When things don’t go as planned – keeping on trying with the A7

The new FF Sony A7 is already widely acclaimed as one of the best high ISO, low light cameras available. A camera that has low noise levels and excellent output quality. But for my two first days of ownership, I’ve run into constant issues with noise and detail smearing.

Has4Dec13-06 So I went to the stables a little anxious, wondering how it would perform

Well, this is threefold. One, the biggest issue was not with output but with handling and operational performance. Two, the files were noisier than I had hoped them to be. Three, I *know* this camera can sing, and it makes me want to keep on trying.

Has4Dec13-10The bad news for me, and it is *BAD* news, is that in the dim barn the overall operation of the camera slowed down to the point of actual sluggishness. AF was clearly slower than the N7 with the same SEL35 lens (very weird, it focuses quite quickly in good light), but way worse, the loooong shutter generates a really problematic blackout that prevents any rapid succession of shots to be taken. I need to experiment with continuous shooting mode, not that I want to make any burst, but because I found it considerably reduced blackout time on some other models it was an issue with.

Has4Dec13-04So you think it’s a deal breaker, and then you get this. And this FF goodness is hard to ignore…

Has4Dec13-07Today was drab gloomy, and I think we might have reached the lowest light levels I ever saw in that barn

Has4Dec13-05So the ISO value the camera picked for a 1/100s shutter speed ranged from 2000 to 5000 ISO. The shots are noisy, but usable

Has4Dec13-08Color balance was a little wonky as well, but actually maybe a hair better than the N7 in the same place

Has4Dec13-11FF has a definite advantage in this case of giving a true to life sense of depth and perspective. On a horsey note, today the kids started working on handling a jumping course, which means being able to remember a given order for the various obstacles, and being able to control their ponies for speed and direction

Has4Dec13-09Both Marla and Enora handled it beautifully

Has4Dec13-13Today the bars laid flat on the ground, but next week, they’ll be elevated…

Has4Dec13-14So overall I was far from impressed with this A7 under those circumstances. AF (lack of) speed and shutter blackout made for a *lot* of missed shots, and the output was only marginally cleaner than the N7’s. I had mixed feeling switching to the outdoor arena for the adults’ lesson.

Has4Dec13-15My mixed feelings turned to dismay when I realized I had brought the camera body, brought the Sigma telephoto lens…and fogotten to bring the AF adapter to couple them together !! So I decided to go ahead and shoot anyway, with the SEL35/1.8 in auto crop mode (50mm focal equivalent).

Has4Dec13-16Things immediately got better.

Has4Dec13-21The AF returned to usable (I had switched back to AF-S, too) and the FF sensor gave this wonderful sense of separation and depth

Has4Dec13-24and IQ had an instant boost, as well.

Has4Dec13-17Emilie, who later controlled her young stud gone completely wide, we all were concerned for a few seconds but she handled the incident like a pro

Has4Dec13-18Camille, had a smooth and productive session on that pretty black gelding

Has4Dec13-19Gwen demonstrating how to handle Viva to Mathilde, who was having a few issues with her

Has4Dec13-25Marla’s new fleece lined jacket was much appreciated in the ice cold weather

Has4Dec13-31Viva in the background, and her brother Almighty in the foreground

Has4Dec13-27This shot finally gave me the detail/sharpness I was hoping to see from the A7

Has4Dec13-20The DR and color rendition is definitely what makes me want to stick with it

Has4Dec13-28

Has4Dec13-22

Has4Dec13-29Loping securely, before things went AWOL

Has4Dec13-26Marla holding a box full of cookies she’d baked for her friends in the morning

Has4Dec13-30So I went home with my camera, transferred the files to my computer, and sat there, scratching my head. Even at not so high ISO values I was seing a bunch of noise and tons of detail smearing, though I had tried all three Noise Reduction settings (Low, Off and Normal). I couldn’t help feeling I was doing something wrong or had unwillingly enabled contradicting options or settings that were screwing up the camera’s output. So I did the radical thing : I initialized it. Erased all possible settings, options and menu choices (I wrote down a few of them first). And yes, after starting and testing the camera again, bam ! I had better, cleaner pictures (?!). Then I had the crazy impulse to slap my huge Sig 70-200/2.8 on the cam and snap a shot at ISO2000 in my dim living room and…

TestA7-08Shabang !

