Sony

Review Sony A7r: a new leader?

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A mirrorless system camera of less than 500 grams, with a 36 megapixel full-frame sensor, almost as compact as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and with a suggested retail price just above the 2,000 euros? It seems like a dream, but it's the Sony A7R. The mirrorless system cameras from Sony, Nikon, Olympus and Panasonic have each shown over the past few years – in my eyes – spectacular growth. On the one hand, they've chewed up some of the market share of compact cameras. On the other hand, they compete with SLRs. The market share of the system cameras amounts to only a few dozen percent (in Japan clearly more than in Europe).

Sony-A7R-55mm

When you consider that you can't just replace a single-lens reflex camera with another system camera – you have to replace your lenses, and that at the same time also requires a relatively large investment – then that is, in my eyes, a lot, and it shows clearly that a system camera is interesting for many photographers.
System cameras offer the same image quality as SLR cameras with an APS-C sensor, while the cameras are lighter and more portable. But there was still no system camera with a full-frame sensor, let alone a 36-megapixel full-frame sensor... until the Sony A7R and the Sony A7 appeared on the stage.
WelkomSonySony A7R + Sony FE 35mm F2.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T*, @ 100 ISO, f/2.8, 1/3200 sec

Sony A7R versus Sony A7

Simultaneously with the Sony A7R, the Sony A7 was also introduced. These models are complementary: the Sony A7 is an action camera with a 24-megapixel sensor, while the Sony A7R is intended for the perfectionist who prefers image quality over speed:

  • Megapixels: 36 (A7R) vs 24 (A7)
  • Speed (images per second): x (A7) vs y (A7R)
  • Autofocus: fast phase detection (A7) vs super-precise contrast detection (A7R)

A7vsA7RSony A7R (left) vs Sony A7 (right):externally, you can see the difference in the Red R in the type designation

Sony A7R versus Nikon D800E

Both cameras stand out from the competition with their 36-megapixel full-frame sensor.

  • The Sony A7R is more compact and lighter
  • The lens offerings of Nikon FX lenses are more extensive than Sony FE lenses
  • The Sony A7R uses contrast detection; the Nikon D800E, phase detection
  • The Sony A7R has an electronic viewfinder; the Nikon D800E, an optical viewfinder
  • The screen of the Sony A7R folds out

Design, screen and viewfinder

The body of the Sony A7R is strikingly angular. The round hand grip means that you can hold the camera well, but it feels somewhat Spartan. The camera body is weatherproof. The electronic viewfinder gives a very nice and large viewfinder image, and the image is the same size as the optical viewfinder of an SLR camera like the Canon 5D MK3 or the Nikon D800E. Also, the flip-out LCD screen on the back of the camera is very easy to read. With this camera, thanks to contrast detection, you are completely immune to front- and back-focus. The AF is very accurate and consistent, but not very fast, especially in the dark.

You can charge the Sony A7R with a USB cable, instead of with a separate battery charger as with most cameras. That appeals to me.

A7R

Along with Samsung, Sony on this point is at the forefront of modernization of cameras. If you head out with a camera and laptop, then you have no need of a battery charger. If you don't have a laptop with you, then you can use the compact adapter that you get to charge the Sony A7R. The battery life is modest at about 350 shots.

Menu

The Sony menu is well-ordered with a few categories, each of which features multiple tabs. It goes fast and works great. The only drawback I can think of is that the command to format a card is tucked away deep in the menu. I would rather see this feature on the first or last tab of a category. But with testing cameras, I format memory cards much more frequently than under normal circumstances, so I wouldn't put too much weight on it. Menu

Resolution and image quality

Anyone shooting by hand who really wants to take advantage of the high image quality of the Sony A7R, should choose a faster shutter speed than they might be used to. To prevent blur caused by jitter, you should choose a shutter speed that is at least 1 divided by 2 times the focal length. Thus, at a focal length of 55 mm, I choose a shutter speed of 1/125 sec or faster, when I photograph with the Sony A7R. If you're shooting in the program mode or using the auto-ISO setting in aperture priority or shutter speed preferences, then you should make sure that the Sony A7R does not choose a slower shutter speed. It's nice that the Sony A7R offers an auto ISO setting, which also works when the camera is set on "M". You enter the desired shutter speed and aperture, and the camera selects the appropriate ISO value for a well-exposed image. This way, you prevent the camera from choosing a too-long shutter speed, and you get slightly sharper pictures if you are shooting by hand.

sonyvsnikon700pxSublime: it applies as much to the Nikon D800E + Nikon AF-S 58 mm f/1.4 @ f/5.6 as to the Sony A7R + Sony 55 mm f/1.8 @ f/5.6

'Detail Reproduction Technology' and 'Diffraction Reduction'

Formerly, there were major differences in image quality between jpg files that were stored in the camera and carefully edited RAW files. Among other things, due to the ever-increasing processing power of the processors that are applied in cameras, these differences are getting smaller. When applying noise reduction, many photographers make use of masks, through which patches without detail are not sharpened. This means you have on the one hand, less noise and jpg artifacts and maintain as much detailing as possible despite the noise reduction. Sony uses the same technique in the Sony A7R ("Detail Reproduction Technology") when saving jpg files in the camera.

Another new twist is that the camera sharpens more, so that the image becomes less sharp due to diffraction. Diffraction is a physical phenomenon with which all cameras and lenses have problems. When light passes through a small aperture, it causes refraction of the light, causing the light to be smeared across multiple pixels. Below you can see in the illustration two unsharpened RAW images made with a large aperture (f/5.6) and a small aperture (f/22). The pictures made at f/22 is less sharp. See, for example, the red border at the bottom of the hat. When saving a jpg file the Sony A7R applies "Diffraction Reduction", whereby the recording made at f/22 is sharper. The jpg image at f/22 is due to diffraction reduction not quite as nice as the picture made at f/5.6, but the jpg image is (almost) as sharp as a carefully sharpened picture from a RAW file. This kind of technological artistry means that there are, understandably, more and more photographers who no longer bother to shoot in RAW. Even so, RAW will remain in my eyes for some time the premium of file formats. Fortunately, not everyone needs a tailored suit.

diffraction700
CompensationforDiffraction700

Dynamic range

Our measurement of the dynamic range of the Sony A7R almost perfectly matches our measurement of the dynamic range of the Nikon D800E. The total dynamic range that we found for the Sony A7R for a RAW file without noise reduction amounted to 12 stops (for the Nikon D800E that was 12.2 stops). That's a very good performance – higher than that we can't (reliably) measure. The usable dynamic range, taking into account noise, amounts just like the Nikon D800E to 8 stops. The dynamic range at higher ISO values is still impressive, but both cameras have been overtaken by a number of cameras with a full-frame sensor with a lower megapixel count like the Canon 1Dx or Nikon 1Df.

DynamicRangeA7R

KleurSony A7R +Sony 55mm f/1.8 @ 800 ISO, f/4, 1/500 sec

Color reproduction

Modern cameras all have very good color rendition, and our measurements are thus very close to each other. The Sony A7R and the Nikon D800E deliver in practice images with a very neutral image display (if you have chosen the picture style "natural").

But the Sony A7R goes one step further and stands in terms of color reproduction in our measurements head and shoulders above other cameras.

Both in daylight (along with the Nikon Df) and in artificial light, top performances were observed. In particular, the automatic white balance in our studio was not fooled by the artificial light, and that's is exceptional. This time, there was no distinctive orange color cast like we usually come across, but only a bit warmer red and orange tones. Impressive. To put this good result a bit into perspective: many photographers choose consciously other than the most accurate color reproduction by using another image style rather than choosing natural (for jpg), or by adjusting the color when editing a picture.

miniRAWcolorErrorDaylightSonyA7R
Sony A7R color reproduction in daylight

miniTungstenColorAccuracySonyA7R
Sony A7R color reproduction in artificial light

Noise

Also in terms of the Sony A7R noise seems like two drops of water on the Nikon D800E: the signal/noise ratio at low ISO values is very good.

