Sunday, September 13, 2015

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Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Sony A7s mark II vs the A7s


This past week at IBC 2015, Sony announced the FS5 and a bit of a surprise with the mark II body update to the A7s. Fitting for this event being the A7s is really intended for the video market while the A7II and A7RII for still photographers. This comparison will focus on the things that will matter the most to videographers.

Key Features
• 12.2MP Full-Frame Exmor CMOS Sensor
• Full Pixel Read-Out Internal 4K movie recording
• Full HD 120fps recording and 4x/5x slow motion recording
• S-Log3 Gamma and Gamma Assist Display function
• In-camera 5-axis optical image stabilization (IBIS)
• .78x Magnification 0.5″ 2.36m-Dot XGA OLED Tru-Finder EVF
• ISO 100-102400, Expandable to ISO 409600
• Wide dynamic range across entire ISO range
• Fast Intelligent AF

Sony Video - Takigi-noh 

The biggest update to the A7s is certainly the markII body design and the host of features that were brought over with that update. Most of those features updates what was found on both the A7II and A7RII over to the A7sII.

Ergonomically there is little to distinguish the three with the exception of name plates. Read my past ergonomics review (http://www.frontallobbings.com/2015/01/sony-a7-mark-ii-design-and-ergonomic.html) to get my impressions of the mark II body design.

Although the original series is still available, my opinion of that line is still pretty good and I encourage anyone that is interested in the Sony full-frame mirrorless line to consider them. They are all a great value at this point and technologically advanced to most of it's competitors out there.

What the second generation of the line upgraded are much needed features that both enthusiasts and pros were asking for. Interface tweaks, and functionality update were some of the biggest things and have all been pretty much finalized in the A7RII and now included in the A7sII.

Check out my updated chart that compares all the A7 cameras against each other.

A7 Series Comparison Chart
Click on the chart to view it
So how does the A7s and the A7sII compare against each other? Are they compelling features that someone that currently owns an A7s might upgrade to? Are new users going to appreciate the $500 difference between the two model offerings?

Ergonomics

Obviously this is the first and most important thing to consider. If you're a user that is only interested in the camera and not any additional hardware like a rigging cage or other accessories, than the ergonomics is certainly a major update from the Mark I. Keep in mind though that these updates are not necessarily better for video. The mirrorless or ILC camera form factor isn't a great format for video regardless. The movie record button is also still located in the same annoying shoulder position that really isn't much better. However one of the new things updated in the A7sII is the introduction of assignable functions to the movie record button. This means you can customize the movie button to a number of other keys. Sadly, you cannot reassign the actual movie button (like a display on/off button perhaps). This should be a firmware update feature in my opinion.


The A7sII does update the EVF to a class leading .78x magnification from the A7s' .71x. That's significant and certainly makes the EVF a much better device to use while shooting all types of work including video. Larger magnification means less eyestrain.

New location of the tripod mount point for mark II bodies.
Because of the change of the design of the case, this also affects the location of the tripod mount. Using just small arca swiss mounting plates it fouls even the LA-EA4. This will significantly impact a lot of generic cage designs out there for videographers that prefer to use accessories with this. The LA-EA4 isn't the only one that may have issues with this tripod mount location, so be mindful if you're a videographer that uses adapters, that this may be an issue when you're trying to mount other glass to the set up in a cage that has preset locations or using a quick release plate of some sort.

The new version of the included cable lock/protector
Many cages also utilize a clamping system that is integrated into the cage. The new design now puts all the ports near the top of the body. This means the clamping style of most current cage designs will not work and need to be redesigned. Although the Sony does include a protector clamp with the A7sII, how this works in future cage designs will be something that one will need to be aware of or not use.

My current cage doesn't use the included version 1 cable lock, which has some flaws regardless. It pushes the screen away from the camera (which might be a good function as it allows for better cooling) when properly installed and doesn't always fit all kinds of HDMI cables. The new cable lock design is much more accommodating for different cable brands and designs.

Sony - 5-Axis Image Stabilization Example

IBIS or in body stabilization is also another major update that promises to videographers a more stable platform to shoot video. This by no means replaces a proper 3 or 5 axis motorized gimbal but as stated before, it does give a pretty good stabilized all in one package without adding more expensive hardware.

It is also important to note that the A7sII is 100gm more than it's predecessor. If you are using one of the popular hand held powered gimbals, you're getting closer and closer to their maximum 1kg limits. Add batteries, and lens, the A7sII is too heavy for my own Nebula 3000 Lite gimbal.

Video Upgrades
The biggest upgraded functions is the ability to record UHD 4K video internally. This reduces the need to purchase a separate recorder like the Atomos Shogun and the Sony A7s. This certainly will reduce your entire equipment footprint by not having extra hardware and the added convenience of writing to the smaller SD card. However from a cost per GB perspective, internal SD cards are significantly higher than cheaper SSD media. SD cards average around 75 cents per GB while SSD cards are around 33 cents per GB. SD cards are however faster to read from which means transferring over data is pretty quick.

Sony SLOG3 Example

The addition of SLOG3 is also a noteworthy upgrade. The SLOG3 curve gives a much flatter profile that is also found on their professional series cameras. It offers more flexibility in grading and is more accurate in colours. However what isn't changed how the A7sII records 8bit video (while the professional units ar 10bit). How Sony engineered the same sensor to present more information when the information is already compressed to 8bits from RAW footage is a little bit of a mystery. It is very likely the very nature of SLOG3 profile is going to significantly affect midtones in an 8bit compressed format while giving better highlights and shadows. Only experience will tell if this will be something that is a benefit or a problem.


Two new picture profiles, SLOG3 and SLOG3 Cine (PP8 and PP9) have been added. Also to assist in the use of these flat log profiles, Sony has now added a 'Gamma Display Assist' mode. This mode allows you to shoot in the flat log mode, but display a higher contrast calibrated display of your footage that would better represent post graded footage. This is a significant update that makes it much easier for people to shoot in flat contrast log profiles. Being able to see a close representation of what it will look like after it's graded will make any beginner in LOG profile shooting much more comfortable in this set-up.

One of the downsides to the Gamma Display Assist is that it it isn't supported on the HDMI output, taking away the bigger advantage of larger display or director's monitor to preview the footage as it's being shot.

Do these new features reduce the need for a separate monitor/recorder like the Atomos Shogun? Probably not, but it will reduce the dependency for some, but the more serious users will continue to utilize an independent unit.  It is great for the operator to see what to expect, but productions these days include more people than just the camera operator.

Fast Intelligent AF Example

Fast Intelligent AF for movies is an update to the autofocus speed. All previous A7 cameras have a very slow AF system when in movie mode. Now the intelligent AF offers a much quick AF system to respond in movie modes. However it begs the question how useful this will be other than the run and gun shooter. Those that will be on tripods will likely manually focus or use a focus puller. It's a welcome update, but hardly a feature update worth noting. The Gamma Display Assist is far more significant than the AF upgrades in my opinion.

