Field Test: Sony a7R

Sony a7R camera with FE 55mm F1.8 ZA lens

Earlier this year a group of my fellow editorial portrait photographers were discussing what wanted in their dream compact interchangeable lens camera. Here’s what they said…

“Full Frame”
“Digital Contax G2 / Minolta CLE”
“Uses my old Leica M glass”
“I’d like interchangeable lenses”
“Built-in EVF with live view when shooting video”
“RX1 gets close”


 
Sony’s newly announced a7R and a7 cameras are the lightest interchangeable lens cameras ever made. They should really hit a sweet spot photographers have been craving. They feature Sony’s new BIONZ X image processing engine with Triluminos 14-bit RAW image for the most accurate and lifelike color ever. Advanced 1200-zone evaluative metering, ISO 100-25600 (with 50 ISO extension), weather sealed body, 1/8000 to 30 sec shutter, 2.4M dot OLED EVF used in the Sony a99, +/- 5EV compensation, tiltable 3.0″ (1,229k dots) Xtra Fine LCD, Multi-interface Shoe for flash, PC control for tethering with remote video capture control, WiFi/NFC control, 1080 HD uncompressed, 60p/24p and 60i frame-rates. AVCHD and MP4 codec. Each on-chip lens is optimally positioned depending on its location to accommodate the sharper angle of light entering the periphery, which is caused by larger sensor dimensions being teamed with the E-mount’s short flange-back distance

Differences Between Sony a7R and a7:


Sony a7R Camera ($2,299.99 Body Only from B&H Photo | Amazon)
36.4MP CMOS Sensor
No optical low-pass anti-aliasing filter on the sensor for maximum detail (R stands for Resolution)
Sensor has offset micro-lenses designed to better capture light hitting edges/corners (might work better with Leica M lenses)
Micro-lenses have gapless design
25 point contrast AF
Continuous Shooting at up to 4 FPS
1/160 Flash Sync
No electronic first curtain (which makes it louder than the A7)
Body and front panel on A7R is magnesium alloy

Sony a7 Camera ($1,699.99 Body Only from B&H Photo | Amazon)
Sony a7 Kit ($1,999.99 w/28-70mm F3.5-5.6 lens from B&H Photo | Amazon)
24MP CMOS Sensor with optical low-pass anti-aliasing filter
Sensor does not have offset micro-lenses designed to better capture light hitting edges/corners
117 points (phase-detection AF), 25 points (contrast-detection AF)
Continuous Shooting at up to 5 FPS
1/250 Flash Sync
Electronic first curtain (which makes it quieter than the A7R)
Body on A7 is magnesium alloy but front panel is polycarbonate

For landscapes, fine art or anywhere you want the maximum resolution, the a7R is absolutely the ticket. Because of the optical low-pass anti-aliasing filter on a7R, you have to be aware of the possibility of moire, but it was rare to find an example in actual use. The 117-point PDAF makes the a7 the faster focusing of the the two, so it’s better suited for focus tracking on fast-moving subjects, yet even with moving subjects, I found the focus on a7R to be plenty quick.

Sony Announced the First Five of 15 Full-frame E-mount Lenses Planned Over the Next Three Years:

FE 35mm F2.8 ZA ($799.99)Order from B&H Photo | Amazon
FE 55mm F1.8 ZA ($999.99)Order from B&H Photo | Amazon
FE 28-70mm F3.5-5.6 OSS ($499.99)Order from B&H Photo | Amazon
FE 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS ($1,199.99) Order from B&H Photo | Amazon
FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS ($1499)Order from B&H Photo | Amazon

Using Sony Alpha Lenses on a7 & a7R

Sony LA-EA4 Alpha lens adapterThe a7R and a7 can also use the full line-up of Sony A-mount glass Sony’s most compatible camera system ever. You can mount Sony Alpha lenses on a7 & a7R using either of two Sony lens mount adapters:

LA-EA3 Sony A-Mount to E-Mount Lens Adapter ($199.99) is a glass-free spacer that compensates for the difference in mount depth between E-Mount and A-Mount. It focuses off the chip and contains no glass elements to degrade the image.

