There’s only so much that really needs to be said about Sony’s A7R V mirrorless camera. Sony has made so many right decisions with this new model, it’s easily one of the best cameras on the market right now. The new AI autofocus system is an excellent leap forward. The improved built-in image stabilization is excellent for slower handheld shots. The new hinged display is so good that it should be copied by all other manufacturers as soon as possible. And the 61-megapixel sensor delivers some of the best image quality you can get today without having to switch to medium format – you can trust your computer and storage to handle these heavy files.
But while Sony has made some recent moves to offer quality-of-life improvements, such as a better menu system in recent cameras (which is only marginally better, if I’m honest), why are the latest cameras still stuck with such bad ergonomics? ?
I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, he’s just trying to find something to complain about.” But camera ergonomics, physical controls and grip quality are important. They really matter, especially for anyone in situations where they’re going to be using a camera continuously for hours on end. I know this firsthand from shooting weddings, where I use one camera (usually two) for nine to 12 hours straight. And I know this exceptionally well in relation to the A7R V, because the body is almost identical to one of my personal cameras, the Sony A7 IV.
Sony does this where it creates something new with one of its cameras (a control layout, an autofocus system, etc.) and then slowly trickles the same or very similar feature to a number of other models in its line. On the one hand, this is great because you might be getting an exceptionally advanced feature from an expensive model added to a much cheaper camera. But if there’s something about a design that doesn’t suit you – like ill-shaped grips that aren’t long enough – you’re unfortunately stuck with that for a while.
So just how bad is this Sony ergonomics? So much so that I feel compelled to write about it. It was bad enough that last year, while talking to other photographers, I started jokingly coming up with a phrase to describe what these grips do to your hand: the Sony Knuckle.
Ergonomics, operation and comfort are important
The Sony Knuckle is the pain and irritation you get about half way down your middle finger, on the side of the PIP connection, from the pressure point of the camera grip below the shutter button. Pretty much every Sony Alpha full-frame camera made in the last five years has this oddly short, outward projection under the shutter that’s shaped for your middle finger. But it’s not contouring goodor enough. It either needs more height or a softer curve, or maybe both. When you hold the camera initially it feels okay, but once you use it a lot you realize how uncomfortable it gets. Add to that with an entire day or consecutive days of heavy use, and – well, more than once I’ve felt a small blister. The handful of professionals I work with who also use Sony cameras have experienced the same thing, so while I can’t say it will happen to everyone, I can say with confidence that the Sony Knuckle is not an isolated ailment.
But this isn’t the only reason why Sony’s ergonomics need improving. The handles themselves are also too short. Like many other camera bodies that focus on small, compact dimensions, the A7R V – again, like every other camera in Sony’s current lineup – left my little finger dangling from the bottom. I think that’s part of the reason why the Sony Knuckle gets so bad – because my little finger can’t help support the camera, putting more pressure on that middle finger knuckle.
I actually tried to remedy this by purchasing a small additional base plate for the bottom of my A7 IV (which I’ve also used on the A7R V), and while I appreciate that the baseplate gives my little finger a lot more room on the bottom, it creates its own problem by creating a pain point in the middle of my palm. I’m not surprised that this little extra bottom plate can not only fix this ergonomic SNAFU, but some is the solution?
It’s time for Sony to completely rethink the grips on all of its cameras. They need to be slightly larger and they urgently need to be made of a higher quality, softer grip material. We can give Canon and Nikon all we want for being so late to the mirrorless party and taking forever to get their acts together but damn these old camera brands know a thing or two about the grips that come on cameras to suit. My old Nikon D700 and D3 cameras were easy to hold and use all day, even though they were much bigger and heavier than what we use now. Even the Canon EOS R I’ve owned for a while, which is a much cheaper camera than the A7R V, has a grip that’s miles ahead of anything Sony currently makes. It’s roomy enough for your whole hand and soft enough to give a little bit when you squeeze it.
Still one of the best cameras on the market today, only with this unfortunate drawback
As full-size cameras become more technically capable, with automated or assisted features unimaginable years ago, the human interface cannot be forgotten or left aside. Almost every time I use the A7R V, I’m amazed at how exceptional a stills-capturing device it is. The way the improved autofocus identifies and tracks subjects even if they turn away or are momentarily obstructed is a minor triumph really. It’s something that’s greatly appreciated in my kind of photography – whether I’m shooting a bride or capturing some silly snaps of my weird house cats – because it gives me confidence that I’ll get the shot pin-sharp once my subject turns.
But we must not forget that these devices must be designed for humans. Just as every camera has a diopter adjustment to adjust the viewfinder to our soft, inefficient eyeballs, all cameras need a grip that’s comfortable to hold and doesn’t feel like a torture device after prolonged use. Sony, if you can make a camera that can automatically distinguish between birds and bees, you should be quite capable of building one that doesn’t feel crappy.
Photography by Antonio G. Di Benedetto / The Verge