Sony a7R Review – A Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera

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Starting just over $2,000. For other camera recommendations, see Trey’s Gear and Tools.

My Sony Goodies and Lenses

You can pop over to my camera equipment page to see all my goodies, but I’ll just highlight a few here that are related to this camera. You’ll read more about these in the review below.

All the Sony a7 cameras have the same lens system — so if you see me use a7 or a7R or a7S — no worries — all the same lenses and stuff!

Sony a7R Review

Summary: Incredible! (said in an even more impressive French accent).

I’m never the first with my reviews because I like to take the camera out on a hard-hitting run before I post my opinions. You’ll also find my reviews not to be overly technical. To me, a camera is there to create interesting art. I like to bend the technology to my will and it’s just a tool in my hands. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll have plenty of technical details, but I won’t obsess on tech for the sake of tech. I’m much more into it for the sake of art.

Sony A7r Sample Photos

Throughout the review, you’ll see many samples of photos, like the one I took below. I think sample photos are a great way to show what the camera can do. Note that I unapologetically post-process my photos! Regulars here on the site are very forgiving (welcoming, in fact!) of this notion, but purists don’t like it. That’s okay. But, if you are new and interested in more about this style of photography, check out my free HDR Tutorial!

This photo of the Berber man might be worth clicking on and zooming into… The detail the A7r gets is amazing! I took this photo in Morocco.

 

Across the Crystal Lake

This is my go-to camera now for everything, including landscapes, which is about 80% of what I shoot! This was taken here near my home in Queenstown, New Zealand. I used the Sony A7r and the Leica 35mm f/1.4 lens (but shot this at f/8)

 

Marrakech, Morocco at Sunset

This was taken in the market in Marrakech one evening. This was taken with the NEX 10-18mm lens, where you still get all the full-frame 36 megapixel goodness from 12-17mm, but more on that below.

Unbelievable Colors in Queenstown and Arrowtown in the Autumn

Here is a shot taken with the Sony FE 24-70mm lens. This was taken at 41mm, and it is a great example of why I use this lens so much. Don’t forget that you can zoom in on the image to see even more.

Video: Learning to use the Sony A7r

Below is a video I made where you can see what it was like when I was learning to shoot with the new Sony! I happened to be learning at the same time I was paragliding, so you get to see me learn two things at once! Also at the end is a tiny post-processing tutorial:

Sony A7r Review – Why I love it

It’s an unbelievable mix of four key things that make this a game changer: 1) full frame sensor, 2) interchangeable lenses 3) small, 4) inexpensive. Add to that some of the best on-board smart electronics, and it’s a no-brainer for me. That’s why this is my main camera!

Huge Sensor

The full-frame sensor means you can get all the kinds of shots that you’re used to if you’ve been using something of this ilk before. If you’re not used to having a full-frame sensor, well hang on for the ride. You can do things in low light and, well, most any kind of shot that can be more challenging with a smaller sensor. It’s 36 megapixels too, which is absolutely insane.

I have a lot of friends that enjoy the Micro Four-Thirds system, which is also of course a good sensor size and system. But, honestly, that sensor size is four times smaller than this one. The basic physics of light and surface area simply dictates the superior performance of a sensor this size.

Interchangeable Lenses

Finally, a full-frame mirrorless system with interchangeable lenses! This of course means that you can use very very small lenses on this also-small body. At shipping time, there were only a few native lenses available, but your older NEX lenses will work pretty well too! See the shot just below that was taken with the Sony NEX 10-18mm lens. Amazing, I say!

You can get adapters to use most any other lens system out there, such as Nikon, Canon, or well, whatever. I put a very thin Leica adapter on my Sony A7r, and it’s very fun to use all of those lenses as well. There is a video on this below. You can certainly say that it is a problem that the Sony A7r does not have a lot of lenses available to it. I agree! But, there are plenty of other lenses out there you can just attach to this system. More on that later in the review.

