Sony a7II review, by Alfred Forns


Sony just released their new family member in the mirrorless full frame family. First came the a7, followed by the a7r and now the a7II. Each being different and serving a particular need.

Adjusting to this new camera was easy since we had the a7r, purchased initially as a back up to the Leica M, then we started liking its potential, huge files and great quality. We did not keep the r model, switching to the a7s due to its fantastic ISO performance.
Fabs has an image taken at just over 100,00 ISO that needs to be seen to believe and I have one from the Hunted House at Disney, 64,000, that looks normal. Amazing.

Here comes the new family member, a7II, we got intrigued with the 5-axis stabilization plus 24 MP sensor and decided to give it a try. On the first time out we were not surprised. Well, there was one big surprise which was unexpected: ISO performance was much better than we thought. I have lots of 4000 and more that show little noise and good quality. Will be shooting many more images and posting results but with the two initial session, we could see it is a winner.

The exciting part is being able to use the Leica lenses. It does have some native lenses producing high quality images, all by Zeiss. The 55 f/ 1.8 is one of the sharpest around and the test reviews rank it among the best in the class. The 35 f/2.8 is also a great performer and worth adding to the collection. The 16-35 f/ 4.0 is also very sharp and has a close up focus capability, allowing interesting images with close up perspective, unique. Have not used myself, but have seen reports from the 24-70 f/2.8 and they do not match the quality of the just mentioned. I will probably rent one for a week and try it myself, it is a practical focal length.

Having the stabilization in camera, means all lenses will be stabilized and the system works well. My preliminary images taken at one second with the 16-35 have produced some critically sharp images. Shooting at ¼ second is routine with decent hand holding technique. As mentioned before it’s a perfect back up for the Leica M if you can’t have a spare M!!

The new camera is slightly different than the previous, being heavier, larger grip, top bottoms more ergonomically placed and a very nice dark finish. For using Sony as a system, I would go for this new one paired with the a7s, lethal combination.
By the way, one warning regarding this new offering, it will cause some problems with third party extreme wide angle lenses. The a7s sensor solved that problem and was usable with all including the Voigtlander 12mm full frame. You will find some light fall off on the corners which is no problem and also some purple fringing around the periphery but not as noticeable as the a7r model. This is easily corrected with an Adobe plug-in called Flat field converter. Easy to use, but one more step during processing.

Highly recommend this new camera, mirrorless is the way to go, they are small, good performers and will be taking over the camera sales yearly until being the dominant factor. Presently, they are not as good in the autofocus performance but this new offering is narrowing the gap considerably. It has 117-point phase-detection AF system with 25 point contrast-detection system being capable of capturing action. I have noticed the increase AF speed over the others but not tested the performance with tough/fast moving subjects.

Will be posting lots of image samples after our next shoot which should give you a visual representation of what this jewel is capable of doing.
All images are out of camera, opened with Adobe dng converter 8.7.1, no noise reduction, adjustments, and if you click on them, you will get the full resolution version, with our permission to download and edit them as trial.

Sony a7II, 16-35 Vario Tessar f/4, 1/50, ISO 6400 Out of camera.
Sony a7II, 16-35 Vario Tessar
f/4, 1/50, ISO 6400
Out of camera.

Sony a7II, 16-35 Vario Tessar f/4, 1/60, ISO 4000 Out of camera, opened with Adobe dng converter 8.7.1
Sony a7II, 16-35 Vario Tessar
f/4, 1/60, ISO 4000
Out of camera, opened with Adobe dng converter 8.7.1

Sony a7II, Sony 16-35 Vario Tessar (by Zeiss) f/4, 1/60, ISO 200
Sony a7II, Sony 16-35 Vario Tessar (by Zeiss)
f/4, 1/60, ISO 200

Sony a7II, Sony 16-35/4 Vario-Tessar f/4, 1/40, ISO 6400 Out of camera, opened with Adobe dng converter 8.7.1
Sony a7II, Sony 16-35/4 Vario-Tessar
f/4, 1/40, ISO 6400
Out of camera, opened with Adobe dng converter 8.7.1

Sony a7II, Sony 16-35/4 Vario-Tessar f/4, f/4, 1/60, ISO 5000 opened with Adobe dng converter 8.7.1 Out of camera, no noise reduction, adjustments.
Sony a7II, Sony 16-35/4 Vario-Tessar f/4, f/4, 1/60, ISO 5000
opened with Adobe dng converter 8.7.1
Out of camera, no noise reduction, adjustments.

