Testing Out the Sony A7rii During This Weekend’s Events

SONY-19

This goes without saying, but this website is as much about cycling as it is photography. There are countless times during every workday where I just want to go on a bike ride, but feel obligated to bring a camera along to document any kind of radness that might happen along the way. Thus, my biggest challenge I deal with day to day is problem-solving the balance between cycling and photography. For me, there are two modus operandi present: large and small-scale production. Whereas the large combines the use of a large DSLR and telephoto lenses or off-camera flashes and small relies on my rangefinder with primes, utilizing natural light. What I’ve found is the only deciding factor between the two is whether or not I feel like wearing a photo bag while I pedal around the city of Los Angeles and what kind of shooting I’ll be doing.

There’s a bigger issue here, one of which being the two cameras I use on a day-to-day basis are worlds apart from each other. My large scale bayonet is the Canon 1dx with both 24-70 f2.8 L and a 70-200 f2.8 L lenses. At the time when I purchased the body, it was one of the fastest autofocusing systems on the market and combined with the Image Stabilization of the 70-200mm L lens, I really felt like it opened up an entire world of cycling photography that I had been limited to prior. Or at least I had convinced myself it had.

SONY-16

Last year, I made a purchase for a smaller camera system. One that wouldn’t compromise image quality, yet would offer the ability for me to travel much lighter, sometimes even just pedaling around with it dangling from a camera strap. This was my biggest camera purchase to date, even though it was a killer deal – thank you, Nick, if you’re reading this – a Leica M240 with a 35mm Summicron. Over the course of the following months, I purchased various used Leica glass to round out my bayonet into a series of focal lengths that would be easily applied to the various sorts of shooting I encounter on a day to day basis. Now, unlike the Canon, the Leica had no auto focus and no image stabilization, but having shot film for years on my M7, I was used to the rangefinder’s fast focusing mechanism and really began to jive with this tried and true form of photography.

SONY-5d

I finally felt my camera quiver, so to speak, was dialed. In my mind, I laid out what I’d use each for, and even enjoyed when the two camera’s uses overlapped. There are many metaphors to use here when comparing a modern DSLR and a true rangefinder system, yet the one I feel makes the most sense is akin to hunting: you can unload a full clip from an AK47 on a deer or you can hunt it with a bow and arrow. Yes, you’ll certainly kill the deer with the AK but sometimes, that’s not the point. The thrill of the hunt, so to speak, with the Leica was it made photography engaging, challenging and most importantly, more meaningful when I finally nailed a shot. One and done, so to speak.

For most of 2016, most of the riding images which populated this website and the Instagram accounts associated with it were shot with the Leica M240. That includes a lot of bike portraits and shop visits. There was really no rhyme or reason to which system I chose to use, it mostly depended on whether or not I felt like lugging around a big bag and heavy equipment that day or if I preferred a smaller, lighter system. I was and still am fine making that decision, but recently a pump has been jammed into my spokes.

SONY-1

Late last year, Sony reached out to me to test out one of their cameras. Right off the bat, I was stoked, as it’s always an honor to have a camera company notice your work. However, I told myself the only way I’d go through with it – keep in mind, this actually is a lot of work – was if I could get the exact replacement for my Canon 1dx. I pitched the idea to Sony and they agreed, it made a lot of sense. After some back and forth, along with one minor compromise, they decided to send over their A7rii body, the 24-70 f2.8 GM and the 70-200 f4 OSS lens, the latter being the compromise as the 70-200 f2.8 is not currently available for review. For the next month, I’m going to put my other cameras aside – the best I can – and begin to test out the capabilities of this Sony A7rii, along with the two lenses they sent out.

This weekend was the first testing ground. With the Length of Sweden documentary and my photo show landing in town, I was able to take the camera out to the party, and the group ride the following morning where I shot with it like I would my Canon 1DX. Unlike the Canon, this system fit securely into my frame bag and didn’t leave my neck sore from lugging it around.

