Sony Alpha A7R £1500

12th Dec 2013 | 15:08

Sony Alpha A7R

Superb image quality from this revolutionary CSC

TechRadar rating:

4.5 stars

Both the Sony A7 and the A7R are fantastic innovations. But for now, the system isn't quite complete enough. Although image quality is fantastic, it feels as if there are a few kinks that need to be ironed out.

Like:

High resolution sensor; No AA filter; Full frame; Inbuilt Wi-Fi

Dislike:

No touchscreen;

Introduction

Ratings in depth

Design - 4
Features - 4
Performance - 5
Usability - 4.5
Value 4.5

Sony is well known for innovating in the camera sphere, basically because it can. Not content to launch the world's first compact system camera to feature a full-frame sensor, the company has launched two versions of the A7.

The A7R features a whopping 36.4 million-pixel full-frame sensor, but it has had the anti-aliasing filter removed. The R in the A7R's name stands for resolution, so the emphasis here is on getting the highest possible picture quality. Removing the AA filter can lead to an increase in moire patterning, but it also means that the highest amount of detail possible is resolved.

Alongside the sensor, Sony has introduced a new processing engine. The Bionz X processor promises speeds that are up to three times faster than its predecessor, and facilitates a host of features including full HD video recording and a quick autofocus algorithm.

Aside from the sensor resolution, one of the other key differences between the A7 and the A7R is its focusing type. The A7R uses a contrast detection system, compared with the hybrid phase and contrast detection autofocusing system in the A7. It's worth noting that on both cameras, autofocus sensitivity is only available down to 0EV, which doesn't compare particularly favourably to the likes of the Nikon D610 (-1EV), or the Canon EOS 6D (-3EV). This could make the camera potentially harder to use in darker conditions.

A7R

On the back of the camera is a three-inch tilting screen which is joined by a half-inch size EVF. The camera is also equipped with Wi-Fi and NFC for instant social media sharing and remote controlling the camera from a smartphone or tablet.

Even though the A7R uses the E-mount as found on NEX cameras, current lenses aren't designed for full-frame cameras and as such if you use them, images can be cropped to APS-C size automatically (or will feature vignetting if you switch the auto cropping off). Sony has announced five new full-frame lenses to go alongside the A7 and the A7R, but only two are available from launch (the 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 and 35mm f/1.8 lens).

Unlike the standard A7, the R variant will not be available with the 28-70mm kit lens. As we've discovered in our A7 review, this lens isn't the best performer, so it's not recommended as the ideal partner for a camera with such a high resolution. Although five new lenses have been announced, there is only one proprietary lens that you can buy with our recommendation – a 35mm f/2.8 Zeiss optic. This is, of course, a classic focal length (there's no crop conversion since it's a full frame camera). But some photographers might find it a little limiting.

a7R

Luckily, though, the company says that it is working on more lenses, with around 15 expected (in total) by the end of 2015. You've also got the opportunity to use any existing Sony A-mount lenses with an official Sony adapter. Most intriguingly, if you've got any Canon or Nikon optics you might want to use, third-party manufacturers such as Metabones also make converters with full AF that you can use – tempting if you're thinking of jumping ship but don't want the hassle of replacing a complete system.

The A7R has a higher retail price than the standard A7 and there will be some debate as to whether you need the extra resolution. But if your primary concern is detail (i.e. you're a landscape photographer), you're likely to be tempted by this version. Like the A7, the R variant is also dust and moisture resistant.

It's difficult to find a camera which directly competes against either the A7 or the A7R as there's currently nothing quite like it on the market. However, in terms of other full-frame interchangeable lens cameras, the Nikon D610 and the Canon EOS 6D are reasonably closely matched in price.

Build quality and handling

In terms of the build quality and design the A7R is pretty much identical to the standard A7, with the only difference being the R engraved onto the camera itself.

It features a reasonably chunky grip, while the overall small size of the camera is particularly impressive when considering the size of the sensor inside, especially when compared with other full-frame cameras on the market such as the Nikon D600 and Canon EOS 6D.

Enthusiast photographers should appreciate the high number of dials and buttons on the camera which gives direct access to many of the key features. On top of the camera is a mode dial for switching between the various exposure modes the camera has to offer, including aperture priority. There's also an exposure compensation dial, which is placed within natural reach of where your thumb might sit on the back of the camera.

A7R in detail

As with other Sony cameras, several of the buttons on the body are customisable, including three which are labelled with a "C". This makes it especially convenient for those who want to work in specific ways, or who shoot specific types of scene quite often, such as low light.

