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Categorized | Gear, Mark & Leslie Degner

Gear — Sony α7 and α7R Digital Cameras (full review)

Sony A7 with lens attached

Sony A7 with lens attached

Review by Mark Degner

The new Sony α7 and α7R are the smallest full-frame, interchangeable lens cameras currently on the market. They’re smaller than DSLR cameras and only slightly larger than micro 4/3 cameras. The α7 ($1,699.99 body only or $1,999.99 body with FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens) and α7R ($2,299.99 body only) are essentially identical in most aspects. The most notable differences between the two are that the α7R has a full-frame 36.4 megapixel CMOS sensor with no optical low-pass filter, whereas the α7 has a full-frame 24.3 CMOS sensor. Many photographers would automatically gravitate to the α7R because it has more megapixels, but that could be a mistake as there’s more that separates the two models and they really are designed for different types of photography.

Both the α7 and α7R are lightweight (about 470g with battery), extremely well built, weatherproof and relatively comfortable to hold, especially if you have smaller hands. Overall the buttons and controls are well placed for ease of use, but I found that the dedicated movie was not very conveniently positioned. The menus were straightforward and logically organized.

Sony A7 body back view

Sony A7 body back view

One of the reasons that the α7 and α7R are smaller than DSLR cameras is because they have an electronic viewfinder (EVF) rather than an optical viewfinder (OVF) and mirror. The EVF on the two cameras is the best that I’ve used, with excellent resolution (2.36 million dots) and brightness, and have 100 percent image coverage. Being an EVF, you can display information — like a live histogram or camera levels — on it while shooting, which is really handy. The downside of having an EVF is that you have to turn the camera on any time you want to look through the viewfinder, which is a nuisance, especially as both models are relatively slow to start-up. The 7.5-cm (three-inch) LCD monitor has a 921,600-dot resolution that’s bright with a wide viewing angle and good colour rendition. I really like that the LCD screen can tilt up almost 90 degrees and downward 45 degrees.

Auto focus is another of the other major differences between the two models. The α7R uses contrast detection AF with 21 focus points and the α7 uses a hybrid AF system (phase detection AF with 117 focus points/contrast detection AF with 21 focus points) that is supposed to give faster auto focusing. The auto focus was fairly good on both cameras, on par with other cameras that I’ve used.

The α7 and α7R both incorporate the new BIONZ X image-processing engine that gives the images very good colour rendition and detail reproduction. Both the α7 and α7R produce excellent RAW images, but I was disappointed with the quality of their JPEGs. In my opinion, the JPEGs are a little over-processed, and sharpening and noise reduction are a bit too aggressive. When shooting in RAW both cameras produce excellent image quality up to ISO 1600 and very good images up to ISO 3200. At ISOs higher than 3200 noise becomes progressively more noticeable.

Sony A7R body front

Sony A7R body front

The α7 and α7R have a single memory card slot and use SD/SDHC/SDXC or Memory Stick PRO Duo memory cards. The memory card slot is separate from the battery compartment, which makes for the more convenient card exchange. Because of the cameras’ small size their battery (NP-FW50, also used in other Sony cameras) is also on the smaller size, and according to Sony will last between 270 and 340 shots per charge depending on the features used. From my testing in cold winter weather, I would say that those numbers are fairly accurate. What I found disappointing was that there’s no external battery charger included with either camera; the battery had to be recharged while still in the camera using a USB cable. An external charger can be purchased for $79.99, but for cameras of this calibre it should be included.

The α7 and α7R are capable of producing videos with 1080/60p and 24p resolutions (1920×1080, 16:9). Both models have lots of features that will make most videographers very happy while still being easy to use for photographers who only occasionally shoot videos. I found the videos that I took with the α7 and α7R looked really impressive.

©Mark Degner Photo: Athabasca River, Jasper National Park, AB Settings: ƒ16@1/6 sec., ISO 100, Sony 7R, Zeiss Sonnar T*FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA lens.

©Mark Degner
Photo: Athabasca River, Jasper National Park, AB
Settings: ƒ16@1/6 sec., ISO 100, Sony 7R, Zeiss Sonnar T*FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA lens.

The α7 and α7R use the Sony E Mount, the same mount that’s used on its NEX cameras, however, since the α7 and α7R have full-frame sensors and the NEX cameras use APS-C sensors, Sony had to develop a new series of full-frame lenses (FE). At the time of my review there were only three FE lenses available, and I had the opportunity to use all of them. Two more FE lenses will be available later in 2014 and Sony is planning to have a total of 15 FE lenses available by the end of 2015. The FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens is only available as a kit with the α7 and produced good results for a kit lens. The other two lenses that I used were the Zeiss Sonnar T*FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA ($799.99) and the Zeiss Sonnar T*FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA ($999.99). Both of these FE lenses produced excellent results, especially on the higher resolution α7R. Sony E mount lenses can also be used, but since they’re designed for use with APS-C sized sensors they will give cropped images on the α7 and α7R. Sony A mount lenses (full frame and APS-C) can also be used on the α7 and α7R with an adapter, such as the Sony LA-EA4 ($349.99), so Sony DSLR photographers can use their existing lenses. I was disappointed to see that Sony didn’t include the SteadyShot INSIDE in-body image stabilization that’s in its DSLRs; instead, image stabilization must be built into the lenses.

Both the Sony α7 and α7R are highly customizable and have lots of other features that I don’t have the space to discuss, making them very versatile cameras. Although they have a few shortcomings, including currently not having very many native lenses, I was impressed with both cameras. They were a pleasure to use and both produce excellent RAW images. Their quality build and long list of features makes the Sony α7 and α7R cameras that I would recommend to current Sony users wanting to upgrade, or to photographers who are considering moving up to their first full-frame camera system. Deciding which model is right for you might be your toughest decision.

For more information visit Sony

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