Sony unleashed the Sony A7 and the A7R in October of 2013. With the Sony A7 aimed for general use sporting a 24 MP sensor and hybrid autofocus, the A7R differs primarily with its 36 MP sensor, therefore making the A7R more suitable for specific types of photography that need high resolution such as landscape, architecture, studio and product photography. I had an opportunity to test both cameras in 2014, however, I did not have a chance to write detailed reviews for a number of different reasons. Hence, this is more of a catch-up type of a review showcasing some images from my recent trips, along with the usual analysis.
Without a doubt, the A7R has been a significant release from Sony. With a 36 MP sensor it has been the highest-resolution mirrorless camera since its release and has been another alternative to the highly-regarded Nikon D800 / D800E / D810 DSLRs for a long time (until Canon broke the record with its 50.6 MP Canon 5DS / 5DS R cameras). In fact, many photographers who did not want to switch from another system were happy to discover the A7R, because it allowed them to continue using their current and legacy lenses via adapters.
To address different needs, Sony released a total of three A7-series cameras with varying resolutions. Below is a short summary of the three camera classes and the type of photography they are intended for:
- Sony A7S (12.2 MP): Astro / Night photography, Event, Portraiture, Photojournalism and Video
- Sony A7 / A7 II (24.3 MP): Sports / Action, Event, Portraiture and Other general photography
- Sony A7R (36.4 MP): Architecture, Landscape, Studio, Fashion, Product and Macro photography
A detailed comparison of specifications can be found further down on this page.
1) Sony A7R Specifications
- Sensor: 36.4 MP Sony Exmor™ Full-Frame CMOS image sensor
- Autofocus System: Contrast-detection AF with 25 points
- Continuous Shooting: 4 fps
- Electronic Viewfinder: XGA OLED with 2.4 Million dots, 100% field coverage
- Viewfinder Magnification: 0.71x
- Movie: Up to Full HD movie shooting @ 60 fps
- Panorama Mode: Yes
- HDR Capability: Yes
- Battery Life: Up to 340 images (LCD)
- LCD: Tiltable 3″ LCD with 921,600 dots
- Shutter: Electronically controlled, vertical-traverse, focal-plane shutter
- Electronic Front Curtain Shutter: No
- Wi-Fi Capability: Built-in
- Weight: 407g body-only
- Price (MSRP): $2,299 (MSRP as introduced), $1,899 (current)
Detailed technical specifications for the Sony A7 II are available at Sony.net.
2) Sony A7S vs A7 vs A7 II vs A7R
Here is a detailed comparison of specifications from the four cameras:
|Camera Feature||Sony A7S||Sony A7||Sony A7 II||Sony A7R|
|Sensor Size||35.8 x 23.9mm||35.8 x 23.9mm||35.8 x 23.9mm||35.9 x 24.0mm|
|Sensor Resolution||12.2 MP||24.3 MP||24.3 MP||36.4 MP|
|Sensor Pixel Size||8.44µm||5.97µm||5.97µm||4.88µm|
|Sensor Anti-Aliasing Filter||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|In-Body Image Stabilization||No||No||Yes, 5-axis||No|
|Image Size||4,240 x 2,832||6,000 x 4,000||6,000 x 4,000||7,360 x 4,912|
|Viewfinder Type, Dots, Coverage||EVF, 2.4 M dots, 100%||EVF, 2.4 M dots, 100%||EVF, 2.4 M dots, 100%||EVF, 2.4 M dots, 100%|
|Storage Media, Type||1x SD, UHS-1||1x SD, UHS-1||1x SD, UHS-1||1x SD, UHS-1|
|Continuous Shooting Speed||5.0 FPS||5.0 FPS||5.0 FPS||4.0 FPS|
|Native ISO Sensitivity||ISO 100-102,400||ISO 100-6,400||ISO 100-6,400||ISO 100-6,400|
|Boosted ISO Sensitivity||ISO 50, 204,800-409,600||ISO 50, 12,800-25,600||ISO 50, 12,800-25,600||ISO 50, 12,800-25,600|
|Autofocus System||Contrast-detection AF||Fast Hybrid AF||Fast Hybrid AF||Contrast-detection AF|
|Focus Points||25 points (CDAF)||117 points (PDAF), 25 points (CDAF)||35mm: 117 points, APS-C: 99 points (PDAF) / 25 points (CDAF)||25 points (CDAF)|
|Electronic Front Curtain Shutter||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Video Maximum Resolution||1920×1080 (1080p) @ Up to 60p||1920×1080 (1080p) @ Up to 60p||1920×1080 (1080p) @ Up to 60p||1920×1080 (1080p) @ Up to 60p|
|LCD Size and Resolution||3.0″, 921,600 dots||3.0″, 921,600 dots||3.0″, 1,228,800 dots||3.0″, 921,600 dots|
