Review: The 2013 Sony A7R

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Sony are known for pushing the technological envelope; the first NEX-5 showed us just how small an APS-C camera could be – with decent frame rates and AF speeds, no less. However, the rules of optics are not so easily breakable: lenses still have to be a certain size to cover a certain image circle at a given aperture and focal length. The NEX kit lenses were no smaller than APS-C DSLR lenses – because that’s pretty much what they were. Unfortunately, Sony are also known for serious attention deficit disorder when it comes to products and systems; recently one of their executives (Kimio Maki, GM of Sony’s Digital Imaging Business Group) was quoted as saying he wanted to do something new every six months. A good example is the RX1, superseded by the RX1R a year later, and effectively killed by the A7 and A7R now; new RX1Rs that sold for approx. US$3,300 in Japan plummeted to just US$1,300 or thereabouts in used value the day after the A7 twins were released. I don’t know whether that represents a relentless commitment to innovation at all costs, or whether it’s just sticking it to your customers. Nevertheless, the like the NEX-5 (which I owned, didn’t mind the limited controls, but found pretty good except for tonal palette) – the A7R pushes things a bit further; far enough to be in interesting territory. We now have full frame – and the best full frame sensor at that – in an E-M1-sized body. Surely there has to be a catch somewhere?

Images in this review were shot with the A7R and Zeiss 55/1.8 FE. An extended set on flickr with more samples is here.

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You’ll notice a lot of still lifes in this set: it’s because this is the kind of subject that seems to suit the A7R best. It doesn’t AF track well enough to keep up with moving objects, and DOF is shallow enough and the camera sensitive enough to shake that it isn’t the best choice for street or reportage work. All images in this review were shot with an A7R and Zeiss FE 1.8/55 Sonnar.

During my initial thoughts piece, I said that neither camera would make sense with adapted lenses. I stand by that, for several reasons: firstly, you lose autofocus. Even though the EVF with peaking and magnification makes it easier to focus than a modern DSLR without focusing aids, autofocus for critical work and moving subjects is definitely valuable. More so when it’s the on-sensor variety that doesn’t suffer from back or front focus issues (as with systems involving mirrors) since you are focusing on the actual imaging plane. Beyond that, the moment we bring additional mount surfaces into the mix – two more with an adaptor – you’re going to start introducing planarity and decentering issues. Even with the best adaptors, there are a range of acceptable tolerances; that applies to the camera’s own mount, too. You could land up with a combination that cancels out, or becomes worse. And with a high density sensor like the A7R’s, you’re going to notice that. After some testing with various adaptors I had handy from the NEX-5 days – I came to the conclusion that unless your adaptors are perfect, you really will not see the difference. Adapted lenses will generally not perform the same as native ones.

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The reasons go beyond planarity of adaptors: there’s also the lens-sensor interaction to consider. The reason why fixed-lens large-sensor compacts like the Ricoh GR, Nikon Coolpix A and Sigma DP Merrils are so good is because the lens was designed specifically for the sensor; the optical formulae are typically telecentric and take into account the fact that the sensor may or may not have offset microlenses to deal with very short back flange distances. Legacy adapted lenses do not; and something designed 20 or 30 years ago certainly did not have digital in mind. Even the modern lenses that are designed for digital are designed to work well generally with one system – witness how consistently good the designed-from-scratch lenses are for the M4/3 system, or Leica S tend to be. Or even the new Zeiss Otus. On top of that, you really have to ask yourself if it makes ergonomic sense to put an enormous SLR lens on the front of a very small body; it simply doesn’t balance or handle well. And remember, it will also have to be manually focused, too. Small RF lenses would make more sense, but these tend to be a lot more particular about which sensors they will play nice with; they are almost always short-flange non-telecentric designs that require offset microlenses and hue shift/ vignetting compensation. We can correct for some of this digitally, but it will not solve edge softness and resolution issues. At this point I’m sure somebody is going to ask about use with Leica M lenses: I can’t comment as I no longer own or have easy access to any.

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The good news is that the one native lens I was given to test along with the A7R a very, very pleasant surprise – the Zeiss FE 1.8/55 Sonnar. It is not quite up to Otus levels, but then again, at this price and size, I wouldn’t expect it to be. I’d say it has much of the character of the ZM 2/50 Planar. By f5.6, the differences shrink between the three (2/50 MP or 1.4/55 Otus on D800E, FE 1.8/55 on A7R). The 28-70/3.5-5.6 kit zoom, on the other hand, is a dog, and a large one that feels imbalanced on a body this small. The corners are a bit of a disaster at any aperture; they never fully resolve nor do they rid themselves of CA. So far: with the right lenses, this camera can sing. The problem is, there are only two of them – a 2.8/35, and 1.8/55. I can only hope that we eventually get a wide – maybe 21 or 24 – and a tele of some sort to at least make for more of a complete system. These lenses were designed for the A7 from the ground up, and it shows – especially in corner performance.

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However, the A7R is a very, very demanding beast to shoot in the field. The small size, relatively low mass and very loud/ rough shutter mechanism mean that you need higher than expected shutter speeds to yield perfect pixels; we’re talking 1/125 at an absolute minimum for the 55mm, and ideally 1/200+ for consistent results. Below 1/200 you may well see very faint double images; it’s as though something ‘jumps’ halfway through the exposure. Compare that to 1/90 minimum for the D800E/ Otus, and 1/125+ ideal. Curiously, at lower speeds – below 1/30 – and on a tripod, it’s fine. I personally found that the A7R tested my shot discipline to the maximum; a tripod is really required to make the most out of the available resolution. Note: the A7R lacks the electronic first curtain of the A7, which makes things worse. It also trades PDAF on-sensor and an AA filter for no AA filter, some magnesium in its frame and 12 MP more. Otherwise, excluding price, both cameras are identical.

