I’ve been shooting with the Sony a7II full frame, 24 megapixel mirrorless camera for almost a month now, which has given me a bit of time to really get a feel for it. I don’t like to review cameras that I’ve not had the ability to fire off a few thousand shots with, so I’ve been using this camera almost exclusively since I got it, and now feel a bit better about praising and lambasting Sony on a few points. C’mon in for my initial thoughts, and a few performance based tests…
Full disclosure: I have been shooting this camera almost entirely without native FE mount, Sony lenses until about a week ago. This camera was purchased as an addition to my Canon system, along with the Metabones EF>E Mount Mark 4 Smart Adapter (you can read my user review on that adapter HERE) and I’ve just recently purchased the Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 FE lens. I’ve long been an admirer of Sony’s forward thinking when it came to camera bodies and sensor development, but I’ve never felt their lens offerings (for their mirrorless cameras anyway) moved the needle enough for me to think about truly jumping ship. That I can use my wonderful, and already purchased and paid for Canon EF mount lenses on a camera that incorporates so many of the features that I have grown accustomed to, and love in my other mirrorless system setup, was a huge draw for me. It also eases me into a new system. I can get quite a bit out of it without having to sell my lenses and reinvest entirely which makes for a slow descent into the shallow end of this pool.
The way that I tend to shoot now has largely grown into being used to some of the new technological bells and whistles like focus peaking, live exposure display, tilting high res LCD screens and EVF’s that enable a variety of information to be overlaid through the finder. They have all have spoiled me to an extent. I’ve been able to compartmentalize my “full frame” system and my micro 4/3 mirrorless setup by separating their skill sets into “work camera” and “everyday camera” which has been easy enough. With the a7II, those lines are starting to blur.
With that, here are my thoughts on the Sony a7II, broken down into “Build/Ergonomics,” “Features/Interface/Performance” and “Image Quality”. I’ll give my pros and cons along the way and wrap it up with a conclusion along with a few thoughts on how I see this camera specifically changing the full frame landscape moving forward.
1. Build Quality/Ergonomics
My experience with the original a7 and a7r were limited to in store tinkering, and while I liked the idea, they never felt at home in my hand. My large, gangly hand. The a7II however, seems to have tweaked the body style just enough to really sit right in the palm while not adding much bulk at all.
The grip is sufficiently deep, the shutter button is nicely placed and the thumb rest is just as large, and placed as well as it should be. Buttons are easy to access, with 4 direct access custom buttons and aside from White Balance, and Auto Focus point assignment, you have a direct access button for just about everything else necessary in capturing a fleeting moment. The ability to assign a number of features to various buttons is nice, although you then need to remember where those settings live. I, for one, prefer direct access buttons, which this camera has almost every necessary function assigned and labeled, so this isn’t quite as big an issue as I had with the OMD EM5 for instance. Some customization is cool, if it isn’t at the cost of functionality, and the Sony a7II seems to do a good job at balancing that.
The exposure compensation dial is nicely placed and a very welcomed addition in my opinion. The placement of the C1 and C2 assignable custom buttons on the top plate are nicely placed for easy access when shooting, and I even like the odd placement of the dedicated video button which is located on the outside of the thumb grip like some type of afterthought at first glance.
This camera is almost the same size as my GX7 or EM5 (with added grip) which makes it absolutely miniscule for a full frame camera. It’s a little taller and slightly deeper, but in the hand, with a smaller optic on, the differences are very minor. While I love the overall size reduction, and honestly it is one of the reasons I chose to buy it, I can’t help but feel that I’ll really only opt to use this camera with smaller prime lenses, or more specifically, only choose to buy lenses that don’t grossly imbalance this tiny camera. Full frame optics can be very big, and very heavy and if attached to an a7 series camera, one will need to anticipate using a hand on the lens as a primary support point. It’s a tradeoff. Both a pro and a con. You lose weight and bulk, and have the ability with the right lenses, to have a remarkably compact setup, buuuuut, it’s small and can feel imbalanced with larger lenses.
One ergonomic feature that I think needs to be addressed with future remodels will be the front click wheel. It doesn’t stick out far enough to be immediately tactile, and many times I’ve turned the camera off while trying to adjust my aperture setting via that front wheel. I keep telling myself that I’ll get used to it, but after almost a month, it’s still too damn small for me to say without pause that it is designed well. The idea? Yes, great, I like having two wheels that I can adjust without taking my eye from the viewfinder. The execution? It’s poor. These cameras are relatively tiny. With crucial adjustment buttons and wheels, you need to do a better job at making them identifiable and in turn, usable especially when the possibility of turning the camera off at a crucial moment is the alternative.
This camera is solid without feeling too heavy. It has decent weather sealing and all tactile buttons and dials have a decent sturdiness to them. The tilting LCD (which I now greatly value and prefer over the tilt and swivel style LCD) feels less solid than either the Panasonic GX7 or Olympus EM5 from my experience, but still a valuable addition. Perhaps for video, a side swivel screen is of more use, but I prefer having the screen on axis with the lens for waist level/low angle, or high angle shooting, myself. Both click wheels do feel a bit light and plasticky, and as I mentioned, I feel the front click wheel is too small, insignificant and too close to immediately differentiate from the on/off switch, but otherwise I think this camera feels every inch a solid, prosumer design.
- Solidly built with environmental sealing, yet not too heavy and now is up to spec with the a7r and a7s in that it is more metal, less plastic
- Sony has remedied the mount issue, now using a more solid ring at the lens mount on the body
- Functional grip with natural feeling placement of the shutter button
- Access to all necessary functions, with a great level of customization
- Tilting LCD
- It’s really small for a full frame camera, nice and compact
- Front click wheel is too small, too close to the on/off switch
- Both click wheels feel somewhat cheap compared to similar click wheels on other cameras I’ve used
- Tilting LCD assembly seems a little light weight, again comparatively
- It’s really small for a full frame camera, can become easily imbalanced with larger lenses
2. Features, Interface and Performance
Features – Here is where this camera made sense to me and ultimately worked its way onto my radar. As many of you know, I have long been using the micro 4/3 system as my go to, day to day camera setup and I love it. Modern features like IBIS, focus peaking, EVF information overlay, WiFi and the like, have really grown on me. Grown to the point that I don’t even shoot with my 5D2 anymore outside of a few specific jobs. I have fun and see great value in many features that I may have originally seen as unnecessary or merely marketing tag lines.