What is missing?
8 bit video despite SLOG3 is very limiting. It is disappoint to say the least that there isn't a 10bit option. However adding 10bit is a massive amount of data to deal with, and with that in mind there were compromises made. To be clear, there are lots of professionals using the A7s, but it's a consumer camera, not a professional grade camera. For that, the new camera that was also announced at IBC, the FS5 is probably more appropriate for professional requirement (however at at twice the price).

4:2:2 Chroma is also missing on internal HD and 4K recording. Again, likely a data size issue, 4:2:0 is a big loss in information if you're serious about colour. It is at least available through the HDMI output, but at that point you're no better off over the A7s mark I. Especially if you're shooting green screen work, your options are pretty limited. You cannot shoot in SLOG modes for green screen work, and with 4:2:0, you must spend more time lighting your scene properly than being able to deal with it in post. Keep in mind no ILC camera including the 5Dmk3 offers internal 4:2:2 chroma.

No BSI sensor. News is still fresh on this camera and currently the information on the mark II is that it is a tweaked A7s sensor and not a new backside illuminated sensor found on the A7R mark II. I am not certain why this is the case, but I would have anticipated even higher ISO performance if they made a low MP BSI sensor. I imagine 1 million, or even 2 million ISO might have been possible.

No global shutter. This probably couldn't realistically made it into the A7sII at this point. They are far expensive to produce and operate very hot. It would have meant a major redesign to the whole body to accommodate a proper cooling system to work well. I for one welcome a big change in the form factor, but one could argue that this is what the FS5 is for. 4K has made the rolling shutter problems even more obvious. When I shot HD video on the 5Dmk3, I noticed it far less than I do when I'm shooting 4K on the A7s. This needs to be a priority for all camera manufacturers and hopefully we'll see it in future cameras.

Industry standard ProRes. Well this being Sony, means they love embracing their Beta SP roots. Proprietary formats aside, ProRes is 4:1 compression while Sony's XAVC-s is 7:1. That said, a format that provides strong image quality for consumers in the form of the new and ridiculously small H.265 is also unsupported in this camera. Technically there are likely issues with anything but Sony's own proprietary codecs, but not having ProRes certainly increases transcoding time for most professional editors.

No Waveform Monitor. RGB Histograms are great for still images, but industry standard waveform monitors is far better and more accurate.

No increase in MP like a 14-16MP sensor. Cine Super 35mm format in full pixel readout 4K isn't available internally on the A7sII. Had they gone to a BSI 16MP sensor, it would have been possible to have a full pixel 4K readout. It's rather disappointing they didn't at least make a slight bump in the resolution to accommodate that popular format.

No Touch Screen. Seriously, is this 2004 still? Touch screens offer a slew of options to videographers for focus and focus pulling effects. Touch focus is such a simple and useful function to most videographers.

Lack of focus speed controls. This is available on the A7RII, but current online information seems to show that this feature does not exist. Although the Fast Intelligent AF is a welcome update, having control on the speed would have been more desired.

The SLOG3 and Gamma Display Assist are great features in this new camera, but more importantly, how do you grade your footage. Sony is making an assumption about their end users. In my experience, even though SLOG options have been made available, it has been very frustrating for many users to take advantage of it. There is no profile made offered by Sony that assists in this, and there is no included software to help with that grading of the video. They gave us the keys to better dynamic range, but they never left a manual on how to exploit it.

Summing things up... for now.
I will not sugar coat the fact that I was disappointed over this announcement/update. It was already a bit surprised that they announced something this quick and I would have been more than content for Sony to have done more R&D time with it to ensure this mark II version was perfect.

If Sony follows any of the A7s groups of users out there, they would see  some of the discontent with the older system and users that hoped to see what the new mark II would offer. Sadly, I don't believe this update did that (at least not like the A7II and A7RII did for the A7 and the A7R).

The price increase over the old is also significantly enough for a new customer to consider the Mark I with an external recorder rather than get the modest upgrades of the Mark II. However that said, I think it's important to note that operators looking for an all in one solution in a single package, need not go further in considering this model over the previous. There is likely just enough differences in this version that will appeal to new shooters.

Will there be an onslaught of owners upgrading to this version. I anticipate a very luke warm one if there is, I could be wrong.


Do I think the A7sII is a terrible camera. Far from it. It offers many of the great features found on the A7RII, which is considered by many as the best cameras out there from any manufacturer. It is videocentric as a low MP camera. Of course high ISO, low light is where this camera excels. There are reports that it has a 14 EV dynamic range, which is about 3/4 a stop improved over the A7s. The Gamma Assist display makes SLOG video much more friendlier, and the internal 4K recordings are all things that one might consider.

I expect the A7sII to do well for Sony, but significant upgrade from the A7s, it is not.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

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Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

I Leica Q (A hands-on review of the Leica Q (Type 116)

My Hands On Review of the Leica Q - Type 116 

Gear Porn

I'm going to just start out by saying, this is one of the best Leica digital cameras I've ever handled. It's got so much going for it even though it still has some oddball quirks to it that still links it to the classic camera company trying to fit into today's modern technology world. I was given an opportunity to spend a few hours with the Leica Q, and this is my summary of my experience with it.

Let's start off with some key highlights on this camera.

Highlights

24.2 MP Full-Frame CMOS Sensor
Leica Maestro II Image Processor
Leica Summilux 28mm f/1.7 ASPH Lens
3.68 MP LCOS Electronic Viewfinder
3.0" 1,040k-Dot Touchscreen LCD Monitor
Contrast-Detect AF System
Full HD 1080p Video at up to 60 fps
ISO 50,000 & 10 fps Continuous Shooting
Aluminum & Magnesium Alloy Body Design
Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity with NFC

The Lens

The Leica Summilux 28mm f/1.7 ASPH Lens has 11 elements in 9 groups, 3 aspherical elements. It has 9 aperture blades, and a leaf shutter built into the lens. As far as construction goes, metal construction, which has very positive rings that just feel very well built. Although I don't believe it's a traditional brass helicoid, it does feel like a quality Leica lens. Even though this is a fixed lens, don't confuse this as being just another Panasonic/Leica camera collaboration. 

Leica Summilux 28mm f/1.7 ASPH Lens


The 28mm focal length seems rather wide for a street photographer’s camera. Some will question why they didn't make this a 35mm or even Henri-Cartier Bresson favourite focal length of 50mm. Many would likely love at the idea of a fixed 50mm F/2 Summicron. But I think it was wise of Leica not to make this product any more niche than it needs to be. The 28mm focal length takes some getting used to if you've never shot with this length, but it's a great size to get everything you'll ever need and for some, means getting a little more personal with your subjects if you want to crop closer.