|Construction||Full Magnesium Alloy||Partial Magnesium Alloy||Full Magnesium Alloy||Full Magnesium Alloy|
|Battery Life||360 shots (CIPA)||340 shots (CIPA)||350 shots (CIPA)||340 shots (CIPA)|
|Weight (Body Only)||446g||416g||556g||407g|
|Dimensions||126.9 x 94.4 x 48.2mm||126.9 x 94.4 x 48.2mm||126.9 x 95.7 x 59.7mm||126.9 x 94.4 x 48.2mm|
|Price As Announced (MSRP)||$2,499||$1,699||$1,699||$2,299|
The first key difference is obviously the camera resolution – at 36.4 MP, the A7R has the highest resolution among the A7-series cameras and hence has the highest image size, the smallest pixel size and the slowest continuous shooting speed of 4 fps. It also is the only camera in the group that does not come with an anti-aliasing / low-pass filter, which provides a little more detail from high-quality lenses. Since the camera is not meant to be used for capturing fast action, it only features contrast-detection autofocus.
I specifically marked the Electronic Front Curtain Shutter (EFCS) line above in red, because of its significance. The A7R is the only camera in the group that does not have this much-needed feature. Lack of EFCS is the Achilles’ heel of the Sony A7R and as you will see on the next section of this review, it is the main reason why I cannot recommend this camera to any of our readers.
3) Camera Construction and Handling
The A7R has Sony’s original design, which incorporates large dials on the front side of the grip and the rear of the camera, similar to what Sony has done on other mirrorless cameras like NEX-7. Because of this, the camera on/off switch, along with the shutter release were moved to the top of the camera. While these dials and the shutter release are easy to operate, I do prefer the ergonomics of the A7 II instead, which as I have pointed out in my Sony A7 II review, are superior and more intuitive to operate. Aside from the grip and the top layout, the rest of the camera and the button locations on the rear are pretty similar when compared to other A7-series cameras.
The camera is built with a both magnesium alloy and plastic parts and can generally withstand challenging weather. However, based on Roger Cicala’s teardown of the A7R, where he did not see any rubber gaskets or other protective / sealing components, the A7R is definitely not weather-sealed like cameras such as the Fuji X-T1 or the Olympus OM-D E-M1. Still, you should be able to use it in challenging weather conditions – just be mindful of the weather and don’t expose the camera to heavy rain, saltwater or dust.
Operating the camera is pretty easy and although you can program pretty much every button on the camera to behave it the way you want, there are some simple things that should have been done by default, such as the ability to move a focus point by just pressing the multi-function dial on the rear of the camera. By default, there is no quick way to change your focus point! I ended up modifying the three buttons (left, right and bottom) to trigger focus point change, but even after the change (Custom Key Settings->Left, Right, Down Button->Focus Settings), I still first have to press one of the buttons and only then I can start moving it. The Up button is permanently set to DISP (Display), so there is no way to assign that one to Focus Settings, making this even less than a working solution. Setting a focus point should be dead simple, so I am not sure why Sony makes it so painful. I hope Sony changes this behavior in its future iterations of the camera, because simple things like this should be a no-brainer to implement.
The Sony A7R features the same high-resolution electronic viewfinder (EVF) from the Sony A7 with 2.4 million dots. It offers 0.71x magnification, which is around the same as what full-frame DSLR cameras typically have. The clarity and colors are great, but if you compare the EVF on the A7R with the Fuji X-T1, you will see that the latter gives noticeably better overall experience. The EVF on the X-T1 has bigger 0.77x magnification and it feels clearer and smoother in comparison.
