The Sony a7cR is a camera that I didn’t believe would actually be a real thing. But indeed, it is. It’s actually a pretty great camera overall — however targeted at an audience that, well, I’m scratching my head about that statement. I can’t really say that it’s targeted at a more entry-level audience. And what you probably won’t believe is that my uncertainty mainly comes from the lack of one very important feature. This feature is a very divisive one and has become even more so with the way that Sony’s autofocus algorithms work.
I’m talking about a joystick. Like the Leica Q3, Sony forgot to put a joystick in. As you’ll read in the review, it affects how you do nearly everything with the camera when it comes to doing serious photography.
Table of Contents
The Big Picture
The Sony a7cR is a camera that I’m not overwhelmed or underwhelmed by — instead, I’m just whelmed. Every modern camera can shoot great photos, so image quality here is really a negligible issue. With a 60MP full-frame sensor, you’re going to be able to make some of the best prints you’ve ever made with this camera’s output. The colors, depth, and dynamic range are all truly fantastic. As a TIPA member, the Phoblographer has a special relationship with DXOMark, and you can see that the Sony a7r V (the camera the a7cR shares internals with) is still very highly rated.
However, the Sony a7cR should be truly relegated to slower work. For photographers that have been around for a while, think of the Sony a7cR as more of the 5D Mk II instead of the D700. The higher megapixel camera body can surely perform well, but it’s best relegated to slower subjects. For newer photographers, know that we’re currently in a phase where things have returned to how they were in 2009. High megapixel camera bodies truly can’t autofocus all that well with the exception of the Sony a1. Of course, if you wait a little bit, that barrier will be smashed.
Part of this comes from the lack of a joystick and how you need to interact with the camera to get the photos you want.
We’re giving the Sony a7cR three out of five stars. We expected more — not to feel like a billion-dollar company is putting a pay gate on our creative potential. Still, though, this is my favorite Sony camera thus far because it’s a rangefinder-style body — I just wish it wasn’t treated like an afterthought.
- It’s a nice shutter sound similar to a rangefinder camera
- The menu screen can be enlarged, and that’s awesome
- The touchscreen menu’s ability to navigate quickly nearly rivals Canon now. But it’s still not as fast to navigate. It’s nearly tied with Panasonic’s and Nikon’s now.
- Taking off setting-effect preview majorly improves autofocus. It’s like it’s a totally different camera. It’s good enough for street photography, then.
- The high ISO output is pretty darned good.
- The image quality is beautiful.
- It’s so compact and nice!
- There’s a silver variant!
- Only 1/4000 shutter speed max mechanical
- The EVF isn’t as nice as many other newer cameras.
- There’s banding for sure at high ISOs
- You can miss shots in low light with exposure preview mode on.
- Battery life is greatly affected by the weather and how hot or cold it is.
- Taking off the live view setting effect also greatly improves the battery life.
- Not having a joystick is pretty annoying.
- Single card slot. Years ago, Sony said that they couldn’t put two card slots into a Sony a7 model. But they figured it out. Here, I think they’re just purposely holding back.
We tested the loaner Sony a7cR unit with a slew of lenses that we own. We sued the Sony 55mm f1.8, 35mm f1.8, 85mm f1.8, Tamron 150-500mm (a loaner), Tamron 70-300mm, and Tamron 35-150mm. We also used it with the Profoto B10 and the Godox 685s.
The Sony a7cR feels very much like a Sony camera. That’s not to say that it’s a bad thing, but it feels unlike anything else on the market. When you hold it, it doesn’t feel like most other cameras. Of course, the Sony a7cR is based on the a6000 series for the body and the a7 series for the internals and performance. It’s lightweight and, overall, feels like a great camera to use. But it could’ve been far better served with a joystick.
The Sony a7cR is said to have comparable build quality to something akin to the Sony a7r V. And in my tests, I didn’t totally see that. I used a variety of different lenses with the camera, and only found that when I attached Tamron’s lenses to the camera that it was weather resistant to the conditions that I love shooting in. When I used Sony’s lenses, I would get an error on the screen that said that the attached accessory wasn’t supported. But I’d still be able to intermittently shoot. When I used Tamron’s lenses, however, the durability was akin to what I’d get from other brands.
I was curious about this as previously, I didn’t have much of this problem with these lenses in the past – especially my 35mm f1.8. But when I went back to my review, I could now see that there was indeed a problem. I’ve asked weather-sealing questions of Sony in the past, and they’re honestly pretty awful at giving me worthwhile answers. Further, no one wants to go on record with the claims. So the bigger problem here is the lack of a rubber gasket at the back of the lens.
Luckily, dust isn’t a problem when you turn the camera off to change the lenses as long as you set up the shutter down when powering off function.
Besides the durability issues, the Sony a7c R feels like a camera that I’d want to bring with me everywhere. But the issue of not having a joystick really makes using the camera annoying at times.
Amazingly, it’s well-balanced with big Tamron zoom lenses and with smaller Sony prime lenses. It could surely work well enough to be a main camera or a backup camera body.
Ease of Use
There are a few schools of thought here. Sony’s cameras can be set to auto wide-area autofocus with scene detection on. If you’re doing this, then the Sony a7cR can perform quite well. But it gets annoying. For example, if you want to photograph birds, the easiest way to do this is by setting the camera’s autofocus to tracking and using the center focusing point. Then you focus the camera and recompose. I found this to be a problem when photographing birds and when I wanted to shoot a slice of pizza – when the camera otherwise wanted to focus on the person in the background.
