Sony A7R Review

 
Camera Reviews / Sony Cameras / Sony Alpha i Review
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Sony Alpha ILCE-A7R
Resolution: 36.40 Megapixels
Sensor size: 35mm
Kit Lens: n/a
Viewfinder: EVF / LCD
ISO: 50-25600
Shutter: 30-1/8000
Max Aperture: n/a
Dimensions: 5.0 x 3.7 x 1.9 in.
(127 x 94 x 48 mm)
Weight: 16.4 oz (465 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $2,300
Availability: 12/2013
Manufacturer: Sony
Full specs: Sony A7R specifications
36.40
Megapixels
Sony E-mount Full Frame 35mm
size sensor
image of Sony Alpha ILCE-A7R
Front side of Sony Alpha ILCE-A7R digital camera Back side of Sony Alpha ILCE-A7R digital camera Top side of Sony Alpha ILCE-A7R digital camera Left side of Sony Alpha ILCE-A7R digital camera Right side of Sony Alpha ILCE-A7R digital camera

A7R Summary

The news you've been waiting for has arrived! The age of the fully-featured, full-frame mirrorless camera is finally here -- and boy, what a duo of cameras kickstart the revolution. The Sony A7R promises absolutely amazing image quality in a compact body, while its closely-related sibling the A7 trades a little resolution for greater performance. Both cameras excite in their own way, but it's the Sony A7R -- our 2013 Camera of the Year -- which really floors us. This amazing compact system camera offers image quality to rival a medium format design, yet in a body that can fit in a coat pocket, even with a lens attached. Travel and street photographers in particular should have the Sony A7R at the top of their wishlist!

Pros

Incredibly small body for a fully-featured, full-frame camera; Resolution that rivals a medium-format camera; Excellent image quality even at very high sensitivities; Decent performance bearing in mind its extremely high resolution; Accepts existing Alpha-mount and E-mount lenses, and can optionally crop to APS-C image circle.

Cons

Extreme resolution makes focus and lens quality critical; Modest performance; Loud shutter; Lacks hybrid autofocus of the A7; Mediocre battery life when using electronic viewfinder; Slow X-sync; Limited selection of native Sony FE lenses.

Price and availability

Priced at US$2,300, the Sony Alpha 7R is available only body-only. It's about 35% more expensive than its lower-resolution, faster-focusing-and-shooting sibling, the Sony A7, and has been available since early December 2013.

Imaging Resource rating

5.0 out of 5.0

Similar to the A7R but smaller lighter larger sensor cheaper But ...
loading
No cameras match your search criteria(s)
   

$2094.55

24.3 MP (33% less)

Also has viewfinder

Similar size

A7R vs A7

$5450.00 (147% more)

18 MP (51% less)

Also has viewfinder

29% smaller

A7R vs M-E

$1499.00 (32% less)

28.2 MP (23% less)

Also has viewfinder

61% larger

A7R vs NX1

$7759.80 (251% more)

18 MP (51% less)

Also has viewfinder

29% smaller

A7R vs M Monochrom

$748.00 (66% less)

24.3 MP (33% less)

Also has viewfinder

37% smaller

A7R vs A6000

Suggestion for improvement? Head over here.

Sony Alpha A7R Review

Overview and Technical Info by Mike Tomkins
Extended Walkaround by and Mike Tomkins
Posted 10/16/2013

Shooter's Report by David Schloss
Posted

Sony A7R Review -- Front left view

Life is all about compromises, but fans of full-frame and mirrorless cameras will be thrilled to hear that Sony has removed a compromise we've long taken as an unfortunate fact of life. If you wanted a fully-featured mirrorless camera, you had to live with -- at best -- an APS-C sensor. If you wanted a full-frame sensor, it had to come along with a bulky mirror box. There was no middle ground -- at least, not until now. With the simultaneously-launched, full-frame Sony A7R and A7 mirrorless cameras, the company has demolished the status quo.

The two cameras are very closely-related, and in this review, we're looking at the Sony A7R. It's the higher-resolution of the two models, and we do mean high-res. While its sibling isn't exactly a slouch in terms of resolution, the 36.4 megapixel Sony A7R matches Nikon's impressive D800 and D800E for pure sensor resolution, yet with a much smaller, mirrorless body. It does have some disadvantages compared to the lower-res A7 in other areas, though. If shooting performance is more important to you than resolution, you'll want to take a look at our Sony A7 review, instead.

Design. Externally, there's very little to tip you off to which of the two cameras you're looking at, beyond their badges. The Sony A7R is just slightly lighter than its sibling, but the difference is not one you'd notice, even holding the two cameras side-by-side. Despite being lighter, it also features just slightly more magnesium alloy in its construction. You can tell the difference by touch -- the A7R's front panel is cooler metal, and that of the A7 is warmer plastic. The A7R's Mode dial and Exposure Compensation dial are also just slightly different, with finer knurling on the former, and slightly less height on the latter. None of these physical differences is noticeable unless you're looking very closely indeed.

(Update: In April 2014, Sony added another model -- the Sony A7S -- to the mix. We've added it to the comparison table below.)

Differences between the Sony A7R, A7S and A7
Camera Sony A7S Sony A7R Sony A7
Body-only List Price Unknown US$2,300 US$1,700
Available in Kit with Lens Unknown No Yes
Body Materials Magnesium alloy Magnesium alloy Magnesium alloy and polycarbonate
Sensor Size 35.8 x 23.9mm 35.9 x 24.0mm 35.8 x 23.9mm
Sensor Resolution (Total) 12.4 mpix 36.8 mpix 24.7 mpix
Sensor Resolution (Effective) 12.2 mpix 36.4 mpix 24.3 mpix
Maximum Image Size 4,240 x 2,832 pixels 7,360 x 4,912 pixels 6,000 x 4,000 pixels
Standard ISO sensitivity (Still) 100 - 102,400 100 - 25,600 100 - 25,600
Expanded ISO sensitivity (Still) 50 - 409,600 50 - 25,600 50 - 25,600
Standard ISO sensitivity (Video) 200 - 102,400 200 - 25,600 200 - 25,600
Expanded ISO sensitivity (Video) 200 - 409,600 N/A N/A
Electronic First Curtain Shutter Yes, optional No Yes, optional
On-chip Phase Detect Pixels? No No Yes
Continuous Shooting Rate
(with continuous autofocus)
2.5 fps max. 1.5 fps max. 2.5 fps max.
Speed Priority Continuous Shooting Rate 5.0 fps max.
(No continuous AF)
4.0 fps max.
(No Continuous AF)
5.0 fps max.
(Continuous AF supported)
Autofocus Type Contrast Detection
25-points
Contrast Detection
25-points
Fast Hybrid AF
117-point (phase detect)
25-point (contrast detect)
Predictive Autofocus Tracking No No Yes
Flash Sync Speed 1/250 second 1/160 second 1/250 second
Maximum resolution for HDMI live view 3,840 x 2,160 pixels 1,920 x 1,080 pixels 1,920 x 1,080 pixels
Video codecs XAVC S / AVCHD / MP4 AVCHD / MP4 AVCHD / MP4
Maximum clip length 29 min. (XAVC S); 29 min. (AVCHD); 20 min. / 2GB (MP4) 29 min. (AVCHD); 20 min. / 2GB (MP4) 29 min. (AVCHD); 20 min. / 2GB (MP4)
120fps at 720p? Yes No No
S-Log 2 gamma option Yes No No
Picture profile function Yes No No
Time code Yes No No
Maximum Magnification (Playback) 13.3x 23.0x 18.8x
Battery life (Still) 380 shots (LCD)
320 shots (EVF)
340 shots (LCD)
270 shots (EVF)
340 shots (LCD)
270 shots (EVF)
Battery life (Video, clips with power-cycling and zoom) 60 min. (LCD); 55 min. (EVF) 60 min. (LCD); 65 min. (EVF) 65 min. (LCD); 60 min. (EVF)
Battery life (Video without power-cycling or zoom) 90 min. (EVF / LCD) 90 min. (EVF / LCD) 100 min. (EVF / LCD)
Weight (Body Only) 15.7 ounces (446g) 14.4 ounces (407g) 14.7 ounces (416g)
Weight (with battery and Memory
Stick PRO Duo flash card)
17.2 ounces (489g) 16.4 ounces (465g) 16.7 ounces (474g)

Full-frame sensor. It's under the skin where you'll find the important differences, and they relate almost entirely to the choice of image sensor. The Sony A7R has almost 50% more pixels than its sibling, which translates to around 22% higher linear resolution. Another important difference: the Sony A7R's sensor lacks any phase detection pixels, a feature found on its more affordable sibling.

Autofocus. The lack of on-chip PDAF means no hybrid autofocus system; the A7R uses contrast-detect autofocus only. Typically, CDAF systems are slower than hybrid ones, although that's not always the case, but here the difference -- while noticeable -- honestly isn't huge. Contrast detect also tends to struggle more with tracking of moving subjects, but the Sony A7R isn't really a camera focused on action photography anyway.

