Sony a7r2, a mini review

The mirrorless interchangeable lens camera world has come a long way.  I have been fortunate enough to try quite a few of the mirrorless cameras including olympus ep-1, olympus, em-1, fujifilm xt1, fujifilm xe-2, sony a7r, sony a7s, sony a7r2.  I started off with the bright and shiny olympus ep-1 in 2009 with subpar autofocus but exciting image quality at the time.  It would have never replaced a DSLR, but it was decent enough for travel and those times where you don't want to lug around a DSLR.  Fast forward 6 years to 2015, the sony a7r2 puts together some of the best technologies around for one of the best digital cameras.  I feel the only areas where it lags is for sports shooters (it doesn't even touch the canon 1dx for tracking) and camera operation (sony needs to look at the olympus em-1 for responsiveness).

I'll throw out my personal a7r2 list of pros and cons.

1. Eye-AF.  I love this feature.  It seems to track the closest eye in the frame.  It beats focusing and recomposing for maximum sharpness.  I have the camera set on AF-C with face detection and the AF/MF switch set to eye AF.  It is very responsive and fun to use.
2. Live view in dark studios.  The first time I did a studio shoot with this camera, it was in a fairly dark studio setting.  I was at f8, iso 200, and a black screen.  The only time I was able to see the people in front of me is when the lens was focusing.  I was thinking there had to be a menu option to fix this. The menu option I was supposed to turn off to allow the camera to show me what's in front of me is "Live View Display" found in the gear menu and the #3 submenu.  Thankfully the shoot turned out well by guess framing.  So the a7r2 can see in the dark whereas a DSLR can only see the available light through the optical viewfinder.
3. Custom dial 1 & 2.  I really like my custom settings.  This allows me to be quick whenever I need to use c-AF.  It's so much faster than wading through the settings and picking single shot AF to continuous AF and then choosing the best autofocus area for the situation.  After fiddling with all of that, whatever you were excited to capture is no longer there.  I know this feature isn't unique to Sony, but I'm glad they included it on this camera.  Quickly switching to my custom dial 1, I have c-AF with a small AF area and face/eye tracking ready to go.  Switching to custom dial 2, I have c-AF and a wide AF area.
4. Using the a7r2 with a metabones IV EF-E adapter and canon lenses.  I love the look of the canon 50mm f1.2L and the 85mm f1.2L mkii lenses.  One of the biggest reasons I hated using them was because the canon cameras didn't focus that well with them.  Stick those lenses on an a7r2 and a metabones adapter and it's WONDERFUL.  Focus is spot on every time; it's SO MUCH MORE ACCURATE.  I only can speak of those two lenses at this time since I don't have any other canon lenses.  The 50mm f1.2L is fast and accurate with the a7r2/metabones.  The 85mm f1.2L mkii is slightly slower but accurate.  It's so much better than using them on canon bodies hands down.
5. IBIS.  In-body image stabilization is amazing in such a small body.  It just helps me get those shots in lower light.  Not much to say here, but it is awesome.
6. Paired with the 55mm f1.8.  One of the sharpest lenses.  The level of sharpness really makes photos pop.

1. Overall use is sluggish.  Turning on the camera can take a few seconds, especially after switching to a new battery.  Pressing a button has a slight delay.  Wading through the menus is annoying.  Nothing is as responsive as a canon/nikon DSLR where everything is near instantaneous.  Sony should look at the olympus em-1.  The em-1 is an extremely responsive camera.
2. Monster files.  This camera puts out 40+ megabyte files or 80+ megabyte files with the uncompressed raw option in a recent firmware update.  You'll need a pretty decent computer to process these files in an efficient manner.  I haven't had too much trouble with it since I'm running a Raid 6 with a high bandwidth.  Maybe those 80 megabyte files will slow people down like when you're shooting 6x6 medium format film at $5+ a pop.  Haha, doubt it.  SPRAY AND PRAY baby.  I'm guilty of this too :D
3. Memory card door.  This thing is just kinda flimsy and it feels weak.  I can barely bump into this and it will open.  Not so great when it's raining and it accidentally opens.
4. Battery life.  There has to be a compromise somewhere to keep this excellent camera small.  It does kind of suck to buy another $200 in batteries after buying an already expensive camera.  Be careful with some of the non-Sony batteries as some of them may have a tighter fit and may get stuck in the camera.  I'm sure a shaving down the battery plastic might help, but it wasn't worth it for me.

