The Sony A7R: One Year Later

A bit more than a year ago, I switched from my trusty Nikon D7000 to the Sony A7R as my primary field camera. And I shared my initial thoughts on the Sony A7R with you in April last year. It's a year later. I continue to be happy and impressed with the Sony A7R. Most of my likes and dislikes are the same, however a couple have changed. 

My favorite features:

  • Articulating screen: I find I'm composing shots more and more in the live view, and when the camera is low I don't have to hunker down nearly as much. 
  • Custom controls: I've tweaked my buttons and dials over the last year to suit my shooting habits. I rarely need the menu systems. It's great.
  • Dynamic Range: Just. Plain. Wow. I used to bracket a lot of my photos with my Nikon. And I did so when switching to Sony. Less and less am I needing to blend exposures to reign in highlights and shadows. I'll still bracket in some cases, however 95% of the time I'm using the nominal exposure and throwing away the rest.
  • Zebra Stripes: This one took me a while to warm up to, and now I really like it. Zebra stripes paints a black & white striped pattern across blown out highlights in the photo - before I take the shot. It's getting your "blinkies" before you take the photo. Very cool.
  • Electronic View Finder: Originally, I didn't like the EVF much. As I move the camera to compose a shot, there's a bit of a lag. I'm sure my eye has grown accustomed to it over the last 12 months. Also, I'm composing with the LCD screen more as well. Where I find I truly love the EVF is for image review. Instead of cupping my hands around the LCD screen, I look through the viewfinder and review the images that way. No glare and a clear view of the photo.

Things I thought I'd use more, but don't:

  • Smart phone connectivity: First off, I love that this feature is there. When I have the need to use it, it's fantastic to have it. However, in practice, I don't use it as much as I thought I would. Why? Probably because I like to process my RAW images. The default JPEG from the camera is OK, and yes I could switch to shooting RAW+JPEG to get a camera-cooked version. But I don't. If I need a quick photo for sharing, I take a shot with my phone. 
  • In-camera apps: Yes, you can run apps in the Sony Alpha systems. The potential is very cool. In practice, I don't use them. It's cumbersome to get apps into the phone, and most apps are, well, gimmicky. There is an intervalometer app I have considered trying... but I keep pushing it off to do other things (I don't do time lapses very often). That's not to say I dismiss the concept of in-camera apps. Not at all. I just think Sony has some work to do to make the app experience smoother.
  • Focus peaking: I still have the feature turned on, and still experiment with it, trying to use a "focus assist" approach to my focusing. The notion is to start with the auto focus, switch to manual focus and turn on peaking, and lastly use the focus ring on the lens to fine tune what you want sharp. The truth - I'm just not good at it. I have trouble telling when I've found the best focus. Peaking helps, but peaking highlights edges and sometimes I'm trying to fine tune focus in the center of something and don't get the peaking colors. It's an area of personal development for me.

Things I want Sony to improve:

  • Battery life: It's still bad. And no, I didn't expect my camera to magically change. I'm talking about the A7RII and the A6300 that have been released since. Reports I read is the battery life is still woefully poor. Remember that intervalometer item above? It won't be good to be shooting a long time lapse if the battery can't last for more than a few hundred shots (not that I've tried, I'm conjecturing here).
  • Articulating screen: Tiling the screen to angle down is minimal. It's barely usable when my tripod is at it's full height, and that's  just over 6 feet (~2m). I'd also like the screen to flip around so I can take self video while in the field. I'd like to bring you more video of me on scene sharing thoughts... it's just cumbersome to setup the camera, grab video, hope I'm properly in the frame, rinse, repeat, etc.
  • A controls lock: I'd like a lever or physical switch to lock controls. Occasionally, I'll bump my control wheel and munge a setting. Right now, my control wheel adjusts the ISO. For me, ISO is usually set at 50 (landscape guy, remember? :). If I bump the wheel, it's typically to Auto ISO, which ends up being a much higher ISO than I typically want. Fortunately, it also means a much faster shutter speed than I'm expecting and I quickly realize my mistake. Maybe a control lock exists on the A7RII, I honestly don't know.

How about you? If you switched camera systems, whether it be a Nikon/Canon switch, Sony, Fuji or another mirrorless system, what are your favorite features?