LA-EA4 Sony A-Mount to E-Mount Lens Adapter with Translucent Mirror Technology ($349.99) adds an addition Phase-detect auto-focus system similar to the one used in the full-frame flagship Sony a99. The LA-EA4 is really fast. In some cases A-mount lenses focus even faster on a7R using LA-EA4 than they do on the a99. The most likely explanation is the all-new Bionz X processor which I’m told is a major leap from the previous generation.

Sony a7R with LA-EA4 lens adapter an 85/1.4 ZA lens

Accessories include a Vertical Grip for A7 and A7R ($299.99) adds an additional NP-FW50 battery slot and more camera controls and new W-Series Battery Charger ($49.99)

The a7 & a7R deliver on the promise of last year RX1 Full-frame fixed lens compact which quickly became my favorite camera for travel. As you can see the A7R comes in just under the height of the RX1 with EVF and the a7 & a7R solid body construction features a built in OLED EVF used n the a99.

Sony RX1 and a7R size comparison
Sony a7R (right) comes in a bit shorter than the RX1 with EVF attached

Sony RX1 and a7R size comparison
Sony a7R (right) comes in just a touch wider and thicker than the full-frame fixed-lens RX1

FIELD TEST

I wanted to see how the cameras operated in the field, so last week I headed to Port-au-Prince, Haiti to put the a7R though it’s paces under fire. Having spent 5 years covering Haiti for the Miami Herald, I can only say how much I wish I had that camera back them. Despite it’s small size and light weight, the a7R feels solid as the aluminum block that it’s carved from.

I headed out onto the streets with an a7R, FE 35 F2.8 ZA and FE 55 1.8 ZA lenses, CZ 85 F1.4 with a LA-EA4, and a pair of Leica M-mount lenses, the Leica 24 F2.8 and Zeiss 18 F4 M-mount lenses tucked neatly into my new favorite new compact camera bag Sony’s Sling Bag Carrying Case.

The focus on the a7R seems to be very fast. It locks it very quickly without any hunting. The A7 would be even faster because of hit’s hybrid Phase-Detect AF + Contrast AF system.

I expected that I’d be shooting mostly with the 55mm. At F1.8-2.2 it’s perfect for semi-tight portraits. But I actually ended up shooting more with the 35. I think that’s mostly because Haiti is like a Fellini film with the main subject in the foreground paired with background action swirling around your subject.

But the best part is the images. As with any test of a new camera, I shot RAW + Jpeg. While RAWs are not yet supported in Lightroom or ACR, they are already supported in Capture One Pro 7. The a7R features the most lifelike colors I’ve ever seen from a digital camera. Due to the removal of a traditional low-pass anti-aliasing filter over the sensor, the images are incredibly sharp and the files look really clean. The dynamic range is really incredible holding detail from highlights to the deepest shadows. Sony calls this as ‘Detail Reproduction Technology’ and it features a more subtle and sophisticated sharpening system with less apparent emphasis on edges, giving a more convincing representation of fine detail. Whatever it is, the files are awesome.

portrait with Sony a7R and FE 55mm F1.8 ZA lens
Sony a7R + FE 55mm F1.8 ZA • 1/4000 • F2.2 • ISO 200

Sony a7r camera with zeiss fe 35 za lens street photography haiti
Sony a7R + FE 35mm F2.8 ZA • 1/320 • F5.6 • ISO 200

Sony a7r camera with zeiss fe 35 za lens street photography haitiSony a7R + FE 35mm F2.8 ZA • 1/640 • F5.6 • ISO 200

Sony a7r camera with zeiss fe 35 za lens street photography haiti
Sony a7R + FE 35mm F2.8 ZA • 1/1250 • F5.6 • ISO 200

