Last Updated on 12/16/2013 by Chris Gampat
Behold: the single mirrorless camera that is probably making Canon, Nikon and Fujifilm shake with fear. Sony’a A7r is a beauty and a beast at the same time. Every time you fire the camera, you’ll hear its loud shutter. If you’re a medium format camera lover, this will come as a welcome relief. Overall, the camera is also quite excellent in its design and image quality, but there is really just one massive flaw to it.
Pros and Cons
– Exceptional image quality
– Great ergonomics
– Sony does what we’ve always wanted: shutter, aperture and ISO control dials
– Gorgeous screen
– Super versatile RAW files. It isn’t possible to mess up your images and not save them if you’re careful
– Can easily be given to someone that knows nothing about shooting when in program mode and great images can be taken
– Those dials though…
– Weather sealing
– That shutter sound brings us back to the medium format day. It’s gloriously loud.
– We’ve screamed, “Focus goddamn you!” more than we’ve ever wanted to
– Why the hell is there a green auto mode if they’re targeting pros? Seriously, keep your filthy hands off this camera if you don’t need it.
The Sony A7r was tested with the 35mm f2.8, 55mm f1.8, and the Sony Zeiss 50mm f1.4. We also used PocketWizard Plus III transceivers and the LumoPro LP-180
Tech specs for the Sony A7r were taken from B&H Photo Video’s listing
- 36.4MP Full Frame Exmor CMOS Sensor
- No Optical Low-Pass Filter
- Gapless On-Chip Lens Design
- BIONZ X Image Processor
- Direct Compatibility with E-mount Lenses
- 3.0″ Tiltable TFT LCD with 1,229K-Dots
- 2.4M-Dot OLED Electronic Viewfinder
- Full 1080/60p Video with Remote Capture
- Built-In Wi-Fi and NFC
- Multi-Interface Shoe
The Sony A7r is a camera with a heck of a lot of guts. To be clear, it’s weather sealed and houses a full frame sensor–which is something no one else has done before. Sony has tried to make it appeal to both pros and high end enthusiasts as much as they can. With that said, the front of the camera is nearly devoid of controls with the exception of a lens release button. On top of that, there is also the shutter control dial near the front.
When you look at the top, you’ll notice that Sony put all the controls on the right hand side. These controls are the mode dial, shutter release, on/off switch, custom function 1, exposure compensation dial, and the shutter dial if you program it to be tat. Then there is the hot shoe. The left has no controls whatsoever.
When you come around to the back of the camera, you’ll find the EVF, tilting LCD screen, menu button, custom function buttons, aperture dial, ISO dial, four way controls, and lots more. Plus there is a switch to go between manual focus/autofocus, or auto exposure lock.
This giant screen isn’t touch capable; but for what it’s worth we spent most of the time looking through the big, gorgeous viewfinder.
The right side of the camera has a door for the SD card–which is locked into position very well.
The bottom of the camera is where you’ll find the tripod socket and a battery door. For what it’s worth, that door came open way too often for our liking.
Not only does the Sony A7r feel great in the hand, but it also is quite durable. The camera has weather sealing incorporated in it and not a single piece of it feels flimsy. The only complaint we have has to do with the battery door compartment opening a bit more than we’d like it to. Additionally, it tended to open without us even knowing.
For what it’s worth, we took the camera out into a sleet storm and shot at a dock in Brooklyn. The camera performed admirably in terms of reliability. What shocked me even more was that even with a PocketWizard Plus III in the hot shoe, the camera suffered from no issues. To complete the weather sealing, one would need to either cover the shoe totally or use a flash that had weather sealing built in. However, PocketWizards aren’t weather sealed units.
We either got lucky, or Sony’s design is really just that good.
And here is where we get to the most frustrating part of this review.
The A7r’s autofocus at times made me want to scream and beg for the bloody murder of kittens, corgis and baby bunnies to the Sony gods to ensure that it would focus. Seriously, I’m not kidding a single bit about that statement. Consistently, the contrast AF of this camera annoyed me. Many times I would shoot in either low light or high contrast/back lit situations and the focusing performance failed more often than any other camera that we’ve tested here at the site.
