Vizsla & Owner

I have been using the Pentax 645D for over 4 years, and it has proven to be the most reliable all weather camera out of any system I own. It has accompanied me in snow, ice, rain and hot desert climates without skipping a beat. While it’s a heavy and slow camera compared to smaller formats, the resulting image quality never disappoints.

The Achilles heel of the 645D however, was it’s somewhat unreliable auto focusing system, which without live view required me to fire off multiple shots to make sure I had one image with proper focus. Critical focus is a must on high resolution cameras, without it the resolution advantages quickly disappear.

The 2014 released Pentax 645Z promised to fix a lot of the minor issues that were present in the 645D. Pentax/Ricoh included live view and vastly improved high ISO performance courtesy of the new Sony sensor – the same sensor that is used in the Phase one IQ 250 and the Hasselblad H5D-50c.

I was debating for a long time if I should upgrade to the Pentax 645Z given the modest upgrade in resolution (40mp to 51mp), but having seen some samples of the high ISO performance of the new sensor, as well as the lack of anything exciting being announced in recent months (including the new Canon 5DS), I decided to stick with the Pentax system due to it’s reliability, solid design, and my prior investment in multiple Pentax lenses.

My 645Z arrived the day before easter weekend, giving me 3 days to shoot with the camera and get a few initial thoughts.

As with the 645D, the new 645Z body does not try to be a fashion item or designer gadget disguised as a camera. Every function that is needed for actual picture taking is front and centre, while all the “fun” features are hidden deep within the menus, most of them turned off by default. The camera can actually be used through thick gloves in old weather due to it’s deep and comfortable grip.

The first thing that struck me about the sensor was it’s high ISO performance. Images shot at 6400iso are clean enough for big prints, even a few shots I tried at 12,800iso are remarkably good and usable for smaller reproductions.

Urban Deer

The live view is great, and unlike my Sony A7R, remembers the last zoom state when it’s re activated. Many little details like this, present on both the 645Z and the 645D before it, show clearly that photographers still have a say in designing cameras at Pentax. Another welcome addition is the articulated screen. It will certainly get a lot of use especially on low angle images off a tripod.

From what I can tell, the battery life is noticeably shorter than on the 645D. Most of this I assume is due to the live view and my more frequent use of the back screen.

The files from the 645Z are remarkable and have a lot of dynamic range. More important than dynamic range (for me), is the fact that the files are not compressed like the Sony A7R files. This quickly becomes apparent when manipulating colours. None of the banding or bizarre posterization effects in lower tones seem to exist in the resulting DNG files. While I still love my A7R system for lightweight travel, I had to discard ruined images in the past from the lossy compression Sony imposes on it’s raw files.

Below are some additional sample shots from this weekend. I will try to post more comments about this camera as I’m getting more aquatinted with the differences it has compared to the 645D.

 

This past weekend, despite an exhausting work week, I went up north with a friend to do some shooting in the freezing Canadian cold. There is a quote by Richard Avedon that I remembered and wanted to share here today:

 “I believe that you’ve got to love your work so much that it is all you want to do. I believe you must betray your mistress for your work, you betray your wife for your work; I believe that she must betray you for her work. I believe that work is the one thing in the world that never betrays you, that lasts. If I were going to be a politician, if I were going to be a scientist, I would do it every day. I wouldn’t wait for Monday. I don’t believe in weekends. If you’re headed for a life that’s only involved with making money and that you hope for satisfaction somewhere else, you’re headed for a lot of trouble. And whatever replaces vodka when you’re 45 is what you’re going to be doing.” -Richard Avedon

 

north_bay

 

PS: I have added my new instagram page link at the bottom of this blog.

Aamadablam

This is not going to be a standard review praising the camera based on lab tests or stroll through a city on a good day. I have used a couple of the A7r bodies in various locations around the world ranging from dry deserts, the fluctuating moods of Antarctica, and the harsh conditions of the upper Himalayas.

I will try to keep this post brief and to the point, so here it goes…

 

Is the Sony A7r a professional camera ?

Sony advertises the A7r as a “professional” camera, or the top of the line in it’s mirror-less lineup. The word professional become more of a marketing buzz word in recent years than a term to describe tools designed for people that depend on them to make their livelihoods (aka, professionals).

So is the A7r with all it’s marketing claims a professional tool ? The short and simple answer is no. Why you ask ? Read on.

Antarctica

 

What makes a camera professional ?

A camera intended for professional use needs to keep a few things at the top of it’s feature list. These include:

• Image retention piece of mind in the form of dual card slots. Having dual card slots that allow for simultaneous writes safeguards from bad SD cards, allows backup, and lets the photographer hide one of the cards quickly if harassed to erase an image, or a series of images by various rent-a-cops or similar goons scattered throughout the globe.