Sony a7r camera with zeiss fe 35 za lens street photography haiti
Sony a7R + FE 35mm F2.8 ZA • 1/640 • F6.3 • ISO 200

Sony a7r camera with zeiss fe 35 za lens street photography haiti
Sony a7R + FE 35mm F2.8 ZA • 1/800 • F8.0 • ISO 200

Sony a7r camera with zeiss fe 35 za lens street photography haiti
Sony a7R + FE 35mm F2.8 ZA • 1/1000 • F8.0 • ISO 200

Sony a7r camera with zeiss fe 35 za lens street photography haiti
Sony a7R + FE 35mm F2.8 ZA • 1/640 • F6.3 • ISO 200

Sony a7r camera with zeiss fe 35 za lens street photography haiti
Sony a7R + FE 35mm F2.8 ZA • 1/500 • F6.3 • ISO 200

Sony a7r camera with zeiss fe 35 za lens street photography haiti
Sony a7R + FE 35mm F2.8 ZA • 1/320 • F8.0 • ISO 200

Sony a7r camera with zeiss fe 35 za lens street photography haiti
Sony a7R + FE 35mm F2.8 ZA • 1/640 • F5.6 • ISO 200

Sony a7r camera with zeiss fe 35 za lens street photography haiti
Sony a7R + FE 35mm F2.8 ZA • 1/320 • F5.6 • ISO 200

sony a7r camera and fe 55 lens review haiti
Sony a7R + FE 55mm F1.8 ZA • 1/80 • F2.2 • ISO 200

sony a7r camera review sample photo with 70-400 g lens la-ea4
sample photo with 70-400 g lens la-ea4″ width=”640″ height=”427″ />
Sony a7R + 70-400 F4-5.6 G lens + LA-EA4 Lens Adapter • 1/40 • F5.6 • ISO 1600

Sony A7rOne of the great things about Sony’s e-mount is the ability to accept a huge range of other lenses via readily-available third-party adapters, including old manual focus lenses from long-dead systems like as Minolta MD, Olympus OM, and Canon FD, as well as those from current systems like Canon EOS, Nikon F, Pentax K and Leica M. Thanks to the full frame sensor in the A7/A7R these lenses should offer the angle of view they were originally designed to give – so a 35mm will be a true wide-angle again instead of as “normal” focal length when cropped down to APS-C

The first accessory that I picked up when the NEX-5 debuted, was an inexpensive Leica M to Sony e-Mount adapter off eBay. I delighted to discover that adapter works just as great with the new full-frame e-mount Sony Alpha cameras. If you have a collection of old manual focus primes gathering dust, the a7/a7R may be just the camera to give them back to life thanks to the availability of lens mount adapters for virtually every lens mount from Alpa to Zeiss.

While the full-frame sensor of these new the E-mount cameras have been redesigned with new micro-lenses to account for the for the E-mounts extremely short flange distance some extreme wide angle lenses experience vignetting and color casts in the corners which need to be corrected in post-processing software such as Capture One, Lightroom, Photoshop or dedicated applications designed to correct for vignetting effects in digital images such as CornerFix.

I’ll try to put together a follow-up post walking you through these methods.

sony a7r camera review sample photo with zeiss zm 18 4 lens
Sony a7R | Zeiss 18mm F4 ZM | 1/100 | F11 | ISO 200

Just for the Pixel Peepers

I’ve always felt that photography has more to do with seeing than peeping – but for those peepers out there (and you know who you are) here’s a 100% crop just for you.

100% crop of sony a7rwith zeiss fe 55 za lens
Sony a7R + FE 55mm F1.8 ZA • 1/160 • F4.5 • ISO 400

Good News for Canon Users

Metabones Canon EF Lens to Sony NEX Smart Adapter (Mark III) is Metabones third-generation Smart Adapters allow you to mount Canon EF and EF-S mount lenses on Sony a7R and a7 full-frame cameras. It retains existing features such as a detachable AS-style quick release plate, chrome-plated brass for all mounting surfaces, EXIF, autofocus and image stabilization (IS) lens support.
Check out the entire line-up of Metabones adapters.


