A Hot Minute Hands-on Review of the Sony A7r

The field of affordable mirrorless cameras is widening, even as the gulf in quality between said cameras and DSLRs narrows. I’ve gone so far as to call them DSLR-killers in the past. A little tongue in cheek there, but wrapped in a nice dose of optimism. On the whole these rigs are lighter, more compact and pack a decent punch. They’re definitely the bomb for for street photographers and the kick the shit out of any point-and-miss er…point and shoot that is…without a doubt.

To that end, the not-yet-released Sony A7r [or Alpha 7r] and A7 magically fell into my hands last week prompting a brief but meaningful walk/shooting/note-taking session with my crew, the results of which I’m sharing here. Given that this little beauty doesn’t hit the market until December, what you’re about to read is one of the first true hands-on reviews. I can’t go into hand wringing detail about everything w the camera (save that for others), but this is rather my first quick impression. (And seeing as the bulk of my time was spent with the A7r, I’ve limited my notes below to that model.)

FIRST, THE UPSIDE:

1) The Tactile. The ergonomics are great and the grip is the perfect size. I carried it the whole time without a neck strap and never worried about it slipping out of my hands. Camera ergonomics are vastly under-appreciated IMHO – really important. I’m a stickler for it and this camera delivers on it.

2) Presence. The A7 is light, but not cheap feeling. It feels similar to the Olympus E-M5 in weight and dial placement, but easier to grip with better spacing in the button layout. Good lines.

3) Design. I dig the placement of the exposure compensation wheel. I could make adjustments easily and intuitively without taking my eye away from the viewfinder.

4) Focus. Focusing speed is acceptable but nowhere near groundbreaking. Norton’s E-M5 and Erik’s Panasonic GX7 a both seem to focus faster (this might be different on the A7 vs the A7r).

5) Image quality. Image quality is really nice, though we were only able to view and edit the Jpegs since Lightroom doesn’t support the A7’s raw files yet and only had the camera for a qwik spin. (also we can’t share our images since the camera is technically a pre-production model…sorry) The shallow depth of field on the 2.8 lens is dreamy. Getting a nice shallow depth of field in a camera this compact feels like cheating.

6) Looks. Aesthetically, the camera is very inconspicuous. In a short walk in a part, people stopped and commented about Norton’s silver retro looking Olympus E-M5, but nobody asked about the A7r. The murdered out black finish on the A7/A7r is stealthy for sure. This will be a nice nod for the street photographer in you, but will work against you if you’re one of those kooks who is trying to be …er…”impressive” with gear.

NITPICKS ON THE NEGATIVE:

1) Shutter. I’m not crazy about the shutter button. This is super nit-picky, but it’s sorta gummy. It takes a little too much pressure to fire the shutter. It feels to me like it’s likely to cause unnecessary camera shake, which could hurt photos taken with a slow shutter speed. AND…speaking of the shutter…it’s damn noisy. This camera is not sneaky.

2) Battery. The battery life is wack. I only had one, and I had the feeling right away that it wouldn’t last. I had to keep turning the camera off between shots, and that’s no fun. Hopefully Sony addresses this quick-like.

4) Boot-time. The start-up time overly slow. I seriously thought the camera might have had issues when I first turned it on. (this might be because the camera I was using might be a preproduction model???)

OVERALL SIDE OF THE EQUATION:

Anybody thinking about getting into the world of mirrorless cameras, or even mid-range DSLR’s, should take the Sony A7r and A7 into serious consideration. If you by chance have a NEX-7 then this upgrade is really really desirable since your glass can migrate with you.

Both models are available for pre-order here and here.

Scroll down for a more detailed look at the Sony A7r:

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Kevin says:

Great size.

Gee says:

Would you suggest the Olympus over the A7 and A7r?

Alan says:

“Getting a nice shallow depth of field in a camera this compact feels like cheating.” – never used a NEX with a fast lens then?! :-) Yes, I know A7/R are FF, but really, you can even use a speed booster on a NEX to get FF field of view on APS-C, plus extra light and sharpness, so your 50/1.4 becomes around 52/0.9 (same 1.4 DoF though)!!

methee says:

very interesting camera. i think i will go for sony a7. however i will wait for more new lens come out such as 24-70f2.8oss and 70-200f2.8oss. other thing that sony missing is wireless radio flash controller (same as canon st-e3rt) to control Sony HVL-F60.
since the flash is larger than camera, i think it not feel right balance when u put flash on top of camera.

rancho says:

you’ll be waiting a long time for f/2.8 zooms, because sony have said they’re not going to release fast aperture lenses because they a) want to keep the lenses small, and b) want absolute best possible image quality. hence the f/4 zooms and f/2.8 and f/1.8 primes released so far.

Luis says:

Thanks for the quick review chase.

I love to shoot travel/landscapes more than anything else. The a7r with 24-70mm f4 lens along with the x100s, iPad and lightweight tripod will be my full time kit now.

For me, the release of this camera is sufficient enough to sell off my micro four thirds setup.

