same lens on the A7R, which I had taken to the beach to produce some tests showing full frame coverage.

175mmf9

One of my frame coverage tests of the 18-200mm on the A7R. 175mm, 1/200th at f/9 – conditions which with stabilisation should result in a perfectly sharp result almost every time. Instead, this combination produced a jerked slightly double imaged unsharp shot every single time. Even at 21mm focal length this degradation was visible.

All the images (full frame tests and rock sunset shots) showed the same characteristic stabilisation jerk even at 1/320th, which I had not considered possible as the peak vibration from the A7R shutter occurs 1/250th after the shutter opens. It may not be shutter shock which causes this shake effect, but a firmware incompatibility (in timing signals?) between the A7R body and certain lenses.

piccure-processed

Here is my processed image put through the new software Piccure, which I can recommend as the first program to analyse and remove shake effectively – see http://intelligentimagingsolutions.com – and which has significantly improved some of my A7R ‘shaken up’ shots to the point that when reduced to 9 megapixels, they are as sharp as you would have expected from a KM Dimage A2 (ah, the irony… we do make progress, don’t we?). Click the above image for a full size screen shot.

kovalambeachfamily-web

This was my final crop and process from the shot involved, which was an 18.2 megapixel ‘more than APS-C’ crop from the full A7R frame, sharpened using Piccure and reduced to 24MB final image size.

200mmsunsetrocks

This sunset, and all the similar shots taken with the 18-200mm on the A7R, proved too badly affected by stabilisation malfunction to use at the desired full size.

Again, Sony’s decision to disable OSS with many lenses on the A7R only, and to issue firmware updates to enable this, supports this theory. Whatever the case, I lost all my first night’s sunset shots for anything except web sized use (above – it’s not sharp for printing or library use). We returned two further nights at the right time and tried various combinations. It was a subject not helped by heat haze and blown salt spray (UV filters were fitted, of course, and needed cleaning frequently to avoid the whole picture being softened).

shakexample-rocks

It’s so bad it almost hurts your eyes, but this was the focus point of many shots, and the double image (always in the vertical direction when the A7R was held horizontally) from the 18-200mm Tamron consistently gave a result like this. You might also suspect inaccurate focus and poor lens performance, but plenty of other shots at similar apertures and settings on the NEX-6 were completely OK. Perhaps the only answer with the A7R will be the near-£1,000 70-200mm f/4 G and replacement of the 28-70mm with another £1,000-worth of 24-70mm f/4. All that to get me back to where I was thirty years ago in terms of aperture and focal length range!

shake2-rocks

Using Piccure had no useful effect on this shot. It created triple outlines of the shake in place of double.

Eventually I got what I wanted but only with the 70mm reach of the 28-70mm OSS lens. The final, third, visit had cloud cover as the sun reached the right position. But, if you want to try this for yourself, visit Light House Beach in Kovalam at around 6.00pm (get a beer and wait) around April 16th-22nd. Like all such sunsets, there are just two times each year where the sun will hit the right position over the horizon.

lighthousebeach-sunset1

The 28-70mm really didn’t have the power to give me the sun at the size I wanted, but at least with Photoshop processing this was a more or less acceptable result. For any shot like this, I would far prefer to have a true mirrorless camera – no SLT mirror either – and the A7R should be a perfect choice. Tripod use was not an option because of the crowds (which you can’t see) and combination of incoming tide and wave.

There was one lens which never let me down – the 10-18mm OSS. Whether on the NEX-6, A7R crop or A7R full frame this lens always turned in a perfectly focused and well stabilised result.

At the end of our Keralan tour, we were invited to have lunch and a short tour of a major ayurvedic resort hotel, Isola di Cocco. The tour only took twenty minutes, seeing some of the rooms, and was at mid-day when the light is not ideal. I took a few shots on the A7R including room interiors, and sent small versions to our hosts afterwards. The outcome was a request for commercial use of the image set in their next brochure. These were not exactly what we would do on a commission – for one thing, we’d normally remove towels from round the pool, pick the best time of day, make fine adjustments to room details and even use lighting.

Isola di Cocco Resort Poovar

A pool needs to be very clean to handle a shot from three inches above the water surface (at 10mm).

This is what we we used to do in the 1980s producing brochure pictures for travel operators and it was never a casual thing, more a very long and full working day with many appointments and too much driving. These shots were quick snaps, even if professional snaps, and we agreed to use for a charity donation (all Indian businesses seem to support local charities as a matter of routine).

We’d be more than happy to go back and do it properly though!

Back in the 1980s we had nothing to approach the 15mm equivalent angle of the 10mm used on crop frame A7R, even though a few such lenses did exist for 35mm systems. 35mm was like using a 6 megapixel camera, and our shots had to stand full page to double page use. I used a Pentax 6 x 7 with its widest non-fisheye 45mm lens and that was equal to a 24mm, something you can now find at the wide end of many compacts. It had to go on a tripod, as the exposure times with Fujichrome RF 50 film (for shadow detail) with the f/16 or f/22 apertures needed for sharpness in depth were usually around 1/4 to 1 second. The tripod was one you couldn’t easily take by air today, and the camera kit with two bodies and three lenses was heavy and bulky. Then there was a matter of a hundred or so rolls of film to handle the five bracketed exposures for each frame, lead anti-X-ray bags, and a large Metz flash with an extension head… and our 35mm Minolta kit on top of it all. Each room could take an hour or more to photograph.

Isola di Cocco Resort Poovar

Raw conversion controls enable the rich teak wood interior to be shown clearly without losing the highlights of the wall and white sheets.

And here I am today, complaining about aspects of the A7R when I can walk into a room like the one above, without a tripod, find my viewpoint, observe the horizon level display while composing carefully, and make an exposure at ISO 1600 with quality equivalent to ISO 100 35mm film. With a lightweight carbon-fibre tripod, this almost Leica-sized camera can now outperform anything we might have expected from 6 x 7 film and at ISO 50 is good enough for wall-sized prints and poster reproduction.

We have some aspects of A7R technique and performance to ‘fix’ and you’ll realise that I do not approach using any new camera uncritically. But there’s nothing else on the market short of medium format which can match what it does.

I do not address, here, the demands of users wanting to switch from conventional heavy-duty SLR type cameras whose gear includes fast long apo telephotos and zooms, who work frequently with sequence bursts, require to track sports action, shoot news, capture wildlife or want to snap their kids and pets (which requires much the same camera performance as covering sports and news… they may move slower but they are much closer!).

My present thinking is that the new 12 megapixel A7S with its 4K motion picture capture and extreme low-light performance may not be what I want, but I’m considering adding an A7 or changing the NEX-6 for an A6000. I’m not quite ready to sell the A900 or the A77. I’ll see how the A7R performs over the summer and update in due course.

The A7 MkII with full-frame stabilisation, announced in November 2014, tends to put my theory about power drain and lenses into doubt, but only because I might assume the 5-axis sensor stabilisation also puts a heavy load on the battery. It does have the different shutter mechanism found on the A7, and of course, it does not have a 36 megapixel sensor to power.

- David Kilpatrick

 

 

 

 

NEX-7 close cousin reaches astronomical value

A crowd at a charity auction in Florida couldn’t believe their eyes as two brand new Hasselblad Lunar cameras with a joint retail value of around $14,000 suddenly rocketed in value to $54,500 (from Hasselblad press release this afternoon).

Two photo enthusiasts at the world-famous three day-long annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance exotic car festival began bidding against each other for the chance to own an ‘ultimate luxury’ olive wood-handled Lunar camera, crafted by the iconic camera brand.

Lunar Olive Wood 18-55 Hood_b

When the bid reached $28,000 neither party wanted to lose out on a Lunar, so a deal was struck for an extra camera to be auctioned – for a joint record-busting price that raised a total of $54,500 for a spina bifida charity.

The deal also included a unique set of classic motorsport photographs shot over decades with a Hasselblad camera by Concours Show founder and chairman, Bill Warner.

Warner said: “Hasselblad is simply the ultimate camera. It’s the Mercedes-Benz, the Porsche and the Ferrari of cameras, all in one.”

The Amelia Island classic car and automotive art festival, which is billed as ‘three days of automotive passion at the International Historic Motoring Awards, Motoring Event of the year (2013)’, draws classic car enthusiasts from across the globe each year and raises millions of dollars for charity.

Michael Hejtmanek, President of Hasselblad Bron Inc. said: “We knew our new, retro-look Lunar range was compelling – especially the rich-veined olive wood edition with its advanced technology and supreme ergonomics – but for a pair of them to raise $54,500 for Spina Bifida Jacksonville at this auction is just outstanding.”

Further information:

http://www.hasselblad-lunar.com/
http://www.spinabifidajax.org/
https://www.ameliaconcours.org/

Our comment: fortunately, charity auctions are always about the charity not about the real value of the items. These are still only worth a little compared to the actual lunar-landing Hasselblads, of which four are thought to be surviving in the wild and surfacing at auctions from time to time.

Sony Global Ambassadors programme

A new global initiative sees Sony working closely with some of the world’s top photographers and industry leaders to celebrate the beauty of photography. Inaugural participants in the Global Imaging Ambassadors programme include William Klein and photographers from the leading international photo agency, Panos Pictures.

Through the Global Imaging Ambassadors programme Sony will work closely with a range of photographers with diverse styles from across the globe. The symbiotic partnership will see Sony lending its technical expertise and ground-breaking products, whilst benefiting from participating photographers’ exceptional imagery, professional feedback and brand support.

In addition Sony will work with each photographer to create a bespoke image using Sony’s high-end line of photographic equipment. These commissions will include unique shots of respected photographer William Klein’s return to New York, where this past summer – 60 years following his seminal work, Life is Good and Good for you in New York – he documented Brooklyn, a city he refers to as ‘the America of tomorrow’.

Of the programme, Klein says, “Brooklyn for me, a Manhattanite, has always been a mystery. This year, it became a photographic discovery. With the Sony a99, photography has been a pleasure. The camera has been a partner, rather than a burden. And the quality of the photos have proven to be an unexpected revelation.”

A portion of “Brooklyn, by William Klein”, along with an exclusive behind the scenes film, can be seen on the new ambassador website. Additionally, a major retrospective of Klein’s legendary work is now on display at the FOAM museum in Amsterdam. The showcase of over 200 pieces of Klein’s work spans six decades and includes ten photographs from this latest Brooklyn project.

William Klein show

Panos Pictures brings to the programme a wealth of established and award-winning photographers, including Zackary Canepari, Espen Rasmussen, Sanjit Das and George Georgiou. Over the past five months, these photographers have been using Sony’s RX1/R and a7 cameras to produce their projects in places such as Malaysia, Norway, Turkey and the USA. Adrian Evans, Director of Panos Pictures says, “Panos Pictures photographers always strive to be unique and creative in their approach to visual story telling and journalism. Our relationship with Sony gives our photographers access to Sony’s latest technological innovations, and support for photographers long term projects in an industry that is rapidly changing.” Additional photographers, including Bolivian based Karla Gachet, will be added to the programme in 2014. All current projects can be found on the ambassador website.