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This brings me neatly to the question of ergonomics, haptics and tactility. I recently conveyed my thoughts on the Nikon Df and received a lot of heavily polarized comments and emails; that is one camera that either ‘works’ for you, or it doesn’t. Despite being a long time Nikon shooter, I fell squarely into the latter camp. The A7R is less contentious: whilst opinions may vary on the aesthetics of the design, handling is actually very, very good, and it’s comfortable in my hands. It does balance much better with smaller lenses though; the native 1.8/55 is perfect. In fact, it felt remarkably like an E-M1; so much so that psychologically I kept expecting the stabilizer to kick in when I half pressed the shutter. Dials and buttons are in similar places, even if they don’t do the same things – but you can always change a custom function for that. Build quality feels similar – both are all metal and feel like they’re all metal, though I don’t see any gasketing/ weather seals on the A7R other than around the left-side ports. They both also put their right hand strap lugs in an uncomfortable place…

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So then, I set up my A7R to behave like my E-M1 – which was reasonably easy given configurability of most of the buttons, and an extra two control dials – one for exposure compensation, and one for…well, it seemed to duplicate the function of the other dials. In any case, other than navigating the confusing menu system, the camera is pretty cooperative in use. On the menus: although Sony is self-consistent amongst its cameras with the horizontal tabs, what doesn’t make sense is that most other cameras use a downward-scrolling list for the functions, with a right arrow press giving you sub-options. The Sony uses a list that scrolls both down and across, with enter giving sub-options. This is confusing, though I suppose you’d probably get used to it if it was your only system. I have to give them several huge credits in the UI though: you can have live overexposure zebras in any mode (not just video); playback is not only fully-functional, but the one-press zoom takes you straight to 100% actual pixels view. In short: there are a lot of things to like about this camera.

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A word on the EVF: it’s good enough that I didn’t think ‘oh, this is a small LCD panel’ in practice; showing actual depth of field and overexposure means it’s easy to nail focus and exposure. The viewfinder optics aren’t quite as good as the E-M1’s, and that’s obvious at the edges; they just aren’t quite as crisp. The one problem is when you try to use it in very bright (i.e. tropical, where I live) sun: though it maintains pretty good color accuracy and tonal separation, it’s just too dim, even turned up to the maximum setting. I haven’t had this problem with the E-M1.

As ever, nothing is perfect. And there are a few fairly big gotchas with the A7R: firstly, the shutter vibration problem we’ve already talked about. The next problem is related to that: you could theoretically work around it if you could set auto-ISO to a minimum shutter speed above 1/125; you can’t. It defaults to 1/focal length, or as near as it can get to it. The only way I’ve found around this is to enable auto-ISO and shoot manual; this way you can set shutter and aperture, and the camera chooses the sensitivity. If you need exposure compensation, the separate dial on the top plate still works. It’s a bit slower, but usable; in practice, I’ve set the 1st custom position on the mode dial to aperture priority, and the 2nd one to manual with 1/125s, which I flip over to the moment the light gets too low. The final major issue is the fact that a camera of this price does not include an external charger. You have to plug the camera in to the USB charger, or a computer; this of course means you can’t shoot with it while it’s charging batteries – and that’s made doubly worse by the small battery, long charging time, and very limited battery life; 200 frames was about my absolute maximum. Sony, for a camera that costs $2,300, this is just cheapskate.

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Note: My evaluation on the A7R’s image quality isn’t going to be as comprehensive as I’d like, simply because I only have one native lens. And it’s also clear from tests with the adapted lenses that something in the optical system – adaptors, lens formula, sensor microlens array – just isn’t doing the sensor’s potential justice, especially in comparison with the single native lens I have. It would therefore be unfair to come to any conclusions off this.

However, there is no question that under optimal conditions, this camera is capable of matching the current king of full frame 35mm cameras, the D800E. (I will be conductiong a more detailed direct comparison when I find some time, specifically between the D800E/ Otus and A7R/ 1.8/55.) Resolution and tonality are pretty much identical; that isn’t surprising as they probably have the same base sensor design. Color reproduction is different, however. I personally prefer the D800E, though this may well be because I’ve got a lot more experience in dealing with its files. Dynamic range and noise are also identical, as far as I can tell; and if they’re not, they’re pretty darn close. The A7R certainly shares the D800E’s seemingly never-ending deep shadow recoverability. Assuming similar level optics on both, I would have trouble distinguishing results from the two cameras in a blind test. In short: this is a D800E body in a much, much smaller size.

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Now comes the contentious bit: how does it stack up against its competitors? Note firstly that the A7R has no obvious direct competition because it sits in a niche of its own. I’m just guessing from my own needs and thoughts that buyers may well also be considering (or moving from) these cameras, and more importantly, systems:

Vs Nikon D800E: Here, it all boils down to the system of lenses and flashes: if you need any special purpose gear at all, or longer lenses, then the balance tips heavily in favor of the D800E. I think the shooting envelope is a bit wider, too – given the much better shutter mechanism. Of course, if you’re travelling on a strict weight budget, then I’d go with an A7R, 55mm and Ricoh GR.

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Vs Leica M 240: From what I understand from people who do use the A7R and M glass, not all lenses are great; you need to try individual ones to see what plays nice and what doesn’t. And be prepared to do software correction on all images. However: if you have trouble focusing your rangefinder, use the EVF more, or are adapting lenses to your M 240 anyway, it may well make more sense to go with the Sony option to gain some resolution – if the lenses you want to use agree with the sensor.

Vs Olympus E-M1: Same size, same weight, very different image quality. Quite a big difference in price, though; less so to the regular A7. The E-M1 has three aces: firstly, its stabilizer is so good that you claw back most, if not all, of the high ISO advantage of the A7 and A7R for handheld shooting in low light. It also means that you don’t have stability issues – my ‘technical’ hit rate with the E-M1 is close to 100% because of this. You can shoot at pretty much any shutter speed with impunity. Ace number two is weather sealing: I’m sure you’ve all seen [what I did to the E-M1 in the shower]. The final, largest ace is the lens system: not only is the M4/3 lens system arguably the most mature mirrorless system with the greatest diversity of options – the lenses were all designed specifically for digital from the ground up. Even the kit lenses are pretty good, and the excellent glass – like the [60/2.8 and 75/1.8] is really special by any standards. This one is a tough choice, to be honest. I think it’s like doing a present value calculation and trying to figure out a discount rate: do you want images now, or later, and how’s your nerve (or how shaky are your hands)?