IBIS – (In Body Image Stabilization) This is awesome. I certainly stirred the pot when I said that I felt the 2 axis Panasonic IBIS in the GX7 did a better job at still results than the 5 axis IBIS in the Olympus OMD EM5, which I still feel to be the truth, but the other main takeaway from that comparison is that the 5 axis system does far better at providing an overall, superior experience. Like the Olympus 5 axis IBIS, Sony has, and for the first time in any full frame camera, incorporated a 5 axis IBIS sensor based system that not only aids in still and video capture, but in the live view feed. This is very handy, and arguably more important than a half stop of handhold ability one way or the other.
I’ll pit the a7II against the GX7 soon to see if I can best my still results with the Sony, but just rest assured that the Sony’s IBIS system is great. How great? Well, here’s a quick set of sample of shots with the IBIS (Sony calls it “Steady Shot”) on, using the FE 55mm f/1.8 lens. For the test, I started at 1/50 of a second to get as close to 1/focal length as I could with this lens. First, a large shot of the scene as I shot myself in a mirror to see how I shot, and then 100% crops, 1 stop at a time, as labeled. Click any to see larger.
On the shot at 1/25th sec, I obviously focused on my finger tip, not the text on the front of the lens as in the others, but otherwise things should be pretty consistent. From this singular test, I see a solid 3 stop handheld advantage, and if we want to nitpick while going by that 1/focal length “rule of thumb” for stabilization standards, we could say by this that we’re a touch over 3 stops assuming you agree with my acceptance of that shot at 1/6 sec. At 1/3 second, it starts to get to a point that most anyone would consider it too blurry to be considered “sharp enough” although I have plenty of shots with this level of relative sharpness in my library that I’ve kept because a slightly blurry shot is better than no shot in cases. I will be doing much more on this, comparing the Sony 5 axis IBIS to the GX7, and then some optically stabilized shots on the 5D2 to see how my shooting technique with and without the aid of modern electronic stabilization fares so stay tuned for that.
Focus Peaking – Becoming more common in the mirrorless world, focus peaking’s usefulness cannot be overstated in my opinion. Considering that we are able to adapt so many different lenses to these cameras, manual focus is becoming a more common task. A task that when used with a feature such as focus peaking and focus magnification assist as is available on this camera, can be fun, easy and even preferable in certain cases. It’s great. Below is the video from my Metabones AF test, but toward the end (the clip below starts at 1:35 where I switch to MF to show the focus peaking) you can see how quick the focus peaking can enable a manual focus shot. In the case of the Metabones adapter, it can be much, much faster than employing the AF, and even in lower light and/or lower contrast situations where the native lenses may hunt a little bit. Have a look:
WiFi – There are still companies that charge a remarkable premium for wireless file transfer devices to be added on to their cameras. Want a remote control? Pay even more. WiFi is a great feature for remote shooting, wireless tethered shooting and simple file transfer, even if you don’t use it regularly, and it is a feature that every single camera manufacturer is going to have to start integrating into all of their cameras for those that don’t already. Soon. I wouldn’t consider this to be a feature to replace a card reader for instance when transferring full res files to your computer, but for sharing an image or two to a mobile device, or viewing lower res images on a tablet or the like while shooting for preview (commercially for an AD or client), it is a handy feature, and one that is included with the cost of admission.
Applications – This brings me to the ability to purchase and download applications directly to your camera. Again, if you never use this feature, no harm, no foul. For those that see the benefit to using an intervalometer that will instantly create a finished time-lapse, or one that will stack star trail images for night time, long exposure night photography, or the like this is a very, very cool feature. I’ve only yet purchased and have used the time-lapse app (see below) but it is very cool in my opinion, and hopefully this functionality will continue to provide newer and more feature rich applications for those of us interested.
Battery Performance – First things first. Sony, include a damn battery charger. Seriously. I can see the benefit to being able to charge a battery in camera, but when I have to stop shooting to charge a battery, that is a huge pile of crap. Charging $40 for a battery charger is BS. This is the absolute first camera that I have purchased (and readers know I’ve purchased a fair few) and I have used a lot more, that didn’t come with a way to charge a battery outside of the camera. Stupid. I’d also suggest buying the Watson Charger for $20 instead of the Sony charger. While I am normally an advocate for keeping manufacturer’s proprietary batteries in the camera, I don’t really care about the name on the charger as long as it works, and this one does, for half the price.
The performance of the Sony batteries themselves are pretty abysmal as well. I cannot get through a day of moderate shooting on a single battery. If traveling, (or shooting for work) I think I’d need at least three to get me through a day. This is not surprising when you consider the amount of juice that this camera requires to keep the IBIS, EVF and LCD humming along. Certainly not unique to Sony, or this camera, which is a shame that crappy battery performance has become the standard. Well, I guess size reduction coupled with high end performance features has to result in some compromise eh? This is one of those compromises, and we all just need to live with it unfortunately.
One might choose to turn off the IBIS, review time and even shut the camera off between windows of activity, but that goes against why I enjoy shooting with these newer digital cameras. I want the power eating features, and I’ve just come to terms with the fact that I have to buy a couple extra batteries, which in Sony’s defense look to be somewhat universal for many of the alpha cameras which is good at least. If you own other a7 series cameras, or even the NEX/alpha APS-C series cams, I believe they all use this NP FW50 Battery so that is cool and if you do own another Sony alpha camera, hopefully you got a battery charger with one of those so you don’t have to pony up for one.
User Interface– Sony has come a long way in my opinion since they started with the NEX platform. I had written about my experience when looking at, and comparing the NEX 5 against the Panasonic GF1, 5 or 6 years ago, both visionary cameras in their own rights. I enjoyed the image quality and certain features of the NEX 5, but I couldn’t jive with the menus and what I saw as a completely overlooked user interface. If I remember correctly, I think I made a statement that I’d felt Sony’s cellular phone designers must have built the UI for the original NEX cameras because they were obviously not anything close to being photographers. The old NEX cameras gave menu hunting a totally new meaning. Changing simple parameters like ISO might have taken 7 different button presses for instance. It was a mess.