Read: Field Test: Sony A7S
Read: Sony A7/A7R/A7S Lens Mount Adapters


Sony-a7-Snapshots-bookFor more tips and tricks about getting the most out of your Sony a7 series camera, check out my book ‘Sony a7-Series: From Snapshots to Great Shots’. It’s your guide to all of the Sony a7 Series I & II cameras. While the camera manual explains what the camera can do, it doesn’t show how to use the camera to create great images! Starting with the Top Ten things users need to know about the cameras, author Brian Smith, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and Sony Artisan of Imagery, carefully guides you through the operating features of Sony a7, a7R, a7S, a7II and a7RII and how to use them. Get practical advice from a pro on which settings to use when, great shooting tips, and assignments at end of chapter to practice what you’ve just learned.

‘Sony A7 Series: From Snapshots to Great Shots’ is available NOW from Amazon

ORDER NOW

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Register Today for #BeAlpha Live Online   The next #BeAlpha Live Online event is coming soon. Join us August 15th for a full day packed

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Sony Electronics Introduces ZV-E10 Interchangeable-Lens Vlog Camera for Vloggers and Video Creators

The ZV-E10 APS-C Camera Delivers High Quality Video and Audio Performance, Vlog-Optimized Functions and Versatile Connectivity – Perfect for Video Creators   SAN DIEGO, CA

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Haida Releases M15 Filter Holder Kit for Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM Lens

Haida M15 Filter Holder Kit for Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM Lens ($210 from B&H Photo) provides slots for up to two 150mm wide, 2mm

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73 thoughts on “Field Test: Sony a7R”

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  32. Thank you for the review on Sony A7r. I have a question if I can fit my Contax G2 Zeiss lenses to a Sony A7r if so what adapter do I need to buy?. I would much appreciate your reply so that I can decide which mirrorless Camera to buy.

    Best regards,
    Kul.

      1. Hi Brian,

        I have contax G lenses (21, 28, 45 and 90) which I wish to use with my Sony 7aii and Fuji Pro-2. Please, advise me the best adapters for the above Cameras. Thanks.

        Brgds,
        Kul.

  33. Dear Brian, thank you for such great pictures. It is great motivation to buy A7 or A7r. I will use it for video art. I am seeking for colours. Do you think I should buy a A7r or for video, the A7 is the best choice? Do you know If I can mount old analogic lenses from Canon? Thank you very much for your answer. Stéphan

  34. Good Day. Great review, great pictures as well.

    What M to E adapter do you have specially? Does it feel sturdy? The Novoflex seems to be getting good reviews, but is it worth the price?

    Also, have you tested the A7? How much different are the two cameras? (colors, high iso, latitude, etc.)

    Thanks

    1. Thanks Raamen. There are quite a few good Leica M to Sony E adapter that work perfectly fine. Novoflex is certainly quite good, but also quite pricey. In my opinion, Metabones offers the best lens adapters for the money – moderate in price but very well built. You can see them here.

      I’m actually still using a Chinese adapter that I bought off eBay back when the NEX-5 first came out. I’m had to tighten the lens mount screws, but once I put Loctite on the threads it’s been rock solid. I just ordered Voigtlander Leica M to Sony E Close Focus lens mount adapter that I’ll review when I get it.

      The A7 and A7R are virtually identical in terms of latitude as that’s more a result of the imaging processor they share than their sensors. The sensors are also extremely close in color. You can’t really tell a difference except for file size. The A7 is slightly better at high ISO, but it’s extremely close, I’d say there is roughly 1/3 stop difference in noise between the two – meaning ISO 4000 on A7 is roughly the same noise level as IS0 3200 on A7R.

