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Reader Comment: Sony RX1R Focusing at Shooting Aperture

See the review of the Sony RX1/RX1R in Guide to Mirrorless.

Buy the Sony RX1R.

Paul I writes:

I’ve been blown away by the files from my Sony RX1r, and would love to get an A7 and/or A7R.

The one extremely annoying thing about the RX1r is that it only focuses at the shooting aperture, rather than wide open like an SLR. The increased depth of field at smaller apertures makes it more difficult to achieve precise focus. (Of course focus shift might come into play, but I haven’t tested that).

Do you know if the A7 and A7r can behave like an SLR and focus wide open, and then stop down for the exposure. Sure would be nice.

DIGLLOYD: The RX1R offers outstanding results, and is equal to or superior to the Leica M240 + Summilux 35/1.4.

One algorithmic flaw with Sony and most other mirrorless cameras is that they focus stopped down, an issue I’ve remarked on repeatedly over the years in my reviews, including both the Sony RX1/RX1R as most recently the Leica X Vario. I would expect the Sony A7 and A7R to behave the same way (like the NEX-7 and RX1R). Which is a pity. But I don’t know as yet.

Suppose the exposure is to be made at f/8. If the camera focuses at f/8, it sees a deep zone of peak contrast, hence it cannot descriminate the precise point of focus accurately; the autofocus system might place the zone of sharp focus biased forward or rearward, depending.

The solution I use in the field (constantly) with the RX1R and other cameras that behave this way is to focus wide open or one stop down (f/2.8 for the RX1R), then switch to manual and shoot at the desired aperture. In this way I obtain exactly the focus I wish. But it is a nuisance that could easily be addressed with a firmware update (preference). The saving grace is that an aperture ring makes this relatively fast, even if tediously wasteful of my time.

Still, I also shot ad-hoc enough to find that the RX1R does a very good job focusing to my liking in the f/4 and f/5.6 range, but I also unconsciously aid the camera in my choice of focus. But by f/8 - f/11, relying no AF this way is not the way to obtain peak results where desired; it’s a sub-optimal and casual approach.

Another approach

Using a manual focus Leica R or Leica M or Zeiss ZM or Zeiss ZF.2 DSLR lens (using an adapter), one has complete control over the choice of aperture and focusing. This approach is my preference for contemplative photography (still-life, landscape, anything relatively static). That is, provided the lens offers performance that is at a level that exceeds the autofocus alternative.

See also:

Sony RX1R with EVF and Really Right Stuff grip
(my preferred shooting configuration)

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