Before I make a purchase, I do huge amount of researching. I search the web until I have nothing more to read, for about 3 pages of google search. I do image searches on Flickr, Google Image, and any other that I can find. I search in various languages just to find out if other people in different culture has different feeling about the particular device/gear. I had a brief moment with Sony A7 and Zeiss 55mm f1.8 and was lucky to shoot a wedding with it along with my main gear, Fujifilm X-T1. Unlike many other people, I adapt pretty quick. And Sony A7, Fujifilm X-T1 aren't much different at all, I didn't have a problem while shooting wedding.
I, then, had a few days of free shooting with Sony A7 and Zeiss 55mm f1.8. Although I haven't had months of time with the gear, I think I have fairly good understanding, I feel I should do a quick comparison between the two.
But, I don't have photos to compare details, sharpness and such. No sharpness talking, no details talking. It's all about usability. Truth is, there is not a single camera at this level that produces bad images. So my comparison is all usability.
Handling I've seen many comparisons between the two cameras so I was prepared for what would be coming. In truth, despite of all posts I've read beforehand, I had no problem. Here's why.
I remember the first wedding I did with X-T1, I was frustrated as hell. After 2-3 more weddings, it was quite natural. I know what to expect and I know what buttons to push. It's all muscle memory and you get used to what you use. Just because you used Canon all your life, doesn't make Canon the top of the camera controls. I've had good enough time with Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Olympus, Panasonic and Fuji (and a few more that didn't make this list) but they all have their ups and downs. None are perfect, none are so bad either.
When I held Sony A7. I felt like I was holding X-T1 with a hand grip. It felt that similar. Same EVF setting, same 4-way keys for main controls, same functions keys here and there, same silly movie recording button placements. Not all of them are in the same place, but I could see the same thoughts put into each placements. As soon as I got A7, I started setting up custom buttons to just like how I use X-T1 and most of them fell right in.
Some people complained that Sony A7's shutter is located too deep by the strap holder, making it hard to grab the camera and put index finger on the shutter. Well, I tilted my hand vertically a little bit, and I had no problem. It wasn't normal camera grip, but a little vertical.
Image Quality Fujifilm X-T1, just like every other Fuji X mount cameras, is a stellar player. So much details and Fuji-tastic colours with their X-Trans sensor that so many people love and hate. Me, as long as the camera produces quality images, I'm ok. There is a reason why so many people like Fujifilm images and I can see why. So I love it, too.
Also, there are times that X-Trans sensor just doesn't want to play well. Usually when that pinky sunset twilight happens and that light is reflected on your subject. I've had number of times doing portraits in that condition and just gave up because I couldn't avoid getting purple colour clipping. When shooting JPEG, it was fine. But I don't shoot JPEG, unless I'm testing. Similar trouble when I was shooting while the couple dancing, with coloured lights. Especially when purple light was hitting, I ended up with clipped colours and had a good enough time post-processing.
On the other hand, I was rather quick and lucky to find weirdness with Sony A7 image. It was end of a wet day getting close to losing the last light of the day. It was still good enough to be shooting at ISO 100, but I kept getting this weird purple cast. Some of it was just transformation of twilight colour, which was a bit like dark orange, was just translated in purple. I tried changing white balance, split toning and such but didn't have much luck.
Below is one of the examples I had.
With X-T1 clipping, I later figured it out with underexposing in certain situations. And Sony A7, I haven't had more chance to play with, so I couldn't repeat the same situation. But I'm sure it was just simple complication that could easily be fixed, I just didn't have time to study it.
Otherwise, I was somewhat surprised with A7 image quality. Of course, much has to do with the lens. Zeiss 55mm f1.8 is known to be one of the top performers in that focal length. Coupled with Sony A7, it shines and the picture quality is just top notch. You can almost immediately tell Fujifilm and Sony translates colour differently. Both doing amazing job of course. If I had to put their characteristic in words, maybe Fujifilm is rather moody and Sony is rather realistic. This doesn't mean Fujifilm can't take realistic photos at all or Sony can't be moody at times.
HDR I love HDR. Some people hate it because it gives unrealistic images, but that only depends on how the photographer wants to post-process. In my case, HDR is to have realistic contrast in the scene.