Otherwise, you can use the touchscreen in the tap-to-focus and shoot feature. However, if you want to save battery life, you won’t really use the screen at all. You could also set up something like the middle button of the circle on the back to switch the focusing point. It then starts to feel like the focus setup is from the original Sony a7. Either way, it can be a bit annoying if you want to do serious work with this camera – especially as it tends to need help figuring out what to focus on in low-light events with fast-moving subjects. Many times I really just wanted to reach for my Sony a7r III instead.
If you’re an advanced shooter, the Sony a7cR isn’t as simple to use as the higher-end Sony a7 camera models because of the lack of buttons and controls. And truly, I think that there is enough real estate space for them to add more stuff. A joystick, perhaps more than anything else, would’ve solved all of this. I didn’t need a back-focus button, and most photographers don’t, either.
Why couldn’t they sacrifice that?
This, perhaps more than anything else, is the biggest frustration for me – enough to make me not want to purchase the camera. Additionally, my unit had a pre-production firmware issue where when I closed the LCD screen into the camera body, it wouldn’t automatically activate the EVF. Instead, I’d need to autofocus to seemingly wake it up from sleep mode. I’m calling this a pre-production firmware issue because I expect better from Sony here, and hopefully, it won’t be a problematic issue for customers.
If you’re visually impaired the way that I am, it’s nice that Sony’s menu system is now seemingly easier to navigate with a few taps of the screen. It’s far more responsive than it used to be, and it can even be enlarged for you to read it easier.
Something that I’m very happy about is the image stabilization. It’s quite good, and you can make it seem not so great intentionally if you wish. Any time that we had camera blur was because of the subject moving — and it surely wasn’t due to camera shake.
For a major portion of this camera test, I set the camera to have the Live View setting effect activated. The way that I personally shoot negates this totally. I know that other reviewers and even working photographers love using that feature. But I’ve always felt that it held me back when focusing. And indeed, that was the case in a whole different way with the Sony a7cr.
Can it also nail some great street photographs? Totally.
Can it yield so much more when the Live View setting effect is turned off, even in Aperture priority? Oh yes. Turning this feature off made it feel like a completely different camera and made using it so much more enjoyable. Where the Sony a7cr isn’t so great, though, is with continually focusing on subjects as they and you both move. To be specific here, it can get them in focus for a shot or so. But it can’t keep them in focus for more than a frame when you’re in low-light situations. It’s better at this task if the person doesn’t have heavy amounts of melanin in their skin and if there isn’t a lot of one specific non-neutral light color.
Some might say that that’s because of the megapixels, but that’s also not the case with the Sony a7r III – which I still believe to be the best camera that Sony made alongside the Sony a1. It was great back then, and even today, I have friends who are Sony Artisans that are impressed at how much faster that camera was.
More importantly, the Sony a7cR is a play on the Sony a7r V. That camera uses the same sensor as its predecessor, so why can’t the autofocus dramatically improve at this point? We shouldn’t be making excuses for billion-dollar companies here. It should have comparable autofocus performance to a Sony a7 IV at this point with all the tech that they threw into these cameras.
In low light when shooting an event, the Sony a7rC has a very good hit rate if you’re photographing folks with lighter skin, but even so, it’s still not what I’m used to from many other Sony cameras. And even those can’t compete with Canon or the new firmware on the Nikon Z9 and Z8.
Can the camera focus accurately on POCs in low light? Intermittently – if they’re not moving around a whole lot, then it has an easier time vs. if they’re standing in the same area. This is a problem that I’ve told Sony about and have written about many times on this website.
In summary, turn off the exposure preview mode. It’s seriously not worth it – and a part of me wishes that people just learned to read the light meter instead. The histogram is becoming less relevant with how good modern post-production software and camera sensors are.
Luckily for street photographers, the Sony a7cr is going to make you very happy when it comes to metering. If you’re shooting in manual mode, the light meter completely checks out when you base it against a film camera and Sunny 16. In fact, this meter has to be one of the best that we’ve ever seen. But otherwise, in aperture priority, the Sony a7cr can be a bit odd with its metering choices on the street.
The Sony a7cr has comparable image quality to the Sony a7r V. That’s to say overall that it’s very good when you’re looking for really detailed photos and great color or dynamic range. But I wish that Sony had made the ISO go even lower natively.
The JPEGs overall are pretty beautiful and can be even more so if you’re using Sony’s special color profiles. This helps to give character to the photos when it’s really desperately needed. Tamron and Zeiss lenses can help with this. But Zeiss lenses also still have a few problems with this camera.
Raw File Versatility
We haven’t been able to test the RAW files yet. So we’ll update this section when we get a moment.
High ISO Output
The high ISO output from this camera is pretty good from what we’re seeing. You’ll get banding in the electronic shutter mode at high ISOs when shooting at a fast shutter speed, though. And we’re thus far basing this assessment on the JPEG output. We’ll see what the RAWs look like when they get support.
Extra Image Samples
From day one, The Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.
Who Should Buy the Sony a7c R?
This is a tough question to answer for several reasons. In some ways, I feel Sony is holding back in the same way that Canon used to. In other ways, this camera can surely make a lot of photographers very happy.
If you’re doing work that’s slower like portraits or landscapes, get the Sony a7c R. If you’re doing street photography, get this camera. But don’t expect it to perform if you need super fast autofocus speed for events in low light.
- 61MP full-frame CMOS R sensor
- BIONZ XR processor
- 15+ stops of dynamic range
- Dedicated AI processing unit
- 693 autofocus points
- 8fps in mechanical shutter mode
- 16 bit RAW output
- All the AI of the Sony a7r V