Yes! Finally the time has come to replace my Leica M8.2 with a more updated camera. Knowing that there are plenty of options out there in the camera world I first started browsing forums for the latest and greatest camera body which would allow me to still used my legacy manual focus Leica lenses. I was looking for something compact, cheap-ish and most importantly and upgrade in sensor size. One of the main problems with my M8.2 was that every shutter actuation felt so precious to me ( kind of like every click depreciated my camera by 1/1000ths of its value ) and also although its mighty kodak CCD sensor delivered the goods in terms of color tone its lack of low light performance was a real killer especially when using slower lenses like my ultra wide angle Voigtlander 15mm Heliar. Any hint of sunset would be a game over for my M8.2, I felt like I was pushing it hard even when shooting at a lowly 1250 ISO ( which is chicken scratch in today's standards ).
I had scoured the interwebz for camera review videos all the way from Digitalrev to Steve Huff looking for an ideal candidate. The top priority would be Leica M glass compatibility and large / low light capable sensor. Although the choices were quite slim I had settled with the Sony A7, Olympus OM-D EM-5 and the Fuji X-T1 all heavy hitters of the mirrorless family. It's no question that the Sony A7 was my choice and my next task was to find a cheap second hand model to use as my main shooter so off to Fred Miranda gear for sale forums I went! 3 days later it finally arrived in my mail box and I couldn't wait to test it out.
My First Impressions:
Wow! This camera is super compact. I mean compared to my M8.2 which is already considered small to some pro grade D-SLRS it seemed to fit in my palm very easily with a really nice rubber grip for single handed shots. I felt pretty confident shooting with a single arm even when I was tilting the camera for portrait orientations.
This camera has tons of settings and buttons. Everything down to the rotating dials and buttons can be a customized to your liking which was perfect for me since I wanted all the necessary manual focus aids ( focus peaking buttton, focus peaking color, focus peaking intensity, zoom magnifiying button, automatic illumating electronic viewfinder etc.. ) could be set up to access at a fingers notice. Coincidentally I also customized the main dial for shutter speed just like how it is on my Leica. Already the sony feels at home.
Even though this camera would be my first digital full frame one it completely blew me away with its low light performance and sharpness / resolution. Where my Leica would reach its limit at ISO 1250 the sony would be at a similar level at ISO 5000 and I wouldn't feel like I have to keep the ISO at a max of 640 to get useable results. The slight grain you do encounter at ISO 5000 and up is controlled and minimal much like real film grain from an monochrome ilford 800. I know thats not for everyone especially pixel peepers but I just love it especially on a good contrast black and white photo.
Build quality is pretty good but far from a Leica M body. The body is all magnesium alloy with a fair amount of dense plastic and rubber pieces for the memory card and battery door compartments. It reminds me of my old film Canon AE-1 to the touch without the substantial weight and density. Also I read on forums where many people were concerned about brassing ( a patina showing the sub material under the finish of the body ) on the outer edges of the camera from typically handling as well as abrasions from harder camera straps but that wouldn't stop me from using the Sony as it was intended to. Patina or brassing certainly wouldn't bother me as I see it in a mentality where these markings would create character in the camera possibly leaving its mark due to the many adventures it's come across during its use. But what happens if that lowers its resale value? The less I have to focus on depreciation the more I can put focus into composing a great picture. That in itself would already make up the value it would have potentially lost. Just my 2 cents.
Compatibility for M Lens Users:
It's the question everyone who was on the Leica boat is asking. How are M lens on the A7? Good and bad depending on your criteria. As most of you know the Leica Rangefinder lenses were best adapted for the Leica M body.
Here's the bad: Nay-sayers will debate endlessly that adapters will always be flawed and that no matter how precise or accurate the tolerances can be it'll never be better than a native application. My stand on this is....Yea it can be true to some extend. I've had lots of trouble finding an adapter that would work 100% between M lens and E mount body. I tried a cheapo "fl-ebay" adapter, 2 novoflex adapters and a metabones one; all with the same problem. It doesn't ever hardstop at infinity. Ever. They all rotate way past infinity that the lens will hardstop and you'll be left with a blurry foreground. Not fun or ideal. On top of the infinity focus issues my fl-ebay adapter decided to unscrew itself gradually leaving my 50 summilux lens wobbling in and out of the metal mount which was no doubt extremely scary.
Then the good: the Sony's sensor really shines when matched to Leica lenses. Infinity focus aside when you spot focus let's say for example a 35mm cron or 50mm lux the subject is crisp and sharp while the background melts away in a sea of creamy bokeh. Personally I love the color tone from the Sony. Even shooting in JPEG mode the color is punchy yet natural ( Yes, more aggressive color than the Leica M8.2 but that is said to be more toned down and soft ). With the focus peaking and EVF magnification on hand it's really a dream combo for full frame manual focus lens shooters. I'm currently settling on the Novoflex adapter as the build quality is on par with my Leica lens but it's quite unfortunate that it just overshoots at infinity focus. I would recommend this if $269 is within your budget if not the metabones will do just fine at $89 but beware of tight fitment issues as some users have mentioned. I didn't want to take the chance of a stuck adapter on my lens so Novoflex it is!
Now let's see some sample images! The following are all shot with the novoflex adapter and the leica summilux 50mm asph lens.
I'm still getting used to this combo but for starters it's very easy to transit to as manual focusing is a real breeze with all the on board camera aids. All photos are shot straight out of camera in JPEG mode without any post processing. Sony RAW files are .ARG which is a new format for me but nothing the latest Adobe Lightroom 5 can't handle. I originally opted for the A7 instead of the A7r because of the 24.3 MP files opposed to the monsterous 36.4 MP files from the A7r, it's just more manageable and also more than enough sharpness/ resolution for what I need it for. I'll be doing an indepth test with the Voigtlander Heliar Super Wide in the next round of equipment reviews. Stay Tuned!