Sadly, camera responsiveness and start up time are Sony’s weaknesses. The A7R occasionally slows down when changing camera settings and performing in-camera operations, similar to what I have seen on other Sony NEX cameras. But those are minor issues compared to the slow start up time – all A7 series cameras suffer from this. When you first insert the battery, it can take 3-4 seconds for the camera to initialize. Now if the camera was previously turned on and there is not a huge delay between the last start up time, the camera will initialize much faster and the waiting time will be halved, which is not too bad. But even then, by the time you turn the camera on and can take the first picture, you are looking at waiting for around 2-3 seconds. In comparison, the Fuji X-T1 starts up noticeably faster (whether you have the battery newly inserted or not) and feels much more responsive when shooting. Overall though, most mirrorless cameras suffer from slower start up time when compared to DSLRs, as there are more electronics to initialize – that’s one of the downsides of mirrorless cameras today.
Another gripe is the menu system, which sadly has been a mess. Unfortunately, stuff is just all over the place. Settings are not easy to find with main icons, sub-menus and often random locations for certain settings. There is no logical grouping whatsoever, so everything seems random and out of place. I hope Sony addresses these menu and navigation issues in the future, because the cameras could get a lot more user friendly. On a positive note, it is not the worst menu system out there (Olympus OM-D menu system is even more complex to understand) and once you set everything up, you won’t have to change menu settings that often.
If you have Sony / Minolta A mount lenses, or perhaps other lenses from manufacturers like Canon, Sony and Leica, you can adapt those easily to the Sony FE mount with special adapters. That’s one of the strengths of the Sony A7 cameras – the short flange distance allows one to mount pretty much any lens on the market. Sony A and Canon EF lenses can be used with smart adapters, maintaining autofocus capabilities. If you use Nikon F lenses, you will be limited to “dummy” adapters and your only option will be to use those lenses in manual focus only mode.
Overall, there is not much to complain when it comes to camera operation and handling. The camera balances nicely in hands, especially when it is paired with a lightweight lens like the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2.
4) Shutter Shock
As I have previously stated, the shutter shock of the Sony A7R was one of the main reasons why I was not initially impressed with the A7R and could not recommend it to our readers. I was really hoping that Sony would fix this problem with a firmware release, but it never materialized and I believe at this point it is safe to assume that Sony will not address it. Perhaps there is a technical / design limitation, or perhaps Sony is planning to address it in the upcoming A7R II. Still, shutter shock is a significant issue that only cripples this particular camera out of the four A7 cameras. Basically, the problem is related to two particular design issues. First, the shutter mechanism itself is not dampened. Keep in mind that with mirrorless cameras, the shutter has to remain open for normal camera operation, since the sensor directly receives light from the lens (whereas all DSLRs by default have their shutters closed). During the capture of an image, Sony designed the A7R to lower the shutter curtain and open it, start the image capture, then repeat this process again at the end of the capture. Once image is captured, the shutter has to open back up to resume normal operation. Now count how many times that shutter moves: 1) shutter curtain lowers before the start of the exposure, 2) comes back up at the start of the exposure, 3) lowers at the end of exposure, 4) opens back up to resume EVF / LCD operation. That’s four times the shutter is going up and down. The good news is, what happens at the end of the exposure does not matter, but the first two shutter movements are where the problem lies.
Now compare this to a DSLR, which by default has the shutter closed. The shutter opens up at the start of the exposure and closes at the end of exposure – twice less. Does this mean that DSLRs are shutter shock free? No, they are not – any time the shutter moves, whether just up or up and down, the shutter mechanism can always cause camera shake. So this particular issue is not isolated just to the A7R. However, because the camera is so much lighter than a DSLR and the shutter is engaged twice at the beginning of the exposure, the effect of the shutter shock is significant, causing pretty drastic camera shake. How drastic? Just take a look at the below crops that clearly demonstrate this issue:
You don’t need to have a trained eye to see that the crop on the right looks very blurry compared to the crop on the left. And the difference between the two images? 10 minutes of time between the shots. When light conditions were poor, the camera was set to 1/2 (half a second) of exposure time, which was long enough to not matter for the shutter shock. But when light conditions improved and I was closer to the sunrise time, the correct exposure was 1/10 of a second at f/8. At faster shutter speeds, the shutter shock was significant enough to make the image on the right unusable.
My setup was not the issue – the camera was mounted on an RRS plate, which was mounted on an RRS BH-55 ballhead, which was mounted on a Gitzo Systematic Tripod. I did not move the camera or the tripod and I engaged the camera with a timer. So it was not my hand, or anything else that could have caused the image on the right to be blurry – it was the shutter shock.
Depending on what focal length you use, shutter shock can be an issue at different shutter speeds. In the above case, my focal length was at 28mm and the shutter shock seemed to be most apparent between 1/5 and 1/30 of a second. When I used longer lenses such as the 55mm f/1.8, the shutter shock was visible at faster shutter speeds between 1/50 and 1/100 of a second. And that’s what makes this issue so painful, as there is no set range for the “danger zone” – it varies by focal length.
In order for me to alleviate the shutter shock issue in this particular case, I had several options: 1) use a neutral density filter to reduce the shutter speed and 2) increase ISO by at least two stops to increase the shutter speed and get it out of the “danger zone”. Some people suggested using a battery grip or even came up with ways to hang a heavy object to reduce shutter shock, but those options do not completely eliminate shutter shock and can be impractical in the field.
The only true solution that can cure this problem is to add the Electronic Front Curtain Shutter (EFCS) feature, which is already present on all other A7 cameras. With this feature, the camera will start the exposure without engaging the shutter mechanism. I am not sure why Sony designed the A7R without this much-needed feature – my guess is that the engineers underestimated the effect of shutter shock on a lightweight body.
Still, as of today, the shutter shock issue remains a huge problem for the Sony A7R and it is the primary reason why I cannot recommend it to our readers. Denying shutter shock on the Sony A7R is like denying gravity – I would not take anyone who states that it is not a problem seriously.
5) Charging and Battery Life
Battery life is pretty bad when compared to a DSLR. Although I turn off the camera frequently to preserve battery life and have all the extra things like image playback turned off, the battery just does not last for more than a few hours of shooting. In comparison, I could be shooting with my Nikon DSLR for a few days and still have plenty of juice left. Not sure if Sony can work on optimizing battery life, but plan on getting a few of those batteries, especially when working in the cold! Rated at 340 shots, the NO-FW50 battery with only 1020mAh of power that is used on the Sony A7 series feels too underpowered for these cameras. I don’t think Sony can do much with reducing power consumption, so I really hope to see higher capacity batteries, even if that comes at the cost of heavier and bigger camera.
What about charging the battery? Just like the Sony A7 / A7 II, you will receive a small AC adapter with a USB cable attached to it and charging is done by hooking up the cable to the camera. While this works OK for a single battery, it is quite ineffective and impractical for charging multiple batteries. Sony started shipping a dedicated charger with its Sony A7S cameras, so I hope the same external charger will be included with the upcoming A7R II.
6) Sony 36.4 MP Exmor Sensor
When Nikon first introduced the D800 and D800E cameras, the photography community was very impressed by the performance of the 36 MP sensor in those cameras – we have written quite a bit about it right here at Photography Life. Resolution, dynamic range, colors and noise performance are all exemplary. Well, most of the success of this sensor can be attributed to Sony, because Sony manufactured it for Nikon. Sony used a similar sensor in the A7R, but as the camera comparisons section demonstrates, there is a slight difference in the image processing pipeline in favor of Nikon.
DxOMark ranked the Sony A7R at #13 for sports performance, below both Nikon D800 and D800E. The differences are very small, so it is safe to assume that the sensor on the these cameras is the same, with perhaps a few small tweaks here and there. The camera can capture almost 14.1 EVs of dynamic range, which means you can recover a boatload of information in post when shooting high contrast scenes without losing too much data or introducing a lot of noise. Still, with such an amazing sensor you always want to stay at the lowest ISO possible (close to the base ISO of 100) to preserve as much information in images as possible.
However, all A7 series cameras, including the A7 II come with a pretty disappointing limitation – they are unable to provide uncompressed or lossless 14-bit RAW data. To keep RAW files smaller, Sony decided to employ lossy compression, which is basically 11-bit of base data, plus 7-bit of delta offset, as detailed in this article by our friends at RawDigger. What does this mean? Well, to put it short, Sony is basically handicapping the potential of the A7 cameras by using lossy compression on RAW files. It is like buying a sports car that could potentially reach 200 mph top speed, but cannot go beyond 150 mph due to having a limiter in place. Nikon at least gives you an option to choose between uncompressed, lossless and lossy compression via the camera menu system, but Sony has no such options, so you are pretty much locked with the 11+7 bit lossy RAW files. In the next section, I will talk about the effect of the 11+7 bit RAW files on images in detail.
