Getting Your Head and Hands Around the Sony a7R II Camera

A detailed view of a bust of Hercules in the Queen Victoria Gardens in Melbourne, Australia.

I’m very much enjoying the new Sony a7R II camera. It’s revolutionary on so many levels. But, regardless of all the technological advancements associated with this camera, for it to be a useful tool to the creative it must feel good in hand, be relatively easy to use and portable.

Ergonomics of Sony a7R II Camera

The ergonomics of the camera are, to my mind, very good. It seems to be well weighted and feels comfortable in the hand. The camera’s buttons and dials are reasonably sized, given the relatively small size of the camera, well laid out and easy to find.

In fact I’m able to get to almost all of the camera’s features without moving my eye away from the viewfinder. This is of critical importance when photography people as your subject can become quite uneasy when you appear to be paying more attention to your camera than you are to them. One of the tricks in eliciting a great expression is to be able to conduct all of the camera adjustments in an efficient and unobtrusive manner.

The fact that the options listed within the camera’s excellent Function menu can be accessed and set from within the viewfinder is marvelous. The same is true for accessing and setting any of the options inside the camera’s menu.

The Electronic Viewfinder

I have to admit I was very nervous about how I’d respond to the camera’s electronic viewfinder (EVF). I’ve never previously owned a camera with anything other than an optical viewfinder. I’d seen other camera’s with EVF’s and found them to be very unsettling, with a kind of static pattern that interferes with the viewing experience. Now that the quality of EVF’s have improved as much as they have I thought that, after a little use, I’d adapt. The good news is I think I have.

The EVF in the Sony a7R II camera is the largest in any mirrorless or DSLR (with the exception of medium format) camera. It’s a large, comfortable, bright and high resolution viewfinder providing a comfortable viewing experience which is a great advantage for critical focusing and composition and when working under low light conditions. Under exceptionally dark conditions a lot of interference occurs, but the image itself remains bright.

How It Feels Is Personal 

Cameras, while made for the masses, remain personal devices. If the camera doesn’t feel right, or possesses a logic that you’re likely to have trouble adjusting to, then it may not be the right camera for you. Where ever possible get your hands on the two or three cameras you’re most interested in and spend time with them to establish which one best suits you and the type of photography you’re most likely to be undertaking over the next few years.

Lines, shapes and colors underpin this study in geometry from a photowalk in Melbourne, Australia.

Sony Zeiss 24-70mm f4 FE Lens

All of the photos in this post are made with the new Sony a7R II camera and the Sony Zeiss 24-70mm f4 lens. It’s a great lens and an excellent choice for a high quality general-purpose lens that lends itself well to landscape and portrait photography. You can, of course, use any focal length you like for any kind of subject matter. However, here’s a guide that works well with full frame cameras such as the Sony a7R II.

How to Use the Sony Zeiss 24-70mm f4 FE Lens

The 24mm focal length is a classic for landscapes, providing a relatively wide-angle of view. The best way to use a wide-angle lens is to compose your image in such a way that ensures you have something of interest very close to the camera. In a landscape that might include flowers, textured earth or rocks. Whatever it is, color, texture or shape are important design elements to consider when looking for suitable foreground material for wide-angle landscape photography.

A close up of the facade of the fascinating ACCA building in Southbank, Australia.

The mild wide-angle view provided by the 35mm focal length is ideal for environmental portraiture where the subject, positioned close to the camera (e.g., 1-1.5 meters away), is portrayed within an environment that’s appropriate to them. Imagine a teacher in a classroom, a surfer on the beach or a football (i.e., soccer) player in front of goal. This is a great focal length for photojournalism and documentary photography.

The 50mm focal length was for many years regarded as a standard or normal lens. It provides a perspective that’s similar to that of the human eye and, thereby, draws the subject or scene in a relatively realistic and, therefore, unremarkable manner. To make interesting images with a 50mm lens you’ll often have to move, exploring a range of viewpoints and angles of light.

The glow of the golden hour illuminates these skyscrapers in Lorimer Street on the edge of the Docklands precinct, Melbourne.

