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Sony Alpha A7r Gordon Laing, November 2013
 
 

Sony Alpha A7r verdict

I'll cut straight to the chase: the Sony Alpha A7r is one of the most impressive and exciting cameras I've ever tested. This is a camera which delivers the quality of the Nikon D800e in a body which weighs half as much and costs almost one third less. This alone should sell it to loads of photographers, but on top of that it includes a fantastic electronic viewfinder, tilting screen, built-in Wifi, focus peaking, handy USB charging and powerful video capabilities. It's a wake-up call to much of the photographic industry, especially to Canon and Nikon.

I've long been a believer in mirrorless cameras, and personally find the benefits of electronic composition (such as a wealth of previews, live guides and focusing assistance) outweigh the pros of an optical viewfinder on a traditional DSLR. But while arguments about the pros and cons of optical versus electronic viewfinders will go on for many years to come, most high-end photographers I speak to cite the absence of full-frame models with AF as what's holding them back from dumping their DSLRs and adopting mirrorless.

Well Sony's now removed that barrier with not one but two full-frame mirrorless bodies. The image quality from both models is fantastic, with the A7 and A7r essentially matching the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Nikon D800e respectively in RAW, and beating them if you're comparing out-of-camera JPEGs. In terms of speed, the A7 shoots only 1fps slower than the 5D3 and the A7r matches the continuous speed of the D800e. Crucially both Sony bodies are considerably smaller, lighter and cheaper than their DSLR rivals too, while additionally offering a number of useful features they don't. It all adds up to a highly compelling pair of cameras which deserve to take this end of the market by storm, but they are by no means perfect or the magic bullet for everyone. Indeed while testing them I experienced a number of issues or frustrations which you should know about before making your final choice.

   
 


My biggest issue concerns autofocus. The A7r's contrast-based AF system is fairly leisurely under good light and quite lethargic in dim conditions. Shoot in very low light or with a small AF area under challenging conditions and it may not even lock-on at all. It's noticeably inferior to the speed and confidence of the contrast-based AF system on modern Micro Four Thirds cameras, albeit roughly similar to the Live View AF on full-frame DSLRs. But of course the benefit of DSLRs are their much snappier phase detect AF systems available when shooting through their optical viewfinders, which again are much faster than the Single AF acquisition of the A7r. Set the A7r to continuous AF and it'll have a go, but even with slow subjects I found the hit rate was less than 50%. Now to be fair continuous AF is an area where many mirrorless cameras continue to struggle, but again if you're coming from the phase-detect AF of a DSLR optical viewfinder, the continuous AF performance is a world apart. To put it mildly, the A7r is not an action camera. If you like to shoot things that don't stay still, be warned. It's happiest shooting static subjects, preferably from a tripod.

As if to accentuate the point, the A7r's shutter even sounds lethargic. It's not loud, but the sound is very drawn out compared to the louder, sharper, but much quicker sounding shutters of rival DSLRs, and the shutter release button is also a bit squashy for my taste. Frustratingly there's also no silent 100% electronic shutter option, something that's increasingly available on other mirrorless models - this could have given it a key advantage over rival DSLRs.

The cheaper A7 may improve on the A7r's autofocus, both in single and continuous modes, with its array of embedded phase-detect AF points, but in my tests the benefits were generally only experienced under decent light and of course confined to subjects falling within this frame; if they fell outside the PDAF area, the A7 performed similarly to the A7r. The A7's shutter is a bit more discreet though with an electronic first curtain shortening the overall sound, but it still sounds lolloping compared to rival cameras.

If you're coming from a full-frame DSLR you'll enjoy having the flexibility of a screen which tilts vertically, but if you're coming from, say, a Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera, then you'll miss having a touch-screen, and compared to some models, a screen which can also flip all the way out. Being able to tap to reposition a single AF area has become something I do for almost every shot with my camera and I greatly missed it on the A7r and A7. And if you mostly shoot in the portrait orientation or film pieces to camera, the vertically-tilting screen offers no benefit - for that you need a fully articulated screen.

Again if you're coming from a full-frame DSLR you'll already know you need optically stabilized lenses to iron-out any wobbles, but if you're trading from, say, an Olympus body, you'll miss the built-in stabilisation.

