“The Reluctant Tourist” – I’ll elaborate on my chosen title for this post later but for now at least let me say it’s great to be back home and enjoying the remainder of our Kiwi summer. Before I dive head first into this post and my first mpressions of the Sony A7r I’d just like to do a little housekeeping and update you on a few recent posts.
Goodbye iMac……Hello iMac - You’ll recall that prior to my departure I had experienced some issues with my iMac, whilst the replacement was ready on my return home the migration of data hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. Whilst everything is intact it’s currently taking close to three minutes to start up, clearly all is not well……. Needless to say it’s booked in again.
Sony A7R - The camera arrived on the day I departed, with hindsight I almost wish it hadn’t. It served only to distract me, the temptation was always there to use it and in truth it cost me several images. That said if I hadn’t ordered it I would no doubt have tried my best to buy it en-route and the outcome would have been much the same. Rather than writing a separate post on the camera I’ve included my thoughts throughout.
Decision Time……. – Packing a camera bag can be more difficult than it sounds and I certainly make it more difficult than it needs to be. Reflecting on the decisions I made and with the benefit of hindsight I’d do a couple of things differently. A very quick overview below.
- Leica M Monochrom was the correct decision, it remains my favorite digital camera.
- Leica M6 was also the right decision, whilst I only shot 5 rolls of colour film due to the arrival of the Sony A7R its a camera I’m comfortable with. I have no film developed yet, I’ll share the images if they merit it.
- 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 Asph – Great lens, still the best bargain fast 50 in my opinion. I never regretted taking it.
- 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk II – Optically it’s excellent but it’s big and heavy, I allowed my curiosity to make the decision for me, the correct decision would have been either the v.1 Summicron based on size, weight and performance.
- 21mm Voigtlander Ultron f/1.8 – Same as the above, these are not lenses to carry around for 7 weeks, the correct choice for a wide was the tiny 15mm f/4.5.
- 90mm Summicron f/2 – I wanted this lens with me on more occasions than I used the 21/1.8, this should have been in my bag and it could quite easily have been if I’d chosen more carefully.
- Another success was the Wotancraft City Explorer – Scout I used. 7 weeks traveling around the world and the bag looks as good as new. I’ve got an exciting announcement regarding Wotancraft coming up, stay tuned.
As mentioned above I also had the Sony A7R with me, that said I didn’t choose to take it, I just couldn’t leave it behind……..
A little background -
When this trip was first planned over a year ago it was all about returning to the UK to visit family and friends, it grew slowly into something of an educational/life experience for the children as we began to add more stopovers, after all the flights cost the same. In the end we’d be away for something like 52 days.
Back then I was excited at the prospect of selfishly photographing the places we’d visit but when I thought about that prospect, really thought about it I soon realised it would never be about photographs, it had to be about enjoying the experience as a family. I made my mind up back then that whilst I would take my gear I would not pursue images at the expense of anything we were doing or planned to do, it’s all too easy for me to forget other things when the camera is in my hands and I simply would not let that happen. It was difficult at times, the best photographs I saw are not visible here, they are and always will be resigned to my memory, it’s incredibly difficult to see a scene unfold and choose to ignore it, but it was necessary. There was a time when I would have found that to be quite torturous but I’ve learnt to console myself with the fact that I at least saw those “ghost” photographs, surely this is better than seeing nothing?
The previous paragraph sounds a little gloomy when I read it back but it’s pertinent to the photographs I took and the ones I didn’t, to exclude it would be to only tell half the story. What I should add to this background information is that I’m fortunate enough to have a loving wife that has grown to understand the sometimes irrational thought processes of a photography nut, one prepared to give me the time to pursue those images alone and at my leisure and in doing so remove the associated frustrations that arise when hobby and family collide.
Setting all of the above aside we had a great time, we spent valuable moments with family and friends, I took more photographs of the children than I have in a very long time and we returned safely, successful in every way that matters. I’ve included a couple of images of family in this post but I’ve decided to take the unusual step of keeping my favorite ones to myself, I’m sure nobody will begrudge me that.
