Today, Sony confirmed a rumour – no doubt started as a result of pre-production tester leaks – that the A7S would have a completely silent all-electronic shutter mode. This is not the same as the Electronic First Curtain shutter found on the A7, A99, A77, A6000 and so on but conspicuously absent on the A7R. Nor is it the same as the near-silent leaf shutter terminated exposure mode of the RX100 models, RX10, or RX1 models. It’s completely free of all mechanical action and totally silent.
A7S seen with LA-EA4 and 24mm f/2 Carl Zeiss. I’ve got the adaptor, and this lens – they do work well on the A7R, but I don’t use them as my tiny Voigtlander Color Skopar SL II 20mm f/3.5, mounted on a Nikon fit Kipon tilt-shift adaptor, delivers the goods without the bulk or the battery drain. The 24mm also works well on the LA-EA3 adaptor without SLT mirror, but focusing is excruciatingly slow.
The silent shutter has been implemented as a firmware upgrade to the early production samples and future stocks, along with several other important firmware enhancements – all of which will have Sony owners wondering why improvements to their six-month old or one-year old purchases are not equally forthcoming. These are however improvements to a £2,100 camera body which will not hit the shops until the end of July 2014.
The firmware fixes and upgrades are:
α7S now offers a ‘Silent Shooting’ mode
ISO range for Movie Shooting extended to ISO100 – 102400, expandable to ISO100 – 409600
Dynamic Range extended to 15.3 stops as sensor RAW output
The silent mode is an option, and we would guess it carries some penalty in terms of available shutter speeds or noise performance. They say “For situations where absolute silence is required on a shoot, such as nature shoots or behind the scenes at a movie production, the α7S will offer the user the ability to activate ‘Silent Shooting’, thus making the photographer as unobtrusive as possible.”
A further upgrade is the expansion of the ISO range when shooting movies (previously limited to the native range). The α7S now offers the ability to shoot between ISO 100 -102,400 (native range) and is expandable to ISO 100-409,600 whilst still shooting capability remains at a staggering ISO 100-102,400 (again, the native range) expandable to ISO 50-409,600. The sensor’s dynamic range has also been further extended to 15.3 stops sensor RAW output. Technical note: as the bit depth remains unchanged and is presumed to be 14-bit ARW, this enhancement implies a modified raw gamma curve.
Other system improvements
You may wonder why we’ve pretty much given up reporting on new Sony products. Despite running three photographic magazines, we can’t easily get hold of review samples as all three magazines are professional or enthusiast market only. I’ve now run out of money and can’t afford to buy any of the new cameras or lenses, as the rate at which they have been released and the price levels make this difficult, and the dramatic collapse in secondhand values has clobbered my recent workround of buying-testing-selling. Things like the 28-70mm FE OSS lens for the A7 are worth almost nothing (under £200 used even from a UK dealer now) and most gear is losing 35-40% of its launch month value within two or three months. Also, the performance of much of this kit tends to be flawed or just not that impressive. It’s really hard to justify spending thousands on Sony gear which then turns out to be very ordinary, when companies like Olympus, Fujfilm, Nikon and Canon only need an email or a phone call to send test kit out just as soon as it’s available.
To work further against Sony’s interests, so much of the older Minolta and other optical gear I have been trying – even something as basic as my 70-210mm f/4 ‘beercan’ on the A7R with LA-EA4 – produces such beautiful results. What money I have spent recently has been on adaptors and on vintage lenses including Voigtlander, Canon and Nikon. I’ve not lost a penny on buying and selling these to find the best choices.
Sony also has a habit of organising London press events starting at 10am which, because of the nature of London, pretty much demands an overnight hotel stay unless you happen to be based within the M25 ring. I’m 400 miles away with no intention of ever being closer. I’m willing to spend the two or three hundred pounds needed to be at a mid-day event in London, despite the fact that it generally only produces ten minutes with a product subject to a ‘no images may be used’ embargo, and all the major websites already had it a month before and the full details were all over the web before I boarded the early morning train. So that’s why I have not really felt an urgent need to work hard and put my company’s (my!) money into giving Sony free advertising.
Well, there’s a new Alpha 77 – the A77II. It has much improved AF, the new hotshoe, some WiFi stuff and the GPS has been removed. Neat though the WiFi and NFC may be, my main use of this is for remote control not tweeting photos, and for remote control rigs there are much better camera choices than a heavy A77 body with no possibility to control the zoom from an iPad/Android phone or whatever. The RX100 and RX10 hit the mark for this. The slightly gritty 24 megapixel sensor is still a slightly gritty 24 megapixels, and removing the GPS is just downright perverse. I have a Nikon D5300 sitting here which does everything I need in a gritty 24 megapixel APS-C format, with GPS, for a great deal less.
And there’s a great new RX100 MkIII which has a new Carl Zeiss 24-70mm equivalent f/1.8-2.8 zoom, a pop-up EVF, unbelievably good video (not far removed from the A7S 4K abilities and high bitrate encoding of HD1080p) and a more flexibly hinged screen. I do think this will be worth it for new buyers, but I didn’t bother with the MkII. The MkI only cost me £350 slightly used, it lives in pockets and shoves into compartments of bags, it has a lenscap adapted to ensure this treatment does not damage its fragile lens-front cover, and it goes to 100mm equivalent which is more use to me than extra lens speed at 70mm. The old MkI may only by f/4.9 at 100mm equivalent, but it is respectable f/4 at 70mm and the same f/1.8 at 28mm. It’s knockabout travel camera, a car glove-compartment camera, capable of delivering shots which any photo agency or library will accept.
The RX100 III will start shipping in Europe at the beginning of July 2014 and will be priced at approximately £700. I’ll get one when I break, wear out, or lose the original but I might just opt for a Nikon 1 system kit instead. At least they have a GPS you can add, unlike Sony – it will soon be two years since the Multi Function Accessory Shoe was unveiled, and the GPS module for it is still not even on the horizon.