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Sony A7R + 35/2.8: Arrives Tomorrow

I expect to have the Sony A7R and 35/2.8 by Friday. Possibly the A7 also.

Update: Sony A7R is HERE. But UPS showed up six hours late, daylight gone. So will set up and play tonight, shoot tomorrow.

Cameras loaned courtesy of B&H Photo, see my Sony full frame links for B&H Photo (thanks for buying using any of the site links to B&H so that B&H know loaners are worthwhile!).

In Guide to Mirrorless, coverage will focus on what I see as the key issues: camera usability and ergonomics, lens performance*, issues such as shutter vibration and focus accuracy. And ultimately some analysis of whether 36 megapixels on Sony really is better than 36 megapixels on Nikon, given the myriad considerations**. My role is not to decide either way for my readers, but to point out all the pluses and minuses and particularly those things that lower the hit rate.

Please see recent discussion to get an idea of some of the concerns with the A7R:

* Lens performance: lenses are covered in their appropriate Guides regardless of which camera body is used (e.g. Leica M always goes into Guide to Leica). Native lenses are always reviewed with the matching camera(s). See Which Content is in Which Publication?.

** Small camera with adapter and huge lens is not necessarily a win in my book, e.g., a Zeiss 55/1.4 APO-Distagon might be more trouble than it's worth versus just shooting natively on Nikon D800E. TBD.

Sony Alpha A7R with Sony/Zeiss FE 35mm f/2.8 Sonnar ZA

Richard R writes:

It appears that there is no magnification (focus assist) when using a non-native lens. Focus peaking yes, but without magnification the wonderful EVF is useless for critical focus.

... [follow-up to Klaus H response]

It did not make sense, but if I, or any contributor at DPReview can find out how to do it. Maybe it's adapter specific? Yes, I was hoping I was wrong, but Sony has said no when using non-native lenses. I'm not disputing it, but several others have asked the question and received no positive answer. Can your correspondent tell me how he/she did it? Nothing in the manual, can't even find a match for "focus assist", or magnification as it relates to focus. A little help would go a long way!

DIGLLOYD: 2nd para above is followup. I will post the answer when I receive the A7R and try it myself. Well, there is RTFM and then there is BTFCR (Build The Foobar Camera Right).

Reader Klaus H writes:

Reader Richard R. is incorrect. There is magnification with non native lenses.
I own my A7R with the Sonnar 2,8/35 for 2 weeks now. You certainly will love the little 35 Sonnar.

I put the magnification on the Af/MF button instead of C1. My thumb is on this button when I hold the camera. It’s so easy with a double click for magnification, I love it.

DIGLLOYD: that’s a relief. But one wonders how a camera can be made so that a user can be fooled into thinking a feature is missing.

Tero N writes:

I got my A7R about 2 weeks ago as 1st pre-orders shipped in Europe in 19th of November. There is a lot of incorrect and plain wrong info floating around about the A7(R), Sony did not help the situation by having a manual that took Olympic gold medal in sucking.

- the magnification is obviously there for non-native lenses, custom button c1 (next to shutter) is configured for that by default, called "Focus Settings". 1st press
brings "1X magnification" that enables one to move the magnification area, successive presses bring 7.2x and 14.4x magnification and get back to
the non-magnified mode

- the constant AF hunting can be disabled by turning "Pre AF" off in the Menu. Back button focusing is probably still the best way as this is not an action camera anyway

- the MF experience has been improved by a few things from Nex-7

- native lenses show a "distance scale" in the EVF. It is most useful when the lens is badly out of focus, helps one know which direction to go as there
is obviously no distance markings on the fly-by-wire focus ring

- Focus peaking level/color adjustment can be now accessed in Fn menu, makes it easier to get most out of focus peaking in different light condition. Obviously
magnification is still the go to tool for critical focusing wide open

- EVF is greatly improved from NEX-7, huge boost in contrast and way less color noise in the low light

- some shutter vibration is definitely there. It makes long and light lenses with IS/OS pretty much useless (not that a adding a cheap, flimsy tele makes much sense when there is a superb 36 MP sensor inside). I got loads of shutter vibration with a Sony E Mount 55-210 (cheap, light, flimsy with OS) on tripod. Makro Planar Zf.2 50/2, Sony Zeiss 85/1.4 showed none that I could see (RAW + 1:1 pixel peeking in LR 5.3 RC shutter bracketed from 1 sec to 1/500) when focused to around 10 meters, the best I could do indoors, with a weighted down tripod with center pipe down.

DIGLLOYD: Sounds about right. One reason that I never read manuals (well, almost never) is that the vendor refuses to document anything non-obvious. A good example might be what the histogram incorporates (white balance, color space, whether from raw or embedded JPEG, etc).

As for shutter vibration, my suspicion is that this is a primary camera flaw, its Achilles Heel. The lack of an electronic first curtain is a Very Very Bad Idea with a 36MP camera. Perhaps a fatal flaw if one intends to use the A7R for an all-around camera. My Leica M Typ 240 experience shows that shutter vibration is extremely difficult to deal with at certain shutter speeds (with certain lenses), greatly reducing the versatility of the camera, and sometimes resulting in stream of sharpness-damaged images, even with the best of technique. And that’s 24MP, not 36MP.

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