Oops, I did it again (again)

Oh yeah, I did. What is it, this time ?

Another FF, 24mp Sony A7 mirrorless body. Why ? Because I could. Because I was curious enough of the recent firmware update to grab a well priced unit that caught my attention. So what now ?

MarlaAvr14-03Pre FW update, ISO 2000, NR Low, and gritty jpegs again

MarlaAvr14-02Gritty, and all images looking WAY underexposed once transferred to the computer, vs. their apparent exposure seen on the camera’s LCD (I had encountered a bit of that on my first units, but not to that extent)

A word on the ergonomics and haptics of the A7 again, and another word on my state of mind this time around. The two first units I got were from Amazon, and I was under some pressure regarding the return policy. I knew I could return the camera if I wanted to, within the Amazon 30 day policy. When I consider doing this, I’m constantly trying to not overuse the camera, keep actuations as low as possible, and the “should I return or keep” thingy never leaves my mind. Upon release there was also the awareness of paying a premium for early adoption, while prices on this camera have dropped faster than any other I’ve seen before (except maybe Panasonic models, that have an absolute record of plumeting value, lol). It went from 1424 on Amazon at release (I pre-ordered it from them a day they have a flash offer at 1269) to 1165 as of last week, within a little over 4 months. Amazon prices do flucuate, so it might be back up as I write this piece, or drop further down, but you get the idea.

TestA7#3-01Post FW update, ISO2000, NR Normal

So let’s say I’m approaching this third unit of the A7 with a little more peaceful mind. I like it, fine, I don’t, perfect as well, I’ll sell it the price I paid for it, or will lose about ten euros and be done with it. Either way, not a huge deal. The unit is mine, I’m the third owner, bought in a brick and mortar shop in Paris with the 2 year waranty.
I had forgotten how good the A7 felt in the hand. One of my gripes about the a6000 is the texture of the handgrip, which ressembles that of the NEX6, and is not as rubbery as the NEX7’s. The A7’s is thick and soft rubber, super grippy, and very, very comfortable and even pleasurable to hold. The control buttons scheme is also better, as you get a “TriNavi” of sorts, with an extra physical exposure compensation wheel. The customization options are endless enough that pretty much anyone can fine tune this camera to their needs and get comfortable shooting it. You know what ? I even made peace with the hated “hump” !! (and coming from me, that says a LOT). The grossly protruding backpiece of the EVF, I embraced as well, let it be. The EVF is so freaking large, beautiful and clear, that I’m even ready to put up with the eyepiece. See, who said I couldn’t change ??

CannelleAvr14-01I played a bit with the camera last night in very low and terrible light, and still ran into the same muddy and gritty jpegs I have encountered with the first two units (not that I expected a miracle to have happened in the meantime). Since I found very similar issues on the a6000 as well, I’m just assuming it’s the way the current sensors and jpeg engines work on those cameras. But the recent A7 FW update being supposed to address some it this, I decided to give it a go. Sony camera FW updates can be very, very finicky to perform. You’ll routinely read panicked posts from users on photo boards, whose camera have just “bricked” during the update, won’t turn on, and act totally dead. It’s happened to me before but thank God I had read about it on the Net and knew the workaround. As a side note it took about *eight* tries for the update to install correctly on my little NEX 5R a couple of weeks ago. So I disengaged any energy and screen saving mode on my Macbook Pro, and ran the update. It went smooth as silk, with zero glitch (it IS long, though). Upon restarting the camera, I was immediately able to see two of the promised benefits of the patch :
1) the camera start up time is WAYyyyy reduced, and about instant when rebooting it upon shutdown2) the AF performance in low light is also quite improved. Good light AF speed was already totally adequate, so I now have an effectively AFing camera. Thanks Sony.

Now, the big question was, how is jpeg IQ improved at high ISOs ?