This is an ideal length for point and shoot/pocketable cameras. Although sized much larger than one would put into a pocket, this camera is small enough to fit in most small gear bags or purses. The saying goes that the best camera on you is the one in your hand and this is the right focal length and size to be that camera that is always in your bag.

The sharpness of the lens is very good and of course being paired with a high resolution 24MP non anti-aliased sensor is going to yield exceptional images.

Leica Q (Type 116)
Incredible clarity!



The bokeh on this lens is really quite nice. Out of focus and shallow depth of field with this lens is really easy to achieve with images that pop with a 3D quality that is signature of Leica lenses.

Leica Q (Type 116)
Beautiful smooth bokeh, even with a busy background.
Although the 9 blades are not rounded the bokeh is smooth and does not exhibit any erratic distracting backgrounds that one might find from a fast aperture lens.

Autofocus position
The controls on this lens are very logical and is a nice balance of traditional with modern features of Auto Focus, Auto Aperture, and macro mode.

The Autofocus is engaged simply by having the focus ring parked in the AF marker on the distance ring. Once it is in this mode, the camera uses contrast detect for AF.

It's very fast and responsive, and compared to most of the mirrorless camera models I've owned the past 5-6 years, this camera is very responsive by comparison..

Traditional focus thumb lever with an AF lock/release button
Like many Leica M lenses, the focus has the traditional thumb lever. However what is unique is a slight button on one edge of the lever that allows you to push it past the infinity position to put the lens into auto focus.

I have to admit I like this approach. It's a great way to introduce a discrete switch onto the camera needing another barrel button or putting more buttons on the body. It's a great ergonomic design that feels natural.

Auto aperture position just past the widest aperture setting
I found myself actually loving how well the contrast detect AF works with this camera, but it is so easy to just flip into manual focus when you want to with accurate and nicely visible focus peaking on the display.

Auto Aperture is also equally easy to access, and also on the lens. Just turning this below the widest setting, puts the camera into shutter priority with auto aperture. I actually rarely tried this, but is a nice feature when you really want to dumb down the camera for quick situations that don't require a lot of thought.

The macro mode is an interesting feature that basically acts like a built in extension tube. A ring on the lens, close to the camera body provides a positive turn from standard to macro mode. What's really clever in this design is the distance ring changes to provide the proper ranges for macro shooting.

Standard Position
Macro Position - Note the distance scale changes.
Macro also changes the aperture to a minimum of F/2.8 which is to be expected, but what might seem rather limiting with this focal length now provides a pretty versatile and decent macro lens at the turn of a dial.

Leica Q (Type 116)
Instant macro lens at the turn of a dial.

Body and Ergonomics

The form factor and construction of the Leica Q is superb. It feels like a classic M without feeling clunky and large. In fact I'd almost argue that this feels more like my Leica M2 than the Leica M9 or Type 240. It is slightly smaller due to the lack of range finder, but rather than making this camera smaller, they actually kept the height the same as all current M bodies at 80mm tall.

Gear Porn
The Leica Q actually feels like a classic M in my hands.

Very similar dimensions. 3mm taller, and 8mm narrower.

The fit and finish is very Leica for sure. The leatherette finishes are tactile and looks nice, although I can't help but think it will pick up some debris in no time. All the dials, buttons and rings are all very positive feeling. There's nothing on this camera that feels cheap on it.


Exposure Comp dial inset to the body
The satin finish is very soft to the touch and not too different from the Leica M and buttons are all very responsive. The shutter dial is low profile but not difficult to use. The exposure compensation wheel is actually very well designed. First it's set right into the body so it's not in the way to push the shutter button, but like all exposure compensation dials, still can be accidentally turned. But despite this, some engineer felt that it was logically that when you first turn the dial, it only brings up the screen for your compensation and doesn't actually change it. After the menu comes up, you have to then select your Ev compensation amount to make it set. It's both good and might be annoying for some. I like it a lot as many other companies have the dial in this place that often gets accidentally bumped and changed.

The shutter dial also has a position to put it into aperture priority mode and auto shutter. The dial only goes up to 1/2000 for the leaf shutter but when you need more, the shutter can give you up to 1/16,000 of a second in electronic shutter mode. The only caveat of shooting with electronic shutter is the potential of rolling shutter. The leaf shutter is also very quiet. I argue that it's only slightly louder than the X-Pro1 which is almost silent. I actually prefer this to a completely electronic silent shutter. Some feedback is nice even if it is barely louder than tapping your nail lightly on a camera case.

The shutter also offer 1/500s flash sync. This will be great for any action studio shooters, but one odd thing is the lack of a bulb mode. I found the omission of this standard feature a bit odd. I hope that this is an oversight and maybe it will come in the form of a firmware update or in the WiFi app that I didn't have access to. There is a time lapse function in this camera that I didn't explore, but that has some interesting creative possibilities.

A movie record button is also located right beside the shutter button. As a video shooter this is very welcome. Unfortunately it doesn't appear that it can be customized. I hope that this oversight from Leica will be fixed, but like a few other buttons on this camera, customization is rather limited.

There's an additional function button that if found on the back right by the shutter dial which has the most customizability, but it's limited to a small list of common functions. By default this is set to frame selector (or crop modes).


Doors and access ports are well made with one on the side of camera that reveals access to micro- HDMI and mini-USB ports. The battery and media card access is at the bottom and the tripod socket is located in line with the centre axis of the lens. The battery has approximately around 300 shots per charge and around 45 minutes of video. About what I'd expect from a battery of this size. The battery (BP-DC-12) is also the same battery found in the V-Lux and also other Panasonic cameras (Panasonic DMW-BLC12). The Leica battery is almost $200 USD, so it might be wiser to get extra Panasonic batteries which as far as I know are exactly the same. Batteries are always bone of contention with me. I find that my Sony equipment all seem to need lots of extra batteries. But compared to the RX1 series, it's closest competitor, this camera is significantly better on battery.

There is no official documentation on whether or not there are dust and moisture seals on this camera. I will not make any assumptions on that, but to be on the safe side, let's just say it doesn't have any.

Gear Porn

A thumb indent is located just above the control D-pad and it's very comfortable in my hand. All things considered though. I would suggest getting a wrist strap or the integrated hand grip with finger loops. Although I like grips on my cameras, the accessory adds more height to the camera which I don't necessarily feel is needed. The camera is comfortable in the hand and I didn't find that it was uncomfortable, but having a decent grip is essential with the satin finish of Leica cameras.


A series of common buttons is also found on the left side of the LCD display. The buttons are nicely integrated into the design with just enough protrusion to easily press the buttons in. The typical buttons are found there with a FN button that has a limited set of customs functions you can assign to it. These buttons are also found much closer to the edge of the camera unlike the Leica M. This is certainly going to make it much easier to access those buttons with your left hand.

The display is a healthy 3" capacitive touchscreen display. I didn't get a lot of time with it, but it also has gesture controls on it that makes it very iPhone like.

