I know… I know… It’s been awhile since I’ve posted… life gets in the way. As some may know, I added a Kinefinity Mavo Edge 8K to the kit nearly a year ago.
Full disclosure, I’ve done some beta testing over the last several months (off and on) with various iterations of the KineOS 7.0 based firmware and provided some feedback to Kinefinity representatives. Some of this feedback was utilized into this update that many Edge users provided. While this firmware does not solve all of the issues that I (and others) have come across, it does represent a progressive step forward in making these cameras even more complete for a wider range of users. There are still more things expected to come before the end of the year (assuming no major hiccups on the developmental side of things) such as CinemaDNG RAW recording for those that require a RAW based workflow and a slew of outstanding usability improvements that owners and users have commented to Kinefinity about. This is by no means a perfect camera from any objective standpoint but it is definitely one of the best on the market for the intended target audience (primarily cinematography, videography, high-end video, documentary, long-form video, etc.) in my opinion. If. you have the chance to get your hands on either of the Edge cameras (8K or 6K) to rent or if can afford it it’s a great option that’s fairly priced for what it is. There are better values for those on a tighter budget given how versatile the hybrid market is. There are less expensive entry level cinema/ENG cameras. There are also much more expensive cameras with prestigious reputations. For pure image quality this competes with the best even if it’s not technically the best there is.
I’m still working on an impressions video and eventually a user review to come at a later date but so far I don’t have any regrets on the purchase in my usage thus far. Press release contained below with links to the firmware downloads.
Kinefinity officially released the firmware KineOS 7.1 for MAVO Edge cameras.
*Download for the Edge 8K can be found HERE.
*Download for the Edge 6K can be found HERE.
KineOS 7.1 has fully optimized and upgraded the SDI function. While monitoring, SDI status bar and menu can fully display on the screen. More SDI frame rate settings and trigger recording function has been added
In this updating, we also launched the whole new ProRes4444 efficiency mode. With the same high dynamic range and visual information fidelity, the material compression ratio is increased by 50% under this mode, which greatly saves the space of the SSD.
KineOS 7.1 also adds a variety of anamorphic options to adapt to more anamorphic lenses, allowing to shoot cine-like film.
Many small functions has also been optimized in this updating: improved response speed while switching between preview and playback mode, new designed VU meter, more blanking display options and more logical monitor operating methods.
1. All-round Upgrade for SDI
In addition to the greatly improved monitoring image quality, the newly added SDI menu helps cameraman to fully control the parameters.
1) SDI menu and status bar
Switching from the monitoring image with/without parameter information.
2) SDI frame rate setting
Set the SDI frame rate followiong the project frame rate, achieving greater freedom of SDI monitoring while preventing misuse.
2) Record/Stop trigger
Trigger recording function through SDI, which highly optimizes the work flow and coordinates work on and off set with efficiency.
3) Greatly improved image quality
Improve the SDI image quality and reduce additional false color interference, gaining perfect monitoring on set.
*FF 4K, S35 4K and other popular resolutions have significant image quality improvements.
2. ProRes 4444 Efficiency Mode
Enter [system], [setting], [other setting] and choose the 4444 efficiency mode.
Without influencing the high dynamic range and visual information fidelity, 4444 efficiency mode can increase the compression ratio by 50%, significantly saving the space of SSD.
*4444 efficient mode is Beta trial version.
3. Full-frame Anamorphic Options
Various of anamorphic options has been added to adapt to more anamorphic lenses, allowing cinemaman to shoot cine-like film.
More 3:2 resolutions have been added: shoot FF 3:2 images with frame rate up to 50fps, adapting to spherical lens and anamorphic lens at the same time
MAVO Edge 8K
1）FF 7.2K 3:2 (7168×4760)
2）FF 4.8K 3:2 (4864×3176)
3）S35 6K 3:2 (6144×3840)
4）S35 4K 3:2 (4096×2560)
MAVO Edge 6K
1）FF 5.7K 3:2 (5760×3700)
2）FF 3.8K 3:2 (3840×2460)
3）S35 4K 3:2 (4096×2700)
2. Newly added FF anamorphic resolution:
MAVO Edge 8K
1）6.4K 4:3 (6400×4760)
2）5.7K 6:5 (5760×4760)
3）4.2K 4:3 (4224×3176)
4）3.8K 6:5 (3840×3176)
MAVO Edge 6K
1）5K 4:3 (5120×3700)
2）4.6K 6:5 (4608×3700)
3）3.4K 4:3 (3456×2460)
4）3K 6:5 (3072×2460)
3. Newly added S35 resolution:
MAVO Edge 8K
1）5K 4:3 (5120×3840)
2）4.8K 6:5 (4864×3840)
3）3.4K 4:3 (3456×2560)
4）3K 6:5 (3072×2560)
MAVO Edge 6K
1）3.2K 6:5 (3328×2700)
4. More optimized functionsMonitor Function Upgrade: Simplified focus assisting operation; Optimized operation logic of the monitor knob; full peaking focus areaImproved response speed: rapid reponse when switching between preview and playback mode;New VU meter design: The VU meter adds scale marks -2dBFS, -5dBFS, -9dBFS, -18dBFS, -20dBFS for more professional and intuitive audio data.
