Sony A7R Review
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Sony A7R Image Quality
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Typical saturation levels and hue accuracy.
|In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center. Mouse over the links to compare ISOs.|
Skin tones. The Sony A7R does fairly well with Caucasian skin tones when white balance is adjusted to match the lighting. Brighter flesh tones have a healthy-looking pinkish tint, though darker areas are nudged slightly toward orange. Still, pretty good results here. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.
Hue. Like many cameras, the Sony A7R pushes cyan toward blue, red toward orange, orange toward yellow and yellow toward green, but shifts are relatively minor. (The cyan to blue shift is actually fairly minor and very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors.) With an average "delta-C" color error of 5.01 after correction for saturation at base ISO, overall hue accuracy is about average, with accuracy only moderately lower at higher ISOs. Hue is "what color" the color is.
The Sony A7R has a total of seven saturation settings available, three above and three below the default saturation. This covers a pretty wide range of saturation levels. Saturation also has little effect on contrast, which is how it should work. Good job, Sony.
|Saturation Adjustment Examples|
The table above shows results with five of the seven saturation settings, including the default and the two extremes. Click on any thumbnail above, then click again to see the full-sized image.
|See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Warm casts with Auto and Incandescent white balance settings, good with Manual, and a touch cool with the Kelvin setting. Slightly above average exposure compensation required.
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance is a bit too warm and orange with the Auto white balance setting, though results here are slightly better than average. Results with the Incandescent setting are better but still somewhat warm and orange/yellow. The Manual setting is quite accurate, just slightly on the cool side. The 2,600 Kelvin setting which should match the color temperature of our lights is too cool and bluish. The Sony A7R required +0.7 EV positive exposure compensation here, while the average for this shot is +0.3 EV. (Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.)
Excellent results under harsh lighting, with very good handling of contrast, color, and exposure.
|Manual White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
Outdoors, the Sony A7R performed very well. +0.7 EV exposure compensation was required to keep the mannequin's face bright in our "Sunlit" Portrait shot, which is average among the cameras we've tested. (Actually, in fully automatic mode, exposure is bright without any compensation so the A7R performs better than average here in full Auto mode.) Contrast is a little high as you might expect under such harsh lighting, but the camera does a great job of holding onto detail in both the shadows and bright highlights, even without the help of DRO. We preferred Manual color balance for the "Portrait" shot though, as Auto white balance produced skintones that were a touch too warm and yellow. Default exposure is quite good for our Far-field shot, with very few highlights blown again with DRO disabled. There are some dark shadows, but they're generally pretty clean with just a little posterization at the darkest levels. The Far-field shot with Auto white balance has very good color, just a touch cool. Overall, great performance in harsh lighting, especially considering DRO was off for these shots.
Extremely high resolution, ~3,400 to ~3,500 lines of strong detail.
|Strong detail to
~3,500 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
~3,400 lines vertical
|Strong detail to
~3,500 lines horizontal
ACR converted RAW
|Strong detail to
~3,400 lines vertical
ACR converted RAW
In-camera JPEGs of our laboratory resolution chart reveal sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 3,500 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction and to about 3,400 lines per picture height in the vertical direction. Some may argue for higher numbers, but aliasing artifacts start to interfere at this resolution. Complete extinction of the pattern didn't occur before the limits of our chart (4,000 lines per picture height) in both directions. Adobe Camera Raw wasn't able to extract more resolution here from matching RAW files, but it produced a lot more color moiré in the process. (The Sony A7R's color moiré suppression seems to work exceptionally well.) Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.
Sharpness & Detail
Phenomenal detail and sharpness, with very few sharpening artifacts. Mild noise suppression visible in the shadows and areas of low contrast.
|Excellent definition of
high-contrast elements with very low sharpening artifacts.
|Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast.
Sharpness. The Sony A7R captures incredibly sharp, crisp and detailed images overall, and it doesn't leave behind heavy sharpening halos around edges with high contrast that we often see around the lines and letters of our bottle label crop (above left). The A7R's RAW images don't need a lot of sharpening because of the lack on an optical low pass filter, but Sony really has done an excellent job with the A7R's JPEG processing as well. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.
Detail. The crop above right shows fairly mild noise suppression in the darker areas of the model's hair. A number of low-contrast strands are smudged together, though higher contrast strands are distinct, though as you can see some suffer from the "jaggies" (see below). Still, excellent results here considering the resolution. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.
Aliasing artifacts. As mentioned previously the Sony A7R captures incredibly sharp, detailed images thanks to its very high resolution, lack of an optical low pass filter and excellent JPEG processing, but that means it's also more susceptible to moiré and other aliasing artifacts than most cameras when used with a sharp lens.