I don’t want to jump into this review too fast, since I’ve had limited use with the camera, but I will give some initial reactions in bullet-form to make conveying the information as clear and as succinct as possible:

PROS
-Right off the bat, the size of the camera is a welcomed change.
-The low light sensitivity and in-camera stabilization is superb. The best I’ve used.
-Setting up the controls to mimic my Canon was a cinch, albeit with one or two compromises.
-Did I mention the size? People don’t freeze up when having a portrait taken with it either.
-Holy shit, the autofocus system is amazing! I didn’t miss focus once on this entire ride.
-The weight makes it feel like less of a burden.

CONS
-The camera body is so small, thus making the controls feel cluttered. There are also way too many buttons and knobs. I could lose 4 easily. It’s very hard to use with cycling gloves on. I couldn’t imagine shooting in the cold.
-Is there a way to record a smaller RAW file? These 42mp files are HUGE!
-It’s not confidence-inspiring in terms of ergonomics.
-Doesn’t appear to be as resilient as my 1dx. I’d be afraid of hitting it on something or it bouncing around in a bag all day.
-The files feel really flat. It’s like the visible light or atmosphere isn’t there like it is on my Canon or my Leica – believe it or not. I have theories about this, but I’ll leave that for a later date.
-While I like the size of the 24-70, shooting it wide open leaves a lot of distortion at the corners, as well as any horizontal or vertical lines, all of which is corrected in enabling lens profile adjustments in Lightroom.
-Battery life is nowhere near comparable to my Canon or my Leica.
-It doesn’t have the same visual appeal as a DSLR or as a classic rangefinder. It’s not an inspiring design, visually.

While the PROS greatly outweigh the CONS in my opinion – even though there are more CONS – it’ll take more time to determine if this system could replace one of the two bayonets in my camera cabinet.

One thing I’ll touch on as well is the use of the TECHART autofocus adaptor for M-Mount lenses, which enables the use of autofocus on manual focus Leica M lenses… More on that to come…

What does this mean for you, the readers of this site? Not much will change in terms of content, but if you notice something about the images, or have questions about the camera, drop them in the comments. Or if you’d like to see the unedited versions of any of these photos, feel free to request them. I’ll also apologize for the relatively small gallery, as I’ve had a nasty head cold and it’s been raining nonstop for the past few days, limiting my time to shoot photos.

Check out the full selection from our 35 mile dirt ride on Saturday.

  • Ech

    If you ever get the opportunity you may want to also try the Fuji XT-2. I’ve moved from shooting Canon DSLRs to mirrorless and am pretty happy. My work flow has changed massively and I find I can use OOC JPEGs with very minor tweaking most of the time. I don’t have a huge amount of time for shooting due to the day job but for the first time I don’t have a massive backlog of RAW files waiting to be processed!
    Be really interested to hear how you find the Sony.

    • I had the XT-1 and sold it after a few months. :-/

      • Ech

        Haha, as they say, YMMV!!

        • BoostahMante

          The XT-2 is aight… wasn’t thrilled with the AF-C tracking in low light. It went bananas indoors :/ The Sony A6000 & A6300 blew it out the water. Wish i still had mine, Flippin thieves!!!!!!!

      • Why did you sell the XT-1? I’m looking to replace a broken X100S with either a XT-2 or an A7ii—keen to hear your thoughts!

    • Lucas Nilsson

      i bought the xpro2 as a complement to my leica and canon system. Trying to get them ti taje the camera back because i get a grid pattern over the frame when shooting against the sun. Not every time, but it kills the camera for me. I don’t trust it. Fujis response? “Change angle and svoid shooting into the sun” https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8fc89e6ccd7ad081483574982685cf53941930730043609b875301575e64fc31.jpg

      • Ech

        That’s awful – I have the X-Pro 2 and have never had that issue even in harsh sun. Looks like a faulty sensor to me. Good luck getting it changed

      • Damn, that’d render the camera useless to me. Backlit images are the best!

        • Lucas Nilsson

          yep, it really kills the camera for me. I love it 99% of the time, and this haven’t occured more than a handful of times. but the fact that it can occur any time when shooting in backlit situations makes me never trust it and keep switching to the electric finder to double check that I don’t have the problem

      • The OG A7 I had was prone to doing that with any light sources near the corners, and it was one of the biggest reasons I jumped to the A7Rii

      • John C.