Staying on the subject of lenses, it's also important to consider the native catalogue which consists of just five models at launch, some of which may not be available in volume until 2014. It's also interesting to look at Sony's strategy behind the lens specifications so far. I personally believe Sony has gone for slightly dimmer apertures in order to deliver smaller lenses that also perform better across the frame. They want you to look at pictures of the A7r and A7 fitted with, say the Zeiss 35mm f2.8 and say 'wow, that's about the same size as a higher-end Micro Four Thirds camera, but with a sensor four times bigger'! But it's also important to note Canon and Nikon both offer a number of comparable focal lengths which are faster and cheaper, and in the case of the EF 35mm f2 IS USM, also include image stabilisation. To be fair, the two Zeiss primes for the Sony FE mount are very high quality and relatively compact too, but you'll need to factor their price - and slower apertures - into any system comparison.

While the limited selection of native lenses is always a big issue at the launch of any new system though, the A7r and A7 enjoy a unique advantage over almost any other camera: as mirrorless designs you can use adapters to fit almost any other lens, but as full-frame models you'll crucially enjoy them without a crop. Yep, you can fit Canon, Nikon, Leica, Contax, Voigtlander and other lenses to the A7r and A7 without a crop, and depending on the adapter you may even get AF too, albeit at a fairly leisurely speed. This alone could make it a killer combination for those who own an existing full-frame system, but desire a high resolution body with the modern frills of the A7r. I've personally tried the Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 on the A7r with good success, although if there's specific combinations you're interested in, I'd recommend a search first in case there are any compatibility issues. I hope to add more tests with third party lenses in a future update.

If only Sony had equipped with A7r and A7 with sensor-shift stabilisation, they could have become the ultimate bodies for using lenses across multiple systems. As it stands though they're still a highly compelling option.

In terms of video the A7r is certainly very good, with manual exposures, uncompressed HDMI output and both mic and headphone jacks, but it lacks the silent controls of video-oriented models and the output isn't as crisp, clean or free of moire as, say, the Canon 5D Mark III.

The last thing I'd note before making my final comparisons is the actual size and weight of the A7r and A7. Their compact bodies are very much a double-edged sword. Yes they're considerably more portable than a DSLR at this end of the market, but there's less to hold onto and you can't help but find yourself shooting more casually. The latter may be a personal point, as there's plenty of Leica and even Sony RX1 owners who know they need to take care when shooting for the best results, but there's something about the A7r and A7 which lulled me into a false sense of security. You feel you can snap away casually, even one-handed at times, but these are not casual cameras, especially not the A7r. The A7r gives you D800e quality and needs to be handled equally carefully to deliver similar results. This means focusing very carefully and holding steady, or best of all, using a tripod.

Like the D800e, the A7r is an unforgiving camera and if you're coming from a smaller format, say Micro Four Thirds or APSC, you may be surprised to find minor shake and focusing errors are a regular occurrence when previously they weren't an issue. Inevitably models like the Olympus bodies will deliver a higher hit rate in a casual environment because they're lower resolution, have a deeper inherent depth of field and also sport built-in stabilisation. The full-frame sensor size may be very seductive, but do think carefully about how you shoot, especially if coming from a smaller format, and also what you'd give up if you find things like built-in stabilisation or a touch-screen useful day-to-day.

Now before my final verdict, here's some comparisons with rival models.

 

Sony Alpha A7r vs Alpha A7

     
 
 
     
     

The biggest question for many will be whether to buy the Alpha A7r or the cheaper A7. Both share a great deal in common including the same screen and viewfinder, the same control system, equally weather-sealed bodies, same video modes, same connectivity, same wireless, same shooting modes, and of course the same lens mount. There are minor physical differences, such as the A7r being all magnesium alloy while the front plate on the A7 is plastic, and the mode and compensation dials on the A7r being solid aluminium versus plated on the A7. But the major difference regards their sensors.

The Alpha A7r employs a 36 Megapixel full-frame sensor with no optical low pass filter and a 100% contrast-based AF system. The Alpha A7 employs a 24 Megapixel full-frame sensor with an optical low pass filter and embedded phase detect AF points in a central frame. Both sensors feature microlenses which are angled-in at the corners, but only the A7r's are gapless.