Burst shooting. The A7R's higher pixel count also means a significant reduction in burst shooting performance versus the A7, whether or not autofocus is locked. That, coupled with the AF differences will push some towards the Sony A7 instead, even if it isn't as high-res.

Sony A7R Review -- Front right view

Sharp (and then some). If resolution is more important than performance, though, the Sony A7R was made for you. There's no denying that resolution is pretty exciting if you're on the quest for maximum detail in a reasonably compact, portable package. Of course, you'll need a lens that's up to the job, which brings up another difference between the two models: their kit lenses (or lack thereof, in the A7R's case).

Lenses. The Sony A7R and its sibling will both accept existing Sony E-mount lenses, albeit with an APS-C crop or vignetting. They'll also accept Alpha-mount lenses -- be they cropped or full-frame -- with an adapter.

Full-frame optics. Of most interest, though, are several brand-new, full-frame E-mount optics, branded as "FE" lenses. Five FE-series full-frame E-mount lenses have been announced for separate sale, and four have pricing and availability information. The FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA and FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lenses were the first to ship this December, priced at US$800 and US$500 respectively. The FE 55mm F1.8 ZA prime will follow from January 2014, priced at US$1,000. The first zoom option for the Sony A7R will arrive in February 2014, when the FE 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS ships for US$1,200. Finally, an FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS telephoto zoom is planned, but pricing and availability haven't been disclosed.

Lens adapters. There are also two new full frame-specific mount adapters. One -- the LA-EA3 -- has been available for a while in a bundle with the NEX-VG900 full-frame camcorder. The other is the LA-EA4, and adds a Translucent Mirror plus phase detect AF sensor, much like the existing APS-C format LA-EA2. The LA-EA3 costs US$200, and the LA-EA4 costs US$350. Both shipped from early December 2013.

Accessories. Finally, there are several related accessories to choose from. The Vertical Grip for A7 and A7R costs US$300, and a leather case costs US$140. Screen protectors are priced at US$15, and a new W-series battery charger at US$50. Finally, an off-camera flash shoe is priced at US$50. All of these accessories, save for the last one, shipped in December 2013. The flash shoe follows in January 2014.

Let's take a closer look at the Sony A7R.

Place your order with trusted Imaging Resource affiliate Adorama now:

Or with Amazon:

Or with B&H Photo Video:

Walkaround. The Sony Alpha 7R feels wonderful in the hand. Its magnesium alloy body is very solid, with a sense of quality and precision in its operation. Controls provide good tactile feedback, and command dials strike the right balance between stiffness (so they won't be jostled accidentally), and ease of operation. (Although we might wish for just a tad less stiffness on the exposure-compensation dial.)

Given that we were huge fans of the Sony RX1's user interface, and loved the "Tri-Navi" interface on the Sony NEX-7, it's probably no surprise that we found ourselves liking the user experience of the new Sony Alpha 7R a lot as well. It's something of a melding of the characteristics of the two previous cameras. In a lot of ways, this new camera feels a lot like a big brother to the NEX line, but Sony has chosen to label it an Alpha, perhaps hoping to associate it more with the higher end of their ILC line. While the Sony A7R and its Hybrid AF-capable sibling the Sony A7 have a lot in common with the NEX series, there are also some obvious differences.

The Sony A7R is bigger than the typical NEX-series camera, as you might expect given its full-frame image sensor and built-in electronic viewfinder, but it's not as large as you might think. Compared to the NEX-7,which features an APS-C sized sensor, it's around 1.1 inches taller, and 0.3 inches wider / thicker. The majority of that difference is due to its viewfinder, which stands well proud of the camera's top deck at the shoulders.

Sony A7R Review -- Compared to RX1

The body is also somewhat larger than that of the fixed-lens Sony RX1, but maybe not as much bigger as we were expecting. The body itself is only slightly taller, thicker, and wider than the RX1's, the big difference being the large EVF housing on top, which adds greatly to the sense of bulk. The 35mm f/2.8 lens isn't actually too much larger than the 35/2.0 on the RX1, but the combined bulk of body and lens (particularly a zoom) is enough that it really puts it into a different category than the RX1. The RX1 could be considered a coat-pocket camera, but you'd have to have an awfully big coat to squeeze the Sony A7R into it.

That said, we felt that the Sony Alpha 7R was quite well balanced with all three lenses we tried it with. It's still a two-handed camera, particularly given that you'll want to have a hand on the zoom and/or focus rings of the lens, but it feels very nicely balanced with a moderate-sized lens like the 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 optic attached, and it's no trouble at all to hold one-handed, as for over-the-head shots in a crowd.

Sony A7R Review -- Compared to A99

Of course, saying that the Sony A7R is bigger than the RX1 may not mean all that much: Compared to any other full-frame interchangeable-lens camera (apart, perhaps from the rangefinder-style and considerably less feature-rich Leica M-series), it's downright diminutive. The current size extremes in Sony's Translucent Mirror range are the APS-C sensor-shod Sony A37, and the full-frame Sony A99. The Sony A7R is 0.1 inches wider and taller than the A37, but a much more significant 0.8 inches narrower and shorter than the A99. More importantly, it's 1.1 to 1.3 inches slimmer than both, without a lens mounted. Getting rid of the mirror box clearly still pays dividends on size for a full-frame camera, then.

The Sony Alpha 7R's grip is wider than some, but not very deep. Our personal preference is for deeper/narrower, but we found the Alpha 7R very comfortable to hold. This is partly due to the nice thumb-rest on the back of the camera and the leather-textured rubbery plastic coating on the grip and right rear of the camera, the combination of which meant our hold on the camera always felt very secure. We also found the various dials mounted on or just beneath the top deck were very easy to access while holding the camera, and the shutter button was comfortably positioned as well.

Sony A7R Review -- Front view

Seen from the front, things are pretty straightforward. The Sony A7R's front surface is mostly smooth and featureless, save for the hand grip, Sony E lens mount, autofocus assist lamp, and a few controls. Of particular note is just how large that full-frame sensor appears, occupying the great majority of the E-mount's interior. For a comparison, take a look at this image from our review of the Sony NEX-7, which features a more typical APS-C sized sensor. The lens mount release button sits snug beneath and to the right of the lens mount (as seen from the rear of the camera), right where you'd expect to find it.

The handgrip is relatively shallow and wide, as we'll see in the top view momentarily, with a slight indent in the front surface that helps give more purchase for the fingers. An infra-red receiver sits behind a small oval window near the base of the grip. At its top sits the front control dial, partially recessed in a small plateau below the camera's top deck. Just above and to the left sits the bright orange autofocus assist lamp.

Sony A7R Review -- Top view

Jumping to the top of the camera, it's clear that it's aimed at experienced photographers. As well as the front dial crowning the hand grip, and another control dial peeking out from behind the Mode dial and Shutter button, there's a third dial dedicated to exposure compensation at the very right-hand end. In front of this sits a Custom button, and the Shutter button is encircled by a Power lever.

Moving left, the electronic viewfinder hump -- there's no prism here, since this is a mirrorless camera -- is topped by Sony's Multi Interface Shoe. From this angle it doesn't look like an intelligent shoe, but when seen from the rear you can just make out terminals tucked beneath its front surface that allow communication not just with strobes, but with other accessories such as a clip-on LCD monitor or external microphone adapter. On either side of the electronic viewfinder hump are two single-hole microphone ports, which together provide for stereo audio. A small two-hole speaker sits just left of the hump, alongside the focal plane mark.

Sony A7R Review -- Rear view

Switching to the rear deck gives a clearer view of that second control dial, but the dominant features here are the 3-inch tilting LCD monitor, and the electronic viewfinder which sits just above it.

The Sony A7R's eye-level electronic viewfinder (EVF) is housed in angular bulge very reminiscent of the pentaprism on an SLR. EVFs have been steadily evolving in recent years, and the one in the Sony A7R is a good example of the state of the art. It uses OLED technology, and sports no fewer than 2.4 million dots, a level of resolution that means we can only just barely see hints of pixels along the edges of letters, and not at all in images displayed.

Its very high resolution is only part of the story of the Sony A7R's EVF. Possibly more important is the optics that Sony's put behind it. Viewfinder optics are often an afterthought in camera design, with optical artifacts like coma, blur, and chromatic aberration all too common. Since they're not being used to take a picture through, they often receive short shrift in the camera-design process.

Sony A7R Review -- Electronic Viewfinder

Not so the EVF on the Sony 7R. It uses a three-lens optical system similar to that found in the flagship Sony A99 SLT camera, although with a slightly improved configuration. The dioptric adjustment range for eyeglass-wearers is an unusually broad -4 to +3 diopters, very welcome for far- or nearsighted people. The net result is a very highly-corrected view of the OLED screen, that's sharp from corner to corner, with nary a sign of CA anywhere, and a nice, wide field of view (0.71x with a 50mm lens focused at infinity). The OLED screen itself has also been enhanced a good bit, with three times the contrast of the one used in the A99. The result is a remarkably clear view, with better than average dynamic range, although still not quite up to what we can see when looking through an optical viewfinder. There are some areas in which optical viewfinders still outperform EVFs, but there are at least as many in which EVFs surpass, and the one on the Sony A7R is truly state of the art for current technology.