It is truly a pleasure to work with the Sony A7R at 50 ISO: not only does it deliver files with a very good signal-to-noise ratio, but you can also choose a large aperture without fearing overexposure. That delivers truly stunning, very natural pictures. At low ISO values, you don't actually see in the noise that the pixels of a 36-megapixel full-frame sensor are smaller than most other cameras with a full-frame sensor. But at the higher ISO settings, you can clearly see the difference. From 6400 ISO, as with the Nikon D800E, the noise is clearly visible, and you need to compensate with noise reduction, whereby the image quality decreases.

miniNoiseSonyvsNikon

Video, WiFi and NFC

The retro/Spartan appearance of the Sony A7R cloaks perhaps a bit how modern this camera is. With this camera, you have Wi-Fi and NFC, which is not only useful to share files over a smart-phone in social media. Sony also offers a large number of apps that let you edit pictures, so you don't always have to use Photoshop or Lightroom. These are subjects that are important for all Sony cameras. We're planning to investigate that more thoroughly later. As far as video is concerned: The Sony A7R has connections for a microphone and headphones and offers an uncompressed HDMI output for video. Full HD video up to 1080 p 50/60 p will be more than enough for most photographers.

Lenses? 5 FE lenses + an adapter for all full-frame Alpha lenses

The Sony A7R has a new FE mount, for which there are currently few lenses for sale that you can connect to this camera without an adapter. Sony wants to change this quickly. With the introduction of the Sony A7R, a wide range of lenses were announced, so many photographers can already use the following:

adapter

For those who want to use an adapter to utilize older lenses of all marks (consider: Leica) on the Sony A7R, there's good news: there are adapters available and thanks to focus peaking you can manually focus well. There is also a Sony adapter with a half-permeable mirror (LA-EA4; sample shown here) for sale for those who want to use older Sony Alpha full-frame lenses on the Sony A7R and wants to keep AF. It works well, and I would certainly prefer this adapter above the LA-EA3 adapter, which costs you AF when coupling a lens with an A-mount to a Sony A7R. Below there is a practice shot that I made with the Sony 80-400 mm on the Sony A7R.

SonyTele

Conclusion Sony A7R review

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Look in our list of tested cameras for specifications and comparison of these performances with those of other cameras.

Amateur
Year:2013
Overall score:8.8
Resolution:8.5
Dynamic Range:8.3
Noise:8.5
Color:9.8
Whitebalance:6.0
Megapixels:36
Sensor:FF
Sensor magn.:0.78
fps:5
Weight (gram):465
MSRP NL (Euro):2099

Advantages

  • Very high, professional, image quality
  • Handy and light
  • Beautiful electronic viewfinder
  • Wifi / NFC
  • USB charger

Disadvantages

  • Shutter is certainly not silent
  • Auto ISO has a preference for slow shutter speeds
  • Lenses for a full-frame sensor are (inevitably) relatively big and expensive

The Sony A7R is, along with the Nikon D800E, the best camera I ever had in my hands.

Apart from the noisy shutter, the main drawback of this camera that there are only a limited number of lenses available for this camera. The Sony A7R has a new FE mount. The Sony/Zeiss lenses are currently the only lenses with FE mount, meaning the choice is still limited.

But how many lenses do you need? Sony has already, with the introduction of the Sony A7R, announced a package of lenses, with which you can work pretty well. With an adapter, all Sony alpha full-frame lenses are useable on the Sony A7R. The Sony adapter with a half-permeable mirror (LA-EA4) ensures that you retain the capacity for AF.

GS-award2014The first lens from the FE series we tested, Sony Zeiss 55 mm f/1.8, offers in combination with the Sony A7R fabulous picture quality. In terms of resolution, the Sony A7R and the Nikon D800E, provided with a good lens, surpass other cameras. The Sony A7R is also a thousand euros cheaper and weighs half as much as the Nikon D800E. That is a nice prospect for the landscape photographer who makes long treks with his camera. Read the review by Fred Miranda, who went out with the Sony A7R and his Canon lenses.

The Sony A7R is, in short, a system camera that, with its 36-megapixel full-frame sensor, offers sensationally good image quality, enough to satisfy every demanding pro or amateur.

 
Ivo Freriks
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.

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Comments (3)

  1. Leopold Lysloff

;-) :sigh: My Leica glass is very happy. (love the Sony 55 1.8 as well).

 
  1. Mikee

FE mount. FE.

 
  1. Ivo    Mikee

I've corrected it straight away<br /><br />Thanks, Mike

 

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