First things first: the Alpha A7r undoubtedly delivers crisper and more detailed images as can be clearly seen in my results pages. The lower resolution of the A7 gives it a minor edge at higher sensitivities, but any advantage is eroded if you downsample the A7r to the same resolution. So when it comes to image quality, the A7r wins out, although with superior out-of-camera JPEGs to the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, the A7 isn't exactly shabby - it's just not as good as the A7r.

The embedded phase detect AF points made the A7 quicker and more confident at focusing than the A7r, but in my tests this was generally only applicable in decent light. Shoot in dim conditions and they performed similarly in terms of AF. For video though, the embedded phase-detect AF points gave the A7 an advantage over the A7r when it came to refocusing. In my tests the A7 was more confident with less hunting than the A7r which under the same conditions was noticeably more hesitant with more searching.

The continuous shooting is a bit quicker on the A7 at 5fps versus 4fps, although the biggest difference is the burst size, with the A7r being limited to about 20 or so frames even when shooting JPEG, whereas the A7 can keep shooting JPEGs pretty much until you run out of memory.

This should add up to the A7 being the better choice for action photography, and while this is the case, I still wouldn't describe it as a sports camera. The continuous AF lacked a high success rate in my tests and while 5fps is good for a full-frame camera, it's unremarkable for a sports camera. If you regularly shoot fast action there are better choices available.

So while the JPEG bursts were much longer on the A7 and it also enjoyed minor AF benefits (most notably during video), I'd say the choice between them mostly boils down to comparing their image quality and prices. The A7r certainly captures more detail, but the A7 costs comfortably less. And while those big images are seductive, handling their file sizes isn't always desirable.

See my Sony Alpha A7 review-in-progress for more details, which includes a selection of sample images and videos.

 

Sony Alpha A7r vs Olympus OMD EM1

     
 
 
     
     

The Olympus OMD EM1 is one of the most rounded and capable high-end mirrorless cameras to date, so is a natural camera to compare against the Alpha A7r. At first you may assume the Alpha A7r has all the trump cards with its considerably larger sensor, but there's a great deal in the EM1's favour that's important to weigh up. As even though you might think you want a full-frame sensor, you may end up better-served by one that's much smaller.

Both cameras actually share a surprising amount in common. They both have weather-sealed bodies that are roughly similar in size, electronic viewfinders with approximately the same image size and detail, they both have 3in tilting screens, built-in Wifi, focus peaking, eye-detection, 1/8000 fastest shutter speeds, and lots of controls and customisation. Neither has a built-in flash.

Starting with the A7r, its major advantage is the big sensor, four times the surface area and with more than double the total pixels. It'll come as no surprise to learn the A7r will deliver considerably more detailed images and lower noise too at high sensitivities. The full-frame sensor on the A7r also means there's no coverage or depth-of-field reduction to factor in, so an f2.8 lens will actually deliver the same potential blurring effect as f1.4 on Micro Four Thirds. In addition the A7r's focus peaking works during video, it has a panorama mode, 1080p video at 60p / 50p and 24 / 25p, a headphone jack, adjustable audio levels, there's NFC to aid the initial Wifi negotiation with compatible handsets, and the chance to extend its capabilities via downloadable apps.

In its favour, the OMD EM1 has very effective built-in stabilisation which works with any lens you attach, a touch-screen which lets you tap to reposition the AF area or pull-focus during video, deeper bracketing, considerably faster single AF, embedded phase detect AF points for superior continuous AF, faster continuous shooting at up to 10fps (albeit reducing to 6.5fps with AF), a neat Live Time mode which reveals the image building up over a long exposure and built-in timelapse facilities. Arguably its trump card though is access to the broadest and most mature native lens catalogue of any mirrorless system which includes many small and high quality primes.

For me the combination of quicker handling, built-in stabilisation and plenty of native lenses makes the EM1 a better all-round camera for most people, and while the sensor is lower resolution and four times smaller, the detail may be enough for most purposes and the size allows high quality small lenses to be made which are sharp into the corners. The EM1 is also considerably cheaper, indeed almost half the price of the A7r and if you were to buy the A7r with the Zeiss 35mm f2.8, you could instead equip yourself with the EM1 and three or four great lenses.

