The MILC Revolution

November 07, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

sony-a7rii-imagesony-a7rii-image

So what is one-third smaller, lighter, has a fraction of the moving parts and almost twice the resolution of my other cameras? It is one of the newest generation of mirror-less, full-frame, interchangeable lens cameras - MILCs.

I agonized for more than a year about the new, smaller MILCs and was always able to convince myself that this was a passing fad and these 'silly little cameras' could never have professional quality and then Sony released the A7R Mark II with a 42M pixel, high resolution sensor in a weather-sealed body. This became very interesting but Sony had few lenses and only a couple with the professional characteristics that could stand up to meet the optical needs of the high resolution sensor. Then came some Zeiss lenses and a thing called a Metabones adapter that could mount Canon lenses to the little Sony body - very, very interesting. The initial reviews of the camera were outstanding - best image quality of ANY 35mm size sensor on the market, a game changer, but the Metabones was slow to focus and had problems with some of my collection of Canon L-style lenses. Technology to the rescue, Metabones created a firmware update that solved most of the focusing issues and allowed data exchange between the camera body and all of my lenses - deal!

Sony-CanonSony-Canon I received the camera and a Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 prime lens in October. It was small, solid feeling, with more gizmo features that I have ever seen on a camera. I found the settings menus very confusing, somewhat illogical, and a little frustrating - for example, the down button increases the ISO and the up button decreases it?? Go figure. Also, the exposure compensation knob requires the operator to move his hand from the shutter release button and turn it with a thumb and forefinger. Awkward, at best.

I did the usual in-house test exposures and was amazed to find the camera practically shoots in the dark with very little digital noise a crazy high ISO levels - interesting. After a week messing with it and trying to get it configured so I could actually shoot with it, I took it into the field. My first shot was a moose about 100m away with the Teton range in the background using the 55mm prime. The moose was a dark spot and the Tetons looked great. (see next photo)

Sony-00055Sony-00055 When I got back to process the images I enlarged the image to 100% and was shocked to see the details in the far away moose - looked like I shot it with my 600mm Canon telephoto! I was shocked by the high resolution and the amazing dynamic range of this little camera. (see second photo) Sony-00055-2Sony-00055-2

I gradually expanded my experience using the adapter with most of my large Canon lenses and have continued to be amazed at the image quality and the adaptability to the Canon glass. It has worked well in almost all field conditions and has amazing low-light, high ISO capability with almost no digital noise. The focusing is acceptably fast in most lighting conditions although it sometimes "searches" a bit in low light with a big telephoto lens. In wide-angle, landscape shots it is nearly flawless. It fits into a (very large) pocket with the prime lens and otherwise carries well with my large Canon zooms. It provide amazing flexibility having 3 camera bodies in the field - the Sony with a wide-angle for landscapes, the full-frame 5Diii on the 600mm for long wildlife shots, and the 100-400 mm on the very fast 7D for birds and quick wildlife shots.

The Sony is not perfect, however. It is small in my big paws and some of the controls are "difficult" to reach quickly (once I could find them at all.) The menu system is clearly not created by someone with English as their first language and really needs a firmware fix. It shoots bursts at only 5 frames per second and the buffer is not large enough when shooting full 14 bit RAW images so it is not a bird and wildlife camera. The files created are huge (close to 50MB per image) so a 128 GB SD card and lots of hard drive space is needed to store the images. The battery life is bad! I can shoot nearly 1,000 frames with my Canons on a single battery in warm conditions. The small Sony battery is only good for about 150-300 images - especially in a Wyoming winter so carry at least one or two fully charged spare batteries in a warm pocket. Finally, when using traditional dSLR lenses you must get used to the fact that you mount the little camera on the big lens and must mount the lens (or Metabones adapter) to your tripod and not the camera unless you use a small Sony prime.

After drafting this article several months ago, I used the Sony in the deserts of southern California as my primary camera for almost 6 weeks. I soon found a couple of problems. I am pretty careful about lens changes and always keep the camera face down and the lens covered as quickly as possible to avoid internal dust on the the sensor. MILCs have two serious problems causing sensor dust to be a bigger problem than with dSLRs. First, there is no mirror to cover the sensor so it is exposed completely during lens changes. Second, the distance between the camera face and the sensor is very short, making it easy for dust to get to the sensor. In spite of great care changing lenses in the field, the Sony sensor became so dirty as to make it unusable until I could get home again and have full access to a liquid/swab cleaning set up. The Sony has no 'automatic' sensor cleaning and the 'manual' cleaning mode does not seem very efficient. For some reason the blower method of cleaning the sensor which always works for the Canons, was not at all effective with the Sony.

Overall, I am delighted with the Sony A7Rii and its amazing high resolution, good dynamic range, low light and high ISO capability, and its petite size. It will be my go to camera for travel, indoor, and street photography and will stand in well for my beloved 5Diii as a landscape, wide-angle, and panorama camera. It is probably not fast enough for sports/action or wildlife photography but no camera is prefect.


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