TestA7#3-02Improved enough

I had asked a question on the E mount board on DPR two days ago, asking for the actual, real world benefits of the update, and got consistent feedback that the main improvement is being able to use NR Normal without the terrible detail smearing of before. Most of us were using NR Low of OFF because of this, but got decently detailed but consequently grainy shots at high ISO values. The NR Normal setting is now totally usable, and, some DPR posters claimed, in some cases better than the Low setting. Upon experimenting with both, I concur. I had also been very careful before and turned off all the little image enhancers that I use on the NEX 7, namely DRO 1 and +1 Sharpness some creative styles settings. I tried to bring them back, with no negative effect or added noise.

CannelleAvr14-02ISO2500

Therefore I am overall pleased with my findings. I still need to adapt to the camera exposure and WB behavior that is a departure from the N7, but I feel up to the challenge this time. A few more pictures, this time from today :

TestA7#3-031600 is slightly better light

TestA7#3-04This is Christophe, a fellow photo gear addict of mine. He stopped by this morning to check out the a6000, as he’s picking up his tomorrow. As you can see, he’s not too happy about it…

TestA7#3-05A7 with LA-EA4 and Sig 70-200/2.8 mounted

PortailAvr14-01Look at this beauty šŸ˜‰

TestA7#3-06PEN F 38/1.8, wide open ISO640

CannelleAvr14-03When it gives me this type of output I want to hug it !!

Bottom line ? I’m enjoying myself. The weather is good, hanymen are installing a handsome new portal to the house and I’m taking the camera to the stables a bit later. One image from the NEX7 yesterday :

CanalMar14-01Check out for more Sony E stuff later !

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About marla2008

Shutterbug. Shallow DOF nut. Mother of Child. Student of the Horse.
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14 Responses to Oops, I did it again (again)

  1. Lisandra says:

    Hey claire! Glad you’re back with a 7. It takes getting use to but it can be done. My exposure comp wheel is permanently set at +.7- +1.0. I’m currently using a 50mm f1.2 L. I’ve also found that most of the we issues have to do with the dreaded light leak, a hair scrunchy in the seam where mount meets lens fixes it nicely. I’m very impatiently waiting for a la-ea4 to use my newly acquired minolta 80-200 2.8. I shot it side by side with the 70-200 g and the sigma 70-200 and it was a no contest.
    Can you recommend me a good nex board? Somewhere I can find you in.

    • marla2008 says:

      Lisi, so good to see you again !! You’re not gonna like it, but I do contribute a bit at DPR, and even more rarely at Fred Miranda. Actually since E-P1 has been down I haven’t been very present on English speaking boards (I have enough fun getting pushed around on the French one, lol). Get in touch again asap ! (I think you’re going to be in heaven with the 80-200 !!)

      • Lisandra says:

        I’m shooting it in a crop body but it should really be something on the a7. Its reaaaaally heavy

  2. The price drop is really amazing! My only fear is that your (excellent) 2 reviews makes me think that only experts as yourselves should touch this little beast…..

    • marla2008 says:

      Me ? An expert ?? Ah ah, you’re way too kind !! I still think Sony has something up its sleeve for the fall. Watch the price drop THEN šŸ˜‰

      • Yes, you, Claire.

        If the A6K is the next NEX (boy that’s hard to say) and the A7/A7R their FF flagship, I don’t see what could still come this year…..but I will definitely take a close look at those prices…..in case I drop my current camera!

  3. marla2008 says:

    Laurent, the A6K is 649ā‚¬ at release, the A7 is still officially 1499 on Sony’s website, it retails around 1200 in the best Parisian brick&mortars and is even a bit cheaper on Amazon.fr. Don’t you see a very obvious and very huge price gap there ?? 1000 is a sweep spot for a flagship APS-C body, or would make a ballsy and pretty provocating admission price for a stripped down FF. Either way, there’s room for an extra camera, don’t you think ?