The eyefinder is a large display that includes a diopter adjustment and a 3.7MP LCOS display. I didn't find any lag to this display and while shooting in the day with it, did not find it too dark. LCOS stands for Liquid Crystal On Silicon display. It has some advantages for near eye viewing, but due to it's polarization design, it can introduce some odd distracting colour behaviours when blinking or viewing on an odd angle. However the resolution is sharp and bright. I found that it didn't take long to get use to this display. There's also an integrated eye sensor on it so it will automatically flip from the LCD to the finder.

Image Quality

I'm uncertain if this is a CMOSIS sensor like the ones found in the Leica M (Type 240) or not, but judging from the images I've taken with this camera, similar sensor or not, I found them to be quite spectacular. This unit is a pre-production unit so there is a possibility of some improvements in firmware (1.02). According to Leica, this camera has a 13 stop dynamic range which should be identical to the Leica M. This is very good still but isn't over the top great in comparison to many 14+ dynamic range digital cameras, but from my own tests in Adobe Lightroom (which is included with the purchase of the Leica Q), I found that it was more than plenty of information for 99% of my edits.

Leica Q - Dynamic Range Test in Adobe Lightroom 6
Inspecting the dynamic range of the images.
In most cases of shadow and highlight recovery, I would argue that this range is plenty. Without having two exact files from the Leica M240 and the Leica Q to compare, I can only make a speculative observation that noise seems to be better controlled in the Q over the M240. I also think there's a better baseline gamma on this camera which helps avoid highlight clipping over previous Leica cameras. All things considered the results are pretty spectacular and working with them in Adobe Lightroom is both easy and rewarding.

My own custom black and white workflow (http://www.frontallobbings.com/2013/08/black-and-white-images-that-pop.html) also loves the Leica Q files. Despite only having 13 stops of dynamic range, I did not find that this was at all limiting. Because the signal to noise ratio is so good on this camera, I was very comfortable editing the images as if they were 16+ stop black and white film. 

Leica Q (Type 116)
Film like black and white is easily achieved with this camera.
One of the things I'm critical towards Sony A7 series cameras is their colour and gamma. As soon as I loaded up the images into Adobe Lightroom 6/CC, the results were pretty clear to me. Unlike Sony files, the Leica files responded like most other digital camera files. Colour adjustments were easy and intuitive, and I did not find certain colours going fluorescent like they do in Sony file. Also the fact that the Leica Q writes their 14bit colour data to a DNG format is also another plus, however DNG files are not the smallest of files. I will also admit that the JPG files off this camera may look great on the display, but to be honest, they do not hold up well when I bring it up on my display for review. I don't recommend critical images shot with the in camera JPG engine, shoot in DNG and set up a good workflow for your edits.

Reviewing image in the camera are also very slow. It's almost like Leica's engineers forgot to embed a thumbnail preview into the DNG files. It was painfully slow and requires rendering each image to view it. Not a huge deal breaker for me but lets hope that this is just a pre-production glitch.

Leica Q (Type 116)
Very pleasing blues from this sensor, unlike Sony sensors that tend to fluoresce with editing.
Leica Q (Type 116)Obviously the lack of an AA filter has some immediate impacts on the image. But there is no doubt that both the combination of lens, the sensor and the lack of AA filter creates ridiculous details when pixel peeping the images.

I can only compare this to the Sigma DP Quattro for this kind of clarity and detail. Although I didn't photograph too many textures where moire might rear it's ugly head, I am truly impressed with the bayer mosaic sensor image quality that comes off of the Leica Q.

I also would make some comparisons to the X-trans sensors found on Fuji cameras. Aside from strong image quality, it has a similar user experience I get from the Fuji X-Pro1 rangefinder-esque cameras.

When these images are converted to black and white, you really get to appreciate how amazing this interpolated sensor really is. Both the Sigma and The Fuji X-trans, which are very nice for black and white work, are really outdone now with this camera.


100% crop, click to view full size.






One interesting feature in this camera is the ability to select the crop mode and bring up a very bright rangefinder like frame line to compose as if it was 35mm or 50mm. Basically it's a digital zoom that crops down the images from the 24MP down to 10MP for 50mm and 15MP for 35mm crop. This does not affect the full 24MP DNG files if you change your mind. It's handy to use when composing and should you change your mind, Adobe Lightroom allows you to go back to the crop mode and resize the crop appropriately. Most will find this feature novel but it did kind of made this camera feel like I'm using a tri-elmar lens which does increase the versatility of this limited focal length. 10MP is also higher resolution than most 35mm films. Optimal professional scanning will only yield anywhere from 6-10MP for most traditional films.

Leica Q - Test Images
10MP crop in 50mm simulation mode. Plenty of detail the still rivals traditional film resolutions.
The one thing I didn't really get an opportunity to test was the high ISO. Leica cameras are not known for great low light performance. This camera is rated to go to 50,000 ISO, which I'm certain isn't all that great, but at least available for those intimate moments where little ambient light is available. Although I did look at the comparison files at DPReview http://www.dpreview.com/previews/leica-q-typ116/5 and compared it to the Sony RX1R and both cameras seem to match each other well with the Sony files slightly better in noise performance, but the Leica outdoing it with resolution.

The Price

No doubt this question will come up for many. Is the Leica Q expensive? Relative to the Leica brand it isn't. This camera comes in at around $4,300 USD. Approximately $1,000 more expensive than the release price of it's nearest competitor, the Sony RX1 (Sony RX1R is currently around $2,800 USD). The RX1 also doesn't come with an integrated finder, which is an additional accessory at $500-$600 USD. Batteries are an issue with the RX1 series and you'll need at least two batteries to Leica Q's one. All in all even at today's prices, an RX1R with finder and extra battery is around $3,500 USD, a difference of around $800.

The lens alone is most of the value of the Leica Q. Compared to a Leica Summilux-M 28mm f/1.4 ASPH. lens at around $6,000 USD, or the budget Leica Summicron-M 28mm f/2.0 Lens at around $3,800 USD, the Leica Q gives you the performance of the $7,000 Leica M with probably similar quality of the $6000 M-mount lens equivalent. Lets not forget a few other things that this can do over a Leica M which is being rangefinder like when you want it to be, to being a modern digital camera with auto aperture, auto focus, auto shutter and image stabilization. This means the Leica Q is basically a $13,000 camera for $4,300 – a savings of around $8,700 (enough for at least two great trips to use the Leica Q on).

The Leica Q, for some, will certainly be great value!

Closing statement

My time with the Leica Q was short. Although I got to shoot with it for the day, it was very hard for me to give it back to Kerrisdale Camera's who was generous enough give me so much time with it. Most importantly I can say from the images that I've taken with it and the overall experience I had with it, that Leica has a clear winner on this combination. I suspect they will sell lots of these when they start to become readily available. I would love to spend more time with this camera if I can, and if I get the opportunity for more time with it, I'll post more updates.