There's a lot to weigh-up, but if you don't need that big full-frame sensor, there's still very compelling reasons to go for a smaller format.

See my Olympus OMD EM1 review for more details.

Sony Alpha A7r vs Canon EOS 5D Mark III

     
 
 
     
     

The EOS 5D Mark III is one of Canon's most successful cameras, and also its highest resolution too. As a traditional DSLR, it offers quite a different handling experience to the A7r, but I believe many owners will be wondering what the Sony could offer them either as a replacement or a complement.

I'll start with the biggest difference: their form factor, and I'm deliberately not describing one as having an overall advantage over the other as it really boils down to a personal choice. As a traditional DSLR the Canon EOS 5D Mark III is much larger and heavier than the Alpha A7r, but while it's clearly not as portable, it gives you more to hold onto and is easier to hold steady. Both cameras share viewfinders with approximately 100% coverage and roughly similar-sized images through them too, but the A7r's image is electronic whereas the Mark III's is optical. There's pros and cons to both: an optical viewfinder is easier to use in very low light, never gets noisy and never lags as you pan to follow the action. In contrast an electronic viewfinder can offer a wealth of shooting aids including a choice of guides, a live histogram, leveling gauge, magnified views and focus peaking, and can also be used to compose movies along with navigating menus and images in playback. Only you can decide which form factor and viewfinder technology is best for you.

In terms of real benefits, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III boasts faster single AF and much more effective continuous AF with zonable areas and tracking options when shooting stills with the viewfinder, twin memory card slots (including one for Compact Flash which may or may not be a benefit to you), a battery that lasts for twice as many shots (so long as you compose with the viewfinder, not the screen), a slightly larger 3.2in screen, deeper seven frame bracketing, powerful remote control via MacOS and Windows computers, silent movie controls, a more discreet sounding shutter, faster continuous shooting (6fps vs 4fps), and superior video output with no scaling or moire artefacts to mention. And lest we forget, its EF mount provides it with native access to the largest native lens around.

In the Alpha A7r's favour, it sports a higher resolution sensor without an optical low pass filter which allows it to capture noticeably more detail than the Mark III, it can deploy this resolution on a wealth of third party lenses without a crop (including all of Canon's), it has a screen which can tilt vertically for easier composition at high and low angles, built-in Wifi and NFC for wireless transfer of images, smartphone remote control, focus peaking, a panorama mode, supports optional downloadable apps to expand its capabilities, offers 1080p video at 60p (versus a maximum of 30p on the Canon), the chance to top-up or recharge a battery over USB, and deliver 4k output for TV slideshows over HDMI. The A7r is also comfortably cheaper.

The choice between them boils down to price, personal preferences in form factor and composition, along with what you intend to use them for. You can answer the first parts, but I can help with the last.

If you intend to shoot mostly static subjects like landscapes, architecture or portraits of co-operative people, then the A7r will simply deliver much more detailed images than the 5D Mark III. And if you're an existing Canon owner who mostly shoots these subjects in Live View, then you'll find the handling similar and the transition very easy. Indeed get yourself a Metabones Smart Adapter III and you'll be able to use your existing Canon lenses with AE and AF at roughly the same speed as Live View on your DSLR. I can certainly see many Canon owners drawn to the idea of capturing higher resolution images with their existing lenses, as Canon seems in no hurry to offer anything more detailed than the Mark III. The A7r with an adapter could also open up a wealth of other third party lenses, including Nikon's legendary 14-24mm (albeit without AF), which Canon owners have waited so long for an equivalent. And if they wanted something truly portable, perhaps for travel, they could simply fit the Zeiss 35mm to the A7r. I think it all adds up to a highly compelling alternative or complement.

If however you intend to shoot pro-level video or any kind of action or sports, you'll appreciate the 5D Mark III's excellent hybrid performance that offers decent continuous AF, respectable continuous shooting and still the best looking video around. Yes the A7r can do all of this, but nowhere near as well.

