Sony A7R

One ou­tra­geous cam­era

HWM (Malaysia) - - REVIEWS - ALVIN SOON

The Sony A7 se­ries is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of a dream once thought im­pos­si­ble – the abil­ity to make a com­pact mir­ror­less sys­tem cam­era with a big full-frame sen­sor in­side. While the A7 is al­ready a tech­no­log­i­cal achieve­ment, the A7R takes it to the next level by in­clud­ing a 36MP sen­sor in­side; the only other cam­era with an equiv­a­lent pixel count and lack of op­ti­cal low­pass fil­ter is the Nikon D800E. DE­SIGN & HAN­DLING The Sony A7R isn’t ugly, but it’s not pretty ei­ther, it just is. Form cer­tainly fol­lows func­tion here, and Sony has crossed the min­i­mal­is­tic line to plain plain­ness. Its small­ness as­tounds though, ev­ery time I pick it up I have to re­mind my­self that I’m hold­ing a cam­era with a 36MP full-frame sen­sor in­side – Nikon’s 36MP D800E DSLR is way big­ger and is two times heav­ier.

Auto-fo­cus (AF) is com­pe­tent, but the A7R is not an ac­tion cam­era, nor is it a con­spic­u­ous one. The A7R’s shut­ter is loud; when you hit the re­lease you and the peo­ple around you will def­i­nitely know it. It takes about two sec­onds to power on, fo­cus and fire its first shot. If you en­able Con­tin­u­ous AF, the A7R can man­age to fire off a shot ev­ery one to two sec­onds de­pend­ing on how fast your sub­ject moves.

The A7R han­dles like a pro­sumer cam­era with an odd blend of phys­i­cal and dig­i­tal con­trols. The two main con­trol di­als can be cus­tom­ized, but there is a ded­i­cated ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion dial. There are a host of op­tions for cus­tomiza­tion with ten cus­tom di­als in all, in­clud­ing the abil­ity to cus­tom­ize the scroll wheel and d-pad con­trols, so you can set the cam­era up just the way you like.

You can’t eas­ily change AF points with the de­fault set­tings out of the box, but I changed the left d-pad di­rec­tion to go di­rectly into fo­cus set­tings. So when I’m in Zone or Flex­i­ble Spot AF modes I can eas­ily change the AF points just by press­ing left. Need­less to say, there’s a lot to like in how much Sony likes you cus­tom­ize your A7R just so.

Be­ing dig­i­tal has its ad­van­tages. Sony brings fo­cus peak­ing to the A7R, which makes it eas­ier to con­firm man­ual fo­cus. It also has a ze­bra func­tion, which you can turn on to see if your high­lights are be­ing clipped. Since the viewfinder is elec­tronic, you can use both fea­tures on both the back mon­i­tor and the EVF. Elec­tronic viewfind­ers will never be as good as op­ti­cal viewfind­ers, but the ques­tion isn’t if the EVF is equal but if it’s good enough. I found the A7R’s re­spon­sive and clear, even in low-light, and didn’t miss an OVF.

An Fn (Func­tion) but­ton brings up a menu of com­mon set­tings, which can be cus­tom­ized. How­ever, while you can change Fo­cus Area modes here and shift AF points af­ter, the cam­era backs out of AF point se­lec­tion once you hit the shut­ter re­lease, and there is no easy way to go back to se­lect­ing AF points again.

Shift­ing around 36MP files takes a lot of power, but the A7R han­dles this with aplomb; I could squeeze off about 35 JPEG frames in suc­ces­sion be­fore the cam­era started slow­ing down, when shoot­ing in RAW I could man­age about 20-odd frames (I was us­ing an SDHC I Class 10 card with a touted max­i­mum read/write speed of 94 MB/s). The cam­era will oc­ca­sion­ally lock down menus and play­back if it’s writ­ing to card, but you can usu­ally still take pic­tures.

Bat­tery life is slightly bet­ter than its spir­i­tual pre­de­ces­sor, the RX1, which was rated 220 to 270 im­ages per charge. The A7R is rated 340 im­ages per charge, and we shot about 280 im­ages to get to about 20 per­cent power. It’s not great, not poor, and just av­er­age. But I love how Sony shows how much power you have left in per­cent­age, so you’re not left guess­ing what the bat­tery bars mean or have a sud­den drop in-be­tween two bat­tery bars.

Un­for­tu­nately, an ex­ter­nal charger doesn’t come with the box, you can only charge via USB in-cam­era if you don’t want to pay

ex­tra and get one. USB charg­ing is slower, and you won’t be able to use your cam­era as you’re do­ing it.

IM­AGE PER­FOR­MANCE

I didn’t think that Sony could squeeze a 36MP full-frame sen­sor into such a small body and make it work, but af­ter look­ing through the im­ages I’ve be­come a be­liever. There are some trade­offs, but the sen­sor should prove more than enough for its tar­get au­di­ence of en­thu­si­ast shoot­ers.

The big­gest rea­son I’m con­vinced is how noise-free the im­ages stay even at sky-high ISO lev­els. I have pic­tures at ISO 10,000-16,000 which re­main im­pres­sively free of noise – that’s a level of per­for­mance I’ve only ex­pe­ri­enced on the high­est-end DSLR cam­eras like the Nikon D4.