My Fortress of Solitude

This is an example of using an “older” NEX lens on the Sony A7r. This is the Sony 10-18mm shot at 14mm. You can see the massive coverage it still gets, and you don’t give up any of the 36 megapixels! Yes, at certain zooms like 10mm you get a ring around the outside, but I get nothing from about 12mm to 17mm — it is as good as gold. There may be a tiny bit of vignetting (darkening) around the outside, but that is a one-click fix in Lightroom! There is more about this particular lens in the video below (coming soon).

Small

This camera is 4x smaller than the Nikon D4 and over 2x smaller than the Nikon D800 or the Canon 5D Mark III. Amazing! And, it’s not just the body, but also the lenses. Naturally, you can use all those other lenses here too with an adapter. For example, I am using the Sony Alpha 16-35mm lens with an adapter so I can get many of the wide-angle shots you see below. Soon, I’ll be able to replace that with a much (much!) smaller FE lens that can get the same angles.

Inexpensive

This camera is just over $2,000, which is a fraction of the price of most DSLR systems. You’re getting all the quality of the major DSLR bodies with none of the ridiculous cost. What a deal!

A Myriad of other advantages

There are many other awesome little things about this camera too! It’s over 2 times lighter than the Nikon D800 (almost 3x as the Nikon D4). It has a flip-out screen that is super handy for holding the camera down low or up high. The viewfinder is bright and gorgeous with all kinds of handy graphical overlays. It’s weather sealed.

Here’s one thing worth a whole paragraph: Focus Peaking. No, this is not a new thing. But maybe if you are new to mirrorless cameras (which many people are who are reading this), then this is a really handy way to nail your focus. Sure, autofocus is great, but sometimes when I am set up, I want to make extra-sure I have the bit that I want in focus. When you turn on focus peaking, you can see exactly what is in focus with a little red (or whatever color you choose) outline. It’s like a video game and very cool. See my “Using Leica Lenses with the Sony A7r Video” to see this in action.

Because the A7r has an amazing viewfinder that I can attach my eye to and look inside, I can use the digital view to see that little red outline and be sure that I have the perfect bit in focus, even at 100%. Yes, some DSLRs have this, but it is often only on the back of the screen which is often difficult to see in Live View in the daytime. The A7r doesn’t have any of those troubles.

Attaching Leica Lenses

I made this video here that shows how I used four different Leica lenses on the Sony A7r.

The Sony NEX 10-18mm on the Sony A7r

I did a full comparison here of the two main wide-angle lenses that are currently available from Sony for the new Sony A7r (see my ever-growing Sony A7r Review here on the site). One of them is NEX 10-18mm (see the full Sony 10-18mm Lens Review) that worked so well on the cropped-sensor of my NEX system. The other is the full-frame Sony 16-35mm lens from their DSLR system. The latter needs an adapter to work on the Sony A7r.

As you can see in the video below, the NEX lens is my surprising favorite! I didn’t really expect it to be equal in sharpness and quality to its bigger full frame counterpart. The advantages to the bigger 16-35mm are that it can shoot all the way down to f/2.8. This would be valuable in low-light wide-angle handheld shooting (which I don’t do). It would also be valuable in astro-photography (which I rarely do).

But the advantages of the NEX 10-18mm are manifold! You basically get to move it between 12mm-17mm without seeing the ring around the outside. And yes, you get the full-frame goodness of the 36 megapixels of the Sony A7r! That’s much wider than the 16-35mm. The distortion is pretty much exactly the same on both cameras, as you can see in the video review. Even better, the NEX lens is over 2x lighter, 3x cheaper, and a fraction of the size. One last thing that my friend Gordon Laing from CameraLabs.com reminds me: this 10-18mm lens has built-in image stabilization. Amazing! I’m not seeing any difference in the sharpness of the lens.

So this was a pretty big decision for me — to switch to this lens when I fully anticipated using the 16-35mm until the new FE wide-angle lens for the Sony A7 launches later this year. I expect that will be a superior lens to both of these, although probably not as inexpensive as this NEX 10-18mm.

