Sony Mirror-less thoughts and Hands-on Tryout

Sony A7 Body

For reasons that will become clearer over the next few weeks I tried out some of the Sony Mirror-less cameras this week and I was overall impressed. The cameras tried were as follows:

  1. Sony Alpha A7
  2. Sony Nex 6
  3. Sony Alpha A6000

What follows are my brief thoughts about each camera and some of the lenses that I tried with them. I did take some test shots which proved to be useless as a I forgot to select RAW and I didn’t watch my shutter speed (camera shake is a bitch even with Image Stabilisation).

All three cameras were tested at one of both of the two London Camera Exchanges we have in Lincoln.

Sony Alpha A7
Sony A7 Body-nolens
This was the first of the three that I tested and first with the 70-200 f4 G OSS lens. I have to say that I was surprised by how light the combo was, not MFT light but lighter than a similar DSLR combo. The 70-200 reminded me of a mini- Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS L lens in looks. This is a gorgeous lens and its build quality is astounding, I also liked the focus hold buttons. The zoom action was just right, much better than the molasses sticky zoom of the Fujinon XF55-200 f3.4-4.8 OIS lens which is much stiffer than it should be.

Sony 70-200 f4 lens

I think that for £1250 this is a reasonably priced telephoto zoom lens, more expensive than the Canon or Nikon equivalents until you factor in the cost of tripod collars at which point they are much closer (the Sony comes with a nice tripod collar).

Sony 35mm f2.8 lens

Next I tried out the 35mm f2.8 Zeiss lens and this was very nice too and could be a useful lens but £700 for a 35mm f2.8 lens is a bit steep.

Sony 28-70mm Lens

The final lens I tried on the A7 was the “kit” lens, the 28-70 f3.5-5.6 OSS lens. I was expecting “kit” performance but the build quality was nothing to be ashamed of; clearly the Zeiss and the 70-200 lens were better but I’m not sure why this lens is getting a bad rap? The lens is actually very good and is a nice balance on the A7. The best part is that if you purchase this as a kit with the A7 the lens only costs £120 which is a bargain.

Sony A7 Grip

I also got to try out the A7 grip and this also is a very nice fit, with the 70-200 it would be a killer walk-around combo.

The A7 is a good fit in my (relatively small) hands and is only slightly bigger than the Fuji X-T1. The X-T1 with the battery grip, RRS bracket and 55-200mm lens a quite heavy combo and the A7 with its equivalents is only slightly bigger and not much difference in weight!

I liked that fact that we are back to DSLR style controls (see my post and Dials and Controls coming next week) apart from the fact that we have an exposure compensation dial on the top-plate. I’m not much of a fan of these as they are always offset when you retrieve the camera from the bag but the dial was quite stiff so I’m not sure how much of a problem this will be. The EVF was very nice (not X-T1 nice but close) and I liked the rear screen.

The shutter noise was louder than I expected but not klaxon loud like some sites would have you believe. I also got to hear the A7R’s shutter which is audibly louder. The A7R in my view is not a camera you can “walk around” with, to get the best out of the 36MP sensor you need good glass, a stable shooting platform (such as a tripod) and good technique.

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how good the A7 was and it would be better than I experienced as the firmware in the bodies was the older “slower” version. If you want or need full frame and you are not tied to the desire or need for exotic optics than they should certainly be on your short list. There is a possible issue with speed-lights (flash) but I will get to that later.

The A7 with 28-70 lens costs £1299.99 at the moment and you get an instant £200 discount if you purchase any of the FE lenses (35mm, 55mm, 24-70mm or 70-300mm) at the same time. That’s £2340 for A7, 28-70 and the 70-200, not too shabby (for a full-frame camera).

Sony NEX 6
Sony NEX6+1650PZ

The Silver Street store has a four-week old NEX6 with 16-50PZ lens for only £370 (well they did when I went to look at it). It’s in mint condition with all of the accessories as well as the box. This is a bargain and I was tempted.

I have to say the NEX range has come a long way since their first models and there are some real gems in the lens line-up now and I for one like the fact that they all seem to be in black now. However, there is a lot of overlap in the range here and there and I don’t know why they need so many 18-200mm f3.5-6.7 lenses (three at the last count plus the two Tamron lenses).

The camera was quick and responsive although the mode wheel being on top of the dial was a mistake, the EVF was very nice and taking movies and having a power-zoom was a pleasure to use too.

Sony Alpha A6000
Sony A6000+1650PZ

Mainly as a comparison I also tried out a shop demo A6000; oh dear! This was much more responsive than the NEX6, I was surprised by how much better. I know that if I purchased the NEX6 I would always be disappointed so that nixed the NEX6 (for me anyway). The fact that the A6000 with the same lens is almost double the price puts it out of my reach.

I should point out that I compared the two EVF’s in the NEX6 and the A6000 and could see no difference; the one in the A6000 is “technically” inferior. The NEX6 also does not accept the latest USB based remote releases either and this could be a problem for some users.