Check out the rest of the Leica Q shots below in my flickr feed:

Sunday, February 22, 2015

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Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

A Newsletter of sorts....updates and other news....

Lots going on in my life these days, but wanted to make a brief update post to talk about some exciting upcoming things.

Lindsay Wagner's Advanced Acting Retreat 2015

My studio http://www.styluxstudio.com has been working on this for quite some time to make this happen.

I am very excited to share the news that Lindsay Wagner is coming to Victoria to work one-on-one with up to 14 Actors! We are also very fortunate to have Michelle Allen, an award-winning Casting Director, join us at the retreat. This runs for a week long in summer.

We have already sold a few seats and I suspect it's going to go fast. If you know of an actor that is interested in this, please point them to our website or visit Lindsay Wagner's Website: http://www.lindsaywagnerinternational.com/vancouver_acting_retreat

Sony A7s - The Nikon D700 reborn as a mirrorless camera...
I will be publishing a review on the Sony A7s and how it performs. I swapped one of my A7 classic bodies for it, and been using it to shoot video. But what I want to talk about is how it performs as a still camera. There's lots of great reports on it as a video camera, but it's also amazing as a still camera.

Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG in Sony Alpha mount - The ultimate standard!

Also upcoming and paired with the Sony A7s is the Sigma 50 ART lens with the long awaited Alpha mount. Using it with the LA-EA4, I'll share my thoughts on that match up.

More YouTube Tutorials

Busy as I am, I am still trying to get more tutorials up on my YouTube channel. A little teaser of the next episode, "The pen, is mightier than the sword." 

Infographics

That time of year again where my students are busy preparing for their next installment of social media experimentation and showcasing their Infographic work. I'll post the information on their site and great work.

That's it for now, but stay tuned for updates and more info.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

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The Grass Can Be Greener...

Up to episode 8!



These tutorial videos, I'll admit, are hard work. But they are pretty fun to put together as well.

More are coming and a whole learner series is in the planning stages.

This episode demonstrates how to use the adjustment brush in Adobe Lightroom 5.7.1 to make quick and simple corrections for dead or yellow grass.





Tuesday, February 10, 2015

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Revisiting the question of RAW vs JPG - Sony A7 mark II

Figure 1: Original Images
I get this question often in classrooms, emails, and workshops. I usually respond with a simple analogy from the days of film, comparing RAW to a film negative, and JPG to a Polaroid print. It's something I've said for a the past 6 years, but it might need some revisiting.

Now there is no real comparing a 14-16 bit RAW file to an 8 bit JPG file in terms of information. There is no question that the gamut of colour between those two file types will always be quite different. But much of that is academic to the untrained eye, which begs the question of whether or not the two files warrant much debate.

Digital files have certainly come a long way in the past 6 or 7 years. The shadow noise performance of modern digital cameras pretty much now yield near smooth and noiseless images. The Sony A7 series of cameras have been the talk of the photographic community for the past year and it produces some amazing images from compressing the shadow and highlight information. I'll say after performing this test, I am very amazed by what the camera puts out, but also what it does for JPG images. The need for HDR software is certainly put into question, when it appears that the tonal range from 100% black to 100% white produces such favourable results from this camera.

Figure 2: Highlight Compression
Regardless of the tonal range, the shadow noise, and the gamut difference, how much does it matter to the layman. In figure 2, I've compressed both the ARW and the JPG images highlight ranges, with a snap shot to show the histogram. Both histograms look pretty close to each other but there are slight difference that I know from experience that shows the difference in gamut. This image was taken with the Sony A7 Mark II with both RAW and JPG files written simultaneously. The DRO has been turned off and any noise reduction settings (specifically for the purposes of this test. I recommend keeping DRO on and to turn on your noise reduction settings if you use JPG. The camera does a much better job to control those situations, but in this experiment, I wanted to have as much of an untouched/unprocessed file). To preserve highlights during the shot, I carefully monitored the histogram, and adjusted the exposure to ensure there is no highlight clipping (I recommend using the EV dial to underexpose high contrast images if you don't trust your meter). The resulting image in figure 1 appears underexposed, but shadow recovery can compensate for that.

Figure 3a: Shadow Compression
Figure 3a shows shadow compression only, and once again we look at the histogram to see any major changes. The JPG does show some minor fall off at the extremes, however looking at the images between the JPG and the ARW, the differences appear pretty minor.

Figure 3b: Shadow Compression Detailed View
In the detailed view (figure 3b) there is very little shadow noise to be concerned about considering that the shadow was compressed by +2 EV.  There is some detail loss that you can see in the form of JPG artifacts, but it is both a result of compression and in camera processing. Turning up the sharpness in the in camera profile certainly should compensate for that (something you'd normally have to do in post with RAW files).

Figure 4: Tone Mapped (Note the slight colour shift that has to be corrected afterwards)
In the Figure 4 example, I've combined both shadow and highlight compression. Both histograms show subtle differences, but both the shadow and highlights are now compressed to simultaneously show both extremes. Again, much of the image differences are subjective, and in some ways the micro contrast of the JPG might be even slightly better but all things treated fairly, looking at the histogram at this point I'm observing the differences between 8 bit files and 16 bit files. But at the end of the day does it really matter much? One thing that needed to be adjusted was White Balance, and because JPG files cook the colours in, this was much harder to adjust between the two files (however as in the figure 4, the RAW file went magenta but was easily corrected). RAW was easier to match to the JPG file because there is more colour information. This means while using JPG, you need to make sure your white balance is set properly ahead of time.

So upon revisiting this popular question about RAW vs JPG, what conclusions should I make? One could argue that with media being as cheap as it is, you should always shoot the highest quality setting and convert or downsample later. On the other hand, why put yourself through unnecessary processing if you're confident in your shooting, and your images are always properly exposed? Let the camera do the processing, and just enjoy a beautifully processed JPG image (and thousands compared to hundreds on a media card)

Even with the 8 bit JPG files, I was able to push it at least 4 stops, which in the past was lucky to get 1.5 stops. I also did some more tests where I pushed it 6 additional stops overall, giving a very healthy margin of 12-14 stops as reported by other sites.

Although the low overall gamut of the JPG image may present some banding issues with certain images and certain colours, it doesn't mean that it should be totally disregarded as the ugly step child in your camera. Based on this simple test, it isn't as clear as it was 6-7 years ago about the differences between the two formats. I might have to change my analogy to something a little better suited to today's generation and a little more accurate. RAW is like the graphics of the Sony Playstation 3 compared to JPG images as if it were on the Sony Playstation 2.

The real question for many is should they shoot in RAW or should they shoot in JPG. My answer to that is yes!