5. Bug FixFixes an issue that may cause the audio file incomplete in rare cases;Fixes an issue that may cause the monitor image to flick while booting up under certain settings;Fixes an issue that may cause the image to have a slight color shift while changing ISO settings;Fixes an issue that may cause the waveform graph unstable.
When Panasonic first introduced the Lumix S system at Photokina 2018 it piqued my interest. Being a long time Panasonic owner of their mirrorless cameras, their initial commitment to creating a “full frame camera without compromise”, the increased sized that I felt was unfortunately missing from professional grade mirrorless cameras, and an assumption that Panasonic would continue to be one of the two or three companies on the market place with a design ethos with a serious commitment to both photo and video; I knew that this was a strong candidate for a future camera to purchase. For the record I had long been considering a move from Sony, not because of anything technically wrong with their products, but I felt a growing feeling that they were going to become much more conservative than their hyper aggressive commitment to mirrorless began with. On top of that, I began to feel that their camera bodies were ill-equipped to be used with many of their professional lenses due to the small size with my larger hands… but this isn’t a Sony review or a Sony bashing session… I just felt the need to provide some context. With all of that said, after nearly two years of owning the Panasonic Lumix S1R I finally feel like I’m in a place to more fairly review it since I’ve been able to use it in more situations post-pandemic.
Some things to keep in mind - you may or may not agree with all or any of my points. You may find some of them to be fair or unfair. That’s perfectly fine. We can agree or disagree and remain civil in discussion. Keep in mind this review is based on how I use the camera for my own purposes. I try not to be overly sensational and I try not to make things feel like clickbait. I fervently believe that there really aren’t any bad cameras these days but some cameras may be a better fit for some than others. These are all subjective differences which ultimately does not provide final judgement on a camera for all people. You may have completely different use cases from me, desires from your camera, and you may not care about some of the things that I focus on and again… That’s completely fine by me.
Camera Features, Firmware, & Specs
I won’t go too in depth on this. Here’s a link to the Panasonic product page and you can see if it all fits your own needs. The spec list is long for sure because the camera can do so much. Much of it you may never need or use but it’s certainly nice to have. Be sure to check out the Firmware section too because it’ll detail the firmware updates and features added to the camera as well.
This portion of the review is going to be extremely short when compared to the video because it does everything either very well or to an exceptional level. This camera offers excellent image quality and dynamic range. The color retention in images at high ISO is what really drew me into considering this camera to begin with. I’ve photographed weddings, event, or even concerts in the pasts, etc. with some clients/vendors having the intention of wanting to have enough resolution to turn media items into large prints or promotional content. I think this camera more than satisfies that need. Many of the photo-centric features I haven’t used much. These include items such as the in camera pixel stitching for super resolution imagery, time lapse, double exposure imagery, or focus stacking. In any case there are many in camera tools to assist people in learning how to use these options outside of reading the included well written manual. I will say that there is noticeable autofocus performance improvements with the camera beginning with Firmware 1.7. When I purchased the camera Firmware 1.2 was the current version and 1.3 was released a month or two later. These autofocus improvements apply to photo acquisition speed and confidence, less auto focusing “flutter”, and general all-around improvements to make for a more pleasing experience in using the camera with native lenses from Panasonic at least.
This is the area that is the most mixed for me personally and a lot of it comes down to a personal level of uncertainty with Panasonic’s long-term commitment to continue further development on the video side of things for the S1R.
Let’s get the elephant out of the room first and talk about some things that could potentially be seen as a “negative.” Top of the list of course are the continuous autofocus which has been mentioned ad nauseum in general as being somewhat unreliable at best in continuous video. The other issue is this: While both the S1 and the S1R were initially marketed as “photo first” cameras the priority of focus of the Lumix S line has seemed to shift over the years. Panasonic’s marketing tag line which began as “Full Frame without compromise” seemed to be a statement of commitment from both Panasonic Lumix division and the other L-mount partners on some level to create a line of cameras with the professional in mind primarily. At some point in the recent past Panasonic has shifted their marketing slogan to “Motion. Picture. Perfect.” which would suggest a more focused goal of creating products that are video and image quality centric in design philosophy. I see no issue with this in general but there is concern about where this leaves one of their flagship cameras in future development. I would say that I definitely see a commitment in the 24 megapixel bodies but I do not see it in the S1R for sure despite being a “flagship” body.
While it’s true that Panasonic has always maintained that the S1 would be better at video (comparatively when measured against the S1R) it should still be of some motivation, in my opinion of course, for Panasonic to further bolster the video capability of the S1R. If I were to offer reasons why it’s an important commitment to make, it would be for the following reasons. First and foremost Panasonic positioned the S1R as one of their flagship cameras with a flagship price. Panasonic seems to be doing more for their entry and mid-tier bodies bodies these days despite how some may feel. There generally are certain expectations that come tied to this based on product positioning of a premium item and their own track record in the past. As it stands, I’d personally have to do some soul searching before buying another flagship body from them given how it would seem many of the premium features eventually come to the entry and mid-tier bodies. The y certainly check nice feature boxes but I don’t know that the typical entry to mid level customer truly has a commitment to purchase the additional accessories needed to maximize performance. If it were ONLY the S1R affected then that would be one thing but the other side of it is the flagship video body, the S1H, is also affected somewhat. There are still hardware advantages like active cooling and a OLPF in the S1H or nearly twice the resolution with the S1R that make them both more unique but that’s a big price jump for a few unique features after the latest firmware updates… again, in my opinion.
