Sony unleashed the Sony A7 and the A7R in October of 2013. With the Sony A7 aimed for general use sporting a 24MP sensor and hybrid autofocus, the A7R differs primarily with its 36MP sensor, therefore making the Sony A7R more suitable for specific types of picture taking that need high resolution such as landscape, architecture, studio, and product photography. I had an opportunity to test both cameras in 2014, however, I did not have a chance to write detailed evaluations for a number of different reasons. Hence, this is even more of a catch-up, showcasing some images from my recent trips, together with the usual analysis.
Update: Sony Alpha a7R IV Review
Check Out: Best Lenses for Sony Alpha A7R
Sony Alpha A7R: Price
Without a doubt, the A7R has been a significant release from Sony. With a 36MP sensor, it has been the highest-quality mirrorless camera since its discharge and offers been another alternative to the highly-regarded Nikon D800 / D800E / D810 DSLRs for a long time (until Canon broke the record using its 50.6 MP Canon 5DS / 5DS R digital cameras). In fact, many photographers who did not want to switch from another system were happy to discover the A7R, because it allowed them to continue using their current E-Mount Lenses and legacy lenses via adapters.
Sony Alpha A7R: Camera Handling
The A7R has Sony’s original design, which incorporates large dials on the front side of the grip and the rear of the camera, similar to what Sony has done on other mirrorless cameras like NEX-7. Due to this, the camera on/off switch, along with the shutter launch was moved to the top of the camera. While these dials and the shutter launch are easy to operate, I do prefer the ergonomics of the Sony A7 II instead, which as I have pointed out in my Sony A7 II review, are superior and more intuitive to operate. Aside from the hold and the very best layout, the rest of the camera and the switch locations on the rear are pretty similar when compared to other A7-series cameras.
Operating the camera is pretty easy and although you can program pretty much every button on the camera to behave it the way you want, there are some simple things that should have been done by default, such as the ability to move a focus point by just pressing the multi-function dial upon the trunk of the camera. By default, there is no quick way to change your focus point! I ended up modifying the three buttons (remaining, right, and bottom) to trigger focus stage change, but even after the change (Custom Key Settings-> Left, Right, Down Button-> Focus Settings), I still first have to press one of the buttons and only then I can start moving it. The Up switch is permanently set to DISP (Display), so there is absolutely no way to assign that one to Focus Settings, making this even less than a working solution. Setting a concentrated point should be dead simple, so I am not sure why Sony makes it so painful. I hope Sony changes this behavior in its future iterations of the camera because simple things like this should be a no-brainer to implement.
Sony Alpha A7R: Shutter Shock
As I’ve previously stated, the shutter shock of the Sony A7R was one of the main reasons why I was not initially impressed with the A7R and could not recommend it to our readers. I was really hoping that Sony would fix this problem with a firmware release, but it never materialized and I believe at this point it is safe to presume that Sony will not address it. Maybe there is a technical / style limitation, or perhaps Sony is planning to address it in the upcoming Sony A7R II.
Still, shutter shock is a significant issue that just cripples this particular camera out of the four A7 cameras. Essentially, the problem is related to two particular design issues. First, the shutter mechanism itself is not dampened. Keep in mind that with mirrorless cameras, the shutter has to remain open for normal camera operation, since the sensor directly receives light from the lens (whereas all DSLRs by default possess their shutters closed). During the capture of an image, Sony designed the A7R to lower the shutter curtain and open it, start the image capture, then repeat this process again at the end of the capture. Once the image is usually captured, the shutter must open back up to resume regular operation. Now count how many times that shutter technique:
1) shutter curtain lowers before the start of the exposure,
2) comes back up at the start of the exposure,
3) lowers by the end of the exposure,
4) opens back again up to resume EVF / LCD operation. That’s four situations the shutter is going up and down.
The good news is, what happens at the end of the exposure does not matter, but the first two shutter motions are where the problem lies.
Sony Alpha A7R: Charging and Battery Life
Battery life is pretty bad in comparison with a DSLR. Although I turn off the camera regularly to preserve battery existence and have all the extra things such as image playback turned off, the battery just will not last for more than a few hours of shooting. In comparison, I could be shooting with my Nikon DSLR for some days and still have plenty of juice left.