For the most part it is pretty inconsequential. I use both when the occasion calls for it, and when I do need to shoot thousands of images (most of the running events I shoot are all in JPG and usually I shoot 4000-5000 images per event). I find that if the situations is controlled and I have time to set things ahead of time, I shoot JPG. But if I'm uncertain of changing light or going to be changing settings a lot, I still trust in RAW files. This test proves to me that I can trust in both formats regardless of my personal preference, and probably should be less about RAW vs JPG in the future, and more about how to shoot both to maximize the most potential from it.

Post Script: One comment I received are other important factors of why to shoot raw which in terms of problematic files that are harder to correct in JPG images are colour balance, post sharpening, and noise control (especially in higher ISO images). RAW files offer much more flexibility in terms of this. But this article isn't to suggest that RAW is a crutch, but there is no doubt more information is always better. I would never do shadow and highlight recovery to a JPG image like I have done here, but this article merely demonstrates what flexibility is still within the JPG file without resorting to a RAW file. JPG does require accurate and proper settings to maximize the file, which means that if something does go wrong, you can always rely on RAW files. Like many other cameras, having the ability to shoot both RAW+JPG is actually a good compromise to the question. If you choose to save yourself a bunch of work, you can just use the JPG files.

RAW or JPG? It doesn't really matter because they both look the same.



Wednesday, January 28, 2015

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Fotodiox Signature Tough E-Mount LT - Review

Installed on the Sony A6000

The new Fotodiox Signature Tough-E Mount LT is an exciting update to the original Tough-E Mount, adding a new light tight design that prevents any light leakages from the previous mount designs.
The new tough mount design benefits the most with adapted lenses and long lenses

The mount is easy to install and built of brass alloy, making it attractive and quality feeling. The mount itself is snug fitting and I tested on many ranges of adapters (from Fotodiox, Metabones, Techart, Viltrox, and others). One of my tests was with the Sony LA-EA4 which improves it, by removing any slop that was present before.

The Sony LA-EA4 Alpha to E mount adapter.

Long lenses benefit the most from this adapter. It installs both on the original A7 and on the A6000 and both made the Sony FE 70-200 F4 lens more secure feeling, but more importantly, no axial wobble.

Native lenses with the new Tough-E mount LT adapter feel far more secure.

It certainly is a great solution over the two piece design of the E-mounts on both cameras, making the lenses feel more integrated into the smaller bodies plus this new benefit of preventing any leakage of light that often comes through the lens release area.

Balanced unsafely in my hands, but feels very secure. 
One observation is the amount of flex that is stressed on the mount when using a long lens. I don't encourage you to test this, but if you put any pressure on a lens while holding the camera stationary, you can see a separation that happens at the mount. Clearly this is a weakness in the design, but is resolved by using the tough mount that securely adds a positive bridge to the screw posts. The plastic mount portion is likely the cause of the flex and unfortunately can cause this gap at that mount. In normal operation and practice it shouldn't be an issue, however it does set my mind at ease with the tougher mount. I also felt especially on the Sony A6000 that heavier lenses now feel very secure on this body.

Light leaks in the past sometimes made it very difficult to image deep space astro images
like this one of the Orion Nebula taken with the FE 70-200.

Couple of things to be aware with the tough-mount. Some adapters have been known to fit very tight or not at all with them. This is compounded by the fact that the tough mount has extremely tight tolerances. Native sony lenses do not have issues mounting on tough mounts, but some adapters might. Another thing to be aware of is Sony's official stance is that this will void your warranty. My A7 is past the warranty period, and I thought it was worth voiding my warranty on the Sony A6000. Regardless of that stance, there is no countermeasures by Sony for them to identify the exchange of the mount. Only the A7 has a little bit of adhesive between the plastic inner ring to the body which is easily peeled off, and the torque on the screws is not an accurate counter measure of exchanging the mount. So I'm not suggesting that you won't be caught exchanging mounts, but in my experience and what I've seen taking apart many electronic items in the past is that usually there are obvious countermeasures to void warranty. I believe Sony is just taking the high stance of not allowing this kind of modification to take place to admit that the A7 (r) and earlier E-Mounts were flawed.

I also recommend using a JIS driver, not a phillips driver. You can find most of them at local electronics stores. If you must use a phillips driver, use some emery paper and sand off the tip on your driver to make it a JIS driver. These screws can strip, so don't force it. The JIS standard is slightly different from a phillips driver so keep that in mind.

But aside from these warnings, I really give this a huge thumbs up. Many people have already past the warranty period of their cameras, and this is worth the purchase and installation.

Price is $49.95 USD for the chrome version, or $59.95 USD for the all brass version. You can order it from this link: https://www.fotodioxpro.com/catalogsearch/result/?q=tough+e-mount

Special thanks to Bohus and Fotodiox for allowing me to test this and to share my images on their youtube channel. Check out the video below for details.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

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Black and White Tutorial for Lightroom 5.7.1 - E0002





Episode 2: Black and White editing in Adobe Lightroom 5.7.1 is now up.

This video tutorial, demonstrates how I do my black and white processing in Adobe Lightroom. This tutorial isn't exclusive to the Sony A7, but I did use that file to do the processing.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

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Black and White Tutorial for Capture One 8.1



This video tutorial, demonstrates how I do my black and white processing with Sony files in Capture One 8.1. This tutorial is not exclusive to Sony A7, but can be used with any files that are imported into Capture one.

After all these years of teaching classes, workshops, guest speaking, and numerous requests from various people, I finally got behind the mic, and recorded my first tutorial.
More to come so stay tune...

I want to also put out a big thanks to all my readers over the year for your support. My site no longer has ad on it, but I always appreciate any donations of thanks to help support future development:


Saturday, January 3, 2015

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Sony A7 Mark II Design and Ergonomic Review


A7 vs A7 mark II
When the first leaked pictures came out for the new A7 mark II, I was excited. As a designer, having spent a better part of my life designing to make things easier for people to interact, I wanted to focus this review on design - after all the devil is in the details. Mirrorless cameras are still relatively young and going up against the decades of design refinements in SLR cameras is something where this segment is playing catch up with.

Mirrorless cameras are not just free of the bulky mirror box, but overall smaller. With the smaller sizes, it contends with the balance of being too small vs the functions that makes SLR cameras great. Most modern cameras have all the features that are expected by consumers, and for the most part are on par with each other for quality and function. But one of the more important factors of making a tool work well is how easy it is to hold, handle and utilize the features.

Weight and Dimensions:
Sony A7 Sony A7 mark II
Weight 474 grams 599 Grams
Width 127 mm 127 mm
Height 94 mm 96 mm
Depth 48 mm 60 mm

The new Sony A7 mark II is not only heavier but also slightly taller and much thicker. All of these are to incorporate the new 5 axis In Body Stabilization System (IBIS). The extra heft is noticeable and for some who are looking for a balance between size and weight, this may be more than they expected. I personally find it more solid feeling in the hand and comparing it to my brass constructed Leica M2 (580g) is pretty equal. But I do know wearing a thin profile neck strap with this kind of weight isn't all that comfortable after a couple of hours. Invest in a much thicker and comfortable strap if you intend on wearing it around the neck.

