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Want it fast or want it fine? Sony makes you choose between its two full-frame interchangeable-lens cameras: the faster, cheaper 24-megapixel model (Alpha ILCE-7, aka A7) and a slower, AA-filter-free 36-megapixel model (Alpha ILCE-7R, aka A7R). Despite disappointing performance, the A7R delivers in all other respects, and I generally like it better than the A7 for its superior image quality.
The A7 incorporates the lower-resolution sensor in order to use Sony's hybrid autofocus system; Sony says that it couldn't put the phase-detection pixels on the 36-megapixel sensor for the A7R. If you need both resolving power and autofocus speed, you're out of luck for now.
Both new sensors have redesigned microlens arrays. While most modern sensors use gapless microlenses, these also required some tweaking on the edges near the lens mount to prevent vignetting, since the sensor's such a tight fit in the mount opening.
The A7R delivers on the photo quality, with great high-ISO sensitivity performance for its price class. JPEGs look clean through ISO 800 and remain good as high as ISO 1600; if you shoot raw, you can probably get usable images up through ISO 12800 depending upon lighting. The extra sharpness from the AA-filter-free sensor seems to be the primary reason; as ISO sensitivity rises, the sharper the native detail the better the noise reduction results, all other things equal.
Like the Cyber-shot DSC-RX10, the A7 models employ the company's new Bionz X image processor with upgraded noise reduction and detail processing; the latter minimizes outlines for decreased ringing artifacts and adds new "diffraction reduction technology" that works in conjunction with larger lens lookup tables to ostensibly provide increased image sharpness at smaller apertures. I didn't do extensive testing at small apertures, but center sharpness as high as f22 with the 55mm lens looked pretty good on the few shots I did get.
It also preserves great dynamic range; I was able to recover clipped highlight and shadow detail from the raw files, even at higher ISO sensitivities.
|Click to download |
(note: all images are in the Adobe RGB color space)
|ISO 100 ||ISO 800 ||ISO 6400|
Furthermore, the video quality is surprisingly good, with only a minimal number of artifacts I usually see from AA-filter-free sensors. You still have to be careful with your frame rates to prevent moire, but even at 60p it was mostly good, and the general detail definition is quite nice. Low-light video also has nice tonality and good saturation.
It saddens me that the A7R is slow, loud, and piggy with power. Sony excuses the poor autofocus speed as a sacrifice you make for using contrast AF, but, sorry, we've been seeing fast-contrast AF from Olympus and Panasonic for years.
It takes forever to start up; while 2.2 seconds to power on, focus, and shoot may not sound like much, it translates into a lot of missed shots. And the autofocus doesn't kick in until the camera is mostly booted. It runs a not-terrible 0.3 second to focus and shoot in good light, but that rises to about 0.9 second in dim light. Those are the same results as the company's mediocre ILCE-A3000, which costs a fifth of the A7R. JPEG and raw shot-to-shot times are effectively the same at about 0.4 to 0.5 second. And I'm not sure what the continuous-shooting mode is intended to achieve; although it can sustain a reasonable burst of raw or JPEG (more than 30 shots), with autofocus it can only do about 1.2fps. The camera has a faster burst that fixes focus on the first shot, but that means if it doesn't lock correctly initially or if the subject moves -- usually why you're shooting burst -- you get a whole lotta nothin'.
The processing can also hold you up from changing settings or reviewing images, though given the files it's processing that's more understandable.
The various autofocus options can be frustrating, as well. For instance, its object tracking (Lock-on AF) either pulses repeatedly or picks its own (usually wrong) subject, depending upon your settings. Thanks to peaking and a sharp EVF, manually focusing is relatively easy and fast, though.