Sony a7II, Sony 16-35/4, Vario-Tessar f/4, 1/60, ISO 5000. Metadata included in picture. Full size, out of camera, converted with Adobe dng converter 8.7.1
Sony a7II, Sony 16-35/4, Vario-Tessar f/4, 1/60, ISO 5000.
Metadata included in picture. Full size, out of camera, converted with Adobe dng converter 8.7.1

Taking the Lensbaby Sweet 35 for a ride…


Totally out of focus silhouette.
Totally out of focus silhouette.
Taking the Lensbaby Sweet 35 for a ride…
Please click on the thumbnails for a bigger image.
A few years ago I had a love affair with the Lensbaby. It was only the 2.0 version, that you had to bend to find your sweet spot and the only available extras were the 4X and 10X filters to stick to the front.
They liked and used one of my images, a peacock in display extensively for advertising.
LensBaby gift card 2010
LensBaby gift card 2010

Then life got in in the middle of our relationship in the way of long and heavy lenses, getting up at the wee hours and traveling to far away places in search of exotic bird species.
Atlantic Puffin with sand eel. Skommer, Wales, England.
Canon 1d4, 70-200/4 with two 25mm extension tubes.
Atlantic Puffin with sand eel. Skommer, Wales, England.
Canon 1d4, 70-200/4 with two 25mm extension tubes.

Well, we are a bit tired of that, let’s say that our light does not shine there anymore.
At least for now.

We have gotten rid of most of the heavy duty stuff, keeping only the 7D and the 100-400L that would be enough for our birds needs, should they arise.
And as part of our replacement equipment, I turned my head back to old trusty Lensbaby and was very happy to see how much the company has improved their lenses, much better build quality and a lot of optics to choose from.
Got us the Composer Pro with the Sweet 35 installed, the Edge 80 and the Macro converters.

Sony Nex 7, Lensababy with macro converters.
Sony Nex 7, Lensababy with macro converters.

I must say Lensbaby has come a looooooong way and I still have a learning curve to get to be familiar with the new system. Now you can dial in the f/ stop instead of changing the ring inside and with the live histograms, no more guessing at the exposure, since there is no communication between the camera body and the lenses.
In our NEX-7 camera, there is a setting that will let you release without a lens attached, and it needs to be enabled to be able to shoot.

Tilting the optic for slanted bokeh.
Tilting the optic for slanted bokeh.

We went to Epcot Center for a few days right before Christmas, and got a chance to use the Sweet 35 in a lot of creative ways. Creativity is not an option, but a way of life, they say. And there is nothing more liberating than not to have to live up to your old standards and have the freedom to experiment without pressure and be as free as a child in expressing yourself as an artist. I don’t have to fill my shoes anymore.

Tilted to side optic.
Tilted to side optic.

I wished I had used the optic for people more often than I did, just decided to do so on the last day and loved the effect. I can see myself really liking the effect, exaggerating the focusing ring effect and only working wide open, at f2.8.
Mind you, taking candids and getting used to a creative optic at the same time is a learning curve and not always easy. But there is lots of room for improvement and the road to getting there is going to be a lot of fun.

Going for impressionistic feel.
Going for impressionistic feel.

I think I’m going to like the Edge 80 too, but one optic at a time, please. Their behavior is different. Sweet 35 , as described by the manufacturer:
Handholding, focusing on hands.
Handholding, focusing on hands.

“The Sweet 35 Optic is a 35mm selective focus optic with a 12-blade adjustable aperture that creates a tack sharp Sweet Spot of focus surrounded by blur. Experience an unprecedented level of creative control over the size of the Sweet Spot.
The Sweet 35 Optic boasts the widest focal length of any selective focus Lensbaby optic and features close-focus capabilities.”

Really slanted optic.
Really slanted optic.

In this article, I will only use images taken with it and will try to get more familiar with the Edge, which has a flat plane of focus, more like a Tilt and Shift, and is supposed to be great for posed portraits. I haven’t gotten that far. I should say YET.
Edited to soften the harsh midday-light.
Edited to soften the harsh midday-light.

One of the most amazing things with this lens is the bokeh, an I love to use it backlit for maximum effect. If you keep the optic straight, the bokeh is beautifully rounded. But if you bend it, Oh la la, you get crazy slanted effects. Up to you. Will also try to experiment with other apertures to get more defined point of focus.
Backlit slanted.
Backlit slanted.

As for editing, you can do as little or as much as you can. Most of them require very little, Clarity works well, or maybe getting rid of a distracting white spot. Or sometimes go all they and mix two exposures. Whatever fits you, you are the one in charge.
Two exposures blended in CS6
Two exposures blended in CS6

Sony NEX-7 Review


Recently, I have been looking for something other than bird photography, and started researching available cameras. A normal DSLR like the Canon 5DIII would be a good choice, but I feel it is too large and bulky for traveling. Large lenses for candids are counterproductive, since people tend to shy away.

