Sony a7R Review

Introduction

Sony’s NEX lineup earned a solid fan-based during it’s time. And with the release of Sony’s a7 lineup, fans now have several full-frame flavors at their disposal. Initially released in the fall of 2013, Sony’s A7R was their second full-frame mirrorless offering in the new alpha lineup.

And it was Sony’s first attempt at redefining the capabilities of mirrorless cameras, with the debut of a 36MP super high-resolution sensor. It’s a camera aimed at the high-end user looking for maximum resolution and resolving power. But, one that aims to be a more travel-friendly DSLR alternative without any compromises in quality. It also doubles as another option in their lineup to match the industry standards in super-high-resolution imaging.

Sony aims this camera as a competitor to Canon’s 5D Mark III and Nikon’s D800E. But, can this small, lightweight mirrorless camera take on the likes of these DSLR kings? Let’s find out.

sony-a7r-mirrorless-camera-review

 

What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Sony a7R? 

Pros:

Image Quality

It features a 36.4MP Exmor CMOS sensor with an aliasing filter (Optical Low Pass) and the Bionz X image processor, a 50% increase in resolution over the base model. And the image quality this combination produces is on a high level. The images offer extraordinary detail, and the lack of an AA filter does wonders to increase the camera’s fine resolving power. In detail, it rivals medium format cameras, which are triple its price. It’s 14-bit RAW files also provide lots of information for post-processing, with ample dynamic range. The amount of latitude for changes is excellent and removes much of the need for external ND filters. And you can easily create HDR effects from a single working file. The photos are also rich in vibrant colors. And combined, this camera’s images are ideal for post-production cropping or large format printing. And, overall, the sensor and processor combination easily rivals Nikon’s D800E.

Video Quality

On the video front, this camera obtains the same capabilities as the base model. And video overall is sufficient, but a bit old-fashioned to today’s standards. The camera shoots 1080p full HD videos up to 60 fps using the AVCHD 2.0 or more web-friendly MP4 formats. And video quality is good and matches Canon’s 5D Mark III. The footage is reasonably detailed with good dynamic range.

Like most cameras in this class, AVCHD recording limit to the industry standard 29 minutes and 59-second clip maximum.

It outputs a clean, uncompressed HDMI feed, for use with external recorders or monitors.

Low Light Performance

Low light performance is good, though slightly worse than the base model. But, this difference is only apparent at higher ISO’s above 6,400. Nevertheless, it features a native ISO range from ISO 100 to 25,600. And users can expect usable images up to ISO 3,200 without any post-processing noise reduction.

Display & Viewfinder

It uses the same center-mounted OLED viewfinder as the base model, which offers a resolution of 2.36M dots and a 0.71x magnification. And the viewfinder refreshes nicely and is mostly lag-free when panning or focusing. Like the base model, it also has a rear proximity sensor, which automatically disengages the rear screen as your eye approaches. And the overall viewing experience here remains good, despite the camera’s age.

It uses the same 3.0-inch TFT LCD as the base model, with a resolution of 921K dots. And it also tilts up 90° and down 45°, which helps for high or low angle shooting. Overall, the rear screen remains reasonably sharp to today’s standard. And it’s also bright enough to use outdoors in most sunlight conditions. Though, it is a bit more reflective than more recent iterations in this lineup.

User Interface

With this series, Sony redesigned the menus from their previous NEX cameras. And they’ve installed a more traditional dual-level hierarchy, which is folder-based. And this redesign groups similar settings into overarching categories. Considering this is the same menu system in use today, it remains functional. And it’s mostly clear and straightforward, though discrepancies exist. New users will need to read the camera’s manual to understand all of the settings however.

It obtains Sony’s customizable Function (FN) Menu, which allows you to save 12 most-used settings on a single page for quick access.

Like the base model, it provides a total of 9 programmable buttons, which you can assign to any of 46 total functions. With that, this camera offers excellent customizable over its layout to tailor it to your liking.

It has three customizable buttons, C1-C3, which you can program to a variety of settings.

It offers two Memory Recall states, 1 and 2, which gives you the option to recall shooting setups, saving you time recreating them.