The sec­ond-big­gest rea­son is how rich the 36MP files are with de­tail. The A7R ben­e­fits not just from a large sen­sor with a high megapixel count, but also the lack of an op­ti­cal low-pass fil­ter, which al­lows more fine de­tail to be cap­tured at the risk of im­age ar­ti­facts like moiré ap­pear­ing. A high megapixel count also means that mis­takes like slight cam­era shake or off-fo­cus­ing are more read­ily ap­par­ent. But when you nail that shot, the tex­ture you can cap­ture is in­cred­i­ble, and that’s what I’m see­ing with shots from the A7R.

The Carl Zeiss FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA lens is a plea­sure to shoot with, the lens is sharp from cor­ner to cor­ner with im­per­cep­ti­ble cor­ner soft­ness and no vi­gnetting (al­though we won­der if that last part is han­dled in-cam­era, as some shots seem to have a hint of vi­gnetting while oth­ers do not). There is slight bar­rel dis­tor­tion where the im­age curves into the center though, so you’ll need to ap­ply a pro­file cor­rec­tion in post.

CON­CLU­SION

With the A7s, things are dif­fer­ent now. No longer does full-frame be­long squarely in the realm of large DSLR cam­eras. I was skep­ti­cal that it could be done, but the A7R out­per­formed all my ex­pec­ta­tions. The im­age qual­ity is su­perb, with ISO per­for­mance as­ton­ish­ingly good.

If there are any prob­lems, they’re not with the cam­era. For one, a higher res­o­lu­tion im­age de­mands bet­ter shoot­ing tech­nique from the pho­tog­ra­pher. Any small mis­take, like slight cam­era shake or off-fo­cus­ing might be masked in a lower res­o­lu­tion pic­ture, but will be mag­ni­fied with the A7R’s 36MP.

The sec­ond cur­rent prob­lem with the A7R is the lack of lenses for Sony’s new full-frame mir­ror­less se­ries. Right now at launch there are only two na­tive lenses for the A7 and A7R, the afore­men­tioned FE 35mm f/2.8, and a FE 2870mm f/3.5-5.6. Un­for­tu­nately, the 28-70mm is only avail­able as a kit lens for the A7, if you want it for your A7R you’ll have to try and get it sec­ond-hand.

You can mount ex­ist­ing E-mount lenses on the A7s, which use an E-mount; the cam­era will au­to­mat­i­cally crop the cap­ture area to avoid vi­gnetting but you can opt to turn that off. You can also mount Sony’s A-mount lenses, but you’ll have to use an A to E-mount adapter. The A7s can also mount lenses from other sys­tems via third-party adapters, in­clud­ing man­ual fo­cus lenses.

For most non-pro­fes­sion­als, 36MP is sweet overkill, and the cam­era is clearly an as­pi­ra­tional rather than prac­ti­cal choice for this group. If you can’t re­sist the lure though, be warned that you’re buy­ing into a sys­tem that for right now, only has two na­tive lenses in its sta­ble.

Hello peo­ple! My name is Ted Ad­nan and I earn my liv­ing as a com­mer­cial and ed­i­to­rial pho­tog­ra­pher. As such, many of you would pre­sume that I spend a ma­jor­ity of my time in a stu­dio, but that’s not al­ways the case. When­ever pos­si­ble (with the ap­proval from the sig­nif­i­cant other), I try to squeeze in a lit­tle play be­tween work. Trav­el­ing not only al­lows me to re­lax, it also gives me the op­por­tu­nity to prac­tice my hobby as well, which is of course, photography.

Plan Ahead

You may not think it’s im­por­tant, but plan­ning ahead of your trip is vi­tal. Back in the day, I used to read through Lonely Planet guides that were ob­tained from a friend. When pe­rus­ing those guides, I would let my imag­i­na­tion run wild think­ing about all the peo­ple and places I could shoot (with my cam­era, of course!). Sadly, more of­ten than not, th­ese places did not live up to ex­pec­ta­tions. For­tu­nately, the tech­nol­ogy we have to­day al­lows one to quickly do a search on Google and voila! One is pre­sented with a myr­iad of tex­tual in­for­ma­tion and vi­su­als about a par­tic­u­lar lo­ca­tion. Most of this in­for­ma­tion is also hon­est as they are (mostly) pre­sented by av­er­age per­son. Put sim­ply, by plan­ning ahead, you’ll know where, when and what to shoot.

GLANCE MOUNT AT A

E-mount

SEN­SOR 35mm

MEGAPIX­ELS

36.4MP

DI­MEN­SIONS

126.9 x 94.4 x 48.2mm

PRICE

RM6,999 (body only)

Im­ages from the A7R look as good as those from the 36MP Nikon D800E.

Chalk it down to user er­ror, but I’ve ac­ci­den­tally switched off the cam­era more than once while reach­ing for the con­trol dial.

The A7R comes with both ze­bra (for blowout warn­ings) and fo­cus peak­ing (to aid man­ual fo­cus).

There are lots of op­tions for but­ton cus­tomiza­tion.

Try to look for pho­tos with con­trast­ing col­ors. This kid in red re­ally stands out from the blue.

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