Two scrolling dials can be found in front of and to the rear of the thumb grip, which are used for altering aperture or shutter speed, depending on which mode you're shooting in. If shooting in fully manual mode, you'll use the front dial for aperture and the rear one for shutter speed, which seems like a very natural way to work.

A7R detail

On the back of the camera is a scrolling dial, which doubles up as a four-way navigational pad. Each of these options controls something by default, such as white balance, but you can customise each of these options as you see fit.

Another handy feature is the quick menu, accessed by tapping the function button. This brings up all of the most commonly used features, and again, this menu is fully customisable. So, if you decide that you'll never use Flash Mode (as there is no inbuilt flash), you could replace it with something you will use instead.

Although the A7R's screen only tilts, rather than fully articulates, it's still handy for shooting from awkward angles. Sadly there's no touchscreen, which would have made changing things such as the autofocus point much easier.

If you want to change the autofocus point, you can do so by pressing the C1 button on the top plate of the camera. It's a little fiddly to use, but at least the option is available – it can be even more convoluted on other Sony cameras (such as the RX10).

rear shot

For the first time on a Sony system camera, the company has introduced the ability to change the size of the AF point, between small, medium and large. The small option is particularly useful if you're trying to focus on something of fine detail.

The electronic viewfinder on the A7R is one of the better ones currently available on the market, with its 2.4 million dot resolution providing a very clear and bright view. In practice, it's very easy to forget that you're even using an electronic device, and there are some merits to using it over a traditional optical version – not least the live preview displayed in the window. It will probably be tricky for Sony to convince the traditional full-frame audience of the merits of using an electronic viewfinder, though, but any doubters should definitely try it before making a judgement.

rear shot

Thankfully the menu system on both the A7 and A7R is not a traditional NEX affair, which could be difficult and confusing to navigate. Instead, it's a reasonably sensible arrangement, with options arranged under six different tabs. It takes a little bit of time to familiarise yourself with it, but the layout makes sense.

Performance

Featuring one of the most exciting innovations in camera technology, it's no surprise that expectations for the A7R were very high. We've been extremely impressed with Sony's output of late, and saw no reason why the A7R would fail to deliver on all that it promised. Happily, we have not been disappointed.

Colours are vibrant and punchy, without showing too much saturation. If you wish to alter contrast and saturation, you can do so in camera using Creative Styles, giving lots of scope for those who want to do something a little bit more creative with their shots.

In terms of colour, metering and white balance, the A7R puts in a very similar performance to the standard A7. The all-purpose metering system generally does a good job of producing accurate exposures, although I found that dialling in some exposure compensation is necessary in areas of high contrast. Automatic white balance similarly does a good job, erring towards warmer tones when faced with artificial lighting – something which can be resolved by switching to a more appropriate white balance setting.

Sony A7R

As we might expect, detail is very finely resolved, more so than the standard A7, making it ideal for those that are concerned with detail, such as landscape photographers. Removing the AA filter increases the likelihood of moire patterning appearing on images, but during testing I've yet to come across any such evidence of this happening in stills.

Although you can use the 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 standard zoom lens with this camera, it's not recommended if you want to get the most of it. It's not available to buy as a kit, and it's probably worth waiting for the 24-70mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss version, which should be available on sale next year – although of course the price is likely to be high.

Instead, the perfect "kit" lens for this camera is the 35mm f/2.8 optic. This produces beautifully sharp images, while giving you enough scope for shallow depth of field effects to be produced. It's not ideal as a portrait lens, but you can use it, and it copes well with environmental shots. I've also been able to use the 55mm f/1.8 lens, which should be available to buy in the early part of next year. It's a great lens for portraits and its extremely wide aperture allows for some really beautiful effects.

Fall off in focus is very nice, with out-of-focus areas rendered beautifully, with some lovely round bokeh from both the 35mm and the 55mm lenses.

As prime lenses such as the 35mm and 55mm have wide apertures, you may find you don't need to use high sensitivities all that often. But the good news is that when you do, the A7R copes very well. Image smoothing and loss of detail is present, but it only starts to become problematic at ISO 3200, and then only if you really pixel peep at 100%. We'd be happy to use this camera up to ISO 6400 and have useable shots afterwards, especially if printing and sharing at normal sizes (A4 and below).

top-down view

The A7R only uses contrast detect autofocusing, as opposed to the hybrid contrast and phase detection system of the A7. This makes it a little slower to use in practice than the A7, but it's not hugely noticeable. Both the cameras suffer when shooting in lower light, sometimes finding it difficult to lock onto focus, and on occasion, throwing up a false positive. When the light is good however, focusing is generally quick and accurate in the majority of scenarios.