The a7 platform, which to be honest is the only other Sony camera I’ve interacted with since, has streamlined the UI in most every way. I still feel there are things that can, and should be addressed in the future like deleting images off of your card (the only way to do it in camera all at once is to format your card, which is in the 6th menu header, sub menu 5) but this is easy enough as it isn’t anything that is going to keep me from getting a shot.
About a month in, and I’m feeling fairly well versed in where things live, and while I still have to do a fair bit of staring at the back of the camera when wanting to change certain things, those instances are becoming fewer and further between. On an intuitive and brilliantly executed, photographer centric scale of menu implementation and overall user interface of 1-10 where the old NEX system would be a 1, this camera would probably hover between a 6 and 7. It is better, and far more intuitive than the Olympus menu system in my opinion, but not quite up to snuff with Canon or Panasonic, which I feel do a really good job at enabling the photographer while not getting in the way. Still, that Sony has made this much progress since I last used a Sony camera is encouraging and shows that they recognize that it can, and should be improved upon. Kudos.
If I can pick up a camera I’ve never shot before and within minutes figure out how to alter things like metering, ISO settings, drive mode, AF mode, white balance, formatting, MF assist features, et al without ever needing to open or track down a camera manual, then it would start at a 7 on my personal scale here if that makes sense. This camera is almost there, it just has a couple weird things buried in menus, or named something that if you don’t shoot Sony cameras might not know what to look for, and of course is not well documented in the included literature.
Again, Sony, EVERYONE, when did it start becoming okay to not provide an actual, printed camera manual? I don’t want to download one. I want to open the box, spend an hour with it, and know exactly how to get what I want out of it, not to mention being able to keep it with me in the field if and when I need to reference how to setup my applications, or wifi connection.
Performance – This camera can be looked at from a couple different angles performance wise. The first angle could be from what it’s lacking. It doesn’t have class leading AF tracking, blistering frame rate nor does the system have the lenses to completely fill out a professional’s bag for serious work in certain applications. Coming from the other side, it does everything decently. It offers some awesome tools that many other cameras do not like focus peaking, IBIS, weather sealing and the ability to mount just about any 135mm format lens to it via adapters. At it’s price point, I looked at this camera versus the D610’s or 6D’s of the world and for me, being a Canon shooter (or at least someone with a bunch of Canon full frame lenses) there was no real comparison on paper.
I sacrifice (when using my EF lenses) quick AF operation, which is no small tradeoff for many, but I understand that is going to be the case if I want to use these particular lenses. AF is very handy, don’t get me wrong, I utilize auto focus quite often, but for me, when adapting optics to this a7II, I really have been looking at how important it is to me and what I shoot. I’ve come to the conclusion that I can easily get by with a majority of my shooting by manually focusing, and for the times that AF is paramount, I will have the Sony/Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 lens, and perhaps another one or two Sony FE mount lenses in the future. For all the other stuff that I shoot like landscape, macro, interior and even portraiture, manual focus is not only easy enough, but preferred.
I’d like to explore the intricacies of the hybrid AF, but have only had the Zeiss 55mm for about a week and have been looking at other areas for this review. As far as I can tell, the hybrid AF does not work with adapted AF lenses outside of the alpha family, as there is no way to engage it via the menus, and the area that the on sensor phase detection spots employ, are outlined when engaged and when using an FE lens. AF overall has been good, struggling in lower light, lower contrast situations which is to be somewhat expected, but one area that I’d hope to see a little boost with a phase detection spot.
The LCD is adequate, but I can’t help but wonder why Sony doesn’t implement touch capacitive screens. I know that it bothers certain shooters, but the upside is so handy, especially with mirrorless cameras that enable us to focus anywhere in the frame. Changing an AF spot on this camera is slow and requires quite a few button presses. On my other cameras that have touch capacitive screens, I can do it with a quick touch, and on the GX7, I can use the LCD as a track pad to place that AF spot ANYWHERE at the touch with my eye still in the EVF, and that is absolutely awesome. What I suggest to these camera companies, and seemingly has not been done yet, is to provide a button or switch that will enable/disable the touch screen function. Panasonic has a way to partially do this, so this can and should be standard. Touch screen on, touch screen off, then everyone is happy.
The EVF is great, although I do find that it blurs just a little bit on the edges when viewing from a slight angle. I’d imagine those with glasses might see this become a more serious issue, but it has been entirely workable for me. Compared to the EVF on the EM5 or GX7 for instance (which are the only other two EVF’s I’ve had built into a camera) it is larger and better to my eye. The ability to cycle through overlays like an electronic level, histogram and the ability to include or exclude enough camera and exposure information to become crosseyed, is pretty cool and adds to the customizability of the shooter’s experience.
3. Image Quality
I’ve been very happy with the quality of the images so far. I’m certainly seeing some of the traits that I noticed with the Sony sensors in the Olympus cameras, namely the (in my opinion) slightly over sharpened result out of the camera. This can be seen as a nice thing and one of the reasons they do so well in resolution tests. It can be a bit tricky to work with post processing sharpening in my experience as it is more subject to artifacting, but I’ve gotten used to it after the EM5 and know how far to push it. Color is great, as is dynamic range and these are all factors that pushed me in this direction in the first place as I was looking to get a decent performance bump from my aging 5D2.
Here are a few examples from day to day shooting. I shoot RAW, and have converted via Aperture 3.6 which recently added the a7II to the supported RAW conversion list (who says Aperture is dead!?). Click any to see larger:
Sony has been making waves ever since the introduction of the original a7 and a7r. Since then they’ve added the low light, 4K monster a7s and now the a7II with the first 5 axis stabilized full frame sensor. I’m sure the a7rII is just around the corner as well which will have seen them release quite a few bodies in a very short time period showing how aggressively dedicated Sony is to this Full Frame platform.
Does this, akin to Olympus offering the hybrid AF solution for the 4/3 system by way of the EM1, and subsequent retirement of the Olympus DSLR’s, spell a similar fate for the translucent mirrored DSLT alpha cameras? Time will tell I guess. Sony obviously sees a future in mirrorless technology and have planted a huge flag at the top of Full Frame Mirrorless Mountain.
They’ve also recently added the 4 new FE lenses which have gone a long way to allay fears that Sony was again focused solely on releasing a disproportionate amount of camera bodies while holding out on inspiring optics for these intriguing cameras. That we can also adapt lenses to these full frame beauties is another major selling point, and for me, a huge factor in being able to supplement my Canon full frame setup with a new, higher performing sensor with all the fun bells and whistles that I have come to really appreciate in my other mirrorless cameras.