As you can see in the crop on the right, there are odd demosaicing errors in our mannequin's hair as well as the "jaggies" in some individual strands. In our Still Life shots (see crops below), moiré patterns can be seen in the red-leaf fabric and in the Samuel Smith bottle label, and you can see moiré in some other shots as well, such as in the artificial roses of our Indoor Portrait test shots.
With the increasing trend of using either a very weak or no optical low pass filter, quite a few cameras produce similar artifacts these days, and the Sony A7R's JPEG processing engine actually does a good job at suppressing chrominance moiré. But luminance moiré is more difficult to deal with and something to be aware of especially if you shoot a lot of man-made subjects with repeating patterns, such as buildings, fabrics, etc. Techniques than can be used to reduce aliasing include shooting at a smaller aperture so that lens diffraction acts as an anti-alias filter, defocusing slightly, shooting at higher ISOs, and post-processing particularly with RAW files.
RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Sony A7R produces in-camera JPEGs with loads of crisp detail. Additional detail can often be obtained from carefully processing RAW files with a good converter, but the A7R's JPEG processing is some of the best we've seen from a camera, at least at lower ISOs. Let's see how Sony's bundled IDC software and Adobe Camera Raw compare:
In the table above, mousing over a link at the bottom will load the corresponding crops in the areas above, and clicking on the link will load the full resolution image. Examples include (from left to right): an in-camera Extra Fine JPEG at default camera settings and base ISO, a matching RAW file processed through Sony's bundled Image Data Converter 4 software at default settings, and finally the same RAW file converted with Adobe Camera Raw 8.3, then sharpened in Photoshop using unsharp mask at 200% with radius 0.3.
As you can see, the Sony IDC conversion at default settings is noticeably softer than the in-camera JPEG at default settings. IDC also applies more chroma noise reduction by default, removing much of the color that's actually in the mosaic tiles. The Adobe Camera Raw conversion shows the most detail revealing even more of the threads in our challenging red-leaf fabric, but it also reveals a bit more luminance noise in flat areas. You can always turn up the luminance noise reduction (default of zero was used here), though.
Bottom line: although Adobe Camera Raw is able to extract a bit more detail, the Sony A7R's JPEG engine does a fantastic job, with a great balance of fine, crisp detail, low noise, and low sharpening artifacts straight out of the camera.
ISO & Noise Performance
Very good high ISO performance, especially considering the resolution.
Default High ISO Noise Reduction
|ISO 50||ISO 100||ISO 200|
|ISO 400||ISO 800||ISO 1600|
|ISO 3200||ISO 6400||ISO 12,800|
The Sony A7R's JPEG images are quite clean and extremely detailed at ISO 50-200, with just minor smudging in the shadows and in areas of low contrast. As mentioned previously, there are demosaicing errors in the hair above the mannequin's forehead and some individual strands of hair exhibit the jaggies, but surprisingly there's no color moiré in the jacket where we normally expect to see it from cameras without an OLPF. You can however see a little luminance moiré in the artificial roses. ISO 400 is actually a little cleaner, with just a slight increase in smudging but lower chroma noise thanks to stronger noise reduction, but fine detail is still excellent. ISO 800 is slightly softer though fine detail is still very good. ISO 1600 still holds on to pretty good detail, but the effects of noise reduction start to become more apparent, giving images a more processed look. ISO 3200 and above appear progressively noisier and processed, until almost all fine detail in the hair is lost at ISO 25,600, though there's probably enough detail left to make a usable small print. The highest ISOs look heavily processed, giving images a painted or crystalline look while abrupt tonal transitions and edges look rough and haloed as the processor's area-specific algorithms struggle to maintain high-contrast detail. Chroma noise is generally very well controlled, however at ISO 6400 we start to see some noticeable chroma noise in the form of purple and yellow blotches, which of course becomes worse at higher ISOs.
Overall, though, very good noise versus sensitivity performance especially considering the resolution offered, though noise reduction processing could be less heavy-handed at higher ISOs, especially for this class of camera. As always, see the Print Quality section below for maximum recommended print sizes at each ISO.
A note about focus for this shot: We shoot this image at f/4 since the scene isn't brightly lit as it's in typical indoor lighting. To insure that the hair detail we use for making critical judgements about camera noise processing and detail rendering is in sharp focus at the relatively wide aperture we're shooting at, the focus target at the center of the scene is on a movable stand. This lets us compensate for front- or back-focus by different camera bodies, even those that lack micro-focus adjustments. This does mean, though, that the focus target itself may appear soft or slightly out of focus for bodies that front- or back-focused with the reference lens. We know this; if you click to view the full-size image for one of these shots and notice that the focus target is fuzzy, you don't need to email and tell us. :-) The focus target position will have been adjusted to insure that the rest of the scene is focused properly.
Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range and low light tests
Very high resolution with excellent highlight and shadow detail. Very good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.
|+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV||+1.0 EV|
Sunlight. The Sony A7R handled the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above very well. We preferred the +0.7 EV exposure here, as the +0.3 EV exposure is a touch dim in the face while the +1.0 EV exposure is a bit too bright. Contrast is a little high, but shadow and highlight detail are both very good. Despite the bright appearance, few highlights are blown in the model's shirt and face at +0.7 EV, though the red channel is clipped in some of the flowers as is often the case, and in specular highlights where you'd expect clipping. There are some dark shadows however they're pretty clean, though very deep shadows are posterized. That's not really an issue except perhaps for those trying to recover a severely underexposed image. Overall, excellent performance here.
For best results, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible. See below for results with Dynamic Range Optimization and High Dynamic Range features enabled.
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here. In actual shooting conditions, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown here; it's better to shoot in open shade whenever possible.)
|Aperture Priority, 0 EV
Face Detection Off
|Aperture Priority, 0 EV
Face Detection On
Like most cameras these days, the Sony A7R has the ability to detect faces (up to 8 in a scene), and adjust exposure and focus accordingly. As you can see from the examples above, face detection improved default exposure in both Aperture Priority at f/8, and in full Auto mode where the camera had control over aperture and automatically applied DRO. Nice.
We really like it when a camera gives us the ability to adjust contrast and saturation to our liking. It's even better when those adjustments cover a useful range, in steps small enough to allow for precise tweaks. Just as with its saturation adjustment, the Sony A7R's contrast setting meets both challenges.
|Contrast set to lowest,
|Contrast set to lowest,
At its lowest contrast setting, the A7R does a really excellent job of toning down highlights and opening up shadows while maintaining fairly natural-looking skin tones. Very good results here.
|Contrast Adjustment Examples|
The table above shows five of the seven contrast setting, including the default and two extremes. It's pretty hard to evaluate small differences in contrast on small thumbnails like these, so click on any thumbnail to go to the full-size image.
The Sony A7R's contrast adjustment has only a minor effect on color saturation. Contrast and saturation are actually fairly closely coupled, it's a good trick to be able to vary one without the other changing as well. Sony did a good job here.
Outdoor Portrait DRO Comparison
Dynamic Range Optimization is Sony's name for their dynamic range enhancement technology. DRO divides the image into small areas, analyzes the range of brightness of each area, and adjusts the camera's image processing parameters accordingly to make the best use of the available dynamic range. Auto DRO is enabled by default on the Sony A7R. You can also set the level manually, from 1 ("weak") to 5 ("strong"), or turn it off. As one would expect, DRO is only available for JPEG files.
The above thumbnails and histograms show the effects of the various levels of DRO on our "Sunlit" Portrait shot with no exposure compensation. Mouse over the links on the right to load the associated thumbnail and histogram, and click on the link to visit the full resolution image. As you can see from the thumbnails and associated histograms, increasing DRO progressively boosts shadows and midtones while leaving highlights essentially intact. The Auto setting did a pretty good job overall, and the five manual levels give quite a bit of control over the effect.
Above, you can see the effect of DRO settings on our Far-field shot. The default Auto setting produced a nicely balanced exposure, despite the harsh lighting. A useful feature.
High Dynamic Range. The Sony A7R's HDR mode takes three images in rapid succession, one nominally exposed , one underexposed, and one overexposed, then combines them into one high dynamic range JPEG automatically. Lighter areas from the underexposed image are combined in-camera with darker areas from the overexposed image to produce an image with compressed dynamic range. The camera then saves a single composite image, as well as the nominally exposed image. The overlaid images are micro-aligned by the camera, but it can only correct for so much movement. If it can't micro-align successfully, an icon indicating HDR capture failed will appear. For best results, the subject should not move or even blink, so it's not really intended for portraits. There is also a manual mode where you can select 1 EV ("weak") to 6 EV ("strong") difference in exposures.
Mouse over the links to load the associated thumbnail and histogram, and click on the link to visit the full resolution image. As you can see, the Auto setting did a pretty good job, similar to the 4 EV manual setting. The higher the manual setting, the more highlights were toned-down and shadows opened up, but higher settings can produce flat and unnatural results with this scene, with significant "haloing". Still, Sony has one of the better in-camera HDR implementations we've seen.
Above, you can see the effect of HDR settings on our Far-field shot. Watch out for ghost images from subject movement during the capture sequence, though, as can be seen in some of the shots above.
Dynamic Range Analysis (RAW mode)
While we once performed our own dynamic range measurements based on in-camera JPEGs as well as converted RAW images (when the camera was supported by Adobe Camera Raw), we've switched to using DxO Labs' results from their DxOMark website. As technology advanced, the dynamic range of modern high-end cameras in some cases exceeded the range of the Stouffer T4110 density scale that we used for our own measurements. DxO's approach based on RAW data before demosaicing is also more revealing, because it measures the fundamental dynamic range of the sensor, irrespective of whatever processing is applied to JPEGs, or to RAW data by off-the-shelf conversion software.