Things I don’t like and hope Sony Fixes

First, I hope they do release more lenses very soon. I don’t mind uses lenses from other systems. It’s easy enough; it’s just that they are a bit big. I still prefer to use those other lenses on this system because the A7r body itself is so dang smart and high-quality. Once I can get smaller lenses though, then everything will be ultra perfect. First, I want a good wide-angle zoom. Second, I’d like a good general purpose zoom-lens. That should just about do it for me, personally. I’m very happy with the Leica lens mount I already have and the ability to use all of those incredible lenses that have been around forever.

Second, I’d prefer if the Autobracketing was smarter and more configurable. This has always been frustrating for HDR photographers who know it is just simple software. I would like to be able to click the shutter button, then after a 2 second pause it automatically takes a configurable number of shots at different exposures.

Third, I’d like to be able to configure the buttons myself more. The zoom-in button is really tough to press when I have my left eye (my only good eye) into the viewfinder. I almost have to scratch my cortex with my thumb to zoom in!

More Sample Photos

HDR Photo

These Full-Frame cameras are great for shooting stars and astrophotography. If you want to see more EXIF info, feel free to click into the photo to see more!

 

http://stuckincustoms.smugmug.com/Misc/Reviews-1/i-LT7SDgL/A

I stepped out from behind a small Bed & Breakfast I was staying at in Central Otago called Coombs cottage and saw this painted sky scene unfolding before me. This was shot at ISO100, shutter 1/500, 24mm. Actually, I’m not going to list out all the EXIF info in the future because you can just click through to my SmugMug Site to see all the details. If you click the little “i” it will tell you everything. :)

 

Chris Madison Before Jump

Here’s my friend Chris getting ready to jump off the mountain with me! This was shot with another one of the new Sony lenses that is available now, the Sony 35mm. It was shot at f/3.5.

 

http://stuckincustoms.smugmug.com/Misc/Reviews-1/i-gTHhRZc/A

I know I just said I won’t tell you all the EXIF on every single image, so I’ll go ahead and break this rule here because it is cool. But this is taken with the 55mm lens at f/1.8 (also ISO 100 at 1/60). This is one of the lenses you can get now, and it is super-tiny and makes a lovely bokeh area. This is the kind of nice effect you can get with a full-frame camera.

 

HDR Photo

Here’s one from Tokyo. I love how the out-of-focus area feels so soft, and, well, full-framey!

 

On Camel, Across the Sahara Desert

The natural colors and lines and curves of the Sahara Desert.

 

Blasting Off

And here we are right before takeoff. This was a handheld shot using the Sony Alpha Lens for their older DSLR system — the 16-35mm. You can see more about this shot in the video above. This one was pulled all the way back to 16mm at ISO 50.

 

http://stuckincustoms.smugmug.com/Misc/Reviews-1/i-5QdNMf4/A

Here’s a wonderfully bizarre photo I took at St. Bathans with the Leica 24mm lens. Nailing the focus is very easy with the focus-peaking trick.

 

荒井沙織 With Umbrella In Asakusa

Full frame sensors can give you nice bokeh even when the main subject is quite a ways from the camera. This was shot in Tokyo.

 

http://stuckincustoms.smugmug.com/Misc/Reviews-1/i-SDMq63B/A

And here’s another example of the full-frame buttery goodness of the out of focus area. This was shot with the Leica 50mm f/1.4 lens.

 

Awesome Car In Tokyo

Using the EVF on the Sony A7r makes it very easy to line up for symmetrical photos like this one to make sure I am in the exact center. The live horizon-meter also comes in handy in these situations.

 

HDR Photo

On this road to my home in New Zealand, I took this with the 24mm f/1.4 lens.

HDR Photo

Great for low-light photography, here is a fisherman from Southern China. Also shot with the 24mm at f/1.4.

Saint Bathans Adventure (806 of 2146)

Tasty bokeh!

 

http://stuckincustoms.smugmug.com/Misc/Reviews-1/i-s2QTQRn/A

Here’s another handheld shot (on a shaky bridge!) near Wanaka. It was also taken with the older Sony Alpha Lens — the 16-35mm.