Canon and Nikon will certainly have a measured response to this, and can largely rest on their laurels because of the investment that many of us may have in their systems, but I will tell you, and speaking for myself, I have seen very little that I feel has been worth the asking price comparatively from either Canikon when looking at what these Sony cameras are bringing to the party. Sony is offering more in this camera in most respects, then Canon or Nikon have in a Full Frame machine aside from perhaps the 36 or soon to be 50mp monsters, or full fledged professional machines, but then Sony has the A7r and soon to be A7rII to make an argument there, resolution wise anyway. This is pretty incredible. If you would have told me 5 years ago that I could buy a Full Frame camera with in body image stabilization, WiFi for remote control and WFT, weather sealing, a top notch 24mp sensor that could quite literally fit in my pocket for $1700, I’d probably have said you were crazy, then maybe slapped you because you were nuts. In retrospect, I apologize for my reactionary assumptions as to my own behavior, and it goes to show that maybe, just maybe these companies have their finger on the pulse better than us internet folk do. Maybe.
In that same time frame, Canon and Nikon have done little to really, truly revolutionize the industry from a still shooting perspective. Things have certainly grown incrementally, no doubt about it, and current cameras are better than their predecessors, but they’re also quite a bit more expensive AND offer very little true innovation comparatively. This right here is what tipped the scales for me. Would I like a 5D3 or D810, or even a 5Ds? Yes, sure I would, but when I can get this camera for half of what these cameras are asking at launch, while offering more features that I find useful in day to day shooting, then I can more easily justify this choice to myself. It’s not going to be the same for everyone, but I do think that there are quite a few folks out there that don’t feel like paying $3500 to get a slightly better camera than one they paid $2700 for 3 or 4 years ago. If you need 50mp, then sure, you’ll have to pay the premium, and I’d never tell someone that they don’t need it if they’re okay with the asking price, but for me, and most shooters I know, we’re seeing much of this as us being held over the coals because these companies know that we more than likely won’t want to entirely reinvest in a new system, even if we could at a fraction of the cost.
Yes, the Sony menus and interface could use a little more work, but it is MILES better than my last experience with the NEX 5, and sure, they could stand to round out their lens catalog, but honestly, we’re already seeing that they’re serious about that as well, and I think the aggressive release schedule for the a7 series bodies should be a huge indicator that Sony plans to make a good amount of noise in the Full Frame landscape. I applaud them for that, and I look forward to seeing how it shakes the industry up moving forward.
In the mean time, I will be shooting this a7II, and loving doing so. Canon, Nikon, I’m happy to see what you’ve got, but if you offer nothing more than a 4 year old camera with a slightly new processor and a one stop ISO bump for $3500 again, I’ll keep my money, thanks.
My suggestion to Sony, focus on quality, yet relatively affordable lenses. Not super zooms, not f/0.95 optics that will weigh 5x what the body weighs, but the 28mm f/2 at under $500 is a great example of what this system can, and should focus on (although I wish it were a 24mm f/2 dammit). An 85mm f/1.8, a 100mm f/2 and a 135mm f/2.8 could all be done in a way that the size and price should be very manageable for a majority of folks looking to this system.
You can find the Sony a7II through my B&H Affiliate links below. Buying through these links costs nothing more, but helps support me by way of a sales commission, and in turn helps me justify keeping these blog articles coming, so thanks for the consideration.
Sony a7II w/FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens
Thank you for the read. Stay tuned for comparison pieces looking at the Sony versus the Canon 5DII and the Panasonic GX7. Does IBIS really make that much difference? Does sensor size? Well, we shall see.
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Thanks again and happy shooting,
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I think you hit it on the head Tyson in your conclusion…focus on quality lenses at an affordable price…that is why I bought into the fuji system with the X-T1…enjoy your Sony…really like the colors you are pulling out of it .
Thank you Sven.
I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll utter it again, but if I didn’t want to run two systems, in the compact m4/3 system, and a larger sensor system in a ff setup, I’d see the Fuji as my middle ground soul mate. They pretty much seem to embody exactly what I’d do if I ran a camera company. I just wish they’d have gone all the way with a full frame. I couldn’t seem to justify an APS-C system when I already had use (and substantial investment) in both the m4/3 and EOS FF camps, but I often dream of an XE2 or XT1 with that 23/1.4 and 56/1.2 as my go to travel setup…
Thanks as always, and I hope everything is going well, man.
A very good review Tyson. 2 years ago I bought the GX7 after you reviewed it. I’m thinking about A7II this time…. does it have a PAL (50p) and NTSC (60P) selector in video mode? I’m getting different answers from other blogs. Thanks Tyson and more power to you!
I cannot find any ability to switch between PAL and NTSC with mine seeming to be region specific (NTSC) with 24,30 and 60p only available. I’m not sure if there may be certain grey market cams that could potentially offer both, but mine doesn’t and I’d assume they’d need to be purchased as region specific.
How have you found the GX7? I still love mine, and look forward to what Panasonic is planning for the GX8.
Thanks for the read man.
Hi Tyson, greetings from France! I have been following your reviews and stuff for a while now, it is because of your comments that I eventually bought a GX7 to replace my Nikon D600. It wasn’t so much the size or weight of the D600 that bothered me, but the fact that it was so conspicuous and unsuitable for anything where I wanted to be slightly discreet. I have been happy with the GX7 and 20mm lens, but I do like zooms as well and when I tested the Olympus 12-40 f2.8 on the GX7 I found the image quality to be great, maybe even better than the 20mm. However, buying this zoom for the GX7 will take my investment to close to 2000 euros for a m43 package! And this is where I started getting cold feet and wondering about other options. The image quality from m43 is good, but I find that even at ISO200 there is quite a bit of noise in the shadows and it gets worse very quickly. I don’t think the difference between m43 and APSC is that big, so to get the quality of my D600 I am looking at FF again, but I don’t want the bulk of the DSLR. The Sony A7 is affordable, the A7II is a bit too much for me.
I can now get a new Fuji X-Pro1 with 18mm and 27mm lenses for 899euros (recommended retail price is 1799), some say that the X-trans sensor gives close to FF quality, do you have any ideas about this? I am just a very keen enthusiast, not a professional, but as an engineer I always seem to want the best in technology, basically I always want more than what I can afford. Your comment regarding Fuji as an option if you only run one system is what triggered the idea of going that way as a compromise between m43 and FF.