        I have an X-Pro 2 and this is a know issue. The only solution I’ve heard of is using a polarizing filter. I think this has something to do with the short flange distance and how close the lens is to the sensor. But, maybe give your Fuji a little more time and see how it grows on you. Not a deal breaker for me as I don’t do a ton of backlit shots but, I can see how this is super annoying.

  • Ooh. I just got an Olympus E-M10, but now I’m jealous…

    • Alex Hillis

      I have an E-M10 and love it! I’m an amateur and am just getting my feet wet, but am very happy with the photos I’ve taken so far. It’s a flattering camera even in the basic settings.

      Photos from my trip to Vietnam if anyone wants to see what the camera can do in the hands of an amateur: https://goo.gl/photos/HPwMyFuKt1q2hLcF7

      • That’s what I’m betting on – good starter kit!

  • Chris Valente

    The evolution of gear and technology is always interesting. I work for a production company and we invested in the Original 5D revolution around 2009. We upgraded through the Mark III but those bodies haven’t left the studio in a probably at least year as the boss moved to and fell in love with Sony A7 format. We use these as second cameras to a more official full production cameras like a RED but their small footprint and amazing image quality make them ideal for mounting in small places or for run and gun situations.

  • Although I’m not certain I can tell the diif. between pics on my laptop, I do enjoy reading about the photo equipment. Any more photo related posts are appreciated,

  • I felt the same way about the flatness of images straight out of the camera when I started using the RX100 M3 after using Canon equipment for so long. Even the Canon’s RAW files looked somehow warmer and more inviting than the Sony’s.

    It took me some time in Lightroom to work out how to manipulate the RAW images, and I was so happy with the glass in the RX100 compared to the Canon G7X that I’d recently bought and then lost in the snow.

    Then after adapting to the RX100 and beginning to enjoy it a lot, I crashed and wrecked it. So I’ve got the G7X but I don’t love it, and tend to bring out my large kit more often than not now. I way happy to spend the summer touring with the big camera but always considering weight/bulk versus performance. My 70D just barely fits in the top half of my frame bag.

  • Lining up the slopes in the two portrait-oriented photos is pretty dope.

    • I try to do that when I can. It calls for a bit of a pause in a post where most would scroll through a set, unnoticed.

      • Is it intentional when you’re shooting, or do you find an opportunity in post and roll with it?

        • I tend to look at landscape compositions in a way that results in a lot of lines falling in the 1/3s of the frame, so it works itself out usually.

  • Mark Hespenheide

    John, I’m a landscape photographer and have been shooting with the a7r (and now the a7r2) for a few years. When I started shooting the a7r, it felt like the files were flat to me, too. I’m thinking that it’s because the Sony has so much longer overall tonal range than the Canon. Play around with some huge adjustments in Lightroom or ACR and I think you’ll see what I mean. Giant highlights/whites/blacks/shadows manipulations are possible; way more than you’re used to.

    Consequently, though, the unadjusted files look flat. Start by dialing up the contrast and/or clarity and see where your muse takes you from there.

    That’s oversimplified and I strongly suspect you know it already, but it’s a start…

    Looking forward to your results!

  • Samuel Jackson

    Sounds like maybe they should have sent you an a7sii in lieu of the a7rii.

    Better dynamic range and low light sensitivity. File sizes that are more manageable. Great vid capability if you ever want it.

    42mp is excessive unless you’re going to print huge or crop a lot.

    Getting a grip for it helps with ergo and battery life quite a bit.

    • In my experience the autofocusing system on the A7Sii is a big step below the A7Rii though. For a potential 1DX replacement in this scenario, that aspect is probably very important.

    • Jesse

      Also the A7rii still has better DR than the a7sii. I really only view the S series as a video camera tbh.

  • Sirasam

    I’ve used the A7RII since it was released, the Sony 35mm f/1.4 is my daily driver. It’s great for portraits in a pinch, and there’s little distortion or vignetting when shooting wide open. Enabling profile corrections in Lightroom really cleans it up though.

    I’m actually on my second body due to water damage. Behind the screen where the ribbon goes into the body is highly vulnerable.

    Battery life really does suck. I usually have two extra at all times. The camera takes a while to process the RAW files when shooting quickly. I just upgraded to the SanDisk ExtremePRO 300 mb/s write 260 mb/s read, and saw little improvement. I haven’t heard of a way to make RAW files smaller.