Sony offers a lot to the creative photographer in terms of digital filters, with a decent range available. Although you can retain full control over parameters such as aperture and shutter speed, these aren't available when shooting in raw format, which is a bit of a shame.

Sweep Panorama is also available, something that Sony pioneered a few years ago. This allows you to create an ultra wide shot by sweeping the camera across a scene while it fires off exposures. These are then combined automatically in camera. The results are pretty impressive, not displaying too much evidence of image smoothing or repeated patterns – you might come across a couple if you examine images closely at 100%, but generally the overall effect is good.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem with the A7R, like the A7, is battery life. It's pretty much a given that you will need to purchase at least one additional battery if you intend to use the camera for any length of time. Although we can appreciate that the power consumption for this camera is high, it would be nice if Sony would include two batteries in the box as standard.

Image quality and resolution

JPEG

ISO 100

Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

ISO 100

ISO 100, score: 36 (Click here to view the full resolution)

ISO 200

ISO 200, score: 36 (Click here to view the full resolution)

ISO 400

ISO 400, score: 34 (Click here to view the full resolution)

ISO 800

ISO 800, score: 34 (Click here to view the full resolution)

ISO 1600

ISO 1600, score: 32 (Click here to view the full resolution)

ISO 3200

ISO 3200, score: 32 (Click here to view the full resolution)

ISO 6400

ISO 6400, score: 32 (Click here to view the full resolution)

ISO 12800

ISO 12800, score: 32 (Click here to view the full resolution)

ISO 25600

ISO 25600, score: 28 (Click here to view the full resolution)

Raw

ISO 100

ISO 100, score: 32 (Click here to view the full resolution)

ISO 200

ISO 200, score: 32 (Click here to view the full resolution)

ISO 400

ISO 400, score: 30 (Click here to view the full resolution)

ISO 800

ISO 800, score: 30 (Click here to view the full resolution)

ISO 1600

ISO 1600, score: 30 (Click here to view the full resolution)

ISO 3200

ISO 3200, score: 28 (Click here to view the full resolution)

ISO 6400

ISO 6400, score: 28 (Click here to view the full resolution)

ISO 12800

ISO 12800, score: 26 (Click here to view the full resolution)

ISO 25600

ISO 25600, score: 22 (Click here to view the full resolution)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

Our normal procedure when testing new cameras is to process the raw files using the supplied software and convert them into TIFFs before analysing them using DXO's Analytics software. All dynamic range optimisation and noise reduction systems are set to their minimum values.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

JPEG signal to noise

With a pixel count this high, it's not too much of a surprise to see the camera put in what appears to be a "poor" signal to noise ratio performance. It seems that the Nikon D800E, which also features a high resolution and no anti-aliasing filter puts in a more balanced performance when it comes to JPEG files, with the 7R perhaps doing a better job of maintaining detail at higher sensitivities, even if it means increasing noise levels.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Raw signal to noise

This graph shows a better performance for the raw files (after conversion to TIFF), which is indicative of the greater level of data in these files and the higher level of control over them. Here we can see it compares pretty closely with the Nikon Df, while the D800 again puts in a better overall performance. It is the Canon 5D Mark III which is the best performer here though.

JPEG dynamic range

JPEG dynamic range

For dynamic range, the Sony puts in a very good performance at the lower end of the sensitivity scale, beating both the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon Df. The Nikon D800 beats it all sensitivities. When the range hits the higher end, ISO 1600 and above, the 7R suffers a significant drop off when compared to the other cameras on test.

Raw dynamic range

Raw dynamic range

With raw format files (after conversion to TIFF), the A7R puts in a more consistent performance, beating the other cameras significantly at the lowest end of the sensitivity scale (50-400). From ISO 800 and on, it puts in a very close performance with both the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800E, and outperforms the Nikon Df.

Sample images

Sony A7R sample image

Click here to see the full resolution image

The "standard" lens to use with the A7R is a 35mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss lens. While it isn't cheap, it produces some wonderfully sharp images, while the out of focus areas are rendered beautifully. The black and white has been created in camera here.

Sony A7R sample image

Click here to see the full resolution image

The A7R's large sensor is capable of capturing stunning detail.

Sony A7R sample image

Click here to see the full resolution image

As of now, there is only one proprietary lens recommended for use with the A7R, but more are on the way. I got the chance to use a production sample 55mm f/1.8 Zeiss lens that should be available to buy in the new year. Check out the beautiful bokeh in the background of the shot.

Sony A7R sample image

Click here to see the full resolution image

Shooting at high sensitivities, such as ISO 3200, reveals some image smoothing and loss of detail, but overall it's a very impressive performer.