 

http://stuckincustoms.smugmug.com/Misc/Reviews-1/i-KQLLTzb/A

Here’s my paragliding master, Swanny. He’s the man. He’s a man’s man. This was taken with the same lens as above.

 

HDR Photo

This was taken with the Leica 50mm f/1.4. When you point it into the sun, you get the most amazing lens flares through the glass element. So fun! And it’s nice to see exactly what you are going to get. The actual scene was so bright, that I think an optical system would have blinded me! Since I was able to see a digital version, it made it much easier on the eye so I could actually compose the shot.

 

Saint Bathans Adventure (1045 of 2146)

Here is a rather unusual photo of my friend Stu with my new friend Bob.

 

Exploring a Strange Land with Curious Shadows in the Night

Here’s a wide-angle shot from Morocco at night. This is with the NEX 10-18mm lens.

 

Scarlett in Flowers

Here’s one of my daughters sitting down outside in Arrowtown. This was taken with the Leica 70mm lens at f/2.

 

Here’s a photo of Stu below with the Leica 24mm f/1.4.

And here’s my mate Stu talking to Management to check on the progress of Peace in 10,000 Hands.

 

http://stuckincustoms.smugmug.com/Misc/Reviews-1/i-QpP2GC2/A

Here’s another from the Central Otago highlands. This one (like most in the review) are handheld. Of course, with a full-frame lens, it’s much easier to get clean hand-held shots in these semi-low-light conditions

 

Girl with Facemask in Shibuya Station

Shot in the Tokyo subway with the 50mm prime Leica lens at f/1.4

 

http://stuckincustoms.smugmug.com/Misc/Reviews-1/i-GwFjSRB/A

Speaking of Peace in 10,000 Hands, here I am back at Stu’s studio, taking a photo of some of his work in his gallery for the project. We also filmed a little video about how to use the Sony A7r with Leica lenses.

 

http://stuckincustoms.smugmug.com/Misc/Reviews-1/i-DgtPt72/A

Here’s a lovely little schoolhouse in St. Bathans under stormy skies in the evening.

 

Saint Bathans Adventure (807 of 2146)

The relatively compact nature of this camera makes it a joy to grab quick shots like this. It’s over 2 times smaller than the Nikon D800 and the Canon 5D Mark III. It’s over 4x smaller than the Nikon D4.

 

The shallow depth of field at f/1.4 really is amazing.. and the background is so buttery!

 

Saint Bathans Adventure (516 of 2146)

Here’s a good example of the Leica 24mm lens at f/1.4. I’m very excited to play with all these new lenses with this amazing body (the camera, not mine haha).

 

Saint Bathans Adventure (798 of 2146)

The focus-peaking allowed me to use the 50mm lens to find the exact spot where I wanted to focus.

 

Shooting action and HDR together are quite a bit of fun. For more, see my HDR Tutorial here on the site where I have a full video about this shot!

 

HDR Photo

Shooting wide-open doesn’t get any better! This is from a field of lavender near Mount Cook.

 

http://stuckincustoms.smugmug.com/Misc/Reviews-1/i-PWdTBLt/A

Here is the Leica 50mm lens in its full f/1.4 glory.

 

Here’s a shot of my son on his first day of high school. I love the depth of field that a full-frame sensor provides.

 

http://stuckincustoms.smugmug.com/Misc/Reviews-1/i-T9dDzGN/A

I went for a walk along this fence in the late afternoon as a store was coming in. I had a little friend with me. Say hello to my little friend. :)

 

More about Sony and Me

Sony doesn’t sponsor me or anything. They got me an early camera to test, but I also bought one. I also bought a bunch of Sony NEX-7’s and NEX-6’s when I switched away from Nikon last year. Nikon didn’t sponsor me either… I wrote a full story about switching from the Nikon to the Sony. You may find additional information there if this is an area of interest for you! I also wrote about my first impressions of Sony’s a7 and a7R mirrorless cameras.

