sony-A7RII-review-Aga-Tomaszek_0030

Ever since my previous post about buying & trying out for the first time a Sony a7rII I’ve had a lot of people asking me how I found the camera at weddings. Rather than rush in with an opinion, I thought I’d spend a few months actually using the camera in real life wedding situations. I think there’s enough reviews of how well it can capture a brick wall. ;)

I feel I need to give some context here, as anyone who even slightly praises anything Sony is quickly labeled a Sony fanboy (fangirl!). I’ve shot Nikon all of my professional life. Since 2012 I have exclusively used the D4 and then added then D4S on its release. Carrying these two monsters around all-day was taking its toll on my back, so when Nikon announced the d750 I placed my order straight away. Unfortunately, it didn’t measure up to my expectations. The difference in quality between the D4 files & the D750 ones was staggering, especially colours and focus were a bit step down from what I was used to. I couldn’t quite get over it and within 8 weeks I had sold the D750 on.  So, I don’t think I am biased towards any brand or particular camera, and I certainly don’t form biased opinions on equipment JUST because I have purchased something.

Then along comes the Sony A7r2 – a tiny camera boasting claims of fixing the issues dogging the first generations, faster focus, no shutter shock, good lowlight performance… On paper, this thing seemed too good to be true. So four months and 15 weddings later, how have I been getting on? I’ve laid out some of my thoughts below, followed by a large(!) selection of images taken with the A7r2. I’ve tried to show a wide range of wedding related situations in particular those relying on moment & movement, as well as contextual shots, details, formals etc…

IMAGE QUALITY

BIG FILES! At weddings I shoot A LOT and to be honest, 42 megapixels is overkill for my needs. Yes it allows for wild cropping but I can count the number of times I’ve taken advantage of that on one hand. I hope Sony release an A7iii with a 24 megapixel BSI sensor and the phase detect/contrast detect focusing system from the A7rII. The large file sizes can take a while to write to the card and there is a bit of a delay when zooming into previews on the back LCD. The a7s with its 12mp sensor feels a lot more responsive when viewing and zooming into previews.

Shooting D4 and D4s, I’m familiar with Sony sensors, but this BSI sensor is really something else. Although I don’t need 42mp, zooming in 1:1 and gawping at the detail this camera captures is a blast. Colours are fantastic and although auto white balance often leans to warmer temperatures, editing the Sony files are a breeze. I prefer how Sony handles greens – apart from that – very similar to my Nikon editing workflow.

Low light performance is also solid (low light focusing is not so hot) with useable noise performance up to 25,000 ISO. Similar to the D4s when scaled down to match resolution. D4s outclasses the Sony when focusing in low-light.

FOCUS SPEED

Focus speed is a common question, understandably. What is often overlooked is focus ACCURACY. In a nutshell, I would describe the A7rII as excellent focus speed and outstanding focus accuracy. Low-light focusing can be irritatingly unpredictable but in good light, I’ve never found myself thinking the focusing is too slow. The tracking system is not as good as Nikon’s 3D tracking, but situations like walking down the aisle (assuming a well lit venue!) are handled surprisingly well. I still reach for my D4s for confetti shots and any moment with a lot of fast motion. The fast burst rate and more responsive shutter button give me more confidence in these ‘action’ situations. I wish the A7rII had a joystick to move the focus point around. There are so many points, it becomes a chore to move around with the wheels. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sony addressed this in the next revision. Although not a deal breaker, it’s my main gripe.

When reviewing in Photo Mechanic, the accuracy of the D4s and A7r2 become apparent. Yes the Nikon generally feels snappier, but the number of missed shots compared to Sony is eye-opening to say the least. Maybe something is awry with my particular D4s? I’ve become accustomed to take at least two photos every time in order to make sure I have a keeper. So confident I have become with the A7r2’s accuracy, it’s rare for me to be double-checking focus on the back of the camera after taking a shot. (Just as well given the delay on zooming into previews!)

Leaving the best until last, Eye-AF. It’s a game changer. The perfect tool for us reportage wedding photographers. As there are so many focus points spreading right across the sensor, composing and framing people shots becomes a lot more fluid and creative. No more fiddling with moving focus points or risking a missed shot by focusing and recomposing just as your subject leans back to laugh.