I have felt, for my own personal use, that the GX7 is entirely usable up through ISO 3200. I’m curious, and wondering how you’re feeling noise at 200 would cause you enough issue to buy a different camera, but I think it is certainly a case of personal experiences and opinions. One thing I find to be the case with many of the Panasonic sensors I’ve used is that they do better if slightly over exposed (by 1/3 – 2/3 stop) in most cases as it is easier to pull a little more info out of the highlights than the shadows. Also, I think the cams default to a slightly shifted exposure, favoring highlight retention to begin with. I also find that I can create much smoother blacks in shadow tones in post. If that doesn’t work, I do like to use a run through noise reduction.
I’m curious, are you shooting RAW or JPEG? If JPEG, I would suggest playing with the RAW file out of the GX7. I find them to be pretty wonderful myself, but I may have a different outlook on the files and their final result for my use.
The files from the GX7, to me, are on par, and even superior to my original 5D which is a bit of a legend in its own right.
The reason I prefer the m4/3 system to the APS-C systems is because the IQ is within a stop in just about every measurable factor, but it is truly, and noticeably smaller and lighter. The format being more square (4:3) vs more rectangular (3:2) enables a more efficient use of an image circle allowing for that circle to be smaller as well, further enabling lens elements, and in turn lenses, to be smaller. I see the APS-C as kind of a compromise from both directions. Size of cams and lenses are very close to FF, yet IQ isn’t as good, and only slightly better than a current 4/3 sensor. Both ups and downs, but I’ve felt, for me, that it compromises in both directions away from where I want my systems to be. Entirely my own opinion though.
That said, if I were to choose an APS-C system, I would no doubt, at this point in time choose the Fuji system.
I wouldn’t worry about the $2000 mark, as you’d inevitably spend that on any other system, if not more, to get a similar output, focal range, etc. believe me, I have quite a bit more invested in both of my systems individually, and while I do use both for income from time to time, I wouldn’t hesitate to spend that if it got me what I wanted, and of course I could and wanted to justify spending that kind of money, especially if you consider what a camera and standard f/2.8 zoom would cost for any other system, then take into consideration what I’d be needing to compromise as far as size, weight, IQ, etc.
I run two systems because I do see a benefit to a full frame in certain situations, namely in s:n (noise), resolution and a 14 bit RAW file which is much better to work with for me, and what I like to do. If you are primarily worried about IQ, I think an a7r is probably going to offer the best bang for the IQ buck right now. Of course size of lenses will be larger, and potentially more expensive and you may get right back to being more conspicuous for street shooting or the like. The a7rII will add the IBIS inevitably, and redesigned grip/body I’m sure, but will be introduced at a higher price of course, at least than the a7r is at now.
If you want 90% of the image quality at half the weight, in a much more discreet package, I’d stick with the m4/3 personally. If you want to meet in the middle of that, and perhaps get 95% of FF image quality at probably 80% of the size and weight, the APS-C systems will get you there.
Personally, I would ignore the cameras at first and look to lenses. They will be where I feel anyone should look to make their primary investment. A system that offers you the lenses will always have a newer, better sensor in development, but in cases, systems without the right lenses for the job at hand will never be able to provide you with exactly what you’re going for.
ANY system right now is capable of an incredible image file, and I’d argue that any photographer alive isn’t entirely capable of using any current camera to its full potential. These things are little super computers, and really, we just like to compare them because it’s pretty fun. As long as the actual photography part of it is enjoyable, then I don’t think the gear matters nearly as much, one camera or another may just offer one tool or another that may suit one individual or another.
Geez, sorry for the long winded reply. I have a hard time at self moderation obviously 😉
Thank you for the read, and comment.
Enjoy whatever you end up with!
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Wow, I never expected such a long and detailed reply! Thanks a lot. In fact, I am now considering getting a 12-35mm f2.8 for my GX7 and continuing with it. It really is such a great camera in terms of feautures and usability, not to mention size. I shoot RAW + JPEG, the JPEGS I only use for quick viewing on the computer and selecting the best pictures for RAW conversion. I use Capture One Pro for RAW processing and I get really good results. As I don’t make any money from my photography, maybe m43 is the best compromise.
Thanks for your very good analysis and detailed response, much appreciated!
What a detailed and greatly reply! I really enjoyed informed and balanced review. I also owned GX7. I also felt the same way with you that picture overall tend to look nicer when it is slightly overexposure. The only thing I wish for M43 is that I hope the camera could have physical dials and aperture ring like X-T1 — so no PASM dial anymore. Fuji really get it right in terms of camera design
Another great read Tyson. I look forward to your comparison with your other two systems. And, as others have mentioned, I bought my GX7 after reading your take on it, and still love it.
At least for me, you are correct in that statement about not using the camera to its full potential. Every time I sit on a bench in the park and play with it something new happens.
Thank you Steve.
I still feel that the GX7 is one of, if not the best all around cameras I’ve personally used when considering all features, price, quality, size and ui. All the right bits in all the right places for me. Bring on the GX8!
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I just bought Sony A7ii with 24-70mm F/4 and 70-200 f/4… And I was waiting for Canon 5D Mark IV… however I’m not sure if I should stick to Sony a7 ii or wait for Canon 5D Mark IV… Please advise as these both are very expensive cameras. Its a big investment and I want proper advise/ guidance.
Well, seeing as one of the cameras you’ve mentioned doesn’t yet exist, I think you’ve made the right choice.
If and when the Canon 5D4 or whatever they may call it (the number 4 is bad luck in Japanese) comes out, you can decide if it is worth you spending your money on it. In the mean time, you’ve got a great camera set up to shoot while you wait 😉
Interesting review, I shoot with a micro four thirds system (a pair of em-1’s) and I have slowly been gaining more and more paid work. Funny thing is, I mainly shoot sports and houses, so I should ditch the oly’s and buy a 5dmkIII with the two tilt/shifts and a 70-200!
However, I love EVF shooting and wifi so this Sony does appeal to me, especially as I could build up a Canon based system for the architecture / sports work, but use the A7 when portability or discreetness is an issue. I don’t think I could bin the oly’s though as I still love the way they handle and for family stuff they’re ideal.
