Things continue to evolve in the industry as you’d expect, which always leads to new equipment and new opinions! One of the big ones lately has been the battle of the full frame cameras. I’ve had an interesting time of it in the last few months so I thought I’d share my perspective on it. More specifically the very hyped up Sony A7R Mk2 and the Canon 5D Mk4.
At every turn on the internet you will find differing opinions of these two heavy weight cameras. I have always been a Canon shooter, but took a bit of a foray into the Sony camp recently. No I didn’t leave Canon behind at all, we still had all of our Canon kit. But we bought a Sony A7R Mk2 specifically for aerial shots from our drone, a Freefly Alta.
Why did we choose the A7Rii? Well, what a sensor! (in some respects anyway). This camera has a huge resolution of 42 megapixels which suits aerial applications. There are not many areas where you could justify having this many pixels, but this is one of them. In many respects, having more megapixels can be a real drawback unless you really nail every shot. Other great attributes of this camera are the amazing high ISO performance and its dynamic range. Also, it’s rather small and light and therefore suited to being flown by a drone. Depending on what I wanted to shoot, we had two lenses - a small Sony Zeiss 35mm f2.8, a brilliant compact and lovable little lens and a Zeiss Batis 25mm f2. This is a serious bit if kit and could more than resolve every pixel on that sensor with stunning sharpness corner to corner with amazing colour and contrast. The first full Zeiss lens with auto focus. This will be sorely missed!
So why the inflection of the past tense? Why will it be missed? Well, it’s gone, and so has the 35mm f2.8 and so has the A7R Mk2………..!
I have been shooting it for nearly a year now in the air and on the ground. I took it to Iceland along side the Canon kit too. I have really embraced this camera system and persevered endlessly. There are many many drawbacks to this system. Now, what follows is not an assassination of the Sony or me looking back in spite that I tried for so long to love it - yet failed. It’s more of an interesting lesson in why not to put all of your eggs in the latest shiny basket at once. (Luckily we didn’t! But we did invest a lot of money in the system for our aerial shooting.)
So, why has the Sony kit been sold and in favour of what?
Well, the Sony sensor is a real heavyweight, no doubt about that, it is almost the perfect sensor if it wasn’t for one attribute…. The colour. The colour is nowhere near as good as the Canon. I spent the entire year wrestling with the raw files trying to get back that Canon vibe. I know you could say “Well what do you expect Andy, all cameras are different, if you want Canon colour, the shoot Canon.” But that’s not the point, Canon are known for their brilliant colour, it’s malleable and true and generally very accurate, exactly what you want in a camera. The Sony, well, its missing something, and that something is hard to nail down as the sensor performs differently in different scenarios. I tried and tried and tried to find a new method of processing to get me back to where I was used to being. I bought an X-Rite ColorChecker Passport to try and kick the colour into touch, this didn’t help. I even found myself making Lightroom presets in which I has altered the split toning for different colour scenarios. I had some luck on using my B+W ND filters in the landscape. These have a very warm colour tone and depending on the colours I was shooting could balance out the cold tones of the Sony. Without going on and on about particular scenarios, it’s safe to say I could never get the camera to give me consistent accurate colour that I could rely on. I used the Sony on many commercial shoots as part of my efforts to love it, but it ended up costing me a lot of time in the processing stage as I spent so long fighting the colour. Now, if anyone would like to talk to me privately about particular colour issues, or any issues for that matter regarding the Sony then fell free to get in touch. I’m not saying that every shot from every Sony all over the globe has bad colour, but in my case, and my tastes, it just wasn’t accurate and true enough. perhaps I’ve been shooting Canon for too long! I have noticed that it isn’t just me with these gripes, many people strive for Canon’s colour.
Ok, so enough about the colour or lack there of! On to the other points about the Sony system I did not gel with. I will sum these up in a concise manner other wise this will be a very long article!
Very poor construction in terms of weather sealing, or lack thereof. This is a terrible choice of camera to take out into adverse conditions. I often shoot in these conditions and have had no worries over the years shooting the Canon system. There are shots that I could not even consider trying to capture if I only ventured out with the Sony as it would likely succumb to the elements. As many of you will know, Canon can be used in pouring rain for extended periods of time without any issues. My biggest threat as a seascape shooter is waves and spray. I have had more than my fair share of waves over me and the kit, dripping camera and lenses while I run for cover, those who know me will be testament to this. Problems with the Canon, none. Just a big grin.
