The Sony E-mount system has matured over the past few years and Sony has chosen to retire the NEX branding and consolidate all of its interchangeable lens cameras under the Alpha brand name with a designation only of whether they are A-mount or E-mount cameras.
The A-mount cameras are more traditional DSLR cameras, currently comprised of cameras using Sony translucent mirror technology. The E-mount cameras are mirrorless cameras and are a generally more compact design.
The A7 and A7R share a large part of their design and interfaces with each other. If you weren’t looking at the model badges, it would be tough to tell the two cameras apart. The primary differences between the two cameras are the sensor resolution, AF technology and, of course, price.
The A7 features a 24MP sensor and uses a hybrid AF system with phase detection pixels directly on the image sensor. The more affordable of the two, the A7 retails at $1699 for the body only or $1999 with a 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens. Notably, the A7 has an optical lowpass filter and the A7R does not.
The A7R is equipped with a 36MP sensor (believed to be the same sensor found in the Nikon D800) and relies solely on a contrast-detect AF system. It runs $2299 for the body only and is not currently available in a kit with a lens.
The menu systems are improved over past Sony mirrorless cameras and now just seem more logical. You get a tabbed layout with sections of menus that are logically grouped together.
There are a plethora of manual controls via dials and buttons on the exterior of the camera’s body. All are well placed and the add to the usability of the cameras.
The shutter sound is pretty loud for a mirrorless camera. It didn’t really bother me; however, I didn’t use the cameras in a quiet situation where the sound would be distracting. A wedding ceremony might be a tough place to go unnoticed with such a loud shutter. It’s a bit of a nostalgic, mechanical sound, which is cool and all, but it could stand to be a bit quieter – especially on the A7R.
While the A7 and A7R will never be confused as cameras for sports shooters, the AF systems are not as bad as some users have made them out to be. I used both cameras in a wide range of lighting conditions and subjects. Low-light action is tough on these cameras. However, they will focus in low light conditions. And, if you have fast glass like the 50mm f/1.8 Sonnar, they just might surprise you.
The A7 and A7R both feature a high resolution 3-inch tilting LCD. I actually preferred the tilting display compared to the pop-out vari-angle display. I found myself using the tilting display like a waist level finder, which allowed me to get some candid street shots that I otherwise might have missed.
I have griped about the missing out on vari-angle displays before and I know some of you still prefer them, but I like the more incognito free of the tilting display and am becoming a convert. It’s definitely a personal preference feature though.
The electronic viewfinder is fantastic. It’s big, bright and there is no lag. One of the first things you will probably want to do though is turn off the image preview. If you leave it on, you may end up frustrated with the 2-second preview that you have to endure in the viewfinder before you can frame up another shot. With the image preview turned off, it almost feels like an optical viewfinder.
You can have a full time level overlay in the viewfinder. It gives you level results on both X and Y axes for tilt and horizon effects, and it remains available after focus confirmation.
The cameras have built-in WiFi and NFC support for connecting with mobile device to share images or remotely control the camera via Sony’s PlayMemories Mobile app. This process worked fine on my iPhone 5, but I could never get my Galaxy Note 3 to connect to the camera.
The video features are fantastic. You get that great full frame look and there are going to be more and more E-mount lenses coming from third parties. I used the Rokinon 85mm T1.5 lens to shoot with quite a bit and loved the results it delivered. It is a great and cheap lens for the native mount.
The cameras offer up to 1080/60p capture in AVCHD. And, if AVCHD is a downer, then you have the option of using an HDMI capture device like the Atomos Ninja to capture uncompressed clean footage at 1080/60p or 60i through the camera’s HDMI output.
Sony was thoughtful enough to add visible audio levels while recording. You can also enable zebra’s in live view in 5% increments from 70% to 100%. Focus peaking is another welcome video and manual focus feature.
Face-detect AF is another great feature to use during video capture. I honestly didn’t think I would rely on it; however, both cameras delivered solid performance and I preferred using face-detect AF over manual focus in most situations.
Virtually any full frame lens, including those old 35mm film camera lenses, can be used on the A7 and A7R thanks to available adapters. This includes Sony’s own A-mount lenses via the official Sony LA-EA3 A-mount to E-mount adapter.
The good thing about the Sony A to E adapter is the Sony A-mount lenses will autofocus on the A7 and A7R. The bad news is the AF is very slow for the these A-mount lenses. Honestly, you only want to shoots still subjects (or trust your manual focusing skills) because A-mount lenses are just painfully slow.
Below is a fun little short film I shot with my son using the A7 and A7R as I put them both through their paces as video cameras during my review.
We had a lot of fun and made good use of many of the video-centric features in order to shoot this in a run and gun style over a few hours. With care, the A7 and A7R have the potential to be great low-budget cinema cameras.
Sony A7 and A7R Image Quality
The image quality of both cameras is fantastic. As you would expect, the A7R with its 36MP sensor and no optical low pass filter really shines in the image quality department.
I have included a few images below shot with the A7 and A7R. You can download the full resolution images by clicking on the images below. If you just want to save it and not view it in your browser, right-click and choose “Save file as…”
Note that most of these have undergone light image editing in Lightroom 5 according to my personal tastes. They were shot as RAW files and converted to .jpg files for display here.
The short of it is that the image quality of both cameras is exceptional throughout the ISO range. I have no problem capturing shots at ISO 6400 and using them. Sure, you will find some noise when you zoom to 100%; however, we are talking about 24MP and 36MP files. You have to zoom in a long way in order to be troubled by the noise in these images.
A couple of my favorite lenses to use with the A7 and A7R are the Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 and 35mm f/2.8. Both are fast, sharp and very well built. They make an excellent and compact kit with the A7 and A7R.
The A7 and A7R are among the best camera on the market in terns of delivering quality images – very high resolution and a whole lot of dynamic range.
Sony delivers a huge bang for your buck with both the A7 and A7R. Both cameras are highly recommended within the above-described caveats (i.e., Don’t buy these for sports photography).
If you want excellent image quality in a compact camera format, both cameras are more than capable of meeting your needs. Sony shows with the A7 and A7R that it still isn’t afraid to shake up the industry by delivering a state of the art product at an affordable price point. Canon and Nikon could learn a thing or two from what Sony is doing in this market.
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