When going back to the video features of the S1R, if one looks at the extremely similar (but let’s not call it the exact same) specification of the Leica SL2, it launched with both LOG/HLG profiles, the ability to do 4K video in both Cinema 4K (4096x2160), and UHD (3840 x 2160) varieties between 24/25/30/60 frames per second (FPS). Additionally it is able to record in 10-bit within all of these modes. There’s also the ability to record 5K video with a 4:3 aspect ratio in 24/25/30 FPS in 10-bit. The S1R did not launch with the C4K, HLG/LOG, 5K, or 10-bit initially. Some of these updated options like the 5K video or HLG profiles came to the S1R in November 2020 via firmware update. It would be really nice to see the remainder of them come over and perhaps for us to even anamorphic modes come to the S1R as another differentiator as it applies to the direct competition that largely offers similar or better features from Canon, Sony, Nikon, etc. As it stands, even without these additions, the S1R is capable of some very nice video results provided the intention isn’t to do a lot of heavy color grading.
I want to be clear that I’m not unhappy with what it can do but I want to be clear that if there’s an effort to improve the lower end of the product spectrum I’d like to see even more effort placed on improving the premium products, otherwise I really don’t get the point of utilizing a market segmentation strategy amongst your products. It would make sense and cost less money to just offer one or two Lumix S bodies that do it all at a competitive price rather than four models that provides a high resolution option and three models that are, for all intents and purposes, slight reconfigurations of many of the same underlying parts.
Speaking more of the competition and the positives of the S1R as it applies to video, what has changed since the camera was launched are the direct competition of high resolution cameras that are also placing SOME emphasis on providing great video potential. Although the Canon R5 had a “rough” launch to be diplomatic about it, there was no shortage of video feature potential. They did what Canon had not been known to do for years and that’s completely move the market by pushing the boundaries of what was possible at a price few expected. Whether or not they lived up to that potential is perhaps a different point to make but we can only expect this to become the norm going forward. When Sony launched the A1 in January of 2021 they seemed to have gotten more “right” than Canon did in their video spec though at a dearer price. Now I think Panasonic made a great move in giving us a high resolution camera with a constant minimal 1.09x crop across 4K, as well as, offering up to 60 FPS video. Another change we’ve collectively experienced has been with the worldwide pandemic that exceedingly saw the shifting needs and demand for streaming video be it for Zoom, FaceTime, OBS, YouTube, Twitch, Microsoft Teams, etc. In many ways Panasonic (and other camera makers) helped to solve the webcam shortage by offering computer applications that allow many cameras, S1R included, to be used for these purposes. As a side benefit the optics on even the least expensive kit lens combined with a modern system camera sensor pose a huge leap in image quality compared to the average webcam.
The S1R does have record limits due to thermal limitations according to Panasonic. Thankfully, one can generally get around these timed limitations by utilizing an external recorder such as an Atomos Ninja V to move into either a 8-bit 4:2:2 color or 10-bit 4:2:2 sampling space (depending on camera settings) with a great acquisition/delivery codec like one of the many varieties of ProRes. Other great video features that this camera has that many of the direct contemporaries do not enjoy are being able to switch being shutter speed or shutter angle, having a very visible red frame on the LCD screen when actively recording video, having an increased level of mass for more smooth handheld movements, industry best in-body image stabilization (which can be used to effectively stabilize both native and adapted lenses), etc.
Whether it was the pricing, the physical size, the perception of the autofocus system, or the slow pace at which the native lenses are being released in many ways the system collectively hasn’t really lived up to the potential for many people. Video performance is definitely becoming the most important spec that users of Panasonic cameras pay attention to. Many users are coming from the more recent Micro 4/3 Lumix G line and expectations in the minds of many is that they were expecting Full Frame GH bodies. For all of the positives of this camera, and there are a plethora of them, in many ways Panasonic is somewhat a victim of their own success on the video side of things. Because of their past success, we’ve all come to expect and want more from them simply put. I can’t say whether that’s 100% fair or not but it’s where we are.
Most of the time if you hear a negative complaint about the DFD Autofocus you can be assured that it is more than likely coming from heavy video users that would like to enjoy some levels of automation with a Panasonic camera. What often is missing in the critique is context and nuance that generally isn’t offered up with the typical internet comments of “Panasonic’s autofocus sucks.” This is usually followed up with an insistence that Panasonic moving to Phase Detect will fix all of the issues because they feel that contrast detection has no place in the world any longer… and they’d be somewhat correct and somewhat incorrect for a variety of reasons. Let’s break it down.