Yoshiyuki Nogami, Senior General Manager, Marketing Division, DI Business Group, Sony commented: “The Global Ambassadors Programme is an extremely exciting project that allows Sony to lend its technical expertise to some of the world’s leading photographers to enable them to bring their creative visions to life. From Sony’s perspective, we are able to gather valuable feedback about what photographers want from their equipment which will shape our new product development and help us move towards our goal of providing the best digital imaging products available in the market.”

Running the programme on Sony’s behalf is the World Photography Organisation (WPO), an international organisation providing various platforms and programmes for photographers of all levels and disciplines, along with educational and cultural programmes for the public. Sony has a long-standing partnership with WPO through their sponsorship of the annual World Photography Awards.

Using the 10-18mm OSS zoom on full frame

uncorrected12mm

This is a pretty awful case of vignetting and distortion – as you would expect. It’s from an APS-C format wide angle zoom, the 10-18mm f/4 SEL OSS lens for NEX, used on the Alpha 7R full frame mirrorless body. Early in the launch period of this camera, various far more attractive images appeared on-line using subjects like roads, rail lines, beaches and even shop counters where the lines look straight – rather like that drainpipe – because of where they fall in the shot. As you can see, anything with a horizon near the long edge of the framewould have given a very different impression.

However, Adobe offers a free utility which enables you to make lens profiles to correct vignetting and distortion.

I’ve now created a lens profile for ACR/LR using full frame and the 10-18mm on the A7R. The vignetting is such that the profile creator really can’t handle it, and overcorrects the extreme corners as a result. I’ve done f/4, f/8, f/16 at 12, 14, 16 and 18mm focal lengths using an A2 chart; for a lens like this, a much greater working distance and an A0 chart would really be desirable.

corrected-customprofile12mm

At 12mm you can probably see the vignetting artefacts in the corners, the magenta corner shift and incomplete correction of the horizon line. You’ll also be quick to spot that the 12mm coverage has been reduced to something much less, lens profiles always reduce the field of view (they can not do otherwise).

The profiler simply can’t handle the degree of sudden fall-off in illumination given by the 10-18mm used on full frame. Manual distortion corrections can actually do a better job. At other focal lengths, the profile I’ve made works well enough, and if the frame is cropped slightly (still exceeding the APS-C area the lens is designed for) it’s possible to get good results and wider angles.

I have sold my Sigma 12-24mm HSM II which was used with the A99, and also sold a Voigltander 15mm f/4.5 I bought to test (zero cost fortunately, as it made a small profit between Gumtree source and eBay destination). The Sigma was not only very difficult to focus using CD, its HSM motor won’t play with Sony CD.

My .lcp full-frame file can be downloaded from:

http://www.photoclubalpha.com/AdobeCameraProfiles/ILCE-7R FF (E 10-18mm F4 OSS) – RAW.lcp.zip

Samples produced for a dPreview forum question

There’s been a lot of discussion on dPreview forums of which lenses work on full frame E-mount, as Sony saw fit to put a Disable APS-C crop option in the menus of the A7 and A7R (almost as if they wanted owners to experiment). They have made other welcome changes of a similar kind which I’ll cover in a full review of the camera – which I can not do yet as I have no FE mount lenses for it, and with the current choice and prices, I can see I may never use FE mount lenses on this camera.

So, to answer some questions on dPreview’s E-mount forum, I posted these images and comments.

Here is a ‘native’ uncorrected shot of a local building taken on the 10-14mm on A7R at 11mm, f/10, ISO 100:

View: original size

Here is the result of using the profile, doing a crop and some straighten of slight rotated tilt, and pulling the scale down (with the profile applied, the roof apex is clipped off at the top as the lens has so much distortion its 11mm probably becomes more like 15mm when corrected):

View: original size

I’ve used some clarity and local burn adjustments on the sky to treat the image more or less as I would (except that I wouldn’t actually photograph this building at this time of day, with blinds drawn, etc).

For me, the 10-18mm on A7R with our without the profile correction offers the same options as using assorted lenses on 5 x 4 sheet film. It never mattered whether a 47mm didn’t cover the entire film, you got an image circle and could use whatever part of it you want. At 10mm the image, with the profile used, has strong corner cut-off but the overall circle of usable image greatly exceeds APS-C provided you stop down (f7.1 seems just OK, f/10 is maybe optimum, I’d certainly try f/16 despite fears of detail loss).

View: original size

The red crop mark is square – my ‘Hasselblad SWC killer’, as the classic SWC had just a 38mm wide angle lens. You needed to get an Arcbody with 35mm Rodenstock to go any wider on 56 x 56mm film (6 x 6). With the A7R and 10-18mm at 10mm, you get the equivalent of a 24mm lens. Not a 24mm fisheye on 6 x 4.5 like the widest ever offered by Mamiya… a 24mm rectilinear on 6 x 6.

The yellow crop mark represents a significantly larger area than APS-C (which is actually just a little under the 24 x 24mm square in width). It is shifted vertically, as if the lens was being used as a shift lens. If only the APS-C area is considered, its approximately 16 x 24mm area can be positioned right to the top of the frame, equalling a 4mm rise, or the equivalent of using a 6mm rise on a full-frame PC lens (most actually go to 11 or 12mm rise). There is only one lens made which can compete with this, and that’s the Canon 17mm f/4 TS. Admittedly this is a superb lens and when stopped down to f/11 and used on the 6D (Canon’s most shift-friendly sensor) will blow this result away for clean rendering of detail toward the frame edges.

And then, you can still use the 10-18mm in APS-C crop mode as a snapshot wide angle with pretty much perfect correction (Adobe’s own Sony profile for APS-C), for videos too. Now – I’m after some information…

I need to know if the 20mm f/2.8 SEL has the same basic design as the 16mm f/2.8 scaled up, and the same kind of simple-to-remove rear rectangular baffle – because if it does, it will probably cover FF on the A7R to a very high standard if an Adobe .lcp profile is created for it. So, help would be appreciated – if you have an A7 or A7R, test the 20mm f/2.8 SEL with its rear baffle removed. On the 16mm, this is a simple process involving three small screws and lifting the plastic moulding off the lens (replace just as easily). It may be the same on the 20mm and if the optical design is simply a scaling-up the image circle may also be larger. As the 16mm f/2.8 will – like the 10-18mm zoom – cover full frame but will need a good profile (my next project) the 20mm is very interesting.

- David Kilpatrick

Nikon’s DF finally recaptures the spirit of Dynax 7D

Sony said, as they took over the Konica Minolta camera division in 2006, that the day of mechanical controls and switches was gone. Economies of production and efficiencies of design meant that from now on, cameras would be controlled by buttons and menus. Anyone who remembers the original Alphas, the 7000 and 5000 from the mid-1980s, will also remember that this is not an original idea.

Minolta started to return to mechanical dials and visible controls after ten years of experiment with buttons, programs, and automatic functions. The Dynax (Alpha, or Maxxum) 800si and above all the 600si Classic restored traditional camera controls. The acclaimed 9 and 7 models followed, featuring physical switch or dial controls for exposure compensation (separate ambient and flash) and drive modes along with a shutter-dial style mode setting including the vital 1, 2 and 3. The triple custom memory setting enabling users to switch instantly between (say) outdoor action, studio flash and tungsten theatre lighting has survived as a Minolta gene all the way to the latest Sony generation.

Now Nikon has arrived with the DF, a very much standard autofocus DSLR using the D4’s 16 megapixel full frame sensor and a D610-derived AF and shutter specification, in a moderately compact retro-styled body with about the same number of mechanically switched visible controls as the Dynax 7D. It’s over ten years since the 2002 design of that camera (which finally appeared in 2004 after a change of imager from a planned Foveon sensor to the 6 megapixel Bayer Sony, rumoured to be a decision helped by Sony’s pressure on Konica Minolta as their main supplier for compact digital sensors).

nikdf-slant Dynax-7D-slant

Top, you see the Nikon DF in the black finish which very few sites are choosing to highlight – the silver and black looks SO much more retro – with 18-35mm Nikkor lens, 2013; below it, you see the Konica Minolta Dynax 7D with Konica Minolta (aka Tamron) 17-35mm. Note the strap lugs; KM moved one forward for better balance, but carefully kept the right-hand strap behind the shutter finger. Nikon has rather peculiarly chosen to place this strap lug forward as well, putting the strap physically between the index finger and the rest of the fingers.

The Nikon is hiding a flip-out aperture coupling pin to allow the use of original Nikon F (Photomic metering) or Nikkormat generation F-mount lenses, which have an external non-self-indexing meter coupler on their aperture control. Minolta’s full aperture metering used a self-indexing coupler which, unlike Nikon, did not required a back and forth rotation of the ring to tell the camera the relationship between the full aperture and any stopped down setting. In the 1960s, Minolta’s method enabled the fastest lens changes and also enabled ‘blind’ changing as there was no need to look down at the lens or engage a pin when doing so.

Nikon kept faith with their old mount when they introduced their AF system, despite the deep body register and narrow throat creating many problems with lens design. Minolta designed a brand new wider throat. At the time it made sense. Who then was to know that precisely the same constraints on lens design imposed by the narrow Nikon mount and deep mount to film register would make Nikon lenses much better, 20 years later, in the age of digital sensors with their need for telecentric designs and small rear exit pupils?

You’ll see that the old KM has a switched White Balance at the right hand end, more or less where Nikon has put a small PASM selector dial on the DF. Imagine it – a switch to get AWB, your most recent Preset, a Custom reading or to set in Kelvins. Where the D7D has a PASM plus 123 custom memory selector (locking) and hiding below it a mechanical switch for self-timer and sequence drive modes (3fps from the 6.1 megapixel sensor), Nikon has a very granular T (for time) to 1/4,000th shutter speed dial cramming those intervals in.

nikdf-top

The actual shutter inside the camera despite being full-frame in the Nikon is really much the same as that of the D7D, a 30 second to 1/4,000th unit with X at 1/200th. And below the Nikon’s dial at the front (the KM has it at the back) is the drive mode selector, which does include the Mirror Up position that the D7D was lacking. There’s a mini LCD display on top to allow the use of the 1/3rd step control-wheel set shutter speeds, and to display the aperture on G type lenses which don’t have a physical setting and must be set from the body.