Now the trip!!
Taken in the departure lounge at Auckland International Airport, a few hours after the camera arrived and well I just can’t resist the urge to play with it. Out of camera JPG with some very minor tweaks in LR5. My first experience with EVF and Focus Peaking on any camera, looking at the LCD I was delighted with the results, only later when I really scrutinised the image on the LCD would I see that I’d just not quite nailed the focus on the eye. Of the half a dozen shots taken this was the closest I’d got to a useable image.
The Streets of San Francisco, briefly…….
Putting my initial airport shots down to my poor technique I was still keen to use the A7R for obvious reasons, however I continued to find it tricky to nail focus quickly using only the EVF. I found it no easier with Focus Peaking, I’d have it on one minute and off the next, ultimately I found it to be a distraction especially shooting fast lenses wide open, although I intend to try again at some point. There is of course the option to magnify focus on the A7R and whilst this eliminates focusing issues it introduces another rather large one, namely the small but significant increase in time it takes to capture the image. The upshot is that even now I can focus my rangefinders more quickly than I can the A7R using M Mount lenses with manual focusing.
Sony A7R – 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk II B&W conversion in SE Pro 2 from JPGOn a positive note, I’m pleased with the B&W conversion from Sony A7R JPG, the blacks a deep and rich, as they should be. Feeling just a little deflated and frustrated at this stage I decided to rest the Sony A7R and revert to something I’m more familiar with, my M Monochrom.
Leica M Monochrom – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 ApshLeica M Monochrom – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 ApshLeica M Monochrom – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 ApshLeica M Monochrom – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 ApshLeica M Monochrom – 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk IILeica M Monochrom – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 ApshLeica M Monochrom – 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk IILeica M Monochrom – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 Apsh
What would be one of a handful of occasions when I’d find myself alone for a brief time. All of the above shots were taken in an hour, in the area around North Beach, this is a fascinating place and it allowed me to reintroduce people in to my photography once again. Despite the fact that I always interact with individuals when I’m out photographing over the past year I’d purposefully all but eliminated the human element from my photography.
As I recall I’d certainly lost a little of my self confidence using the Sony A7R in that first week and I absolutely needed to push myself to use it, even the kids noticed it was taking me longer to focus………… I drew on my experience with the Leica M Monochrom and recalled the frustrations and dismay I felt when I first used it, different reasons but similar feelings.
Sony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 AsphAnother JPG from the Sony A7R, more in line with my taste and certainly among the more appealing files I’ve seen straight out of any camera I’ve owned, that said I still felt the need to tweak it slightly. There are doughnuts in the bag, hence the smiles…..
The Big Apple
We clocked up some serious walking and sightseeing in New York city, I think I may even have lost a little weight in NY!!! I needn’t have worried I’d more than make up for it in the UK…….. It was enjoyable revisiting this great city, it had been almost 15 years since my last visit. It was necessary to visit the tourist hotspots and landmarks but alas I am a reluctant tourist, I just want the places to myself, is that too much to ask!!
Sony A7R – 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk II JPEG, out of camera, no adjustments.I’ve resisted the urge to tweak anything on the image above, the light around Ground Zero is exactly as I recall it on that afternoon. Sony have done a great job with the JPG’s and seeing these gave me a bit of a lift when I needed it.
Ghost Bikes - poignant reminders of the fragility of life and the dangers faced by cyclists on the road.
Sony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 AsphSony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 AsphSony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 AsphSony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 AsphSony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 AsphSony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 AsphSony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 AsphSony A7R – 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk II
In Hell’s Kitchen en-route to satisfy a long standing desire!! Yes, I eventually managed to visit B&H Photo and man was it worth the wait. Is there a bigger and more well equipped camera store anywhere else in the world? I don’t know, what I do know is I would happily have stayed and payed rent!