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Vs Sigma DP Merrills: Now, this is an interesting question: from previous tests, we’ve determined that the D800’s sensor and a good lens will match or slightly outresolve the DPMs. However, there are only three focal lengths – 28, 45 and 75mm. The A7R’s native primes split the difference with 35 and 55mm. High ISO is unquestionably better with the A7R, you get a viewfinder and much better ergonomics, and on top of that, there’s more depth of field control, but if you need to stop down – the Sigmas handle small apertures better with later onset of diffraction. Both have poor battery life. An individual choice, I think.

Vs Sony A7: Perhaps the A7R’s biggest competition is going to be its sibling. I haven’t said much about the A7, because I think the two cameras are aimed at very different markets. The A7 has a much more forgiving sensor and shutter mechanism; it will tolerate lower quality lenses, adaptors etc and not show as much compromise at the pixel level due to its lower resolution. It will focus faster due to PDAF. The files will be easier to handle, etc. I suppose the answer boils down to your end intentions for the files: are you chasing ultimate image quality for very large prints or not? If the answer is no, then the A7 will probably be a better choice; you’ll save money for glass, and won’t feel frustrated if your files aren’t perfect. On the other hand, if you do print…you probably wouldn’t even be asking.

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You’ll notice a theme here: it really comes down to the lenses. This puts me in a bit of a dilemma: I don’t know whether to go out and buy one, or stick to my D800Es. Let me explain why: on one hand, the A7R unquestionably raises the bar when it comes to the quality/ portability equation; yet it has an extremely limited shooting envelope because of its demands on stability/ shutter speed, and very limited native lenses – just 35mm and 55mm so far – that can make the most of that potential. Perhaps the most telling question would be whether I missed the D800E/ Otus combination when using the A7R/55; the honest answer is not at the time, but yes when looking at the files afterwards. The irony of course was that I was also carrying the D800E and Otus for much of the testing to determine the answer to just that question.

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One assumes that systems generally grow and thus populate their lens lineups with time, but the problem is that we haven’t really seen this happen with the NEX system; frankly I’m a bit concerned that the lenses I want won’t ever exist, or will come so late that there will be a second generation body to go with them. Adapted lenses are hit and miss, for reasons detailed earlier. As ever, the old advice of ‘buy the glass’ makes sense: if 35 and 55 are all you need, then either the A7 or A7R – depending on your printing needs – is probably the camera for you. If not, you might find it an intriguing idea as part of a lightweight system – I could see the aforementioned A7R/ 55 and GR being a good travel pair, for instance. I like the direction Sony are heading in with the A7R: now if only they would hold the course and not get distracted…

Both the A7 and A7R are available from B&H here in various kit or body combinations.

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Comments

  1. So happy I’m not alone in finding the A7R a challenge. I rented the A7R with the 35mm Sony-Zeiss native lens. My main testing was street photography. I could hardly ever get a sharp picture, even at high shutter speeds. I was driven to full manual operation right down to manual focus to get anything useful at all. The manual focus aids also seemed inaccurate. So glad it was a rental, not a purchase.

    • Great article that confirms my own experience over the last 4 weeks.

      I am also having issues with my A7r shooting anything but stationary objects with extreme hand holding techniques… I have tested this camera longer than any other previous camera I’ve owned and that is because I get complex results. Some times the quality is there but getting there is hit or miss. I would never take it with me for an important shoot.

      I love the portability of the A7r and the results when I actually nail the shot…. but I am so frustrated with it… it is a tease machine. I have been shooting for 20 years with anything from a view camera to a D800E and I never had to deal with so much uncertainty. I am also disappointed I cannot use my Leica 50 Lux ASPH or the Nokton 50 1.5 manual lenses without issues. The Sony Zeiss 55 1.8 is great but at night it is a dog to use with AF and in MF mode it is light years behind a mechanical lens.

      I believe Steve Huff claims his keep rate with the A7 is higher than with the A7r… does anyone else share that experience? will the A7 do better (keep rate) as a hand held camera than the A7r?

      • The lower the number of pixels per angle of view, the higher your keeper rate will be (everything else like shutter mechanism being equal) because it’s less likely to show camera shake – camera shake is an angular movement that’s constant regardless of the resolving power of the system. However, one additional thing working in favor of the A7 is that it has an electronic front curtain, which means no vibration from the shutter mechanism until *after* the exposure. The A7R has a very poor shutter mechanism that vibrates a lot.

        • I have a high keep rate with the D800E with the same shooting technique I use with the A7r so I think the shutter design may have a lot to do with my issues. I will try out a different hand holding shooting technique to see if it helps. I wish Sony could address this shutter issue somehow but I doubt there is a fix for hand holding style shooting…

    • Same problemI have with my A 580. Great camera, if everything can be done by hand.

  2. Another good read Ming. Only thing I would say is my D700 is still looking good with against this generation of cameras….let’s see later this yr!

    • Maybe I’ll send you a full-size D800E + Otus file for you to reconsider :)

      • The D800E is the replacement for the D700…I think we are only realising it now!

        Ah I know my next purchase….no temptations please! I’m getting a gitzo traveler tripod and an arca ball head ;) . Oh that reminds me….did you find a cheaper L plate to use instead of the horrendously expensive arca one?

  3. Dwaine Dibbly says:

    Thanks for the insightful review. Bodies come and go. It’s all about the lenses. You allude to the facts of optics, that in order to cover a given sensor at a given focal length and max aperture, the minimum size of the lens is constrained by physics (barring some revolutionary change in lens or sensor technology). A smaller body doesn’t really make for a much smaller system if the lenses are going to be large, so if system size is important to you, the A7(R) isn’t going to cut it. For those reasons, I’ll stick to M4/3.

    • bluetwango says:

      Right– I’d advise anyone, first pick a format. Then list the lenses you’d use and carry with you often. Total their weight and size. Then, and only then, pick a camera body to mount them on. See if the weight differences between camera bodies of various designs (DSLR, SLT, Mirrorless) makes more than 25% difference in the weight of your whole kit. Often, it won’t, so it’s meaningless.

