Why I Returned My A7

Started Nov 26, 2013 | Discussions thread
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Gakuranman
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Why I Returned My A7
Nov 26, 2013

Cross-posted in m43 forums, as I'm curious to hear from both groups of users. Please note in advance that this post is not intent on bashing Sony cameras. It is an intensely personal account of my experience trying the A7 having been a m43 user for many years, and not intended to be objective criticism of the camera. Thanks!

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The Sony A7 piqued my interest recently and I took the plunge with a pre-order, having it arrive here in Japan sometime last week. I should note, I am a current E-M5 owner and have been using m43 cameras since the E-P1. I skipped the E-M1 as I'd just splashed out on a new E-M5 body after I damaged my first.

First up - why not the A7r? Several reasons - 36MP was overkill for most of the shooting I do, the flash sync speed is too slow on the A7r and the chunk of money saved could go most of the way towards the necessary first lenses in the system. I opted for the FE f2.8 35mm. I figured since it was a first generation system, I would more than likely be upgrading in the future to fix the inevitable shortcomings I would experience. Therefore it made sense to save some money but still enjoy the full frame experience in a mirrorless camera.

So why did I return the A7? Most of all, it was simply because it didn't feel right in my hands. That's not to say it was uncomfortable. It was a quality product and felt good to hold - much better than my grip-less E-M5 in that respect. But the sum of its parts left me feeling rather...indifferent. Slightly awkward finger position on the shutter, autofocus that felt neither slow nor fast (but particularly hesitant in average room lighting), flimsy port connector doors for a camera supposed to be 'weather-sealed', no IBIS, no touchscreen, no option to change language on the Japanese camera models, the lack of a charger in the box and need to have the camera plugged in to charge.

I suppose it was because I'd been spoiled by the time spent with Olympus products. Working my way up from the humble E-P1, waiting for years for lenses and autofocus improvements and, finally, a decent sensor, I finally have a kit that does everything I need it to with a few awesome features like IBIS and live time bulb thrown in. The only nagging thing on my mind while using my E-M5 was the lack of control over shallow depth of field.

I'm quite happy with the lenses I own and in most cases can achieve the shallow depth of field look that I desire, but there are certain situations where I desire more 'pop' and that 3D look generally obtained with full frame sensors and bright lenses. I'm not a bokeh fanatic, but I do enjoy experimenting with that sort of photography now and then. So it was that, if and when a full frame mirrorless camera was developed, I decided I'd take the plunge.

I was misguided from the start though and found myself disappointed with the 35mm f2.8 lens. I knew before purchase that the shallow depth of field would be virtually indistinguishable from the 17mm f1.8 Olympus prime, but for some reason I didn't fully appreciate the lack of difference until I held the Sony and 35mm lens and shot a few pictures with it. The lens itself was amazingly sharp and small, but I found myself wondering what I had been thinking trying to replace one for the other, especially with the poor close-focus distance on the Sony lens.

I happened to drop by the Sony showroom on a trip to Ginza while I was mulling over my decision where I tried the camera again, this time with the 55mm f1.8 lens.

Although I was happy with the shallow depth of field, again I felt indifferent. I think this was when I realised I had been harbouring that most dangerous of thoughts, unrealised, somewhere in the back of my mind. I'd been hoping that a full frame system would bring something magical to my photography. Something I as a photographer could never achieve through practice or skill alone.

Shallow depth of field does not a picture make.

I'd traded one system for another and gotten an increase in megapixels and better low light performance, but at the cost of IBIS, negating those gained stops of light, and a drop in performance in many other areas, such as autofocus. I missed the snappiness of my E-M5, the confident beep of focus-lock in low light and my familiarity with the Olympus system. In addition, I saw a prototype of the 24-70 f4 lens on display and realised how big it was. If that was to be my standard 'kit' lens, I'd have to re-think what I'd take on casual shoots...

After trying the A7 at the Sony store, I decided to visit Bic Camera to try this E-M1 that I'd been hearing so much about. The moment I held it in my hand with the 12-40 f2.8 pro lens, I couldn't help but exclaim my pleasure aloud. Even more so when I tried zooming and close-focusing the lens just a few centimetres away from an object. I snapped a few portraits and realised the bokeh was enough. The camera just felt so good!

It was then that I knew the Sony A7 and I were not to be. Perhaps in a year or three when the system - and I - have matured, we may cross paths again. But for now, I realised it wasn't the right timing. Instead, I went home and ordered the 12-40 f2.8.

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Just in case it wasn't clear, this post is not meant to be an objective criticism of any camera or lens. I think the Sony A7 cameras are fantastic in their own ways, particularly in that they are the first full frame mirrorless cameras out there. Sony went and did what nobody else would, and for that they have my gratitude. I have high hopes that their system will mature quickly, along with a good line of lenses. Fingers crossed we may see other manufacturers such as Olympus joining the full frame game once again. Either way, I will be keeping a close eye on the development of mirrorless full frame, in the hope that my skill can match its potential when the time comes!

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