So which would you buy? For more details, check out my Canon EOS 5D Mark III review and also consider the more affordable 6D which includes built-in Wifi and GPS, see my Canon EOS 6D review for full details.

 

Sony Alpha A7r vs Nikon D800(e)

     
 
 
     
     

The Nikon D800(e) delivers the best quality from a DSLR to date in terms of resolution and detail, but by matching it in this respect in a smaller, lighter and cheaper body, many existing or potential owners are considering the Alpha A7r very carefully. As a traditional DSLR, it offers quite a different handling experience to the A7r, and many of these differences are shared with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III above.

I'll start once again with the biggest difference: their form factor, and I'm deliberately not describing one as having an overall advantage over the other as it really boils down to a personal choice. As a traditional DSLR the Nikon D800(e) is much larger and heavier than the Alpha A7r, but while it's clearly not as portable, it gives you more to hold onto and is easier to hold steady. Both cameras share viewfinders with approximately 100% coverage and roughly similar-sized images through them too, but the A7r's image is electronic whereas the D800(e)'s is optical. There's pros and cons to both: an optical viewfinder is easier to use in very low light, never gets noisy and never lags as you pan to follow the action. In contrast an electronic viewfinder can offer a wealth of shooting aids including a choice of guides, a live histogram, leveling gauge, magnified views and focus peaking, and can also be used to compose movies along with navigating menus and images in playback. Only you can decide which form factor and viewfinder technology is best for you.

In terms of real benefits, the Nikon D800(e) boasts faster single AF and much more effective continuous AF when shooting stills with the viewfinder, twin memory card slots (including one for Compact Flash which may or may not be a benefit to you), a battery that lasts for more than twice as many shots (so long as you compose with the viewfinder, not the screen), a slightly larger 3.2in screen (albeit with native 3:2 images letterboxed), deeper nine frame bracketing, a DX crop for movies offering a magnified view without loss of quality, a more discreet sounding shutter, and native access to a very broad lens catalogue.

In the Alpha A7r's favour, it can exploit a wealth of third party lenses without a crop (albeit sometimes with the loss of AF), it has a screen which can tilt vertically for easier composition at high and low angles, built-in Wifi and NFC for wireless transfer of images, smartphone remote control, slightly superior video quality, supports optional downloadable apps to expand its capabilities, offers 1080p video at 60p (versus a maximum of 30p on the Nikon), the chance to top-up or recharge a battery over USB, cleaner Live View magnified focusing, focus peaking, a panorama mode, and 4k output for TV slideshows over HDMI. The A7r is also comfortably cheaper.

With both cameras delivering roughly the same image quality for stills, the same continuous shooting speeds, and neither delivering much better video quality than the other, you have to look very closely at price, form factor and composition.

If you shoot mostly static subjects like landscapes, architecture or portraits of co-operative people, then the A7r will roughly match the quality and experience of the D800(e). But if you shoot in Live View, for me the A7r has the edge with a cleaner magnified view, focus peaking and the choice of composition with a tilting screen or EVF. The latter is definitely a benefit I noticed and enjoyed when shooting test shots side-by-side with the A7r and D800e, but I don't think it's enough alone to tempt existing D800(e) owners into making the switch, although it should be a factor for new buyers weighing them both up, especially if they also favour the Sony's smaller and lighter body.

If you shoot any kind of action or sports, the D800(e) will deliver a better experience with faster and more confident continuous AF through the viewfinder, and again if composing with the viewfinder it enjoys quick AF with a huge array of native lenses. But that said, the D800(e)'s action credentials aren't as good as the 5D Mark III, so it's important to put it in perspective.

Ultimately while I can see many Canon landscape photographers who don't exploit pro-level video complementing or even swapping their 5D Mark IIIs for an A7r to enjoy a smaller, lighter and higher resolution body, I don't think there's as much to tempt Nikon D800(e) owners to switch unless they really are fed up with the size and weight of their bodies and wouldn't miss the optical viewfinder. After all the D800(e) and A7r share similar photo quality and while the Sony's video is better it's not as big a gap as there is to the Canon in this regard.

