NEW COURSE: MATT K’s Guide to Bird Photography… Now On Sale

Earlier this week I got the chance to use the newly announced Sony a7R. It’s Sony’s new 36 megapixel monster mirrorless full-frame camera, and it’s definitely getting it’s share of buzz. In fact, I couldn’t get near it at Sony’s booth at PhotoPlus the other week. Anyway, I got the chance to put it to the test at a Ben Folds concert that Sony hosted the other night, and I thought I’d give you my quick first impression of two of my favorite features.

I’m In Love With Focus Peaking
Over the last couple of years, I’ve pretty much moved to manually focussing in Live View mode on my D800 whenever I’m on a tripod. I’ve been very vocal about the fact that I’m not a fan of Nikon’s live view. To me, when compared to a Canon or Sony its a pixelated noisy mess. And when you zoom in it gets worse. I can deal with it and I’ve learned how to compensate and still use it for focussing when I’m on a tripod, but it’s definitely not ideal. Well, Sony’s live-view mode is definitely way better. I first noticed it on the a99 a while back (I wrote about it here) and the a7R is just as good if not a little better. But what really got me was focus peaking.

Focus peaking is a feature that helps you focus by highlighting areas that are in focus. After using it for a while I’m definitely sold. And while manually focussing using Live View is only something I’ve traditionally used on a tripod, I found I could use focus peaking while hand-holidng and shooting a concert.

Here’s an iPhone shot of the back of my LCD. Take a look at the little highlighted red area (circled here). The Yamaha logo is actually a golden color. But it’s what is in focus at this point so (with focus peaking turned on) it shows up red.
(it’ll help to click and see the photo larger)
focuspeaking

Better Quality Photos When Shooting Landscapes and Big Scenes
Okay, this one is a little techie, but bear with me because I think it’s an important one for some people. There’s something called diffraction reduction. Essentially, it helps you get sharper images when shooting at smaller apertures. It has to do with the way the chip is positioned to collect light at sharper angles (in essence, diffraction deals with how beams of light spread). If you’re a landscape photographer (which the a7R is definitely great for) then this matters to you. And if you’re thinking that diffraction is only really seen when you zoom in to your image, you’re right. And if you just post your photos online and never print them, then I would stop reading now because you’ll probably never notice the effects of diffraction. But if you’re buying a 36 megapixel camera then you probably care about image size, image quality and print size. And if you care about those things, then diffraction can matter.

A Mini-Gripe
Okay, I know I said this post was about my two favorite features, but since it’s turning in to a mini-review I’ll give you my one gripe. See, I bracket a lot. Like A LOT! On most cameras these days you can turn on bracketing, and then you can turn on your Auto-timer delay and just press the shutter. The timer will count for a few seconds (depending on what you have it set to) and fire off your bracket for you, with out you ever touching the camera. I love this feature. It essentially removes the need for a cable release for me unless I go over a 30 second shutter speed. Well, the a7R has bracketing (better than my Nikon btw…) and it has a timer – but they’re both in the same menu – meaning you can only turn one on at a time. I did speak to one of the product managers about it, and he said they’ve heard about this feature request before, so hopefully it’s on their priority list to fix in a firmware update down the road.

Anyway, I just wanted to share my first thoughts about the camera. I really enjoyed shooting with it. It felt great, was easy to use and image quality was incredible with the 36-megapixel sensor. If you’re one of the many I ran in to a Photoplus last week at the Sony booth that said you pre-ordered it then I think you’re gonna be very happy. Have a great weekend 🙂

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