Then there's the absurdly loud shutter. Nothing like trying to be the quiet, unobtrusive photographer only to be outed by that cringeworthy shutter "THWACK!" There's some dispute as to whether or not it causes significant shake from vibration -- I didn't find it a huge issue -- but there's no denying it's loud. And while I love the bright, contrasty LCD and huge, bright electronic viewfinder, they contribute to the camera's terribly short battery life given that the camera's targeted at people who photograph a lot. The only thing zips along merrily on this camera is the battery-level icon.
The EVF and the LCD, though, perform well. Both use the same excellent screens as on the SLT-A99. I do wish the LCD could tilt down further for easier overhead shooting, though.
Design and features
Although I don't consider the A7R a beautiful camera, in a lot of ways it's beautifully designed; it feels very comfortable, with a substantial grip, sturdy dust- and moisture-resistant magnesium alloy body, and enough heft that it counterbalances pretty well with big A-mount or other lenses.
Sony has advanced the design over the NEX-7, which these models essentially replace -- Sony's still selling the NEX-7 but it will likely die once all existing units are gone -- and it's substantially streamlined in comparison. On the top right sits an exposure-compensation dial, programmable button, and power switch/shutter button, along with a mode dial that has the usual manual, semimanual, and automatic modes, two custom settings slots (and you can tweak them from a central location rather than having to resave when you make a change), sweep panorama, and a dedicated movie mode. Sony's Multi Interface Shoe perches on the huge EVF box.
To the right of the LCD is a thumb-operated switch that toggles its button function between focus mode and exposure lock. The function button below that brings up frequently needed settings -- drive mode, flash, flash compensation, autofocus mode, autofocus area, exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity, metering mode, white balance, Dynamic Range Optimization/HDR, and Creative Style.
The updated interface combines the Quick Navi control panel from the SLT models with a less confusing version of the NEX interface. In essence, it operates like most other cameras now, with a Fn button that pulls up most of the frequently used settings, which lets you scroll through the options without having to go another level down. It supports tethered shooting, albeit only via Sony's Remote Camera Control software at the moment (unless someone knows of current third-party support that I'm missing).
While it incorporates the usual limited AVCHD codec options and full manual exposure and audio-level controls, it can output clean HDMI for more flexibility and can take Sony's XLR mic kit.
|Canon EOS 6D||Nikon D610||Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R||Sony Alpha ILCE-7/7R||Sony Alpha SLT-A99|
|Sensor effective resolution||20.2MP CMOS |
|24.3MP CMOS |
|24.3MP Exmor CMOS||24.3MP Exmor CMOS/ |
36.4MP Exmor CMOS
|24.3MP Exmor CMOS|
|35.8 x 23.9mm||35.8 x 24mm||35.8 x 23.9mm||35.8 x 23.9mm||35.8 x 23.9mm|
|ISO range||ISO 100 - ISO 25600/ 102,400 (exp)||ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp)||ISO 50 (exp) / ISO 100 - ISO 25600||ISO 50 |
(exp)/ ISO 100 - ISO 25600
|ISO 50 |
(exp)/ ISO 100 - ISO 51200/ ISO 102400 (exp, via multishot NR)
|Burst shooting||4.5fps |
(5 fps with fixed focus and exposure)
|2.5fps (5fps with fixed exposure)/ |
1.5fps (4fps with fixed focus)
13 raw/14 JPEG
0.5-inch/ 2,359,000 dots
100 percent coverage
|OLED EVF |
2.4 million dots
2.4 million dots
|AF||11-pt AF |
1 center cross type
9 cross type
|25-area contrast AF||Hybrid AF system |
25-area contrast AF;117-pt phase-
25-area contrast AF
|Dual phase -detection system|
11 cross type;
102-pt focal plane
|AF exposure range||-3 - 18 EV |
0.5 - 18 EV
|-1 - 19 EV||n/a||0 - 20 EV||-1 - 18 EV|
