Sony A7R Mark II, Sigma 24-35/2 and wedding photography
The Sony A7R mark II (A7RM2) has been one of the most hyped cameras of recent times. Much more attention has been given to this than any of the previous Sony Mirrorless cameras. Some of the headline features are 399 phase detect points covering more of the frame than ANY previous camera. In body image stabilisation (IBIS). continuous eye focus. One of the big selling points of this camera for people has been the promise of being able to focus third party lenses (specifically canon) with fast accurate Auto-focus. More on these later of course. I’m not sponsored by sony and am not getting paid for this review so if you want to buy me a bacon roll/cider then feel free to donate at the bottom.
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What this is/isn’t
This article isn’t meant as a full technical review, more of a how does the camera handle after having used it for a few weeks now both for personal shooting, studio shooting, engagement shoots and wedding photography. A little bit about me first. I’ve been a professional photographer for over 10 years and have used A LOT of different cameras. I started with canon and the 300D, and have used pretty much every canon camera since that day. I also started shooting Nikon too when the D3 was released and have since progressed to the D4, D800 and D750 in the nikon line-up for a lot of my work. Of course dSLRS are great tool, but, since Sony released the a7s i’d added this as a low light camera and for video work alongside my Panasonic Gh4. I liked many things about the Sony A7s, so much so that I added the Sony A7M2 to the lineup. This added IBIS and a beefier body into the equation and I’ve shot several weddings with just the A7S and A7M2 before the A7RM2 was announced/released. In fact much of the initial hype around the Sony was it’s ability to focus Canon lenses.. I’ve long since sold off my canon lenses so this ability wasn’t really of interest to me personally, especially is it requires buying an expensive metabones adapter. However the ability to have IBIS and lots of great image quality in one body was of interest as it would mean I could retire my fantastic Nikon D800 (now for sale btw – email me for details )
Can you use the Sony A7RM2 for weddings?
This is the question people want to know the answer to. In fact I’ve had lots of people ask me this prior to this camera when i’ve been shooting with A7S and A7M2 instead of the big heavy dSLR setup. The short answer is yes.. but.. it’s a different way of shooting to dSLRS. There are some benefits and some drawbacks, let me explain.
How’s it handle?
How’s it feel in the hand? how easy is it to change settings? In short this is the best feeling a7 yet. it’s denser, well built and feel great. Sony let you customise all the buttons and all the control dial so you can set it up exactly how you want. It’s worth doing this before you shoot so that all the settings are to hand and going through the menu is a PITA. dSLR makers take note – your cameras should be this customisable!
I often hear people say mirrorless is a great weight saving option, mainly from people coming from d4, 1dx’s and 24-70/70-200/2.8 zooms. And this is true.. but it’s also the case if you moved from 2.8 zooms to 1.8 primes. I made a rough spreadsheet with weights of equivalent type lenses. Often you’ll see the whole system as whole isn’t that much ligher, of course the lighter smaller bodies are a bonus, but they’re not a huge difference from say nikon d750 or canon 6d. So be aware of your choices/reasons for doing this. You can see my camera weights spreadsheet here.
Focus… it’s all about focus
When you’re shooting with a dSLR then you have lots of AF points clustered around the centre of the frame. Even the best dSLRs don’t have great coverage away from the centre, and if you’re wanting to focus on the face you have a couple of options. Move the AF point around or use centre point focus and recompose. Now personally I’ve used so many cameras now and without fail the centre point on ALL dSLR cameras is the best one. no matter how good the off centre ones.. the centre one is ALWAYS best. for example on most recent canon/nikon ones the centre point will work down to f/8 and ONLY the centre point. Plus before 51 af points were available the spread of af points meant that it was tricky to align the af point over the subjects eye. So I find focus-recompose to be generally the best/fastest way of working in most situations as moving the AF point around no matter how fast is a pain in fast moving situations.
Viva la difference – embrace technology – Eye AF, silent shutter
One of the things i hear most when people first try the Sony A7RM2 (or any sony a7) is that it’s a pain to move the focus point around. I agree – even when it’s set to say one button press to move af point it’s still not as fast as moving the af point around on say the D4 which you can program to only let you select a subset of the af points. This would be a good addition to the sony via firmware update btw. However in many ways this is trying to use the camera like a dSLR.. it’s not a dSLR so take advantage of the new way. This new way is the Face detection and in particular Eye Autofocus (Eye AF) – this is witchcraft in many ways. First off you can turn on face detection. If you’re feeling clever you can register the faces of your bride and groom so that it will prefer their faces in shots during the day. With face detection on the camera will search for and focus on faces in the scene.. this is genius and means that you largely don’t care where your normal AF point is selected as it will focus on the face. Now if you want to get even cleverer for portraits etc then there is a feature called eye-af by pressing the eye-af button then it will focus on the nearest eye in the face.. this is a superb new feature and you don’t have to worry about moving the point around at all. It works! it’s superb. The A7RM2 adds the ability to track the eye in continous AF mode (I don’t really use this mode very often but it’s worked great when i’ve tested it).
Here’s face detection in action at a wedding. it allows me to just concentrate on framing whilst the camera sorts out the focus.. technology ftw!
