Thursday, October 17, 2013

Impact of Sony Alpha a7 and a7r


Yesterday Sony officially announced the new 35mm format (full frame) mirrorless cameras, the Alpha a7 (24MP) and a7r (36MP). Along with the cameras Sony also announced a few lenses to go along with the new system. The cameras use the NEX mount, from the earlier APS-C sized sensor cameras, but the earlier E-mount lenses will vignette when used on the new 35mm frame cameras. Sony has also released a mount adapter to allow for the use of Alpha mount lenses.
 While I've read many blog posts from popular photo bloggers talking about how much of a breakthrough  these cameras are, I am not sure I agree. People talk about these cameras as if they are the first full frame mirrorless cameras ever made, as if Leica did not do that first with the M9. Yes the M9 is a different kind of camera, but that is not the point is it? The price of these cameras are very competitive, as are the lenses, but one has to wonder how much traction these cameras will get? Only the Alpha a7 has a hybrid focusing system, making it the only one likely to be of any use for even remotely trying to capture action.
Just looking at what Sony has put together here, I think these cameras will be a good fit for traveling landscape photographers. The smaller bodies would make them easier to pack around than a traditional DSLR, no doubt about that. Of course there isn't a huge difference in lens size. Still the ability to pack a backup body without needing a ton of extra space is an advantage. The only trouble such users might run into is the poor battery life, which is said to be well under 400 shots per charge. Not exactly the kind of camera you would want to take for an all day event, or long hike without several backup batteries. 

One thing that I am curious about is the camera to lens weight balance. I can just imagine how poorly balanced the FE 70-200mm F4, announced along side the cameras, will be for hand held shooting. 
The control layout of the camera seems rather basic, which is almost a welcome change. One thing I have to compliment Sony on here is that they know how to put together a basic camera control system, without hindering the process. While I would have liked to see a dedicated ISO button, I'm sure one of the customizable buttons could be assigned to take care of that. 

What kind of impact will these cameras have on full frame DSRLs? Not much at this point. The limited lens lineup makes these cameras unusable as a standalone system, so for most users they will likely be a second camera. That's a very niche market, so don't expect to see your local camera club flooded with these Alphas by the end of 2014. Long term, I could see them being the basis on which other, more successful, mirrorless full frame cameras could be designed. That said, I think Nikon and Canon would be better off keeping their current lens mounts, and removing the mirror. The focus on making small bodied cameras is getting overdone. Smaller bodies are nice for traveling, but I'll take my full sized DSLR over these Sony cameras any day of the week. 
So the question is, how practical are the a7 and a7r? No idea, since I don't have access to them. Would I buy one of these to replace the my D700 or D800? Not likely. Number one reason? It would mean having a second camera system. Frankly managing one full system is hard enough, without having to deal with two systems. Second reason, I'm not overly fond of Sony's design philosophy, which seems to be size over functionality.