Sony Hits A Home Run!
January 08, 2017
1) FF sensor that is clearly Sony’s (and industry’s) best. Combines high resolution and high speed FPS, 4k, and variable frame rate video (both time lapse plus slow motion effects). Very good high ISO and excellent detail. Amazing functional ability and versatility in a single package. Not available in any other FF camera and Sony isn’t selling this sensor to anyone else, unlike previous 36MP FF sensor.
2) Excellent 5 axis IBIS worth (on paper – but see discussion) 4+ stops that is functionally invisible (i.e., does not adversely impact IQ), and available on all lenses. Allows you to drop ISO several stops over all but the best OS lens-based image stabilization systems, and is advertised to be ~2 stops better than previous IBIS system (in A77ii). Decent IS options in video as well, in 1080p and 4k (but see discussion).
3) Ability to use the full range of A-mount glass, with full IS benefits (but see Con #1 and discussion). This gives many options: both modern (and expensive) Zeiss and Sony G glass but also high-value legacy Minolta glass options to the user, depending on budgets and priorities.
4) 4k is amazingly detailed, and competes with best in class (A7RII/A7SII/A6500/GH5), with excellent low light ability. Exceptionally versatile video specs and codecs (but see Con #2).
5) Compact form factor body, very slightly smaller than A77ii (but feeling like the same camera) and with excellent ergonomics and customizable controls – making this the most compact FF body out there, outside of the A7x series (but without the ergonomic limitations of the A7x group).
6) Hybrid AF system combining 399 on-sensor PD elements, combined with 79 focus points from dedicated PDAF array, fed by SLT mirror (but again see Con #1 and discussion).
7) Much better organized operating system and menu structure, with major degree of potential customization of control architecture to suit end user preference and style. Additionally the Fx button gives instant access to 12 selectable camera functions of the users choice to streamline menu access.
8) Ability for Wi-Fi and NFC to send images to your smartphone.
9) Dramatically improved Wi-Fi remote control app over the A77II – which was appallingly bad. This version of smart phone remote control appears as capable the apps for RX10/100 models, and for E-mount, which are class leading.
10) Multiple point MFA, wide and telephoto ends for zooms, plus separate settings for the four corners and center for lenses that do hybrid AF (but seen con #7)
11) A reasonably deep buffer, with ability to review images immediately, enhancing usability in sports and action photography – 9 seconds roughly of 8 FPS with my card if shooting full sized JPEGs or RAW. Enormous flexibility too – if shooting RAW or JPEG, at 8 FPS, and utilizing crop sensor mode (18MP files), the buffer is almost unlimited (153 RAW images using my card Samsung Pro SDXC I card - but see Con #8).
12) Real functionality for your crop sensor DT lens library – (don’t reflexively dump your lens library in other words if your coming up from APS-C). If you want smaller files (18MP) or a lighter lens/camera combo, you get increased buffer depth, extra reach on your telephoto lenses, and still plenty of image information. Works brilliantly with the DT 16-50 2.8 as a default Super 35 video or walk around lens. A major and almost totally unappreciated plus of that 42MP.
1) Only Sony lenses (and not quite all of them) allow access to hybrid AF system, although the dedicated PDAF system (upgraded version of system in A77ii) by itself is still quite competent and flexible.
2) Sony continues to limit AF in movie modes to Program mode only, with fixed aperture (3.5, or widest if lens doesn’t reach 3.5). Reasons for this are unclear, but perhaps to reduce competition with the more video-friendly E Mount?
3) Modest ½ stop light loss from SLT mirror. Much is made of this, but tests have shown that even at higher ISOs, individuals can’t reliably discriminate ½ stop of extra noise, without pixel peeping A/B displays, and never at typical viewing distances. Tradeoff to achieve better AF performance, as OSPDAF still hasn’t caught up to the best dedicated PDAF. If this is still troubling, the SLT mirror can be removed for landscape and any other MF shot if that last bit of ISO is deemed important (a dicey practice and not for the technically inept as semi-transparent mirror is fragile and impossible to clean without damaging it).
4) Speaking of ISO, according to initial DxO testing, ISO scale is almost one full stop optimistic (indicated 200 is ~ 110) – and a slightly less than one stop ‘boost’ to indicated ISO continues on up the ISO scale. Not clear if this is simply unusual sample variation (DxO tested a funky sample) or Sony’s thinly veiled attempt to exaggerate the apparent low light performance of the camera. Some ‘fudging’ on ISO is commonplace - almost universal - but typically it’s ~1/4 to 1/3 a stop, not ~ 1 stop.
5) Menu system is still rather bulky and complex (but not excessively so for pro/FF class of camera).
6) Joystick control is sometimes ‘fiddly’, making selection and scrolling processes somewhat unsure. Could Sony just spring for the premium switchgear in its flagship model, instead of something that feels like it cost .43 cents from a discount parts bin?
7) MFA can be complex, most esp. for H-AF lenses. Top, bottom, left and right corners, plus center (five points) X2 (wide and tele end for any zoom lens). Better for sure than NOT having multiple points of adjustment, but with these many places to check and calibrate, some form of auto setting might be desirable? Or at least a menu setting that allows you to clone center, corner, upper and lower into a single value for wide and in another single value for telephoto. This means you would only have to enter two values instead of the current 10.
8) Buffer clearing is a bit slow (~30 sec if shooting RAW in 42MP, and running out to full buffer depth of ~60 images), even though this is substantially mitigated by ability to review immediately. Unfathomably, Sony doesn’t support SDXC II cards, with their roughly 3x faster read/write times. You can still use a SDXC II, which will speed workflow from camera to your computer (in USB 3.0), but it won’t help with write times to speed up buffer clearing.
Overall, what’s the bottom line? The camera is very smooth, and responsive in all its operations, from shooting to reviewing images, while color, contrast, detail and DR are all superb, as one would expect in this class of camera. And it’s just a pleasure to have it configured in a way that is ‘simpatico’ with how and what you shoot – kudos to Sony for making the camera so easy to configure “your way”. With the Fx menu setup properly, you can avoid menu diving almost completely, and rapidly access and segue through settings that you tend to modify. It’s just such a pleasure to shoot with, operate, and then enjoy the spectacular images and video that it can effortlessly generate. It’s nothing less than a screaming home run for A Mount and Sony. It might be the best ‘all arounder’ FF camera anyone has yet made, if you weigh 4k, sports, and landscape equally. It will, I predict, be back-ordered for all of 2017.... Read More