Yesterday I got my hands on the new Sony a7R for a review here at Fstoppers, and I was instantly and somewhat begrudgingly a fan of it. It feels great in hand, doesn't lack physical buttons like with other interchangeable lens compacts (ILCs), and it sounds fantastic (the shutter has an absurdly glorious “click” that you can’t help but love). My feelings for the a7R were such that I began to wonder why Canon and Nikon can’t seem to get it right in the ILC market. The answer to making the perfect compact appears so clear, but they don’t seem to have any interest of going this direction.
In discussions regarding the a7R, the Fstoppers staff has been looking at opinions held by other photographers and writers out there. There are articles that herald this camera as the next major step in the death of the DSLR, and though I’m still not sure there is any validity to that claim, I can see where the feelings stem from. The a7R seems like a contender to really shift how people feel about ILCs.
I enjoy that the a7R doesn't feel like a small camera. It holds like a DSLR would. It feels sturdy. I have small hands, so maybe that's why it doesn't feel miniscule. There are dedicated buttons for ISO, aperture, shutter speed and white balance, all things I use regularly and all things I'm glad I don't need to navigate through a menu system to find. The knobs are close together, but nothing feels crammed. I wish there was the ability to quickly switch between auto and manual focus on the lens like you can with a Canon or Nikon, but it's not a deal breaker.
Like I mentioned earlier, that sound of the shutter is glorious. I can't get enough of it, and it might be the most pleasant sounding shutter I can remember since I left film. In many ways, the a7R does things quite well, at least from the aesthetics and handling standpoint.
Sony, and especially Sony and ILC fans, really believe that the a7 and the a7R could be a workhorse pro body like a 5D Mark III or a D800. My first impressions of the a7R are iffy on this subject. There are interface hiccups that I’m not a fan of. The swivel screen almost doesn't make sense to me. I still have to be standing either directly above it or behind it in order to see it. The benefit of the flip out screen, like on Nikon and Canons, is that I can back the camera far into a corner but still use the screen from the side.
I don’t like the placement of the lens release button. I’m not a fan of the AF focus assist LED orange beam that the a7R fires in “low” light (anything below bright daylight really). With that AF beam, the auto focus is pretty swift. Without that AF beam, it quickly degrades to horribly slow. I don’t like the OLED viewfinder.
But these complaints aren’t at all focused on what the camera can do as an image making machine. I don’t think there is any argument that the sensor in the Sony a7R is expected to be pretty fantastic. No one is prepared to argue that point. So it’s either a matter of Sony improving on the things that bother photographers like me, or giving me enough of a reason to look past them for other benefits.
But while I either have to adjust, or Sony does, Canon and Nikon specifically have a leg up in this department, and it’s baffling to me why they haven’t done anything with that advantage.
Canon and Nikon have two distinct industry leg-ups over Sony: Lenses and public consumption of product. Though Sony has a lot of lenses available now, they don’t have the years of experience combining those lenses with camera bodies. Yes, Zeiss has been doing this a long time, but not specifically in a partnership with Sony bodies. That’s a relatively new business venture. Canon and Nikon know how to make their lenses great from a half century of practice, and also to make them as ideal as possible with their bodies. They have years and years of experience at it.
More importantly, however, is the public acceptance and availability of Canon and Nikon in the market. For me, and many like me, moving to a Sony body means forsaking my years of investment in Canon glass. Fellow photographers have shelves of lenses, all meticulously collected over years of hard work and scraping money together. Relinquishing those lenses seems almost foolhardy.
So why aren’t Canon and Nikon playing on that lens attachment? It’s obvious that pros want a small camera that can still give them the quality and experience they are used to in their pro bodies, so why are Canon and Nikon basically forcing us to go to Fuji, Olympus and Sony?
Canon. Nikon. I have one proposition for you: make me an ILC that accepts all the lenses I already have without the need for an adapter. Make it easy. I don’t even care if your first attempt is an APS-C sensor. I just want to see you at least show you understand how we feel. Why did you make me buy a new set of lenses that only work on your small cameras? If I bought an EOS M and four lenses, now I’m stuck with this sub-par body that you don’t seem to plan to improve and lenses that work on it and nothing else. It was basically a money pit. I would care less if that M just accepted EF lenses without that bulky adapter that killed the “compact” part of ILC, because at least then I wouldn’t have a set of lenses collecting dust on my shelf.
For many, Nikon almost got it right with the Df. My friend said something that really resonated with me regarding that design: "it is not hipster if it is nostalgia for the F3 that I actually used, it is hipster if it is nostalgia for the unremembered 80s." If Nikon made a mini APS-C version that accepted his already-owned Nikon lenses, he would basically trip over himself trying to throw his money at them.
Canon. Nikon. You guys can beat Sony at their own game, a game they desperately need to win in order to become relevant/profitable, if you just embrace the parts of your business that make you current industry leaders. Why you seem to ignore your greatest strength has been a source of much irritation for many photographers. The a7R is selling faster than Sony can keep stock. Don’t you want to do that too?