The autofocus doesn’t actually “suck.” What can be said is that it’s seemingly somewhat unreliable. Sometimes you’re in a dimly lit room and take a chance believing that a photo will possibly, if not likely, be out of focus due to the available light and the “focus fluttering” of continuous DFD. Then you get home to your computer and see that camera absolutely nailed it. Other times you’re out on bright sunny day with nothing but a stationary person in a field for a subject or recording a video for YouTube where you ensure your face is properly lit. The camera absolutely misses focusing on the only subject framed or records the back wall of the room while completely ignoring you. This is an infrequent occurrence in reality but it has in fact happened to me. It’s really not a consistent thing either which makes it al the more frustrating. Repeatable results or flaws often lead to a development of a consistent workaround. This isn’t necessarily the case here. I will say that utilizing the Near/Far Focus shift options as customizable buttons has greatly helped my hit rate accuracy. For instance if you know your subject is more than likely going to be in the foreground (let’s say within 5-7m from you or roughly within 15-20 feet) then clicking the near shift custom button places focus priority on things in the foreground while not really worrying about focusing towards the infinity side of the distance scale. In short, those are some of the head scratching occurrences that sometimes happen which leads many to a place where they are either unable or unwilling to fully trust the cameras because it can do these things for no apparent rhyme or reason.
For photo it’s actually better than I expected prior to owning the camera. Accuracy or hit rate wise, I’d say it’s comparable to the second generation Sony A7RII camera in that one can expect 80-90% of all shutter presses to be in focus. I could also compare it accuracy wise to a first generation Canon or Nikon full frame mirrorless camera body after many of their firmware updates. Next, I’d say that all Phase Detect isn’t built equally - and I’m saying that having tried most of the offerings on the market over the last 10 years or so. Sony clearly has the best (read: most reliable) autofocus in the business today and the newest Canon cameras aren’t too far behind the Sony hybrid phase/contrast detect autofocus systems. I won’t pretend that Panasonic’s autofocus is in the same league as the best versions of either of these systems - it’s not. I also won’t pretend like other hybrid phase detect systems are in the same league either - they also are not. If, and this is a huge if, Panasonic decided to forego DFD and move to a hybrid Phase Detect autofocus system I would only hope for a lot of early testing to get the math and firmware “right” because I don’t think they could really take a huge PR set back in the camera division.
Panasonic committed to image quality, which I personally believe, that they delivered on with all of the Lumix S camera. Part of that commitment lead Panasonic to a decision that foregoing “light stealing” on sensor Phase detect sites would maximize image quality and I do believe this is evident in the lowlight ability of this camera but it is most readily realized as the lighting is lowered and the level color retention present. For comparison the color retention feels like it’s about a stop or so better than on my Sony A7RII and that’s despite having slightly increased resolution. It would seem that DFD is heavily reliant upon the processing power of the camera. As such, we’ve seen DFD become increasingly better with each new camera release over the years. It’s entirely possible as well that DFD is just way ahead of it’s time - the concept might be great, time could prove that Panasonic was correct in developing the technology behind it, and time to prove that we are just on the cusp of the system being truly great without any caveat. My hope is that they don’t completely eliminate the research even if they decide to move to a hybrid phase detect focus if some of the rumors prove to be accurate. I do believe that in time that DFD could get good enough at doing the calculations that the focusing system utilized underneath the hood ultimately won’t matter.
There are a few things that I recommend for the S1R.
I recommend looking at a variety of lighting systems for flash photography from someone like Profoto, Westcott, or Godox. All of them offer comprehensive flash photography options with wireless controls. If you’re unsure about jumping into flash or don’t know if it’s for you, then perhaps a continuous LED setup would work better. Thankfully the quality of these has gone up a lot in the last 10 years or so. You can get affordable and accurate LED based systems from companies like Aputure, Nanlite/NanLux, Godox, or of course the premium lighting companies that have been around forever.
If you’re into video the single best camera related purchase I’d say I bought was a Ninja V. It really does “unlock your hybrid camera” and provides a more consistent workflow across a variety of cameras. There are also options from companies like Blackmagic Design that offer the VideoAssist 12G. More or less they both perform the same goals but in different ways. Atomos utilizes SSD media and has a number of expansion port modules to add functionality to your Ninja V unit. The BlackMagic unit untilizes SD Cards but will accept a USB-C external drive as well. More importantly, either offers robust codec choices in several ProRes variants or Avid DNx variants for the Atomos with the ability to record directly to media. I recommend getting Samsung 860 Evo, Sandisk Ultra 3D NAND, or WD Blue SSD’s for a cost effective selection that are pretty reliable and fast if choosing the Atomos unit.
For audio, I personally recommend either a Sound Devices MixPre family of recorder or one of the updated Zoom brand recorders. There are XLR devices that perhaps have a shorter learning curve but I do personally like the idea of having equipment that can truly go along with you and is brand agnostic for consistent workflows. In my opinion, either offers great “bang for the buck” and excellent sound quality. You’d have to spend a lot more money to receive more tangible audio quality gains.
The Panasonic Lumix S1R provides a comprehensive photographic experience for the hybrid photo/video user that places a higher priority on increased resolution and excellent image quality while retaining excellent color reproduction even at higher ISO values.
This is the one camera in the Lumix S lineup that provides a consistent image crop (1.09x) across all video modes and frame rates though it does fall behind the lower megapixel offerings in terms of color bit depth capability by only offering external 10-bit video in some recording settings like 5K, HLG, or 4K60. When the camera was first unveiled in Fall of 2018, no other high megapixel camera could approach the video features contained within this body but now there’s increased competition from Sony, Canon, Nikon, and other L-mount Alliance Partners.