I used to do 9 frames bracketing with DSLR, in 1 EV differences. This would give optimal coverage at almost any situation, for me. But, turning into mirrorless, I had to give up all that. Fujifilm only supports upto 3 images at a time with 1EV differences. And Sony does 3 images with 2 or 3 EV differences, which I use. There are 5 images option too, but with less than 1 EV differences. Not enough differences in between to cover the exposures.
Making HDR images, I enjoyed Sony more. I still think DSLR is way better in this regard, but only because bracketing on mirrorless systems have been sub par. Bracketing is not the only option of course, but it makes the job hell of a lot easier. Whether the camera is on the tripod or not, I'd hate to spin the dials when the camera can do that for me on a fly.
If I had to pick one from the two, I'd pick Sony A7. Because I could use that extra EV differences between the shots.
Support I am really looking forward to December 2014 scheduled firmware update for Fujifilm X-T1. It fixes many small grieves I've had during weddings. 1/32,000s shutter speed will be extremely helpful shooting wide open in daylight, even at DR400 which will turn base ISO to 800 automatically. If you were wondering why Fujifilm made such high electric shutter, this would be why. Focus point selection with direction pad without doing extra push of a button. Just like DSLRs do. I'm sure many photographers missed that. Just these two updates are good enough for me to boost productivity. But this is not the post to talk about X-T1's firmware update.
It's funny this kind of things are being talked at all. Yet, we haven't had such support from any of the manufacturers before. Including Sony. Sony is notorious for releasing new camera bodies in short period of times. Even faster than they release lenses. Now we are at the point of having just about the same, if not more, released cameras than lenses.
Sony should be releasing series of firmwares for A7 series cameras, as they are being quite a success for them. However, I'm already hearing new FE mount cameras that maybe released in year 2015. I sincerely hope they would complete the lens line up first. And maybe release a guaranteed future firmware update plans for new cameras at least up to 5 years. This guarantee would give them more usability even long after their release, and earn trust from many photographers. One of the top reasons I'm sticking with Fujifilm is because they support their cameras to the point users are used to give up.
Noise I had Sony A99 and A900 as a main rig for a while, so I understood their noise. Now I work with Fujifilm, I had to compare them.
At low ISO, it's not a problem. At high ISO 3200 and above mostly. You can see this easily, by pushing EV further. I've pulled couple of photos for this comparison. I've done unofficial comparison at home but it wasn't really good imagery, so these two are just random pick from my library, but shows good enough example.
Below is Sony A99 in one of the darkest venue I've shot.
<Sony A99 1/60s, f2.8, ISO6400, at 180mm pushed +1EV>
I know, it's crazy. I wouldn't go that far up ISO with these cameras normally, but it was crazy dark there. I push a lot when I'm working black and white so +1EV is not a surprise here for me. But this is a good chance to observe the characteristics of noise grain.
Very even all around. It is spread like this all throughout the frame. It's gotten quite organic though with random grain spread, from A900's noise grain, which was a little too much even when zoomed out. A7 had exactly the same characteristic as A99. Maybe tiny bit improvement, almost enough to ignore.
When I push them more, I see it more clearly. Sony's image processing gives noise that is quite even all throughout the image, no matter how bright or dark the scene is, it feels quite like the noise is floating above the image. Bit easier to work with noise reduction this way, but it feels unnatural when they're there. And I don't quite like doing noise reduction.
Now, I had to find very hard in my library to see if I had any high ISO image from Fuji. My Fuji lenses were quite fast ones and I didn't really push them too hard apparently!
So, one of the selfies will have to do the job.
<Fujifilm X-T1, 1/50s, f1.6, ISO 3200, at 23mm>
One of the reason I love Fuji when it comes to image is that, their noise feels more organic. Not much floating around but sort of blended in the image itself. Noise is all around the image also, but in bright area it gets quite reduced, or rather feels that way. The noise grain is uneven. shape of noise is quite unpredictable and this helps feeling organic. This has probably much to do with their X-Trans sensor design. Or it may just be image processing I don't know.