Battery life - A common complaint about mirrorless cameras, this one especially. I shoot a lot in low light, which means long exposures, in the cold and at night. This equals a very rapid battery drain on the A7R Mk2. I always traveled with 4 batteries. In Iceland the battery drain was immense. And they take a very long time to charge, this is not a good attribute for a landscape pro.
Menus - I eventually got to know them, just! And looking past the fact that I’m using a different brand camera and it’s not what I’m used to, seriously, Sony what are you doing? And surely this can easily be remedied with a firmware update? Teaching many people on different workshops and tours I have come across quite a few whose shooting was limited by the fact that they couldn’t easily find a way round the maze of menus, such a shame. Luckily I was on hand to help.
File size - Wow, 90 megabyte raw files?! Which turn into 250 megabyte tiffs/psd’s in Photoshop. For those who don’t have brand new fast computer hardware this could be a real problem. Try stitching a panorama with Sony raw files. I have seen panoramas in Photoshop well over 5 gigabytes!
Image zoom - When pressing my assigned shortcut key to see the recently shot image at 100% you need to wait for 3 seconds while it renders a large preview, not good enough, this needs to be instant.
Autofocus - Now, this is a big one. I must say, that with native lenses it is quite good, no doubt there. And as I said, I had two native lenses so I can attest to this. As the light level drops the AF system seemingly falls asleep. With the Canon lenses shooting through the Metabones EF-E mount Mk4 T Adapter, it’s shocking. Luckily I had no real need to fast AF, but really I expected more.
Button placement and ergonomics - Well it’s a small camera so one can’t expect too much, but I think it could have been done better, and with more customisable buttons to suit differing shooting needs.
I could go on but I am not out to shoot this camera down in flames. It is a good bit of kit, no doubt. But for a landscape photographer who needs something more dependable and solid with good weather sealing, fast AF in all conditions and brilliant colour, I had only one direction to go in. I am sure that eventually Sony will make a “Complete” camera system not just a high IQ sensor, but that time is not now. As many of you will know, Sony make the sensors for Nikon SLR’s. Nikon provide a good home for these sensors and do a very very good job of writing the firmware to make the most of them, much better than Sony in my opinion. I have seen all of the current crop of high end Nikon camera bodies, and as much as I am not a Nikon man, they are very impressive.
So where did this leave me? There was only one clear choice, the Canon 5D Mk4.
I am not going to spend the next five thousand words glorifying the Mk4, but safe to say it really is the best camera I have ever used. Looking past the fact that I am shooting with all Canon L series lenses and I’m used to the system, it is quite a feat of engineering. Every little aspect of the 5D has been improved, everything. What is interesting is the further split of the 1D & 5D. There were plenty of landscape photographers out there using the bullet proof 1Dx for their everyday camera, but Canon have further made the 1 series the ultra sports and journalist weapon while taking the 5 series in a different direction. Yes the 1Dx Mk2 is better in low light than the 5D Mk4, and the autofocus is quicker, but not by a huge amount. The extremely well weather sealed 5D Mk4 now sports a high resolution sensor and a lightning fast auto focus system in the most brilliantly configurable package that can be set up for a huge amount of differing situations. It is a joy to use and consistently surprises me. I feel confident using it, I am not worried about an approaching storm while I am perched on a cliff top waiting for the light to break through a gap in the clouds.
So, as for the drone, yes the 5D Mk4 and whichever L lens attached is heavier, but luckily it can fly it without any issues, and I know when I land it, import the images and view them for the first time, that they will be sharp, vibrant and exactly what I need.
Do I miss having tiny almost pocket sized full frame camera with a stunning Zeiss lens on the front, yes a little. But I am so used to carrying a Canon SLR around with me that it makes no difference. The Sony A7R Mk2 is a very capable camera that will do great things in the hands of brilliant photographers, but I think it is safe to say that the market share will stay with Canon for some time, and for good reason!
Whatever you are shooting, get out there and use it. Take the time to plan a shoot, look at the weather data and locations available to you and get out there and capture some images that will make you smile every time you see them.
If you have any questions whatsoever about either of the cameras discussed by all means email me.