Nobody would seriously argue that the last 10 years haven’t brought about quantum changes in the way we view photography. In 2004, we talked about “the digital revolution” and many serious photographers speculated about whether digital could ever someday equal and even surpass the large and even medium format film capture of the day.
That ship has definitively sailed. In the mid-late ’90’s I bought my first electronic, “automatic” SLR camera (does anybody remember the Nikon N6006?). It was, at the time, a modern marvel, which did some things electronically, that had previously been something mechanical camera body owners “wished” for. Indeed, while I never owned one, Minolta had an even more advanced “computer” electronic camera back then that could be “programmed” to do things. But they shot film. And the beauty and simplicity of it what that back in those days I was able to carry former (all mechanical) Nikon “flagship” model F and the N6006 and essentially shoot the same medium; interchange more or less the same lenses; and achieve more or less the same end-result. And, amazingly, the venerable old F held a value similar – if not in excess of – the N6006.
The Digital Revolution has passed
The revolution has passed us. And any of us who didn’t realize that are probably already in the grave. In the past 2 years, the question has been whether smaller, more compact outfits can play in the same sandbox with the king of the hill, the so-called “full-frame” DSLR. The DSLR crowd has the advantage of the pedigreed lens array that has – more or less – been being manufactured and improved upon during the entire period where digital has been clawing its way to the top.
B the primary difference between now and years back is that today things move much faster. New offerings and “innovation” comes yearly, instead of multiple-yearly; and obsolescence occurs much more rapidly. Just prior to 2010 Sony began to offer an APS sensor “point & shoot” style camera that featured interchangeable lenses. Competitors were also doing it, but not with the APS sensor, which made the Sony offerings — in my view – ground-breaking. In 2011, the Sony NEX-7 came out and was a “pro” (or at least very serious amateur) offering. Shortly following, in 2012, they introduced the more affordable and in some ways, more DSLR shooter friendly, NEX-6. And I “bit.” As an “ocassional” camera and a backup to my more “serious” Nikon D800 DSLR, it was a pretty fun and pretty impressive little tool (indeed, I still carry and shoot it regularly).
But the real “impresser” was the 2013 Full Frame a7 and a7r offerings. I now own an a7, and an assortment of lenses. And here we are, not even a full year from the advent of the a7 series, and Sony has now announced the a7II (available to be “pre-sold” on B&H’s website). New offerings always make us wonder. Should we be “upgrading”? Have we “missed the boat” by not waiting? What are we missing now?
I am not “feeling” it
I have had a theory about new offerings of any kind. You have to jump on somewhere, and then you have to ride what you jumped on to until you get your money’s worth out of it. I am not always a “practice what I preach kind of a guy, but generally, I believe that. So if you already have one of these mirrorless wonders, here are some thoughts.
The a7II announcement, of course, had me wondering what was new and better about it. So I made some comparisons. The a7 and a7r are essentially identical, except for the pixel density and the a7r’s lack of electronic front curtain shutter capability. What the a7II adds – for a still photography shooter – is a faster AF and 5-axis in-body image stabilization.
I am not “feeling it.” “But,” you say: “5-axis IS!” Wow. That sounds awfully cool. I have a 24-70 and a 70-200. Both are already “IS” (Sony’s version is OSS). I also have some shorter, faster glass. Do I need “IS” for that? I also own a tripod. So while the in-body “IS” sounds exciting on paper, I am wondering if it is truly and “advancement?”
Faster AF. Hmmn. I use this camera for primarily still subjects: Landscape, architecture, a fair amount of “travel” shooting. While the target occasionally moves a bit, lets face it, folks, these are generally very cooperative subjects. The AF on my a7 is pretty estimable and certainly sufficient for my needs. Knowledgeable and experienced shooters readily recognize that this is not a sports shooter’s tool.
I will admit that I have not embraced these still cameras as a video tool (I have friends who have an are totally smitten with them as videography tools). I understand that Sony has addressed some of the videographers’ “wish list” items in the a7II. But that still, in my view, makes this new “toy” a rather special purpose item.
And there are some negatives. First, this camera is selling at a price point $400 higher than the first iteration a7 (some might actually view this as a positive. The a7 debuted at the higher price point and has now been reduced – so much so that Sony will probably have to price-protect its retail sellers for the a7 sales going forward). The new version is also nearly 1/3 pound heavier and slightly larger than the original a7. While this won’t be a deal-breaker, it may actually be counter-intuitive.
There are opportunities and risks as a result
My sole reason for making the switch was to try to obtain a smaller, lighter, more portable “kit” for my photography. There was absolutely nothing wrong with my Nikon gear – except for its size and weight. And as prior blogs suggest, changing up to Sony involved a compromise. So why in the world would I make the shift to Sony, and then let them “creep” me back to my DSLR-sized roots? Almost seems like bait and switch to me. So, no – Sony, I think I’ll stay with the current model until you persuade me there is a real reason for change!
There are some opportunities – and risks – out there as a result of this. I don’t really understand Sony’s marketing strategy here. Since he says it better and more thoroughly than I could, I recommend a perusal of Thom Hogan’s “Sans Mirror” site for his take on this issue. It will not surprise me to see the first-generation a7 series prices drop significantly in the used market. This will open up some opportunities for folks looking to get into the a7 “full frame” market at reasonable prices. At the same time, owner beware. The known issues besetting the a7r (shutter slap) is very likely to be addressed when the a7rII comes out. This might make your a7r a bit of a “brick” when it comes to resale. Just sayin’.
It will not surprise me to see the a7 series prices drop significantly on the used market