At the time of my visit the Sony A7R was not on general release in the US and I was happy to chat about my early experiences with the staff and indeed allow them to try the camera out for themselves. I took the opportunity to pick up a spare battery whilst I was there, initially I’d considered the Battery Grip but ruled this out due to it’s size. I also checked on the stock of the Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA and was pleased to hear it was in stock. I decided to sleep on it for a couple of days, having an auto-focus option was in my rationale for getting the Sony A7R but I had intended to “wait and see” how Sony’s lens road-map panned out before committing myself.
Two days later and I was back in store and ready to buy the lens, for those who’ve not had the B&H Photo buying experience it’s a little unusual, it’s a three stage process. Goods are despatched from the sales persons position to a collection point by means of a conveyor system that moves securely through the store. You proceed to a checkout and then finally on to the collection point for your goods before exiting the store. As I knew exactly what I wanted and was in a mad rush to catch a ferry there was no need to view the goods prior to purchase, I merely advised on my requirements and made my way to the checkout and paid. At this point the sales person that had served me appeared to say he’d made an error and sent down the wrong lens!! I’d just bought myself the 35/2.8 ZM……… No problem he said, go to another desk, get a refund then go back upstairs to do the transaction once more, not music to my ears as time ticked by. Ten minutes later I was back at the sales desk being advised that the Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA was now out of stock, more than a little frustrating but a genuine mistake on the part of the sales guy who was pretty annoyed with himself and very apologetic.
Things didn’t get any better when my credit card statement arrived, the purchase was calculated at one rate of exchange, the refund another, net result being I’m $80.00 down through no fault of my own. Fortunately B&H Photo have a great reputation for customer service and whilst the first person I emailed didn’t seem to see an issue with what had happened his supervisor expedited the refund in good time.
As for the Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA, well I still wanted it so I’d have to resort to my backup plan, where there’s a will there’s a way.
Image taken in Greenwhich Village, usually when teenage daughters and there mothers decide to shop it’s bad news, on this occasion we made our way towards Soho and just happened upon the Leica Store, I had a good chat with a friendly member of staff and have to say they had the best selection of new and used Leica’s I’ve seen, worth a visit.
Sony A7R – 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk IISony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 AsphLeica M Monochrom – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 ApshThis chap is certainly a dedicated follower of fashion, Grand Central Station, a great place to people watch but unfortunately photographers almost outnumber commuters!
Sony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 AsphSony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 AsphYou get the feeling that if you walked the streets of New York for long enough you’d see most everything eventually, it’s not a place to photograph in a fleeting visit, it’s a vocation. I think around this point I was beginning to dwell less on my focusing technique (it had improved a bit) and more on the positives from the camera.
Just before I left NY I resorted to ebay to get my hands on the Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA, as it transpired it was cheaper than buying it in the US and getting it delivered to the UK seemed like a good option.
The Old Country
Sony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 AsphNasir Hamid in Oxford, I managed to grab an hour with Nasir on route to Sheffield and in his lunch break. If your not already familiar with his photography you can check out his Simply Oxford website here - www.simplyoxford.com
This was a thoroughly enjoyable hour, Nasir is a great and genuine guy with an infectious passion for film, cameras and photography. He was kind enough to give me a real insight in to what he does and how he achieves such great results. Now Nasir being the kind of guy he is wanted to get a couple of portraits of me and despite the fact that I’m generally reluctant to appear on that side of the camera I was happy to oblige. Wielding his beautiful Rolleiflex Automat 3.5 and Mamiya Universal, the images he took can be seen on his Flickr - HERE
Of course me being the kind of guy I am I opted for the Sony A7R when returning the favour…….. we were sure to check the focus accuracy afterwards as I’d already explained my focusing issues with him, fortunately I’d not embarrassed myself.
Sony A7R – 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk IISony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 AsphLeica M Monochrom – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 ApshSony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 AsphAnother JPG straight from the camera, ISO 640.
A Taste of Sheffield
Sheffield, the city of my birth and my home for most of my life has changed much in the 5 years since we departed, positive change is everywhere, funny then that when I photographed it I was subconsciously drawn to scenes that show it as a rather depressing place, something it most certainly isn’t.
Sony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 AsphThe former Grosvenor House Hotel, at one time this was one of the premier hotels in Sheffield, I’m uncertain when it closed, it sits just on the edge of a divided city centre.