The camera represents an excellent entry into a high megapixel cameras from the Lumix brand and is only a more reliable continuous autofocus system in video applications away from having virtually no major weaknesses for a wider range of hybrid users. Obviously, utilizing manual focus lenses is still an option (like it is with all cameras) and perhaps is the recommended way to go for those that may utilize this body as a back up or are video focused users. Traditional tools like focus peaking and the ability to magnify the image assist the user in confirmation of focus. The video and cinematography markets have become increasingly democratized over the last few years with more value based products like color consistent lighting options, hardware streaming devices, more affordable high quality sound mixers, good quality microphones that aren’t terribly expensive, etc. coming onto the market over the last five years or so.
I do recommend the Panasonic Lumix S1R to those with the budget to be able to afford it, for those that want a physically larger body, for those that place a premium on image quality and color retention, for those that want a fully featured L-mount Alliance camera, for those already familiar with Panasonic Lumix products, and/or for those that like some of the most pleasing images coming straight from the camera irrespective of brand. My largest concerns are continued and meaningful firmware support compared to the support offered on the lower megapixel Lumix S bodies. What this would look like in my opinion is Panasonic’s commitment to continue further development on the video side of things for capabilities like 10-bit video in slower frame rates, working with 3rd party manufacturers to provided deeper external video support, offering the VLog profile to S1R owners that might take advantage of it as an option whether it is free or paid, and perhaps maybe we can even see anamorphic support come to to the camera.
There are so many things that are subjective in nature that goes into a camera purchasing decision and I’m not one to give scores or letter grades in my reviews. Generally speaking, it only leads to people wanting to quantifying the capability or value of a camera based on the time of the review being written. If I were to give any camera say an “A-” or “90” grade today it would likely not mean that the camera is as good as a replacement that may be better in every way but only receive a “B+” at the time of that writing. So because of this just know that the words say it all. This is a great camera with a great feature set. If it fits your desires then you should give it a try to see if it works for your needs personally.
Overpriced. For collectors only. A dentist’s camera. Not for real photographers.
These are comments often associated with cameras produced by the German brand, Leica. While it is extremely true that the cameras that they produce are prohibitively expensive for most people, it is also true that they are one of the few companies that produce photographic tools that are unique. In a world where everyone seems to be obsessed with digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras, or within the last 5-10 years mirrorless cameras, the penultimate camera that Leica has been known for throughout the last 70+ years is the M.
A little background for the uninitiated the M is short for Messucher the German name for “rangefinder” which appropriately is the category of camera that the M is in. Unlike SLR, DSLR, or Mirrorless cameras in which a person “sees through the lens” to focus in a rangefinder a person focuses by aligning an overlaid superimposed projection in the rangefinder patch with what they see through the viewfinder. A person can also focus (with practice) by zone focusing as most rangefinder lenses include both distance scales and mechanical focusing for repeatable results. These are two of the most key features that made the M extremely popular with photojournalists, artists, street photographers, and for candid photography.
So where does the M9/M9-P fall for me? Well it’s a bit complicated if one were to solely look at these cameras from a value perspective. If we are being objectively honest a DSLR or Mirrorless camera is infinitely more flexible. For one, you can’t get a M lens wider than 10mm or one longer than 180mm. While this may not seem like an issue as this range covers everything the average person would need, the reality is that because of how rangefinder cameras work one would need extremely good eyesight to focus with fast lenses longer than 90mm accurately and most rangefinder camera require external viewfinders for focal lengths longer than 90mm and wider than 28mm to accurately frame the image. There are some notable exceptions to this back when Leica (and other film rangefinder manufacturers) offered optical viewfinders of different magnifications. There also aren’t any auto focus systems on board. Manual focus will be the name of the game if using a M camera from any era. Even still, I’d say that the ideal focal lengths for most rangefinder cameras will fall between 28mm and 50mm because one can compose and still see a good bit outside of the frame lines at those focal lengths to capture the image they intended to fill the frame with their desired subject. This is just my opinion based on my personal experiences… objectively speaking of course. The M, and in reality all rangefinders, are truly an emotional choice in camera because they are really fun to use. This is true even with all the mechanical and technical limitations that one places on themselves when using them. As such many don’t mind spending a premium for them simply because they are so much different from other cameras and require a different thought process to use them most effectively. I own digital cameras from both Sony, Leica, and Panasonic. I’ve owned DSLR’s from Canon in the past. I own a couple of film cameras still as well (Mamiya C330 and Minolta SR-T 202). The M9 and the M9-P that I owned in the past are probably the first cameras that I ever “loved” despite the limitations. I can’t completely explain why I loved them in light of all I just typed to specify why they aren’t a great choice for most people. If I had to explain to most people my rationale would be this for those cameras in particular - it was a combination of the image quality at base ISO, the excellent lenses available in the mount that provided a different look to the more modern lenses of today, the company’s heritage and commitment to human rights dating back from helping Jewish workers escape Nazi Germany to support for the American Civil Rights movement, a level of exclusivity, and a way to execute my photographic desires seamlessly.