 

After much digging, I came up with the Sony NEX-7 which I find to be a jewel.   It has 24.3 MP, APS-C sensor, no mirror, ISO to 16,000 (fully usable), Electronic viewfinder, lots of in camera features, excellent ergonomics and superb quality. Articulated LCD and capable of shooting 12 frames per second.  Panorama and HDR features, although these only in jpg format. Add some high quality lenses and you will see what I mean.Image

Sigma 105mm f 2.8 EX DG OS HSM    f 2.8  1/3200 sec  ISO 800  (157 equivalent)  hand held.

The camera is small but easy to hold in your hand, takes little getting used to. In no time, you will be able to get to all controls rapidly without effort.  The camera is complex, but so is every other camera in the market, so reading the manual and spending time with it will pay dividends in the field. It is frustrating trying to find a setting having to scroll through all the menus.

 Image

 

Image made hand held  Sony 18-200  3.5 6.3   f 6.3  1/50  ISO 200  @  142 (214 equivalent)
Shooting wide open and at a slow shutter speed for showing the sharpness and stabilization performance.
Image100% crop of previous image, no sharpening applied.

The NEX-7 has its own E Mount Sony lenses but is also able to use just about any other lens with an adapter. Interesting too, that the Sony adapter for the Alpha lenses improves the AF !!!! .The camera has a phase detection AF vs contrast in DSLRs, each has advantages and disadvantages. Face AF is not very good for fast action like birds if flight, contrast has it by a mile, however, this system has an electronic viewfinder, with a choice of live histogram or a level, which is amazing. First of all you can review the image on the viewfinder, no need to take your eyes away and look at the LCD if you want to chimp, it will be discrete :).   You can also change all settings looking into the viewfinder. Going back to the converter for using the Alpha lenses, the converted uses both face and contrast for AF functioning and it makes it faster. Still, not in the same league as the pure contrast AF systems.    

Image

Sony 18-200  3.5-6.3     f 13  4.0 sec  ISO 100    at 18mm (27 equivalent)

I did my AF testing for flight with probably the worst lens I could use but it was the only available, the 105 Sigma macro. By the way, for macro I have been using Sigma lenses both when I was with Nikon and Canon, We like like the lenses and its the only third party lens we use. With the macro lens and converter, I was able to obtain some razor sharp flight images pre-focusing and being extra careful, without the converter and the other E lenses, It was just about impossible.   Only got one, shown below.

Image

 Sony 18-200  f 6.3  1/1600  ISO 400
Made the best with harsh light conditions.

The lens line-up for this camera is superb. I would caution from buying the smaller, black 18-200, it seems to be a Tamron with a Sony label.   There is another 18-200 made by Sony (silver), a bit heavier (2 oz) and thicker, which is sharp. Not sure if we had two bad samples of the black lens but performance was not acceptable. The Sony lens was designed for their high end video cameras and has image stabilization for both still and video, the other just for stills. Price difference is about fifty dollars.

ImageSony 10-18, @ 18mm. f/4, 1″, ISO 100, tripod mounted.

First lens to buy would be the 18-200 and then you go according to need.   I want fast lenses for low light so we went with the Zeiss 24 1.8, Sony 50 1.8 and Sony 10-18, f 4.0. The 24 is the crowning jewel. Michael Reichmann raves about the lens and compares to the Leica Sumilux 24!. One amazing statement, be sure to read his reviews in Luminous Landscape for an eye opener!

 The wide angle zoom is amazing, since its image stabilized, producing sharp images at low shutter speeds even hand held.  The 50 1.8 is an obvious choice since the cost is not that high and the performance remarkable. My wife and I have tried and shot thousands of images during two trips to the House of the Mouse (Disney) and have been impressed. Some sample images including a couple at a ridiculously high ISO, taken by my wife and I.Image

Straight out of the camera with no processing   Sony 50 1.8    f 1.8   1/100 sec  ISO 16,000

Another good lens choice would be Leica.   Lenses are small and excellent performers, you set the f stop on the lens so no complicated adapter is needed .. they are manual focus only, though. For Canon, Nikon etc you need the latest adapter so the camera communicates with the lens, otherwise the lens would default to wide open.

 Image

Sony 18-200  f 22  1/4 sec  ISO 100 @ 43 mm  (equivalent 64)
Forgot my ND !!!
 

One safe way to try out this camera would be renting. Lots of places to rent online for very little and there is nothing like a hands on experience. First, download the online manual, to be familiar before the camera arrives.  After trying I know you will not be disappointed.

 Image

Sony 10-18mm @10mm, in-camera HDR with 6 Ev range, 3 images, f/22, ISO 1600, tripod mounted. Sony IR remote.