The EVF has much higher resolution, with 2.4 million dots (1024 x 768 RGB pixels), versus the 921,600 dots (640 x 480 RGB pixels) of the LCD monitor. If critical focus is key, you'll want to use the viewfinder -- and we'd imagine most Sony A7R shooters will be doing so -- we certainly did. Proximity sensors above the viewfinder are used to switch between this and the main display automatically, when you bring the camera to your eye, and away again.

The rear deck controls are fairly straightforward, with no NEX-style soft buttons employed. The Menu button sits above the monitor, as does a second Custom button. Beneath the rear Control dial is an Auto / Manual focus selector switch, at the center of which sits an Auto-exposure Lock button. Below is a Function button, which also serves to enable Wi-Fi sharing in Playback mode.

Further down, there's a cluster of four controls which bear a little more discussion. Another rear Control dial also doubles as a Four-way rocker, and during image capture is used to select the Drive mode, Display mode, or White Balance mode by pressing its left, top, or right sides. At its center is a Select button, used to acknowledge menu options, settings changes, and so forth. Directly beneath the dial are the Playback button, and a Delete button which also serves as yet another Custom button when in record mode.

Sony A7R Review -- Left view

Moving to the camera's left side and starting from the top, there's a neck strap eyelet with, unfortunately a metal D-ring. (Not our favorite thing to see on a video-capable camera, since the metal-on-metal interface tends to generate handling noise every time you so much as look at the neck strap.)

Beneath are two rubber flaps which cover most of the camera's side. The top flap conceals audio connectivity -- both a 3.5mm stereo microphone jack, and a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. The lower flap covers Sony's Multi Terminal interface, which provides for both USB 2.0 Hi-Speed and wired remote control connectivity. The same flap also hides the Type-D Micro HDMI connector, which you'll use to get your images onto a high-definition display.

Sony A7R Review -- Right view

The right side of the Sony A7R is as simple as can be: There's a second neck strap eyelet with a D-ring, and a Movie Record button which is tucked into the side of the rear-panel thumb grip. Beneath is the memory card compartment door, behind which you'll find a single shared Secure Digital / Memory Stick PRO Duo card slot. Wi-Fi and NFC logos hint at the inclusion of these two wireless networking features, and the latter provides near-instant pairing with many Android devices, simply by holding them alongside the logo momentarily. (Apple doesn't, as yet, support NFC in any of its products.)

Sony A7R Review -- Bottom view

And in the interests of completeness, let's take a quick look at the camera's base. The Sony A7R features a metal tripod socket, nicely positioned on the central axis of the lens. (That's where you want it, to minimize parallax error during panorama shooting.) A battery compartment door resides in the bottom of the handgrip, and includes a small rubber cutout which provides ingress for the dummy battery cable of an optional AC adapter kit.

Sony A7R Review -- Tri Navi interface

User interface. We mentioned the Sony A7R's user interface at the outset: Let's look at it in a bit more detail. It bears a passing resemblance to the Tri-Navi interface on the NEX-7, in that it has both a front and rear dial, plus the back-panel dial control to adjust settings with. In addition, there's a dedicated exposure-compensation dial on the right rear corner of the camera's top panel, in easy reach of your thumb.

Compared to the RX1, controls on the Sony A7R are equally configurable, but also have explicit default functions printed on the camera body next to some of them. The lack of such labels on the RX1 had a lot to do with how quickly we were moved to assign our own, custom function layout to them. That little nudge to free ourselves from the default functions was a big plus, but we imagine a lot of users would be more comfortable with having the default functions labeled, as on the A7R.

Despite the presence of the labels, the Sony A7R's user interface is exceptionally configurable. The C1 button on the top panel and the C2 button at the top of the rear panel are of course both configurable, as is the C3 button, which doubles as the Trash button in playback mode. All three of these buttons can have any of 46 functions assigned to them, or they can be left unassigned. Additionally, the center button of the rear controller can have any of 47 functions assigned, and the left, right, and down keys can each have any of 39 assigned to them. This surely sets a new benchmark for camera configurability. (There may have been a camera or cameras with more configuration options, we just can't recall any.)

Sony A7R Review -- Center Button options

While it takes a little while to settle on the best configuration for a highly-customizable user interface like this, and some more time before your custom configurations become second nature, the benefit to regular shooters is huge. Rather than cursing a multi-level menu system, the camera becomes a fluid extension of your creative process. The impact of the sort of deep configurability of the Sony A7R's user interface shouldn't be underestimated.

Menus and on-screen controls. We rather liked the default menu system as well, being something of a hybrid between that used on the NEX line and the more conventional enthusiast-oriented menus of the Alpha series. The top level is more NEX-like, with 6 tiles offered to let you quickly access the particular category of functionality you're interested in. Once you select a tile, you're dropped into a standard Alpha menu system, but on the appropriate tab set. We found this a good bit quicker than having to scroll through all the menu tabs between wherever we entered the menu system and where we wanted to be, as is generally the case in standard tabbed menu systems. We'd have to time ourselves with a stopwatch to say whether the tiled approach actually ended up faster or not (you still have to scroll between tiles, after all), but it certainly felt faster when we were using it. You can disable this tiled front-end if you wish, though, via a setup menu function, and the menu button will drop you directly in to the tabbed menu system.

Sony A7R Review -- Bracket options

There's also a "Quick Navi" interface that provides access to a wide range of camera functions, accessed by default via the Fn button. The operation of this menu on the Sony Alpha 7R is a step forward from some other Sony models, in that the you can immediately change a setting with the front/rear control dials as soon as you've scrolled the cursor to it with the left/right keys. Some cameras require you to press the center OK button before you can change the settings, which always caused a bit of a mental disconnect for us. On the Sony A7R, though, you can immediately make changes with the front dial, once the cursor has highlighted a particular function. A number of settings have sub-settings for them (such as exposure bracketing, where you can pick both the number and size of the exposure steps), and in those cases, the front dial selects the main setting, and the rear one the sub-setting. It's a very fast, fluid and intuitive setup.

As with the camera's many control buttons, the Quick Navi menu is also highly configurable. Each of the 12 slots in it can have any of 27 different functions assigned to it, or that slot can be left blank.

Sony A7R Review -- Focus Magnifier menu option

No more modal menu failures! In recent history, Sony's menus have been very modal, in that various options would be grayed-out if they didn't apply to the current camera configuration. (For example, a setting pertaining to manual focus would be grayed out if you were in an autofocus mode.) The problem was, the camera wouldn't tell you why something was grayed out! It was often a puzzle, and a guessing game of many steps to figure out why the @#! you couldn't change a given menu setting.

We suspect others complained to Sony about this as well, so it probably wasn't just us bringing it up every time we had a chance to talk with their engineers, but I'm happy to report that Sony listened, and the new A7R actually tells you why you can't access grayed-out menu options! To our mind, this was the single biggest thing Sony needed to change in their user interface, and they've done it! Not every grayed-out menu has an information screen associated with it (a couple in the setup menus just say "this function is currently disabled"), but this is still a huge step forwards for ease-of-use.

 

Shooting with the Sony A7R

by David Schloss

Sony A7R review -- Sample photo

The Sony A7R looks like it's made out of a single piece of carved metal -- there's a feeling to it that's not unlike grabbing the first MacBook, which was CNC-milled from a slab of aluminum. The body has a reassuring solidity, despite its small size.

A comfy fit. The grip is a perfect fit for my hand, although it might not be as comfortable if you have bigger mitts. The camera is just tall enough that my pinky wraps underneath the handgrip, for added support. All controls are well within reach without adjusting my grip, with the exception of the dedicated video button, which is on the outside rear of the camera. The allows the A7R to be used one-handed for snapshots and casual use, but I still think it's best used two-handed.

Pro-friendly controls. I was happy to find that the A7R has a front and a rear control dial along with an exposure compensation dial and mode dial. These two dials, along with the on/off switch have enough resistance that I didn't accidentally move them in normal shooting or in storage in a camera bag. The dial built into the four-way controller, though, is quite easy to bump. Fortunately, its function can be changed or disabled, or you can optionally lock and unlock it with a press of the center button.

But I didn't usually keep the Sony A7R in a camera bag anyway. With our review Carl Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 attached, it was possible to put the A7R in my coat pocket. It constantly boggled my mind that I could walk around with 36-megapixels of tack-sharp resolution in my pocket.

Sony A7R review -- Sample photo

The Sony A7R shoots great photos with bucket-loads of detail. Take a look at the signs towards the right of the frame, which fall within the depth of field. Even 1:1, they are tack-sharp.

Unusual card slot. The memory card slot sits behind a door in the handgrip, which I prefer to cameras that place the card slot inside the battery compartment. It makes it impossible to accidentally dislodge the battery while trying to change the card, or to get rain in the battery compartment during a flash card change. It's a bit unusual in that the card ejects backwards rather than sideways, but I got used to it quickly enough.