The Sony a7r2 has completely replaced my DSLRs.  I sold off all my canon and nikon cameras and now only own the Sony a7r2.  Overall, I think it's one of the best full frame digital cameras available and provides all the latest and fun technologies in a small body with the added annoyance of sluggishness.

Time for sony or zeiss to put down the pedal on fast lenses.  I would love to have a native 50mm f1.2 or a 85mm f1.2.

Recently just made an instagram account.  Follow me there! b.toh

a7r2 + sony zeiss 55mm f1.8

a7r2 + metabones EF-E IV + canon 85mm f1.2L mkii

a7r2 + sony 70-200mm f4

a7r2 + sony zeiss 16-35mm f4 [photo taken by vicki]

hasselblad H1 + 100mm f2.2

My search for a medium format film camera continues.  Prior to purchasing the Hasselblad H1 I've tried the pentax 67ii, several fujifilm 645 cameras, and the GF670 (6x7).  They were all great, but my biggest issues were manual focusing problems (pentax 67ii/GF670) due to my not so great eyesight and the lack of easy manual control on the fujifilm 645 cameras.  So enter the Hasselblad H1 with the 100mm f2.2.  It's fairly heavy, but so are most medium format cameras.  Lift your weights kids.  The shutter click is not really a click, it's more like a CLACK.  The shutter is nice and loud so that everyone in the room knows what's up and you're shooting with a mini tank.  The H1 is awesome.

I loved shooting with this camera.  The autofocus is actually quite good; center point only.  It locked onto backlit subjects pretty well and was definitely accurate.  One of the main reasons I wanted to try the H1 out was because of the 100mm f2.2 lens.  It's a solid lens that can blur out the background and isolate my subject. I really like shooting in the 50mm-60mm range on 35mm full frame and this lens gives about a 60mm f1.3ish look on 35mm.  I love shooting with the canon 50mm f1.2 (except for the misfocusing issues I had... however, it looks like the sony a7rii with an adapted 50mm f1.2 solved that though) and the nikon 58mm f1.4G.  This 100mm f2.2 lens on the H1 made me feel right at home.  *A quick note about the sony a7rii.  Pairing the canon 50mm f1.2 with the metabones adapter on the sony a7rii really surprised me.  The 50L on the canon 5d3 was somewhat unreliable because of focus inaccuracy, but on the sony a7rii, the focusing seemed faster and was definitely more accurate.  I can finally use the 50mm f1.2 without getting annoyed after a shoot and later find out that some of my favorite images are out of focus.  the 50L and a7rii worked so well, I will eventually try the 85mm f1.2L mkii on it; hoping it will work just as well!

The H1 has a maximum shutter speed of 1/800th of a second.  This isn't a really big deal if you expose for the shadows.  Check out Johnny's blog, he's super helpful teaching metering for that bright exuberant look on film.  if you're new to film, this is an excellent read:

What's cool about the 100mm f2.2 is that it has a leaf shutter, so if you wanted to shoot with off camera strobes, you can sync at 1/800th of a second.  Most digital DSLRs and mirrorless cameras top out at a sync of 1/250th of a second or slower.

I also bought an additional 3 film backs so I didn't have to fiddle with the film during a shoot.  It's so easy to just pull one off and slap one back on.  It's also easy to change the film as well.  I felt the backs were really solid and were not that expensive used if you take your time and look around.

