Just a year ago I was salivating at the prospect of trying the Sony A7r with its full-frame sensor in a tiny body. Since then I’ve used the A7r and found a it delightful camera, one of the best out there at the moment. Yet it is wanting in some respects, including the lack of a really compelling lens lineup. My primary beef, however, is that loud and vibratory shutter. Recently, the A7s with its electronic shutter promised to solve the noise and vibration problem. But this camera, with its incredible ISO performance, is largely aimed at the videographer rather than the stills fan.
Now, a year after the A7 came to the market, we are again enticed by the talents of the A7 II. This development of the base A7, with its 24Mp sensor, promises to be the best all-rounder yet. Not only does the electronic shutter enable silent, vibration-free operation, the new five-axis in-body stabilisation is a great bonus. This is the first time we have seen in-camera stabilisation in a full-frame mirrorless camera (or, for that matter, in an APS-C mirrorless camera). As usual, Sony’s technology has leapfrogged the opposition.
The original A7 and A7r were well suited to the use of legacy manual lenses such as those from Leica. The A7 II will be even better because of that stabilisation and will work well with a wide range of legacy glass, including most Leica M lenses. This means it will be a natural second-body choice for owners of Leica M lenses. And the faster electronic shutter will enable wide-aperture use in all conditions.
Some experienced photographers do have reservations about stabilisation systems, however. My old friend Don Morley points out that we have managed very well without stabilisation in Leicas or Leica lenses for all these years and he suspects there is a trade-off with stabilisation:
I suppose I am not convinced because of the way IS works. Yes, it increases your apparent average success rate but at the cost of losing absolute best definition in any situation where you are not susceptible to camera shake. I remember when Canon first introduce the first stabilised version of the 70-200mm f/2.8L lens, the world’s Canon-using pros soon complained that it was not nearly as sharp as its non-IS predecessor.
It remains to be seen whether Sony’s five-axis system will in any way blunt the sharpness of the world’s best primes. For M-lens owners, however, the big attraction of the A7 range is its ability to work at advertised focal length, unlike when the same lenses are mounted on APS-C or micro four-thirds cameras. What you see is what you get in terms of focal length.
On the other hand, there is certainly a good argument for using full-frame lenses on a cropped sensor because the crop can be turned to advantage. You get a choice of focal lengths from any optic, potentially doubling the usefulness of the lenses in your bag. Despite this perceived advantage, however, there is no gainsaying the satisfaction of being able to use Leica, Voigtländer or Zeiss M-mount lenses at their full-frame focal lengths.
My sole reservation about the A7 system is the paucity of good native lenses and the absence of really fast primes. Fuji has shown the way by acknowledging the importance of concentration on lenses. Sony, on the other hand, tends to spend more time on the camera technology with the lenses playing second fiddle. With luck, though, this will change. If Sony can really develop the A7 system, as Fuji has done with the X-Series, they could have a real winner on their hands.