So if you are paying attention then you noticed that I don’t own the Leica’s any longer despite all I said about them in the last paragraph. If I had to answer why I don’t then I’m have to attribute it to pragmatism. The point I made about the lack of flexibility comparatively to the modern DSLR and Mirrorless cameras is and was a real concern. Essentially I made a non-emotional decision to sell my Leica kit because it didn’t fit all types of my photographic needs any longer. If money were no option I would never sell them but it is as I’m not independently wealthy (like most people) yet.
Would I recommend them today for a person looking to jump into a M camera? Well that is a bit of a difficult answer but it comes down to a person understanding what they’re getting into. The M9 family of cameras had a bit of an issue with corroding sensors. In fact I had to have both of mine, that I previously owned, repaired for this issue in the past. Also the high ISO/ lowlight performance wasn’t great even by 2010 standards let alone modern day ones in 2020 but your mileage may vary as they say. If you can afford it I’d recommend the M10 family of cameras instead as it’s the current model at the time of writing and corrects many of the issues with the older M cameras. For those that aren’t concerned about these limitations, then the M9 family will provide years of great images to a capable photographer. It is and was a great camera in 2009 when released and still is in 2020 with a few quirks that may not may make it a viable choice for every single person. At the very least I encourage all remotely interested in rangefinder photography to rent any M camera with a lens or two to give it a reasonable chance of winning you over.
As some of you may or may not know I began shooting on Sony cameras as my main system back in the late 2013 to early 2014 timeframe after the original A7 and A7R were released. These were not my first Sony cameras as I own a NEX-5 still and owned a A77mkI in the past which I used to cover my telephoto photography needs when I primarily used Leica cameras. The original Sony FE cameras were capable but had some “rough edges” to overcome but you could tell the direction Sony was going with their camera system.
The A7II added IBIS, some speed, and some refinement to the sensor processing to the original A7. The A7RII added a lot more refinement to the system, added speed, added 4K video without the need for an external recorder, and the now famous Eye-AF which gave it a feeling of an additional generational leap. There was also the small matter of a 42.4 megapixel BSI sensor. In short this was truly a revelation and probably the first really mature Mirrorless camera that got DSLR owners to legitimately take a harder look at mirrorless technology.
When the A7RII was announced, it was done with a significant price increase over its predecessor. While the first generation body retailed for $2300 when new, the second generation version retailed for $3200. Was the extra 6 megapixels worth it? Absolutely. For starters the autofocus system added additional phase detect points… 399 to be exact that cover 70% of the sensor area. In addition to this, the shutter was further dampened, electronic first curtain shutter was added, and additional durability was engineered in the process. It was rated for 500,000 shutter actuations. Eye-AF was added along with additional custom buttons. 4K/30p was added and one could reasonably track faster moving subjects in continuous AF. A heavier focused was placed on higher-end lens design with the announcement of the Sony G-Master lenses and the Zeiss Batis lenses which were focused on being able to resolve 100 megapixel sensors at a minimum. In addition to this, Sony began to ensure future lens designs would be designed with both photo and video in mind. All of this was to state that Sony took the next major step in the maturation of full frame mirrorless camera systems as a true alternative to established DSLR systems from Canon and Nikon.
So going back to the A7RII what do I think about it nearly five years after release? Well it’s still a really good camera and one that I recommend to people that want a very good camera on a tighter budget. There were times within the last couple of years where one could be bought new for $1300. At that price it may have been the best value on a full frame Mirrorless camera. This is especially true when you consider the Sony lens ecosystem, the costs of newer camera, or the heavily stripped down but newer options in that price range from Canon or cropped sensor options from other competitors. While I believe that the A7III is likely the best option for most photographers because its a better camera in every way unless you need the additional resolution, the A7RII does most things right. The biggest flaws of the A7RII are the single card slot, the decreased battery life compared to the newer third generation or later camera bodies, and the ergonomics may not be to the liking of many people with larger hands. While many reviews may harp on Sony menus, I truly find this and similar arguments to be redundant to highlight. If one actually uses the camera regularly and sets the cameras up for their typical usage (this includes organization of the quick menu settings, custom dial settings, and custom button settings) then this camera, like any other, will become second nature. I often find that this is an issue with people that are used to using other digital camera systems for years and/or people that are used to operating cameras with limited features by comparison. For instance I came to Sony FE cameras from a pair of Leica M9’s that ONLY captures still images without video features. As such the additional customization of video was and is a learning experience for me. Truth be told, I’m still learning video and video editing at this point but I do understand it in concept through reading and researching. Also one of the things that Sony does is allow a level of control that many other manufacturers don’t allow. This also contributes to deeper menus that sometimes have sub menus within the top menu options. It’s not a problem in general but I will say that it’s something to be aware of with Sony or really most modern cameras these days.
