Friday, March 13, 2015

First outing with the Sony A7 II and the Zeiss 55 f/1.8

I traveled on a one-day trip to Alexandria with a few of my close friends, and it was the perfect chance to get familiar with the new A7 Mark II and the Zeiss FE 55 f/1.8.

You can consider this post as a quick hands-on post on the A7II + Zeiss 55 combo. A first in a series of posts to cover all my impressions on the A7II specifically, and a few lenses along the way.


  • The very first time I took the A7II out of its box, it felt substantially heavier and larger than my E-M1, which is already the largest MFT camera I owned. I read opinions on forums making fun of  people complaining of a 150 grams difference in weight. Believe me, it makes a noticeable difference. Otherwise, mobile phone manufacturers wouldn't have competed in making their phones lighter and thinner by mere grams and millimeters. It is certainly noticeable and it makes a difference in the overall experience. That's not saying that the A7II is a beast of a camera, on the contrary, it is a feat in engineering for what it is and what it does. But when you start adding lenses which are usually heavier than their smaller sensor counterparts, things get large and heavy quickly.
  • On the weight and size issue, the Zeiss 55 1.8 is delightfully compact and light for what it offers in terms of weather proofing, relatively fast aperture, Sonnar design and Otus-like image quality.
  • I am happy to see the lens shipped with a soft case and a lens hood.
  • The A7II top plate looks ... ugly, for the lack of a less offensive word. The E-M1 and E-M5 top plates are much more elegant looking.
  • The A7II buttons and dials are the best I have seen in any camera. I have FOUR dials/wheels to directly control: aperture, shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation.
  • On the other hand, there is no way to directly move the focus point to where I want using the directional pad (shame on you Sony, even the E-PL5 can do that). Oh, and it took me a few days to figure out how to change the focus point location by pressing a button first then using the directional pad. Turns out I had to change the center button function to "Standard". As if I could read the genius' mind who designed this shortcut and understand that "Standard" enabled that function.
  • Having 4 extra customizable buttons (after having 4 dials to control main shooting functions) is a great idea. More than I need.
  • Focus speed on the Zeiss is very reasonable. I did not do direct comparison with my E-M1, but it feels as-good-as.
  • Shutter sound is very acceptable, and sounds very close to the E-PL5's shutter.
  • IBIS works really well for both stills and video. I can produce very steady video like I can do with the E-M1. I didn't try moving with the camera in video mode though, where the E-M1 might have an advantage.
  • The menus are the worst I have ever seen (RX100 was very bad as well). I wonder why people keep on bashing the Olympus menus. Olympus' are sorted more logically. And the manual is completely useless. I had to buy Gary Friedman's books to just be able to setup my A7II and understand all the possible functions and options.
  • Sensor image quality is very good. It provides great dynamic range and tonality. But my usual Olympus RAW workflow on Lightroom doesn't work as good on the Sony files. They require different exposure and processing techniques, but I am getting the hang of it.
  • Noise (in RAW files) is very well controlled and very clean up to ISO 1600. Beyond that, the Sony ISO 3200 and 6400 has the same noise levels as the E-M1 sensor (@ 100% magnification for both files, pixel to pixel), which was a surprise for me. I remember mentioning before that the E-M5 had similar performance noise at ISO 3200 as my 5D Mark II. For some reason, the noise reduction in lightroom doesn't work as good on the Sony files as it does on the Olympus files.

If you have been following my posts closely, you'd know I said before that if Sony made an RX1-like camera with a fast 50mm, I would buy that camera (and a TTL flash) and sell everything else. That's how much I love the look of a fast 50mm on a full frame sensor. I can make it look wide, or I can make it look like a telephoto. I can use it to take group shots, or I can use it to take head shots. It is that flexible.

Now let me show you a few of my favorite pictures taken during this trip. You will notice that the images have a film-like tonality, and not as digital looking as usual. This will be a topic for another post.

This is the sailor who took us on a nice sunset trip around the shores of Alexandria

This is the closest I ever got to a Ferrari. This is the 458 Italia, a very handsome looking thing.

The prancing horse.

A tasty pancake with dairy cream and honey.

The most notable issue that faced me that day are a couple of huge spots on the sensor on the upper right corner. As I stopped down the aperture, I can immediately see in my EVF the spots getting more in focus. It annoyed me as it ruined a few landscape shots because one of the spots was a large dark round circle that got in the middle of the sky/clouds, and was difficult to remove in post. These spots scared me for a bit since I never had any spots on all of my previous cameras except for a few small ones on the 5D2 that didn't appear until f/16. Fortunately enough, it only took a few blows using the Giottos rocket blower to dislodge the spots.

And finally, here is a picture of me taking a photo with the Sony combo, taken with my brother's 60D.


Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Review
Canon 5D Mark II: First Impressions
Story & Review Canon 5D Mark II vs Canon 60D & Canon 6D
That's Why I Love My Canon 5D
A Tribute To The 5D Mark III

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