      I don’t enjoy lugging around a six-pound camera, though I do so professionally. The extra weight is mostly in brackets and flashes, so a smaller camera body would be of no help there. My preferred solution is to use smaller, lighter lenses, when possible. I’ve never owned an f 2.8 zoom, and I don’t want one. I can cover 24-200 mm with two Minolta zooms that each weigh about one pound. With that lightweight kit, a 2 lb. a850 body is no burden. The whole thing is probably lighter than an a7 with a big Zeiss zoom, plus adapter.

  4. Thanks for the review. I’m quite surprised to find you’re considering the Sony Zeiss and the Otus Zeiss in the same camp in terms of initial image impressions. Perhaps once that new Sigma 50 Art is out, it may offer a compromise: Sony Zeiss quality but for a DSLR (like the otus). Also, you sold all your M glass?? Is it because you weren’t finding a commercial use for the M system that couldn’t be met with a m4/3 or FF SLR?

    • They’re not in the same camp. I think you misread me.

      I sold my M glass because there was no reason to keep it around, nor was there any reason to buy an M body. It does nothing that I can’t do cheaper, better and more reliably with systems I already own. And frankly, I waited six months for a body and gave up at that point. Leica seems to be happy to send first units to bloggers with no credibility or ability, but real photographers have to take a number. That attitude stinks.

  5. MT, I’ve noticed that you enjoy doing some landscape photography. Im really into it and I would like to ask if you think that GND Filters are needed for challenging light situations or if you rather go with exposure blending in post. Thanks in advance and keep up with the outstading work!

  6. MT, I have just discovered your site. Really terrific. It is gratifying to find you have come to roughly the same conclusion… If I want really detailed, high res images… D800E and its lenses are very nice. For everything, there is the OM1 and the sweet set of MFT lenses. BTW, I also still have my DLUX 5 with me, just in case. Sony has left me very disappointed with their lack of large assortment of high quality, native lenses. Thanks for the time you put into the site.

  7. harold1968 says:

    Ok Ming. I understand you don’t like Sony, but this review is not too bad ;) I agree that the lens system is very important to the success of this camera and hope Sony “get it” this time. They appeared to with the RX1. I strongly disagree with you views on replacement. The RX1 remains a popular small, silent shutter and excellent f2 lens combination and we have strong hints that Sony is planning a RX2. The Nex series did take ages to get its lens act in order but the range is very good now, with a high quality 24mm, 35mm and 50mm and some excellent 3rd party additions.
    As Sony went for two extremely high quality FE lenses first (I say that as a Leica user) it seems that they do perhaps “get” the target audience. Their big problem with me is that 35mm and 55mm pretty much cover 90% of my shooting so Sony may not be selling many more lenses to me (although I would be partial to a 24mm of the same quality).
    Have a good weekend!

    • As a former owner of the Sony A580 and A77, a word of caution about Sony: I briefly switched from Canon to Sony in 2010 (and I now shoot Nikon), and the honeymoon phase ended very quickly, primarily due to lack of lenses ad Sony’s reluctance and/or inability to produce a reliable stable of lenses. Only recently did they announce a 50mm Zeiss for the now-obsolete A-mount—a terrific lens, but too little, too late. What happens if, in six years, Sony decides to abandon the FE mount as it is currently doing with the did A mount? Then you’re stuck with a bunch of lenses that no one wants.

      I also have to disagree that they started with two high-quality lenses. To me, those lenses are concessions to keep the glass small (i.e., an f/1.4 or f/1.2 prime would likely be too large for the body), therefore convincing people that the a7/a7r and the concept of a slim, full-frame camera is a worthwhile purchase. I love the concept and I am the perfect candidate for this camera—a D800 owner who owns a small number of lenses. A 35mm f/2.8 and 50mm f/1.8, however, aren’t going to get me to abandon my D800, my Zeiss 21mm f/2.8, my sweet new Nikon 58mm f/1.4, or even my cheap—but tack sharp—50mm f/1.8. It certainly won’t convince people with a larger stable of lenses.

      • harold1968 says:

        Its true that at this point there are too few FE lenses to convince people who want massive lens collections.
        There are many and excellent A mount lenses, its dishonest to say that the A range is no good. Sony have always had a f1.4 lens, about the same quality as the Nikon f1.4G. Nikon has only now released the 58mm f1.4G and the performance is disappointing to say the least.
        The A mount can’t be used for the A7 as its a long back focal designed for a mirror box.
        Its perfectly logical for Sony to run two lens mounts, unlike Nikon which runs three, FX, DX and CX.
        Short back focal lenses are still smaller. As the telephoto increases the size advantage diminishes of course.
        You can’t compare the Zeiss 55mm f12.8 to the Nikon 50mm f1.8 of f1.4. If you read around the internet you will see that it performs better then the Leica 50mm Summilux which is 3 x the cost.
        Posts like this are just defensive post justification for the ancient bulky heavy mechanical mirror boxes which frequently go out of alignment.
        In 10 years time no one will be justifying DSLRs any more

        • Peter Boender says:

          “… lens mounts, unlike Nikon which runs three, FX, DX and CX.”

          This is technically incorrect. The Nikon FX and DX lenses both use the Nikon F mount. Nikon CX lenses use a different mount. So Nikon also runs only 2 mounts.

  8. Ming, good review, as always. I just wanted to say, I don’t get all this excitement on the FF mirror less talked up everywhere. Why there is so much discussion for changing from DSLR for these cameras. I am sure Nikon and Canon are not going to sit by and I am waiting for theirs. Maybe I can use my glass. I shoot the D800/D4 and have a GR for the pocket. I don’t have any real complaints with my cameras (of course I would like to have a few other features) but the IQ on all are outstanding. I don’t know about most of your readers, but I use a speed light a lot. I don’t see much discussion, if any, on the ability to shoot mirror less cameras with any speed light, and with low, bad or mixed light. I have yet to find a better speed light TTL-BL situation than my Nikon (or Canon for that matter). Everything I read is about static or scenery shots. I don’t walk around town just shooting scenes. If I did my GR is great for that. And, my GR more than likely is as good as the A7 and would be hard to tell apart. Sure the EVF on the mirror less will be great (LV is horrible on the Nikon) but, I am not in a position to not rely on AF or TTL for all occasions. As far as I am concerned, when you load up real good glass on the mirror less, a 85 or 24-70 for work, or even a 70-200, there is no way I would do a A7 or A7R, especially when I have a grip available for compensation, and a diopter for me. I will say, the RX1R does look sweet from a sensor non cleaning advantage. I like FF, depth of field and lighting. Anyway, for what its worth, I enjoy reading your review, take your comments and opinions seriously to better my techniques and output. Keep up the good work. Van

    • You and I probably shoot the same way – same conclusion, too: one big system for when you need something that can do everything, and one good pocket tool for the rest of the time.