Even though the A6000 costs more than its predecessor I think that £650 for the A6000 and 16-50 PZ lens is very good. You can also get £100 off if you purchase one of three (more premium) lenses at the same time, these are as follows:

  • 24mm f1.4 Zeiss @ £670
  • 16-70 f4 Zeiss OSS @ £800
  • 18-105 f4 PZ OSS @ £450

Other general thoughts
I was all set to go for the A7 kit and 70-200 lens until I looked into the system further. Some of problems might be non-issues for me but there was enough noise to discount the choice for now, the problem areas are as follows:

  1. I want to do more with flash, this means off-camera flash which means that I need access to a comprehensive flash system. Initially it looked like the Sony Alpha flash system would be a good choice but the more I looked into it the worst it looked:
    • Even though Sony has moved away from the proprietary Minolta hot shoe, they have replaced this with another proprietary Sony equivalent. Whilst it is now a hot shoe with a central firing pin, all of the intelligent (TTL, etc.) connections are now at the front of any Sony hot-shoe device and are tiny (read easy-to-damage) pins; there are many horror stories around about how these pins getting bent. This allows the use of non-flash items such as Microphones, etc; however, to date there are NO third party devices that can use these pins.

      Minolta and now Sony do not make any TTL extension cables such as the ones that both Canon and Nikon employ, instead they have an unusual type of converter plug that goes into the hot shoe and via an equally proprietary cable connect to the flash through a special socket on the flash. I don’t understand this; for example Canon can control all of their flashes and their GPS device through a standard hot shoe that has 4 contacts as well as the central pin.

    • Sony off-camera wired flash

    • The build quality of their flagship flashgun, the HVL-F60M seems to be anything but pro-grade, the hot-shoe locking pin fails quire regularly. The device overheats very easily, the fact that the overheating warning is very early-on in the manual means that Sony is aware of the issue but unwilling to fix it. From what I can gather the next model down the HVL-43M also has the same problem.
    • Sony HVL-F50M Flash

    • The wireless options whilst present are optical only with the issues that line-of-sight optical systems have. If you need radio wireless you will need pocket wizards but forget radio wireless TTL thanks to the proprietary hot-shoe design.
    • I didn’t believe this when I first read this but to set up on these flashes as a slave, firstly you need to plug the device into the hot-shoe of the camera. You set the flash options in the camera for wireless flash and then set the flash to wireless slave mode. At this point the flash can be removed from the camera and positioned where required. You need to do this for each slave.
    • Suffice to say the flash system was the number one reason for abandoning the Sony mirror-less devices. I only hope that when(if?) Fujifilm ever get round to developing a system they don’t repeat Sony’s mistakes. I have said it before and I’ll say it again Canon have the best Wireless off-camera flash system at the moment; it isn’t cheap but it works.
  2. Timing issues: when a mirror-less camera takes a picture it typically has to close the shutter (which is held open for live-view), open it for the shutter speed selected, close it and then once the exposure is complete open it again. For some reason on the Sony A7 models this takes a long time, were not talking more than a few tenths of a second but this is longer than other cameras. This can play havoc with capturing the moment and is another issue for flash work too.
  3. AF Performance: Whilst the AF performance on the A6000 is really good and is only just behind the performance of the GH4, the A7 is nowhere near as good. I think that it is behind the Fuji models now and only the EOS M is worse. In good light the AF is good but it could be much better.
  4. Cost of lenses: Not sure why the two primes lenses (which are not that fast) cost so much. The 35mm f2.8 costs £700 and the 55mm f1.8 costs £800. That blue Zeiss badge must cost a lot to make; I’m not disputing the fact that these are fine lenses. That said, the “Sigma 50mm f1.4 DG HSM A” which is another optically fantastic lens also costs £850 but at least it is f1.4, however Canon’s and Nikon’s 50mm f1.8 and f1.4 lenses cost considerably less.
  5. RAW files not being RAW: This is the area that has a lot of controversy around it and trying to find out the facts is very difficult. The main argument is that Sony is using some form of lossy compression to keep the file sizes down; some say that this is throwing data away some say that it isn’t. The fact is that when Adobe Camera Raw is used (in Photoshop and Lightroom) the quality of the files for some people is not as good as it could be. This reminds me of the current situation with the Fujifilm X-Trans sensor based cameras and their “problems” when the RAW file is developed with ACR too; different problem but both around possible quality.

So unfortunately the reasons against the Sony and in particular the A7 meant that this was a non-starter for me. The real annoyance is that most of the issues (with the camera) are fixable in firmware or the next revision of the A7 and the lenses are optically very good but not as fast as they could be. The flash system needs sorting out too; the flagship model – the HVL-F50M was released 2 years ago and is only a mild revision of the former HVL-F50AM, the main difference is the change in the connection from the old Minolta style to the new Sony “intelligent” hot-shoe design.

It’s a shame😦

One thought on “Sony Mirror-less thoughts and Hands-on Tryout

  1. danieltrump

    Many thanks for a detailed write up Christopher, just the sheer cost of The A7 (& lenses) puts me off, before we even get into the other issues. I’m a Fuji X person, I shoot in RAW, & I use ACR in Lightroom. I haven’t noticed any particular problems with RAW conversion, however I am a very inexperienced amateur (6 mths of photo-hobbying)…, so much to learn ! thanks.

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