In-camera charging. The Sony A7R doesn't ship with a battery charger -- instead the micro USB slot on the side of the camera is used to charge the battery in-camera. While I'm always happy to see an option to charge a battery over USB, I'd also like to see a standalone battery charger in the product bundle, because it gives me the ability to charge a second battery while I'm out shooting. It's easy enough to pick up an external charger separately, but with a price tag of US$50, it's a bit of a pricey option.

Great viewfinder. I'm a big fan of the Sony A7R's electronic viewfinder, which makes EVFs of old seem like looking at video from the moon landing. It has plenty of resolution, and I think in many ways it's more useful than an optical viewfinder. Seeing a real-time histogram, for example, is impossible with a TTL optical viewfinder.

That's not to say its perfect. I felt that I had to increase the brightness in order to give me more visible detail for focus confirmation, at the expense of a slightly less accurate preview of exposure. But putting that aside, the EVF on the A7R is the most vibrant I've tried and it's a pleasure to use. It's my belief that we're now only a generation or two away from the point at which the EVF/OVF debate is settled once and for all.

Want to learn more about the Sony A7R's built-in electronic viewfinder?
Click here to see our viewfinder test results.

Tilting monitor. The rear-panel LCD screen is just as vibrant as the EVF, albeit with a lower resolution. Because the viewfinder is so good, I only used the LCD screen for playback, navigating menus, and for occasional over-the-head or waist-level shots. It's clear and bright even in outdoor, sunny-weather shooting, and isn't unusually fingerprint-prone.

The LCD monitor is articulated, but since it's not a tilt/swivel design it's useful only for landscape shots, and not those in portrait orientation. I must admit that I'd have preferred a tilt-swivel screen, but only if it could be installed without significantly increasing the depth of the camera.

Sony A7R review -- Sample photo
The A7R's photos aren't just tack-sharp -- they also have pleasing color, good auto white balance, and spot-on exposure with the default settings, most of the time. This scene is exactly as I remember it in person. This particular image was shot with the Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 lens.

No touch? No problem. I've become so accustomed to testing cameras with touch-screen displays that I usually find non-touch screens a step backwards in usability, but thanks to its great (and very configurable) physical controls and mostly well-considered menu system, this isn't such an issue with the A7R.

One of reasons I typically prefer a touch-screen interface over a non-interactive panel is that many cameras force you to dig down through multiple menu levels to change settings, but the A7R negates the need for most of this with a smart user interface. For example, when in the AF Area menu, the vertical arrow buttons change focus mode, but you can also cycle through the different AF point sizes for the Flexible Spot setting with the left and right arrows. In some cameras, there would be an extra layer in the menu for the latter, or it would be accessed via a separate menu item.

Sony A7R review -- Sample photo

High ISO shots are very usable indeed. This image at ISO 6400, shot from the street outside the dimly-lit bar through an open door, shows the effect of noise reduction at 1:1, but there's still lots of detail remaining. All but the smallest text on the signs behind the bar is clearly legible..

The physical controls help out, too. To adjust sensitivity, many cameras first require that you press an ISO button to toggle ISO control with a dial or buttons, or even send you running to the menu system. The A7R instead allows for ISO adjustment by spinning the dial on the face of the four way rocker. (Another function can, optionally, be assigned, and some modes don't allow ISO control. Hence, a small icon on the LCD or EVF indicates what the dial currently controls.)

Occasionally illogical. The menu system is fairly straightforward, but its organization isn't always the greatest. For example, I'd expect to find the Format option on the first or last page of the setup menu, but it's actually on the sixth of seven pages. And the seven options related to focusing are scattered across three different tabs of the Record menu, with 11 items completely unrelated to focusing interspersed between them.

Translations are occasionally a little clumsy, as well -- for example, the recommendation to "Shoot with fitting into the face frame" when registering a new subject for face recognition.

Thankfully, the quick menu (accessible by pressing the Fn button) has direct access to the most common shooting functions, and eliminates much of the need to jump into the menu once the camera is set up.

Loud shutter. The Sony A7R has a surprisingly loud shutter, which may be an issue if you're shooting in environments where noise is frowned on, or with a skittish subject. In fact, even for street photography -- a genre for which the A7R is otherwise extremely well suited -- you're not going to sneak up on anyone with the A7R, once you've tripped the shutter for the first time nearby.

Moderate performance. The Sony A7R is a great camera in terms of handling and the images it yields, but you shouldn't expect professional or even enthusiast-level SLR performance. Autofocus is slower than most SLRs, even consumer models, and lags the average a little among its compact system camera brethren as well. Shutter lag even when focusing manually is also rather on the slow side, as is burst shooting performance. These conspire to make the A7R a poor choice for sports and other fast-moving subjects.

Just how fast is the Sony A7R? Find out by clicking here to see our full battery
of rigorous, objective speed and operation tests conducted in the IR Lab.

Sony A7R review -- Sample photo
The Sony A7R can pick up some amazingly fine details. Not only is every detail of the bricks in this church captured, sharp as can be, but the A7R has also picked up the fine mesh over the windows!

AF tracking. With that said, tracking autofocus -- or Lock-on AF, in Sony parlance -- is still available, and can function either from the first frame in a burst, or from the moment you half-press the shutter button. When Lock-on AF is active, you select the subject with a spot focus point, and the Sony A7R will both move and change the size of the focus area as it deems necessary to continue to track the subject. Unfortunately, I found it to be easily confused with changing subjects.

Sony A7R review -- Sample photo

I did have issues when shooting fast-moving subjects, but static subjects provided much more pleasing results..

For example, I shot a bicycle race with the A7R, and while I had initially planted the focus point on the rider's face, Lock-on AF instead roamed onto the legs. I found this a bit surprising, as in my past testing of Sony's NEX-series cameras, I've rarely found them opting to focus on the wrong subject. For slow-moving and stationary subjects, the Sony A7R focuses well.

A few times, I also had issues with the A7R opting to focus on the background instead of foreground subjects. On the plus side, turning on face detection largely eliminated this issue for human subjects, with the A7R then nailing the focus just about every time.

Great for reasonably static subjects. If I had to sum up my opinion of autofocus with the A7R, I'd say that it's the perfect camera with which to take a portrait of a professional athlete -- it's just not the best choice to photograph them playing their sport. But then, the A7R is not designed to be a sports-capturing camera, as evidenced by its modest burst capture performance.

Burst shooting. Burst performance, as I mentioned, isn't really a strong suit of the Sony A7R. (That's really to be expected, given the huge, high-resolution images it produces.)

With autofocus, you'll get around 1.7 frames per second, which means you'll be relying on your reflexes to time the perfect moment for each shot, and the camera's burst rate won't do the heavy lifting for you. In Speed Priority Continuous mode, the A7R offers much greater speed -- exactly four frames per second, according to our testing -- but you lose autofocus. That means you either risk blurry shots if your subject strays beyond the depth of field, or you have to shoot with a narrower aperture to keep them within the depth of field.

Thankfully, the A7R's relatively low noise levels and good sensitivity make this a more feasible proposition than it would be with a crop-sensor camera.

Sony A7R review -- Sample photo

Invest in fast flash cards. I also noticed that the Sony A7R seems to spend a long time writing images to card. That's to be expected with a sensor with such high resolution, but it brings an issue in terms of operation. If you don't enable the auto-review function, so that images are shown immediately after capture, then you have to wait before the entire buffer is written to flash before you can review any images.

Depending on the number and file type of images captured, and the speed of your flash card, that can be anywhere from a second or two to as long as a minute, even with a Class 10 SD card, UHS-I cards will definitely show the advantage of their speed in the Sony A7R; our speedy 95MB/second flash card took a more reasonable 15-20 second or thereabouts to clear a full buffer.

The same is true if you decide to switch from still image to video capture: You'll need the buffer to be completely clear before switching types. Fortunately, you can continue to shoot still images if there's buffer space available, even if you'd just shot a quick burst.

Sony A7R review -- Sample photo

The FE 28-70mm lens -- shooting here at its 70mm focal length -- can yield some deliciously smooth, creamy bokeh.

Still a pleasure to shoot with. Despite these operational quirks, the A7R is a pleasure to use. It's mostly well thought out, well designed, and comfortable. Buttons are in the right place, the interface works, and you're not faced with a battle to get the camera to do what's needed.

Great new lenses. I tested the A7R with the new FE-mount Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm F2.8 ZA lens, which costs $800. I quickly fell in love with this optic: It only projects a little less than three inches from the front of the camera, and it's one of the sharpest pieces of glass I've used. That's to be expected from Zeiss, a company with which Sony has a long partnership.

I also used the Sony-branded kit lens that's available with the lower-resolution A7, and that's also excellent, but I found it hard to tear myself away from the Zeiss glass. The large sensor in the A7R and that Zeiss optic provide a powerful one-two punch that's hard to resist.

Truly stunning photos. The A7R makes photos that, in my opinion, are better than any mirrorless system on the market. In fact, I think they rival or exceed most of the DSLRs I've ever reviewed. The high-resolution sensor makes for incredible amounts of detail, and thanks to its generous 35mm frame size, you get much greater opportunities to isolate your subject with shallow depth of field than you would with a smaller chip.