Cooper Ray says:

hey, around the Ace Hotel again! How long are you in town for?
-Cooper

Lightroom 5.3RC is on Adobe Labs and it supports the A7R

manuel says:

I have a question; when you talk about low battery and switch on/off the camera, I do the same. But, Ive always wondered, would the power up process (startup check, memory, lens roll) doesnt it takes more battery than leaving the camera on? maybe? So now I just pop the last photo while I get things ready for next photo

ken says:

Problem w/ FF in a travel cam is still that the lenses are big and heavy. Compare it w/ a m4/3 setup w/ similar lens. You don’t get the narrow DOF, but you do get a nice travel setup (and this is coming from someone who likes FF/APS-C DSLRs)….

George says:

I held it for a short while. I did not like the location of the shutter button. I had to “bend” my finger upwards to get a firm click

Hi Chase,

From my short experience with it, I felt that the A7 was more tuned towards walk-N-shoot practices because the way the shutter (dampened or electronic curtain) and the AF (phase-detect) is designed. Just felt much faster than the A7r.

I’m curious to know what picture came out from your wandering :)

Hi Chase.

I tried both the A7r and the A7 briefly 2 weeks ago. I was impressed by the ok fsat AF on both cameras, the grip and the build quality. But one thing annoyed me. The front control wheel (shutter speed) had a very sharp edge which cut into my finger. Did you feel the same?

Have a nice weekend

David Cartagena

The short flange distance would allow for many adapters; however, to maximize the mirrorless potential they will need to start placing the shutter mechanism in the lens itself, eliminating the internal shutter, and therefore eliminating the ability to using other lenses with an adapter. Carrying over your current lenses for the NEX will only work in a cropped mode, as only the FE lenses are designed for the full frame sensors.It is worth noting that the “r” model lacks the phase detection of the A7, which should have superior AF speed and accuracy.

The problem, the way I see it, is that professionals do not use them. People want an SLR because they see professionals using them. They don’t understand anything about light, glass, sensors, you name it. They just want to give it a try. some people might think an SLR is too bulky, so they go for a mirrorless as a compromise. That is all it is right now though, a compromise. A professionals walk-around camera (at best). They are too small, AF is too slow, and the lenses are mostly too compact to compete with the SLR lenses due (in part) to the short flange.

Harry says:

Trying to look a little James Dean in that last photo?

Roger says:

Hello Chase,

Since your team was running around with the OMD E5 and the panasonic gx7 , how does the picture quality in jpegs compare to those. Seeing as the A7r has a full frame sensor and 36 mega-pixel the image quality should be vastly superior. Especially considering the price in comparison to the OMD E5 and the GX7. Can you confirm this or is the quality only marginally better ?

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faisal says:

Isn’t it too expensive?

Qua Veda says:

Too expensive, etc… compared to what? there are cameras that can pretty much ‘do it all’ but then they might be too bulky, heavy, obtrusive, expensive, for some. Sony is certainly bringing it to the conservative market dominated by incumbents (Nikon, Canon) and hopefully will stimulate a wave of innovation. Seems that the ‘perfect kit’ nowadays can be built , but from a variety of camera bodies and glass.

Jaz says:

Chase, thanks for the heads up man. Most of the power consuming components are similar to the NEX except for the processor. If the battery life is significantly shorter the processor is probably the culprit.

It’s puzzling the there would be a long startup lag. I can’t imagine what the camera needs to do to power up. Unlike the “point-and-miss er…point and shoot” cameras it doesn’t have a lens that needs to slowly extend out of the body.

When you mention that the AF is “acceptable” is that in daylight ? If so did you get a chance to test it indoors with lower light ?

Lexi says:

Great review! It’s too bad about the battery. That would be a show stopper for us. Hopefully they will get it fixed soon. Thanks for sharing!

JSturr says:

Is there a shutter speed min. tied to auto ISO; from your experience ?

Thanks for taking the time.

JSturr

Chase says:

we didn’t test for that, but there are ways to compensate for that w most cameras of this price point or higher.
A) don’t use auto ISO – use M or S mode and pick your parameters
B) often can set a default choice for how the camera adjusts. we did not test for this, but as an example you can do htis on the nikon pro bodies…

dave says:

fortunately the battery has a pretty long life when using a m42 adapter and manual lenses. so it must be the lens and the focusing thats eating up on the battery…

Bob Fisher says:

Curious how you know about battery life with manual lenses for a camera that isn’t available yet.

chad says:

He reads other blogs ^^^^

Adam says:

Cause it uses the same battery as NEX 7 (I own this) and probably the whole NEX range uses the same battery, which kinda nice for upgraders as they don’t have to buy new batteries.

What I don’t understand is, why till today, Sony refuses to make the camera to turn of its LCD screen while allowing us to use the EVF only and only to turn on the LCD for photo preview, liveview or to change settings. Right now, the LCD has to be turn on all the time cause if you turn of to EVF mode only, All your settings (including picture viewing) will only be available in the EVF.

Alexander says:

I have no idea where u got that the A7r cannot have its display turned off permanently and in addition the oled VF is only on when u have it in front of your face!? These options are embedded in the A7r´s and A7´s menu. Also there is an option to turn off that annoying pre-focusing that also drains the battery… with it turned on u only focus when u press the shutter

doug says:

glad you addressed the battery issue I’ve read about that a few other places, it seems really really bad. Even doubled with the grip it’s about half what it should be for 1 battery. Otherwise it seems like a fantastic camera.

Chase says:

that’s sort of my sentiment too

So these photos of you were taken with the Olympus and not the Sony, right?

Chase says:

yeah – these are just snapshots from manager Jerard’s Olympus OMD

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