On the left end of the Nikon there’s a two-tier wedding cake for ±3EV 1/3rd stop exposure compensation, and below this an ISO control from L1 (50) to H4 (51,200).

d7dback

I don’t seem to have a picture of the D7D left hand dial from above, but it offered something unusual – turn the dials a full 180° and the 1/3rd step EV compensation adjustments were exchanged for 1/2 step adjustments. The D7D also had a stack of controls on the back, like the lockable AF point selector control round the four-way selector, an ISO button (bearing in mind this camera was derived from the Dynax/Alpha 7, which used DX coding to read filmspeeds and an LCD menu entry to adjust them), Memory Set and other stuff which now seems rather clever and useful. The AS anti-shake physical switch, last seen on the Alpha 900, is one which would be welcomed back again. And of course this camera had AS. It was the first, and everyone apart from Nikon and Canon has followed the lead.

nikdf-back

Where the back of the D7D was criticised for being a bit complex for the everyday user, the Nikon DF in all fairness bears a remarkable similarity right down to five left hand buttons and the metering selector switch, AE and AF buttons. The DF has more stuff on the front, including a control wheel which looks a bit like the battery cover off an early Mamiya SLR and two buttons down to the right of the lens escutcheon which vaguely resemble an ancient two-pin flash connector. Since there can be no actual need for the bulges they are placed on, this is probably deliberate. Same goes for the mechanical cable release screw thread in the shutter button, fun feature, but actually electrical releases can have many more functions and don’t transmit hand movement the same way. The DF has a pretty skinny right hand grip but exceptional battery life at up to 1500 exposures, where the D7D has a lovely big grip partly to accommodate a similar size of battery which rarely managed 400.

KM’s pioneering DSLR weighs almost 200g more than the Nikon, though both are made from magnesium alloy, despite the smaller format. That’s perhaps because the prism in the Minolta design was not downsized and the actual eyepiece magnification of the 95% view was 0.9X, where the Nikon dealing with a full frame is reduced to 0.7X (and still, of course, looks larger – 0.7X versus 0.9X 0.66X 0.95X, or a cumulative 0.56X scale).

As for size and fit, the Nikon is said be based on an F2, or maybe they meant an FM2 – but it’s not in any way, the prism can look vaguely FM2-like in the chrome version with leather panels, but the body is a completely different shape some 15mm shorter than an F2 but much fatter and taller. It’s a dumpy sort of chunk, is also shorter fatter and higher than the D7D despite having no built-in flash. D7D = 150mm x 106mm x 65mm (specifications misprinted as 77.5mm in many reviews, no idea why); Nikon DF = 144mm x 110mm x 67mm.

Now there’s one other way in which Nikon has copied the KM D7D – the DF has no video! It does have live view, and that means you can overcome the shortcomings of the D600-like 39 point AF module (limited to the DX crop area and in my experience with very small AF point areas making it ‘twitchy’). Live view has magnification and focus peaking.

The new Nikon shoots 16 megapixels not 6 – that’s what a decade of progress has done – and it shoots 5.5fps not an actual 2.8fps like the ‘3fps’ D7D managed. But it’s got just a fixed rear screen, 3.2 inches verses 2.5 (the D7D was ahead of the field in 2004). The Nikon also shoots superb ISO 6400, equal to the old sensor’s 1600 at a pixel level before you consider the benefits of the larger file as well.

And the pricing is borrowed from KM 2004 too – the D7D came in as a $1599 body only which made it a premium product against competition like the Canon EOS 300D, the Nikon DF arrives at $2749 body only and it’s a comparable level considering the full format, technology and cost changes, and a near ten year interval.

We’re sure the Nikon will be a success and this article is not trying to knock the concept or the execution. It’s just here to point out that a decade earlier, Minolta had designed and Konica Minolta eventually produced a DSLR with a general philosophy of physical, external, mechanical-feeling controls. As the pictures show, the Nikon DF could almost be a tribute to that design rather than something based on historic Nikon film bodies – which it quite simply isn’t!

- David Kilpatrick

Free software and a cut-price lens

You have until November 3rd to grab a free download of a truly excellent utility for Mac OSX, created by DxO Optics Pro software team – DxO Perspective. It normally costs $19.95 (or local equivalent) as an Apple App store download, but they have made it free for a few days. It’s a fully working, standard version with no time limit.

Download link for DxO Perspective from Apple iTunes, free until November 3rd

Here’s what they say:

“DxO Perspective corrects all kinds of perspective problems, even the most complex. Using its Rectangle tool, when a photo contains two perspective flaws, DxO Perspective’s Rectangle tool immediately reestablishes a full-frontal view of the object — essential when shooting a photo of a poster or painting! In 8-point correction mode, DxO Perspective handles even more complex perspectives: the independent placing of horizontal and vertical guidelines provides highly precise corrections on multiple planes.”

We can vouch for that. Here’s the software window with a straight shot, uncorrected, Sigma 12-24mm zoom on Alpha 99 at 12mm.

perspective-addpoints

Now on this example, you have a choice of adding points to correct both vertical and horizontal perspective (four indexes clicked/moved) which I have done if you examine the faint blue lines, and this will produce an extreme result:

perspective-extreme

However, for this example, you would normally onle correct the verticals and omit the four-square connections. This produces a natural result relative to any other correction method:

perspective-final

This is a 100% correction. DxO Perspective lets you reduce the degree of correction. Here is what they describe as a ‘natural’ look, 75% strength:

perspective-natural75percent

I preferred the result between 90 and 95% correction.

Midi-Pyrenees

You may ask how this differs from Adobe Camera Raw lens correction perspective control, or similar functions within Photoshop (without using special plug-ins). First, DxO Perspective is a stand alone program and does not need Photoshop, it only requires a JPEG to select and work on. Secondly, here’s the result from ACR/LR type correction, kept slightly on the ‘natural’ side of :

Midi-Pyrenees

The greatest difference is that DxO Perspective makes automatic corrections to the vertical aspect and retains the sense of height, at the same time ensuring that the sky is not compressed.

So, enjoy this free download until November 3rd 2013.

At the same time, from 12.00 midnight Eastern Standard Time on October 31st, B&H in New York announced a drop in the price of the Bower (aka Samyang) 8mm f/3.5 fisheye lens for NEX, MicroFourThirds, Samsung NX, Nikon, Canon EOS, Pentax and Alpha mounts – down to as little as $209 for Alpha or NEX:

Bower 8mm fisheye for NEX – but see below!

Bower 8mm f/3.5 lenses from $209

Buy through this link and you support Photoclubalpha in a small way without paying anything extra yourself (indeed, buy any other B&H item after following this link and it will help us).

Here is some advice. The NEX model is basically an Alpha mount optical assembly with a permanently built in extension tube. We advise you to buy the Alpha version, as this is a manual focus manual aperture unchipped lens – use a NEX to Alpha adaptor, doesn’t have to be the expensive official LA-EA1 as this lens uses none of the connections. Then you have a lens which can be used on two systems.

DxO Perspective does not offer a de-fishing function but we’d make a guess that this would be a likely upgrade to the program in the near future and that’s why they are giving it away. DxO Optics Pro software itself is, after all, famous for the inclusion of lens profiles before any of the other programs (or cameras) got this facility.

- David Kilpatrick

 

Sony A7 merges NEX and RX lines, RX10 revives classics

Although some of my information back in September was off-mark (writes David Kilpatrick), the post which I put up here was definitely right about the new A7 or rumoured ‘full frame NEX’ being based on the RX body design. I gather it was not the Alpha division, or the NEX division, which handed the prototype cameras to photojournalists from Magnum and Panos agencies. It was either Sony management at an even higher level, or the Cyber-shot division. The photographers involved had previously been using the RX1. They were given the pre-production A7 as a development of the RX1. It may even have been produced because Sony got the feedback that an RX with interchangeable lenses would be great.

Richard Kilpatrick attended the London launch event on Wednesday 16th October and has a small gallery of JPEG shots taken with prototype or pre-production bodies and lenses:

http://www.pbase.com/davidkilpatrick/sony_a7_a7r_samples_by_richard_kilpatrick

Richard also relays these comments (now finalised and properly written, evening of a busy day):

Both cameras are deceptive; you simply don’t expect this image quality out of something that light. It’s not like carrying a Leica, where you’re wielding something that might double as a weapon – the magnesium body and full-frame sensor feel solid yet after carrying my regular full-frame SLR, it’s a genuine shock.

The Zeiss lens on the Alpha 7R I used, the 55mm F1.8, looks to be exceptional. When first looking over the JPEGs, I went straight to the corners – the clarity, the even illumination, just instantly impressive. The kit lens I didn’t spend as much time with, and I tried it on the 24Mp Alpha 7 mostly investigating the AF, but I would be opting for primes anyway on this body. I’m curious to see how it handles Leica M-targeted lenses – there will undoubtedly be a 15mm or similar, but one of my favourite inexpensive lenses on the M9 was the Voigtländer Super Heliar II, which showed dramatic falloff and magenta tinges in one corner on that full-frame CCD. It was possible to correct, it seems Sony’s work on short registration full frame may be extremely successful, or their lenses are very well matched. Either way, it works.

I’m not very familiar with Sony’s user interface, and I found some controls slightly unintuitive – on this pre-production model, I couldn’t change the ISO whilst the file was being written. That’s the sort of thing which if I’ve left it set to Auto, or simply hadn’t been paying attention between uses, I might want to do – noticing an incorrect exposure and wanting to rapidly correct my error and reshoot.

Other areas of the UI impressed. The animations for aperture and so forth as you adjust the wheels are quick, clear and unobtrusive, whilst still providing the feedback that would allow less experienced users to see which direction they’re heading and what options are available.

The main screen is very nice. Sharp, and I’m a big fan of articulated screens that allow the use of a camera in a “waist level finder” format. Felt solid, robust enough to cope with professional abuse.

Card door and battery compartment aren’t combined, which is a bonus on a compact body. It also has a well sculpted grip. Perhaps it’s unfair to make direct comparisons, but let’s say I prefer this sort of body design to the flatter, more ‘retro’ inspired mirrorless options on the market.

Can not mention this enough, it’s tiny. It’s properly tiny. Not tiny like “well, it’s as big as a classic SLR from X manufacturer, but it’s packing a tiny sensor in there” – it’s “35mm film era compact body” tiny. With a proper, serious sensor in it, the design compromises to achieve a digital, high-tech UI in a small form factor feel like a much better trade than if you’re working with small controls and sacrificing sensor area.

Port covers are hard plastic, hinged, a bit annoying (rubber ones will at least bend if you catch them by accident). Again, lack of familiarity with Sony catches me out here, as the accessories I’d often expect to hook into the ports use the hotshoe accessory port. An adaptor for the earlier hotshoe is available and about £25 apparently, I was more concerned that I wouldn’t be able to use a regular wireless trigger and thus finding a conventional – albeit very sophisticated – hotshoe was reassuring. I wonder how many regular professionals share that perception – that there will be a non-standard interface on the Sony body.