View the IR Lab's in-depth Sony A7R image quality test results by clicking here, but be sure to read further on to see side-by-side comparisons of the A7R against its top competitors.

Mind-reading exposure metering. I've found that there are two types of camera metering systems -- those that require a lot of fiddling with exposure compensation in order to get a great image, and those that just plain work. The Sony A7R's just plain works. Despite the prominent and easy-to-access exposure compensation dial, I almost never had to tweak the camera's metering. Obviously if I was trying to achieve a certain look I could dial the exposure up or down, but even in challenging lighting situations the camera performed excellently.

For instance, I photographed my wife eating soup in an inside dining hall with backlighting. Many metering systems would have required I adjust the exposure in order to get the shot, but the Sony A7R nailed it all by itself. Perhaps it's smart use of the face-recognition system, but I continued to be impressed as images were delivered with spot-on exposure.

Sony A7R review -- Sample photo

The Sony A7R handled this exposure of my wife quite nicely, exposing for her face rather than the dark hallway and clothing, or the bright outdoors.

Even pros are excited. The resulting shots are luscious, saturated, sharp and beautiful. Everyone I've shown the A7R's images to has been impressed, and several wedding photographer friends have started to think seriously about picking this camera up for themselves, noisy shutter or not. The fact that images this good come from a camera that fits in my coat pocket blows me away.

The A7R is capable of capturing images at sensitivities up to ISO 25,600, and while images shot at the high end of the range do lack the fine detail of lower sensitivities, even they are still surprisingly usable for small to moderately-sized prints. ISO 6400 on the Sony A7R is as usable as ISO 3200 on many Micro Four Thirds cameras, if not more so.

Want to know how the Sony A7R deals with image noise at higher sensitivities?
View the IR Lab's comprehensive A7R noise reduction series by clicking here.

Movie capture. Video shot with the Sony A7R shows good detail, and has the same combination of attractive color and good exposure / white balance as do still images. I did notice a little aliasing and false color, but that's typical of cameras which skip rows of pixels during readout in movie mode -- which is to say, almost all still cameras.

Rolling shutter looks to be fairly well controlled, too. In fact, the biggest issue is that the contrast detection autofocus system induces noticeable hunting around the point of focus. It's also a little slow to catch up when the focus distance changes suddenly. Most experienced videographers will simply disable autofocus, and focus manually or use a narrow aperture to expand the depth of field.

Audio. The built-in stereo mic does a fair job of audio capture, all things considered, and you can adjust the audio levels in 32 steps. You can also monitor levels over a 3.5mm headphone jack, either with near-live or LCD / EVF-synced timing. That's a rather nice touch, and one I haven't seen on many cameras thus far. You can of course attach external mics, and fully manual exposure control is possible too.

Sony A7R review -- Sample photo
Another high sensitivity sample, shot at ISO 6400. Even after noise reduction is applied, there's still lots of detail left -- you can make out the pixels on the screen in the plane of focus.

Wireless connectivity. Sony has built Wi-Fi wireless networking connectivity including NFC for quick setup on Android devices into the A7R camera body, as well as its in-camera PlayMemories Camera Apps. I tested using two Android products: a Google Nexus 10 tablet, and an HTC One X+ smartphone. Just as with the recently-reviewed Sony RX10, the tablet worked fine, but a connection could never be established to the phone. An app for iOS devices -- the iPhone or iPad -- is also available, but you can't use NFC for easy pairing on Apple devices since they lack the necessary hardware.

Keyboard "fun". Apps must be installed on the camera and updated via a Wi-Fi hotspot or router, and if you have a long Wi-Fi password, entering it on the old-school multi-tap keyboard (similar to that from an old dumbphone) using the four-way controller is a painful experience. And once you're done with that, you have to sign up for a Sony account online, then enter your email address and password on the camera using a different on-screen keyboard more similar to that on a smartphone.

Updatable in-camera apps. On the plus side, these apps make it easier for Sony to add new features to the camera, and you can choose which of those features are important to you. As of mid-December 2013, you can choose from an updated Smart Remote Control app, a Direct Upload app, and a Flickr add-on for Direct Upload.

Sony A7R review -- Sample photo

Remote live shooting. The Smart Remote Control app is the interesting one. It's similar to that which we saw on the Sony RX10, but allows for more features. It also leaves the physical controls on the camera active. You can shoot in Program, Priority, or Manual exposure modes, and can set exposure variables (including shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity, and white balance) as appropriate from the smart device, be it a phone or tablet. You can also touch on the smart device screen to select a point for focus, and trigger autofocus operation.

In addition, you can enable a self-timer, change the live view feed to prioritize speed or quality, and opt for either 2-megapixel or full-size image transfer. Live view quality, while well below the resolution of a tablet like the Nexus 10, is certainly sufficient to get an approximation of focus. And unlike the RX10, images can optionally transfer to your smart device immediately after capture.

Quick transfer. Transfer speeds are also much better than those we saw with the RX10, taking only a couple of seconds to transfer a full-res image, while the live view is similarly snappy. (Perhaps a quarter of a second lag, or less.) Wi-Fi range was also better, on the order of perhaps 20-25 feet, although I still couldn't go out of line-of-sight without the live view image becoming too slow to be usable.

And of course, you can also transfer images you've already shot, handy for when you have rattled off a burst of shots with the camera and then want to review them on a larger screen. Here, you can select images either from the camera or the smart device.

Still-image only. The only area in which the Sony A7R lags the RX10's Wi-Fi feature set is that you can't transfer or shoot movies remotely at all. It's still image or nothing for the A7R. But if you're willing to overlook that, and the relatively limited Wi-Fi range -- which could perhaps be addressed with a repeater of some kind -- the feature is pretty handy, and the ability to adjust exposure from your phone or tablet, then focus on your chosen subject remotely, is cool indeed!

Sony A7R review -- Sample photo
Handheld shots in low light are eminently feasible when you've got a really large, sensitive image sensor at your disposal. This shot was taken in a reasonably dimly-lit restaurant, as you can tell from how much illumination the small candles provide, yet I still had plenty of scope to drop the shutter speed or raise the sensitivity, had I needed to do so.

Closing thoughts. The Sony A7R marks a pivotal moment in the development of photography, although at first blush it might look just like a well-designed compact digital camera. It features a full-frame 36 megapixel sensor that provides similar resolution to that of the Nikon D800E, but wrapped in a body that's a fraction of the size and weight. It might not seem amazing to pair a massive full-frame sensor with a tiny body, but with the A7R I feel that Sony has fired a significant shot across the bow of the big two, Nikon and Canon.

Sony A7R review -- Sample photo

That's because photographers have been clamoring for a truly professional-level mirrorless camera, and neither Nikon nor Canon have provided one. While the A7R doesn't have the autofocus performance or burst-shooting rates of professional DSLRs, it ushers in a new era in photographic technology thanks to its combination of stunning image quality and fast-enough-for-many-pros performance.

If I were shooting events full time I'd have already put in an order for an A7R and some FE lenses. Event photographers break their backs lugging around multiple bodies and lenses, and the A7R is capable enough to replace some of that gear -- or all, depending on the photographer -- with a much lighter and yet incredibly high-res package. (It'd be great for weddings, too, were the shutter not quite so loud.) While Nikon and Canon have so far offered only a hint of a mirrorless future, the Sony A7R is already delivering.

With such a high-resolution sensor, the burst shooting rate of the A7R is unfortunately rather slow, although that's not a big issue for me. When I'm capturing subjects at 36-megapixel resolution, I'm not really expecting to get an eight-frame-per-second rate. (Which is fortunate, because the A7R doesn't come anywhere near that -- it tops out at just 4fps even if autofocus is disabled.)

Relative to a DSLR, I think the A7R's biggest miss is its autofocus system. Its only capable of performing contrast detection AF. The simultaneously-released A7 offers fewer pixels but an array of on-sensor phase detect pixels, allowing it to provide hybrid phase / contrast detection autofocus. Canon's EOS 70D digital SLR gives a hint of where I think things are headed, with phase-detect at every pixel on its sensor, albeit with a smaller APS-C sized chip. Look at the image quality of the Sony A7R and the technological breakthrough that Canon has made with the 70D, and I think it's pretty clear that the end of the SLR is nigh.

Sony A7R review -- Sample photo

 

Sony A7R Review -- Technical Info

by Mike Tomkins

Sensor. The Sony A7R is based around a 36.4-megapixel, RGB Bayer-filtered, Exmor CMOS image sensor with approximately the same dimensions as a 35mm film frame. Total resolution is 36.8-megapixels. Sensor size is 35.9 x 24.0mm.

Unlike that of its sibling, the A7, the Sony A7R's sensor doesn't include on-chip phase detection autofocus pixels. However, it does include a low-pass filter-free design for maximum resolution (at the expense of possible moiré), and it features gapless microlenses whose position has been tuned to avoid image quality issues with light arriving at high incidence angles, as in the corners of the image.

