So, i've semi-recently taken the plunge and have acquired a digital camera (gasp!). Map Camera, an oft-frequented camera shop in Shinjuku, had a campaign where you can pay for a camera in 20 installments at 0% interest. The timing couldn't have been better; i had recently lost a couple gigs when the clients required the data the night of the shoot or the morning after.
With film, meeting those demands proved impossible so i was mulling the idea of finally going digital. With the stars aligned, i found myself the proud owner of a Sony a7 with the 35mm Zeiss Sonnar. With an adaptor i was also able to use my Leica 50mm summicron.
After a few months of extensive usage, i feel i can now make a fair assessment of this camera. For fear of delving into yet another film vs. digital debate, these are merely my thoughts on this tool for meeting my needs.
The only thing i really missed from shooting digital was not the ability to see my shots immediately on the screen or even the ease of post processing with photoshop or lightroom; it was the ability to change ISO any time. I am not by any means a prolific shooter, without a specific concept in mind it can take days before i even finish a roll. I tell you, shooting just a few shots at ISO 400 in the day and then needing to shoot at night on the same roll can be extremely frustrating. I am also not financially prepared to have 2 bodies around, thus it was refreshing to have that freedom. Now what sets the Sony a7 apart from a mere digital camera is it's full-frame sensor with the ability to produce great results up to 6400 in such a small package.
A new skill that needs to be acquired on the Sony a7 with manual focus lenses is mastering peaking. It takes some getting used to; the coloring (i set mine to yellow) of edges in focus is distracting at first but i've come to find it not so bad. It is harder as you can imagine on lighter backgrounds.
Another feature of the Sony a7 is its OLED electronic viewfinder (OVF), supposedly one of the best in the industry. While it's much better than shooting with the rear LCD, the lag time even in decent lighting leaves much to be desired when shooting street. It's passable when the subject is relatively stationary but for more active shots with multiple subjects, it's quite a challenge.
Ergonomically the camera fits in my hands well, though i do have relatively small hands. No qualms with button placement for shooting; all the essentials are easily accessible without taking your eye off the finder. A welcome feature is the 3 custom keys you can adapt to your needs ( i set my C1 button to magnification for fine tuning focusing). One minor gripe is the location of the zoom-in and scroll buttons during playback; i find streching my thumbs between buttons a nuisance.
As we're on the topic of cons now, a significant issue is battery life. Documentation says 300 some odd shots per charge but with the camera constantly on i last about 4 hours prowling the streets. Turning the camera on and off as needed and carrying extra batteries are not the most elegant solutions but will have to suffice. There is about a 1 second gap between on and taking a snap that needs to be taken into account.
There is a term in Japanese 減り張り (merihari) which translates literally to "modulation" but refers more to the wave-like variation of life in general. Everything undulates as there can be no good if there's no bad. Shooting with the Sony a7 and its benefits and pitfalls has provided a new unique alternative to documenting one's reality for better and for worse.