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Hits and Misses: Ultra Low Light Photography—Sony A7s vs Nikon Df (and of sleeping gorillas)

It might be a “miss” on price, but the new Sony A7s with its 12-megapixel state-of-the-art sensor poses an interesting contrast to the traditional form factor of the other full frame low-res / low light cameras on the market, the Nikon Df (and D4/D4s).

In Thoughts on Nikon Df back in November, I articulated all the things the Nikon Df lacked or did wrong that precluded it from being a convenient contender for all-around carry. Now along comes the Sony A7s and from what I see it hits the nail on the head, and adds 4K video to boot (which appears to be its primary selling point).

In a nutshell, the Sony A7s offers a much more compact form factor, compatibility with a vast array of lenses of many brands including two high-performance native lenses, a high-res EVF, superior rear LCD, ultra high ISO capability, on-sensor contrast-detect focusing (avoids phase-detect AF errors as with Nikon DSLRs), 4K video.

The A7s will have its issues, but will Nikon and (Canon) see what dinosaur cameras they are building any time soon, or just let Sony be the only innovator and walk away with their business over time? The form factor and EVF factors alone can hardly be underestimated.

Readers know I am unhappy with the shutter vibration of the Sony A7R (it’s why I have not bought one; it undermines viability of all lens tests) and a few other issues, but those are current-offering issues. Over time, flaws usually are removed and with Sony’s aggressive move into professional areas (4K video), some good sense is bound to leach across and improve the lineup.

But with Nikon and Canon, nothing happens: the D800/D800E are now 2+ years old with zero updates that could drive new sales (optional EVF support, fix the mangled Live View, current-tech sensor, time exposure modes, higher-res time lapse). Canon’s DSLR offerings are really 5+ years old now (the 5D Mark III hardly counts vs the 5D Mark II, and both are lower resolution than even the Sony A7). This is the way to abandon a market to a vigorous competitor. Meanwhile, Sony innovates with three new mirrorless full-frame cameras spanning the usage scenarios from low light to high res to 4K to better “hit rate”, etc. The Sony offerings are (mostly) not for sports and the support network is essentially non-existent (for pros), but so what—the action is in the prosumer market.

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