Monday, October 14, 2013

Sony's A7 and A7r Have Me Possibly, Maybe, Somewhat Excited

Further details of the new A7 and A7r continue to come out. At this point, it's no longer "leaks" and is instead an effort from Sony to build up excitement over their upcoming system. It's sort of working. There hasn't been much excitement on the interwebs, certainly nowhere near Olympus E-M5 or Fuji X Pro 1 levels. Still, these are expensive products. Getting them up to a slow boil is better than trying to get them to explode on day one.

Let's talk about the technical stuff first. The sensors are said to not be the same old sensors found in the D800E and RX1. They were redesigned for the new flange distance. And by redesigned, they mean new microlenses... and nothing else. I would imagine that once these sensors are put through the DxO Mark wringer, the results will come out the same.

The spec sheet reads as impressive as we would expect for a camera of its kind. What's very important is that the prices undercut both the Nikon D600 and Canon EOS 6D. Granted, as near as I can tell, neither of those cameras has apparently ever sold for sticker price, so it's not an entirely fair comparison. Regardless, these cameras undercut both of Canon and Nikon's babies while offering many of the pro-oriented features that they lack, like a 1/8000th shutter and a flash sync of 1/250th. Depending on how well these cameras handle, Sony might very well have the billion-dollar product like that they've been looking for.

Sony isn't just putting pressure on those above, either. Every camera company who hopes to play above the magical $1,000 price point will be tangling with a serious contender. The PDAF-rocking A7 is only $300 more than the Olympus E-M1, and whatever Fuji's X Pro 2 has, it had better go no higher than $1,300. Sony is being as aggressive with this system as they weren't with the release of the idiotic A99. It makes me wonder if they plan on abandoning SLR-style cameras entirely. Time will tell.

Moving on, our earlier speculation that Sony had abandoned development of lesser systems in favor of developing glass for this system appears to be correct. Sony is, smartly, launching with four good lenses. They aren't amazing, but with Sony's rumored-aggressive lens road map, it's obvious that they are putting the force behind this system that they refused to put behind their other systems.

The kit lens, 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 is slow, and therefore a bit disappointing, but it's also huge. That may indicate some significant elements within its frame. Hopefully that translates to a tack sharp lens. An upgrade is available in the form of a Zeiss-branded 24-70mm f/4.0. Also slow, but we'll have to wait.

Two primes look promising, because let's face it, a little system like this cries out for primes. Do you ever see Leica shooters with zooms? You do? Really? You know some weird Leica shooters. You should stop talking to them. They're bad news. Where was I? Oh right, the primes. A 35mm f/2.8 and a 55mm f/1.8 are both good basic lenses and are hopefully not overpriced. They are Zeiss-branded, and Sony has a penchant for pricing those lenses way higher than their optical abilities warrant. Both Canon and Nikon have fantastic lenses in those focal lengths that cost less than $500. If Sony doesn't follow suit... well, I will write a very angry blog post. And then they'll feel just awful.

All thing considered, unless Sony blows us away with a surprise on launch day, this is a whelming release. It's everything we would expect of a well-done launch for a new, full-frame, mirrorless camera system. Depending on how Sony handles this, it could become the poor man's Leica and the logical upgrade for someone playing around with cameras in the $1,000 area.

I wait to try one out.

Oddly, the most interesting camera for me is the new RX10 fixed-lens camera. It uses the RX100's 1-inch sensor, which is already tops in its class, and combines it with a an amazing-sounding 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. A constant aperture?! That sounds amazing! We also need to apply the 2.7x crop factor to those measurements, meaning that this little wonder-camera is going to have an equivalent field of view as 189-540mm! Hello bokeh!

So yes, $1,300 for a fixed lens, compact camera sounds crazy, but that is going to be an absolute workhorse. It could very well become the camera for soccer-parents the world over. Yes, yes. For people like you and me, photog weirdos who sleep with our lenses, this is not a camera that we are likely to consider a tenable purchase. But for others, if the lens is sharp, it will be killer.

The unknown in all of this is, of course, video. Video is increasingly becoming an important feature for digital cameras. People, not just photogs and videogs, are starting to expect it. The video on the A99, the RX1, and the VG900 were all awful. Panasonic appears to be the only company putting any effort into their video/photo synergy. Let's hope that Sony does the same.

Granted, you could always just buy a Blackmagic Camera.

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