For a long-suffering victim of the notorious Sony (A mount/E mount) bait and switch, lenses have been both a sore point and an important topic. Specifically, much thought had to be given to what strategy would allow you to get the kind of photos you wanted now but minimize the cost of eventual lens duplication when Sony finally got their act together and produced a native version. I could go on and on about adapters for every lens mount known to photography, manual lenses of all description from the cheapest old 50mm nifty fifties made with radioactive thorium coatings to top of the line Leica glass costing in excess of $10,000. We could discuss the perils of using wide angle rangefinder lenses on the very short e-mount registration distance and we could discuss the tradeoffs between the slower AF speed of the LAEA3 vs the light loss of the translucent mirror in the LAEA4. We could talk about these things but let’s not. All of these work arounds are like those very old moving pictures from the turn of the 19th century that chronicled the failures in aviation that preceded the Wright Brothers. There were planes that flapped their wings like birds. There were giant corkscrews that pitched around like a top until they toppled over and vibrated apart. And there was that glider with three levels of wings mounted on a bicycle that collapsed as soon as it reached the bottom of the ramp it was on. All these horrors are relics of the past. The only reminders for me are a few modified Contax G lenses and a few adapters for them still hanging around my photography room (very sad).
Now that Sony has gotten around to filling out the FE lens line up to a pretty convincing degree the lens decisions that a Sony photographer has to make are much closer to the decisions that a Canon or Nikon shooter makes. Native or third party? Manual or autofocus? Fast, large, heavy and expensive or slow, small, light and cheap? Interestingly, if you’re short of cash and go for the more reasonably priced choices you sometimes end up with a very satisfactory lens. For instance, the Sony FE 55mm and 28mm lenses are among the least expensive in the line-up but are both very good performers. But there is no getting around the fact that gear acquisition syndrome (G.A.S.) is a very common and seductive disease. I know because I am a sufferer of this disorder. Oh well.
So how do you go about choosing the lenses you should buy? Well, even before you talk about budget, decide on what lenses you do and do not need to do the kind of photography you plan on doing. If you’re a portrait photographer, you won’t need a 10mm wide angle lens. If you shoot high speed sports like motor cross racing you probably want good autofocus capability and a manual focus lens will have limited application. One thing I find interesting is what I find myself using in real life as opposed to what I own. I have a Minolta 200mm macro lens that I typically use on a manual focus adapter. Well actually it’s an LAEA3 and can autofocus but not with a screw drive lens which the Minolta macro is. Anyway, although the primary mission of this Minolta lens is for macro, I find myself using it for all sorts of things. It’s a very sharp lens and I like it for landscape, portraits and even cityscapes. Another example of what I actually use vs what I have is the 35mm focal length. I have the Sony f/1.4 and f/2.8 35mm FE lenses. Without a doubt, the f/1.4 lens is the better lens and in a darker indoor environment it should be my preference. But it is a much bulkier and heavier lens. So, suppose I’m going to a family occasion and want to enjoy myself but still take a few photos. I take the f/2.8. It fits much more conveniently in my jacket pocket and along with the high ISO capability of the Sony A7S does a very nice job without the extra stop of light. And how about autofocus for landscape photography? You might say who needs it? Just set it to infinity and have at it. An interesting question comes up. What if the infinity stop is off by a small amount? Would a good mirrorless autofocus camera be able to correct for this? These are questions that come up. There are some very high quality manual focus lenses now available for Sony e mount. Zeiss and Voigtlander both have some interesting wide angle manual choices. These lenses tend to be much smaller than the autofocus lenses of the same focal length. Should they be an alternative for you?
So, I’ve made some broad statements here that taken alone are pretty meaningless. In the succeeding parts of this sries of posts I’ll concentrate on specifics and some things I think I’ve learned about lens choices for Sony FE cameras.
Here are some photos I took in the last week or two. Already all the more colorful leaves are now completely gone. The hard frost last week took care of that. The days are short and I’m looking forward to the Holidays to distract me until January. Then I can remind myself the days are getting longer, as I shovel that February snow.
Now that’s a camera I’m definitely interested in. They say it will have the auto focus of the A9. If that’s the case and it isn’t $5grand I have a feeling I’ll be getting it before Christmas (but let’s call it a Christmas gift). Now, SAR has been wrong before (oh brother have they) but I think they have it right this time. For you Sony fans Christmas may be coming early after all.
Only a seriously unserious photographer would spend 350 bucks to rent a camera like the A9 for a week and then use it as frivolously and haphazardly as I just did with it. My only defense is that I only wanted to establish one thing. I wanted to know whether the autofocus was great, good or as miserable as on my A7S. It’s not a good defense. Enough reports are out there to show that it’s much, much better than the A7S. In fact there is plenty of testimony for it being better than any of the A7 cameras and for it being at least comparable to high end Canon and Nikon DSLRs.
