I purchased a Sony A7RII in February 2017. Like the NEX-7 I used on a trip overseas in 2012, I found the A7RII to have the best image quality available for its size, weight and price.
I have no plans to purchase the newer A7RIII which represents an incremental upgrade with no substantial improvement in image quality. What follows applies equally to both cameras.
From a fine-art perspective, the full-frame Sony sensor delivers adequate resolution (42 MP) in a very portable package, allowing us to make 16x24 inch prints at 300 dpi with a few pixels to spare. The tonality and dynamic range is superb, often as good as we can obtain when using large format sheet film.
To get resolution like this across the entire image, we need to shoot lenses at their best aperture and keep the camera very steady. The larger the print, the more important this becomes.
This photo was underexposed dramatically. The shadows appear hopelessly dark.
Using Adobe Camera Raw we have lightened the dark values. The A7RII sensor can accommodate a substantial range of brightness from outdoors to indoors.
Two exposures were made: one an 82MB RAW file, the other a 41MB Compressed RAW file. They were exported from Adobe Camera Raw with identical (synchronized) sharpening, noise reduction and monochrome conversion.
Here are a 100% crops from the photos above, which have been rescued from drastic underexposure. If we were viewing the entire image on a typical monitor at around 110 dpi, the full image would be roughly 50x75 inches (120x180 cm). A high quality 300 dpi print will be 18x27 inches (45x67 cm).
Do you see a substantial difference between the compressed and uncompressed files ? How much of a factor is skillful sharpening and noise reduction ?
The difference is difficult to discern, even after we have rescued these drastically underexposed shadows. How much harder is it to see in a properly exposed photograph ?
Brian Smith's Ultimate Guide to Fullframe E-Mount FE Lenses is fully comprehensive and very regularly updated.
Here's a great survey and evaluation of native full-frame lenses with electronic coupling for Sony E-Mount cameras by Phillip Reeve. It too has been updated on a regular basis, so the information is fairly current: Sony FE Lenses: a Comprehensive and Independent Guide.
Phillip Reeve likes some of these lenses better than others. Not surprisingly, he provides these additional helpful articles: The Best Lenses Below $499 for the Sony A7 Series and Beginner’s Guide to Manual Lenses on the Sony A7.
Here are two review pages which measure lens performance (note that they have not been updated even though Sony has continued to introduce new lenses): Sony A7R II: Best prime lenses review and Best zoom lenses on the Sony A7R II at DXOMARK.com. There are some really terrific performers, complete with autofocus and image stabilization, if you are comfortable with their price, size and weight. Notice that the scores for the best zoom lenses fall below those of prime lenses, no matter how high the price.
For fine-art subjects (as opposed to snapshots, sports, wedding and fashion), manual focusing is preferable: we're rarely working quickly and we can't trust the camera to make the right artistic decision. For example, see this image or the tea pot below: sharp focus has been applied off-center.
Because the Sony provides focus-peaking and magnification, it's like using a loupe on a view camera. Mirrorless cameras provide a level of precise focus that can never be reached while looking through an SLR or rangefinder window.Another advantage of manual focus: we can focus with the lens stopped down to the actual taking aperture. This not only helps us preview depth of field, it eliminates focus shift.
Sony mirrorless cameras have a very small flange-to-focus distance, allowing us to adapt a huge variety of 3rd party lenses such as Leica, Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Voigtlander, etc. To shoot manual lenses, a simple affordable adapter is all that we need. I was disappointed with a no-name bargain adapter (it developed a light leak which resulted in flare), but have had good experience with Fotodiox adapters.
For fine art subjects (landscape, still-life, portraits), older lenses are often an excellent choice. Many perform just as well as the newest ones, the only difference being that they are manual focus and have no built-in stabilization. Available in the used market, they are affordably priced.
I also prefer prime lenses when possible: zoom lenses exhibit focus shift, barrel, pincushion and mustache distortion and lower edge performance that varies with focal length. Mustache distortion can be troublesome to correct, even with modern software.
For this reason, prime lenses are better-suited to photographs of architecture and other man-made objects. Prime lenses are almost always smaller, lighter, sharper and cheaper. For an illustrative example, read this highly competent review of the $1300 Sony FE 24-105mm OSS zoom lens at LensRentals.com.
