with the Noctilux f0.95! the Leica wins in the looks department of course :)
[Note: what I share in the post only applies to the A7S with the M mount lenses I've shot with (Leica, Zeiss, Voigtlander). It does NOT apply to the A7 and A7R cameras as those are noted to not perform that great with M Mount lenses. I have no experience with the A7II and for what little I have shot and know from the web on the A7R II, it looks to perform well with M mount glass]
So this is not a review but some of the good reviews on it with information on using the A7S with M Mount glass which was relevant for me are here:
- Steve Huff LINK (covers a lot of low light high iso use) LINK
- Ashwin Rao LINK & LINK
- Rangefinder Chronicles LINK LINK (has a lot of wide angle lens use which is great as previously the A7 and A7R still had issues of magenta corners and heavy vignetting for the wide lenses) LINK LINK (use with voigtlander 15mm)
- and if u want to use it for astrophotography LINK Youtube
- super cool video by philip bloom with the A7S showing how it turns night to day LINK
- a very helpful lens review on the A7s by Ron Scheffler LINK and essential for folks buying m mount glass for the A7S
Note to self: Raph, u do not need to buy any other digital body for now (until the next latest and greatest M from Leica and Sony A7R Mkiii or A7S MkIII rear their beautiful heads in 2016 ;) every time severe G.A.S. (gear acquisition syndrome) attacks happen.
& compiling some useful links and notes on what to and not to do with this camera. I do hope this writeup is of help too to other folks with the same kind of requirements thinking of jumping on the Sony ILC Mirrorless bandwagon or as notes/pointers to consider for those with M mount glass shopping for a digital body.
End of day amateur/hobbyist photographers don't really want to be carrying more than 1 mid-large digital camera setup out so what you decide to buy and take out with u matters. eg. if I bring a Nikon DSLR or a Leica M9/M240 variant out, I won't bring the Sony and I would not be able to make the shots I would want to, with it in my hands.
Why I got the A7S?
I got into film (link) and when shooting film, if you want to go with arguably the best system that's not medium or large format, you are looking at the uber impressive Leica M and the amazing lenses in their range. Leica film cameras are wonderful image capturing devices and are great looking instruments themselves. Their lens range is strong and there are many that are regarded as some of the best for their focal lengths and speed noting size and weight considerations.
'if I risk it all could you break my fall?'
Leica is also a marketing fuelled, hype machine that is churning out rebadged Panasonics (they did rebadged Minoltas in the past), questionable limited editions (from Hermes to Lenny Kravitz to Hello Kitty and others) and tries at other systems vs the standard M rangefinder and it will be interesting to see what will come from them in the years ahead. In terms of recent track record, the T (Crop sensor, T mount) is discontinued, Q (full frame Sony RX1 challenger with fixed 28mm lens) is HOT right now. SL, the DSLR killer for the pros link?
But small and light is what Oscar Barnack was looking for when Leitz cameras first began and their goals with the M system, so the M9 when it came out in 2009 was great as it remained true to that spirit but the Sony's are surpassing them with the A7 series cameras launched in 2014. If you want small and light then [which matters because after you pack in fast lenses, accessories and what not, u r looking at a fair amount of weight to lug around with some full frame setups] then the Sony's are definitely worth checking out.
- Smallest full frame is the Leica M9 range at 138 x 80 x 37 mm but weighs in at 593gm and is a digital rangefinder without evf
- Nikon's lightest full frame is the Df i think and is 757gm. Canon's lightest 6D is 2gms shy of that.
- Sony A7S [126.9 x 94.4 x 48.2 mm (489gm)] [ok the A7R is a tad lighter at 465gm. The Mk2 series are all a bit heavier at 600+gms] the A7S ergonomics ain't as bad as some review sites make it out to be. I find with a half case I have no handling issues and i have big-ish hands.
- tilty flippy screen to get shots from different angles/perspectives.
- silent shooting - silent shutter equals discreet and no shutter vibration to affect a shot but rolling shutter and banding under certain lights come into play.
- multi-frame nr shot allows for capture at lower ISO and cleaner end image
- all kinds of adapters and a world of lenses
- of course the incredible ISO range: 100-102400 for stills and videos. Expandable ISO range: 50-409600 for stills, 100-409600 for videos. for stills 25,600 max for me and video 102400 max. yes u read right 102,400 is usable (to me) for video :)
- It can use my Nikon SB700 speedlight set to Manual
- It's output has a M9 look to it :) [based on what others have told me. i wanted to do a test but need a M9/ME to check out both raws and jpgs sooc] my view is it will lack a certain richness that can be found in the CCD M9 file.