Not sure if Sony can work about optimizing battery life, but plan on getting a few of those batteries, particularly when working in the cold! Rated at 340 photos, the NO-FW50 battery with only 1020mAh of power that is utilized on the Sony A7 series feels too underpowered for these digital cameras. I don’t think Sony can do much with reducing power usage, so I really hope to see higher capacity batteries, actually if that comes at the price of the heavier and bigger cameras.
Sony Alpha A7R: Autofocus / Manual Focus Performance and Metering
The Sony A7R does not come with the same robust hybrid autofocus system as the Sony A7 / A7 II. Since the camera is not designed to capture fast action, Sony decided to just include contrast-detection autofocus, which is definitely noticeably slower compared to phase recognition AF. Contrast detection AF on the Sony A7R is rather slow, most likely due to the amount of info that needs to be analyzed. Sluggish AF speed is quite apparent when compared to contrast-recognition AF on some Micro Four-Thirds cameras. Hopefully, Sony will make contrast-detection AF faster in the future with quicker processors and better algorithms. At the same time, for a camera like the A7R, AF speed isn’t important, as you will most likely be relying on manual focus most of the time.
Sony Alpha A7R: Movie Recording and Wi-Fi
The Sony A7R is equipped with a fast processor that is capable of capturing high definition 1080i video at up to 60 fps. The Sony A7R is not crippled like many other cameras are and you can easily change all publicity variables. You can connect external microphones and you may also hook up a headphone for audio monitoring. Similar to additional Sony A7 digital cameras, the video recording button is still located on the part of the camera.
Sony Alpha A7R: Pros
- A small, light, full-frame camera
- Excellent image quality when shooting Raw
- Solid build quality
- FE lenses are of superb quality, equal to the sensor’s high resolution
- Compatible with a huge range of legacy 35mm camera lenses with no field-of-view crop
- A large, high-resolution electronic viewfinder
- Tilting LCD offers good detail and outdoor visibility
- Useful tools, such as focus peaking and zebra pattern (work well with native lenses)
- Very good video quality
- Strong video features: manual controls, audio level adjustment, and uncompressed HDMI output
- Well-implemented dual-axis electronic level
- Solid Wi-Fi system allows for remote shooting, easy photo sharing; NFC a plus
- Charging via USB can be convenient
- Classic Sony features (HDR, Sweep Panorama) work well
- Exposure compensation dial makes Auto ISO usable in manual mode
- Microphone and headphone ports
- Optional battery grip
Sony Alpha A7R: Cons
- Autofocus can be slow in low light
- Auto ISO tends to keep the shutter speed at 1/FL sec, often resulting in soft images
- High-res sensor requires a dedicated approach to shooting
- JPEG quality not as good as we’d like to see (less relevant for this camera’s market though)
- A limited selection of FE lenses
- Tools for shooting with third party lenses need improvement
- Long viewfinder blackout time
- Longer-than-average startup times
- Camera ‘locks up’ while the buffer is clearing after continuous shooting
- Overly sensitive eye sensor (also stays active when the screen is tilted)
- Lacks a built-in flash
- Short battery life
- Exposure compensation and rear scroll wheel too easy to bump accidentally
- Menu arrangement poor and navigation a bit clunky (requires a lot of button-pressing)
- No in-camera Raw conversion
- No external charger included for rapid charging or keeping a spare battery topped-up
- Included remote capture software lacks a live preview
Sony Alpha A7R: Conclusion
It was inspired to develop a high resolution full-frame mirrorless camera that is relatively compact. The fact that Sony was conservative in developing lenses that are not only of adequate quality for 24.7MP but also spectacular at 36.3 basically mitigates the present lack of quantity in native FE lenses. Their full-frame mirrorless line aims to be a luxury camera range if Sony plans to retain this kind of consistency as the lens collection increases. The Sony a7R is equipped to serve remarkable pictures shot after shot, with just one significant exception.
We address the requirement for better consideration for the sensor when choosing the shutter speed. We recommend Sony target with a firmware update. We have touched on initialization, buffer clearing, and battery life, and these are still true of the a7R. We assume consumers would be able to ignore or work around them, provided the combination of scale and picture quality.
In addition to having a high-resolution sensor and quality optics, the Sony a7R is a stellar image-maker. This fact is more relevant than most quibbles we have about the nature of Raws. It focuses most of the time and is quick enough for certain scenarios. It’s the pleasure we get from believing the camera will deliver outstanding pictures that make us recommend the Sony a7R. With its core group of committed, Raw-shooting perfectionists, the Sony a7R deserves a Gold Award.