      • Maybe the big boys (Nikon and Canon) are watching the mirror less revolution now to learn. I would but not wait this long to enter. Maybe they are too proud still of their armory, the test of the Nikon 1 was a mis calculation, and the Coolpix A just was too much money. The A could have been a real bellwether if they just gave in on price. I almost went for the A cause of the Nikon menu and hot shoe, but no regrets, as the GR just amazes me more and more. The UI is smart and the optics and IQ is something, and a APS-C for $650 now. I would buy a few more if each had a different lens like the Sigma. And the raw posts well in Lightroom to add. Its really interesting to see all this unfold. When I have some time I plan to get your tutorials and learn more on the sharpening techniques you employ. Your files just amaze me when I see them.

        • I can only hope that’s the case, though I think it’s more likely to be because of corporate indecision than anything…

        • The simple reality is really twofold:

          1) Mirrorless is no threat to Nikon and Canon’s DSLR sales in their largest markets, namely North America and Europe; in fact, their DSLRs outsell mirrorless by several times over in those markets. So there is no incentive to change just yet.

          2) Both companies are probably well aware of the engineering conundrum that many here have already expressed―that while you can make a full frame body smaller, engineering a suite of useful lenses that are small enough to balance properly on said body is a major undertaking. Without that, the whole kit becomes unwieldy to shoot…and redundant; might as well just use a regular DSLR.

          I believe for this trend to succeed (full frame sensors in small ILCs), the challenge will be a rethink of lens engineering. Meanwhile, I expect sensor technology will advance much further first, and you won’t need a full frame sensor in a tiny body, because M4/3 will have a reached a quality level beyond 90% of users needs (whether amateur or professional).

          At this point, cameras like the A7 become white elephants, IMO.

          • 2) Is precisely the point I’ve been trying to make for quite some time. And we are already there in terms of image quality. Way past it, in fact.

            • You were absolutely dead to rights in your assessment of the OM-D E-M1. It gives up little in overall IQ.

              Looking forward to trying it out with the Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 lens over the next week. Should be fun!

              • The OM-D E-M1 is a great camera. Image quality is great, but it really lacks the depth of field that I often (but not always) want and get from a full-frame camera.

                • Shallow DOF is not everything.

                  • Of course not, but it’s nice to have when you want and/or need it.

                    • It’s really a non-issue now. The Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 offers enough compression that it’s roughly the same as using my Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 D AF lens on my D3s. Of course, I can’t work in quite as cramped quarters (aka close-up with my subject) to get that effect … but I can technically get it with the Zuiko 75mm and the E-M1. Plus, there is now also the Voigtlander 42.5mm f/0.95 Nokton and Panasonic’s just-announced Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens (really wanting to try that one out).

        • Hi there Van,

          Just on the CoolpixA: I have come very close to pulling the trigger on one. Three times. And it’s the hotshoe, and flash, that stops me everytime. I can live with the pedestrian AF [which doesn't seem so bad to me, I have to say]. I can live with the high price [and you're so right about that]; and the similarly overpriced hood and maybe even the optical hotshoe finder [I used used on my DPMs and even though it doesn't make sense, had a great time with them---you had to just drop everything and trust you've focused on what you thought you'd focused on, but that was the fun, to me]…

          I can’t live with:

          1) No Su800 compatibility. Come on Nikon: even my wife’s crappy D60 consumer-targeted camera from 2008 talks to the Su800; the 1000+ at launch, now 700 USD+ Coolpix A can’t!?

          2) And at that, no CMD mode on the little pop up flash. I could’ve forgived the Su800 thing in a minute if they’d put that in. They didn’t. No sale. Just on principle.

          And it’s a really idiosyncratic complaint, because when I am I going to be using multiple flashes on a pocket walkaround? I don’t know—but with 1/2000 sync on the table, maybe I might have wanted to do that a lot. Maybe not. That’s why we wanted a camera that offers us the chance to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. It’s not like we’re talking about an unreasonable add on here.

          So close—the Nikon menu and controls all in place… Alas!

          I pray that they try a Coolpix A2: same sensor and body — drop the “Coolpix” name, please God — maybe put a bit more grip on it, sculpt it a little more and put an APS-C interchangeable mount on there. Make it the Nikon version of the Canon EOS M, basically. Which is lovely to hold [and if they'd only gripped the surfaces up more, even better] and a great idea; but the total lack of exterior controls kill it [I get what they were trying, but it doesn't work, for me]. All the EOS M ads are 20y/o “I’m out in the world now!” girls holding one, taking pictures of potted plants on their windowsills, etc., so I think that’s what Canon thought this camera should be about. Who knows, they might be right… I doubt it — just look how much better Olympus did when they stopped trying to sell m43 to girls and went back to a more traditional constituency [as 4/3 originally set out to do, and failed, the irony!] — but sure, 20y/o girls want to take pictures too, and why not.
          [But why not with their iPhone. And save 500 dollars for shoes and bags. Does anyone at Canon live in today's day and age?]

          I hear a lot of guys very happy for having chosen the GR over the A. So I think that settles it. But I always liked the A, and like you, Van, it’s just a matter of price. If I walked past a used shop and saw one for 200USD and less, I’d jump on it in a minute. I reckon if I gave it a year or so, that could actually happen…

          • They’d never do it, because it’d kill the 1. Personally, I can see a reason to have both – one for color and one for monochrome – but the problem is again justifying the price…

          • Practically speaking, a speed light is not right for the Coolpix A. Its really top heavy and again you need the DSLR to counter balance. I have not tried the smaller version speed lights. I have 4 SB900/800. If you are still thinking of getting a Coolpix A, I’d still suggest the better priced GR and the low light capabilities are really outstanding. Or the new RX10, Ming reviewed. I like what it has to offer in one package, and if it had their APS-C it would be a killer.