  • Bob Root

    Hey Trey, Took your recommendation and bought the A7R rationalizing it as a grab and go camera which my D800 will never be. Wow! what a neat rig. Feels to me like the camera developed for the next century vs. my Nikon’s that feel like evolution. Still there are things that my D800 will do that will not put it permanently on the shelf. Fun though to shop eBay for some old Nikon 35mm AF lenses. Just snagged a 70-210 f4 AF for $80. I wish someone had an adapter that would let me use my D800 lenses go auto.

    A particularly good pairing is my Nikon F8 500mm mirror lens on the A7R. I have always loved that lens for its compression and “donuts of confusion.” Interestingly though when I bracket with the A7R the under exposed image has a strong vignette across the top 1/3 of the frame. The normal and overexposed frame on a 3 bracket shot at continuos shoot seem fine. I initially thought it was some obstruction because of the mirror lens, but it seems to only be the underexposed frame that has the vignette. Any ideas? I will test more and report back.

    Also, I have been working on a book loosely titled “Car Sex.” As a car guy from youth, I have always seen the sleek lines of a woman in car design and have shot for years closeup of exotic and not so exotic cars for their erotic lines. The A7R with my Sigma 12mm-24mm for Nikon has already let me snag some very interesting “Hail Mary” shots that my old body will not let me stoop to.

    Bob

  • treyratcliff

    Awesome Bob – glad you like it! :)

  • Fuzz

    Great post w/ great samples. I’ve just started looking at this since I love my full-frame 5D2 and fast lenses (www.fuzzphotography.com) I’d be seriously interested in an a7r system with something like an UWA zoom (~15-35, f/2.8), a wide-ish fast prime (24 to 35, f/1.4), a normal fast prime (50 to 85, f/1.4), and a telephoto zoom (love my Canon 70-200/2.8). And then I’d have to figure out a way to sell my current Canon gear to fund the Sony system!

  • Fuzz

    Btw, great location you’re in (Queenstown). I just moved to NZ (Mid Canterbury) and am loving it (www.fuzzphotography.wordpress.com). Planning to head down to Queenstown around September/October.

  • Thinkinginpictures

    Well, I don’t know about that hair style (personal taste I guess) but I can’t argue with your pictures. Dang impressive is what that is.

  • Tony

    Hi Trey,
    Great little review and lovely images.
    I recently purchased the Sony A7r, but developed buyers remorse.
    I wasn’t happy with the slow, loud, clunky shutter sound and (for my needs) I found the 36 megapixel images way to big for my needs.
    So I returned it and bought an A7, I absolutely love it! The focus appears more snappier also.
    Cheers,

  • treyratcliff

    Great feedback – thanks Tony. I actually LIKE the shutter sound… feels very old-school to me! hehe…

  • Brett

    Hi Trey love your work simply just wow all the time I’m on my way today to get the A7r and am having fun looking around at all the cool lenses I can now get which are so much cheaper and better than the new age lenses go figure hey.
    Thanks again for my little shot of inspiration

  • treyratcliff

    Awesome! You’ll have fun with that camera! :)

  • Paulo

    Nice work Trey, I have a question, how do you set up your camera for HDR or can you share any tips? I was planning to buy the 7r but end up getting the a7, maybe next time…

    Thanks!