ERGONOMICS

At first, I was put off by the controls. I still find it more confusing that my Nikons (they have a 6 year head start!). The menu system is a mess so it’s just as well you can customise the buttons so much. I have it setup to feel as similar to my D4s as possible. After 15 weddings, I don’t even think about quickly switching between the Sony and Nikon. The thought of running two different systems was a real off put a few months ago.

Personally, I just love the size and weight of this thing and not only in a ‘my back feels so much better!’ way. It’s not something I’ve considered before, but regardless of how much rapport you build up, guests react differently when you shove a massive camera in their face. My style requires me to get close to my subject, so having a smaller, discreet camera is a real advantage. By using the back LCD to compose shots, not having to bring the camera up to your eye, you can take photos without people noticing. The result? Truer reportage, natural uninhibited emotion.

The downside of the small size and weight? Battery life! I get through 5-6 batteries per wedding. Not that swapping batteries is a big deal. It’s as fast as changing lenses and I do that dozens of times every wedding. More irritating is having to rotate and keep track of batteries when charging back at home. Not the end of the world, but certainly not as simple as only having to charge one D4 battery.

EVF vs OVF (vs LCD)

Unfortunately I never seem to use the EVF, so I’m unable to really comment on its usefulness. Seeing what you are getting in regards of depth of field and exposure obviously has its advantages. 99% of the time I use the rear LCD. It’s added a new dimension to my photography. Flip out the screen and move the camera to places your face can only dream of… ;)  Some of my photographer friends have joked about how amateur I must look using ‘live view’ at a wedding. I’ll give them another 12 months to discover for themselves how liberating it feels to not have your eye tied to the back of your camera all day. ;)

LENSES

Good and bad points here. The good points are the lenses, the bad points are the availability of said lenses. I have the Zeiss 35mm 1.4, 55mm 1.8, and more recently the 90mm 2.8 macro. Most of the photos below have been taken on the 35mm 1.4. There are a lot of horror stories about the quality control of these lenses with some (mainly brick wall photographers) complaining of soft corners. My copy doesn’t seem to be affected and as a result, this is possibly my favourite lens EVER. There is a fair bit of chromatic abbrevation in high contrast scenes but nothing that can’t be easily fixed in Lightroom. The colours, the sharpness, the out of focus rendering, all sublime. It’s a fun and addictive lens to use. So that’s my favourite focal length sorted… What about an 85mm? Well, I’m still waiting for the Zeiss Batis 85mm 1.8. It’s been on pre-order since the end of November and still not a peak, so for the time being, I’m stuck with my unreliable(!) but beautiful Nikkor 85mm 1.4. Poor me, eh? ;)

The Sony Zeiss 55mm 1.8 is usually off with Andy (my second shooter) attached to his A7s. The sharpest lenses I’ve worked with and combined with the 42mp sensor the detail is jaw-dropping. Contact me if you want to see a couple of full resolution photos from this combination.

My 90mm macro is too new for me to comment on its quality. Focusing speed is certainly slower than the 35 and 55, with a lot of hunting in low light. From what I have seen so far, this is another exceptionally sharp lens with a distinctive, dreamy rendering. Maybe I will add to this once I’ve played with it more.

FUTURE PLANS

For now, I am happy with my D4s / A7r2 combo. It’d be amazing to shed the weight of the D4s – I feel there are still areas where it comprehensively beats the Sony, having both gives me the best of both DSLR and mirrorless worlds. With the rate Sony is developing and advancing mirrorless technology I can’t see these DSLR advantages lasting for too much longer… And I can’t wait!

Over the course of the 15 weddings (and two engagements)  I have shot with my Sony, it has become my main camera. At this moment I find myself taking more photos on it than my D4s! I had not intended this to happen, the A7r2 was always supposed to be my secondary camera, replacing my ageing D4 and saving a bit of weight in the process. The bottom line is that I feel more creative with the A7rII and the way it has quickly and unconsciously overshadowed my D4s is a testament to how good this little camera really is.

If you actually got this far – congratulations! :D I’ll leave you to the images. Please bear in mind that almost 80% of them were taken with the 35mm, 9% with the 55mm and one or two with the 90mm macro. :)

Aga x

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Aga Tomaszek – South Wales Wedding Photographer