I also had a H13 extension tube to get in closer for head shots.  The minimum focusing distance is slightly less than 3 feet on the 100mm f2.2, so the extension tube can be pretty useful if you need to get in closer.

So why this camera and not the Contax 645?  Pretty soon here, the parts for the Contax 645 are going bye bye.  I don't really want to have to deal with that in the future.  Not like it matters now since I ended up selling.

The images out of this camera and lens combo were sharp and crisp with smooth bokeh.  I have no complaints as this is my favorite 645 camera and lens combo so far.

This is my top choice for the 645 format.  Wish I could have the chance to play with a Contax 645, but this system is so solid, I would be perfectly happy shooting the H1 and 100mm f2.2 combo.

I ended up selling the H1 to fund other purchases.  Wish I didn't, but I didn't use it much once I acquired the Rolleiflex 6008AF and the Rolleiflex Hy6 mod 2.  I really started liking the square 6x6 photos from the Rolleiflex cameras.  More on the Rolleiflex in another post.

Below are a few shots from the H1 and 100mm f2.2 combo.  Developed and scanned by Richard Photo Lab.



The search for a film camera continues.

Before I sold off my pentax 67ii, I started searching for my next medium format film camera.  My focusing issues were inconsolable with the 67ii. Again, if you don't have glasses or eye issues, this might be the perfect system for you.  The search lead me to many possible different cameras.  There were rangefinders, SLRs, twin lens reflex, and folding cameras. Another consideration was the format size: 645, 6x6, 6x7, 6x9, 6x10, some crazy huge ones like 6x17 that eat up your film like no other.   I also looked into some of the 35mm film cameras, but I really wanted a medium format film camera.

I decided I would like to stick with a larger format such as 6x7 if possible.  I started looking all over the place for autofocus options for this format and I found none.  So if anyone knows of one, please let me know.  In a future blog post I'll be writing about the rolleiflex 6008AF and hy6.2 cameras, which boasts autofocus in a 6x6 format.  Eventually I ended up reading about the Fujifilm GF670 and GF670W, which are manual focus rangefinders (there are also voigtlander bessa versions of the same camera).  I've never even touched a rangefinder before so I wanted to check one out before I bought one.  

I was in Manhattan in December of 2014 and my wife and I stopped by B&H.  This was the 2nd time I've stepped foot into that store.  It was just as amazing as the last.  I went around and checked the backpack section for any cool new bags.  I found none that day.  It's actually quite a chore to find a somewhat style conscious backpack that doesn't scream 'I'm a photo bag'.  I then went to the used camera section and asked to check out any rangefinder camera.  I ended up holding a Leica M6.  I racked the focus back and forth and it seemed easy enough to focus.  This looked hopeful, especially since the viewfinder in the Fuji GF670/W is supposed to be much larger.  

I browsed some of the internet forums and bought both the GF670 and GF670W used.  I also read some good things about the Fujifilm GA645 series, which are 645 format autofocus rangefinders, so I bought a GA645i and a GA645w as well.  I figured that since I'm buying them all used and if don't particularly love them, I'll be able to sell them a nearly the same price I bought them for.

The GF670 and the GF670W are newer film cameras.  Unfortunately, it seems like Fujifilm just recently discontinued making the GF670.  B&H marked the GF670 as discontinued, but it looks like you can still get the voigtlander bessa III, which is the same camera, just in a black color.

The GF670 is a really cool camera.  It can switch between 6x6 and 6x7, making it versatile in that aspect.  Even though it is large, it folds down to almost nothing.  I was excited to use it.  In regards to the ergonomics, I really liked the positioning of the dial up top and the manual film winder, but it took a little bit of time getting used to the focusing ring without touching the bellows.  I went around and took some test shots, which turned out great.  I did also still have some focusing issues because of my eye issues, but not nearly as bad as the pentax 67ii.  This would be the top choice for traveling for many people.