• Removing as much of the camera interface away from the photographer as possible. In most situations the fewer controls one has to touch or re adjust the better. In this regard the A7r falls short in its build in behaviours. For example switching into manual focus should stick regardless of the priority mode the camera is set to. The current behaviour resets manually adjusted focus when switching from shutter priority to aperture priority or full manual mode, forcing the user to re focus on a subject and wasting time. Why not keep an adjustment that the user has already made when switching exposure modes ? I have more to say about the bad interface decisions below.

• Real weather/environment sealing. The A7r is not really weather sealed despite having been advertised as such during the initial release. In recent months I have noticed Sony removing most of the weather sealing claims for their site and other marketing materials; this is most likely due to user complaints.

Real weather sealing means being able to take the camera out in pouring rain, in fluctuating temperature conditions, and in dusty environments. It also means the camera can withstand a reasonable amount of abuse such as being put down on dirt, having sand blown on it, or being banged around a little in crowded places. The A7r’s petite frame, including the design of it’s lenses makes this camera clearly a looks over function device.

Raw files that are truly malleable. Sony claims the compressed RAW format of the A7r is lossless despite using some home brewed compression scheme. I have not found the RAW files out of this camera to be truly uncompressed when using Adobe camera raw (Lightroom) to process them. Compared to files that come out of the Pentax 645D or even the Panasonic GX7, the Sony raw’s have a high tendency to exhibit banding in fine gradations such as skies and some skin tones. I have noticed the low tones to be a lot more brittle compared to the 645D files.

posterization

Another thing that I’m observing is flattening of highlights despite the histogram showing ample headroom. There is loss of texture and tonal separation in the highlights that I’m not getting in files from other cameras. This is most striking in certain images of clouds and snow.

A non vibrating shutter. Much has been written about this elsewhere on the internet, but I must confirm this is not a problem only encountered by anal retentive camera reviewers. The shutter vibration on this camera is real and ruins shots at very common shutter speeds used in shooting landscapes. No professional camera should ever be released with a problem such as this having been overlooked.

shutter_vibration

 

• Ray angle issues ? The a7R seems to produce a purple vignette when using the 35mm ƒ2.8 and in some cases the 55mm ƒ1.8. I’m not sure if this is a ray angle issue with the lens and sensor combination, or if there is another culprit to blame. I have to colour correct this in many images that have overcast conditions and it’s quite frankly a huge annoyance. Both of my a7r bodies exhibit this behaviour.

purple_rings

 

Sony A7r bad interface decisions

Realizing that every user has their own ergonomic and interface preferences, the following is my personal rundown of things that annoy or downright irritate me about the A7r.

• Manual focus does not stick when switching exposure modes or waking up from sleep. Imagine this simple scenario: You are trying to take a picture of a mountain peak and carefully manual focus the shot on a tripod in aperture priority. You now realize that the shutter speed is in a zone that will create a blur from the A7r shutter vibration and decide to switch to manual mode to control both the shutter and the aperture. Boom, you just lost your focus point because the camera switched into auto focus. Time to refocus your shot. Same thing happens when the camera comes out of sleep mode.

• No ability to turn of the EVF eye sensor. What if you manually want to switch between the EVF and back screen ? Can’t do it. Try walking with the camera by your side, you will constantly see it switching between the back screen and the EVF, drawing attention to itself in places where the back screen should not be coming on.

• The aperture scroll wheel is to close to the on/off switch. I have turned off the camera by mistake multiple times while wearing thicker gloves. Buttons on the camera can be triggered by accident even without wearing gloves. I recommend turning off the scroll wheel altogether as it has a big potential to be accidentally moved.

• The manual focus assist behaviours are lame. When manual focusing with focus assist on, the camera magnifies the area being focused on while the focus ring of the lens is being moved (expected behaviour). As soon as the user stops focusing, the magnified image lingers for a user selectable time of 2-5 seconds or forever unless the shutter button (or another assigned button) is pressed. This is not intuitive behaviour when shooting. I want to manually focus, and instantly see the whole frame the moment I let go of the focusing ring. Why this behaviour is not included as one of the options is a mystery.

Perhaps Sony should include a cropped focus magnification overlay on top of the whole frame like Panasonic has implemented. That way the photographer can confirm focus while still making sure the framing has not drifted during focus adjustments.

• The firmware updater is a mess. Sony should do what most other camera manufacturers do, let the user place a file on a SD card and have the camera automatically go into firmware update mode when the right file is detected. Having a whole application to do this is crazy, especially one that installs a root kit on your computer. This is one of the most idiotic decisions sony has made.

• Have the online/wifi features off by default. They waste to much battery.

• Include a real charger. The camera does not come with a charger, just a USB cable that one has to use to charge the camera through the body. This obviously puts the camera out of commission while the battery is being charged.

Himalayas

I love how city streets turn into a theatre at night. Havana is especially cool due to the textures and close proximity of the buildings.

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