I do feel that any high end camera, such as an EM1, a7II, 5D3, et al, can shoot just about anything when coupled with the right optic. Certain cameras will be better suited and equipped for certain scenarios, subjects and conditions. We like to compare, promote or criticize one camera, lens, system or the other for a variety of reasons, but honestly, these are all capable of more than you or I’d be able to throw at it. The EM1 and m4/3 system is an amazing system in my opinion. The a7II is a ground breaking camera in a couple ways, but it has its downside too. The Alpha system is also lacking in ways as well, but with a few of the lenses they do have, and the access to the sensors in the Alpha series, any photographer could be happy.
Investing in any system is a bit of a deal, and if just ask myself what I’d be gaining. I’d first look to a system to see if it had the lenses I needed to accomplish what I needed to. Sensor tech and camera bodies will play leapfrog constantly, but investing in the lenses will provide any shooter with longevity.
The other thing to look at is size. Any full frame cam will need full frame optics to gain the benefits of the sensor and that normally means weight and bulk. Not a huge deal for a lot of stuff, but for everyday shooting or travel (especially for me) weight can be an issue worth considering.
There are no bad cameras, just some that are better at certain things than others while inevitably being worse in other ways 😉
Thanks for the read and congrats on gathering the paid work! Always helps me justify buying and playing around with this stuff.
I’m a event photographer and i’m looking to update my Nikon d7100. I’m thinking about either going with Nikon D750 or the Sony A7II that you review. I wanted to know if you think the Sony can keep up wit the demand of shooting a wedding or events.
Thanks for the read and taking time to comment. I cannot speak to the Sony in an event shooting capacity, largely because I’ve not shot an event with it yet 🙂 I have also only shot one single Sony FE lens on this so far, otherwise it has all been adapted, Canon lenses. I don’t think that Sony quite has the lenses to really provide me with what and how I like to shoot for weddings, yet. I wouldn’t personally shoot a wedding with this setup myself, largely because I’m not familiar with the intricacies of the camera quite yet, and I’d not want to rely on manual focus for something that I’ve been used to quick, reliable AF for. If you were looking to switch entirely, and invest in Sony FE lenses, I’m sure that you could get it to be a good setup for a wedding or event. I’m still not entirely sold on CDAF in low light though, which would also give me pause for events like weddings. Again, it can be worked around I’m sure, but I know how well my 5D’s have done with a PDAF system in those situations which I still feel are head and shoulders above the current mirrorless offerings. CDAF is great as long as there is good contrast to lock onto, otherwise I’ve found that it (all CDAF systems I’ve yet used) hunts, and can be infuriating if trying to capture a fleeting fraction of a moment where I’ve had great luck with my PDAF, full mirrored cameras in the past.
Weddings are tricky, and I know a few folks who have converted over to a completely mirrorless setup for hybrid wedding shooting, but most of those that I know are shooting either the Micro 4/3 or Fuji systems.
It might be worth while to keep your d7100 at these events as a reliable backup, and while running a two system setup isn’t ideal, it would let you both get used to the Sony alpha series and allow you to revert back to what you know if and when the a7II wasn’t quite up to the task.
This is entirely my own opinion and speculation though, going on my experience with the a7II. I’ve felt that overall it is a great camera, but like anything has a few things that can situationally hinder me. Those happen to be things that I would anticipate potentially producing problems for me when shooting a one time event like a wedding, where I try to prepare myself and my gear to eliminate as many of those situational issues as I can to be best prepared for whatever a wedding might throw at me.
Good luck with it, and thanks again.
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Great article! I have been comparing the a7ii with the Fuji X-T1 and this is very good information.
Sorry for the odd question but in a few pictures you have a blue braided wrist strap. Can you comment on where that is from or the brand?
Thank you. I make, and sell the straps. The Garda and Cascade straps (the straps in this article are the Cascade) are available through the wrist strap link at the top of the page, and I’m finalizing a third design currently.
Just purchased the A7II and awaiting its arrival. With all the hype of the new A7RII I am nervous I should have gotten that. I shoot mostly children and family portraits professionally and hope to start doing some more seniors also. I also want to have a camera easy to carry around for catching family shots too. I currently own a Canon 5dmarkII with some good L glass. (85 1.2L is so consistent) I tried the OMD EM5II from Olympus and was not impressed with consistency and quality and sharpness of my images. I am spoiled with the 5d and 85L. That said I am picky on quality and consistency and reliability. I am really looking at something that would replace my canon stuff as that combo is really getting too heavy for me with some current health issues. I have 30 days to play with my a7II so just curious what your take is on the new a7RII and for what I am using the camera for if the a7II will be totally great or if I need to exchange and upgrade to the new powerhouse of the A7RII? Thanks..
Personally, I see very little practical use for the a7rII myself. I think the photo world is getting a little too caught up in the new megapixel race, which for specific applications, is wonderful, but honestly who needs more than 20 or 25 megapixels? Nobody, really. Sure, there are fine art, advertising and landscape photographers that can benefit from higher resolution files, and certainly those (myself included) who enjoy a higher overall resolution for the ability to crop, extract and integrate elements into a composite image, but really, I think that most people who buy the a7rII, or the 5DS are going to be frustrated with the remarkable strain that those files put on a computer. Processing those things will be a chore, and of course, the file sizes will fill up hard drives much more quickly than our meager 20-25mp files. I’m not saying that there aren’t legitimate uses for these cameras, but they are far from an everyday workhorse for the average photographer.
I would love to have one to shoot detailed interiors, commissioned landscape or product shots, maybe high end portraits/ad work, but I can easily get by with what I have, and honestly 90% of what I shoot is perfectly satisfied by my 16mp m4/3 sensors, so, if I were in your position, I’d stick with the 5DII (that’s what I still shoot much of my work with) and maybe look to another lens, or some fun software to provide you with a further set of tools. A new camera, while sexy, is rarely going to provide much of an actual bump in output, at least outside of situational, incremental benefits. The a7II is a great camera, and while the a7rII will have better video and higher resolution, I’m personally not totally convinced I should invest in the Sony system outside of an adapter and a lens or two. The wonky RAW file issues are reason enough for me to run to the hills, but I do enjoy the a7II, so I’ll use it for things here and there.