Shutter sound is very solid, mechanical. A really nice sound. There is not a fully electronic shutter mode available, so no silent shooting, but it’s discrete enough.

Ergonomics are really good. The wheels are logical, I found my way around it very quickly on the whole, though without the experience David has of Sony’s software I didn’t know where to find specific features right away. It was logical enough for the main features, such as setting file size and type. There’s an optional battery grip, though it’s really not vital for changing orientation – the camera is so light, one handed shooting and quick rotation is easy.

I am not a fan of EVFs, though I’m happy to work with them if that’s what I’ve got, an optical viewfinder will always be my preferred route. That said, the EVF really did impress. It’s very sharp, has an impressive refresh rate and of course, somewhere there’s a lot of data being shifted to generate that 2.4Mp image. Cannot deny the technical accomplishment! The overlaid virtual horizon was useful and unobtrusive, though I wasn’t clear on what focus point I was using due to my lack of familiarity with the interface.

Sensor exposed when lens detached. This is common on mirrorless bodies, but I’d really like the option for the shutter to close when detaching a lens. Pros do not treat their kit the way an enthusiast or amateur will cherish the substantial investment – the job, be it on sandy beaches, muddy fields or pouring with rain at a wedding, must take priority and the cameras and lenses get subjected to abuse.

I want one, in an abstract way. it’s really very nice. To expand on that – I’ve a feeling when I see what the finished firmware and raw files offer, and have had more experience with the Zeiss lenses in particular, the shift to an EVF is a change I’d willingly accept for the size and quality advantages, but it’s also just a lovely bit of design. Really appealing.

Sony want to move to pro market. Sony have pretty much always had good glass and bodies, but this offers something really unique that should appeal to many professionals – not least because of that 36Mp sensor.

NEX brand is no more. All models will be united under the Alpha brand, with A, E and FE mounts (Alpha, E and Fullframe E)      – Richard Kilpatrick

Sony-A7R1

That it should use the NEX E-mount (already used for full frame on the VG-900) was never in any real doubt, though other prototypes may have existed using a different approach. Today, worldwide, the A7 (24 megapixels full frame with Phase Detect focusing pixels on the sensor) and the A7r (36 megapixels without PDAF, but with AA filter) were officially announced.

a7r-35mm

Compare the body here with the RX1 below – and make a special point of looking at the film plane index mark on the left-hand top plate end. You’ll see that the sensor is positioned much further forward in the A7 body, as the FE mount has the same 18mm register as the original E-mount (including the RX-style decorative orange lens throat bezel) and the RX body is thicker than a NEX even before this is added. This enables a flush-mounted double hinged rear LCD screen, but it’s not a fully articulated or reversible screen, which is a pity.

rx1electronicfinder

 

Sony-A7-2

You will also see that the entire body has been extended in length, despite the RX being full frame.

This is necessary to accommodate the mechanical drive for the focal plane shutter, which sits more or less between the lens and chunky right hand grip (the RX has no FP shutter as it uses an interlens design). All other principal aspects of the A7 stem from the RX design but the construction is not the same, with multiple magnesium body components sealed together and a different set of interface covers.

The cameras include WiFi and NFC (NearField) communication to enable cable free transfer of images. It does not have built-in GPS but a GPS module is expected for the Multi Function Accessory shoe. The cameras have 2.3K dot 0.71X 0.5 inch OLED EVFs, essentially the same as the A99 with a similar generous eyepiece size and auto switching.

There also appears to be some extra depth to the body. You could dream that the extra body depth, length and height conceal the required mechanism for in-body stabilisation… but it’s just what is needed for the focal plane shutter.

a7-rx1

We had hoped that the 35mm f/2 lens would be replicated, but this was not to be despite some information that the 35mm being used on prototypes was ‘the same’ as the RX1. Instead, there’s a 35mm f/2.8 Zeiss. I will admit to being underwhelmed by that, as it puts the A7/A7r into a category which almost every camera ever made matches (very few cameras can’t achieve a 60° view angle at f/2.8 – it’s what the cheapest compact 35mms used to start with). It is not stabilised.

One zoom lens also announced – a lower cost stabilised(?) Sony G 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 – also fails to set the heart racing (or the hands racing for the wallet) when you consider its modest aperture and fairly substantial size. Unlike the 35mm, it has a rear ring which is marked for aperture adjustment like the RX1 (silent or clicked at choice). The FE mount, while compatible with existing E-mount lenses and accessories and has the same ten-pin contact array, may have additional protocols to handle the on-lens aperture setting.

The 28-70mm zoom is not a true parfocal, it’s similar to lenses such as Canon’s 18-135mm sold with their EOS 70D which almost negates the value of on-sensor PDAF by having massive focus shift when zoomed.

If you want contrast detect focus to work, you need parfocal zooms. You need to keep the subject as close to being sharply focus when you zoom as you possibly can. This zoom does not have a constant aperture though setting it to f/5.6 or smaller may have that effect, and it has a large varifocal range (closest focus at 28mm is 0.30m, at 70mm, it’s 0.45m).

a7-2870

Looking at this, I feel that the 24-105mm Sony f/3.5-4.5 D I’m using on my A99 has real appeal.

a7-2470

This shot shows a Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 OSS lens, not a kit lens, but an option at a high price. This is a more realistic range. My guess is that this lens will not only be a constant aperture (regardless of setting) but also parfocal so zooming during video will not force a refocusing process.

The A7 models have audio manual level control during video and a conventional 3.5mm jack for mic input, clean HDMI output for professional external recorders, and for stills only (not video which remains 1080 50/60 or 25/24p – there is no 30p option) the camera will play back at 4K resolution for the new Triluminos gamut Sony 4K televisions.

The final lens of those released with the camera is a 55mm f/1.8 – again, a slightly odd choice for an expensive standard angle lens of reasonable speed without being special. Bear in mind all these lenses are weathersealed and built for professional use, with the kind of smooth focusing and aperture control required for video as well as stills. A 70-200mm f/4 is also released, putting a total of five lenses in the showcase for launch despite the absence of a true super-wide.

A brand new LA-EA4 Alpha mount lens adaptor provides phase detection AF via an SLT mirror, and has sufficient clearance internally to prevent image cut off (the LA-EA2 casts a shadow on the sensor as it has a smaller throat). A new 70-200mm SSM G II A-mount lens has been launched today as well as is picked out by Sony as compatible with this adaptor.

For most potential buyers, the preview of many other lens adaptors – for Leica and for Canon, as examples – will not just be an added attraction, it will be a essential function. It would be interesting if the FE-mount allows adaptors with their own aperture ring controlling lenes such as Nikon G, and reporting EXIF correctly to the A7’s CPU. That kind of detail we’ll have to wait to learn about; most early reviewers will have other concerns. Adaptors are vital because this camera is launched in sharp contrast to the original NEX-5 and 3 models, with at the best a semi-wide prime lens and a basic wide angle on its zoom.

The NEX system set off with a 24mm lens equivalent, an 84° angle of view considered to be the most desirable all-purpose wide angle, in the box. The NEX SEL 16mm f/2.8 may have had its critics and its QC problems, but it’s become a much-loved lens and got hundreds of thousands of NEX owners off to a great start needing no other wide angle lens. It also had the 12mm wide and 10.5mm fisheye adaptor options at modest cost, meaning that those who wanted true wide views had no reservations buying into the system.

The A7/r is in sharp contrast to this, without no prime in the launch range shorter than 35mm. Professionals would definitely want to have a fast 24mm (and a faster 35mm!) and a geometrically good 20 or 21mm. The Leica 21mm Super Angulon was almost the standard lens for photojournalists from as long ago as 50 years, reaching a peak of popularity in the 1970s, still considered vital when you’re in a tight situation with crowds. The A7 is an incomplete professional tool until it has a moderate sized, f/3.5 or f/2.8 20-21mm. Vignetting is acceptable as long it’s not accompanied by a colour shift. Vignetting actually helps with the look of the images!

The AA filter

The A7r with its D800 level resolution (but a sensor not related to the D800) has the AA filter removed, as in the RX1r. I have tested the RX1r against the RX1 for the British Journal of Photography and I’ll write here about the whole issue of AA filters and moiré only after the BJP has published my report. I will say that the moiré is not a minor issue, the RX1 standard version is already capable of throwing up moiré as it has a very weak AA filter, and the RX1r is bitingly sharp.

So why does Sony do this? It’s hostile to video though the scaling down from the 6000 pixel sensor to a 1920 pixel HD frame is accompanied by moiré removal. The answer lies in conventional contrast detection autofocus. AA filters reduce fine detail contrast and tend to smooth the luminance peaks and troughs used by contrast detect focusing to decide when the image is most sharp. Removing the AA filter has a small but significant effect on the speed and accuracy of contrast detection focusing, along with an improvement in many irregular textures like distant woodlands, lawn grass and human skin. So if you incorporate image processing able to remove some of the resulting moiré, it makes sense. This is the route being taken by most other makers now to get the best possible live view auto follow-focusing.

The A7r sensor has a sensitivity of 100-25,600 expandable to 50, and to 51,200 with multi-frame noise reduction.

The battery

The RX1, like the RX100, charges via micro USB and uses a very small battery., NP-BX1. This is fine for running a camera without a focal plane shutter, though pushing it for capacity when running the larger RX1 with EVF (you need spares). The A7 models have a large finger grip partly to accommodate a more substantial battery. The tiny NP-BX1 is really a consumer compact camera cell. The NP-FW50 used by the A7 models is the same cell used by NEX and Alpha 55 (etc).

A battery grip VG-C1EM accepts two of these cells for extended shooting. Charging remains in-camera despite the battery size, as with the Alpha 3000, the first camera to charge this battery type via USB. However, there is an external battery charger available.

Availability

Sony state ‘mid November’ for worldwide shop stocking. B&H already has offers in place:Sony A7 digital camera body only $1,698
Sony A7r body only $2,298
Sony A7 with 28-70mm $1,998
Cyber-shot RX10 see below $1,298
CZ 24-70mm f/4 OSS $1,198
Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA $798
Sony FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA $998
Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 G SSM II $2,998
Sony LA-EA4 SLT Alpha mount adaptor $348
Battery Grip $298
Charger $48
Off-camera flash shoe (also for all other cameras with Multi Function Shoe) $198

The RX10

Sony-RX10

As this image, released in the early hours of the morning, shows it’s a bridge camera with an 8.8-73.3mm f/2.8 lens which is equal to 24-200mm on a 1″ sensor (2.7X factor, 2:3 format shape). This is the spiritual heir to two cameras – the Konica Minolta A200 and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 – rolled into one. The A2/A200 was described as having a 28-200mm lens, but because it had a 4:3 format shape, the lens was actually equal to a 24mm if you wanted an 8 x 6″ print shape (the 28mm equivalent assumed you cropped the frame down to 2:3… not many people know that…). And that camera had a 7.2-56mm lens, which tells you that the 2/3 inch sensor is for some reason more like a 3/4 inch sensor relative to the 1″ standard.