CropA7-03See what I mean ?? That’s a 100% unedited crop, people !

So yes, the sensor can do it. IQ is obviously even more lens dependant that on any other camera I’ve had before, but the camera is *capable* of crazy sharp and clean detail, even at high ISO, even in low light. Can I live with the crazy blackout time to shoot kids in the barn, that is another question, but I’m gonna try to find all possible workarounds because this is an addictive camera that is starting to grow on me big time. I can’t wait to go to the stables again and try some solutions. In the meanwhile feel free to add any comment, or ask any question, about the camera, I’ll try to answer the to the best of my abilities.

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About marla2008

Shutterbug. Shallow DOF nut. Mother of Child. Student of the Horse.
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17 Responses to When things don’t go as planned – keeping on trying with the A7

  1. padam says:

    Thanks for your impressions, Marla.
    May I ask, do you shoot raw or jpeg? Sony seems to be lagging behind in terms of jpeg processing but the raw output seems really nice from what I’ve seen.

    One thing which I did not find any info about, but really wanted to know is this:
    Does it work seamlessly with APS-C crop mode with video as well?
    I do love my 5N with the OM 28mm f2 for low-light indoor video (it is more consistent than the SEL35F18’s AF and lack of OSS is not a deal breaker either) and it would be really nice to have that crop switch to really give it a usability edge over the previous NEX models.
    Thanks,
    Adam

    • marla2008 says:

      To my knowledge there is no RAW support for the A7 files as of now, so obviously jpeg. I’m a 99% jpeg shooter anyway. I couldn’t help you much with video as I don’t shoot any, it might be months before I even get to try it !

      • Dear Marla, You wrote that you are a 99% jpeg shooter. Does this mean that you made all these and the myriads of earlier amazing pictures with the built-in jpeg engine of your cameras? Thank You, Miki

  2. Honestly, the 3d pop thing and colour rendition are beautiful. I think the best barn pics ever in terms of overall balance. The noise doesn’t look bad at all (viewing on my phone) and the outdoor shots are great. But I totally get that operational issues can make or break the deal and look forward to further impressions 🙂

  3. Thanks for the great review so far! Have you found that use of E-mount lens in “crop-mode” causes any lose of “full-frame” effect? If I were to get an A7 I would need to use it with my E-mount 1.8 24mm, since like many I wouldn’t be able to afford a native A7 lens initially.

    • padam says:

      There is not much point in it as you will need to use APS-C crop mode so you will have the same coverage, almost the same look, only with less megapixels.
      The Sonnar FE 35mm f/2.8 has roughly the same look in terms of depth of field compared to the 24mm f/1.8 but you will get all the resolution with a bit better full-frame performance (just a bit, because it lets in less light) and it is much smaller and weather-sealed and AF should be a bit better as well.
      You should be able to get it with for just a little bit more than what you can get for your 24mm f/1.8 (at least until there will be many of these lenses for sale)
      I have this lens and it is very sharp but I don’t have the body yet 🙂

      The real advantage is going to be with FF lenses, especially with manual ones (for me). Can’t wait for the next post, keep them coming 🙂

      • marla2008 says:

        Adam I beg to disagree with you. You do not get “the same look”. You do get the FF look as far as DOF goes, as you can see in the above shots, made with the SEL35/1.8 in crop mode… The camera takes a normal picture with typical FF shallow DOF, then just *crops the black borders created by the lens’ smaller imaging circle out*. So you still totally get the FF “look”. Of course the 35 CZ is a wayyyyyy better lens than my lowly SEL, but the CZ24/1.8 is no slouch, and I actually read no later than this morning a user who had made the test and said they actually liked the 24 a smidge better (??).
        Anyway, to answer the original question, I personally bought this camera with NO intention to get any of the existing, or announced, FE lenses, which I find too slow, too big, and/or too pricey, so yes I’ll be using my SEL lenses (I have only two), manual lenses, and A mount lenses with LA-EA4.

