- 36MP Full-frame CMOS sensor; 3in, 921k-dot LCD; Sony E-Mount; ISO 100 – 25,600; Full HD 1080p video
- Manufacturer: Sony
- Review Price: £252.00
Until recently, the only way to get your hands on a system camera with a full-frame sensor was to buy a Leica M-system camera, a practice that typically involves remortgaging your house. By placing a 35mm full-frame CMOS sensor into a mirrorless compact system camera, Sony created not one but two world firsts: the Sony A7 and its stablemate the A7R.
While the two models are very similar there are several key differences, chief among which is that the Alpha 7R boasts a significantly higher resolution of 36.4MP, compared to the Alpha 7’s 24.3MP. It’s got a few other tricks under the bonnet too, as you’d expect given the fact that it costs a few hundred pounds more. So, is it worth the extra cash?
SONY A7R: FEATURES
What really sets the Alpha 7R apart from its compact system camera (CSC) competition is its sensor. The full-frame CMOS sensor housed within the compact body (127 x 94 x 48mm) has more in common with the kind you’d find on a pro-standard DSLR than any other CSC on the market at the moment.
The whopping resolution of the Alpha 7R’s sensor would mean that a lot of similar cameras might struggle to keep up with image processing demands, however Sony has equipped the A7R with its new BIONZ X processor, which it says will process images three times faster than the processors found on prior Alpha models and Sony’s NEX cameras.
There do still have to be sacrifices though, and Sony has chosen to make them in the Alpha 7R’s shooting speed. The A7R’s maximum shooting speed is just 2.5fps, significantly slower than its CSC rivals. You can increase this to 4fps by switching off AF and metering between shots, but the A7R will never be a camera for high-speed photographers.
Electronic viewfinders can be a little divisive – some photographers can’t stand them – but the 2.4million-dot specimen supplied on the A7R is a very impressive bit of kit (although perhaps edged out a little in quality by recent Olympus and Fujifilm offerings such as the Olympus Stylus 1 and Fujifilm X-T1). There’s also a 3-inch rear-LCD screen, with a resolution of 921,000 dots.
This is all very similar to what you’ll get on the Alpha 7R. Elsewhere there’s also Full HD 1080p video capture possible at a frame rate of 60p. Support for external microphones means the A7R is not a bad option for videographers. It’s also equipped with Wi-Fi and Near Field Communication (NFC) connectivity, and it’s possible to instant transfer images from the camera to another device like a smartphone thanks to Sony’s excellent PlayMemories app.
The Alpha 7R is either equivalent or superior to its cheaper brother spec-wise in pretty much every way except one: autofocus. The A7 uses a combination of two types of autofocus, called phase detection and contrast detection, to deliver lightning fast AF. The A7R, on the other hand, uses only contrast-detect, and is therefore a little slower.
SONY A7R: DESIGN
The body design of the Alpha 7R is where it shares the most in common with the Alpha 7. They aren’t so much similar as ‘basically identical’ – both unfussy, utilitarian and effective. The little ‘R’ on the front of the Alpha 7R’s body would be the only hope of a layman tasked with telling the difference between the two. It looks a lot like the Sony Cyber-Shot RX1, with an additional handgrip and pentaprism style hump for the viewfinder.
Much like its sensor, the body design gives the 7R a feel more closely resembling a DSLR than another CSC. The handgrip on the front is sizeable and feels robust to hold. This is further aided by the magnesium alloy build and the comprehensive sealing that protects against dust and inclement weather.
Control-wise, things are excellent. The arrangement feels very natural and smooth to operate, with a fairly standard configuration of buttons on the rear. On the top plate are a few dials for mode selection and exposure compensation, the shutter release button and a non-assigned button that you can customise to control whatever function you prefer.
SONY A7R: PERFORMANCE
The major feature to talk about here is the AF. While it is, as we mentioned earlier, slower than the A7, it’s important to note that the contrast detect system used on the A7R, identical to the one seen in previous Sony cameras like the Sony A3000 is by no means bad. It’s perfectly sprightly until you get into low light, where it does struggle a little.
There is another way that the focusing on the A7R could be improved as well, and that’s with the addition of a touchscreen. The vari-angle LCD on the back of the camera is a nice touch, but it would be so much more useful if you could use it to manually select AF points – currently a rather tedious process on the A7R.
Elsewhere on the A7R, performance is excellent. Metering is reliable and accurate – you can set the camera to evaluative metering and simply let it take command of a scene for pleasing, even exposures. One feature that’s especially welcome is the obliquely named ‘Zebra’ mode, which displays black and white stripes across overexposed areas, allowing you to immediately flag up any danger of blowing out highlights. The usefulness of this function carries over to video capture.
Sony has launched a new range of Carl Zeiss optics specifically designed for the Alpha 7 and 7R – a 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS, a 35mm f/2.8, a 55mm f/1.8 and a 24-70mm f/4 OSS. Sony has announced plans to expand the range in the future but it is, for now, rather limited. Utilising an LA-EA4 adapter can allow you to use any of Sony’s older E-mount lenses with the Alpha 7R, however as these lenses were designed to work with smaller APS-C-sized sensors they won’t be able to reap the full benefits of the A7R’s enormous sensor (indeed, the A7R will automatically crop the image to a 16MP resolution when these lenses are used).
SONY A7R: IMAGE QUALITY
Given the length at which we’ve discussed the A7R’s sensor, it seems to barely need mentioning that the image resolution the camera can produce is utterly exceptional. At lower ISO settings especially the level of clarity and detail resolved by the camera is simply phenomenal.
Be aware that this can be a double-edged sword – when every detail captured by the camera is resolved in stunning clarity, little imperfections caused by poor focusing or camera-shake become quite glaringly obvious. It also means that you really need the very best lenses, to avoid any imperfections showing up.
Some good news though – even with the enormous resolution, the A7R copes excellently with image noise. Slight traces of image noise start to creep in at ISO 800, but even at the highest sensitivities it is barely noticeable. The Raw files recorded by the camera perform much better than the JPEGs in this regard.
The dynamic range is a little restricted in the Sony Alpha 7R, more so than in the Alpha 7, as the higher resolution means its light-gathering capabilities are put under much greater strain. It scores points, however, for its colour palette, which is as reliable as we’ve come to expect from Sony cameras. The auto white balance in particular is very dependable.
SHOULD I BUY THE SONY A7R?
Short answer – it depends what you need. The feature set and raw power of the Sony Alpha 7R puts it ahead of pretty much every CSC you could buy, and in terms of resolution it easily keeps pace with a high-end DSLR. The current range of lenses is currently quite restrictive – given that Sony has already mapped out its plans for the future of the lineup you could treat an Alpha 7R as an investment for the future, though it depends how deep your pockets are. For the moment, though, you’re better off picking up an adapter and looking into third-party lenses.
The other major issue to bear in mind is the price. The Alpha 7R is a few hundred pounds more expensive than the Alpha 7, and £400 is not exactly pocket change. Whether it’s worth it comes down to how much you need that extra resolution. If you’re, say, a landscape photographer, the Alpha 7R is a fantastic investment. If you’re any kind of photographer, it’s an excellent but expensive camera.
|Sony A7R||Price: US$399|
Barring slightly lacklustre focusing and a limited lens lineup, the Alpha 7R is a hugely impressive camera. If you’re willing to part with serious cash for a CSC then this is the best one you’ll get.