The 70mm focal length is the beginning of the range (i.e., 70-135mm) associated with traditional portrait lenses. Its slightly magnified view provides a narrower angle of view than the standard 50mm lens, helping to concentrate attention on the subject’s face.

As it’s a mild telephoto lens the 70mm focal length tends to draw the average face in a more flattering manner. Most of us, particularly in our mid to later years, feel that our faces are too fat and our noses too long. Telephoto lenses tend to render faces thinner and noses shorter which is one reason why they’re favored by professional portrait photographers.   

The photo at the top of this post features a bust of Hercules from the Queen Victoria Gardens in Melbourne, Australia. I’ve often noticed how well light illuminates this particular bust and have photographed it on several occasions over recent years.

The statue is quiet weathered, so I enhanced its remaining texture on the desktop. This was particular necessary as the statue was predominantly front lit. And, while that’s great when you wish to reveal identity and/or enhance color, it’s not the direction of light best suited to highlighting texture.   

While there’s no doubt that opportunities for dramatic images exist at focal lengths either side of the relatively narrow range offered by the Sony Zeiss 24-70mm f4 FE lens, it’s still a very good choice for travel photography.

That is if, in your mind, image quality is more important than the extended range of focal lengths offered by a lens such as the enticing Sony 24-250mm f3.5-f6.3 FE lens. It’s a simple case of convenience versus quality. One lens to rule them all, or two or more lenses to cover the range with greater quality.

While I understand the allure and convenience offered by the Sony 24-250mm f3.5-f6.3 lens, which may well be a great choice for enthusiasts, my preference would be to opt for the Sony Zeiss 24-70mm f4 and 70-200 f4 FE lenses. Of course, as I love ultra-wide angle perspectives, I’d also want to include a wider option such as that offered by the Sony 16-35mm f4 Vario-Tessar T FE lens. That looks like a great lens.

Leica Lenses On The Sony a7R II Camera

By the time I add one or more of my three Leica lenses into the equation I’m ending up with a relatively heavy bag of photographic goodness. Whether I actually take those magnificent Leica lenses on overseas trips or not is tricky. Strictly speaking the lovely Sony Zeiss 24-70mm f4 FE lens covers the same range, in a single lens, compared to what I have with my three Leica lenses. It’s also auto focus, while the Leica lenses are manual focus only.

But Leica glass and the build quality of their lenses is probably without peer. And the fact that they’re f1.4 and f2 lenses opens up great opportunities for low light and/or extremely shallow depth of field work.

A stately old tree provides a natural frame for this idyllic view at the Carlton Gardens in Melbourne, Australia.

Beware Of Dust Demons

One thing most folks don’t think about, until after the fact, is sensor dust. It’s important to avoid changing lenses under windy conditions. The likelihood of dust landing on the sensor is actually more likely to occur with a mirrorless camera as, unlike a DSLR, there’s no mirror between the lens and the camera’s sensor. Yikes!  

Just what I take on my next photography trip, a two-week driving adventure around the South Island of New Zealand in November, will be based upon what I expect to be photographing and which lenses I’II have to choose from.

One things for certain: the Sony Zeiss 24-70mm f4 FE lens will be my default lens. Most likely I’II add the Sony 16-35mm f4 Vario-Tessar T FE lens to my kit and, with luck, I’II also have the Sony 70-200mm f4 FE lens added to my kit by then. It would be handy for those more distant scenes and a great option when photographing from near the car.

Photography, Like Life, Involves Compromise

As this is a driving tour I can afford to take a bit of extra gear and, when undertaking a hike/trek/tramp of any distance, simply take from the car the lens or lenses I’m most likely to use. It’s for this reason that I may take one or more of my Leica lenses along. But on a longer trip, without the advantage of a car to stow gear away in, there’s just no point in having a smaller and lighter camera if you’re going to load up with too many lenses.

And let’s not forget the potential problems associated with bringing camera gear onto an airplane. That issue most certainly hasn’t gone away.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru