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The Sony A7r MKII from a Leica M Photographers POV

The Sony A7r MKII from a Leica M Photographers POV

From a Leica purist point of view, it may not seem entirely kosher that I've been toying around with a Sony A7r MKII for the last two months. I mean, how could I stick a Leica 50mm f/1.2 Noctilux onto a Sony? To be honest, I didn't think I was going to use the Sony A7r for this long. I only started, because I needed to test Leica lenses at higher resolution, and also because I wanted to test the Techart autofocus adapter.

In doing these tests, something dawned on me. The focusing aids of the Sony A7r MKII are much better than Leica's rangefinder manual focusing process. As a result, I decided to take a break from my Leica M-bodies to see if I thought the Sony could ever replace my most beloved Leica M-bodies

Improved focusing aids enabled me to get this shot, under the bad light of the Uptown Express Train towards Astoria. Leica 50mm f/1.2 Summilux. ISO 2,500, f/2.8

Before I continue, I have to first disclose that I am not a Sony A7 expert. I've only started to use it for the least two months. This may seem to disqualify my opinion on the A7, and to a large extent, it does. But what I can offer is a review from the perspective of a Leica M photographer. There are traits of the Sony A7 that are relevant to a Leica M photographer, and there are traits that aren't relevant at all.

But first, let's get real and point out why a Leica M photographer would even consider the Sony A7r MKII. It's because of:
1. The price - which is more affordable than a digital Leica M-Body
2. The higher resolution, which is why I bought it, in the first place
3. It's compatibility with an adapter to Leica M-mount lenses.
Beyond that, it's a question of whether the benefits of using a Sony A7r MKII is significantly better than a Leica M-body camera.

Immediately coming to mind, the Sony focusing aids are clearly better. Although the Leica M240 and M246 has live view with focus peaking and magnification - on the rear LCD or on an external EVF, the Sony rear LCD and EVF is much MUCH MUCH better, faster, and more responsive. And when you compare the rangefinder focusing process to the Sony EVF focusing process, there is no comparison. The Sony is just better. End of discussion.

The Sony A7r MKII also has noticeably better high ISO. With the Leica M240, the image files begin to deteriorate at ISO 3200 in poor lighting. By comparison, the Sony A7r MKII image files are still usable at ISO 12,500. Although to be fair to Leica, the M246 Monochrome has relatively clean files at ISO 12,500. However, you lose color in the process.

More subway shots. The lighting conditions of the Uptown Express train isn't exactly optimal. However, the Sony A7r MKII still performed relatively well. Needless to say, I would never be able to get such clean files with a Leica M240 or M9, under the same light conditions.

The only thing worse than the lighting on the Express Train is the Local Train. I do not understand that ghastly greenish tinge inside the subway car. Thankfully, the Sony A7r MKII's better white balance made it easy to fix in post. A Leica M240 or M9 would not get this shot.

A final shot taken on the Uptown Express Train to Astoria Queens. Again, a Leica M240 or M9 would never get this shot.

The Sony A7r MKII also appear to have significantly better dynamic range than the Leica M240. In relying on the Auto ISO, I sometimes miss exposure by as much as two stops, because of strong backlighting. But because of the A7r's dynamic range, I can usually save those files in post, on Lightroom.

For discreet shooting, the A7r MKII has a silent shooting mode. This may very well be one of the best function for street photographers, given that it doesn't give any audio signal when the shutter is depressed. So if you are shy, or reluctant to invite altercation from your street subjects, this function might be for you.

The auto ISO accidentally metered incorrectly by two stops over. The dynamic range on the Sony A7r MKII was generous enough for the overexposed details to be saved in Lightroom. Plus in silent shooting mode, the subject didn't notice I was just a couple of feet from her, with a wide 28mm lens.

The auto ISO accidentally metered incorrectly by two stops under. The dynamic range on the Sony A7r MKII was generous enough for the under exposed details to be saved in Lightroom.

This shot wasn't metered incorrectly. However, lifting the details of the subjects inner-wear underneath her transparent top, in relatively low outdoor daytime light, was facilitated by the Sony sensor's generous dynamic range.

From the benefits that I have already outlined, you would think that the Sony A7r MKII is a slam dunk no-brainer replacement for a Leica. However, there are handling characteristics about the A7r that mitigates any advantages it has over the Leica M-body cameras.