            • Actually, both the A and GR are interesting for speedlight work because of the control/ creative possibilities offered by the high speed sync of the leaf shutters. That said, you can always use the built in set to minimum power to trigger other speedlights in SU4 mode, and I’m pretty sure an SB900 will work in commander mode attached to the A.

              • Good workout around. However, for me, if I use speed lights I use the DSLRs. I have enough issues with sight of line on the speed lights. And if using the SU800 want the option to remote dial in compensation. The SB900 whether in commander mode or not on a GR hand held is not working for me. But, I would though prefer and have more confidence with Pocket Wizards on a GR or A to trigger the remotes. Have to try that one day.

            • Van, I photographed my daughter’s birthday with a Nissin Di822 on a Sony RX100mk2

              It actually made the haptics of the camera pretty good—a bit… Unorthodox. But good :)

        • I ended up buying a GR over the A for a few very small reasons, the most important being slightly higher shutter speed, and built in ND, as i shoot alot in harsh light. But it annoys me when people complain about the price of the A. It is a noticeably higher quality product, and it a pretty good deal. The lens is amazing, and you would be hard pressed to find an equivalent lens for the aps-c system for less than a grand .
          Its to bad because a few small tweeks would have really put the A over the top, but I think nikon is done with the concept

      • harold1968 says:

        Ridiculous, why not have a light weight system that does everything.
        90% of people don’t need anything more then the AF performance of the A7.
        The A7 already finishes off most DSLRs for IQ, build and handling.
        The next version will finish them off for AF as well

        • Why not? So the camera makers can make more money by selling a half complete product to people who want it now :)

          Technology is always released incrementally to maximize profits.

          • John McMillin says:

            That’s it, exactly! The leaders of Sony, Canon, and the rest aren’t struggling to build a perfect camera, the best camera that can be built, or the last one you’ll ever need. They prefer to follow a deliberate roadmap of incremental improvements, in measured doses of new product that generate new interest and sales. Every new generation is better than the rest, but looking backwards, that only proves how imperfect the previous products are.

            Mirrorless and other EVF cameras fit this strategy perfectly. EVF tech is advancing quickly, and it’s easy to demonstrate on the retail sales floor. By contrast, it would be quite difficult and expensive to improve on the OVF of my a850, or a Leica M OVF. They’re the pinnacles of a mature technology. But it’s more profitable for the makers to leave that summit and march up a different hill.

            • Its no different with other industries. They test the market, or let others, before committing. (I’m not trying to defend the camera makers) Not everyone is so critical, as those that follow this blog. :-) But I do not think the DSLR will go away. There will be a market for it and those long lenses. I really don’t have a problem shooting with it. Love the bokeh! Yeah, its nice to want a light weight system but, unless you are doing one particular style there will be a need for a versatile system that will also pay for itself (pro). When I saw the low light capability of the D3 when it came out, I couldn’t care what it weighed (and it was the largest). And my D4 is amazing in every regard. Let’s not forget, the MF also. Heck that is a big enough system. I couldn’t shoot it on the run. (But I do like the sync speed 1600). And you know what, the look of a 135mm on a MF compared to a FX is something, especially compared to DX. Anyway, I will gladly trade in for a mirror less EVF when it arrives full featured and mature. Meanwhile them figure it out.

  9. michael frey says:

    THANKS !

  10. Ming, I have read every camera review that you have ever written here. Within the last six months, I think that the polarized readers were yanking your chain and you responded in kind. But here, YOU ARE GREAT. What an enjoyable, well thought out, insightful review. I think you have become such a great reviewer and writer that even Ken Rockwell will go into hiding. I really mean it. I have never enjoyed reading one of your reviews more than this one. It made me feel wonderful.I thought about a Sony but their lens leave you with slightly less than top notch clarity as a group, but I do not trust that Sony will make high quality primes. I don’t want the extra work that you speak of and I want to have video… I would guess there are many of my peers like me who love our D700s. I enjoy shooting 85mm G, 135mm and 200mm f2. So, I have decided to buy a Sony FDR AX100. My camera sees in the dark. I do not print posters. I think the lens (all things being equal) makes the image pop. Thank you Ming!

    • Enjoy. Thank you, but I’m not sure Ken Rockwell is a benchmark for anything; he doesn’t even use most of the stuff he reviews, nor does he publish images.

      I will always be a photographer first and foremost. There will come a time when I’m not going to do any more reviews, because frankly, they are a waste of my time and as you say, only seem to bring out the trolls.

      • I might have agreed with you a while back, but now I’m not so sure. Ken is very American in tone, granted, and extols JPEGs over being bothered to use raw, which seems to give the impression of a lack of seriousness, but, he seems to have a pretty sane approach to the next best camera/lens, which is that quality wise the differences are incremental, often very small and probably won’t make much difference to most people’s ability to mak a decent image. He is a bit of a contradiction: speaking regularly about new gear but hardly getting excited about any of it, saying often that almost anything will do. He seems subversively anti-consumerist, while probably living a typically consumerist lifestyle. Cheesy pictures of his kids don’t help his image, at least not for me.

        His reviews do, though, get to the point quickly, are quite incisive, typically acurate, and he does often do quite useful comparrison photos.

        • plevyadophy says:

          @Robert

          I am in agreement with you.

          KR used to review gear without having actually used it, but now he makes it clear whether he has or hasn’t used a bit of kit he is commenting on.

          And like you say, his reviews are far far far more to the point than many reviews and offer useful info/tips that a user will want to know in advance e.g. whether a lens hood from another lens (albeit with a different Part Number) will work with the lens he is reviewing, whether the filter threads are metal or plastic, exactly what settings to plug into Photoshop to correct distortion etc etc

          His Reviews are also well laid out, logically ordered and with sensible headings.