    I use the 70-200 f/4 for concert photography. It does a great job, but I’m on a list waiting for the f2.8. Soooooo expensive though. Just got the Zeiss Batis 18mm f2.8 for nature/real estate photography. It’s super light and awesome.

    One of my favorite aspects are the playmemories apps. The Time Lapse + Angle Shift add on allow you to shoot amazing videos in minutes vs hours of post processing. Although you can’t wirelessly transmit the files.

    I saw your post about the Outershell bag and I’d be really curious how yours works with that + a lens. It’d be awesome to have handlebar bag that can fit the camera and a snack!

  • Great stuff as usual. We shared a similar path of cameras. All my magazine work was done on Canon gear up to the 1DX. Then I moved into Sony but hated it. The controls, the ergonomics and the confusing menu system frustrated me. The files also needed a lot of work and I hate sitting in edit. I really wanted to love it so I tried two bodies and 3 lenses. I just couldn’t. The true Sony lovers seem to use them mostly for video where their low light capabilities shine.

    I moved to Fuji and although I enjoyed my X-T1 it wasn’t all that grand because of limited file size. But, the Fuji colors sold me. I briefly tried Olympus (laugh) and came back to Fuji when the X-Pro2 arrived. Now, I have what I want. A rangefinder with amazing files that also looks and wears like a Leica. Both 2 series Fuji cameras have come a long way from the 1 series. Rent a XPro2 and see what you think. The 35 f/2 is tack sharp and full of life. Also, the 2 bodies are weather sealed as well as many of the lenses. A godsend for people who shoot in the desert consistently.

    I’ve loved using friends Leica cameras but they’ve always been out of my cost range. Maybe one of these days but every time I mention it my bank account runs away.

    Looking forward to seeing how you feel about the Sony after a month!

    • Hollis Duncan

      XP2 isn’t a rangefinder more like a nod. I thought I was going to pull the trigger on one but the VF felt cold, sterile whereas Leica’s was stunning. That said the Fuji is a respectable camera with more soul than Sony plus superior glass.

  • Daniel MacGibbon

    Kinda loving the sony A7 series. Im still using the original A7r but I dont own any sony lens. It gave new life to all my old canon film lens and I’ve sought out some other nice primes on ebay and such. Its an absolute disaster trying to use old zoom lens, but all those old primes are as good as the day you bought them. Its really made me enjoy photography again. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e851dfcee99bcf9e59beb6278e7cc18ebedfdf42a5237930796b504b8e1b06dc.jpg

  • Richard

    You’re talking about replacing the Canon, but I assume there is an N+1 rule that applies to cameras just like there is one that applies to bikes…

    Nice to see the comments geeking out on cameras/photography as well as they geek out on the bikes. Leaves open the question: Is this a photography site that focuses (see what I did there) on bikes, or a bike site that focuses on photography?

    Either way, it’s alchemy.

    • AdamBike99

      So you want to know if John is a photographer with a cycling problem or a cyclist with a photography problem? LOL
      Slice it any way you like… it’s magic, baby!

  • Adam

    I found my a6000 raw files a bit flat too, but in Lightroom I made a preset that I apply on import. I apply lens correction, and recently I discovered Profiles too (under the Camera Calibration tab). The Portrait profile makes the colours look more natural and puts a bit more contrast in. Before applying that I had trouble getting skin tones right (they were a bit pale/washed out) but now they’re good

    • Robert Chambers

      Adam, I’ve just bought an A7 and was wondering what settings you used on your preset to make your A6000 files work for you?

  • adanpinto

    So far, I like the colors of your other cameras more (specially the Leica). Let’s wait at the end of test to know your conclusions!

    • Well, yeah the Leica is good with colors and contrast. But those lenses are $$$$

  • Ryan

    I’m the last holdout among my cycling peers still lugging around my DSLR (Nikon) while all the rest of finally sold off their D200’s and D700’s and moved over to Fujifilm and Sony mirrorless. I definitely envy the fact they can ride with their camera slung over the back or in a feed bag out of the way yet readily available, but my lack of disposable income and existing glass/body collection keep me anchored in my DSLR ways. I still shoot film too (F100), so having all that interchangeable glass is a massive benefit. So in a selfish way, I hope this camera sucks. I don’t need any more siren calls from these smaller, handier, lighter cameras. I’ll just keep tossing a 50mm/1.4 on my D200 and pretend it’s tiny and compact.