Another thing I often hear about Sony color is that many people don’t like it. In my experience this comes down to a few factors. First and foremost, Sony cameras have exhibited some of the most accurate color I’ve seen in a camera without any manipulation. This can be verified in vector scopes. Second, the increased dynamic range can make colors appear more “flat” and “linear” when compared to some other cameras without as much dynamic range. Third many people are more used to the color they get out of say a Canon or Nikon camera. This isn’t to say that those cameras produce poor colors but Canon has a reputation for “boosting“ the red color channels to produce a warmer tone which can be more pleasing to some in some fairer skin tones. Nikon has a reputation for yellow and green channels to blend and sometimes exhibit near “neon” colors in spring when newer vegetation is growing based on the opinions of many landscape shooters. Fujifilm has a reputation to have a slight “boost“ in the blue-green channels which can provide a different cast in some of the way certain RAW converters process their X-Trans Color Filter Array equipped cameras. Fourth, and this is really important, increased color accuracy does not necessarily translate to more aesthetically pleasing images. Sony’s sensors have a way within their sensitivity to really draw out the reflected undertones in skin whether they’re red, yellow, or olive undertones. This can give an unflattering color cast for many people (without “perfect“ skin) but a skilled editor can easily correct for this to get to a pleasing end result. Due to this, some of the newer cameras from the third generation and on have shifted to a less accurate color palette but one that‘s much more appeasing to some that prefer a warmer tone out of camera.
Where does the A7RII sit today? Well for those on a budget it represents an excellent value on a former flagship camera provided some of the shortcomings don’t pose a problem for you. These shortcomings include decreased battery life compared to modern Sony cameras, single SD card slots, a smaller autofocus area compared to newer cameras, and worse Eye-AF comparatively speaking. None of these things make the camera unusable for many but they are items that should be taken under consideration. For about 50% more money one can have the A7III that fixes most of the shortcomings and produces smaller files that won’t fill your computer storage space nowhere near as quickly. So would I recommend the camera? If you’re on a tighter budget the answer is yes but if you can swing a little more money into your budget I would probably recommend the A7III to most people over the A7RII. Where the A7RII makes the most sense is for someone that is more video focused or someone that occasionally wants access to a high resolution camera but doesn’t need it all the time. In that situation I can recommend the A7RII as it can still be purchased new with a warranty.
After enjoying a five year head start in the Digital Full Frame (FF) 35mm market, Sony has received a lot of competition from the likes of Canon, Nikon, the L-Mount Alliance, and to some level even Fujifilm with both their APS-C and G-Format systems. While Sony is still pretty comfortable at the top of the Mirrorless market, their path to system maturation, coupled with, some industry and customer pushback towards their development rate between 2010 and 2015 has somewhat placed them into a more “comfortable” position. Once the generation three bodies were released, beginning with the Sony A9, the pace has generally slowed down to where there is usually 24-36 months on average between an updated body. There are extreme cases like the A7SII which was released in Fall 2015 and is approaching five years without a replacement. In general though, Sony has gotten to a point where they has a mature system with a comprehensive lens lineup without many shortcomings. I’m a person that always looks for improvement. I’m something of a tech head but I also love photography. I first became interested in Sony shortly after they bought Minolta when I handled the Sony A900. I don’t know if it was the FF sensor, the three axis image stabilization, the Sony Zeiss AF lenses, the excellent color out of camera, or a combination of all of the above but I realized that something was a bit different with the files that I saw compared to the Canon files I was used to. This isn’t to make this a brand war, but rather a realization that I saw that Sony was approaching photography not from a standpoint of maintaining “status quo” but innovation of what could be versus what was. It’s not to say that Sony didn’t have it’s “quirks” throughout the years such as BetaMax that never reached commercial success despite being technically superior, proprietary media such as Memory Stick that not many ever adopted, or A-mount that ultimately failed commericially like so many SLR systems that did not have a Canon or Nikon badge displayed up front… they clearly did. With the E-mount I saw the potential immediately in 2010 when I bought a NEX-5. The sensor tech in that camera was clearly better than my Panasonic G1 that replaced my Canon 10D and 20D. I felt the Panasonic was already a bit better than those Canon cameras in image quality but the Sony was clearly better despite having worse lenses early on and a quirky non-traditional menu layout that was meant to be a lot more user friendly for new photographers. The colors from Sony IMO were second only to the color I was getting out of my Leica M9 that I owned at the time which was a camera that sold for about 10x the price new. This camera ultimately paved the way for me to eventually add a A77mkI DSLT to handle telephoto duties where the Leica M9 seemed to come up short for me. It was a useful kit but also reminded me of why I sold my previous DSLR cameras. It was somewhat cumbersome and to get the most out of the camera, I needed to be comfortable with the requirement to utilize larger FF DSLR professional grade lenses. I had no huge issue with the sentiment most of the time here and there but ultimately it wasn’t the best purchase for me long term… simply put Mirrorless wasn’t there yet and I really didn’t care for DSLR and DSLT system as they were largely mature but “dying technology.”
Fast forward about a year or two and Sony shocked the world with the original A7 and A7R. Many flocked to these first generation products expecting a miracle. They would be an affordable entry point for those that wanted a FF “digital back” for vintage SLR and rangefinder lenses… except they really weren’t . Some of that is the fault of Sony for promoting lens adaptation in some territories and part of that is the lack of expectation management people tend to have. Personally, I’m not opposed to adapting lenses provided the end user has a rational expectation and understand the limits of a non-optimized optical path. In short, not all adapters are created equally. Not all vintage lenses are up to the challenge of modern sensors. Few cameras are optimized for use with vintage lenses… really the only one that really come to mind is Leica with their SL cameras… and even still they are a compromised when compared to the lenses being used on their native body. Getting back to the point though I understand how adapting lenses can cover up huge holes in a lens lineup. It’s a bandaid solution and a part of me cringes whenever I read about people trashing cameras and camera systems while 100% only using adapted lenses. It’s a ridiculous notion and one that companies consistently have to talk through… but I digress.