Granted, when used with the Sony 50mm f1.4 and the new adapter for Alpha to E mount, the focusing became spot on and snappy. Indeed, this is the best way to get the greatest autofocusing performance out of this camera. Otherwise, you’ll want to scream. But if you’re going to attach a DSLR sized lens to the camera, then you almost might as well get a DSLR because the adapter isn’t weather sealed. In real life practice, we actually found it to be problematic when we were on the Sony Press trip to Nashville, TN.
To clarify, we used the wide focusing method, center, and the small, medium and large moveable spot usage. The best performance came from using medium because it gave a good balance of accurate focusing and speed. Small gave the most accurate focusing with speed equivalent to the length of time that it takes to pour a glass of Guinness beer correctly–my beer lover will totally understand. Obviously that is an exaggeration, but sometimes it felt like an eternity.
Why not use the center focusing point and recompose you say? Because when you do this you throw off the entire focusing plane.
We had these issues during our first testings with the camera, and the only thing that seems to have improved is the manual focusing with peaking. Otherwise, we’re not totally sure why Sony gave this camera only contrast focusing when focusing over such a large area is going to be quite slow and many times inaccurate.
If you want to use it for street photography, sometimes it will work–but you’re far better off using a manual focus lens and the zone focusing system. Otherwise, this focusing is really best for portraits and landscapes.
Ease of Use
If you’re not used to Sony’s interface or philosophy of layout, then this camera may take a while to get used to. There are lots of buttons and dials indeed. Plus the menu system can be quite deep. But once you get it in your hands and configure it to just the way you want, you’ll realize that this camera is actually very intuitive. Once again though, we recommend that you have patience.
What we’re super hyped to report though is that the camera’s second curtain shutter function works with PocketWizards. Thank heavens! We finally have a mirrorless camera that doesn’t have any issues with it–and it’s a full frame option! Fujifilm, Olympus, and Pansonic all have this problem.
Beyond this, one of the coolest things about the camera is the fact that there is built-in WiFi–and so you can instantly transmit images from your camera to your phone or tablet after you’ve shot them.
According to Sunny 16 tests, this camera focuses spot on when it comes to metering. The reason for this could be the fact that it has a modified D800E camera sensor.
For the absolute best metering performance though, we highly recommend using spot metering.
Overall, the single strongest quality about the Sony A7r is its image quality. Pixel for pixel, it resolves so much detail. Granted, you’ll need to work to get it in focus to begin with but once you do, you’ll be singing praises. We also really digg the color rendition, the camera’s high ISO output, and just how versatile the RAW files are.
Pros and enthusiasts alike will really appreciate this. But by all means, this is a studio camera or a landscape camera. If anything, we think that you should think of this camera like the Canon 5D Mk II: it was an excellent camera but the autofocus was lacking.
High ISO Output
The above photo was shot at ISO 8,000. With a bit of Lightroom editing (and we really do mean a bit) we were able to create a perfectly usable image. In many situations, we don’t see why one would need to go above 6400 ISO, but it’s nice to know that you can with confidence.
RAW File Versatility
What you don’t know about this image is that the man’s coat is actually the center point of my exposure–which lead to the highlights in the sky being totally blown out. With a touch of some Lightroom editing, the skies came back with no problems. In fact, we were able to pull it back three stops with no problems.
In real life use, we highly doubt that we’d ever be off by more than three stops–otherwise you’ll be in a serious metering blunder.
Despite many of our complaints about the camera’s autofocusing, we really have to hand it to Sony with this one: they did a fantastic job. Where else can you get a weather sealed mirrorless full frame camera with autofocus? The sensor and build quality combined with the relatively intuitive interface is phenomenal and putting this much power into the hands of money is actually a bit crazy–especially at this price point.
Sony is receiving the Editor’s Choice award out of the pure innovation that was put into this product; but we need to warn you again about the autofocusing. If you’re adapting all of your legacy glass over to it, you won’t need to worry about that problem at all. The image quality, more than anything else, is what also makes us smitten for the A7r.
– Sony 55mm f1.8: This lens is really the star of the lineup at the moment. Though I’m personally one to prefer the 35mm field of view, the 55mm has my heart.
– Sony LA-EA4: This adapter is essential to adapt Sony Alpha lenses onto it. For what it’s worth though, go buy Sigma lenses in Alpha mount and use them instead.
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