Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Camera Review: Sony a7R

1/250 sec @ f/11, ISO 100
The Sony a7 and a7R debuted with much-deserved fanfare last year about this time. I'd had a chance to try them out briefly early on, but it wasn't until recently that I spent a full week with the a7R. To keep things light and simple, I paired it with just one lens: the Sony - Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA lens. I planned to use it on some long hikes as well as walks around town - and, as it turned out, a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.

My early impressions were born out, substantiating the many glowing reviews of this full-frame 36MP mirrorless camera. Images were tack sharp with vibrant colors, the camera was fast and responsive, and it gave good results in low light. Of course, this superior prime lens was a key factor.  

Most of all, the Sony a7R was a dream to carry around. On a five-hour, 12-mile hike with 2,000 feet of climb, through a dark and misty forest, I barely noticed the camera slung over my shoulder on a BlackRapid strap. When I wanted to grab a shot, it came to life quickly, though perhaps with some lag in lighting up the electronic viewfinder. 

1/60 sec @ f/8, ISO 2000
The a7R's small size helps keep it discreet while walking around cities and towns, as I did in Santa Cruz one evening. The dynamic range of the sensor is impressive. Contrasty shots, such as the lighted boardwalk sign, held detail in the lightbulbs as well as the shadows. Noise levels were comfortably low, even as ISO numbers went up. I wouldn't suggest going beyond ISO 6400 except in an emergency, but the RAW-file noise in the boardwalk shot at ISO 2000 and the "Compass & Chonometer" photo below at ISO 4000 were easily handled in Lightroom.

The Sony's menu system and controls take some getting used to. It's worth spending the time to set it up to your liking before ever clicking the shutter. Once set, and once you get used to the control layout, it's easy to manage common tasks such as white balance, bracketing, continuous or single shooting, and exposure mode and settings. 

1/60 sec @f/2.8, ISO 4000
The a7R's 36 megapixel images (7360 x 4912 px) will readily enlarge to wall-size prints of 30 x 45 inches or more. Burst shooting will only get up to about four frames per second, but this camera is best suited for landscapes and portraits. It can be used for street photography and should produce amazing macro images, though I haven't had a chance to try that yet. It's not the camera for sports or wildlife shoots, though. (Sony's a6000 - with its 11 fps capability - could be a good choice for action within the Sony family.) 

I've been quite skeptical of mirrorless cameras until this year, with the arrival of the Fujifilm X-T1 and the Sony a7 line. They've now reached maturity. 

NOTE: The camera used for this review was paid for by the reviewer and obtained through BorrowLenses.com. No compensation was received for this review.