Noise reduction works just as well, but it looks more pleasing even with the noise on. Although, I wouldn't even think of going up to ISO 6400. I wasn't comfortable with the amount of noise, I set auto ISO down to 3200.
But, it comes to one final question. Image on the monitor doesn't mean anything. You take photo to have a print. You don't sit in front of a computer all the time to look at photos. You print them. May that be 6x4 size, I don't really care, but you print them to see. The least, you will be seeing the photos in your phones, that would be, as of 2014, 6.4 inches at most. Noise? You don't care about noise when you see the photo on the phone, or on a printed paper. Ok, you do good works and print them huge. Let's say about A0 size. I used to print out A2 size photos with Nikon D1. Yes, Nikon D1 released in year 1999, with whooping 2MP APS-C sensor. It doesn't look good for today's standards, but at that moment, it was pretty cool. I've also seen in a printshop, a guy printed the wall with his own photo taken with Canon 5D. A classic 5D that was released in year 2005 with fullframe 12mp. Print is quite generous with the noise. So even I could see noise when zoomed in to pixel level in the monitor, in truth, it doesn't really matter as much. I am putting in some more print orders for my own display soon. So that's when I'll challenge this noise test. But until now, none of my photos turned as bad as ISO 1600 film I printed long time ago.
So which one is better? Very silly question. Both so good. What kind of question is this? But I asked the same question myself so much when I held two cameras together. There is no doubt these two are so closely good. I forgot Sony A7 was fullframe sensor completely when comparing. That's how good Fujifilm X-T1 is with its arsenal of great dedicated lenses. Sony A7 didn't really shine to me when using it, seeing it through its LCD screen. Then, when I open it up in the computer, I realised how good this thing is with such an amazing lens, zeiss 55mm f1.8. As I keep saying to everybody, camera is just a camera. Only when it's coupled with great lens, it becomes great, legendary. Even the best camera with the greatest sensor in the world, it's useless without a lens. And depends on how good the available lenses are, the quality of the camera is decided.
We can see this example by following Fujifilm and Sony's done up till now. Fujifilm has introduced so many great lenses that answer directly to the specific photographers' needs, many photographers praised so much about their cameras and lenses. I am also one of them and how they are following up with their models is also quite inspiring as a camera & lens manufacturing company.
Sony, on the other hand, have introduced so many cameras, I lost track of them. And their lens selection lacks a lot compared to the competitions. Even their compatible legacy minolta lenses weren't as widely available to the people. I still think Sony should have made twice as much lenses as they did, even if it meant delaying camera releases. But they are starting to shine with their technology and boldness in trying new things to camera design. Sony A7 series is a great step forward for Sony I think. Full frame sensor with such a short flange back design has lead so many people looking away for old legacy lenses, legendary lenses that was available to any 35mm camera system in history. EVF and manual focus assisting technology has helped so much also.
Sony A7 has left me. But I've already ordered its replacement. Sony A7s is coming. It's one monstrous camera and I wanted to get my hands on it, try new things and new 'old' lenses. I have few Pentax K mount lenses and m42 lenses just rolling around my room. I could finally use them and use them properly, as how it was supposed to work, with full frame. We are all expecting next generation in photography industry. Will that be replaced by 4K, 6K, 8K motion pictures? Will that be replaced by shoot first focus later technology? Will that be replaced by a 3D hologram like we see in the movies? I don't know. But for now? I think mirrorless is a definite future. Age of DSLR is passing faster than ever. As soon as mirrorless catches up in core technologies in the future, as soon as mirrorless gets right amount of lens line up, DSLR will decline so fast, it won't be so funny (especially to Canon and Nikon). What is all this future talk? Because I think Sony A7 series is right in the front of that evolution. It's just that good. The size, the weight, the adaptability, the customisability, everything. There are downsides also, but so does all cameras out there. You either make peace with those, find a work around or give up and move on to something else.
Summary I knew if I do any comparison, I'll end up pointlessly rambling about. So in summary, both great cameras with amazing image quality. Fujifilm with its great support and formidable lens line up (including upcomings) and Sony with futuristic approach and adaptability. They are both so good, for the moment. I've decided to keep both, and see who comes first. Or even if it does. Not so important though. After all, these are just tools.
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