Back to the topic at hand… the State of Sony. With all of their success and with many of their products diversifying into areas based on typical users I pose a question. Is it time for Sony to reorganize and shift their entire camera product line.
Hear me out.
There was a time that the A7 line was marketed as a “basic model” but I’d argue that the “basic model” is probably the best all around product they make and everything else has become far more specialized. For instance the A7 line has always had two additional variants, the R and the S. The R was always the high resolution model… but it also became the first A7 model (Specifically the A7RII) to do internal 4K (UHD) video. The S was always the lowlight high sensitivity model but it somehow became known as the “video” model since it was the first model that could record 4K (UHD), though it required an external recorder to take advantage of this feature. As such, many people have begged, pleaded, cried on occasion, and some have ultimately given up until recently on a successor to the A7SII which was released nearly five years ago.
The A7 body should continue as it is. It’s the basic all around model that fits the needs of most people whether they’re photographing weddings, photojournalism, occasional sporting events, model shoots, etc. Perhaps the megapixel count can be raised to provide somewhere between 24 (current amount) up to 32 megapixels assuming it can keep the same excellent lowlight performance… or perhaps they can scale back the pixel count to fall somewhere between 18-24 megapixels to increase sensitivity and provide more than enough pixels for most needs.
The A7R should morph into the A8. At this point it is different enough that it can be it’s own thing. It’ll focus on the idea of high resolution photography whether it’s commercial with some lighter video functions that allows the end user to capture video as needed.
The A7S line should first end and second morph into an Alpha X (AX) that’ll highlight the hybrid nature of a more video natured camera where photographic applications are more of an afterthought. This camera would completely break away from the traditional hybrid SLR form factor and grow somewhat in size for the purposes of adequate cooling while maintaining features video creator desire. Perhaps this camera can offer many of the features of the more fully features FX9 but in a smaller light package with fewer external connections. This camera would feature a single XLR input, a full size HDMI, a traditional 3.5 microphone, and a headphone jack in camera. This camera would do DCI 4K up to FF at up to 120fps, be able to record internal H.264, H.265, ProRES, and AVID DNxHR as standard codecs, provide external RAW video (ProRES RAW and BRAW), and 12-bit color at a minimum. It would be compact, look like a smaller version traditional cinema camera (along the lines of the RED Komodo) with the ability to mount an external video and audio recorders, in addition to an aftermarket EVF. It also should implement an A9 style AF system. It would also be the first camera from Sony to feature a Global Shutter with built in ND filters. Ultimately this can be the camera to replace the function of the FS5 and FS7 camera in a shrinking camera market while also moving slightly upmarket to between a traditional photography hybrid system camera and a dedicated large sensor cinema/ENG camera. This can be the model that videographers, cinematographers, and indie filmmakers would go crazy for.
The A9 is likely fine with what Sony is doing but perhaps there’s room for a APS-C version for action shooters in the form of the A6. Same features as the A9… just with a smaller sensor and priced similarly as the base A7. As previously mentioned the camera market is already shrinking and Sony already does a great job at continuing sales of older models at a more value friendly price which allows potential users to purchase a great camera option at a bit of a bargain.
Above the A9 there’s room for a true professional body upmarket and I’m gong to call it the “Alpha Pro“ (AP) Model for now. What this could be is a camera that offers a 64-80 megapixel sensor that can also “pixel bin” in order to “super sample” color data to provide images 1/4 the original size with full color data. This can also be where Sony experiments with a new simplified touch based menu similar to say what Blackmagic Design or Phase One utilizes on their cameras. Additionally Sony could make it so that it integrates with the smartphone app on a deeper level. Users would be able to define internal crop mode options and make the menus are complex or simple as wanted. Don’t want video menus? No worries hide the options from the camera and add them back through the app when wanted if ever. Just want Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manuel modes? Cool just eliminate the other modes on the digital LED mode selection wheel. Want high resolution imagery? Shoot in standard mode. Want maximum color reproduction and speed? Shoot in that mode. Want a basic user mode? Select that from the get go. Want deep layers and sub menus? Choose the advanced user mode. Additionally Canon has shown with their RF lenses that there is a market for premium lenses that don’t follow the traditional SLR offerings like the “f/2.8 trinity” lenses. Perhaps Sony can introduce a line of lenses above the G-Master lenses in maybe the G-Pro lenses. Sony could make a 20-50mm F/2 zoom, a 55-110mm f/2 zoom, and a 100-200mm f/2 zoom which could be true prime replacement lenses. They could also make some f/1.2 primes in popular, but different from G-Master, focal lengths like 21, 35, 55, 100, and 150mm focal lengths. Obviously there’s room already to refresh some of the older optical formulas with more modern linear focusing motors as well.
I have zero insider information on Sony’s plan but I do believe that they receive so much market growth through innovation and exciting products. With more competition in the market I don’t feel that now is the time for them to play it safe and get more complacent given the hype driven by Canon’s RF lens designs and R5/R6 bodies, the potential of the L-mount Alliance, or the Nikon faithful that provide mirrorless solutions for those already invested in their brand.