The RX10 has a mechanical zoom just like the earlier Minolta/KM and Sony models. As long as the lens lives up to expectations, it’s going to be a great general purpose camera, with its 1/3rd click stopped aperture ring round the lens and its Alpha style mechanical AF mode switch. Why would you really want anything more than this for 90% of your out-and-about photography? It has Nearfield (NFC) connectivity but does not have WiFi, or GPS built-in. It does have the Multi Function Accessory shoe which can add many accessory functions in future.

One surprise is that this camera has a mini XLR balanced powered adaptor kit for microphones – this is the small XLR you may have seen on wireless mic sets, locking and more secure than the minijack which is built-in for regular use. This also has audio level metering and manual gain control (thus beating the Alpha 77, which remains hampered by forced auto gain for audio).

Local noise reduction

All the new Sony models have improved sensors and processors. The A7r has the microlenses moulded directly to the sensor, rather than added in an overlay layer as it normal, and they are gapless. The RX10 has a back-illuminated sensor. All have ‘local noise reduction’ which sets alarm bells ringing. If it’s a function that only affects JPEGs, all very well; if we have adaptive local NR affecting raw files, it will only be acceptable if it can be turned off (at least, to some users).

Sony Alpha 3000 review by David Kilpatrick

SONY DSC

There’s not much really, in a different of just three tenths of an inch. There’s even less when the inch isn’t a proper inch, but the sort of inch used to express the size of sensors or display chips. Except, that is, when the difference is between 0.5 inch and 0.2 inch and you’re comparing the electronic viewfinder of cameras like the NEX-6 or Alpha 77 with the EVF found in the new entry-level Alpha 3000 (above and below, from both sides).

SONY DSC

I’ve had the Alpha 3000 (ILCE-3000, Sony model reference number) now for a few weeks, and used it as much as my eyesight and patience would permit, given a wide choice of other cameras to use instead during the same period. I can now say without fear of being shot down in flames that it has the most inadequate electronic viewfinder I can remember using, including finders on various bridge cameras of the distant past.

The viewfinder of the vintage Konica Minolta Dimage A2 used a 0.44 inch 922,000 pixel display chip with a generous eyepiece size and accommodation latitude. That is, anyone able to focus their eyes comfortably between 1m and 3m, with or without specs, would rarely need to touch the dioptre control. The Alpha 55 used an 0.46 inch and the Alpha 77 (and accessory EVFs) 0.5 inch.

SONY DSC

The A3000 eyepiece has a hard plastic surround and small, only slightly recessed cular. The accessory shoe is over the eyepiece unit not over the camera body, and the eyepiece assembly sticks out well clear of the screen.

The Sony A3000’s EVF has 201,600 pixels, not even equal to one-quarter of the 2004 Dimage A2 bridge camera’s display. Because it is such a small chip – a mere 2.88 x 2.15mm which compares to a match-head or a grain of rice – the viewfinder eyepiece has to be a low powered microscope. Like any cheap microscope, it only looks sharp if your eye is precisely centered and the slightest nudge to the focus (dioptre) blurs the image. I found that the click-stops of the dioptre control on the A3000 were so crude it was possible to have a sharp image between them, yet uncomfortably unsharp when set to the clicked position either side. I can’t put a graphic of the actual size of the display chip here, because different screen resolutions would change its size.

To make it worse, the quality of the ocular lens is very poor, with distortion and smeary blurring together with considerable flare from the brightly illuminated display chip; it does not have the level of multicoating or internal light baffles to present a crisp clear view. Since the main selling point of the A3000 over any comparable camera is that it has a built-in EVF, the extremely ‘stretched’ design parameters of this EVF will cost it sales in actual stores where it can be tried out.

SONY DSC

The A3000 kit box. This unit is made for more than one country’s market.

SONY DSC

Inside there’s no software CD, and that super fat looking manual is actually a minimal introduction to the camera printed in 12 languages. It is the Rosetta Stone for a future alien civilisation discovering the remains of Earth!

SONY DSC

The bonus for buying a multi-zone package is that you get stubby cable UK and European mains leads. There is no battery charger, instead you get a 5v USB transformer (as with the RX100 and RX1 models) and a USB cable to charge the battery in-camera. The neckstrap is Sony’s standard chafing and scratching type.

Children, young women and most people under 40 in bright weather will find they can accommodate just enough to use the finder comfortably, though the vague smudge which represents the scene is only to be considered as a composition guide. If you are male, over 40, have typical Western rather than Japanese eyesight age-related changes and try the camera out in a dimly-lit environment you’ll hand it back to the salesman and buy something else which is easy to view through and shows a clear sharp image.

That said, the entire camera and its 18-55mm SEL black metal skinned E-mount lens costs a bit less than the accessory EVF for the RX1/100II. And you read that right, this is an Alpha (so are all NEX cameras, as anyone able to see the Greek letter on them will realise) but it’s not an Alpha A-mount. And though it looks like a DSLR or a DSLT, it is neither.

Thick skinned

The A3000 is nothing more than a rather appealing sensor upgrade to the NEX range, accidentally fitted into a NEX-3 body, dressed in a hollow plastic sumo suit. In Spain you can see parades with impressive giants, twice life size, concealing a very strong young man who can make them dance. That’s rather what the A3000 is like.

SONY DSC

On an iMac 27″ screen you will see the NEX-5n and A3000 precisely life size. The front face of the mounts has been aligned.

My photograph doesn’t just show the relative sizes of the 5-series NEX body and the A3000 together. I have positioned the front face of the lens mounts to coincide. This enables you to see how much space is wasted BEHIND the sensor in the A3000. There should be no cooling problems for extended video shooting with so much air circulation! The A3000 has no focal plane index mark to show where the sensor actually sits inside the body but it’s ahead of the middle of the 38mm thick body, as the mount to sensor distance is 18mm leaving 20mm behind it.

SONY DSC

The whole body, though it can claim to be small by SLR standards and therefore get a ‘smallest lightest’ accolade, is just a big plastic skin inside which the intestines of a much smaller NEX have been concealed. You get the same 3-inch rear screen, though without any kind of articulation or touch function and only 230,000 pixels like much earlier generation cameras.

SONY DSC

You get a genuine metal lens bayonet mount not a cheap plastic version like the A-mount Alpha 58, presumably because the entire NEX system has always been of much higher overall precision than the A-mount range (just as the 1990s Vectis APS cameras were built to finer tolerances).

SONY DSC

You also get a metal tripod bush, though this is in an odd position for panorama fans, located close to the focal plane but well centered on the lens axis; a really well-shaped right hand grip taking advantage of the larger body size.

SONY DSC

It uses NEX-3 style controls lacking any front or rear wheels and just using the back mounted dial-rocker and unmarked soft-function buttons.

SONY DSC

There is a super-simple interface on the left end of the camera with a single SD/MSPro card slot and a versatile USB connector which is remote release compatible.

SONY DSC

The big bonus is on the camera’s fake prism top (which does have a GN4 flash, unable to control wireless flash, but giving excellent exposure and coverage with the 18-55mm). Here you find the Sony Multi Function Accessory Shoe, reassuringly metal and hiding an array of contacts under its forward edge. The A3000 has no HDMI port, no microphone input despite pretty good built-in stereo mics, no remote release socket, no wifi, no GPS, no wireless flash, no studio flash sync socket. It can or will have all of these through the Multi Function shoe. I have not been able to check whether it can also support one of the superior EVFs which would fit (I do know that the Alpha 99, for example, does not support an RX1 EVF mounted in its similar shoe). Perhaps Sony’s expectation is to sell barrowloads of these extremely cheap (£299/$399) entry level interchangeable lens cameras and see the new owners buy two or three lenses, flash, microphones and more.

It’s about time they actually launched the GPS module which this shoe is contact-pinned to accept.

See current price of A3000 kit at B&H

High resolution

Against all the minimal feature set and basic menu-driven user interface must be set one of the best sensors around, the 20 megapixel APS-C seen earlier in the Alpha 58. It is not a stunning sensor, in that some noise can be seen even at minimum ISO, but that may be because it’s got a very weak AA filter (helps with contrast detect focusing) and decent colour discrimination. Applying just a little raw conversion NR keeps the images clean up to 1600 and allows usable (professional, on-line library etc) ISO 3200. It can go beyond this right up to 16,000 but if you need this sensitivity, you’ll find the EVF so noisy and dark it’s hard to see anything at all.

jasper-55mm-5p6-iso800-flash

At ISO 800 (click these sample images for the full size file) you can see the general focus accuracy and sharpness of the 18-55mm used wide open, f/5.6 at 55mm, and also the quality of the flash for shots like this.

iso12800-incamerajpg

This is an ISO 12,800 in-camera JPEG at default settings.

iso12800-adobecamraw

This is the same shot carefully processed using Adobe Camera Raw Photoshop CC.

iso100-noSharpnoNR-noadj

Here’s a shot at f/8 and 18mm, at ISO 100 (minimum) processed without any NR or sharpening from raw. The sky blue does show some noise even at this low setting. The sharpness of the focused zone (to the left side) is excellent.

iso3200-adobecameraraw

Inside the Castle Restaurant, Edinburgh, the light is natural window-light, looking good but fairly low. This is 1/30th at f/9 with ISO 3200, processed from raw with some sharpening and some NR. I’d say nice colour and tones, a little soft because of limited depth of field, but sharp where it can be expected to be.

iso3200-NRinPS-reduced

This one is also ISO 3200, but it’s been put through Photoshop CC Noise Reduction filter (NIK Dfine 2.0 looked superficially better but created artificial looking tone breaks) and then downsized to 3600 x 2400 pixels.

There is no phase detect focus on this sensor, and the only focus method is contrast detection, as on earlier NEX models. It carries this out quickly and extremely accurately. Anyone used to the vague calibration of traditional DSLRs will be amazed by the lens quality the A3000 can reveal just through its pinpoint focus ability. No doubt this is helped by the rigid mounting of the sensor, which has no SteadyShot stabilisation and no vibration to clean off dust. The only self-cleaning is an anti static cover glass. A rigidly mounted sensor requires none of the complex carriage supports and adjustments found in Alpha DSLRs and DSLTs right from the Konica Minolta Dynax 7D onwards. It is probably more accurately parallel to the lens mount than an Alpha 900 or 99, let alone any of the lesser models.