  4. Martin says:

    There’s been next-to-no price drop here, but then Sony undercut others here by releasing an even cheaper Japanese-only version of all their cameras. The English versions are more in line with the US pricing, and have recently gone up due to the tax increase here.
    Personally, I think that the A7 draws a nicer image than the NEX-7.
    I hope that you can solve the exposure woes – my A7R seems bang on. What metering do you use, out of interest?

    • marla2008 says:

      Martin, my number one appeal for mirrorless is that from the start it has allowed me to free myself from metering modes by just shooting in Manual with full time preview on, and judge with my eyes how I wanted final exposure to look (that’s why the very good accuracy of the NEX cameras preview was so dear to me, vs. other brands that were a little or a lot less reliable). Now I find that the final image of the A7 is often somewhat darker than what I “metered with my eyes” from the LCD and EVF, despite having tried to tweak them to compensate. Note that this eyeballing of exposure has worked perfectly for me on countless NEX bodies for the past two years. I find the A7’s LCD and EVF hard to judge. Maybe the DR is so wide you have to handle subtleties and can get fooled. Anyway I am experiencing with Auto ISO again (which means letting the camera meter) in Multi (as I want Face Detection active, and it’s disabled in my metering mode of choice : Center Weighted) and compensating if needed with the exp. comp. wheel (which I find way too stiff for my taste, I’m contemplating lubricating it in hope it turns a little more freely !). I agree that in this set-up the camera generally makes pretty relevant exposure decisions, but not always, which was the reason I’ve been shooting Manual in the first place. I’ll keep on experimenting !

      • Martin says:

        Hi Claire,
        Yes, me too (r.e. major appeal of mirrorless is live preview). As for metering mode, I only use “Center Weighted” when I want a bright image to stand in a sea of blackness. I use “multi” for 99.99% of my shots, and never have exposure issues. I have to check out this face detect thing, I’ve been too busy playing with manual glass recently!
        What DRO setting do you use? Auto? lvl5?
        In fact, I’ve never had exposure issues with any of the mirrorless cameras I’ve owned (I still own them all – C3, 7, RX1, A7r). I think my RX1 exp-comp dial turns a little more freely, but then the A7r is newer, so I dunno.
        I usually shoot in M mode, unless I fancy relaxing a bit with A or S mode. I shoot RAW-only, but I doubt that shooting (RAW+) JPEG would change exposure between a RAW and JPEG file.
        Have you ever looked at the histogram? I’m curious as to how it looks.
        Either way, best of luck. I’d say that it’s not really impacting on your photos much at all šŸ™‚

  5. marla2008 says:

    Martin, I leave DRO set to 1 at all times, I like a subtle but predictable effect, and I’ve been using it for so long I know exactly what to expect from it. I think Sony has tuned it down though, because Level 1 on the NEX bodies is closer to Level 2 on the A7. I still go with Level 1 anyway, it just has an even more light handed action on the A7, which is fine.
    My main territory of testing with the A7 is Creative Styles. In my observations, the new bodies (A7 A6000) render midtones way less bright than the NEX bodies, which can lead to what seems like “muddy” looking images, that’s why you have to expose those new bodies all the way to the right of the histogram. You truly need to think differently from a N7 for instance, which is why I so insisted that the newer and older bodies could hardly be shot side by side, too much headache for the operator to remember and readapt to the cams each time you pick one up over the other. I’ve decided to put my N7 to rest for a few weeks, at least three, the two next here at home, and the following in our Brittany home. That will be a big field test as well, as I always take my cameras there and know what kind of images to expect. I might have to rethink my lens line up a tad, too.

  6. MJWC1 says:

    I have only one issue with this post, Claire -the statement “prices on this camera have dropped faster than any other Iā€™ve seen before”. Do the words ‘Nikon 1 firesale’ mean nothing to you šŸ˜‰

  7. marla2008 says:

    You do have a point !! And I did mention the Panny models, didn’t I ? However, for the sake of curiosity, you might want to monitor the 4 first months of the Nikon 1’s shelf life. Not quite sure what we’d find out…

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