Most of the upgrades are pretty subtle at first, but the more you delve into it, the more you realize the importance of each update.

Redesigned Grip
The headline ergonomic update was the grip design. The grip now reflects a more traditional SLR like design approach (Nikon-esq to be specific). The big move was relocating the shutter button to the more logical place on top of the bevel of the grip from the top plate location. Some people have had some concerns of the depth and comfort of the grip, but much of this is subjective and hard to make it well suited for each and every user out there.
New Grip Design
The deeper grip certainly changes how it's handled and the location of the fingers change. It's a bit subjective for some how this works. The deeper and thinner grip means your fingers are more bent to hold it. For some this might be more troublesome and cause some cramping. The older grip feels more like a ball in the hand. But the differences change once you start to handle it with a larger lenses attached to it. I tend to dangle lens downwards and this style of grip works much better.

The middle finger notch on the A7 is better suited for larger hands (I wear large gloves, but have medium sized hands). The introduction of the front wheel to the grip for some forces the fingers to go lower and clustered together. In fact for some it means the pinky finger either sits under the grip, or against the edge. It can be uncomfortable, but easily remedied with a form fitting L bracket or the future battery grip.
A7 Grip
A7 II Grip
This could have also been easily remedied by not having such a large bump out below the front dial, but obviously there were some compromises made to ensure it was secure. In fact the front dial is slightly recessed or protected by a little bit of a shoulder. This in theory should protect it from being rubbed out of position.

A7 II Grip and new Front Dial (A7 on the Left)
Relocated Front Dial
The dial itself is made from a polycarbonate plastic and when turned has a soft indent feel to it. Compared to the metal dial of the A7 and A7r, it does feel cheap. I personally prefer the softer feeling dial which is both welcome for video shooters and for smoother interface. The knurling is more tactile, and offers a more positive feel against the finger as you turn it with your index finger. I do prefer the wheel behind the shutter button like it is on Canon cameras. It is something I need to adjust to, but for former Nikon users should find this layout very familiar

Some people have mentioned that this dial changes too easily. I suspect that this is caused by using a tripod sling strap system like the Rapid straps that hang the camera's upside down, and the dial against your clothing or leg. The slight bump out and recessed dial is probably not enough to protect it from changing. Nikon cameras also have this problem, but with the softer indent dial on the A7II, it is easier to turn it.

I recently stopped hanging my cameras that way because of a fundamental flaw in design in all cameras (more on that later).

Strap Lug Locations
With the relocation of the shutter button, the strap lugs are positioned between the index and thumb. This is a far better position for neck strap wearers and to some degree hand straps. Wrist straps or lanyards can have the strap sit either over the hand, or under the hand. This might be uncomfortable for some.

A7 lug location

A7 II lug location 
Shutter Trigger Location
The old shutter trigger button location was very rangefinder like in the A7 location. For those that came from that world, they may have found it comfortable, however those cameras didn't usually have an exposure compensation dial that was necessarily in the way as you rested your index finger against it. The shutter button makes far more sense and is located in the right place now on top of the redesigned grip.
Shutter Button location on A7

New Shutter Button Location on A7 II (Note the knuckles and lens location)
The trigger button itself is slightly larger and has less play in the two positions vs the original. This might be both good and bad to some users who, but in my books, much more responsive. Some might call this a more 'spongier' kind of button.  I find that some camera manufacturers make their shutter buttons too loose and it feels unresponsive. This slight adjustment in button design is welcome. Personal preferences will dictate what you prefer.

The deeper grip also puts the fingers and knuckles closer to the barrel bevel of larger lenses. Larger fingers might find this a bit close and crowded. This is a fundamental design flaw of the E-mount and larger lenses. The A6000 is actually slightly closer, but because the face of the grip is shorter, the fingers come back ever so slightly. This is more noticeable when you're wearing gloves. The only solution for users with bigger hands is to hold the grip with their fingertips rather than their knuckles (in this case pinky under the grip, and back corner in the middle of the palm).

New Dual C1 and C2 Buttons
With the relocation of the shutter button this gave room for two of the custom buttons, C1 and C2. Both of these buttons are substantially higher than the original C1 and located in a logical and comfortable position. The default actions on the buttons are magnifier and WB, but can be programmed for each user's requirements (also expanded in this update). There is also a ridge located between the two buttons which helps avoid mispressing the other button. The custom buttons have a more positive feeling over the previous version which means no soft buttons are needed. But this brings to mind the annoying movie button and also the rear AF/MF button are still too recessed for my taste of usability (these can be improved with a third party soft button).
New C1 and C2 Buttons
Redesigned rear shoulder
One of the more nagging design flaws from the A7 and A7r is the rear shoulder/shelf. Both the MENU and a C2 button were located on it, but were rather difficult to press because of that shelf (I don't have a big thumb but it was still difficult to hit the buttons with the shelf in the way). Thankfully, the A7 mark II has been redesigned with a bevelled shoulder where a more easily accessible MENU and C3 now sit.
Redesigned bevel/shoulder
The bevelled shoulder also makes it much easier to access the rear dial. However the deeper grip also makes it slightly thicker to reach both dials at the same time. Manual mode shooters with small hands might find this set-up a little tricky.


SD Memory door
Battery door
Another redesign to the camera is a much smaller SD memory door. The card also slides in a more logically and new direction. This is partially due to the fact that the new in body stabilization needed more room, but the new door and SD logo facing towards you for loading is a welcome improvement. I do wish it was dual slot instead, but obviously that would certainly introduce all sorts of issues with component locations.

The redesigned slot also has some better designed channels that prevents moisture. I also find that it's much easier to access it with gloved hands.

Construction, Finish and paint.
Another nagging issue with the original A7 and A7r design is the poor paint and finish.
A7 Finish
A7 II Finish
The corners are far more rounded on the A7 mark II design and unfortunately I can not confirm the durability at this point, I know for a fact that all the sharp edges on the older design wore and chipped very easily (about 2 weeks before it started to wear through). The new hammerite finish has a more durable feel to it, so I'm optimistic about it. Also improved is the plastic front face of the A7 has now been replaced with metal not that it made much of a difference before. It's a minor detail but adds to the overall feel of the camera. What we can't see is a supposed improvement on the environmental sealings but there's been some evidence in redesigns elsewhere.

Steel Mount Update
One of the major improvements is the mount. I'm not going to take it apart for my curiosity, but what's different on the A7II is that it's an all metal construction rather than the two piece plastic and metal one on the A7 and A7r. This makes a huge difference on how the lenses feel on the camera.