In the following, we use DxO's "Print" dynamic range results, which are scaled based on camera resolution. As the name suggests, this scaling corresponds to the situation in which you print at a given size, regardless of how many megapixels the camera might have. (In other words, if you've decided to make a 13x19 inch print, that's the size you're printing, whether the camera's resolution is 16 or 300 megapixels.) For the technically-minded, you can find a discussion of the reasoning behind this here on the DxOMark website. Also note that DxO Labs uses a signal-to-noise (SNR) threshold of 1 when defining the lower boundary of acceptable luminance noise in their dynamic range measurements, which corresponds to the "Low Quality" threshold of the Imatest software we used to use for this measurement.
Here, we compare the Sony A7R to the Nikon D800E and Canon 5D Mark III full-frame DSLRs. As you can see from the above graph (click for a larger image), the A7R's dynamic range compares nicely to the D800E's, ranging from a maximum of about 14.1 EV at base ISO down to 7.5 EV at maximum ISO, while remaining within 1/3 EV at all but the ISO 200 setting where the Nikon manages about 2/3 EV more. The A7R's dynamic range is however dramatically better than the 5D Mark III's at lower ISOs with up to 21/3 EV more at base ISO, though at ISO 1600 and above, all three cameras perform essentially the same. Keep in mind these are resolution-normalized results, so the Canon 5D Mark III's lower 22-megapixel resolution puts it at a slight disadvantage compared to the two 36-megapixel models just based on resolution alone. Bottom line, though, the Sony A7R's dynamic range in RAW data is outstanding. Click here to visit the DxOMark page for the Sony A7R for more of their test results and additional comparisons.
Low Light. The Sony A7R performed well in our low light tests, producing usable images down to the lowest light level we test at (1/16 fc) at all ISO settings, though ISO 50 at the lowest light level is a little dim because of the 30 second shutter speed limit (bulb mode can be used for longer exposures, though). Noise is very well controlled up to ISO 6,400, though as expected, at higher ISOs there are moderate amounts of fine luminance noise and some blotchy chroma noise in darker areas. With noise reduction minimized (right-most column), noise "grain" is very fine and tight and not objectionable except at the highest ISOs.
Auto white balance did a very good job here, producing a fairly neutral, just slightly cool color balance. We didn't detect any significant issues with hot pixels or banding, however some minor heat blooming can be seen emanating from the bottom of the frame in longer exposures at the highest ISOs. That's not unusual, though.
It's interesting to note that the Sony A7R's color moiré suppression seems to vary with light levels, as we see more false colors in the resolution target at lower light levels at low ISO levels, though the trend reverses at higher sensitivities likely do to more aggressive chroma noise processing.
The Sony A7R's autofocus system was able to focus on our target down to about 1/10 foot-candle light level unassisted with an f/2.8 lens, and was able to focus in complete darkness with its built-in focus assist lamp enabled. Very good results for a mirrorless camera, though not quite as good as many DSLRs with dedicated AF sensors.
How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.
NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Thanks to their larger sensors, compact system cameras like the Sony A7R tend to do better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)
|Low Light (1 foot-candle) Multi-frame NR|
|Default NR, 1/160s, ISO 25,600||Multi-frame NR, 1/160s, ISO 25,600|
Multi-frame Noise Reduction. This feature is similar to Sony's Hand-held Twilight mode which shoots a burst of four images with a single press of the shutter button and combines all four images into one composite image with reduced noise. But unlike Hand-held Twilight, Multi-frame NR gives you control over the ISO, aperture and shutter speed used, so you may still need to use a tripod depending on the exposure parameters you select. (We frankly don't see the value to this mode when using a tripod, as selecting a lower ISO and longer shutter speed will produce a cleaner image as well.) As you can see, the image captured with Multi-frame Noise Reduction (right) is cleaner than the standard image (left) despite both being shot at ISO 25,600. An added bonus is that ISO 51,200 equivalent is available with MF NR. As with HDR mode, though, static subjects are recommended.
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 produces 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 ISOs.
ISO 200/400 allows 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 ISO 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 ISO. 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.
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 the digital images and immediately compared it 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 36MP AA-filter-less full-frame sensor can even produce large, wall-mountable prints up to 48 x 72 inches! It's surprising how high ISO 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.
Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 Mark II studio printer, and the Canon Pixma MP610 here in the office. (See the Canon Pixma Pro9000 Mark II review for details on that model.)
The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Sony Alpha ILCE-A7R Photo Gallery.
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Sony Alpha ILCE-A7R with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!
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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.
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