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.
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.
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.
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:
-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.
-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.