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Camera Review – the Sony A7R

Image: Sony A7R Example shot from one exposure – ‘Ferocious Stump’ By Gavin Hardca...

Sony A7R Example shot from one exposure – ‘Ferocious Stump’ By Gavin Hardcastle

Initial Impression of the Sony A7R

I started writing this Sony A7R review with the sentence ”I hate the Sony A7R”, such was my vitriol over this infuriating yet impressive piece of tech. And that’s what the A7R is, it’s a technological marvel crammed into a tiny, sharp edged box. If you’re like me, converting from Canon or Nikon, you’ll find the learning curve painful as you discard much of the logic you’ve grown so used to.

Sony A7R Review with Canon L LensesThat being said, each day my hatred of the Sony A7R diminished as I chipped away at the quirks to uncover the gems this little Pandora’s box has to offer. As expected, the image quality is superb. Having this kind of dynamic range at my fingertips is pure luxury and I’m seeing such a crisp sharpness from my old Canon 24-105mm lens that it’s quickly become my go-to lens of choice.

Image: Sony A7R Example – HDR shot ‘The Frost Fangs’ By Gavin Hardcastle

Sony A7R Example – HDR shot ‘The Frost Fangs’ By Gavin Hardcastle

Could I Learn to Love the Sony A7R?

Sony made a great sensor and some really clever technology, but in terms of ergonomics and overall creative workflow, they could learn a lot from the likes of Canon and Nikon. Compared to the sterile feeling A7R, my trusty old Canon 5D mkII feels like a worn in glove that’s perfectly moulded to my hand with everything in the right place. The A7R is like a soulless Cylon that sports the biggest firepower but is completely devoid of heritage or heart.

The problem is, my 5DmkII perished horribly a couple of months ago so I bought the Sony A7R and even splashed out the $412 Canadian dollars for the crappy Metabones adapter that fidgets around in the Sony E-Mount like a 5 year old after a super sized Slurpee binge.

Sony A7R ReviewAlthough this is not Sonys fault, this entire setup really has its problems and I’ll be honest, if I hadn’t already taken the plunge and fully committed to this purchase, I’d probably have taken it back to the store to exchange it for something else. Oh but wait, there is nothing else that comes close to the Sony A7R in terms of specification versus price.

So I’m stuck with it, and what do people usually do when they have no choice, but to get along? They figure out ways around the problems and make do. That’s when my hatred of the Sony A7R started to turn into begrudging admiration, dare I say….. even… love?

Image: Sony A7R Example – HDR shot ‘The Capitol’ By Gavin Hardcastle

Sony A7R Example – HDR shot ‘The Capitol’ By Gavin Hardcastle

Very Customizable

The good news is that the A7R is highly customizable, so if you’re willing to spend days digging through the menus, reading the useless manual and trying a bit of experimentation, you’ll be able to tweak it your tastes – I hope. NEX users will already be familiar with complicated menus and I’ve heard that the A7R is much simpler. I expect NEX users will read my review and groan, possibly even accuse me of being a purist old fart who can’t let go of the old DSLR ways (cue more groans from film shooters).

So, without further waffling, here’s a list of things I love about the A7R and a list of things I hate; so that you know what you’ll be getting yourself into should you decide to buy this powerful little beast of a camera.

What I love about the Sony A7R:

  • The 36 MP sensor is excellent in terms of resolution and dynamic range
  • It’s light weight, my tendonitis loves that – but there are drawback as you’ll see below
  • The digital spirit level in the display – always get perfectly level shots without a green plastic bubble in your hot shoe – nice
  • The manual focus assist – It displays little marching ants to indicate you’ve hit the sweet spot
  • The Live View looks great in the monitor screen
  • I can angle the monitor screen to make shooting near the ground easy. No more lying prone like a sniper and getting a neck crank.
  • The info icons on the display are very helpful once you learn what they all mean.
Image: Sony A7R Example shot from one exposure ‘Tendrils’ By Gavin Hardcastle – cl...