7) 11+7 Bit RAW File Limitation
Let’s see how the 11+7 bit lossy RAW file can potentially limit the performance of the A7 series cameras in terms of image quality. When I first demonstrated an example of the effect of lossy compression in my Sony A7 II review, I was accused of magnifying the effect and pointing out things that most people normally would not see (despite the fact that I clearly stated that lossy compression is not relevant to 90% of photographers out there – see section #13 in the review). I was also accused of not showing a comparable output from a camera that does not have this problem. Well, I did do side by side tests for this review to show the difference of lossy RAW output vs 14-bit lossless from the Nikon D810. Take a look at the below 100% crops:
If you look around the peak of the triangular building with the red light on top, you can see artifacts around it. And if you look closely at other areas, you will find similar artifacts all over the image on the left. These artifacts appear as extra noise, but that’s just the effect of lossy compression. Now take a look at the crop on the right side from the D810 – the edges around the building appear much smoother, without that extra grain.
If you are having a problem spotting these and if you consider the above to be a non-issue, then you can skip this section completely and forget about the lossy compression issue. However, if the effect above bothers you and you are worried about getting high quality prints without those artifacts, then you might consider joining forces and adding your word to this online petition.
The bad thing about lossy compression, is that it sometimes leads to posterization, which can be quite painful and downright annoying to fix in post-processing. This 11+7 bit lossy compression is evident even in size of RAW files generated by the A7R – instead of varying in size depending on what’s being captured, every RAW file usually stays at around 37 MB. I looked at RAW files shot during the day with lots of colors and also looked at RAW files with pretty flat gradients and little details – file sizes remained more or less the same. In comparison, RAW files from the Nikon D810 vary greatly in size, sometimes by 10 MB or more, which is very normal.
RawDigger is currently the only tool on the market that can show the potential impact of lossy RAW compression on Sony RAW files. By opening up RawDigger and going to Preferences, you can set “Processing mode” to “Delta step relative to value” as shown below:
The resulting image will reveal all the affected areas:
We can see from the above image that artifacts will most likely show up in all the bright areas of the scene. And that’s certainly the case with the image above. Sadly, this is what you will be seeing in similarly captured images and there is nothing you can do to fix it in camera. I asked our dear friend Iliah Borg about whether Sony could provide a firmware fix to address this issue and his response was that it might not be an option – the bottleneck could be in the sensor design.
The big question is, does the 11+7 bit RAW file compression make the Sony A7 series cameras not worthy of consideration? I guess it depends on how important pixel-level performance is for you. Again, for 90% of photographers out there, the 11+7 bit RAW file compression won’t matter, as they won’t be analyzing images with a loupe at 100% or higher magnifications. However, if you are genuinely concerned about pixel-level image quality and want only the best results at full resolution, you might want to hold off on the Sony A7 series cameras. While you can certainly reduce the problem with artifacts and posterization in RAW files by applying some clever sharpening and noise reduction techniques, it does take quite a bit of extra effort to make those images look good. Such artifacts might also show up in print if they are untreated.
I am personally a bit annoyed by the fact that Sony has been sitting silently on this issue and really hope that the next iteration of the Sony A7R will incorporate better sensor design to accommodate proper 14-bit RAW output. Ideally, Sony should allow selecting between uncompressed, lossless compressed and lossy compressed RAW files via the camera menu.
8) Colors and Dynamic Range
When it comes to colors and dynamic range, the Sony A7R definitely shines and you can expect to see very impressive results when processing images. If you are a Lightroom user, Adobe has already built Sony camera profiles in the latest version of the software and you can always fine-tune colors to your liking with new profiles using third party tools. The image samples in this review were processed in Lightroom with mostly Camera Standard profile and except for a few images that needed to be taken into Photoshop, I did not spend more than a couple of minutes per image.