Since the camera has an electronic first curtain focal plane shutter speeded 30 seconds to 1/4,000th and full PASM controls (with a little difficulty) with fully auto mode, scene modes and respectable plus-minus override and bracketing/HDR functions there is nothing an Alpha 99 or 77, NEX-7 or any other high end model can do to exceed its abilities except in some cases achieve a 1/8,000th top speed and shoot burst sequences faster and longer.

iso100cropnoadjustments

Contrast and dynamic range from raw as exposed without any adjustment in raw processing.

iso100cropadjustedfromraw

With adjustments for black, highlights, shadows, exposure the sensor shows that it has recorded plenty of detail in all zones.

Used for single exposures, it’s just as much a professional tool as a Nikon D4 even though it might not last a week in the hands of a pressman. For £299 perhaps that pressman might consider buying a couple of these just to get into the next urban war zone street demonstration, or to cover a Spanish tomato fight. The pictures will probably be just as good and if the camera gets kicked into touch, the light plastic half empty body skin could well survive better than a crackable alloy jam-packed top model NEX.

Without accurate focusing and exposure, the 20 megapixel sensor would be of little value. Since both focus and exposure are read directly from the sensor, they are about as accurate as you can get. The raw files also show a very good dynamic range and as expected it’s just a little better in ISO performance and DR than the Alpha 58, because there is no SLT mirror in the way.

User set-up

Again, despite being an entry-level camera probably designed for a huge Chinese and Indian potential market but sold worldwide to ensure it’s taken seriously, the A3000 has vital functions which Sony could have omitted in a purely consumer model.

It has a setting for shutter release without lens, which makes it suitable for use with the vast range adaptors and third party lenses for the E-mount (almost every lens ever made for any format larger than half-frame, whether rangefinder or SLR). Will A3000 buyers want to spend as much again on Novoflex, Kipon or Metabones adaptors and legacy lenses? Maybe not, but they can, and they will work well on this body.

It has a ‘Setting Effect Off’ option – that is for the LCD screen and the EVF, disabling the accurate simulation of exposure/contrast/colour, and permitting use with modelling lights and studio flash. It’s got AF Calibration, usable with the LA-EA2 phase detect Alpha lens adaptor, and the contrast-detect AF is compatible with many SSM and SAM focus motor lenses used on the LA-EA1.

It has focus peaking for manual focus, with magnification, but the low resolution of both the EVF and the rear screen render this less functional than it is in some other models.

A criticism has been made of a very faint click generated, apparently through the audio speaker, when the shutter is pressed. I thought this was a mechanical or electrical relay click connected to the operation of the E-mount aperture, but someone has determined that if the circuit to the speaker is cut (beep off does not work) the click disappears.

Actually, the click indicates the moment of capture for brief exposures and the start of exposure for longer ones (like 1/15th). The first shutter curtain on this camera makes no noise, so you would press the shutter and hear nothing at all. Even ‘silent’ cameras like the RX1 and RX100 do make some noise from leaf shutters. This click is similar in volume or less.

To me this indicates proper concern for the user in a camera where there may be no image displayed on the rear screen and the eye may be away from the viewfinder. You can tell when the exposure is made because the finder blacks out, but if you are not studying the finder, you would have no idea. The shutter button does not have a very obvious point of resistance after first pressure for focusing and you do not have to jab it down. Very gentle pressure will take the shot.

Electronic first curtain shutters are slightly confusing because all the mechanical shutter sound you hear happens AFTER the shot is taken. It is valuable to have this tiny audible clue, which no subject is likely to hear, that you have timed the shot as intended.

In use

The practical side of the A3000 includes a weight so minimal (281g body only) you can take it on a Thomson package deal flight and still carry your wallet and toothbrush as well. The bulk means you are unlikely to mistake it for your iPhone, and the shape means that some people will take your seriously as a photographer while others who would have ignored a NEX will shy away or physically assault you. However, if you hold it out and use the rear screen to compose, no-one will do either as they will assume you are a beginner and ignore you.

To do this, you must press a button on the top. The camera has no eye sensors (it does not even have a rubber eyepiece surround and its 21mm eyepoint just helps to avoid the regularly clattering on spectacle lenses against hard plastic). This means that you can lift the camera to do a rear screen frame-up and the screen is, of course, dead. You get used to it.

SONY DSC

The mode dial appears to be metallic and has raised marking. Note the Finder/LCD manual switching button and the safe position of the Movie button away from accidental pressure (it can also be disabled completely).

The camera lacks any kind of finger or thumb wheel so the adjustments are all made after the fashion of the most basic NEX (3 or 5 series models). This is only a bit of a nuisance when setting shutter speed and aperture manually. It does have a lockout for the movie button, a lesson learned from the notoriously free triggering of video shooting by the badly placed red button on countless previous Sony models. The button is actually placed where you wouldn’t hit it by mistake anyway – belt and braces.

SONY DSC

The 3 inch rear screen seems to have a very good quality finish – a better acrylic, or might it even be glass? Mine seems to be remaining unscratched to the same degree as Gorilla Glass protectors do.

The EVF is only just acceptable in bright sunshine, when it is also most useful as the rear screen may become unusable. It does not really show the tones of the scene (take a shot and play it back and the difference is obvious) and it shows very little detail. You can make out all the larger shapes in a composition. In some ways it probably encourages good composition. You can’t really tell if the focus is sharp but green confirmation rectangles or a wide zone will activate, with beep if requested, and the shutter release won’t operate until focus is OK. It has optional grid line display and 25 focus points so the little display can get pretty busy.

I have no interest in medium rate burst sequences personally as there’s hardly any action or subject where I do not prefer to time individual shots. A modest 2.5fps is no different to 3.5fps or even 5fps or 1.5fps for me. Really fast stuff like 8 or 10fps or Nikon’s incredible 60fps on the 1 V2 and AW1 has some appeal as this does give you a chance of optimum timing for sports and general action. The A3000 doesn’t. OK, photograph your toddler stumbling towards the camera, just don’t try to advertise the kid on Facebook. Try eBay instead, it’s a far surer way to get rid of them before they become too much trouble.

The worst experience I’ve had with the A3000 has been EVF use in extremely dim indoor conditions, with or without flash, regardless of ISO set and lens used. The rear screen performs much better so it is not just a matter of the sensor’s live view feed. However, in typical well-lit interiors its only failing is that Auto White Balance doesn’t seem to work even if Setting Effect is enabled – it will look brighter than an optical finder, and reasonably clean and clear, but often show a strong colour cast which is not present in the final shot.

I’ve shot a few video clips with acoustic performers and found the sound to be good but very prone to auto gain ducking and boosting. To make decent videos with sound, you have to buy the shoe fitting accessory microphone or audio preamp unit. This is no great surprise as to date only the Alpha 99 has the right functions to control levels and use a conventional plug-in condensor mic directly.

And back to those small differences

I started out by observing the miniscule size of the EVF display chip. I’m going to end with something unexpected. Snapsort.com’s camera comparer states that the A3000 has a larger than normal APS-C sensor, 25.1 x 16.7mm instead of the normal 23.5 x 15.6mm. If this was the case, the camera would gain a huge bonus point, as 1.6mm in 23.5mm would ‘turn’ your Sigma 8-16mm zoom into 7.5mm-15mm.

But the handbook clearly states the A3000 actually has a smaller than normal sensor, 23.2 x 15.4mm. The Sony website says that it has a 23.5 x 15.6mm sensor. Amazon incorrectly lists the size of the original APS-C film format.

The handbook also claims that the EVF is 0.7X when Snapsort comparison specifications gives 0.49X – without knowing where this figure comes from, I can only confirm that the EVF is visually a fraction smaller than a typical 0.72X APS-C like the Alpha 580 (this is easily established by holding two cameras, one to the left and one to the right eye, and seeing how the finder windows compare). So don’t believe everything you read about the A3000. The 0.70X is true. The specs also show an extreme dioptre range (-4.0 to +3.5) for the eyepiece, which is necessary given the critical viewing conditions produced by such a high powered ocular and small display chip.

Actually the Snapsort comparator is very badly written, as it also claims a normal Sony Alpha body is 3.5 inches deep (it’s actually 2.55, 65mm mount to back, compared to the A3000’s 38mm) and that the A3000 is 4.7X smaller than an Alpha 57. This is based on measuring the A57 including prism and grip, and the A3000 on mount to back body thickness only. The A3000 is volumetrically 1.35X smaller including all external air space – the ‘box’ it can fit in – and in linear terms it’s only about 4mm less tall and 102mm long as opposed to 132mm. It’s small but there is a fair amount of bad measurement and worse measurement floating around the net.

SONY DSC

Don’t tell me stabilisation would not be a bonus even for the 16mm. If not, why did they make the 10-18m an OSS lens? The 16mm chrome lens looks rather odd on this body.

Snapsort also lists the lack of in-body stabilisation as an advantage compared to the Alpha 57 because apparently in-lens stabilisation gives ‘less risk of blur’. In my experience the two methods are equally effective and our many Alpha bodies offer the choice between using IBIS and lens IS. The A3000 with IBIS (SS) would have been a great companion for the 16mm, new 20mm f/2.8, Zeiss 24mm f/1.8, SEL 30mm Macro, SEL 35mm f/1.8 and the Zeiss TOUIT 12mm f/2.8 and 32mm f/1.8 – not to mention the Sigma 19mm f/2.8, 30mm f/2.8 and 60mm f/2.8. All these excellent lenses currently must survive with no stabilisation other than pixel-shift electronic processing for video work on some cameras.

The A3000 is very small, but the saving is mostly on width left to right, and on the thickness of the body disregarding the ‘prism’ overhang and the right hand grip. The grip extends nearly as far as any other Alpha, meaning that you actually get a much deeper inside surface so your fingers wrap right round. It gives the A3000 the most secure right hand grip of any camera I know, almost 30mm of sculptured rubber-skinned moulding. Like the rear of the body, this appears to be completely empty. It’s just a moulded grip with a few connections in the top for the shutter button and on-off switch. It does not even house the battery (NEX type) which sits well behind it.

The lens

The cheapest kit for the camera includes a black 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SEL OSS. Well, I might as well admit I sold the black 18-55mm which came with my original NEX-7 for £200. Previous 18-55mms were chrome, I bought a Tamron VC DiIII 18-200mm, and the black lenses were in high demand. Now, I get one again, but in with an A300 body and the brand new price was only £349 – one month later, cut to £299. So does that mean I really only paid £99 for this body?

I was not over-impressed by the performance of the 18-55mm on NEX-7. Now I find this latest 18-55mm seems much better. It is made in Thailand, not Japan or China, just like the camera body. Sony must have opened a new plant or recovered the factory which was swamped by two metres of floodwater a couple of years ago. Whatever the case, the Thai contractors (whose story started with the Nikon Pronea APS SLR) have a highly skilled workforce now with almost two decades of experience.