Sony A7R Example shot from one exposure ‘Tendrils’ By Gavin Hardcastle – click to see a larger version on Flickr

What I hate about the Sony A7R:

  • It’s too small. By all means keep it light, but for a grown man it would fit much nicer in the hand if it was slightly larger. When it comes to electronics – small isn’t always best.
  • I don’t like the EVF (electronic view finder). Call me old fashioned but I like being able to look through a piece of glass and see my composition even with the camera turned off. Not so much an issue with the A7R specifically, as this is just the way of mirrorless cameras in general.
  • The battery life is pretty shabby due to the EVF and monitor screen always being in use. You’ll be buying that extra battery grip for sure. You can switch off the monitor to save juice.
  • Auto Focus is pretty dire compared to Canon/Nikon but I’ll reserve final judgement until I try out a native Sony/Zeiss lens.
  • If you use the default controls for manual shooting it’s very easy to accidentally hit the adjustment wheel. I’m forever changing my ISO and white balance without meaning to – most enraging.
  • Bracketing will not work in unison with the 2 second self timer. You have to choose one or the other. If you want to bracket without touching the shutter you’ll need to buy a remote.
  • The TimeLapse and Timelapse LE app is utterly useless. No bramping (bulb ramping) and it won’t trigger bracketing mode.
  • It’s slow to save files – If you shoot RAW+JPEG in low light you’ll get very familiar with the ‘Processing’ message on the monitor screen. The drawback of having 36 megapixels I guess.
  • Ergonomics – it’s like a matchbox. Ever heard of curves Sony?
  • Ditch your old SD cards. 36 MP Raw files need some super fast cards .
  • The balance is terrible with legacy DSLR lenses. If you shoot handheld and have a medium to large lens, you’ll hate the feel of the A7R. The native Sony/Zeiss lenses however, are all nice and small so it’s only an issue with your clunky old DSLR glass – which might be exactly why you bought the A7R in the first place.
  • Shutter shock with long lenses causes significant vibration and ruins images due to blurring. Apparently this can be improved by adding a weight to the camera. Some user have reported the battery grip fixes the issue. One more example of the camera being too small for its own good.
  • There is no separate battery charger. You have to connect the camera to the mains via the shortest cable I’ve ever seen. You’ll be shelling out an additional $50 for the Sony BC-QM1 battery charger.
  • Auto White Balance fails 80% of the time when using Canon lenses via an adapter.

The Manual (pamphlet) of shallowness

The Sony A7R comes with the most useless user manual I’ve ever seen. It has about as much depth as a Miley Cyrus song and leaves you with more questions than answers. On page 82, the manual mentions that there is an in depth ‘Help Guide’ available at a url that is no longer available. After much scouring of the interwebs I found the real link to the Sony A7 / A7R Help Guide which still works at the time of writing. I’m sad to say I’ve read the entire thing and still needed to find answers to my many problems by forum digging.

Image: Sony A7R Example shot from one exposure ‘Tenacity’ By Gavin Hardcastle

Sony A7R Example shot from one exposure ‘Tenacity’ By Gavin Hardcastle

Extra dollars you’ll have to spend on accessories

  • Battery charger
  • Remote shutter release if you want to bracket with 2 second timer
  • Battery grip – for added weight, better balance and longer battery life
  • Extra battery
  • New super fast memory cards

Do you really need 36 megapixels?

Sony A7R Review and Example Shots

Of course you do. It doesn’t matter if you only ever print small images, with 36 megapixels your compositional horizons are greatly expanded because you now have the power to crop like a boss. If you don’t own a $6k super telephoto lens, it’s no problem, just take the shot and crop it in post with plenty of resolution left over.

Will you need a new hard drive?

Of course you will. These RAW files are humongulous. If you’re squeamish about losing precious disk space, the Sony A7 is probably the better option with its faster auto focus, smaller files and lower price tag.

Do I recommend this camera?

If you’re a landscape shooter, I would recommend that you buy this camera. If you’re any other kind of shooter and never have the need to print massive images and don’t do much cropping, buy the A7.

Why this is an awesome camera

I admit it, I love the A7R. Even though my list of grumbles is way longer than my list of plus points, it all boils down to the fact that the image quality of the A7R is simply awesome. I’ve learned to work around the annoying quirks and when you consider that Sony’s native lenses are very, very small, it all starts to make sense. Sure, it’s great that we can all attach our old lenses via adapters, but if I could afford to replace my giant, heavy Canon glass with miniature sized Zeiss glass that might possibly do a better job – I totally would.

Have you tried out the Sony A7R? What is your experience? Share with us in the comments please.

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Gavin Hardcastle
Gavin Hardcastle

is a fine art photographer, writer and instructor from BC, Canada. Become a better photographer today with his free photography guides and photography tutorials. You can learn from Gavin directly at his global photography workshops in some of the worlds most spectacular locations. Upgrade your post processing skills with his online video tutorials for Photoshop and Lightroom.

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