A bug bit me the other day. No, not a bug with wings, antennae, or stingers. Rather, a bug which makes compulsive decisions less compulsive. In this case, I decided to pick up the brand new Sony a7, a Metabones M to NEX adapter, and a Voigtlander 50mm f/1.1. B&H Photo had a used copy of each well below what I would consider normal. So, I spent more money than I'm comfortable doing on equipment I've never used before. I only kept this outfit around for a couple of days, yet my fiancé and I were blown away by how both the camera and lens handled.
Simply put, the Sony a7 is an amazing camera. It is leaps and bounds ahead Nikon's D800 and Canon 5D III. I know, I know... fanboys of each will have an arsenal of fodder ready to repel such a statement. I've used both the D800 and 5D III, and the files coming from the a7 + Voigt 50mm f/1.1 can't compare with comparable files from either Nikon or Canon.
First, Nikon simply doesn't have a 50mm that compares to the Canon 50 f/1.2 or the Voigtlander 50 f/1.1. Maybe the 58 f/1.4, or the AIS 50 f/1.2. Maybe, but not quite. The quality and construction, to me, is lacking. Likewise, putting a quality lens in front the a7 sensor will produce a much better photograph than putting a mediocre lens in front of a D600 or D800 sensor.
Second, Canon's 50 f/1.2 L is a great lens - it's one of my favorites. Still, the Voigtlander f/1.1 did something for me that Canon's 50 L simply doesn't. The colors, contrast, perceived sharpness, and vignetting of the Voigtlander just look good. Some people do not like vignetting. I do. Some people need a Leica lens for the absolute sharpness. I'm ok with the overall package of a good lens that isn't as sharp (nor costs $3,000).
Third, and most important, you can put any lens you want on the a7. Can your DSLR do that without paying someone to modify it? Do you shoot Nikon? Well, your choices are limited to newer f/1.4 lenses that are only "good enough" in terms of quality, and made of plastic. Or an older lens that isn't built as well, or handles as nicely. Canon? Your choices are worse: the f/1.4 is long overdue for an update, and the f/1.2 is both expensive and could use an update, as well. Or, you could always shoot with a Sigma 50mm... ;) With the a7, you can put a superb lens in front the sensor and have some fantastic looking images. So, yes, the a7 IS leaps and bounds in front Canon and Nikon. In terms of quality, flexibility, and price, the a7 wins (How much did the 5D III and D800 debut for? Close to $3000?).
Ok, I'm off topic. The moral is I find both Canon's and Nikon's "best" cameras at the moment not only to be more expensive than the a7, but not as good (or at least not better). Photography and associated equipment is a matter of taste, indeed, and my initial reaction was, "I will never use a DSLR again!" and "Canon and Nikon are screwed!" To be sure, deep down inside I'm smitten with the Canon system. It's what I learned to shoot with, and at the end of the day I prefer it over Nikon (though the D600 likely shook things up for Canon a bit). Likewise, Nikon is doing a much better job than Canon at introducing quality cameras and lenses at affordable prices. I have respect for each.
Back to the a7. Sure, it's small, the files are touch bit grainier than a D800 or 5D III, and this particular set-up was "just" manual focus. To that I say, "Bah!" The construction of the a7 is solid. Grainy images only bother people that blow up their images to 100% and look for flaws. The learning curve for someone coming from Canon and Nikon AF systems isn't that bad. Focus peaking was a curious delight and made manual focusing much easier than I feared it might be. Though I've used such cameras as the AE-1, K1000, and SQ-1, I'm an AF guy. I didn't know what to expect when it came to manual focusing on a mirrorless camera - this was uncharted territory for me. Sony makes it easy, though. The ability to instantly jump to 10x magnification couples nicely with focus peaking, and speeds up the whole process a bit. Only a fool would expect manual focus to be as fast as AF, so there was nothing frustrating about the process. I actually enjoyed it.
Sadly, I ultimately sold the set-up after a week or so (and made a few bucks back from my initial investment in the process). Though the a7 (or the Leica M9) and "legacy glass" such as Voigtlander, Leica, and Zeiss is something I want to explore, I'm not a rich man. There's no way I could have both a mirrorless system and a DSLR system. At the end of the day, I'm of the mindset that if I'm going to trade in two month's worth of wages on photography equipment, then I should be able to make a return on that investment via weddings and portraits. The a7 would make a fantastic addition for a full-time professional wedding or portrait photographer. Or someone that has the expendable income to not worry about viewing their photography equipment as an investment. Right now, I am not either kind of photographer. So I found myself in familiar territory and picked up a Canon 1D III, 24 f/1.4, 50 f/1.2, and 135 f/2. Afterall, I am a Canon guy.
Briefly, here is what I liked and disliked about the a7:
Extremely lightweight and compact
Focus peaking and instant magnification via EVF and rear LCD
The ability to mount any lens, from any manufacturer
Short battery life
LCD screen isn't flimsy, but it doesn't feel totally solid due to the fact that it can be moved
Limited selection of native Sony/Zeiss lenses
Though I'm used to seeing the world through a tiny glass window known as a viewfinder, with the a7 my passion for photography was re-newed. After a long hiatus from photography, this camera helped me get back into seeing the world as I once did.
Anywho, here are a few samples of the Sony a7 and Voigtlander 50mm f/1.1. Everything was shot at either f/1.1 or f/1.4.