- reasonably soft mechanical shutter (with the front curtain thing on)
- WYSIWYG which is great
- if u get the A7S, i'd recommend u get the close up adaptor as well as it ROCKS! allows u to do more close up/macro style photos
Why not the Sony A7R MkII?
Where it beats the a7s
- The viewfinder is glorious and the zoom for manual focus goes to 12.4x vs the 8.3x of the A7s. u can really get the focus nailed with this.
- AF with Canon EF lenses (lenses after 2008) with AF (metabones smart adaptor) and A Mount Sony glass with adaptor - I don't have Canon or A mount sony glass so not a plus for me.
- AF better than A7S - I am using M mount glass and manual focus and have only one FE lens (which i hardly touch) which is the kit lens so not a big plus for me
- All lenses stabilised (3 or 5 axis)
- Internal 4k shooting at FF - I don't shoot much video (well, i do my kids concerts :)
- Now has proper 14bit uncompressed raw (80+mb file size per image!)
- the huge resolution does give you the ability to crop in and still have lots and lots and lots of detail (kinda acts like a zoom lens then for picking an image you want to crop out from the actual image captured)
- the A7S costs about half of it (eg used A7S S$1.7-2k and new A7R Mkii S$4+k, used typically S$3.2-3.5k). [ Note for folks with loadsa$$$ all cost comparos go out the window, then it's a question of time u spend with the different bodies/systems u buy and what collects dust at home. Cameras should be bought to be used imo ]
- I don't need to be dealing with 80+MB RAW files vs the 12-12.5MB RAW from the A7S. I don't print big I don't shoot for weddings or magazines. Huge RAWs and files to deal with does mean more storage and processing power (so more expensive tech gear and more, lots more memory banks)
- You need the right lenses to resolve all that detail. The Sony Zeiss' look to be great for this and in my short tests, the m mount lenses look good as well but may work better on the a7s (with its lower res and i think some technical microsites mumbo jumbo not being able to show it up) with a lower chance of smearing and corner issues like color casts or vignetting.
- ISO goes to the A7S, looks to be by about 1 stop to me. low light performance A7S is still the king (can refer to dxomark for technical proof of this)
- Noise handling at same ISOs the a7s will have better looking files
- A7S wins a bit in DR
- NEW: There is no continuous shooting mode for silent. So for silent shooting it's single shot by single shot. A7S can do continous shooting in silent mode.
to show the detail in the eyes. do note that I am not really close to the model and she does't fill the frame...
Why not the Leica M9/M9P/ME?
- The Leicas M9/M9P/ME are essentially the same except for cosmetic differences or their images should be the same from the same Kodak CCD sensor (M9 was launched in Sep 2009). a lot of folks say that the look delivered by it is better than cmos and hence some keep the M9 instead of moving to the M240 but is it a myth? i've seen tests on the web where folks can't tell the 2 apart so it could be a lot of bs - see this LINK
- Limiting ISO range... usable to ISO 1250? (some say 800) surely you jest. yes not everyone can buy a S$16+k noctilux 0.95 to shoot in low light and there's the weight to consider as well for fast glass. folks who've used both have told me dynamic range is not as strong as Sony's which is consistent with dxomark technical tests/comparos.
- Loud-ish shutter which is uhm un-Leica-like
- Focus shift in lenses and rangefinder drift. for the rangefinders if you knock them a little, they may shift out of position or you may get drift over time and require recalibration which is something i would not be interested to deal with for digital not when there are EVFs with focus peaking and easy zoomed in MF out there
- you can't use the ultra wides from voigtlander on them without corner color (magenta cyan color) casts and vignetting issues. This is relevant to me as i have the 15mm vII and plan to keep using it.
- low quality lcds which u can't really judge the images u've taken on
- Rangefinder focusing on the Leica [vs Manual focusing via evf or lcd with focus peaking and easy magnification (and with the tilty flippy screen) on the Sony]
- These are currently selling in Singapore for about $3.2-$3.5k range so almost twice of a used A7S.
And possibly the most damning post on the M9 here LINK
Why not the Leica M240 / MP240 ?