SONY DSC

The A3000 looks great with the 18-200mm, whether Sony or Tamron branded.

This lens is so good it compares with the Fujinon 16-50mm I was using recently, and Fuji’s lenses are generally a level above Sony in quality as well as cost. I have found the A3000 body to be a great companion for my 18-200mm as well. It just looks much better on this body, handles better with the right-hand grip, and focuses better than on my NEX-5n. The EVF with the VC stabilisation is better to use than any rear LCD screen when a lens can be extended to 200mm on this format.

The final dilemma

As you will gather, I have big problems with the very poor EVF of this camera. I don’t really have any issue with the relatively low resolution rear LCD. The only other thing which causes me any problems is that I’ve been using Olympus OM-D E-M5 for a while alongside my Sony kit, and I have come to value its in-body stabilisation. I felt able to buy a Sigma 60mm f/2.8 for the Olympus – this is a truly wonderful lens, equivalent to a 120mm on the MicroFourThirds format. I don’t feel able to buy one for the NEX as I know the combination of a 90mm equivalent lens and no stabilisation at all will result in poor sharpness from a super-sharp optic, in many of the conditions I like to use such a lens.

SONY DSC

Had Sony decided to put SteadyShot into this body, I think it would have made a great difference. The NEX mount market is just waiting for a stabilised-sensor body able to guarantee the best results from the hundreds of adapted lenses around (Olympus, of course, has a menu to let you enter the focal length of any adapted lens and thus ensure correct IS). But the price point would then have been missed and the precision of the assembly might have been compromised without even greater expense in manufacturing.

I have been using the OM-D more often; its 12-50mm standard zoom is a very good lens, I have a 45mm f/1.8 portrait lens and now the Sigma 60mm which is semi-macro with a great working distance for flowers and fungi. The 5-axis stabilisation works well. I have a drawer full of legacy lenses, adaptors and accessories for NEX but all of them are let down by the lack in sensor stabilisation. The only thing stopping me from ditching NEX and shifting to MicroFourThirds is the lack of a decent wide-angle within that system. I have access to 12mm (16mm+ converter) or 8mm (Sigma zoom with LA-EA1) but for the Olympus I really would need a 6mm lens and no such thing is made.

So, do I sell the A3000? I like to buy rather than beg and borrow cameras for test purposes. Borrowed cameras are OK when it’s not possible – there’s a Canon EOS 70D kit about to land for a couple of weeks – but bought cameras don’t half focus the keyboard fingers. It is easy to be too kind to a camera lent to you for a couple of weeks. It is not so easy to be kind to one you have paid for, unless you are dishonest and think that writing it up favourably will make a camera you don’t like easier to sell on!

Take the Nikon D600. We couldn’t lie about the showers of stuff deposited on the sensor by the shutter. We had bought a full kit. My reviews didn’t hestitate to mention the shutter issue. Nikon replaced the shutter in the camera under warranty and we immediately sold it, the buyer getting a considerable bargain (effectively, a 28-300mm Nikon lens, a GPS unit and a Sigma 17-35mm of proven performance thrown in free with a body that included a transferrable warranty). The buyer also knew who was selling it and could read the reviews. Now we see the Nikon D610 launched with an entirely new shutter mechanism, though Nikon has never once admitted the problem with the original D600. Reviewers and critics and technicians, 1, Nikon 0. Reviewer’s bank balance, -1.

My inclination is to keep this camera despite no GPS and a poor EVF. It’s so cheap that it is really only a swap for the NEX-3 kit I sold this year. I’ve written one paid review which writes off part of the cost of the camera (we make nothing from this website now unless visitors decide to subscribe to Cameracraft magazine which is not all that directly related). I can use it alongside my NEX-5n which is so much better with the 16mm f/2.8 – that lens just looks silly on the A3000. I can maybe even fit my optical finder to the 5n for the 16mm now. I have recently bought some extension tubes.

SONY DSC

The A3000 has all the contacts – but are they all wired?

If only the A3000 had a tilting rear screen…or the NEX-6 had the 20 megapixel sensor… or the NEX-7 had the new hot shoe… if any one of the them had on-board GPS like my A55, A77 and A99… if the GPS module for the new hot shoe existed…

What a mess! Sony does not offer choice. It offers buyers’ dilemmas and buyers’ remorse, as in ‘did I buy the right model?’ or ‘did I pick the wrong system?’. Sony is doing just the same with the Alpha A-mount system. You have to pick a sensor you trust over a viewfinder which is great or a format and lens kit change or controllable audio input or having GPS or missing your built-in flash. No way can you have it all in one body.

(below – my conclusion written in October – we now know of course what was launched, and also that there will be an A5000)

Sony must surely follow this up with an A5000, or whatever, adding a few missing refinements to the camera and making it a £499 kit. That is what I would really like. But for the moment, the results from this cheap entry-level ILC are so good I have not touched the NEX-5n or the Alpha 77 since it arrived. And that is maybe the last word.

Except for the full-frame NEX or the interchangeable lens RX1 or the NEX fitted with Olympus-derived 5-axis IBIS – or whatever mid-October brings.

(added below – a comment at the end of 2013)

The A3000 is now sold for as little as £220 including in the UK (£185 before tax) and for $300 US. It is also sold with incentive deals for the 55-210mm E OSS lens, an excellent telephoto option, in addition to the 18-55mm. Am I upset that my camera’s value has been reduced? Well, I often sell cameras I buy to review, eventually. This one I decided to keep. It’s got the best imaging quality of ALL my APS-C cameras and so far, the 20 megapixel sensor responsible for this has not appeared in anything else except the plastic-bayonet A58. It’s a remarkable bargain now and it’s almost being given away.

- David Kilpatrick

Nikon 1 system makes a splash

AW1SplashLogoVisible
How many outlets will use that original headline, I wonder, and what inspiration leads to it…

AHN6000_AW1

Today, Nikon released the world’s first interchangeable lens digital camera – if you ignore the military version of the Nikonos RS underwater SLR produced with Kodak. Unlike that specialised system, the AW1 is intended for the consumer and is extremely affordable. Available in black, white or silver metal finish for £749 with standard 11mm-27.5mm F3.5-5.6 Zoom lens (equivalent, in 35mm terms, to 30mm to 74mm) which is rated for 15m submersion, or £949 with the 10mm F2.8 and the zoom, with the 10mm supporting 20m submersion.

AW1_11_27.5_SL_SLup

Part of NIkon’s 1-series, the AW1 sports the hybrid AF 14Mp sensor, high-speed shooting (now 15fps with continuous AF) and good high ISO abilities that defined the CX-mount family from the start, with some enhancements inherited from newer models and ideal for underwater use. First, though, let’s look at the mount that makes the AW1 so unique.

_DSC7731

It’s very similar, in concept, to the Nikonos RS mount, but reversed. Even the familiar grease to maintain the seals is included. Naturally, changing the lenses underwater is not possible, as the sensor and electronics are exposed – and any foreign body such as hair or sand will stand a chance of compromising that seal, so Nikon is placing a great deal of trust in their consumers’ ability to understand and maintain the camera properly.

As a member of the CX/1 family, the AW1’s physical lens mount and registration is unchanged, but the body includes a greater protrusion for the flange with a rubber gasket. On the new underwater lenses, the mount is recessed, with the extension of the barrel including a silicone liner. Mounting the underwater lenses is satisfyingly difficult, making it clear that this is sealing to back up the claims of 15m submersion.

AW11_27.5_SL_1

Aiding the underwater experience, the 11mm-27.5mm zoom has a grippy metal zoom collar for most of the barrel, and the AW1 uses an innovative ‘press and tilt’ mode selection – simply hold the mode button, and a virtual pendulum hangs on the LCD to indicate the mode. Tilt the camera body clockwise or vice-versa and it indicates one of the automatic modes for video, creative shooting etc. and selects it without any need for additional buttons or hands. This also eradicates the issue with the early Nikon 1, where the mode wheel could be knocked into a new shooting mode when extracting it from a bag or pocket.

AW1_WH_back

An underwater 10mm prime lens has also been introduced, which can be submerged to 20m.

AW10_BK_1

 

The AW1 does not make existing CX mount lenses suitable for use underwater, and the underwater lenses will not mount on existing CX bodies such as the V2. Yet the flexibility of the system does allow F-mount lenses via the adaptor, so opting for the AW1 really gives very little away in overall ability.

Other technical improvements include GPS/GLONASS support with compass, depth and altitude meters, shockproof from 2m capability, and an underwater Speedlight (the SB-N10) will also be introduced, though the camera’s own pop up flash can be used underwater. Several accessories have been announced, including the obligatory bright rubber housing which includes a grippy collar for the lens.

CF_N6000_OR

We had the opportunity to try a pre-production sample for water, drop resistance and handling, though not photography for publication as the firmware is yet to be finalised, with the camera release date set for 10th October. The silver metal body was particularly attractive, and it seems that at this point, this is where the Nikon 1 system and the CX mount come into their own – offering something truly unique, with a form factor and range of abilities that suits the intended user perfectly.

- Richard Kilpatrick

AW1 Specifications:

Type
Digital camera with support for interchangeable lenses
Lens mount
Nikon waterproof 1 mount
Effective angle of view
Approx. 2.7x lens focal length (35mm format equivalent)
Effective pixels
Effective pixels
14.2 million
Image sensor
Image sensor
13.2 mm x 8.8 mm CMOS sensor (Nikon CX format)
Storage
Image size (pixels)

Still images (auto, best moment capture, and all creative modes other than Easy panorama; aspect ratio 3:2)

  • 4608 x 3072
  • 3456 x 2304
  • 2304 x 1536

Still images
(Normal panorama, camera panned horizontally; aspect ratio 120:23)

  • 4800 x 920

Still images
(Normal panorama, camera panned vertically; aspect ratio 8:25)

  • 1536 x 4800

Still images
(Wide panorama, camera panned horizontally; aspect ratio 240:23)

  • 9600 x 920

Still images
(Wide panorama, camera panned vertically; aspect ratio 4:25)

  • 1536 x 9600

Still images
(taken during movie recording, aspect ratio 3:2)

  • 4608 x 3072 (1080/60i, 1080/30p)
  • 1280 x 856 (720/60p, 720/30p)

Still images
(Motion Snapshots; aspect ratio 16:9)