Sony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 AsphLeica M Monochrom – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 ApshLeica M Monochrom – 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk IILeica M Monochrom – 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk IILeica M Monochrom – 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk IISony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 AsphSony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 AsphWindow display Sheffield style…… I doubt the individual responsible will be receiving a call from Selfridges any time soon. On the positive side, it’s always good to see people using their initiative.
Sony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 AsphIt’s more than a little disconcerting to wander streets you were once familiar with and have the overriding sensation of being a stranger. One stranger photographed by another.
The more observant amongst you would have noticed that there is still no sign of the Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA in my images, in much the same way that the Sony A7R arrived a couple of hours before I left NZ I collected the lens from the couriers depot as I left Sheffield, lucky I guess.
The Eternal City and more….
Leica M Monochrom – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 ApshSony A7R – Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZASony A7R – Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZASony A7R – Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZALeica M Monochrom – 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk IISony A7R – Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZALeica M Monochrom – 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk IISony A7R- 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk IILeica M Monochrom – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 ApshSony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 AsphMore evidence of the JPG quality, the image did however have some serious Chromatic Aberration going on in the leaves
The Island of the Gods………
As tourist destinations go I can’t profess to understand Bali, photographically it has much to offer but it’s difficult to imagine us ever returning for a holiday, I won’t elaborate further.
Sony A7R- 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk IISony A7R – Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZAJimbaran Beach – I don’t know how to explain this place other than to say it’s like a parallel universe!! Tourist flock here by the coach load to dine in grotty restaurants on a litter strewn beach and at the same time get massively overcharged for the pleasure. The sunset and view are nondescript and to be frank it smells. I was amazed at the number of people staring out to sea whilst failing to notice the garbage at their feet. The Emperors New Clothes sprung to mind…..
More thoughts on the Sony A7R so far
Firstly I should reiterate that these are my opinions of the camera based on my own experiences and level of expertise, yours may differ accordingly.
The biggest issue I personally have with the Sony A7R is focusing, if like some I could nail the focus at f/1.2 – f/1.5 without the need to magnify I’d be delighted, the truth is I can’t and I very much doubt I ever will, before you ask my vision is perfect. This leaves me having to hone my technique around magnification and utilising Auto-Focus where applicable.
My next concern is the shutter slam and possibility of resulting vibration, like others I find myself wanting to shoot at the fastest possible shutter speed to help reduce any possible shake. The actual noise of the shutter hasn’t bothered me in the slightest though.
I wasn’t expecting any success with wides given what had already been reported, indeed the 21/1.8 produced the inevitable colour cast and vignetting, more of an annoyance than a disaster and manageable.
On a positive note…..
There is a lot to like about the files, they are easy to work with and as I’ve mentioned several times already the JPG’s are pretty sweet. Achieving good looking B&W files is also easy.
It’s great to carry a camera that doesn’t weigh anything near the Leica especially when you have the 35/2.8 mounted.
Having an LCD screen with a resolution more befitting the cameras year of manufacture is also a novelty as is the tilt option, useful for awkward compositions.
Where to next with the Sony A7R
I’ve stated since my return that I continue to pimp the Sony A7R despite the fact the we are not friends, the pimping was reference to my purchase of the excellent Gariz Half Case and Wrist Strap. In terms of me not being friends with the camera well that sums up how I feel, I need to continue to work on increasing the speed and accuracy of my focusing technique, I’m talking about fast manual focusing when I say that. It’s not in my nature to give in on the camera, indeed to the contrary I’ve actually ordered the Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA Lens and even if I can make this and the Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA work for me as a kit I’ll still be happy-ish.
I’ve already touched on the fact that at one stage I had to remind myself how negative I felt about the Leica M Monochrom in that first week or two, whilst I’ve had the A7R longer than that I’ve probably not used it as much so there is still room for improvement and a change in opinion. That said the Leica M Monochrom had one advantage over the Sony A7R that I’ve not mentioned so far. Simply put, when I use a rangefinder camera I feel more creative?