Oh boy, what have I done.
As you may have noticed, I’ve been having something of a crisis over my relationship with photography lately. It’s come to the point where not only do I barely take pictures any longer, but I’ve also begun to question whether or not I’ve lost any skills or passion that I may have once had. Considering that photography was a huge part of my life and identity for a long time, that’s been a fairly uncomfortable possibility to grapple with.
So obviously, I bought a new camera.
To make matters worse, the A7 IV is not a particularly cheap camera. In fact, the cost of it was second only to what I paid for my original Leica M Typ 240 – and not by much.
In this blog I am going to attempt to
rationalise explain my reasoning for this purchase, and potentially give me something to look back on in years to come when I have either rekindled my zeal and fervour for this so-called art form, or else mark the final nail in its coffin.
If you’d rather watch a video on the topic of this blog… you can do so here:
I have a hatred of modern cameras
For those of you not familiar with the A7 IV, it is one of Sony’s more recent, high quality mirrorless cameras. It was released in 2021, and I honestly have almost zero idea about the specs. I am sure that it can shoot a whole bunch of pictures per second at some unnecessarily high megapixel rate and nail auto-focus on an ant as it flies through a snow-storm or some other pish – but none of that really matters to me at all.
The truth is that modern cameras generally don’t really excite me. The last time I was excited about an up-to-date digital body with interchangeable lenses, it was either the Canon 5D (released in 2005), or the Leica M Typ 240 (2012). The latter was the last ‘serious’ camera that I bought, and it cost me about £3,000 back in 2015. Since then, the endless parade of samey samey rubbish from the big manufacturers has been enough to lull me to sleep.
Sony in particular have never been particularly interesting. Irrespective of how well they perform in low light, their cameras just look and feel ugly. The original A7 gave the impression that a child had drawn it – all boxy and awkward – with no real redeeming qualities whatsoever. You might think that I am exaggerating here, but I’m truly not. They are hideous.
The lenses aren’t much better. The choice of auto-focus lenses compatible with the Sony E system is fairly limited, they are incredibly boring, and (to me at least) very expensive. Oh, did I mention large? They are large. Why on earth is a wide angle lens for a Sony camera the same size as an 85mm f1.2 on a Canon SLR? I am sure there’s a perfectly legitimate technical explanation, but I hate it. They are soulless, impractical monstrosities.
All of this probably further begs the question of why I would willingly part with a significant chunk of cash to get a Sony A7 IV – and I am beginning to question my own judgement at this stage, but let’s get into them.
I want a new camera
That’s it. It’s as simple as that. The end.
Okay not really, but kind of. The fact of the matter is that I haven’t bought any kind of up-to-date camera with professional level capabilities for a long time – and technology has moved on significantly. I still love shooting with old classics such as the Canon 1DS Mk 2, but it’s been out for almost 20 years at this point, and there are a number of areas where its functional limitations are particularly noticeable. For a start, the screen is so terrible that it is almost impossible to tell if a picture is any good or not, and the high ISO performance has long since been outclassed. On top of that, I sold all of my quality L lenses many years back, and it would be foolish to purchase them again for the rare occasions that I actually do any work that would require them.
There are many features and elements of camera technology that I couldn’t care less about – increased resolution being one of them. However, when those limitations begin to get in the way of your ability to capture the kind of pictures you want, it’s time to consider upgrading.
A great example is my beloved Leica M Typ 240, which despite still being both a joy to use and a camera that consistently produces some of my favourite images ever – more and more feels a bit tired and inadequate. Specifically, it can be tough to nail the focus when using the screen due to its relatively low resolution, and its low light performance isn’t anywhere near the leagues of modern Sonys. As a person with terrible eyesight that spends a lot of time in dark bars and who allegedly once used to be a decent photographer, it’s probably about time I got something a bit more in line with modern capabilities.
I can use my old lenses
Over the years I have amassed a collection of rather interesting lenses. In fact, they are probably the part of photography that still interests me the most. Digital pictures with modern lenses bore me senseless half the time because they all look the same. I couldn’t give a toss about ultra-sharp, high-resolution and accurate colour rendition. I want to shoot with the odd-balls. Those outrageously imperfect bits of glass (!) I can find – each with their own beautiful, unique characteristics and idiosyncracies. I’m talking about the Canon 50mm f0.95, the Helios 44 58mm f2, the Peleng 8mm f3.5… The list goes on.
The problem here is that all of these lenses were all designed for film cameras, and have completely different mounts. This is part of the beauty of the Sony E mount system: because you can easily and readily use all of these lenses with cheap adapters – something that isn’t possible with Canon SLRs, or Leica rangefinders. That alone, makes the A7 IV in particular attractive.
It’s Full Frame
Now I must confess that I did buy a Sony camera at the end of 2021 – the ZV-E10. This is a very small, very nice E-Mount camera that has excellent low light performance, and much more fun to look at and use than Sonys used to be. I’ve taken a lot of pictures with it that I really like. However, it is APS-C only, and that seriously limits what lenses I can use with it. If I stick an old 50mm on there, it becomes something like 75mm, and that just isn’t any use. It is also primarily a ‘vlogging’ camera, and because of that, a lot of the features at the fore-front are geared towards video production, which is less useful when taking pictures.
I am a YouTube star now
Have I not mentioned that before? These days I make more videos than I shoot pictures. You should go watch my channel, particularly this one about… ahem. Why I hate photography:
Second confession time: I actually already own a Sony A7 – one of the original full-frame models in the range from back in 2013. I got it dirt cheap second-hand in 2017, and really enjoyed using my old lenses with it in particular. However, its quality is markedly lower and its workflow clunkier, even compared to the ZV-E10 – and it was time to upgrade.
Thing is, if all I was interested in doing was taking pictures, I could easily have bought a Sony A7 III for far less cash. However, as a very serious Internet personality, I’ll be using this camera for video as well. I don’t want to have to cart about two bloody Sony bodies. One is bad enough! Importantly, the Sony A7 IV has a screen that can be flipped around, which is essential for the kind of videos I do, whereas the A7 III does not.
In the same token, many digital cameras have limits on the recording time of videos – often between 20-30 minutes. This is something that has only really changed in the past couple of years – and since it takes me an age to actually get usable footage, fighting the camera to stay on for extended is not something I am interested in returning to. The A7 IV (like the ZV-E10), doesn’t have this limit.
They’ve promised it will be different this time
Every review I have seen of the Sony A7 IV talks about how the menu structure is improved, or the body of the camera is slightly larger and more ergonomic, so you don’t necessarily need a grip (something I felt was essential with the original A7), or… blah blah blah whatever else has been fixed or upgraded.
Ultimately, at this point, the only real option I had for a high-quality full-frame camera that would let me shoot with my stupid old lenses and also provide the basic video functionality that makes life as a very important multimedia content creator less of a ball-ache.
When the A7 IV arrived, I was genuinely taken aback. It’s almost hard to believe that it’s related to the original A7, because this is a completely different beast. The sharp edges, poor grip and cheap looking materials have all gone, replaced with much better ergonomics. The A7 IV feels more like the original 5D used to in my hand. Nicely balanced and well built, not some clunky plastic thing.
My Hopes (and dreams)
It’s such a fool’s notion to think that buying new gear will somehow bring back passion. But I am willing to give it a shot. Hopefully, the fact that I can breathe new life into my older lenses will encourage me to take them out and start experimenting with pictures again, as opposed to it feeling like a chore. So far, it’s been pretty good.