Well, call me Doubting Thomas. I needed to see it with my own eyes and experience it with my own hands.
Okay, big surprise, it’s really very, very good. Put the camera on center point focus and point it at anything inside or outside and it focuses instantaneously and flawlessly. Beyond that I did some tests with tracking and eye-focus of moving targets and it was pretty good. It wasn’t perfect or flawless but that could be attributed to my lack of understanding of which setting should be used when and my lack of technique for shooting sports or occasion subjects.
At this point you can see that there will be no big surprises or important information coming out of this post (unless you are a doubter like me and for some reason trust me more than the reputable reporters who’ve already sung the A9’s praises). What this is is a personal opinion about why the A9 is an important camera for Sony shooters.
As anyone who has been following my photography posts knows I have been a somewhat patient long-suffering Sony camera user. As an owner of the last full frame DSLR from Sony (the praiseworthy A-850) I have been waiting and suffering through the long chain of mirrorless cameras that Sony produced. From the NEX-5N up to and including the A7R II I have been disappointed by the incompetent autofocus and mediocre shooting experience of these cameras compared to a basic DSLR like the A-850.
Those days are over.
The A9 is a better camera than the A-850 in every way.
And here’s my take on why this is important. I don’t have to abandon Sony. I can keep my lense and buy into their overpriced stuff and at least I won’t have to sell it all in a fire sale and go over to Canon or Nikon. The features that the A9 has are remarkable. No black out shooting, excellent indoor and outdoor autofocus, low light capability, silent shutter, very short exposure time, you name it, it’s got it.
The only downside, $4,500 price tag. I am not that nuts. You see I’m a hobbyist. I don’t shoot weddings and I don’t work for CBS sports. I do not actually need 20 frames per second. Nor do I want to pay for it.
What I do want is that fantastic autofocus and the no blackout shooting experience. Well actually, I’d also like to get that bigger battery too. Unfortunately, it’s starting to get closer to most of the camera. Damn. Well anyway, I want an A7 III with all the goodies of the A9 but without the mortgage. Three grand? Sure. Thirty five hundred? Ahhhh, I dono. So come on Sony make it a Merry Christmas. After all I have been patient.
So Camera Girl found two interesting subjects in the yard. These are all shot with the Sony A7S and the Minolta 200mm F\4 Macro. This is using the manual focus ring because this is a screw drive AF lens and the adapter only autofocuses motor driven lenses. But for caterpillars and plants that not such a problem.
A week ago, I said it would be a week or two to evaluate the performance of the Sony A9 camera. Well, it’s been a week and I’ve waded through a boat load of reviews, hands-on reviews and technical discussions. It’s enough. I’ve got the information I’m looking for. But, you may say, it’s too soon. We haven’t seen the raw files opened up in a legit version of Lightroom (or fill in your raw browser of choice). True, it may be that once you look at the 20 frames per second exposures made with the electronic shutter in fluorescent light they’ll have banding and rolling shutter jello and polka dot noise and blah, blah, blah. And someone else will discover that at 20 frames per second when the raw files are only 12 bit there is a 2% chance of producing artifacts if you exceed the dynamic range of the camera. And I’ll say sure. What else is new? All this is the same as saying no camera is perfect. Tell me something I don’t know. But what I do know now is that Sony has figured out autofocus. The A9 has very good autofocus. Is it better than the Nikon D5 or the Canon 1DX? Will it work perfectly in low light? Don’t know.
What I do know is that Sony mirrorless cameras will have competent AF from now on. I have been waiting for that for about seven years. I absolutely do not need 20 frames per second. I wouldn’t mind good tracking AF and a silent shutter is a big advantage when shooting an occasion. I doubt that I’ll buy the A9 (although my gear lust is sorely tempting me right now). I’ll definitely rent it this summer to calibrate the advantages it provides over my ancient A7S. I want to see what it does in a normally lit house or a dimly lit restaurant. I’d like to compare the 24 megapixel files of the A9 with the A7S 12 megapixel files in very low light. ISO 12,800 is a good setting for astrophotography. Can the A9 make a good Milky Way shot? I’ll try to find out.
So, there it is. Sony has finally crossed the Rubicon. They have proven to me that mirrorless cameras can fully replace the DSLR. I’d expect Canon and Nikon will now produce their own mirrorless lines to compete head to head with the A9. May the best man win. The web sites and magazines (both print and electronic) will expend millions of words “proving” that x, y or z is the top company and all other options will fall by the wayside and end up on the ash heap of history. And who knows? Maybe Sony will stumble and one of its competitors will emerge as king. Completely possible. But that’s a problem for another day. As I said back a few weeks ago, the A9 will determine whether Sony mirrorless cameras can provide a full-frame camera with highly competent autofocus. Based on what I’ve read it does. Congratulations Sony. You’ve succeeded in keeping me aboard. Next stop, my next camera.