I have been hoping that Nikon would come out with a professional mirrorless camera for a couple of reasons, but the two big ones are the mirrorless cameras are smaller/lighter and the sensor is easier to access for cleaning. Alas, they have not moved in that direction so I test drove the Sony ICLE 7R a while ago (see those comments here) and then recently I acquired one. The acquistion forced me to explore some new things in order bring the capability of the ICLE 7R up to that of my D800.
Quick Release for my Arca Swiss Tripod Head: Not only do I want to mount the camera on a tripod quickly, but I want an L bracket so I can effectively do panoramics. Fortunately, there is an excellent solution at Really Right Stuff with the BA7-L Set: L-plate for A7/A7R/A7S. This L-bracket allows you to change the battery and to remove/add the L portion as needed. The L-portion can also be moved away from the body so you can plug cables into the side. It is very well designed and solid.
Wireless release and intervalometer: I really do not like IR or optical release tools because in bright light or absence of a direct line of sight, they don’t work very well. This forces me into a RF type of tool. After lots of searching, I found a wonderfully effective tool in the Vello Wireless ShutterBoss Timer Remote (Sony Alpha Connection (RCW-S1). You will also need a special cable (Vello 2.5mm Remote Shutter Release Cable for select Sony Camera with Multi-Terminal). This is an RF based shutter release tool that also has an excellent intervalometer.
Time lapse photography at night (or hunting for shooting stars): If I set my camera in manual mode, shutter speed to bulb, I can adjust the duration of the exposure, the time between exposures and the number of exposures from 2-99 or infinite….. til the battery dies). The image below was one of about 225, 23 second exposures and I estimate with a full battery one could get about 300 exposures. If you click on the picture below you can see a high resolution image. The stars are not as sharp as I would like, but I made an exposure duration error relative to the focal length.
HDR and Focus Stacking: One of my disappointments with the ICLE 7R is the rigid system for do HDR: Your choices are 0.3EV x 3 images, 0.5EV x 5 images, 0.5EV x 3 images, 0.5EV x 5 images, 0.7EV x 3 images, 0.7EV x 5 images, 1.0EV x 3 images, 2.0EV x 3 images, 3.0EV x 3 images. I tend to default to either 1 or 2EV with 3 images, with the Drive Mode set to bracketing S and I use the Vello Wireless system to minimize physical contact with the camera.
With the focus set to manual and the camera set to manual at a fixed ISO, I was able to a series of 5 focal planes with a -2, 0, +2 EV for HDR at each focal plane. The picture below is the result and you can click on the picture to get a higher resolution image.
Support for flash: I personally believe this is one of the weaker areas for Sony, in part because third party support is missing (more on that later). I read the reviews of the Sony flashes and looked at them, but can not develop much enthusiasm for them because there is not a RF off camera system available, or they are huge compared to the camera or they have have over heating problems (HVL-F60M). Another issue is the mix of hotshots: Sony/Minolta flash mount and the a7R ISO type of hotshot. When I have asked about adaptors, I have been advised of reliability issues. UGH.
But I have found two partial solutions. The i40 Nissan compact flash works very nicely as a bounce flash in smaller spaces and so far it seems to work pretty well. The picture below was taken with the i40 flash bounced over my left shoulder. I have actually submitted this picture to the North Central PPA photography competition.
For off camera flash, I have discovered that I can use some older Pocketwizard Plus and Plus II triggers linked to my Nikon SB800 and SB900 strobes. I suspect that I can also link this way to my studio lights. There are a couple of caveats: I have to manually adjust the output of the strobe at the strobe and you need the correct cables (something else to keep track of). Why Sony has not directly addressed this issue for such a great camera is beyond me.
April 6, 2015 update to off camera lighting: I have now used my SB 800 strobes attached to Pocketwizard FlexTT5 with Pocketwizard Plus III on my camera. I use the C2 channel for this capability, but under the ‘Misc’ tab, the FlexTT5 needs to be set to ‘Basic Trigger’. The downside of this solution is I have to manually adjust the flash output.
Other issues: These are things that I have noticed in general use.
1. Battery life is not very good, but they are small and you can carry several with you.
2. Autofocus speed tends to be very slow and it will not focus in lower light conditions. But it is possible to switch very quickly to manual focus with the AF/MF button and using focus peaking. I probably would not use the a7R as a wedding photography camera.
3. Start times whether from a turn on or wake up from sleep seems to take a long time.
Conclusion: I love the size, weight and image quality of the a7R and in my opinion the image quality is as good as my D800 and the size/weight is superior. Hopefully Sony will address some of the deficiencies in the next generation of body.