      • padam says:

        Using an SEL35F18 on an A7 and on an N7 will result in the same field of view it is equivalent to 52mm (as shown in the EXIF) and the maximum isolation (not light gathering) is roughly f/2.5 equivalent. In short, it is like using a 50mm f/2.5 lens.
        But the resolution will be about 10 megapixels, not 24 megapixel like in NEX7 because the sensor is not fully utilized.

        It only makes a little difference if you use all the coverage (with the black corners) and then crop it manually (in post) to like a square format or something.
        If you use a 50mm lens that covers the FF you can take that into f/1.4 or lower, or you can step it down to f/2.8 and have a similar look as the SEL35F18 but the image will be much sharper because the lens is not used wide open.

        By the way, on crop sensor the SEL35F18 and the Zeiss 35 FE is really similar, only the corners which are a little bit better but the difference is not that big at all.

        Yes using an LA-EA4 makes a lot of sense right now.

  4. Also you’re pictures with the A7 are great! I particularly like those you took in Part III, with Marla on the couch. Totally frame worthy.

  5. marla2008 says:

    Adam I will not contradict you as you probably have much more technical background than I do. The only thing I know is that looking at the horsey images of the SEL35 in crop mode, they look darn FF-ey to me. You just inspired me to try the SEL in FF mode though 😉

  6. marla2008 says:

    Yes Miklos, all but one or two of them over the course of the year !! I really hate RAW vs. jpeg debates as much as I hate child abuse and world hunger, and they’re about as useful. But if I may state something with the hope of not starting another one, it’s that, contrary to what you’ll read everywhere, jpeg files CAN be edited, and pretty well, too. Sure, you have less information to work with, so less latitude in recovering things. But as I believe in getting it as right as possible in camera, all the shots you’ve seen here are jpeg files, and all are lightly tweaked in CS3, and sometimes ran in Snapseed as well for additional fine tuning.

  7. Alexandros says:

    Great review…and very troubling! I have an a7 on order but very tempted to switch to rx1 as I have M240 and use mostly 35mm. Initially I was tempted by the a7 as it promised faster af and faster general response )plus the interchangeability factor) but it seems that may not be the case (read it in another review also) plus the louder-than-expected shutter sound…do u have any experience with rx1 and can share your views vis the a7….thx

    • marla2008 says:

      Alexandros please do not cancel your order, it’s a great camera ! I’m making progress with it by the hour, as my next post will show. I tried the PDAF optimized SEL18-55 today and AF was MUCH faster than any NEX I ever used. I never used the RX-1 but a close friend of mine did and her reports of annoyingly slow AF match just about every review and comment I’ve read about it, so I’d assume the A7 is WAY improved over the RX1. I’d really hate that you miss on such a great camera because of my very first days assessment. At least please read the next couple of posts I’m about to do before you make a decision.

  8. King T says:

    Sony owes you big time here:
    Whoever would have thought of re-initializing a camera to get the picture quality up to scratch?
    I think that was a brilliant inspiration, however you got it. This could become common lore amongst the A7 users – “If it doesn’t give the results you see from other people’s photos[or your own from previous cams], try rebooting the thing!”
    Might even help those who really can’t take photos to save toffee!
    Thanks for sharing that huge bit of info. And by all means, please do carry on with the experiments – it’s cliffhanger stuff just waiting for the next installment 🙂

  9. marla2008 says:

    King PLEASE do not put too much weight into the reset, I don’t know how much it really had to do with the improvement, maybe *I* just adapted to it without even knowing it… Anyway the next post in just an hour away, stay tuned 😉

  10. Sarnia says:

    Really interesting that a reset improved the image quality for you.

    I had a similar experience with my A7 to your initial problems. With both the kit 28-70 lens and a Rokkor 50 1.4 manual focus lens the Image quality was terrible. Very noisy with poor detail even at low ISO. That was both JPEG and RAW developed using Lightroom.

    Images from my Olympus EM5 absolutely blew it away for both detail and noise. Having seen other people’s photos I knew something was wrong. I tried adjusting any setting that could make a difference to no avail.

    I ended up returning the camera. My replacement should arrive tomorrow. Any problems I’ll try resetting it!

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