So i had the good fortune to play around with the Leica M240 for 48hours and a Noctilux 0.95, the rolls royce of lenses if u dream of bokeh :) depth of field of about 2cm at f0.95 with your subject a metre away, so u have to have good eyes and a good camera for manual focusing to get what u want in focus. (FYI I will do a full on noctilux review, personal impression some time later on)
- the shooting experience of not fiddling around with menus and buttons to get it right and keeping it simple (which u get with the film Ms too) changing some settings did take a bit of time for me though at the start.
- it pairs the best with Leica glass which is important as u want to extract the most goodness from the magical (and pricey) Leica lenses. This is the biggest plus of shooting Leica on Leica for the possibly better image quality and in some cases, more potential of three dimensional pop to the images. [Note: the 3d pop thing is not exclusive to Leica and some Zeiss and other manufacturer lenses also have more ability to create this effect so it's not solely a Leica thing and there's nothing conclusive on the whole 3d thing but it's out there of course :) see this LINK and check out some of the pics where the folks in the pix look to pop out from the background] in terms of Leica lenses shining on Leica bodies, I think the Sony A7S comes close and the difference is not that significant (To be sure though, at a later point, i will do a more extensive test of M240 vs Sony A7S and A7R Mk II with M mount glass)
- much improved quiet shutter on the mp240 which is nice
- it produces a very different looking, richer image closer to the M9 (though some have said it is flatter)
- 1/4000 shutter is ok
- slow operation with a blinking red light from hell when i want to take pix at times. this is the biggest negative for me as i will miss moments waiting for this (and i did just with 2 days shooting with it. I just stood there looking at the red light and had to pull out the battery twice)
- as noted a higher shutter speed would be better. the shutter is quiet but there's no completely silent shutter
- iso native till 3200 before it pushes and from the looks of it it's only usable to 2000ish range. above 3200 is not great. the a7s can go to 6,400 without breaking a sweat
- not possible to hit focus as well as a7s manual focusing with the digital rangefinder (i didn't have the evf attachment but i heard that was pretty laggy and not so great too. i find it a fat wart-ish eyesore sitting on that cool M body) i did use the back lcd to zoom focus at times but I didn't like it much. i use the lcd to focus only when i am shooting at angles it would be difficult for me to use the viewfinder for or for street shots at times
- the M240 is used at around S$5-6k currently, new above S$11k and the M262 is too limiting (no live view?) and is S$8,745 new
- For the sensor and from comments provided by other users and mates with more extensive use of M240 vs Sony, the DR in the Sony's are better (u can pull details out better in shadows for eg) and the RAWs have little to tell them apart. (i will share some of mine in a future post)
The biggest reason to shoot with the digital M would be for someone who enjoys the rangefinder shooting experience and to want to shoot with the digital rangefinder de jour. and because of the belief from folks (some who do and some who don't know a lot about them) that Leica's are the best cameras, which isn't true. I think many would say they were the best in the analog 35mm film days for rangefinders back in the day but some (not all) of their digital bodies just aren't up to snuff, though there is always hope...
Notes to self for the A7S:
Do not shoot silent mode in an environment with fluorescent/weird artificial lighting (noting the Electronic Rolling shutter with Scan time of 1/30th of a second and the mechanical shutter at 1/250 Second ~ Check out this post on it if inclined LINK ). You will get serious banding issues. horizontal banding all over the place and moving about shot to shot. i knew about fast moving objects getting skewed (i.e. rolling shutter) but the lighting one was new to me.
Some things Sony has to do through a firmware update [please Sony!]
- Controllable sensitivity of the auto detection to switch from lcd to viewfinder view
- Lossless uncompressed raw. this actually doesn't affect me so much but it would be nice to have and since the A7S is only 12mp the RAWs won't be supersized like the A7R MII
- This may be a point more for future cameras - please improve the menus and the ability to add all functions (eg silent shooting on/off, Auto/VF/LCD) to the 'Function' menu
Finding the right camera for you is about asking yourself what kinds of pics u want to take with them and the shooting experience (haptics, menu systems, ergonomics, focusing systems etc) in the price range you are comfortable with and what's out there that meets your needs.
For many, the perfect camera for them is their iPhone. if you want to have something better though that answers the 'why should i carry another camera other than my phone' question and answer it well, the Sony A7 range and for me the A7S and the A7R MkII make great choices impo. Whatever camera you choose, i hope it allows you to create great images and expand on your creativity and expression and for some, inspire you. cheers, raph