  • Ryan

    For those looking for more grip or leather wrist straps for their smaller cameras and appreciate handmade awesomeness, check out http://www.jbcameradesigns.com. I hope this isn’t viewed as spam, my post history should attest it is not.

    Disclaimer: I know the man and his crew behind these but am in no way affiliated nor do I receive any kind of kickback. I’m just happy to share a relevant product that happens to also be local/friends.

  • James_H

    John, in the past you’ve recommended the RX100 as an everyday alternative to DSLRs; are you still keen on it? or do you prefer a different compact these days? Looking in the <$1500 price range.

    • I still think the RX100 is a great camera, bang for your buck.

  • Roman

    Great purchase John! I use the Sony A7ii for work. With that said, I totally agree about the Sony cameras having quiet a few cons to workflow, but the quality eventually outweighs the quantity and you get used to it. Keep up the good work!

    • I haven’t purchased it. Sony just sent me one to review. It’ll take a lot for it to replace my 1DX or Leica. :-)

  • Rad to hear more opinion on the a7rii within the cycling context. I had my 5D jacked last year and have been riding with an a7rii with small nikkor primes since, not looking back.
    What is this frame bag you speak of that you holds your cam kit? Thinking of bike packing more and know my back will get shredded on a long day with shoulder strap. That Outershell handlebar bag looks pretty money too.

    • I use a Porcelain Rocket frame bag for this kit. The 24-70 is kind of big. Too big for the Outershell bag.

      • Ahh I see. Yea those zooms can get beasty. Thanks John!

  • GT

    If this became a permanent switch (hypothetically) I assume the greater portability of the Sony set-up would eventually enable/encourage you to bring it out more often than you would the bulkier Canon set-up, which makes complete sense. And this, in turn (I assume), would mean you brought the Leica out less often.

    Given that the rides shot on your Leica bring a noticeably different vibe to the photosets (a vibe I really like), I think it would be a shame if that took a (further) back seat to the Sony. While that might be a slight over-analysation, it’s my two cents worth anyways.

    Regardless, am very interested to see how your opinion develops over the next month.

  • Daniel Martins

    In the middle is that a Soma Wolverine ? John can you show me the bike, Link or some webpage.

    Thanks

  • walshy4president

    I have the Sony a7s, and I mostly use it with the Sony Zeiss 35mm 2.8. Super sharp and super compact. The best camera is the camera you want to take with you everywhere, IMO. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7423eb57e442f945b591700007bd33c646ad7b9fdac611fc3177c01803283794.jpg

  • The techart adapter is pretty trick with the a7. You’ll also gain close-focus with RF lenses. The speed is nowhere as fast as the a7 and native glass, but anything above 50mm in RF lenses is nice to have an autofocus crutch to lean on sometimes. Tilt-screen, techart adapter and some nice Leica glass is a fun combination. Set your Sony to ‘Vivid’ if you want to see more pop when taking the picture.

  • Patrick

    Can you post some full resolution images to oogle at 100%?
    Check out http://www.prodibi.com/ which allows you to interactively view high res images.

  • Grant Fanning

    I’m sure you’ll have a different experience, but these things are delicate as can be. It didn’t take long, or much of a beating for my A7S to experience complete shutter failure, and Sony’s customer support isn’t confidence inspiring. They don’t fix any of their cameras themselves, and they’ll direct you to a 3rd party company called Precision Camera to inquire about repairs. And once you get to Precision’s website, you’ll wonder if it’s even been in operation since the late 90s.

    Total crapshoot, but the alpha cameras are fabulous, and their compatibility with old legacy lenses is AWESOME. I’m currently using a Canon 70-200 f/2.8 on my A7S with an adapter and it’s great.

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  • Alan

    Hey John, did you decide to hang up the A7R2 and stick with your current set up? I have a similar canon set up but I don’t love the size and have been contemplating the A7R2. Interested if you will be commenting further on this subject.