          However, I do feel that he is not for the inexperienced photographer because an inexperienced photographer will not be able to tell when KR is being mishieviously sensationalist and rhetorical (which is very often) or when he is being serious/sensible. He also does tend to express himself in a VERY dogmatic and, unfortunately sometimes, jingoistic way. If one can overlook those flaws, his site is very useful (for example he has the best Canon -v- Nikon differences analysis I have seen and his Leica reviews database is very good).

        • Except a lot of the time, he ‘reviews’ things without ever having used them. And that throws all credibility out of the window, along with his mediocre images. Would you trust the opinion of somebody who doesn’t know how to use the gear? I know I wouldn’t.

          • plevyadophy says:

            Ming,

            I have to disagree with your last sentence most strongly (and I think we have had this conversation before). What you say there, is tantamount to saying you wouldn’t trust Angelo Dundee (Muhammed Ali’s trainer) or Cus D’Aamto (Mike Tyson’s trainer) because neither of them were World Heavyweight Champion.

            Some folks are cut out to be champions or photographers and others are just cut out to be reviewers or trainers (and of course you get the exceptional talents, like your good self, who can do the lot). It sure doesn’t mean that they, the reviewers and trainers, can’t be trusted.

            As for KR, he is a bit of an enigma I find. He can often says some silly things, and he can often say some things that are quite sensible; his images on this blog, often of his family, are horrendous with the most horrid yellow colour cast (from tungsten based light sources I guess) and then there is his love for, in his words, Mickey Mouse colours (i.e. highly saturated), but yet I have seen images of his, his serious images, that are quite nice and come as something of a shock when compared with the horride mess on his blog.

            • True, but the signs of credibility are missing – why post crap if you have better work?

              • plevyadophy says:

                Like I said Ming, he’s an enigma.

                I actually think what he really needs is two blogs, one for his fun personal stuff (the way blogs started out years ago) and a more professional serious one; it seems to me that he has mixed the two together, and that’s where it gets all confusing, with him having fun and messing around one minute and posting horrid shots that aren’t correctly, or decently, white balanced and then the next minute he posts serious stuff.

                He is an acquired taste, and takes some getting used to. I guess, the reason I am not so harsh on him is that I am one of those who have got used to him.

            • I’m not sure that’s a good analogy because both D’Amato and Dundee consistently produced champion boxers, which is more important than being champion boxers themselves for what they do. A teacher that can consistently produce good students is a treasure!

              That said, I have to defend KR a bit: as you said, his reviews are succinct and to the point. He also has a great archive of older equipment commentary, which I found really useful when I was shopping for an MF film system, and for older Nikon lenses, especially because he takes haptics seriously. He’s also doing some audio reviews now, and I admit that our philosophies are sympathetic, and his reviews sure beat the mostly useless verbiage dedicated audiophile sites spew. It’s not a site I read regularly, but he is on my RSS feed.

  11. Ming, I would be very interested in your conclusions from your pending D800E/Otus A7r/55FE shootout. For me, the A7r is much more affordable than a D800E/Otus and within a few whiskers of the latter’s results from what I can determine from research. Your images with the A7r are very crisp and have a rare glow that comes from pinpoint high resolution sharpness. It is almost ultimate image quality from an affordable and highly portable setup. That is what it should be all about and your shootout should determine the number whiskers that separate the Otus from the 55FE.

    • After examining more images, I do not believe it would be a fair comparison at anything above f5.6, so I’m not going to do it.

      • DXOMark finally compared the Otus with the 55FE. It’s close but the Otus definitely exceeds the 55FE in sharpness above f5.6 in the corners as you observed. It also has a tad more CA, but I was surprised that the light transmission on the 55FE was so close to the Otus given that it’s a f1.8 lens. Probably because it has fewer elements. The 55FE does seem to exceed all Nikon lenses in centre resolution.

  12. hoi Ming, thanks for thy nice review :-)
    do you think, based on results, that either A7/A7R + 55||35 touches MF quality (vs CFV-39 or S or 645D etc..) in details, colour, DR etc..?
    would it be a viable studio-landscape alternative?
    cheers!

    • Short answer: probably not, because of system completeness. Resolution is close, but color is not. You also won’t have the 1/500 flash sync, either. Of course, you may well be photographing things that don’t require any of that, so it ultimately boils down to what you intend to do with it.

  13. Sample photos taken with the Zeiss 24-70mm f4 are starting to appear. Going by these photos things do not appear to look great. Too much sharpening and noise reduction has been used but you can still see the quality loss on the edges at the wide end is poor. Left hand side of the third sample photo is a good example, or not as the case may be:

    http://www.mobile01.com/topicdetail.php?f=254&t=3732365&p=1

    • You can’t really conclude anything from these images. valid point on the corner sharpness at the wide end due to potential astigmatism. But I’d wait till the lens is released and there are some real life usage pics with it.

  14. I was asked the other day to look at some photos taken with the 28-70mm using a A7 as the user was thinking the lens was faulty as he said the edges were very soft. The problem was at the wide end. I had a look at the photos which were taken at 28mm at each aperture setting. His test subject was a long wall taken at a fair distance away. Wide open you could see it was soft on the edges but things got interesting at f5.6. It first of all just appeared to be soft/smeared but on the right hand side there was a metal gate. All the photos were horizontal shots. I then noticed that when viewed at 100% the gate was showing double imaging. Either side of the gate were two sheets of paper pined to the wall both of which again showed double imaging. The double imaging was strangely enough vertical and not horizontal. When closed down to f8 the double imaging started to get closer together. After that it started to merge in. The more the lens was closed down the worse the softness/smearing got. See the double imaging like that though does make me wonder what the problem is with the 28-70 as it might not just be a poor optical design. When you tried the lens Ming did you have I.S on or off? Just that the performance does appear to improve when it is switched off even on the straight A7.