Sony Alpha A 7R review sample image

Click here to see the full resolution image.

The 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 lens isn't available as part of the kit for the 7R, but you can use the lens as a carry around lens to get you started.

Sony Alpha A 7R review sample image

Click here to see the full resolution image

The large sensor on the A7R makes shallow depth of field effects easy to achieve. This was shot with a 55mm f/1.8 lens, which is not available to buy just yet.

Sony Alpha A 7R review sample image

Click here to see the full resolution image.

The A7R, and the A7, is a good camera for street photography work.

Sony Alpha A 7R review sample image

Click here to see the full resolution image

You can adjust colours in camera, but still retain a "clean" version of the image for use later. This the monochrome setting.

Sony Alpha A 7R review sample image

Click here to see the full resolution image.

Use the DRO Optimiser to produce more balanced exposures in areas of high contrast.

Sony Alpha A 7R review sample image

Click here to see the full resolution image.

Colours are represented well by the A7R.

Sony Alpha A 7R review sample image

Click here to see the full resolution image.

Generally, the metering system on the A7R does a good job to produce balanced exposures.

Sensitivity and noise images

JPEG

ISO100

Full ISO 100 image. See the cropped (100%) images below.

ISO 100

ISO 100 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

ISO 200

ISO 200 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 400

ISO 400 (Click here to view full resolution image)

ISO 800

ISO 800 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 1600

ISO 1600 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 3200

ISO 3200 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 6400

ISO 6400 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 12800

ISO 12800 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 25600

ISO 25600 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Raw

ISO 100

ISO 100 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

ISO 200

ISO 200 (Click here to view full resolution image)

ISO 400

ISO 400 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 800

ISO 800 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 1600

ISO 1600 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 3200

ISO 3200 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 6400

ISO 6400 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Sony A7R 12800 crop

ISO 12800 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

ISO 12800

ISO 25600 (Click here to view the full resolution image)

Verdict

Sony is keen to portray itself as a genuine contender in the imaging market. Currently, it is doing this through innovation and experimentation, of which the A7R is a prime example.

What we have here is the world's smallest and lightest full-frame interchangeable lens camera - an extremely exciting development, especially for the compact system camera market. It's fair to say that traditional DSLR manufacturers may be starting to get worried, especially given the price points at which the A7 and A7R are available.

Image quality is top class, especially in terms of detail. Colours are beautifully vibrant, while the scope to customise colour output in camera is very much appreciated.

It's clear that Sony has thought about how enthusiast and professional photographers like to work and the amount of button customisation available is wonderful. It's great being able to make the camera work exactly as you want to, or the way you think is most sensible.

Final shot

While the camera is small, it's still chunky enough to sit nicely in your hand, with a grip on the side making it comfortable to hold for long periods of time – always a bonus.

It's great to have a tilting screen too, something which currently only Sony offers for full-frame cameras. It helps when shooting at awkward angles, or if there's a lot of glare. The EVF is also excellent. Although it can't compete particularly well with an optical finder in some dark or high contrast situations, the rest of the time it's better in many ways – being able to quickly assess whether you've nailed a shot is particularly useful.

That's not to say that this camera isn't without its flaws. The battery life is poor, and if you're looking to spend a day with this camera, it simply won't last that long. I'd recommend investing in two additional batteries if you want to use it all day – thankfully the batteries are small and pocketable.

It also remains baffling that Sony doesn't include a touchscreen on a camera like this. While the enthusiast/pro photographer might not be bothered by such technology, the fact that Sony has access to this in spades makes it more of a glaring omission, especially when you consider how fiddly it is to change the autofocus point.

We liked

Image quality from the A7R is, quite simply, superb. That's by far and away the best thing about this camera, and we're excited to see how the system develops from here on. With the addition of more lenses and more accessories, it should become an attractive system to get on board with.

We disliked

It has to be the battery power - you will be forced to buy another battery. It would be nice if Sony could include a spare in the box, especially as you're already shelling out a significant chunk of change for a camera like this.

Final Verdict

Both the Sony A7 and the A7R are fantastic innovations. But for now, the system isn't quite complete enough. Although image quality is fantastic, it feels as if there are a few kinks that need to be ironed out, most importantly improved battery life, and hopefully the introduction of a touchscreen for the next iteration of the camera. With only one proprietary lens available for the R model at the moment, it's a little limiting. But compatibility with other lenses via optional mounts makes it extremely intriguing for users considering moving to Sony from other brands.

Sony A7R full frame CSC camerascarousel-en-au camerascarousel-en-gb camerascarousel-en-us aunews3
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