The GF670W is also a great camera.  It has basically the same ergonomics as the GF670 but it doesn't have any bellows to worry about, but that means it is also a thicker camera since it can't fold down.

The GA645, GA645i, GA645W, GA645Wi are autofocus 645 rangefinder cameras.   I bought the GA645i and GA645w.  The "i" version is a slightly newer version which featured minor upgrades and is slightly more expensive in the used market.  These cameras are a lot older (circa 1995) than the GF670 series cameras and the copies you get from the bay could have some undisclosed issues.  I was initially excited to use them when I relied on in-camera metering and they all offered autofocus.  During this time, I switched over to using a light meter and found I really liked the look of exposing for shadows using incident light metering.  It was fidgety to change any of the settings such as the shutter speed on the camera.  It would have been nice to have a dial like the GF670.  This series of cameras are really great as a point and shoot medium format film camera.

I ended up selling everything.  The GF670, GF670W, GA645i, and the GA645w.  If the GF670/W had autofocus I would have definitely kept them both.  I even bought an accessory to make it easier to focus: the bresson 1.08x-1.58x zoom viewfinder eyepiece magnifier.  I think this is one of the only magnifier pieces that is readily available for this system.  It made focusing easier, but it also made the cameras bulkier, and with my bad eyes, it still took a long time to focus.  The GA645i/w were too fidgety to use with incident light metering so those had to go too.

My search continued on from here to the Hasselblad H1 and the Rolleiflex 6008AF and Hy6.2.  More in another post!

Photos were taken with a Fujifilm GF670 in Santa Monica, CA.

my first film camera

I will be blogging my journey with film and some of my thoughts along the way.  I started photography with digital and eventually came around to seeing the benefits and negatives ::roflcopter:: of film several years later.  There are many advantages of digital over film, but I'll highlight some of the qualities of film that I admire.  I prefer medium format film for the look that I can't get with full frame digital SLR; this of course is a highly subjective topic and you may not have the same opinion.  There are some ways to get closer to the medium format look such as shooting with a super large aperture lens or the brenizer method, but for me, it's still not the same.  Dynamic highlight range on film is superb.  Digital is catching up in this regard, but it's not there yet (I currently shoot the d810).  The organic quality of film is something that I really enjoy when I view the scans.  There is also the excitement of waiting for your scans to come back from the lab; no instant gratification as with digital.  Shooting film slows you down.  Each click is several dollars.  This transition to film helped me focus on composition and getting the shot I really want.  With digital, sometimes I find myself doing the 'spray and pray' technique for subject matter that does not require that style of shooting.

On impulse I started out with the pentax 67ii with the 105mm f2.4 lens in September of 2014.  The images below are taken with this combination.  The pentax 67ii is a solid tank, heavier than a full frame DSLR.  The film advance and focusing are manual but there are auto metering options.  There are no removable backs in case you want to change films.  You get 10 shots and then move on to the next roll.  I didn't get to dive into the interwebs yet for all things film.  I just knew I wanted to try one of the larger medium format negatives, 6x7.  I really wanted to use the 67ii system, but with my less than perfect eyesight and glasses in the way, manual focus is just out of the question.  I even ventured out to buy a magnifier for the system, which helped a lot, but it was far too cumbersome and even more time consuming on top of having to manual focus.  I'm just spoiled from having autofocus from every camera I've shot with previous to this.  If you are looking at the pentax 67ii system, it is really amazing if you can manual focus correctly.  Fifty percent of the shots without the magnifier were in focus, ninety percent with the magnifier.  The results from this camera really pushed me to shoot film, but due to my focus issues I ended up selling the camera and moved on with the medium format film camera search.  All shots were with reflected metering from the pentax 67ii with either kodak portra or fujifilm 400H.  I later learned that incident light metering is the way to go for the way I like to shoot and for consistency, but these turned out quite nicely.

The person in front of the bookstore is Nes.  She's an amazing photographer in Southern California.  Check out her work!