  • deltaskyking

    Hey Trey, I’ve been following your work for a long time. Read your review on the A7R and rented a copy with the 24-70mm Zeiss lens. My results….were less than fantastic. To be sure it’s a nice camera, and the menu and controls are an definite improvement over my NEX-7, but overall I was very letdown. The lens had a lot of distortion in the entire zoom range and chromatic aberration was very high (not the camera’s fault). I found the low light capabilities to be good, but not nearly as good as the Canon 6D i compared it too. Also, I found that with the 6D attached to any of my “L” series lenses I achieved, in my opinion, much crisper and clearer images. I know the point of the article is to have a full-framed camera in a tiny package to travel with – I get that and as an airline pilot I’d like nothing better than to not have to carry around 25 pounds on Canon bodies and L lenses. But I feel that if I’m going to pop for a full framed camera, I’d better be “over the moon” about the image quality. I owned a Nikon D600 and loved the image quality but returned it due to the much talked about sensor oil spotting issue. I’ve used a Canon 5D MkIII several times and absolutely loved it, but the thing is large and heavy. To me, the Canon 6D hits my sweet spot in terms of size, image quality, and the not to be overlooked ability to use the lenses and accessories I’ve already invested with in Canon. Just my opinion. Tell me what I’m missing here. BTW just bought your photomatix settings and HDR course – great stuff.

  • John Anthony O’Neill

    Thanks for the review Trey. Interesting read and very nice shots! Can you tell me if you have experienced issues with shutter shock as reported in some reviews or has this generally been a non issue in real world shooting?

  • mike

    Hey Trey, thanks for the great review. I’m looking at the a7r to take with me as I travel for the next year. I’m trying to keep gear to a minimal and likely will not have the money for multiple lenses so I was wondering what your recommendation would be for the most versatile lens for the a7r? I do plan on shooting for mostly landscape and architecture.

  • Jack Pearson

    Great review. Some reviewers report a problem with blurring caused by the opening shutter. This apparently occurs when the A7r is mounted on a tripod, using a remote shutter release, with a lens speed of ½ to 1/200. Have you encountered such a problem?

  • DR25
  • Guest

    I am considering buying this camera and so I’ve been reading reviews on “recommended” photo review sites but your review simply blows them all away. You would think they were deliberately “under-reviewing” if there was such a term. Thanks for such a great review and the beautiful photos which really show what the a7R can do.

  • buck

    Can Trey answer deltaskyking? I also am a Canon equip “investor,” to say the least, and while its appealing to consider a cheaper version of the Leica full-frame, in a sense via the A7R, I keep coming back to the clarity and variety of Canon equipment to keep me there. I’d like a straight out shot for shot comparison of the A7 units with the Canon 5d Mark III’s and the 6D’s.

  • Photo Enthusiast

    I am looking to buy the sony a7s. I have heard such mixed reviews on its auto-focus. I don’t shoot sports… but do shoot fast moving kids. How do you think the camera’s auto-focus would hold up?

  • Sandip Gupta

    I am an enthusiast who still uses a 20 year old Minolta 5000 camera (still works great!). I am now considering buying a7r and a6000 (for its fast focus when I need to take a moving object or kids). I do mostly landscapes, nature and candid pictures for personal use. I have a few questions I need your advice on:

    1) should I start with a6000 and then a7R or the other way around or it doesn’t matter?

    2) do the lens for these two cameras work together? Or should I plan to buy separate lens which would mean carrying bulk. I am hoping I can have the two camera bodies and common lens.

    3) to build up my lens collection for these without breaking the bank on the start, where do I start?

    4) and finally, what happens to my old Sigma lenses from the Minolta camera – can they be still used with an adapter? I understand I would lose auto focus but on a7R I think I would mostly use manual anyways.

    I appreciate your advice.

  • http://www.StuckInCustoms.com treyratcliff

    1) If cost is not an issue, get the A7r first ! :)
    2) Yes they do… but try to buy FE lenses when possible because they work better on the A7r
    3) Get those lenses I recommend above!
    4) You can get an adapter for them to use with the sony

  • http://www.StuckInCustoms.com treyratcliff

    @disqus_FYZkOlsKpT:disqus :)

  • http://www.StuckInCustoms.com treyratcliff

    I just posted a review of the A7s here – the Autofocus is better, I think @Photo Enthusiast

  • Sandip Gupta

    For the 24-70 lens, there are two models. You reviewed the more expensive Vario-Tessar model (SEL2470Z). Have you used the 28-70 version (SEL2870). If so, it will be nice to know the differences especially in quality of pictures. The price difference is huge between the two lens with the Vario-Tessar model being more than double the price of the other.

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