Physical Layout & Ergonomics

Physically, the camera’s identical to the base model, with one notable difference. That difference is build quality. This camera features a full magnesium alloy frame with rubber gaskets throughout, which provides full weather sealing. It also delivers an added sense of professionalism, rigidity, and solidity. Yet, at 407g body alone, it’s slightly lighter than the base model and is Sony’s smallest and lightest full-frame camera to date. In size and weight, it’s about half that of a traditional DSLR. And 55% the size of its nearest competitor, the Nikon D800E. It’s almost pocketable in size and is easy to store into large pockets or small bags. Yet, blows away most rivals in this class in pure image quality.

Otherwise, the button layout and design are identical to the base model. And the camera maintains a reasonable grip, which is comfortable if you have small or medium-sized hands. Like the base model, the button layout and control scheme is well executed and free of unnecessary additions. The buttons are also metal. And they provide nice clicky feedback. Overall, the camera offers good one-handed control and excellent manual operation.

It features dual adjustment dials for quickly changing shutter or aperture. And combined with the rear control dial, you have easy but immediate access to manual exposure control.

Niche Features/Extras

It has built-in Wi-Fi and NFC, which means you can wireless transfer images or remotely control the camera. And you have control over manual settings and video start/stop.

It retains the in-camera PlayMemories store, giving you access to purchase and download additional functionality that’s not native to the camera.

It features zebras for highlight clipping indication.

It obtains Sony’s Multi-Interface Hot shoe to use their proprietary accessories without any cables.

It has a microphone input.

It has a headphone output.

It has built-in HDR.

It has built-in panorama.

It supports USB charging.

It has Sony’s 2x Clear Image zoom, allowing you to zoom the attached lens penalty-free.

Cons:

Image Performance

Unfortunately, the camera suffers from shutter shock, which can quickly make handheld photos blurry.  And since it lacks stabilization, getting sharp handheld shots requires either a stable hand, tripod, or a stabilized lens. If not, even small movements will result in loss of detail and blurry images. And it’s even more of a problem when shooting at slow shutter speeds. Thus, use a tripod if you want maximum detail.

The camera’s shutter itself is also incredibly loud and noisy, which means it’s not particularly discreet. And, for this reason, it’s not the ideal choice for a photojournalist or street photographer.

Since this camera’s from 2013, it uses Sony’s older generation color science. And, sadly, the default colors produced tend towards a yellow and greenish hue, making them slightly robotic looking.

The camera only offers continuous shooting speeds of 4 fps, a 25% decrease over the base models 5 fps maximum. And it only shoots at this frame rate by locking both autofocus and exposure following the first shot. If you want continuous autofocus, you’ll have to do so at 1.5 fps, which means this camera is a poor choice for sports or action photography. However, the buffer depth is good, considering its large file sizes. And it can provide 15 JPEGS or 15 RAW images. So at least it has some stamina.

Important note. Even though this is a high-end camera, it’s not fast. It’s slow to start up, slow to focus, save, and clear the buffer. And it’s sluggish compared to more recent releases in this series.

Video Capabilities

The video quality is below average in detail and contrast compared to today’s 1080p equipped cameras. And for that reason, it’s not ideal for professional video applications.

The camera lacks advanced video features like Sony’s S-log profiles, 10-bit, and also doesn’t offer 4K video or 120 fps recording.

Autofocus Performance

It uses a 25-point contrast-detection AF system with Face Detection. And, sadly, this is the single biggest downgrade from the base model, which employs a 117 point Hybrid AF system with 99 phase-detection points. With that, the autofocusing system is much slower than the base model, and not nearly as reliable. It’s not great at tracking moving objects, and locking occurs rather slowly. And while autofocus is usable, it’s not to the level you’d expect from a camera of this class.

Battery Life

It uses the same NP-FW50 battery as previous NEX cameras and the base model. And Sony rates its battery to deliver 340 shots per charge, which is about average for this camera class. Therefore, you’ll need extra batteries.

Display

The rear display isn’t a touchscreen, and it doesn’t fully articulate either.

Menus

Due to age, it doesn’t offer the customizable My Menu. This was a feature recently introduced on the Mark III versions of the lineup.

Ergonomics

The shutter button is recessed on the top plate of the camera. And this placement makes it somewhat awkward to depress as your fingers don’t naturally fall on this position. It’ll take some time to get used to it.