For professional family portraits, the resolution is not going to make a huge difference for 99% of your work I’d imagine, unless you get a lot of requests for 10′ prints, or the like. The AF will still struggle a bit in lower light, but will perform similarly to the a7II or even 5DII in decent light, and while there is always talk of better tracking capabilities in live view, CDAF systems, I’ve yet to see one that does a better job than a mid to high end PDAF system.
I’d save my money and enjoy the a7II + 5DII combo if I were you.
Thanks for the comment 🙂
Thank you. My original thought was if I love the Sony a7II that I would eventually sell all of my canon gear. With my health issue holding the 5dmarkII is difficult for long shooting. It is just really heavy. I like the stability the sony a7ii is supposed to have as my hand sometimes isn’t as stable as it used to be.
With all this said is the Sony a7II a GREAT camera in your opinion? I do get from your opinion that if I am going to do Sony that the A7II is what you would do and not do the A7RII. Correct?
I would of course not sell my canon stuff until I am 100% sure I can get all the same results needed that I currently and consistently get from my 5DII.
Maybe I keep the 5dII for most of the professional shoots that are shorter in duration and use the Sony for my family stuff and as a companion to the 5D at shoots if my arm is too tired from shooting the 5D? I have just really spoiled myself with the quality of the 5dII/85 1.2 combo that if I can’t get that quality with the sony I probably will suffer through the heaviness and keep just that. I just really want a lighter weight option to carry on vacations and to school functions and kid stuff that still produces awesome results. (I know I as the photographer have a lot of that control, but you know what I mean)
Thanks so much for your opinion…
If you can, hold onto your Canon setup. There is always something like the 6D series, or even a smaller APS-C body which are quite a bit smaller/lighter than the 5D series, and really, it’s the lenses which provide most of the weight after all is said and done. In that regard, the Sony won’t be much lighter if wanting to use quality, fast optics. For size and weight reduction, you’ll save a little with the alpha series, but not a ton overall. They may say that the system is lighter, but that is largely down to the fact that most of the a series lenses are slow, which you could also buy in an EF mount for your Canon (or the canon versions of the f/4 zooms, et al) saving the weight as well. For what you seem to want to shoot, I’d really contemplate the extra cost and system strain that the a7rII would bring versus the real world benefit. If you print large, shoot high end commercial, or spend a lot of time compositing, then the added resolution might be worth while, but for everyday work, I see very little benefit, so personally I absolutely would skip it and look at the a7II if Sony is what you’re sold on. The same budget would afford you to buy a couple good lenses for the price of the rII body alone.
Good luck with it!
have been using 7d .. with canon 16 35 2.8 ii, tamron 70 200 2.8 vc usd, 100 mm 2.8. have always wanted to go full frame .. used 5d mk 3 or a new canon 6d or sony a7 ii or a7r with fotga /commlite etc or may be metabone if u suggest. please advise
A Canon body will always work best with the Canon EF mount lenses. Going with an alpha series body has its advantages, but also comes with some disadvantages, even with the Metabones adapter. In my experience, even when using the Sony a7II with the FE Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 lens, it is very buggy. Sometimes the camera takes 5 seconds or more to turn on after switching the camera on. Sometimes, with the metabones adapter mounted, the camera won’t autofocus without me turning the camera off and then on again. Sometimes, when changing batteries, or switching from a vertical grip/dual battery holder to a single battery again, I need to reset the clock as it totally resets the camera, and I’ve seen the camera change aperture without anything being touched, when in Aperture Priority. There are a couple other little things that I’m not remembering specifically, and honestly, none of them are horribly intrusive, but I would never solely rely on the Sony cameras if I were shooting say a wedding, or any shoot where I’d need to rely on the camera to work consistently 100% of the time. I’ve never had any issues with my 8 year old 5DII, and while it is outperformed in certain aspects by the a7II, I would say that the 5DII is by far the better made camera. I’ve not shot with a 5D3 or 6D, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about them overall, where I’ve talked with and interacted with other Sony shooters that experience similar quirks with the alpha 7 series cameras, which leads me to believe that at the very least, Sony has some issues with quality control, or consistency in production. Good cameras with good sensors, no doubt, but not up to snuff, in my experience with more established DSLRs. That said, for the price of the a7II, it offers a lot. The a7rII is great, but is very expensive, and there are no actual situations where I’d personally NEED 42mp files, so while I’d like one, I would not be able to justify buying one at over $3k as the 5DII and a7II handle what I need, and more.
If you are swayed by the siren song of the 5 axis IBIS, and newer, good performing sensor (as I was) I think the a7II is a good camera. If you rely on your camera for work, and have the intention of using your EF mount lenses, I’d suggest at least exhausting your research on the 6D or a 5D3 as I think it would be a more stable setup, albeit maybe not quite as exciting.
Thanks T , will let u know which direction I end up .. do visit my pics on Instagram if u have time .. regards Dipesh
Have fun with the decision, Dipesh. Great insta stream. I really like the bubble blower in Paris, and the protruding windows in both color and b/w.
Hi Tyson ,
I’m reading up your old posts on Sony A7 systems. But i always referred to your practical advises when I bought my Voigtlander Noktons and MFT upgrades. Recently, I thought i’d want to change the system to Sony A7 systems or Fuji X-T1, mainly due to two reasons :
1) I have totally fallen in love with the voigtlander lenses. The way they render, the colours and also the feel in the hand when using. I just like some of those lenses have as a classic dreamy nature.
2) I’m into long exposures and I’m quite limited by the hot pixel issue of the OMD EM1 which is known. Also i’m tired of the crop factor of 2. I can’t go too wide unless buying super expensive olympus 7-14mm and then struggle with home made filter holder etc.
Combining these two reasons, I’ve checked and was hesitating between Sony A7 systems and Fuji X-T1. Of course price wise, Fuji is good. But I wanted a system to build up now for quite some time. But i’m not the person to have several lines of lenses at service for me. All I’m planning to buy is voigtlander 58mm F/1.4, 35mm F/1.2 or F/1.4(in the begining) and a 15mm heliar in the beginning. As I’m only a graduate student, not so much time to take photos daily, but i can be patient for a year or two. I’m by no means a pro. Though I like the feel, built and weight of OMD EM1, i understood from your article, that Sony A7II is with similar features. So it’s be better for me to go towards FF. I’m not in a hurry, first i will sell my Nokton 17.5mm, and EM1 with other oly 9-18mm m zuiko, and buy the A7II with one lens (all the voigts i wanted are not so super expensive like the ones for MFTs in the same focal lengths). And slowly buy another 2 lenses. Hopefully in a month or two, Sony A7II might be cheaper ? If you had time, would love your thoughts on my decision. Even though my main reasons are crazy, i really badly want the dreamy classic nature what some of the voigts have to offer and to use their focal lengths optimally. Your article was the decision maker! 🙂
Thanks from France.