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  38. Brilliant review. However, I had a question. In the photo of the man walking past the dilapidated cathedral that you shot using the Zeiss 18mm f/4, you mentioned in the caption that it was shot at f/2.8. I am assuming that this is a mistake.

    “Sony A7R / Zeiss 18mm F4 M-Mount / 1/100 F2.8 / ISO 200”

    However, even if it was shot wide open at f/4, it seems extremely sharp all over. Was there a lot of edge smearing??

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  47. I Brian, very nice your blog with a lot of useful information!
    I have a question, maybe it’s already discussed, but you know, sometimes there are a lot of post that it’s hard to find exactly what you want…
    Let me try to explain:
    I used to photograph with a very nice rangefinder Contax G2 with 3 lenses; 28, 45 and 90.
    After that I entered in the digital world with a Lumix L1, very nice camera also. Now I would like to come back to a ragefinder like in the digital world. Well, I’m not a professional and to spend money to buy a Leica M 240 would be impossible. I saw the Alpha 7 and could be a nice compromise if I could use my old lenses and some Leica M lenses, specially the 28 wide angle, that is my preferred focal length.
    – I’ve read a lot of reviews that show vignetting also with Leica 28 and also 35 mm lenses. I’ve read also that there’s no problem with 35 mm lenses. This caused me a little confusion. Do you have direct experience with Leica and G lenses and Alpha 7? There’s a difference between 7, 7r and 7s regarding using those lenses?
    Thanks in advance for any suggestion/information!

    1. I think some of the people complaining about vignetting with wide angle Leica glass are not really familiar that’s part of the “look” of Leica wide glass. They tend to darken out toward the edges which focuses the eye at the center of the frame. That’s why back in the day I’d usually edge burn shots I took with Nikon glass – but could often make straight prints of my Leica negs…Sorry I digress…

      Back to your original question. I haven’t shot with a Leica 28 – but I have shot with a Leica 24 F2.8 Elmarit on Sony A7R and the vignetting is minimal. In my tests A7R was more prone to vignetting and slight magenta cast in the corners than A7 and A7S which are dead equal in that regard. Of course the A7R is also the best of the three at capturing the extreme level of detail that Leica glass can offer.

      If you find like to shoot people, food or anything close, I’d highly recommend the Voigtlander VM-E clens adapter for the ability to focus closer than those lenses ever could on Leica.

      I have not tried Contax G glass but the feedback I’ve received is that the 45 and 90 perform quite well but the 28 may have a few issues.

      1. Hi Brian,
        Thank you very much, sorry for my english, maybe I said something that was not correct, when you say that disagree with something. I meant that I found forums that shows vignetting, just that… And as I would like to buy a camera that could use Leica or Zeiss glasses, this behaviour could makes me think twice, that’s it.
        Well, I always dreamt to have a Leica, because I studied many masters of photography and I can realize the difference about those lenses.
        I loved my G lenses as they were a nice alternative to Leica high prices.
        My initial idea was to buy a Leica M-E, that could ‘fit’ in my pocket (talking about price). I was not sure about to spend too much money for a so specialised camera, although knowing about the quality and differenced results of the Leica.
        And then I found the Alpha 7’s.
        Now I have a doubt about this, if the Alpha 7’s could use well the wide angle of Leica and Zeiss, I can think seriously in to buy it, otherwise I will think twice in to buy the M-E.
        Or I can think about to use just Zeiss prime lenses, that are incredible, seeing your photos with the FE 35mm…. They make remind me a very nice book (unfortunately is not in catalog…) of Alex Webb: Under a Grudging Sun.
        Thanks again, if you have more suggestions I will appreciate of course 🙂

  48. Hi Brian,
    I bought Sony A7 about a year ago and got 28-70 Sony lens alongwith. I just feel that there is a quality gap…. I am planning to upgrade the lens I have and the choice is (a) go for the latest 24-240 lens or (b) go for 24-70 zeiss and also 70-200 telephoto. The option (b) is quite expensive. From the long range plan, what would you suggest…. I am more worried about the quality of pics. Whether 24-240 offers me good quality pics.. Since my knowledge is limited, I seek your views.