According to Sony, the A7R's image sensor will yield the highest image quality of any Alpha-series camera to date.

Processor. Output from the Sony A7R's image sensor is handled by a brand-new BIONZ X-branded image processor. Compared to the previous generation, BIONZ X has improved performance. Sony also says that it has improved area-specific noise reduction, which varies noise reduction strength across the image in an attempt to yield a clean result without disturbing image detail.

BIONZ X also brings two new features. Diffraction-reducing technology combats the effects of diffraction limiting, improving detail at smaller apertures. Interestingly, the effect applied is both lens and aperture specific, and said to work even with Alpha-mount lenses shot through an adapter. It also has what Sony bills as "Detail reproduction technology", which tries to draw out finer details without creating halos in the process.

Sensitivity. The Sony A7R's sensor and processor combine to yield a sensitivity range of ISO 100 to 25,600 equivalents. The lower end of this range can be expanded to encompass ISO 50. There's also an Auto ISO function, ordinarily 100 to 6400 equivalents. Upper and lower limits for this Auto ISO function can be adjusted to match the photographer's needs.

Performance. Burst shooting performance of the Sony A7R isn't terribly swift, although that will likely be forgiven by photographers hooked on its pairing of huge sensor and compact body. With focus locked from the first frame, you can shoot at up to 4 frames per second. With autofocus between frames, the maximum rate plunges to just 1.5fps. The A7R's lower-res sibling performs better here, managing up to 5fps with support for continuous autofocus.

Lens mount. The Sony A7R still sports the company's mirrorless E-mount, but it now accepts new Sony FE full-frame lenses. Five Sony FE lenses debut alongside the camera, and one of these is a kit lens for the lower-res Sony A7. Sony tells us it aims to have 10 FE lenses by the end of next year, and 15 lenses by the end of 2015. Of the currently-announced lenses, two are primes, and three are stabilized zooms.

The A7R can also accept standard E-mount lenses, and these can either be used with an APS-C crop (reducing image resolution correspondingly), or you can opt to view the full image circle and decide for yourself if vignetting and image quality outside of the APS-C image circle are acceptable.

You can also use Sony Alpha-mount lenses, be they APS-C or full-frame, with an adapter. The latter are catered for with two new full-frame compatible adapters -- the LA-EA3 and LA-EA4 -- which replace both existing APS-C adapters. Although technically, the LA-EA3 isn't actually new, as it's been available for a while. It's just that until now, you could only buy it in a bundle with the full-frame NEX-VG900 camcorder.

Shake reduction. The Sony E-mount uses lens-based image stabilization, meaning that availability of stabilization is lens-specific. For the initial round of Sony FE lenses, all three zooms announced so far feature SteadyShot stabilization, while both primes don't.

Dust removal. As you'd expect on an interchangeable-lens camera, Sony has accounted for the possibility of dust on the sensor. The company is using an ultrasonic vibration system, coupled with a charge protection coating on a filter overlying the sensor.

Focus. The Sony A7R, unlike its sibling the A7, is limited solely to contrast detection autofocus. The CDAF system in the A7R is branded as Fast Intelligent AF, and is nonetheless said to offer good performance, thanks to a healthy readout rate from the sensor. The system provides a total of 25 contrast detection autofocus points, and is able to locate and prioritize an individual's eye when focusing.

It also includes the Lock-On Autofocus function first seen in the Sony A58, which tracks your subject as it passes between focus points, or strays outside of the focus point coverage area. (It's the first time this tech has been included by Sony in a camera without phase detection.)

If you prefer to focus manually, you'll find the presence of a manual focus peaking function to be a great aid for getting the point of focus just where you want it.

Viewfinder. Sony has gifted the A7R with a high-resolution XGA (that is to say, 1024 x 768 pixel) Organic LED electronic viewfinder. It's related to that seen previously in the flagship Sony A99 Translucent Mirror camera, but with further-improved optics for a better viewfinder image. (And indeed, it's among the best we've seen to date.)

LCD. On the rear panel of the Sony A7R is an articulated LCD monitor. It has a 3-inch diagonal and a 921,600 dot resolution, and its articulation mechanism allows it to tilt up by 84 degrees for low / waist-level shooting, or down 45 degrees for shooting over your head.

There's a five-step manual brightness adjustment, and a Sunny Weather mode is available if you are shooting in bright conditions, where a washed-out-but-bright image is better than no image at all.

External flash. Sony hasn't included a built-in flash in the A7R, doubtless in the interest of reducing size. That limits users to external strobes only, and they're attached via the top-deck Multi Interface Shoe mount. This has proprietary intelligent contacts, and can also be used to mount various non-flash accessories.

The A7R also accepts Minolta / Sony ISO strobes using an optionally-available adapter. No strobe is bundled with the camera.

Exposure modes. The Sony A7R provides a healthy selection of exposure modes. These include Auto (both single-shot Intelligent Auto and multi-shot Superior Auto), Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, and Manual, plus Scene, Sweep Pano, and Movie. Scene-mode choices are Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports Action, Sunset, Night Portrait, Night Scene, Hand-held Twilight and Anti Motion Blur.

Drive modes. Five drive modes are available: Single, continuous, speed priority continuous, self-timer, and bracketing. Speed priority continuous differs from standard continuous in that focus is locked from the first shot, yielding greater performance. Self-timer options are 2 or 10 seconds.

Metering. The Sony A7R uses a 1,200 zone evaluative metering system, which like all mirrorless cameras operates on information from the image sensor. Three metering modes are available: Multi-segment, center-weighted, or Spot.

Shutter. Available shutter speeds range from 1/8000 to 30 seconds, plus a bulb shutter function. Maximum flash sync is 1/160s (versus 1/250s for the A7), and unlike the A7, the A7R does not offer an electronic front curtain shutter option.

Movie capture. The Sony A7R can record Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixel) movies, with a rate of 60 progressive-scan frames, 60 interlaced fields, or 24 frames per second, using AVCHD version 2.0 compression in an MPEG-4 container. Sound is recorded with a built-in stereo mic, or via a stereo 3.5mm mic port. There's also a stereo 3.5mm headphone jack for audio monitoring, and you can display / adjust audio levels. The A7R is also compatible with Sony's optional XLR adapter, allowing XLR mics to be attached via the Multi Interface Shoe.

You can also output clean video with no overlays on the Sony A7R's HDMI port.

Weather-sealing / cold-proofing. Although it doesn't provide a count for the number of seals, Sony describes the A7R's magnesium-alloy body as both dust and moisture-resistant.

Connectivity. A generous range of connectivity options are provided for on the Sony A7R. These include both Wi-Fi and NFC wireless communications, high-definition Type-D Micro HDMI video output, and a combined USB data / wired remote port, which Sony calls the Multi-Terminal Interface. There's also the aforementioned Multi Interface Shoe for external strobes and accessories, and 3.5mm stereo headphone / microphone jacks.

The Wi-Fi and NFC wireless connectivity is probably the most interesting. This allows you to share your full-frame images with a smart device such as phone or tablet, or even to view them wirelessly from your DLNA-compliant TV. You can also control the camera remotely via Wi-Fi using an available Android / iOS app.

The HDMI port is interesting, too, though. According to Sony, it's the first to automatically detect 4K displays, and provide a 4K ultra high-def video output when one is detected. The HDMI port is also unusual in that it can be used at the same time as the camera's LCD monitor.

Remote control. As well as the ability to control it remotely via Wi-Fi, the Sony A7R lets you trip the shutter release from an infrared remote, using a receiver in the handgrip. It can also accept Sony's Multi-Terminal Interface wired remotes in the USB port.

Power. Power comes courtesy of an 1080mAh Sony InfoLithium NP-FW50 battery pack. This is capable of providing up to 340 shots on a charge, with the LCD active. Switch to the electronic viewfinder and you'll get 270 shots, some 70 shots less. Note, though, that while it's tested to CIPA standards, the battery life figure doesn't include the typical 50% flash usage, since there is no internal flash in this camera.

If 270-340 shots isn't enough, you can double battery life by attaching the optional VG-C1EM vertical grip, which accepts two NP-FW50 batteries. With this in place, around 680 shots on a charge should be possible.

Storage. The Sony A7R stores images on Secure Digital cards, including the higher-capacity SDHC / SDXC types, and the higher-speed UHS-I types. Its single flash card slot can also accept Sony's proprietary Memory Stick PRO Duo cards, if you prefer.

 

Sony A7R Review -- Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops comparing the Sony A7R with the Sony A7, Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon D800E, Pentax 645D and Sony RX1R.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction. All interchangeable lens cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses.

Sony A7R versus Sony A7 at ISO 100

Sony A7R at ISO 100
Sony A7 at ISO 100

Both Sony Alpha A7 models produce a tremendous amount of clean, fine detail at ISO 100, though both show moiré patterns in our red-leaf fabric. The A7R, though, takes the cake with just ever-so-slightly crisper, finer detail thanks to its ~50% higher pixel count and the lack of an optical low-pass filter.