  • 4608 x 2592
File format
  • NEF (RAW): 12-bit, compressed
  • JPEG: JPEG-Baseline compliant with fine (approx. 1:4), normal (approx. 1:8), or basic (approx. 1:16) compression
  • NEF (RAW) + JPEG: Single photograph recorded in both NEF (RAW) and JPEG formats
Picture Control system
Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, Landscape; selected Picture Control can be modified; storage for custom Picture Controls
Media
SD (Secure Digital), SDHC, and SDXC memory cards
File system
DCF (Design Rule for Camera File System) 2.0, DPOF (Digital Print Order Format), Exif (Exchangeable Image File Format for Digital Still Cameras) 2.3, PictBridge
Shooting modes
Shooting modes
auto; creative, with a choice of the following options: P, S, A, M, underwater, night landscape, night portrait, backlighting, easy panorama, soft, miniature effect, and selective color; best moment capture (slow view and Smart Photo Selector), advanced movie (HD-P, S, A, M only-and slow motion), Motion Snapshot
Shutter
Type
Electronic shutter
Speed
1/16,000-30 s in steps of 1/3 EV; BulbNote: Bulb ends automatically after approximately 2 minutes
Flash sync speed
Synchronizes with shutter at X=1/60 s or slower
Release
Modes
  • Single frame, continuous
  • Self-timer
Frame advance rate
Approx. 5, 15, 30, or 60 fps
Self-timer
2 s, 5 s, 10 s
Exposure
Metering
TTL metering using image sensor
Metering method
  • Matrix
  • Center-weighted: Meters 4.5 mm circle in center of frame
  • Spot: Meters 2 mm circle centered on selected focus area
Mode
  • P programmed auto with flexible program;
  • S shutter priority auto;
  • A aperture-priority auto;
  • M manual;
  • scene auto selector
Exposure compensation
-3-+3 EV in increments of 1/3 EV
Exposure lock
Luminosity locked at metered value when shutter-release button is pressed halfway
ISO sensitivity
(Recommended Exposure Index)
ISO 160-6400 in steps of 1 EV; auto ISO sensitivity control (ISO 160-6400, 160-3200, 160-800) available (user controlled when P, S, A, M, or underwater is selected in creative mode)
Active D-Lighting
On, off
Focus
Autofocus
Hybrid autofocus (phase-detection/contrast-detect AF); AF-assist illuminator
Lens servo
  • Autofocus (AF): Single AF (AF-S); continuous AF (AF-C); auto AF-S/AF-C selection (AF-A); fulltime AF (AF-F)
  • Manual focus (MF)
AF-area mode
Single-point, single-point (center), auto-area, subject tracking
Focus area
  • Single-point AF: 135 focus areas; the center 73 areas support phase-detection AF
  • Auto-area AF: 41 focus areas
Focus lock
Focus can be locked by pressing shutter-release button halfway (single AF)
Face priority
On, off
Flash
Built-in flash
Manual pop-up
Guide Number (GN)
Approx. 5/16 (m/ft, ISO 100, 20 °C / 68 °F; at ISO 160, Guide Number is approx. 6.3/20.7)
Control
i-TTL flash control using image sensor
Mode
Fill flash, red-eye reduction, fill flash + slow sync, red-eye reduction + slow sync, rear curtain + slow sync, rear-curtain sync, off
Flash compensation
-3-+1 EV in increments of 1/3 EV
Flash-ready indicator
Lights when built-in flash unit is fully charged
White balance
Auto, underwater, incandescent, fluorescent, direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, shade, preset manual, all except preset manual with fine tuning
Movie
Metering
TTL metering using image sensor
Metering method
  • Matrix
  • Center-weighted: Meters 4.5 mm circle in center of frame
  • Spot: Meters 2 mm circle centered on selected focus area
Frame size (pixels)/
recording rate

HD movies (aspect ratio 16:9)

  • 1920 x 1080 / 60 i (59.94 fields/s*)
  • 1920 x 1080 / 30 p (29.97 fps)
  • 1280 x 720 / 60 p (59.94 fps)
  • 1280 x 720 / 30 p (29.97 fps)

Slow-motion movies (aspect ratio 8:3)

  • 640 x 240 / 400 fps (plays at 30 p / 29.97 fps)
  • 320 x 120 / 1200 fps (plays at 30 p / 29.97 fps)

Motion Snapshot (aspect ratio 16:9)

  • 1920 x 1080 / 60 p (59.94 fps) (plays at 24 p / 23.976 fps)
File format
MOV
Video compression
H.264 / MPEG-4 Advanced Video Coding
Audio recording format
AAC
Audio recording device
Built-in stereo microphone; sensitivity adjustable
Monitor
Monitor
7.5 cm (3-in.), approx. 921k-dot, TFT LCD with brightness adjustment
Playback
Full-frame and thumbnail (4, 9, or 72 images or calendar) playback with playback zoom, movie and panorama playback, slide show, histogram display, auto image rotation, and rating option
Interface
USB
Hi-Speed USB
HDMI output
Type C mini-pin HDMI connector
Electronic compass/location data/altimeter/depth gauge
Electronic compass
16 headings (with 3-axis accelerometer attitude correction and automatic offset adjustment)
Location data
  • Receiving frequency: 1575.4200 MHz (GPS)/ 1598.0625-1605.3750 MHz (GLONASS)
  • Geodesics: WGS84
Altimeter
Operating range approximately -500-+4500 m (-1640-+14,760 ft)
Depth gauge
Operating range approximately 0-20 m (0-65.6 ft)
Supported languages
Arabic, Bengali, Bulgarian, Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Marathi, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese (European and Brazilian), Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Swedish, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese
Power source
Battery
One rechargeable Li-ion EN-EL20 battery
AC adapter
EH-5b AC adapter; requires EP-5C power connector (available separately)
Tripod socket
1/4-in. (ISO 1222)
Dimensions/Weight
Dimensions (W x H x D)
Approx. 113.3 x 71.5 x 37.5 mm (4.5 x 2.9 x 1.5 in.), excluding projections
Weight
Approx. 356 g (12.6 oz) with battery and memory card but without body cap or O-ring protector; approx. 313 g (11.1 oz), camera body only
Operating environment
Temperature
-10 °C -+40 °C (+14 °F-104 °F) on land, 0 °C- +40 °C (+32 °F-104 °F) in water
Humidity
85% or less (no condensation)
Shockproof, waterproof, and dustproof performance
Shockproof performance 1, 2
Has passed in-house tests 3 to MIL-STD-810F Method 516.5: Shock standard
Waterproof performance 2
In-house tests have demonstrated JIS/IEC Class 8 (IPX8) waterproof performance; can be used at depths of up to 15 m (49 ft) for up to 60 minutes
Operating depth 2
Maximum 15 m (49 ft)
Dustproof performance 2
In-house tests have demonstrated JIS/IEC Class 6 (IP6X) dustproof performance
  • * Sensor output is about 60 fps.
  1. Does not apply when built-in flash is raised.
  2. With special-purpose waterproof lens attached.
  3. Using a test method derived from MIL-STD-810F Method 516.5: Shock, the product is dropped from a height of 200 cm (6.6 ft) onto a plywood surface 5 cm (2 in.) thick. Exterior deformation and surface damage are not tested. These in-house tests do not constitute blanket guarantees of invulnerability to damage or destruction.
  • Unless otherwise stated, all figures are for a camera with a fully-charged battery operating at the temperature specified by the Camera and Imaging Products Association (CIPA): 23 ±3 °C (73.4 ±5.4 °F).
  • Nikon reserves the right to change the specifications of the hardware and software described in this manual at any time and without prior notice. Nikon will not be held liable for damages that may result from any mistakes that this page may contain.

 

RX1 ‘NEX’ coming in October – 2 interchangeable lenses

Reporting from Perpignan, one of our good friends in the biz was enjoying the usual wine and sunshine with photojournalists from a French agency (or two). Turns out that right now there’s an RX1 with interchangeable lenses, just what we asked for when the camera was first seen at photokina, roaming the night-time streets of Paris in the hands of no small Magnum name.

The body is exactly the same size and the mount is thought to be a modified E-mount with additional contacts to enable the silent leaf-shutter and iris action which is the hallmark of the RX1 as a ‘stealth’ shooter. It’s possible that the RX1-N (not necessarily its name) lenses will fit other E-mount bodies, but existing E-mount lenses won’t fit the new mini-Leica-style body. But it may also contain a focal plane shutter, as there is such a high potential demand to retrofit Leica M and other vintage lenses to a full frame body of this size.

More we can’t say. The two international press agencies testing the camera right now are keeping very quiet – just like the camera. In fact it’s hard to imagine the RX1 becoming as ‘noisy’ when fired as a NEX (and they are pretty silent when first curtain electronic shutter is used). So a completely new, or partially compatible, mount may be involved. It would be quite fun though if it turned out that over 30 years after the end of the Minolta CLE, a decade after the demise of the Konica RF, and fully 55 years after Minolta’s first abortive bid to make a Leica M body system camera… that Sony put a plain old Leica M mount on the front instead.

SONY DSC

Whatever the case, we gather only ONE lens has so far been released for trials and it’s probably exactly the same 35mm f/2 as the regular RX1/RX1X. A second lens is due by the October launch window and the informed guess is that it will be between 50mm and 90mm, our bets are on the most attractive Leica-heritage option, a 75mm between f/2.5 and f/1.4 in aperture. Those 75mms would have been far more popular on Leica bodies if the viewfinders had been better designed to use them. With electronic viewing, that problem disappears and there is no longer any need to keep to fixed steps like 35mm, 50mm, 90mm, 135mm.

Hasselblad-Stellar-3-Views-small

In the meantime Hasselblad is having fun selling their STELLAR alongside the earlier LUNAR – the Stellar is of course an RX100 (Mark 1) with an exotic wood (eco-friendly, folks?) or carbon fibre handgrip and some funky styling in return for a 50% higher price tag. They’ve even opened a new Hasselblad brand shop in Japan to sell these luxury bits of luggage to connoisseurs.

I’ve been using the RX100II. Strikes me the STELLAR is light years behind before it even got of the launch pad. Maybe there will be a Stellar II by Christmas. Make mine an African Zebrawood grip please.

- David Kilpatrick

Our comments system is not working properly so I’ll add this here:

Our contact was sure it was an RX1-type camera rather than a NEX and that two lenses are involved, one in existence, the second to be tested shortly. There are two test bodies in existence, being trialled by two different picture agencies. However, this is third-hand info – other photographers in the agencies involved were talking about something they had seen in the hands of colleagues, and were in turn overheard by a journalist who is not a hardware specialist, who called me with what he had heard. If this was a full-frame NEX, I think it would have been identified as such and the RX1 would not have been referenced. However, it is also possible that the full-frame NEX (already rumoured) could simply be styled like an RX1. I did ask whether it had an eye-level finder but this was not mentioned and therefore not known. It would be great if it was just a full-frame NEX, able to do cropped images with existing E-mount lenses and to use the LA-EA3 (full frame compatible adaptor for Alpha A-mount lenses. It would also be great if it did turn out to use the near-silent leaf shutter mechanism. Both possibilities are speculation. We’ll know in maybe four weeks’ time.