I don’t disagree with any of your reasoning, and honestly, I do think you’ll see a bump in sensor performance going to the a7II. The camera itself is a little quirky, and in my experience over the last year or so, it’s not very well build physically, but I also do not baby my equipment, or at least not my camera bodies. Lenses are another matter 🙂
The a7II is probably the best image quality found for the price for me, from my experience, and in my opinion, but like I mentioned, the camera is less than perfect (but, I had plenty of problems with my Oly EM5 too, and I feel the sony is a far better camera overall).
One very large benefit to these mirrorless systems is the adaptation of most any lens, or in a full frame format, any 35mm format lens, so that opens up options for you moving forward, and with a full frame mirrorless, it will enable you to more easily find ultra wide angle lenses at more reasonable prices. The Fuji system (while APS-C) does look very nice, and I do wish I’d have had the chance to speak from personal experience. Alas, I’ve yet to try any of their cameras in any real capacity outside of snapping around in store or the like.
I wish you luck and enjoyment! Let me know if I can answer any specific questions you may have. I’d be happy to try 🙂
Thank you so much for such a detailed reply, you always answer to the point. I had the opportunity to try the Fuji X-T1 and Sony A7II in a camera shop(though i couldn’t take them out, which i will try in a month or so). The X-t1, I felt so wonderful in my hands, i liked the feel of it despite all controls being on dials which i’m not so used to. But Sony A7II, at least the feel in the hand wasn’t as great as X-T1.
Even if the feel matters a lot, being able to use the lenses i want and a nice sensor(I don’t necessarily mean FF) is more important. After lots of considerations (specially, knowing that i won’t be done with my grad studies at least for 4 years from now on, I can’t afford to spend 1000 euros on each one single lens). So without a doubt or questioning i have decided i have to go with a sony A7II(a used body) and voigtlander few lenses(which is more affordable for me to depend on 3-4 years). I have 2 specific questions to you.
1) Does the Sony A7II sensor has any long exposure (specially in 2+ minutes cases )noise issues?(some guy told me A7R/A7R II has such a problem)
2) I read in forums, and also i discussed with a camera store manager, who was quite unbiased i’d say, about the Purple /white fringe problems in old voigtlander lenses(as they were built for film and have a small numerical aperture/light cone). If I don’t want to buy the new versions voigtlander lenses for sony E mount, how bad is the problem with old voigtlander lenses? I’d like your opinion/experience if you have used or own any of those voigtlander old lenses like 35mm, 58mm, 15mm, 21mm etc (Mostly version IIs are what i’m planning to buy)
Thanks in advance.
I think that Fuji has done a beautiful job with their system, personally. I have very little actual experience with the X system, but the only drawbacks I’ve heard people talk about is the RAW processing where certain RAW conversion software doesn’t quite do the X-Trans sensor file conversion well. Doesn’t seem that it will be a problem for you though. If you do switch gears though, I’d suggest searching a little more on that out.
1) I’ve yet to see any ill effects from long exposure noise that isn’t well corrected for in the RAW file, as I convert them. I use Capture One Pro 9, which does really well with the uncompressed 14 bit Sony RAW files. I’ve not done a ton of long exposure work with the a7II (and cannot speak to the a7RII) but in my limited experience, it’s far better controlled than say my EOS 5DII. I’ve also never taken an exposure over 30 seconds on the a7II, so please take my experience with that caveat. I would also suggest, if you do a lot of long exposure work, I’d highly suggest looking at a noise reduction plugin like DeNoise from Topaz or DXO Prime, etc. I’ve heard good things about Prime, but have only personally used DeNoise, and it’s absolutely awesome. I use it very regularly. I’ve done reviews on it, so let me know if you need more info on that.
2) The biggest problems were with older, ultra wide angle lenses and the original a7 series sensors. The main issue was getting light all the way to the corners of the sensor without issue, which wasn’t quite happening with the older lenses, and this prompted Voigtländer (and others) to redesign those lenses to better suit the growing popularity of the Sony alpha series cameras. The chromatic aberrations are going to be an issue with any adapted, fast lens, to an extent. Even native Sony lenses have these issues, but because they communicate with the camera, they’re able to be corrected for in camera. You can correct for this in software, and while potentially annoying, it is a pretty easy work around, and one that would have to happen for any system, when adapting certain lenses, especially those in the f/1.4 or similar neighborhood. This is largely avoidable though, and really only presents itself when shooting into the light source, or at points of extreme contrast (think telephone wires against a very bright sky) where the optics aren’t quite able to entirely correct for that extreme contrast on the sensor. It’s not a huge deal in most every case that I come across, and really, it’s pretty avoidable in many cases. Also, you can stop the lens down a stop or two, and in most cases that will also eliminate most traces of CA. If you can buy a lens for half as much, it seems like a pretty easy thing to deal with for the cost savings (and I’ve certainly justified it for my own uses).
The 15mm and 21mm Voigts are going to be the trickiest, and I’d suggest trying to justify the version II’s if you can (esp the 15mm), but honestly, I think you can probably get just about anything to work, as long as you understand where a particular lens might have shortcomings. I’d also suggest to possibly look at the Sigma Art 20mm f/1.4 down the road. It’s really large, and heavy, but it’s $899 and is a pretty amazing lens when adapted to the a7II for me. (they only offer it in Canon EF, Nikon F or Sigma mounts, so you’d have to buy an adapter which may or may not make sense for you moving forward, but just an idea).
I think you’re on the right path, and I’d say the 15mm, 35mm and 58mm could provide a really cool setup, later possibly adding the 21mm or something there. Don’t entirely discount some of the more budget friendly Sony FE lenses either. I’ve heard good things about their 50mm f/1.8 which isn’t too expensive… and they seem to be addressing some of the need for more affordable optics with lenses like that and the 28mm f/2, etc.