  15. Enjoyed the review, thanks.
    I’ve used the D800e extensively and now a Sony A7r. While there are some points I agree with you on, there are some either not mentioned or I disagree with.
    White balance: The A7rs AWB is superior to the D800e in every lighting condition I’ve shot it in. The A7r nails it 95% of the time.
    Color: Subjective. You seem to like the D800e’s color better but to me the Sony’s color is much more life like, pleasing and skin tones are much better.
    Sharpness: I agree its pretty much head to head. But I find the A7r marginally sharper than the D800e. The A7r is a true AA less design unlike the D800e.
    Non native lenses: I’ve shot Leica glass on both systems. Novoflex on A7r. Leitax mount on D800e. There is absolutely not difference in resolution that i can see, granted in my non scientific testing. Also being a mirrorless design, the A7r opens up the possibility of using a range on non native lenses on it.
    Manual focus: The A7r is the superior system for MF glass period. With it focus peaking and EVF with zoom capability it is no contest.
    Tilting EVF: I dont understand what a $2999 wouldn’t have this. I didnt know what I was missing till I used the Sony. Just seems commonsense to include this in a DSLR.

    Both are great cameras for sure. For me as a landscape, street and family portrait shooter I much prefer the experience the A7r offers me. Also dont underestimate the weight aspect. The D800e was a bear to lug around. An absolute bear. The Sony is much much lighter.

    I keep hearing AF. If I’m a sports shooter or someone needing lightning fast AF I wouldn’t pick the D800e for it. perhaps a D4. Yes the D800e has much superior compared to the A7r.

    For me, the A7r is one of the significant milestones in photography in recent years. Class leading resolution, mirrorless, compact form factor. Is it perfect ? Heck no. But which camera is ?

    • Forgot a couple -

      The real time histogram in live view or the EVF is an amazing feature.

      Live view: I found the D800e’s live view pretty much useless. The interpolation when you zoom and its sluggishness pretty much ruled out obtaining critical focus for me. The Sony’s live view is a much better implementation that is actually usable.

  16. Having used the A7R for 3 weeks now, I can tell you that it certainly works for street photography. Also, phenomenal prints come from this camera. I had mpix print a 16×20, and it rivaled anything I’ve seen from any other digital camera I’ve owned. Incredible detail. Get an A7R and mount a Leica lens on it, and you won’t be disappointed.

  17. Interesting review. A subjective point, but I was interested in your reaction to the ergonomics, particularly given your negative reaction to the Df. I just picked up an A7 to replace my X-Pro1.

    I was prepared for the NEX shaped hand grip but not for the way my fingers seem squashed against the lens/hood. It’s odd, the len mount seems closer to the grip than I remember from my (since sold) NEX-5 and NEX-7. Perhaps I’ve banished previous ergonomic issues from my mind… It may surprise you to learn I actually prefer the Df ergonomics, but more significantly for the market the A7/r exists in, I think I materially prefer the E-M1 grip/body, which seems closer to the shape of my hand. Of course that’s not entirely fair, M43s lenses can afford to be smaller so my issues with the lens mount wouldn’t arise. However, to my mind the grip of the E-M1 is much better shaped than the Sonys.

  18. I actually made a choice that most said I’d regret- I bought an a7r purely for event photography. I do have a problem with the shutter lag and the evf gives me tendency to underexpose from time to time, trying to capture those specific moments I want to, but hey- no camera is perfect. Auto focusing I have ditched altogether. However, here comes the fun part: I dropped 1Dx because of this and have not had a single moment of regret. Now I use the native 55/1.8, Leica 24/2.8 Elmarit R and Zeiss 85/1.4 Planar (latter two naturally adapted).

    Yes, I agree that adapters can cause issues, therefore I did some research and my retailer was nice enough to go through a LOT of adapters to find the best match for the lenses I bought, minimizing any tolerances. The found adapters seem to be just as tight fit, if not a bit firmer even, than the native lenses and I haven’t had any issues with them. The image quality is more than adequate.

    Why did I choose to take the harder route? Because, after testing it out I found that this thing makes me work and think a lot more to get what I want. I find that to be a very positive thing, and it shows in the improved picture quality I produce with this thing compared to what I got with 1Dx. Forces me forward, one might say.

    • If you can find a good set of adaptors, then there should be no issues at all.

      To be honest, I find the fully manual cameras – my ‘Blad and F2 – to be just as fluid and easy to use in a reportage situation, if not more so. Less messing about with the electronics, and you concentrate on the next shot instead of staring at the screen. I’ve been using a pair of D800Es and Zeiss MF lenses for recent corporate reportage work, and that worked out just fine too – when you nail it, the files absolutely sing.

  19. Jim Smith says:

    I was looking for an alternative for my Olympus E-M1 (serious shutter vibration issues and slightly disappointing resolution) and I found your article. The A7R is a much better camera for me and I’m very happy with it. It does have some shutter vibration, but nothing like the E-M1. The resolution and dynamic range are stunning.

  20. WoW !!! I wonder what Ansel & Edward would have crafted with this combo: as a comparison ? …

    • Good question, actually. There’s always been a lot of speculation over what the masters would make of modern gear…

      • I think both of them would be embracing our technology ‘up-to-their-necks’ for want of better words, but for different reasons. They both would possibly use contemporary camera and lens technology as a means to express their photographic goals, objectives and targets … that is, as the image as crafted for us to react to …

    • Ansel Adams would not be using this combo as it would be a step or two backwards from using 10×8/14×11. He would either still be using 10×8 or a medium format camera like Phase One for the extra quality.

      • Point taken and valid. I was curtailing my response to the above technology and, I suspect Ansel would possibly hanker for the A7R , whilst Edward would be at home with the A7. Then again the Phase One Achromatic would severely bias their decision, I feel …

  21. Michael Newsom says:

    If only the a7r had a 5:4 crop mode. 30:24 would be wonderful for us who despise the 35mm format. I would buy the 7r in a heartbeat because this format would also work better with my M lenses.

    • You can always crop it afterwards. M lenses were designed for 3:2, but I’m sure you’ve discovered they don’t work well on anything but an M because of the corner issues…

Trackbacks

  1. […] Ming Thein writes: “ I like the direction Sony are heading in with the A7R: now if only they would hold the course and not get distracted…” […]

  2. […] there are now three and in most cases AF (which he likes in the A7R) is lost. Full article here: Review: The 2013 Sony A7R ? Ming Thein | Photographer __________________ Members don't see ads in threads. Register your free account today […]

  3. […] I’ve received via email in the last few months is ‘what do you think of the A7/A7R?’ The fact that that question is even being asked signals that the marketing department has […]

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