As for dynamic range, you have a lot of legroom for tweaking those RAW files in terms of recovering shadows and highlights, even though they are compressed. This is not surprising, because Sony sensors are known to be excellent in this regard. That’s why most manufacturers prefer to use Sony sensors in their cameras – their performance is currently unrivaled for consumer products.
Here is a before and after example of an image that I processed in Lightroom and Photoshop:
I changed white balance to be a bit warmer, dialed -50 highlights, +90 shadows, +50 clarity, +10 saturation, medium contrast curve, 50/1/50 sharpening with masking, enabled profile corrections + remove CA, set camera profile to “Camera Standard”. Next, I took the image to Photoshop and used Nik Software to add some structure to the clouds and adjusted the blues in the sky a little. That’s it – took me less than 5 minutes altogether on my Surface Pro 3.
9) Autofocus / Manual Focus Performance and Metering
The Sony A7R does not come with the same robust hybrid autofocus system as the Sony A7 / A7 II. Since the camera is not designed to capture fast action, Sony decided to only include contrast-detection autofocus, which is noticeably slower compared to phase detection AF. Contrast detection AF on the Sony A7R is rather slow, most likely due to the amount of information that needs to be analyzed. Slow AF speed is quite apparent when compared to contrast-detection AF on some Micro Four Thirds cameras. Hopefully Sony will make contrast-detection AF faster in the future with faster processors and better algorithms. At the same time, for a camera like the A7R, AF speed is not important, as you will most likely be relying on manual focus most of the time.
Speaking of manual focus, it is definitely the mirrorless stronghold, since EVF can offer such handy capabilities as instant zooming in and focus peaking. Sony did a great job integrating these capabilities into all of its cameras, which is why so many people love shooting with third party lenses. Being able to zoom in inside the viewfinder and seeing highlights in the focused areas allows for ultra-fine focus precision, which results in tack sharp photos. With a DSLR, you are forced to switch to live view mode and you have to look at the rear LCD screen to be able to identify whether your subject is in focus or not, and most brands do not even offer focus peaking in live view. With the Sony A7R and other mirrorless cameras, you look inside the EVF and focus, which makes it really easy to use manual focus. If you use a native Sony lens, the moment you start moving the focus ring on the lens, the camera will switch to magnified view to assist with focusing. If you use third party lenses with dumb adapters, you will have to zoom in manually, as the camera won’t know what you are trying to do.
As for exposure metering, the Sony A7R behaves similarly as other A7 series cameras – exposure accuracy is usually very good, even in tricky lighting conditions. In most cases it provided good exposure, minimizing the use of the exposure compensation dial (I primarily shot in Aperture Priority and Manual modes and relied on the camera meter quite a bit).
10) Movie Recording and Wi-Fi
The Sony A7R is equipped with a fast processor that is capable of capturing high definition 1080i video at up to 60 fps. The Sony A7R is not crippled like many other cameras are and you can easily change all exposure variables. You can connect external microphones and you can also hook up a headphone for audio monitoring. Similar to other Sony A7 cameras, the video recording button is still located on the side of the camera.
As for Wi-Fi, the Sony A7R has built-in Wi-Fi capabilities like all other A7-series cameras and allows transferring pictures directly to a smart phone or a computer. You can set the camera up as a wireless access point and once you install Sony’s PlayMemories app and connect, transferring and sharing photos is very simple. I have been connecting my iPhone with the A7R and transfer images effortlessly. I am glad that Sony has been pushing Wi-Fi into its cameras, because it challenged Nikon and Canon to do the same. Being able to take pictures and share them immediately should be a built-in feature in every digital camera.
Let’s see how the camera does in ISO performance and how it compares to others.
11) ISO Performance at low ISOs (ISO 100-800)
Some Technical Info:
- White Balance: Custom
- Tested with: Sony 35mm f/2.8 lens
- Aperture: f/5.6
- Manual Focus
- DRO: Off
- Long exposure NR: Off
- High ISO HR: Off
- Image Format: RAW
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
Let’s take a look at how the Sony A7R performs at low ISOs. Here are some 100% crops at ISO 100, 200, 400 and 800:
As expected, images look very clean and low ISOs – there is very little difference between ISO 100 and 800.
12) High ISO Performance (ISO 1600-25600)
Let’s see what happens when ISO is boosted to much higher levels:
As expected, ISO 1600 adds some noise, particularly in the shadow areas. ISO 3200 doubles that noise. Detail is still quite good though and colors are not lost.