But if you don't already own a D800(e) and were considering it for ultra high resolution stills, then you should carefully look at the Alpha A7r as it matches the quality from a smaller, lighter and cheaper body. As such you really have to ask yourself how much you want or need the traditional DSLR form factor.

For more details, check out my Nikon D800 review. For a more affordable full-frame Nikon, also consider the D610 - see my Nikon D610 review from more details.

 

Sony Alpha A7r vs NEX-7

     
 
 
     
     

Until the Alpha A7 and A7r came along, the NEX-7 was Sony's flagship mirrorless camera. Many NEX-7 owners came to it from owning a bulkier, often full-frame, DSLR, and while most wouldn't go back to the size and weight, they may still look back fondly on the sensor size and lack of crop. There's also those who have simply outgrown the NEX-7 and yearn for something more sophisticated. As such, it's fair to say the Alpha A7 and A7r are of great interest to NEX-7 owners, so here's how they compare.

Let's start with the lens mount, which they have in common. Both the NEX-7 and Alpha A7r share an E-mount, which means you can natively mount any E-mount lens without an adapter. Of course all E-mount lenses to date have only been corrected for the smaller APS-C sensors of the NEX bodies, so if you mount them on the full-frame A7r, you can either operate in a cropped mode at 15 Megapixels (compared to 24 on the NEX-7), or shoot uncropped and record the vignette (see my main review).

You can also mount one of the new full-frame FE lenses on either system, but this time the compromise is the other way around: on a NEX body, it'll have the field cropped and reduced by 1.5 times, while on the A7r you'll enjoy the full coverage. This crop also applies to any other lenses you mount via an adapter, be they Sony A-mount options, or those from a third party: all will be cropped by 1.5 times by the NEX-7, compared to delivering their full field of view on the A7r. If you're shooting wide, the A7r will enjoy the uncropped coverage benefit, but if you're shooting distant subjects, the NEX-7 actually enjoys the advantage, packing 24 Megapixels into a smaller area for a detailed crop view.

Moving onto definite advantages, the Alpha A7r boasts higher resolution images when shooting with lenses corrected for the full-frame, lower noise thanks to a larger pixel pitch, a weather-sealed body, a larger and brighter electronic viewfinder, a far less tortuous tabbed menu system, built-in Wifi supporting wireless image transfer and downloadable apps, a maximum shutter of 1/8000, a proper mode dial, dedicated exposure compensation dial, headphone jack and a standard hotshoe; some may also prefer the larger body and centrally-positioned viewfinder.

In its favour the NEX-7 has a smaller and lighter body (although some may not see that as an advantage), shoots faster (10fps vs 4fps in Speed Priority), delivers higher resolution images with lenses designed for the APS-C frame, and costs less than half the price.

So while the Alpha A7r comfortably out-features the NEX-7 and out-performs it when shooting with full-frame lenses, it is obviously a much more expensive camera - indeed in a completely different class. But I don't think it's a stretch to envision many NEX-7 owners setting their sights on it, or the more affordable A7 as both offer a wealth of worthy upgrades, while also supporting the possibility of exploiting any full-frame lenses they may own from an earlier system.

See my Sony NEX-7 review for more details.

 

Sony Alpha A7r final verdict

For what's arguably a specialist camera, the Sony Alpha A7r appeals to a very broad group of photographers: those upgrading from a smaller format whether DSLR or mirrorless, those downsizing from a full-frame DSLR, those looking for an alternative to expensive rangefinder cameras, the A7r has them all interested.

In many respects it certainly delivers the goods. In my tests the Alpha A7r matched or out-performed the image quality from the Nikon D800e, while comfortably out-resolving the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, not to mention its stablemate the Alpha A7. If you're looking for maximum image quality in a minimum body size, this is the camera for you.

While the native lens selection is understandably modest at launch, there's already two cracking (albeit reassuringly expensive) options in the Zeiss 35mm f2.8 and 55mm f1.8, and a wealth of third party options available if you choose to go down the adapter route. Indeed this could end up being the raison d'etre for the A7r as not only does its short flange distance mean you can mount almost any lens via an adapter, the full-frame sensor also means you'll enjoy their coverage without a crop. While the AF will be slower or even non-existent via an adapter, it still makes the transition from existing lens collections much easier, and could end up being a particularly compelling option for Leica owners - after all they'll be able to use their top-end lenses on a more affordable body with a higher resolution sensor, modern focusing aids and wireless. Please note though the only third party lenses I've tried so far on the A7r are from Canon and Nikon, so if there's a specific combination you want, I'd recommend searching on it first in case there's any unexpected incompatibilities.

