Sony A7R Review, a top-of-the-line full frame mirrorless camera
In the fall of 2013, Sony raised the bar for mirrorless cameras by the launch of two new models: A7 and A7R. Both are the first mirrorless cameras with full-frame sensor. If until then there still existed skeptical voices on mirrorless sites, the situation drastically changed after the launch of the new models.
I recently tested the Sony A7R, the more powerful version of the two released. Of course, the differences are not that large, but are obvious: A7R has a larger sensor (36 megapixels as opposed to 24 in the A7) and no AA filter (anti-aliasing, or low pass). These would be the main differences. It is also rumored that A7R was built to be used mostly with classic rangefinder objectives, such as those produced by Leica.
But let's see the full specifications of the model we're testing, and how it behave during test days. I must note that I tested the A7R with the 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens, but also with the 18-105mm f/4 OSS, and the Carl Zeiss 16-70mm f/4 OSS.
* All photos were taken in JPEG format with the kit lens, 28- 70mm f/3.5-5.6. Photos taken with other lenses are clearly marked so.
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Key Features - Sony A7R
- 36.3 megapixel full-frame sensor;
- Video shooting in full HD at 60p;
- Wireless connection;
- SD/SDHC memory card;
- No built-in flash;
- Focus system in 25 contrast-detection points;
- ISO sensitivity from 100 to 25,600 with expansion up to 51,200;
- Minimum 1/8000s shutter speed, maximum of 30 seconds;
- Sequential shooting at 4 frames per second;
- Electronic viewfinder with a resolution of 2,400,000 points;
- 3-inch tilting LCD display with a resolution of 1.229 million points;
- Weight of 407 grams.
- Full-frame sensor;
- Good IQ at high ISO;
- Solid construction and ergonomics;
- The viewfinder is very good quality;
- Details are good in video too;
- In semiautomatic modes the camera tends to select a slower shutter speed to keep the ISO low, but because of that many images are blurred;
- Lack of an integrated flash.
Nature photography in the Botanical Garden
Among the first places where I shot with the new A7R was the Botanical Garden. I arrived there on a winter Sunday, at about 4 o'clock, about an hour before sunset. The sun was low enough to make the test even more demanding for the camera, given that it constantly had to deal with either bright direct sunlight, or fully shaded areas.
Here I felt for the first time that I liked the camera very much. And totally fell in love with its viewfinder. It is, in my opinion, the best electronic viewfinder that I ever looked in. It is rendering an image so vividly close to the real original. In fact, it often looks even better.
I also like the fact that the sensor has a very wide dynamic range. Contrasts shooting, I managed to find a balance between the sky and earth planes. And I noticed something else. In terms of optics, the kit lens is excellent! See the photos below and a few shots taken at 28mm with lighting poles/trees in the foreground. Distortion is virtually nonexistent, and there's very little chromatic aberration visible.
Here's something interesting. It seems that lens flare is less obvious at f/3.5 than at f/11. Strange but useful sometimes. Or maybe I just ran across a few isolated cases; it would require further testing to know for sure. As a conclusion, the camera receives a great A+ for nature photography.
The city at sunset
Then I hit the city streets awaiting nightfall. I caught a beautiful sunset downtown Bucharest. Perhaps one of the best I've seen this year. As I already said, the high dynamic range sensor helped a lot to capture a balance of light similar to the natural one.
I noticed that the camera renders colors very well in such conditions. What bothered me though was that setting the camera on semi-automatic or auto ISO modes, it tends to expose longer, by an equivalent 1/focal distance, to avoid image noise. Specifically, it doesn't increases the ISO and lowers exposure time, but instead keeps the ISO as low as possible while selecting an as low shutter speed as possible for the given focal distance.
I avoided these issues by photographing manually most of the time. This is an issue however chiefly if you try to freeze motion in low light. You can be in control by compensating exposure or by setting the ISO manually, so it's not that big of a deal. But let's go ahead and look at the photos.
And then I tested the camera at high ISO for the first time. The photos below were taken with ISO 6400 and, again, are JPEGs. I was more than happy with what I got! Image quality at high ISO is very, very good. One can see how the full-frame sensor and the BIONZ X image processor come into play.
ISO test: 3200-25600
And if you're still unconvinced of the quality at high ISO, here is the next set of photos. I start with ISO 3200 and go up to 25,600. At 25,600 and further, the images are usable. And they're JPEGs. But let's take a look at them.