Silent shutter is a bonus too! completely silent shutter – as seen on the a7s and also several other mirrorless cameras this is superb when you don’t want to be noticed. There are a couple of caveats with this in that you do lose a little bit of dynamic range (still brilliant though) and under artificial lighting you risk seeing some banding if the lights are pulsing out of sync with the shutter speed. Out of thousands of images I’ve only seen this once inside a teepee with lights running off a generator and only on one image. But it’s worth being aware of.
Autofocus with third party lenses
I have the Sony LA-AE3 adapter which lets me mount sony A mount glass. I currently only have the 85/2.8 SAM lens but this is actually usable on the a7rm2 whereas on the previous a7 cameras it
was comically slow. Here’s an example from the studio showing that it is actually a fabulous lens!
and an example on location from a model photoshoot
and of course from a wedding of a speech in full flow.
Sigma 24-35 on the A7RM2
I was lucky enough to get to try the Sigma 24-35/2 zoom lens (yes a f/2 zoom!) that my friend Chris Giles had on loan from Sigma. I tried this using his metabones iv adapter and i was suprised how quickly it locked focus. Certainly fast enough to be useable and if i had a large stable of modern canon lenses i’d be very happy with the performance. Here’s an example of the 24-35 wide open with a wedding cake and lights behind to see how the bokeh is.
and a dancefloor shot as that would be my primary use for such a lens.
I tried a few canon lenses, 100L, 135L, 24-70/2.8 II, 70-200/4 IS L, 85L, 16-35/4 IS L. All worked pretty good apart from the 135L and the 100L.
How about in low-light – how’s it compare?
So in good light it’s easy to focus as you’d hope. It’s easily up to the job of weddings. In low light it’s performance does drop off, but, then so does dSLR AF performance. Lenses play a big difference in AF performance esp as the light levels drop. One advantage of these cameras is that you can still see through the EVF unlike normal dSLRs where you can sometimes see nothing if it’s too dark. After being familiar with it I’d say it can be tricky to focus in near darkness but in a lot of the situations were dSLRS hold the advantage there are things you can do to bring the A7RM2 focus ability up to similar levels.
- change to centre AF and aim at highest contrast detect
- manual focus
I know manual focus sounds like cheating.. but honestly with focus peaking and ability to magnify the image in screen and it to actually be bright rather than pitch black then manual focus is often faster. In fact for dance floor action manual focus is the way to go anyway even with dSLRs as it’s just very tricky for any AF system to manage. Manual focus with these cameras is a pleasure.
High ISO, long exposures and Image quality
So all this hype about BSI sensors and stuff what does that mean in the real world about image quality? Well it means it’s great. I’d put it as a state of the art sensor. It’s not better than a d810/d800 sensor – but – that’s not a bad thing they were already brilliant. Noise levels are about the same as the class leading Nikon sensors. Given an increase in pixel density this is pretty good especially as it comes with the benefits of silent shutter and 4K video. image quality is superb as the lower ISO’s. Having compared it to the Canon 5dsr I’d put the sony slightly ahead in noise and dynamic range, but, canon have closed the gap with their 5dsr for sure. I’ve not seen any problems in long exposure shots or any artifacts from any shots that indicate sony’s decision to use lossy compressed 12-bit raws has had any real impact for me in the real world (of course if they add the option that’s always welcome for those situations it might affect me). Here’s a ISO6400 image pushed a stop in post (so ISO12800) very usable IMO.
So how do I rate the Sony a7RM2 as a camera for weddings? In short it’s great. It’s probably the most advanced Sony mirrorless camera – super wide AF coverage. great features like eye-af, best build quality, great AF. On it’s own it’s clearly the best Sony yet. a good all round camera, not quite up to the a7s, d4, d750 in the highest iso’s but it’s close especially after downsizing. I’d say the IQ is better than the A7M2 though – but you do have bigger files to content with. single shot AF is similar between these 2 cameras.
I’d recommend this camera for sure. The ability to use auto-iso and fine tune the shutter speed depending on focal length is a welcome addition i hope is added to the other a7 cameras. The only downside i think is that the hype was so much on this camera it can leave people feeling a bit let down. Seen as a camera on it’s own it’s great. The pricing does seem a little high compared to the other A7 offerings and puts it squarely into competing with much more established offerings from Canon and Nikon, so it’s a tough sell if you are already in those systems looking to dip your toe in the mirrorless world. So my advice would be to wait until the price comes down a little bit especially if you don’t NEED one now or aren’t fully committed as you need to invest in some FE lenses to get the best from the AF and eye-af is only available on those lenses. Feel free to leave questions in the comments below and hope you found it useful.
More sample images
Shot in pretty much complete darkness this wire wool engagement photo was great fun and shots that there are no limits on what you can use them for. In fact not carrying a huge dSLR is a bonue 🙂
What could sony improve?
Of course no camera is ever perfect what could sony do to help improve it?
- Improve the buffer/multitasking ability – if you’ve just shot a large burst then you can’t review the images for a few seconds this is annoying and shouldn’t happen on a camera at this price point.
- improve low light af – whilst it’s pretty good – it’s not quite as good as the best dSLRs can offer, there are coping strategies but i’ll always take improvements.
- remove the locking dial on the mode switch.. it’s tensioned enough already and the button means i really need 2 hands to change it.
- add a touch screen to make it easy for people who want to move the point around super quickly.
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Where to buy it from
I got my A7RM2 from the lovely folks at Castle cameras – you can get sony a7rm2.