As ISO is pushed further up to 6400, there is now plenty of noise in the image. There is some loss of details and colors throughout the image. At ISO 12800 lots of detail is lost and the colors are not looking good either. This is already beyond my comfort level, even if I have to down-sample.
Lastly, ISO 25600 is just unusable mess. Small details are completely gone, lots of colors are lost and everything looks too mushy and noisy.
It is hard to say how good the performance is without direct comparisons. Let’s see how it fares against other cameras.
13) Sony A7R vs Sony A7
Let’s take a look at how the A7R compares to its 24 MP counterpart, the A7. For this and all the below tests, I down-sampled Sony A7R images to approximately 16 MP (Left: Sony A7R, Right: Sony A7):
At low ISOs, there is practically no difference between the two cameras.
I cannot see much difference at ISO 1600 and 3200 as well – both cameras perform admirably.
At ISO 6400 the A7R shows a little more noise at pixel level, but because the image is down-sampled so much the grain actually appears finer in comparison.
Both cameras suffer pretty badly at ISO 12800, but the A7 appears a bit worse in comparison.
And ISO 25600 is downright unusable on both cameras, with the A7R edging the A7 out a little in noise.
14) Sony A7R vs Nikon D800E
And here is the comparison of the Sony A7R with the Nikon D800E, which also has a high-resolution 36 MP sensor:
Once again, there is practically no difference at low ISOs.
ISO 1600 looks pretty similar as well.
The same goes for ISO 3200.
At ISO 6400 the Nikon D800E looks a tad better, particularly at retaining some shadow details.
And at ISO 12800, the D800E seems to retain a tad more colors and details as well, but the difference is very small.
At ISO 25600, which is unusable on both cameras, the D800E shows better overall performance.
15) Sony A7R Comparison Summary
As you can see from the above comparisons, the Sony A7R has pretty amazing performance in terms of noise. It does very well at low ISOs and when down-sampled, even high ISO images are really clean all the way to ISO 3200. Past ISO 3200 is where things get noisier than my comfort level, but if you do a good job with the exposure and you down-sample to lower resolution, images at ISO 6400 can be usable as well.
When compared to the A7, the A7R does really well and when compared to the D800E, there is practically no difference in performance, except when pushing really high ISO levels beyond ISO 6400. That’s where the D800E edges the A7R a little bit in noise and dynamic range performance. But that really does not matter, as you would rarely ever use such high ISOs anyway.
The Sony A7R is a camera that I really wanted to like. With its lightweight construction, excellent high-resolution 36 MP sensor, superb technology (like EVF, live histograms / information overlay, focus peaking, etc), excellent manual focus operation and ability to use a myriad of different lenses via adapters, the A7R has a lot to offer. At the same time, Sony crippled the potential performance of the camera by limiting RAW capture to 11+7 bit lossy compression and even worse, did not incorporate Electronic Front Curtain Shutter (EFCS) into the camera’s design/firmware, which is the main reason why I cannot recommend it to any of our readers. As I have demonstrated in this review, the shutter shock exhibited by the camera is significant and can drastically impact images at different shutter speeds, depending on what lens / focal length is being used. I have a number of images that turned out to be blurry and unusable – something I painfully found out later on when viewing images on my computer. In my opinion, it is a major oversight on behalf of Sony, for which there is no practical solution. Considering that the A7R is a lightweight camera, Sony should have both dampened the shutter mechanism (the shutter is really loud when compared to other cameras!) and incorporated EFCS, so that the shutter does not become the cause of camera shake.
If Sony addressed the shutter shock issue, took care of the lossy compression and used larger capacity batteries, I would welcome the Sony A7-series cameras into my list of recommended gear. For now, I am anxiously waiting for the Sony A7R II, which I really hope will be my next mirrorless camera of choice, provided it addresses these issues and especially if it incorporates IBIS.
17) Where to buy and availability
B&H is currently selling the Sony A7R (body only) for $1,898 (as of 05/08/2015).
18) More Image Samples
- Build Quality
- Manual Focus
- Image Quality
- High ISO Performance
- Size and Weight
- Metering and Exposure
- Movie Recording Features
- Dynamic Range
- Speed and Performance
Photography Life Overall Rating