The conditions are somewhat favorable for good results, but even so, eliminating all helping factors, I consider that you can get very good quality images even at ISO 12,800, whatever the conditions - supposing the exposure is right, of course. It's good to keep in mind that any underexposure will cause an increase in noise.
And other images taken in conditions close to those encountered in reality. They are made at ISO 2500 in quite difficult lighting.
Testing: Continuous shooting at 4 frames per second
It's not the fastest camera in this regard, but I think this speed will fit most situations. I wished it shot faster, but that would probably mean a compromise in terms of quality. It may be for the same reason for which the D800 with the same number of megapixels also shoots at 4 frames per second.
Here are ten frames taken in continuous mode. Photos were taken at an indoor ice rink inside the mall.
The automatic panorama function
Spin the wheel to change photo modes to panorama mode, then frame, trigger and move the camera; the photo will be ready in a few seconds. The automatic panorama function works very well and yields good performance every time. Photos are well stitched together, exposure is correctly maintained across all frames, and settings are adjusted so you don't get shaken images even if you pan the camera faster. Here's what I got.
Video shooting in the Botanical Garden
A big A+ for video recording! I love it how the colors and details are rendered. The clips are filmed in full HD at 25 frames per second. All the frames were shot in the Botanical Garden in Bucharest, the same place where I took the first photos. The focus was automatic throughout filming, and with 2 or 3 exceptions, it didn't miss its target.
Watch the sequences that pass from one area to another in differing light. The exposure meter adjusts quickly, and the transition from one luminosity to the next is smooth and pleasing to watch.
Testing with the Sony 18-105mm f/4 G OSS lens - Ideal for video shooting
It is a lens for crop format, but it works very well on the A7R, rendering images with a resolution of 15 megapixels. This is enough resolution for most situations. Too bad that at the moment Sony currently does not offer many full-frame mirrorless lenses, but I am confident this will change soon.
The Sony A7R is compatible with all Sony Mirrorless lenses, but pictures taken with these will have a resolution of 15 megapixels. Turning now to the second lens we tested on the full frame mirrorless, the Sony 18-105mm f/4 G OSS is an all-round lens ideal for shooting video.
It has a minimalist design and has no zoom or focal length markings. It looks good, although sometimes it could be useful to know where you are at in terms of focus and focal length. I for one am using those marks. The new range of cameras and lenses comes with many features that can compensate for the classic markings - I'm thinking of the function where, while you're on manual focus, the image is zoomed in to 100% in the viewfinder or LCD display to allow you to see in detail whether or not the subject is sharp or not. Here's what this lens looks like.
Check it out on Amazon
Here's a series of photos that I've taken with this lens. The zoom ring has a good adaptability to help you do what you want to do. A stronger twist will make it zoom in and out faster, while a softer twist will result in slower zooming.
Regarding picture quality, the Sony 18-105mm is a lens aimed to handle as many situations as possible. I noticed that the details are best rendered between 24 and 80 millimeters. I photographed a lot at f/4, and the objective overall did pretty good. It does good separation of the subject from the background, creates a nice bokeh and lets you take interesting portraits. Have a look at the pictures I've taken.
And then I shot video. Like I mentioned, I think it's an ideal lens for shooting, especially due to the electronically controlled zoom that allows you to make smooth transitions from one plane to another. I did some demos in the video below to see better what I mean.
Testing with the Sony Carl Zeiss 16-70mm f/4 OSS - An epitome of image quality
This is a Carl Zeiss premium lens, and a hallmark of image quality. I reached this conclusion after testing it heavily for a few days. The images are very sharp even at f/4 and the stabilizer does a very good job. I was pleasantly surprised to see very little distortion, and crisp and sharp details against the backlight on every side of the frame. That's what Carl Zeiss quality is. Let's first have a look at the lens itself.
I would have liked, in this price range, for the lens to have an internal zoom. It would have been better, I believe, and would have helped maintain a more compact kit regardless of the mirrorless it was used on. However, these are details unrelated to the quality the lens can offer. Here are the test images I took with the A7R.
Then I tested it in video mode. Excellent from this point of view as well! Overall this lens is a symbol of quality. What a shame it does not come in full-frame format. Shame! I hope though that they'll launch a similar objective for full frame before long.
Sony A7R is a mirrorless camera with a full frame sensor without a low pass filter, which yields a high image quality. It performs very well in both good light, but especially in low light, and can get usable images even at ISO 25600. I recommend it for use in all possible situations, by amateur and professional photographers alike.
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