There are countless lenses available in the normal focal length but for its combination of image quality, flexibility and low price I chose the 55mm f/2.8 AIS Micro Nikkor from 1979. You can buy this lens used on eBay or from KEH but after decades it is still available for purchase new because it's a good performer even by modern standards. It focuses down to 1:2 but is very sharp at all distances (see sample image above), due to what Nikon calls Close Range Correction: a floating internal element.
With this model, no lens shade is required because the optics are recessed within the barrel. Because this lens does not open wide it is light and portable, taking 52mm filters. I love macro lenses: they are usually free from chromatic aberration and distortion. Many standard lenses are sharp but if you like to shoot at close distance without needing an adapter and you appreciate not needing a lens hood, this is a fine choice.
The Voigtlander 75mm Color-Heliar f/2.5 was introduced in 1999 and the Leica screw-mount version is portable, affordable and sharp with a 10-bladed aperture and excellent blur rendition.
The lens shade is integrated into the design and the lens cap fits over the shade, making it even more portable in actual use. Weighing only 230g, it takes 43mm filters and is only 65mm long: less than the width of many modern designs. Even with the lens hood in place and an adapter attached, this lens fits in your pocket ! It is far less expensive than a Leica equivalent and is a fine choice for portraits. Because it is so small and light, you can carry it for long periods of time.
There are faster lenses in this focal length, but I prefer lenses which do not open very wide: they are smaller, lighter, more affordable and optically superior. Lenses which open wide often have mediocre performance at wide settings, particularly away from the center of the image. If not, they are prohibitively expensive, large and heavy. Speed, quality and price: we get to pick any two.
Although not officially a macro lens, it performs very nicely at close range using a stretch adapter or extension tube. With subjects of extreme contrast, this lens exhibits purple-fringing (Longitudinal Chromatic Aberration) but this is easily corrected in post-processing.
The 35-105mm Zoom Nikkor Macro was introduced in 1983 and is available at modest price in the used market. A manual focus zoom, it opens no wider than f/3.5 so it's compact, taking 52mm filters like the 55mm Micro Nikkor. Like most zoom lenses, edge sharpness falls below center sharpness but this model has other attractive qualities. It's a capable performer in a portable package.
This lens has 16 elements in 12 groups and a ring which shifts the internal arrangement, allowing you to gradually transition to macro mode. At the 35mm setting, it can focus down to a 1:4 ratio. If we add a short extension tube the lens will focus very closely at all focal lengths. Because of the macro design it performs well at short range as well as distance.
The 70-300mm Nikkor AF ED is very affordable and portable compared to similar offerings. This model provides autofocus on Nikon cameras, but no image stabilization. Like most zoom lenses it exhibits distortion, aberrations and lesser edge performance at various focal lengths: I never shoot it wide open and I use a simple Nikon-to-Sony adapter which does not provide autofocus.
Professionals who shoot sports, weddings or portraits - or who make huge prints - may require a professional-grade equivalent (at many times the cost) but if we shoot at moderate apertures, print at reasonable size and avoid the extremes of lens coverage, this lens offers long reach and light weight at a very attractive price-point.
Many wide angle lenses designed for rangefinder film cameras do not work well with the Sony sensor: there can be poor image quality at the corners of the image. Unlike film, digital sensors do best when light reaches them from straight ahead, not from an oblique angle. Because rangefinder film cameras have a short distance between the film and rear of the lens, the incident angle can be too extreme. In addition, the Sony sensor is covered with a thin layer of glass, which may bend light reaching it from an oblique angle. If you intend to use 3rd-party wide angle lenses on the Sony, make sure they are compatible.
See Guide to Leica Wide Angle Lenses on Sony a7 Series Bodies on LensRentals.com. Here's another article on phillipreeve.net entitled Rangefinder wide angle lenses on A7 cameras: problems and solutions.
Here are two more helpful discussion threads on the GetDPI.com Sony forum: Planoconvex (PCX) filter for 35mm ZM Distagon on A7/9 cameras and Front Filter Corrects Corner Smearing.
The Oben CT-3535 Folding Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod with BE-208T Ball Head folds to 12 inches and weighs only 2.5 pounds. It fits in just about any backpack or shoulder bag and is therefore ideal for travel. It also converts to a monopod and comes with a ball-head that will orient vertically. You can watch a Youtube video about this tripod here.
XRite Color Checker Passport Photo is a an affordable solution consisting of a portable target and software which works with Photoshop and Lightroom to give you accurate color balance wherever you shoot.
This test photo was made under incandescent lighting and shows before and after profile correction. You can watch a Youtube video about it here.