The body is wonderfully compact but felt good in my hands, and despite its size, Sony's packed in three customizable dials along with one dedicated to exposure compensation. The A7r's feature-set is also refreshingly up-to-date compared to rival full-frame DSLRs, so you'll enjoy a tilting screen, Wifi and NFC, focus peaking, handy USB charging and panorama modes. And even if you think you prefer the optical viewfinder of a traditional DSLR, I'd urge you to try the A7r for size as its electronic viewfinder is one of the best I've used - bright, detailed and similar in size to the Olympus EM1 not to mention the optical viewfinders in the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Nikon D800.

What's not to like? The AF is leisurely even in daylight and lacks confidence in dim conditions, the shutter sound is surprisingly clunky and there's no silent option, there's no built-in stabilisation, the screen isn't touch-sensitive nor does it flip all the way out, the video quality and implementation aren't as professional as the 5D3 or GH3, there's only basic bracketing and no timelapse facilities built-in, and again the native lens selection is limited right now (not to mention sporting average apertures and high prices). Interestingly some of these downsides also apply to full-frame DSLRs, but the A7r is also up against thoroughly modern mirrorless rivals the best of which boast powerful and mature feature-sets.

I'd also like to reiterate what I noted earlier: the A7r may look approachable but is a very unforgiving camera, so if you shoot casually (which you might be tempted to given the body size), you may end up with lots of images that aren’t spot on. Indeed this coupled with the other downsides noted here prevent me from recommending it to everyone even if you have this budget to spend. There could be better options for you even if it means sticking with - or adopting - smaller formats, such as the Olympus EM1 which to me is a more rounded general-purpose camera overall. Ultimately the A7r is not a magic bullet that will fulfill all your photographic desires. It is a specialist camera for those who demand the best image quality in the smallest body and can either work around or aren't bothered by its limitations.

But what a specialist body, and what a start for the FE system. By delivering and in some cases exceeding the D800e's image quality, the Alpha A7r has become the quality leader in the non-medium format league. The fact it does this in a body that's half the thickness, half the weight and one third cheaper than a D800e is a remarkable achievement and allows me to easily award it my Highly Recommended rating for those who understand what it can and can't do. Watch out full-frame world: Sony's coming and it means business.



Good points
Best image quality outside of medium format.
Full-frame sensor means no crop with any lenses.
Small body with good ergonomics and controls.
Weatherproof body.
Excellent large and detailed electronic viewfinder.
Tilting 3in screen with live histogram & leveling gauge.
1080p video w manual exposures, headphone & mic jacks.
Wifi, NFC and downloadable apps to add features.
Focus peaking.
Panorama mode.
Handy recharging over USB. Works in-car or via laptops.
HDMI output can deliver slideshows in 4k to compatible TVs.

Bad points
Leisurely AF in all conditions. AF lacks confidence in low light.
No built-in stabilisation. Needs optically stabilized lenses.
Limited selection of native lenses at launch.
Continuous bursts limited to 4fps and 15-25 frames.
Screen not touch-sensitive and doesn't fully articulate.
Fairly basic bracketing and no timelapse built-in.
Unforgiving resolution demands very careful handling.
Relatively clunky shutter sound and no silent option.
Video can suffer from moire, but superior to D800e.
No built-in flash.



Scores

(relative to 2013 semi-pro cameras)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

18 / 20
20 / 20
15 / 20
18 / 20
18 / 20

89%
 

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Photographing the 4th Dimension: time
eBook by Jim M Goldstein
Price: $20 USD (PDF download)
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A great-looking and highly informative eBook for anyone interested in long exposure photography. Whether you're into painting with light, capturing star-trails or creating timelapse video, author Jim M Goldstein has the answers. One of my favourite eBooks to date and one you'll want in your collection even if it's just to browse the great images.
     
All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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