There's no rotational wobble which is very irritating if you have a stiff focus ring and trying to shoot video with it. There is still the usual play that is expected for temperature shifts, but everything I've put onto this mount has been solid and tight.

The two piece mount design of the A7 and A7r also introduced a failure point found near the lens release button. Because there is no gasket between the two different materials, it was possible for light leaks to enter into that area (much of this was in specific long exposure and lighting situations). The one piece design corrects for that. I also believe I see a little rubber gasket sitting in what I can only suspect is now a metal sheath just between the orange beauty ring and the mount ring. I believe the A7s has this new design as well, but I don't have a sample to compare.

This certainly should provide a lot more environmental sealing, not just from dust and moisture, but any light contamination.

Mystery baffle/mask redesign?
While I'm on the mount, inside the mount, there is a baffle mask found just behind the lens contacts. For some reason, the A7II has been redesigned with a slight cutout? I have no real theories at the moment for it but maybe the exception of some sort of flare/internal reflection issue? I don't know why it is that way, but if it does provide some design improvements, I welcome it.

A7 baffle mask
A7 II baffle mask with slight cut-out

Battery Doors

The battery doors have also been redesigned. I'm not completely sure I like the redesign here. At first try I thought it was clever, then I tried to put it into practice which was an absolute pain. On the new design, it now has a lock switch that locks the hinge pins into a retracted position. That seems pretty logical. You can either release it by swinging the switch back, or a tiny little button above it is spring loaded. It all seems rather clever until you try to put it in operation. I found it clumsy and hard to align properly. Although the older design is similar to many other battery doors I've used in the past, I found it far less finicky than the new design. Sometimes if something isn't broken, they shouldn't redesign it. This in my opinion was a poor redesign choice.

A7II battery door on the left A7 on the right


I should point out that an additional foam seal has been put into the hinge area of the battery door.

This brings to mind a warning to everyone the flaws of slings straps. If you think you have a weather sealed camera and using a tripod socket sling system, be aware (from personal experience shooting hours in the rain) that water will likely get into the battery door especially if you hang it from that socket. Cameras were never designed for the bottoms to be exposed to rain coming down on it. However seeing a better seal on the battery door is another good improvement but I'd still caution hanging it upside down in the rain.

Rear LCD Screen
The rear LCD screen has had a few small improvements. First it's thinner and more embedded into the chassis. I did however find that it was actually harder to flip the screen out because of that. The screen also extends further out than the previous design. This improvement clears the eye finder better so that when you're looking from above, that you can see the entire screen. This redesign also clears any oversized tripod plates that you mount to the bottom. The A7 And A7r screen often fouled with a tripod plate, making it difficult to swing the LCD plate if it overlapped onto the screen.

Lower profile and inset LCD screen
I also believe that there's other industrial design improvements made here. This is also the heat sink area for the sensor. With the more robust XAVC S video, that sensor is going to heat up more. The hinge and greater gaps in around the screen give better airflow. It may be a minor detail, but it might make all the difference of being able to shoot video longer with less heat issues.

Tripod Mount Position
Another likely change made due to the IBIS added in body, meant the tripod mount is now further forward in position. This unfortunately may be a poor design decision as it fouls the ability to put on adapters if you put on certain adapter plates directly on it before adapter installation.  Depending on the adapter plate you may be able to turn it 90 degrees and have enough clearance or add an additional L-Plate with integrated dovetail for popular arca-swiss mounts. 

New tripod mount location fouling the LA-EA4 adapter when plate is installed.
One good thing about this mount reposition is that the weight is better distributed for larger native lenses. For sling strap users this will also put the centre of gravity forward and hang with the lens more forward position than down.

Media Ports
Another change because of the IBIS addition, the media ports are now more compact and located on upper portion of the camera near the strap lug. There is also new lanyard plastic doors to cover these ports.


They are much cheaper and more plastic than the original doors but I prefer them over the swinging media doors from the A7. They do open near the strap lugs which some people will find annoying. I've never found any media port design that isn't flawed in one way. I like that the doors fold down and away, but personally, I'd rather just have lanyard rubber plugs with well design ports rather than doors. 

Hotshoe
Another obvious wear point is right near the hot shoe. The new design has the hot shoe set with a little more room around it which seems to be less flimsy feeling.

A7 II Hotshoe
A7 Hotshoe
The hotshoe rail is now powder coated black like the A6000 but I do notice that there is still over spray on the inner rails of the ISO shoe (I do like the look of it though). In my trigger tests it didn't interfere with operation, but if it does, a little emery paper might be necessary.

Sony's Dark Secret
So there's a little dirty secret that Sony hasn't publicly come clean about. No one knows for certain if the A7 II sensor is a new design or not, but most public information seem to say that it is the same. One thing is certain, there is a completely different coating on the protective glass.

New Coatings on Sensor
The A7 compared against the A7II shows that the A7 sensor in my sample image reflects more off my white ceiling in the sample photo. The new anti-reflective coating on the A7II prevents some incidental flare (and sensor blooming) issues that happen mostly with some third party lenses and most times with point lights (in my cases I see them sometimes in architectural photography work I do).  

It could be argued that it isn't the responsibility of Sony to put out a release about this design flaw with third party lenses but unfortunately it happens with FE lenses as well. But clearly, they changed the coatings in the new camera to correct for some reflection issues. Further testing is required but regardless of why it's different, to me it is a welcome upgrade.

Conclusion
Sony has done a fantastic job of updating the ergonomics on this camera mostly due to the fact they had to make room for a moving sensor. There are still some issues that may never be resolved, or will require a slightly wider design or even a complete form factor change.

Overall the ergonomic changes are very welcome to me. The camera is heavier but it just feels right in my hands. It has a more solid feeling over the A7 and A7r. In some ways it feels like I'm handling my Leica in my hand and doesn't feel like a shell over empty bits of space in it. The new grip is a massive improvement and feels far more secure.

The fit and finish overall is better, and the new buttons are welcome improvements.

The IBIS is of course a welcome addition and redesign that I hadn't talked much about. It makes all my vintage lenses image stabilized which means lower speeds and better low light performance. That's an important thing to appreciate, but unfortunately it did make it rather difficult to make an ergonomically designed camera. Also apparently auto focus is improved by 30% according to Sony. This is significant, but not part of this review. I've actually not found it difficult to make the AF work on the A7, but I'm sure I'll learn to appreciate the improvement much like I did with the Canon 5Dmark3 over the Canon 5Dmk2 AF.

Some improvements will be awkward with really small hands or really large hands, but I believe for most average sized hands, it should be fine.

I do believe the improvements do one of the most important things to this update which is making it a working tool, like SLR designs before it, it works very well in the hand of a user. Is the update worth it for A7 users to upgrade? In my opinion, on just these ergonomic updates it can be worth it. But I caution users that have really large hands to handle one before you buy it. It will be those users that will likely find this camera too small for their hands.