Sony A7R versus Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 100

Sony A7R at ISO 100
Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 100

The Canon 5D Mark III does a good job here, but the Sony A7R clearly overshadows it with much more fine detail, particularly on the mosaic and fabrics. The Canon has trouble with crisp detail in the red and pink fabrics, whereas you can clearly see the fibers and thread pattern of the fabric in the A7R's image. Unlike the Sony, the Canon does not show any signs of moiré in the red fabric.


Sony A7R versus Nikon D800E at ISO 100

Sony A7R at ISO 100
Nikon D800E at ISO 100

The dueling kings of AA-filter-less 36MP sensors! Both cameras here show fantastic detail. The Sony actually does a better with the mosaic in its default JPEGs than the Nikon. The fabric crop comparison is very difficult to pick a winner; the Nikon looks a little more contrasty, but overall both cameras produce an equally amazing amount of detail, and both show moiré patterns, though the D800E's are a little more obvious. We suspected, though, that there was a lot more to be found in the D800E's image than was immediately apparent in the JPEG - see the crops below for more on this.


Sony A7R at ISO 100
Nikon D800E (sharpened) at ISO 100

As noted above, we were initially quite surprised at the difference in sharp, crisp detail from the Sony compared to the Nikon. Upon further examination, though, it became apparent that the Sony is simply applying more sharpening by default. (But in a way most cameras don't - the A7R's images show no sign of "halos" or "outlines" around objects from the sharpening.) To see if we could even the playing field a bit, we took our ISO 100 test shot from the D800E and applied Unsharp Masking in Photoshop CS6 (150%, 0.3 pixel radius). With that additional processing, the level of fine, crisp detail looks more even between the two cameras.


Sony A7R versus Pentax 645D at base ISO

Sony A7R at ISO 100

Pentax 645D at ISO 200

It's pretty amazing that we're now able to compare a ~$2,200 mirrorless camera to a ~$7,000 40-megapixel medium format camera! The camera that shocked the staff of IR with the amazing level of detail it showed now has a competitor with the Sony A7R. The mosaic crop shows slightly crisper detail in the A7R's image, while the Pentax still produces a cleaner image of the red fabric, though again, both cameras show moiré patterns. (The 645D also reveals the color from the halftone dots in the "grout" in the mosaic, which the A7R still misses - Yes, those little flecks of color in the 645D's image are present in the subject, they're the cyan, magenta, and yellow dots of ink in the offset-printed halftone.)


Sony A7R versus Sony RX1R at ISO 100

Sony A7R at ISO 100
Sony RX1R at ISO 100

Here, the two AA-filter-less Sony cameras go head-to-head. Both cameras here are pretty evenly matched with clean and crisp details in both the bottle and mosaic crops. The A7R pulls ahead in the fabric crop however, with better fine detail in red fabric, and once again, both cameras show moiré patterns.


Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1600, 3200, and 6400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1600 as a baseline of comparison because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Sony A7R versus Sony A7 at ISO 1600

Sony A7R at ISO 1600
Sony A7 at ISO 1600

At ISO 1600, both cameras here are pretty evenly matched, barring the obvious resolution difference. Both cameras have default noise reduction enabled and both show minimal high ISO noise while still preserving lots of detail. The A7R shows more fine detail in the fabrics however.


Sony A7R versus Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 1600

Sony A7R at ISO 1600
Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 1600

The Sony wins out over the Canon in all three comparisons here at ISO 1600. The label on the bottle is sharper, the mosaics maintains crisper detail and the pink fabric is much more detailed. The Canon still does a great job, however; it's one of the leaders in the field.


Sony A7R versus Nikon D800E at ISO 1600

Sony A7R at ISO 1600
Nikon D800E at ISO 1600

Despite the differences in in-camera sharpening, as discussed above, both cameras maintain a lot of fine detail at ISO 1600. The Nikon does better at retaining detail in the red fabric, whereas the Sony does better with the pink fabric.


Sony A7R versus Pentax 645D at ISO 1600

Sony A7R at ISO 1600
Pentax 645D at ISO 1600

The Pentax holds up very well at ISO 1600 against the Sony. Both cameras do great with the mosaic crop (the 645D still holding on to the halftone colors, though), but the Pentax takes the cake with the red fabric.


Sony A7R versus Sony RX1R at ISO 1600

Sony A7R at ISO 1600
Sony RX1R at ISO 1600

At ISO 1600, both cameras look pretty evenly matched, although the A7R looks a little sharper than the RX1R in the mosaic crop (which could be chalked up to better in-camera sharpening). Both cameras are closely matched with the fabric crops however.


Today's ISO 3200 is yesterday's ISO 1600, so below are the same crops at ISO 3200.

Sony A7R versus Sony A7 at ISO 3200

Sony A7R at ISO 3200
Sony A7 at ISO 3200

At ISO 3200, it's clear that the default noise reduction is affecting fine/subtle detail, especially in the mosaic crop. However, both cameras hold up really well at this ISO level and still produce a lot of fine detail. The A7R does slightly better in the pink fabric, however.


Sony A7R versus Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 3200

Sony A7R at ISO 3200
Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 3200

Both cameras do great here in terms of handling high ISO noise, as well as producing fine detail. The Canon manages to outdo the Sony with the red fabric just a bit, while the Sony does better in the pink fabric, and slightly better in the mosaic crop.


Sony A7R versus Nikon D800E at ISO 3200

Sony A7R at ISO 3200
Nikon D800E at ISO 3200

The Nikon here shows more noise, but the level of fine detail is still very high across most of the frame. The Sony produces a lot of fine detail in the mosaic, where the Nikon struggles a little, while the Nikon does great with the red fabric, but struggles with the pink swatch. We give the nod to Sony on this one.


Sony A7R versus Pentax 645D at ISO 3200

Sony A7R at ISO 3200
Pentax 645D not available @ ISO 3200

Hard to compare these, when the Pentax 645D doesn't shoot at ISO 3200. Moving on...


Sony A7R versus Sony RX1R at ISO 3200

Sony A7R at ISO 3200
Sony RX1R at ISO 3200

Both Sonys are pretty evenly matched - low noise at higher ISOs and lots of fine detail. The A7R still shows a semblance of the fabric thread pattern in the pink fabric, but it's a bit of a toss-up in the red. Both cameras show a lot of fine detail in the mosaic, and similar to what we saw compared to the D800E, there looks to be differences in the strength of in-camera sharpening.


Detail: Sony A7R versus Sony A7, Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon D800E, Pentax 645D and Sony RX1R.

Sony A7R
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Sony A7
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Canon 5D Mk III
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Nikon D800E
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Pentax 645D
ISO 100
ISO 1600
n/a
Sony RX1R
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Detail comparison. High-contrast detail is also important, pushing the camera in different ways, so we like to look at it, too. Both the Sony A7R and A7 show a fantastic amount of high-contrast detail all the way from ISO 100 to ISO 6400. There is also a difference in the contrast levels of the in-camera JPEG across these different models and brands. The 5D Mark III looks quite similar to the two new Sony cameras here at ISO 100 and 1600. At the higher ISO levels, the Sony A7R is pretty well free of any high ISO noise issues (as is the A7 and 5D Mark III to a bit lesser degree) whereas we see the D800E having minor issues with chroma noise.

It's clear that the Sony A7R delivers fantastic image quality across a fairly broad range of sensitivity levels. Sony seems to have finally gotten a handle on their in-camera JPEG processing, to the extent that they now lead the field, in our estimation. Thanks to their new BIONZ X processor and the more extensive image processing it enables, they've managed to suppress noise while maintaining great subject detail. Equally significantly, they've really refined their sharpening algorithms. Most cameras' sharpening leaves visible "halos" or "outlines" around high-contrast edges. As a result, we've long preferred in our own shooting to dial down the in-camera sharpening, and apply strong/tight unsharp masking in Photoshop after the fact. (Try it - start with an unsharpened or lightly-sharpened image, use an 0.3 pixel radius and high percentages; 200%, 300%, or even higher.) With the Sony A7R, though, we've finally found a camera that applies sharpening the way we would ourselves, making the images much crisper, while maintaining delicate detail.

It's clear that the Sony A7R delivers unprecedented full-frame image quality in a surprisingly compact body. Does it beat the medium-format Pentax 645D? Maybe, maybe not. The 645D still holds an edge in a number of areas across the ISO range it covers, but it stops short at ISO 1600, while the Sony A7R continues on well beyond that point. We'll leave it to you to decide for yourself how the two cameras stack up. :-)

 

Sony A7R Review -- Print Quality

Outstanding 40 x 60 inch prints at ISO 50/100; makes an excellent 24 x 36 inch print at ISO 800 and a good 5 x 7 at ISO 25,600.

ISO 50/100 produce outstandingly large 40 x 60 prints when viewed from a normal distance! This size is pushing the resolution of the 36MP full-frame sensor, but fine detail looks amazing at a typical viewing distance. Looking very closely at the prints at this size you can see a hint of pixelation. However, there's sufficient detail in these files to make wall-mounted prints at 48 x 72 inches! Color rendition also looks fantastic at these low sensitivities.

