Pre-Review Ruminations on the Sony A7R

I started shooting with my brand new Sony A7R. A bit. Weather is miserable, fall colors are gone and I haven't had the time yet to trek to Manhattan for some serious photography. But I dutifully carry the Sony with me and take snaps once in a while. I'll get serious with it in the next few days. You know how it is. You start to focus on something, like a new camera, and then your brain kind of takes that notion and runs off with it. That's happening to me.

I've started to wonder what I would actually use this camera for, once I'm done reviewing it. I bought it right away to review it and because putting 36 megapixels in a small body with interchangeable lenses is no mean feat. This camera deserves attention. At the time, I didn't think how I would use it for my own purposes or if it would buy it for myself, if it weren't for this site. Now that I have it, I'm not sure where it fits in.

There's a back story to this. In the beginning of the year I bought a Nikon D800e and upgraded my Canon 5D to a 5D Mark III. After much thinking, I decided to stick with Canon and sold the Nikon. Long story short, I regretted that decision and bought a used Nikon D800 and some lenses. Then Sony announced this camera and the fact that it doesn't have an anti-aliasing filter, so I decided that if I want a fair comparison between these two 36mp cameras, I needed a D800e without the AA filter instead of the D800 with an AA filter. I sold the D800 and bought a new D800e for a good price. I already know that blowing up a 36mp file on my screen is an awesome experience. That's why I missed the D800e so much, even though the Canon also produces great files. The Canon impresses me as a camera, the Nikon impresses me with the sensor.

I had already figured out what I would use the Nikon for. I'd use it for landscapes, for when I travel to shoot at a leisurely pace. For when I don't mind using a tripod. For when I expect to take pictures I want on my wall blown up pretty large (my wife is laughing now, because I hardly ever print pictures and hang them in the house). I might use it for model photography, but probably not. In short, I use it when I'm committed to serious, relatively slow-paced photography where I want the best results I can produce.

Let's talk about 'best results.' I have two measuring sticks for what I produce. One, do I like it and is it a pleasing image without defects that take away from the overall impression? Two, would Alamy stock agency accept it?

One is my own subjective take. My cameras are already better cameras than I am a photographer. I'm generally very happy with the output my 5D 'classic' gave me during the many years I used it. At the same time, I have some images that I would like to blow up to sizes beyond what that 5D was capable of. That's where the Nikon would have come in, had it existed then.

Two I passed years ago. I have very few images hosted on Alamy, but they were mostly taken with that 12mp 5D and passed Alamy's quality test. Some were published in the U.K. Daily Telegraph and Condé Nast Traveler. So, unless I need to crop heavily, I don't need all those extra pixels for Alamy.

In theory, with its 36mp the Sony would occupy the same place as that Nikon. I haven't compared it yet, but I assume the output is largely the same.

But the Sony is hampered by the fact that it's not part of a system yet. I often use a 70-200mm zoom for landscapes or a really wide angle, both of which are missing in the Sony line-up without the use of adapters. Nikon offers image stabilization on some lenses. The lenses for this Sony don't.

So, what do I need the Sony for?

It's a light and small camera, so I could always carry it with me. But do I really want to take a 36mp picture every time I see something that might be worth a shot? I doubt it. I have no problem firing off my 16mp Olympus or Fuji, but 36mp is a bit much unless you really need it. To me, 36mp is like film: you actually pause before you decide to fill another frame.

I'm really impressed that Sony could produce a camera like this. But personally I wasn't waiting for one. I had been waiting for a camera like the Olympus OM-D EM-1, small and all-around capable with a large selection of fine lenses. And I'm still waiting for a simple camera like the Leica M for a reasonable price. This Sony isn't the latter, it's ruled by electronics and not by standard camera controls.

I know people praise the fact that the Sony can take non-native lenses. For me, though, that only matters if those lenses are really special and don't lose that unique character because of some mismatch with the camera. I have the Leica Summilux 50mm, which new costs close to $4,000 and was apparently the best 50mm lens until the Zeiss OTUS was introduced. But people are saying that that lens only really shines at f/11 on the Sony A7(R). No way on earth am I going to lock up that much money on a lens that I can't use over a wider range, especially one that I'd love to use wide open.

Of course, your photography needs probably differ from mine and this is a personal piece. I'm not judging what others would use this camera for.

I'm going to review it with an open mind. And then I might sell it and buy into the system once it's a real system, with a wide range of quality lenses. Then it will make sense to get a smaller system that can deliver the same performance and quality as a larger setup.

Unless of course, I start to like this camera so much that it takes on its own life. The Fuji X100S did that for me. On paper, I don't need it at all, because I could just put a 17mm lens on my Olympus. But the Fuji is a keeper. The Sony RX-1 would have been a keeper if it wasn't so expensive. I loved that camera, but I didn't love it enough to tie up $2,000. The Nikon D800e obviously lured me back, even though the Canon 5D III is a more capable camera overall. So, my mind might wander again and tell me this camera makes perfect sense for me. We'll see.

By John van Rosendaal