  49. Brian, one question! Why you always use ISO200 for all images, if camera supports ISO100 as well?

    1. Native ISO of a900 was 200, but newer Sony cameras are 100. I’ll still use 200 when I need a bit more stopping power for fast moving subjects as it’s hard to see a difference between the two.

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  51. Hi Brian, I just noted on FB (on your page) that there is an “Opteka Auto Focus Lens Adapter for Canon EOS EF Lenses to Sony NEX (Mirrorless) Cameras.
    Since the better adapters are out of stock at B&H, Amazon etc. , could you recommend this?
    Thank you.

  52. It feels also, that setting ISO200 give more film look on those particular images on 35F2.8… I have 24-70F4 lens, but thinking about this 35F2.8 as lightweight lens just for street photography… What is your opinion, Brian? Does it make sense to have both lenses?

    1. I don’t notice much difference between ISO 100 and 200 on a7-series cameras, but many photographers choose to shoot one-stop over the native ISO for exactly the reasons you describe. As for those two lenses, if you can afford both, they each have use and the Sony FE 35mm F2.8 ZA is a great lens for street photography.

  53. PS I have A7-II camera, not A7R, so your opinion will be very interesting regarding those lens and ISO settings

  54. Hi Brian,
    I own the Sony A99 and the A7R with the EA4 adapter. I am taking a landscape photo trip and can only take one camera body. Which body (A99 or A7r) would you recommend for the best quality images? I enjoyed your book – Secrets Of Great Portrait Photography.
    Thanks,
    Steven Jones

  55. Great page Brian, love the professional views on all the equipment we as consumers can get our hands on, I recently sold my Nikon D610 and purchased the Sony A7R with a grip, the Sony HVL-F43M flash, some adapters and a new collection of glass. I really have got to say that this camera is amazing though a lot of people tend to steer towards the Mark II because it seems better in some aspects of the Mark I. I did some shots last night with my Nikon 20mm F1.8G ED and was quite amazed at how well the Sony worked even having a lower score for low-light than my old Nikon D610. I’ve been following your opinions on various equipment (hence why I bought that flash) and the ratings on DxOMark to build up a great showcases of lenses that will help me achieve what it is that I hope to photograph.

    Brian I noted that you tested out the Sony 10mm-18mm F/4 lens which of course was designed for crop sensors however was the equivalence focal length still plenty wide for you using the A7R? I read that 10mm becomes 15mm and if that’s the case is it almost better to go out and purchase the Tamron 15-30mm F2.8?

  56. Thanks for your site & posts, really helpful info. Any preference yet on buying a high quality 50 or 55mm all around “normal” lens for the a7RII. I am looking at the new Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA Lens vs the FE 55 1.8 ZA. Lens size and weight is also important. I will mostly manually focus the lens so I am also curious about those offered directly by Zeiss. I bought the camera a few months back at first mostly using the camera with my Canon tilt shift lenses. I prefer it even with the adapter to my previous Canon 5D body. Any thoughts would be appreciated on the normal range

    1. “Mostly manually focus” is trickier to answer than always.

      If you only wanted manual focus I’d hands down suggest the manual focus Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar E-Mount Lens. Focusing is smooth as butter on a hot summer day yet you get features like focus assist – and EXIF transfer. It’s nice and small and super sharp. But it’s a manual focus lens so if you find yourself needing AF for something there’s no way to get it.

      Both the Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA Lens and FE 55mm F1.8 ZA are exceptional lenses so you’d be happy with either. The 55 1.8 ZA is considerably smaller but the 50 1.4 ZA offers the option of de-clicked stepless aperture if you’re planning to shoot video.

      All three lenses are great glass…

  57. Thanks for your thoughts and clarity on the differing features, I will go check out the Loxia and decide if I really need the AF.

    Lots of options these days….

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