ISO 200/400 allow for fantastic prints at 30 x 40 inches, and for some conditions even a size larger at 36 x 48 inches, especially for wall-mounted prints. There's lots of fine detail and nice color reproduction at these sensitivity levels, as noise is definitely not an issue.

ISO 800 images look good at 24 x 36 inches. There is practically no noise, even at this sensitivity. There's still a ton of fine detail and excellent colors, though the red fabric area is ever-so-slightly less detailed than ISO 400 at the same print size, but you have to compare them very closely to notice the difference.

ISO 1600 makes a nice 20 x 30 inch print, and noise is still very low (in fact, it still looks practically nonexistent at this size). Colors are still bright, vibrant and accurate, and the level of fine detail is amazing.

ISO 3200 prints look good up to 16 x 20 inches. We start to see some faint noise appearing in the shadow areas, but the rest of the image remains noise-free with an outstanding amount of detail for this ISO level.

ISO 6400 images definitely show some noise with noise reduction smoothing things out just a bit, but the A7R is able to make prints up to 11 x 14 inches with no problem. You might even be able to get away with a 13 x 19-inch print. Fine detail and colors look great and pleasing to the eye.

ISO 12,800 prints look good up to a shockingly large 8 x 10 inches! The A7R is really showing what it's made of. Noise reduction is taking its toll on very fine detail, especially in troublesome areas like the red fabric, but you can still see detail in the mosaic and Pure bottle labels.

ISO 25,600 images normally produce pretty poor prints, but the full-framed A7R makes an acceptable 5 x 7 inch print. Noise reduction does a great job with removing noise, but there's noticeable smoothing of the finer details. However, colors are still bright and natural-looking.

The Sony A7R is able to produce some spectacular printed images, which we expected once we saw them on-screen, and immediately compared them to a medium-format camera! The lower ISOs are able to make some stunningly large prints with tons of fine detail and excellent color reproduction. The 36-megapixel, AA-filter-less, full-frame sensor can even produce large, wall-mountable prints up to 48 x 72 inches! It's surprising how high the sensitivity can get before you start to see noise or noise reduction take its toll on print quality. The A7R is able to make acceptable prints even at the highest ISO values. Overall, the Sony A7R is a powerhouse of a camera, producing some stunning, high quality prints at very large sizes at low ISOs that reach into medium format territory, while simultaneously handling higher ISOs with ease.

 

In the Box

The Sony A7R retail box ships with the following items:

  • Sony A7R camera body
  • Body cap
  • NP-FW50 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack
  • AC-UB10 battery charger (charges in-camera via USB)
  • Hot shoe cap
  • Eyepiece cup
  • Shoulder strap
  • Micro USB cable
  • Instruction manual
  • CD-ROM with Sony PlayMemories Home and Image Data Converter 4 software

 

Recommended Accessories

  • Extra NP-FW50 battery pack for extended outings
  • BC-VW1, BC-QM1, or BC-TRW battery charger (if you want to charge one battery while shooting with another)
  • VG-C1EM vertical grip (if you want portrait-orientation controls, and extended battery life)
  • Large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory card. Given the high resolution and large file sizes of the A7R, 32GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity. If you plan to capture HD movie clips, shoot image bursts, or shoot in RAW format, look for cards with UHS-I markings.
  • LA-EA3 or LA-EA4 lens mount adapters (to use Sony Alpha-mount lenses)
  • External shoe mount flash (HVL-F20M, HVL-F60M, or HVL-F43M), or other accessory flash
  • ADP-MAA shoe mount adapter (if you want to use an older strobe with Sony / Konica Minolta's proprietary shoe, colloquially known as an iISO shoe)
  • AC-PW20AM power supply kit with DC coupler
  • HVL-LEIR1 or HVL-LE1 video light
  • ECM-CG50 mono or ECM-ALST1 / ECM-XYST1M / XLR-KM1 stereo microphone
  • CLM-V55 clip-on LCD monitor
  • RM-VPR1 or RMT-DSLR2 remote commander
  • PCK-LM16 screen protector
  • Medium size camera bag

 

Sony A7R Review -- Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Smallest full-frame, fully-featured interchangeable-lens camera by a country mile
  • Can fit in a coat pocket with lens
  • Superbly detailed out-of-camera images, rivaling medium-format cameras for resolution
  • Some of the best JPEG processing we've seen yet at low to moderate ISOs
  • Excellent sharpness with few sharpening artifacts
  • Extremely high resolution
  • Excellent dynamic range
  • Very good high ISO performance
  • Decent performance, bearing in mind its extremely high resolution
  • Good buffer depths, again bearing in mind its resolution
  • Optimized for new FE-mount full-frame lenses
  • Accepts E-mount lenses natively with optional APS-C crop
  • Accepts Alpha-mount lenses with an adapter
  • DRO helps with high contrast scenes
  • In-camera HDR works well
  • Useful Hand-held Twilight and Anti Motion Blur modes
  • Sweep Panorama
  • Built-in Wi-Fi with NFC
  • Very fast USB download speeds
  • Extreme resolution makes focus, lens quality and technique more critical
  • Very limited selection of native full-frame lenses (but many planned in the next two years)
  • Lack of low-pass filter makes it prone to aliasing artifacts, however the JPEG engine suppresses chrominance moiré quite well
  • High ISO JPEGs can look over-processed
  • Autofocus speeds and shutter lag are a little slower than average compared to most CSCs
  • Sluggish standard burst mode (1.7fps) with AF tracking
  • No continuous autofocus in 4fps burst mode
  • Mediocre battery life with the EVF (270 shots per charge)
  • AF not as good in low-light as most prosumer DSLRs
  • No built-in flash
  • Slow X-sync (1/160s)
  • Loud shutter
  • Menus somewhat disorganized

Five years ago, the mirrorless camera as we know it made its debut as Olympus and Panasonic launched their brand-new Micro Four Thirds standard, promising smaller, lighter, and quieter gear. Sony was quick to see the merits of mirrorless, and its Alpha NEX-branded mirrorless cameras have since become some of the most popular -- and powerful -- in the segment.

For the last half decade, though, something has been missing from the mirrorless world: a full-frame sensor. Sure, Leica has offered full-frame imagers in its M-series mirrorless cameras, but with Leica pricetags and manual focus-only designs, these are niche items. Fans of large-sensor imaging have been champing at the bit for a fully-featured, full-frame mirrorless to call their own. Now it's here, and this time around it's Sony that is showing the way forward for the rest of the industry.

The Sony A7R and its lower-res, faster-performing sibling the A7 represent a revolution not just for the mirrorless segment, but for full-frame photography. They're far and away the smallest fully-featured full-frame cameras money can buy, and for the keen street or travel photographer in particular, they're tremendously exciting. The staff here at Imaging Resource are just as thrilled as you are that the age of the full-frame mirrorless camera is finally here. It's hard to overstate the importance of a full-frame camera you can fit in a coat pocket!

Choosing between the Sony A7R and A7 is a tough task, in part because the cameras are so closely-related that the few differences between the duo are all the more important. The A7 is certainly tempting, with a significantly lower pricetag and greater performance, in part thanks to its hybrid autofocus system. The allure of the Sony A7R's incredibly high-resolution sensor is hard to resist, though -- especially when you realize that it is actually capable of giving medium-format cameras a run for their money.

Is the Sony A7R the perfect camera? Not quite: Just like any camera, it has its occasional shortcomings. In exchange for its stunning resolution and trim body, you'll have to be willing to accept lesser autofocus and burst performance than other similarly-priced cameras. The A7R's shutter mechanism is also surprisingly loud, and the selection of native, full-frame Sony FE lenses is thus far rather modest. (Although many more are planned over the next couple of years.) And honestly, its high resolution is a bit of a double-edged sword, making good focus technique and lens selection extremely critical.

But we think a lot of photographers out there are going to be more than happy to overlook these points. In fact, we reckon Sony has a hit on its hands here, and that the company is going to face a challenge keeping up with the demand. There's simply nothing else on the market to rival the Sony A7R for image quality and feature set in a body even close to this compact, and that makes for one heady mix. It's for that reason that we recently named the Sony A7R our overall Camera of the Year for 2013, and it's likewise a no-brainer as a Dave's Pick.

If you want the ultimate image quality in the smallest possible package, and rangefinder photography isn't for you, stop reading now: The Sony A7R is the camera you need! (If you'd prefer to sacrifice a little resolution for some burst rate, though, you'll want to consider the Sony A7 instead.)

 

Like what you see? Support IR by placing your order with trusted Imaging Resource affiliate Adorama now:

Or with Amazon:

Or with B&H Photo Video:

 

Sony A7R vs. Sony A7 (full editorial comparison)

Sony A7R vs. Fuji X-T1

Sony A7R vs. Olympus E-M1

Print the overview page for the Sony Alpha ILCE-A7R digital camera reviewPrint this Page

Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.

Follow Imaging Resource

Purchase memory card for Sony Alpha ILCE-A7R digital camera
Enter this month to win:

1 $300 Adorama Gift Certificate

2 $200 Adorama Gift Certificate

3 $100 Adorama Gift Certificate