Like the base model, the video record button is in the same awkward spot on the side of the grip. And it is not easy to reach when needed.

Compared to other full-frame cameras, it’s grip is quite shallow, and the camera is uncomfortable if you have large hands. We recommend getting a grip for this camera.

The menu button is on the left side of the camera, which makes navigating the menus a two-handed affair. Not ideal.

Lacking Features

It lacks an electronic front curtain shutter. And it also lacks a fully silent electronic shutter.

The camera lacks built-in image stabilization. If you want this feature, you’ll have to opt for optically stabilized lenses.

It lacks built-in time-lapse. If you want this feature, you’ll have to purchase it from the PlayMemories app store as a paid add-on.

It lacks dual card slots.

It doesn’t have a full HDMI port, only a micro.

Is this a good beginner camera?

For a complete beginner, no.

For a beginner’s camera, the standard a7 makes the better option.

This camera isn’t ideal for newcomers, given its current price, shutter shock, and enormous file sizes. Instead, this camera is best suited for enthusiasts looking to upgrade their existing setup or professionals.

What are the best lenses & bundles for the Sony a7R?

General Photography:

FE 24-240mm F3.5-6.3 OSS

Macro Photography:

FE 90 mm F2.8 Macro G OSS

Landscape & Astrophotography Photography:

Vario-Tessar T* FE 16–35 mm F4 ZA OSS

Portrait Photography:

FE 70-200 mm F4 G OSS
Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70 mm F4 ZA OSS
FE 85mm F1.8

Sports & Wildlife Photography:

FE 200–600 mm F5.6–6.3 G OSS
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens

Product & Still Life Photography:

FE 90 mm F2.8 Macro G OSS

Extra Batteries:

Sony NP-FW50

SD Cards:

SanDisk Extreme PRO 32GB
SanDisk Extreme PRO 64GB 
SanDisk Extreme PRO 128GB

Tripods & Gimbals:

Manfrotto Compact Action Aluminum 5-Section Tripod

Microphones & External Recorders:

Rode VideoMicPro

Battery Grip:

Powerextra VG-C1EM Battery Grip

Is this a good camera for you?

Yes.

It’s an excellent photography-centric tool. But, if you need speed, this is not the camera for you. With it’s rather uninspiring 1.5 fps burst rate, it’s just too slow for sports, wildlife, or photojournalism. There are better options at this price point for this purpose.

It’s also not the right camera if you want a quiet, discreet option. With its loud, clunky shutter, it’s just too loud for this purpose. The base model is a better choice here.

It’s not the best camera at this price for videographers or hybrid shooters looking to shoot stills and videos. It uses an older codec, lacks stabilization and 4K video. These are all features you can easily get at this price. But, if you want to shoot video casually, it’s a viable option for sure.

However, where this camera does shine is in resolution, not speed. Sure, the autofocusing and operations are both sluggish to today’s standard. But, if you want the cheapest ultra-high-resolution camera around, this is it. And this camera is a strong choice for the high-end power-user who shoots landscapes, cityscapes, architecture, commercial work, or high-end reproductions. And it’s the ideal camera for professionals who shoot slower mediums indoors that don’t need the speed, say portraits, products or still life, wanting maximum resolution. And you’ll enjoy this camera if you’re the type of person who likes to push and pull RAW files and prefers post-processing.

In the end, Sony’s A7R is a compact powerhouse in image quality. It’s a far more minimalist and streamlined camera compared to today’s releases. But, it remains incredibly customizable and delivers the image quality you’d want from this class. And it provides comparable detail and power as Nikon’s previous flagship D800E. But, it does so in body design and form factor that matches a small APS-C camera. And for that reason, it accomplishes a feat and power that is mostly unmatched in this segment. During its original release, it created a new subsegment in this category. And today, it remains a relevant option for its pure image quality. It delivers medium format-like results in a far more portable package. And to date, it’s the cheapest option for this kind of resolution and dynamic range. And if you want superior resolution and quality, it’s a worthy option.

Overview
  • Image Quality
  • Video Quality
  • Focusing Performance
  • Low Light Performance
  • Dynamic Range
  • Battery Performance
  • Display & Viewfinder
  • User Interface
  • Physical Layout & Ergonomics
3.7