To be fair, I assume that the Sony A7 series of cameras were not designed as a Leica M body substitute. Adapting Leica lenses onto the Sony is an afterthought, only because it's shallow flange makes it possible. Even so, I can only assess the A7r from the point of view of a Leica M body substitute.

From that viewpoint, I really dislike not having a dedicated shutter speed dial, where I can visually confirm the shutter speed. By comparison, I don't know why the exposure compensation button is so prominent. I can only guess that Sony designed the Sony A7 with the belief that it would be shot mostly in program mode, where exposure compensation would come in handy.

I also really dislike the learning curve I had to undergo to figure out how I wanted to customize my A7r MKII. In truth, I shouldn't complain about it, but it took some time and much lost opportunities to really know how best to optimize my shooting experience. 

As for the silent shutter option, I'm disappointed that you cannot do continuous burst while in that mode. Furthermore, I'm even more disappointed that you cannot pan while in silent mode, because it causes the image sensor to distort the image. And last, I cannot understand why there isn't any tactile feedback while on silent shooting mode. I mean, you have absolutely no way by feel of knowing whether you actually depressed onto the shutter to get the shot or not.

Distortion from panning the camera too quickly while shooting. Notice the vertical S curve on the door.

Plus, the A7 series of camera are not weather sealed. If I go to Sea World (which you really shouldn't), and Shamu does a triple back flip dive that splashes gallons of sea water all over your A7r MKII, it's not going to survive the soaking. Although I haven't actually tested a whale induced splash test with an A7r MKII - given that my perspective towards whales in captivity is no longer the same - #Blackfish - I have had the misfortune of doing an unscheduled splash test with a Canon 6D and a Leica M240. Needless to say, the Leica survived and kept on shooting, while the Canon needed two days to dry out before the electronics started to work again.

Thing is weather sealing is important to me. I go to Niseko, Japan for the ski season, and I truly wonder if the A7r MKII would survive a blizzard, or perform optimally in subzero conditions. I know that the Leica would, because I've brought it up a mountain before, and it kept on shooting, even with snow crusting all over it's top plate and dials. The only thing else as reliable in a blizzard are the Canon 1D's and Nikon D4's and D5's, and trust me, you don't want to lug those behemoths up a mountain - especially if you're hiking up it. 

But that focusing aid on the Sony is so much better than a Leica M body camera. I can't deny it. And so is the high ISO, and the dynamic range. The Sony is really such a good camera, that even a Leica purist can't feign some measure of recognition. I suppose there are some Leica shooters that would never pick up a Sony, thinking that it would be some kind of a slight or downgrade. Thing is, it isn't a downgrade at all. It makes you rethink the rationale of a rangefinder in the 21st century. And believe it really did.

Besides, it's not as if the Sony can't zone focus like a Leica. It's just as brilliant, especially with Leica glass.

Zone focused with the ample sunshine giving me depth of field. So I can click and forget.

Zone focusing with the Sony is just as quick and discreet as the Leica M bodies. With the 28mm Summilux, I was only four feet from the foreground subject.

With the subject running towards me at full chat, I was able to capture her with relative ease, zone focusing on the Sony.

Holding the A7r MKII still, and in silent shooting mode, the Sony is a very discreet camera when zone focusing.

With the flippy rear LCD screen, composition of subjects in low angle is much easier to deal with, especially while zone focusing.

Honestly, the Sony feels better in hand than the Leica, when zone focusing. It feels more balanced with a better hand feel. Just wished that people didn't look at their phones while they're walking. Would've like some more eye contact...

People really look at their phones way too much. But in the case of this subject, I suppose she's looking up? But that's because I'm directly in front of her, and she doesn't want to bump into me.

Finally, eye contact. But still clutching onto her phone. The Sony may be just too discreet for street photography - if there is really such a distinction.

I had a wonderful time shooting Leica glass on the Sony A7r MKII. Please note that not all Sony A7's are made the same. The menu functions of the A7 MKII and A7s MKII are slightly different. And I have no idea what the MKI versions are like. With that said, it is likely that all Sony A7 series cameras will give you a good shooting experience. It's really all about the ability to adapt good Leica glass onto a more affordable camera body with a more forgiving sensor.


The Leica SL - Low Light Review - Part 1

The Leica SL - Low Light Review - Part 1

LEGENDARY: Leica 50mm f/1.2 Noctilux Double Aspherical

LEGENDARY: Leica 50mm f/1.2 Noctilux Double Aspherical