|Shutter speed||1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync||1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync||30-1/2000 sec (f2), 1/4000 (f5.6); bulb||1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb||1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync|
|Shutter durability||100,000 cycles||150,000 cycles||n/a||n/a||200,000 cycles|
|Metering||63-area iFCL||2,016-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering II||n/a||1,200 zones||1,200 zones|
|Metering exposure range||0 - 20 EV||0 - 20 EV||0 - 20 EV||0 - 20 EV||-2 - 17 EV|
|IS||Optical||Optical||Electronic (movie only)||Optical||Sensor shift|
|Best video||H.264 MOV |
1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/50p
|H.264 MOV |
1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/ 60p/50p/ 25p/24p
all at 24, 12Mbps
|AVCHD: 1080/60p/50p @28Mbps; 1080/60i/50i @ 24, 17Mbps||AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28Mbps, 1080/60i/ 24p @ 24Mbps||AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 1080/24p @ 24Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps|
|Rated estimated max HD video length at best quality||29m59s||20 minutes||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|Audio||mono; mic input||mono; mic input; headphone jack||Stereo; mic input||Stereo; mic input; headphone jack||Stereo; mic input; headphone jack|
|LCD size||3 inches fixed |
|3.2 inches fixed |
|3-inch fixed |
|3 inches tilting |
|3 inches articulated|
|Memory slots||1 x SDXC||2 x SDXC||1 x SDXC||1 x SDXC||2 x SDXC|
|Wireless flash||No||Yes||No |
(No on-camera flash)
(No on-camera flash)
|Battery life |
Live View (CIPA rating)
|1090/220 shots |
|900/n/a shots |
|270 shots||340 shots |
|Wireless connectivity||Wi-Fi||Via optional WU-1b Wireless Mobile Adapter $59.95||None||Wi-Fi, NFC||None|
|Size (inches, WHD)||5.7 x 4.4 x 2.8||5.5 × 4.5 × 3.2||4.5 x 2.6 x 2.8||5.0 x 3.8 x 1.9||5.9 x 4.5 x 3.1|
|Body operating weight (ounces)||27.2||30.1||17.6||16.7 (est)||25.9 (est)|
|Mfr. price||$2,099 (body only)||$2,099.95 (body only)||n/a||$1,699.99 (body only)/ |
$2,299.99 (body only)
|$2,799.99 (body only)|
|$2,899 (with 24-105mm lens)||$2,699 (with 24-85mm lens)||$2,799.99 |
(fixed 35mm f2 lens)
|$1,999.99 (with 28-70mm lens)/n/a||n/a|
|Ship date||December 2012||September 2012||July 2013||December 2013||October 2012|
However, I didn't have nearly as much problem connecting or maintaining a connection on either Android or iOS 7 as with some other cameras, and the NFC works well for connecting relatively quickly on Android. The (free) updated Smart Remote Control app is a lot more useful than I mentioned in the product video; it now lets you adjust exposure settings and use touch focus, even without a power zoom lens on the camera. The interface for the app is a little sluggish, but otherwise it's quite nice.
It supports direct upload to Flickr via a new (free) app, but there are no new apps specifically developed for the A7/A7R. And keep in mind that the apps are only available in 23 countries (the list is at the bottom of this page). Plus, it feels nickel-and-dimey for Sony to charge you $5 or $10 an app for relatively basic capabilities like multiple exposure, time-lapse or in-camera lens corrections when you've already shelled out $2,300 for the camera.
Overall, there's almost nothing missing. I do wish it had dual SD card slots and a flash; though I rarely use (or recommend) on-camera flash, it's nice to have it in a pinch.
For a complete accounting of the A7R's features and operation, download the PDF manual.
While it's easy to be tempted by the cheaper sibling, I think the noticeably superior image quality of the A7R makes a compelling case for spending the extra money if you've got it. Though the A7 is faster overall, it still has the same poor battery life, loud shutter mechanism, and endless startup time.
The Alpha ILCE-A7R is a great alternative to entry-level full-frame dSLRs like the Nikon D610 and the Canon EOS 6D if you're looking for something more compact, but not for shooting action.