Here is a review of Sony A7R from a Canon user perspective.
This one is not intended to be a complete, exhaustive review as you can find on DPreview or such site. I will just focus on my photographic use, which is purely Canon geared, towards slow, mainly tripod shooting.
First, I must say that I never though one day I could buy some Sony gear. But here we are, all my photographic activity is about personal artistic photographs, sold as fine art prints in art galleries, so the best IQ I can get, the better.
The 36mp Sony sensor without Optical low pass filter was previously released in Nikon D800 body last year, but having to change all my lenses would have been costly, and I was not impressed by D800 live-view implementation, not talking about sensor alignment problems etc … I also knew I had my new studio to entirely build from scratch, so 2013 year was not a shooting year. Thus, I decided to wait for Canon to release such high resolution/high DR sensor (a real replacement to 1DsIII). But still, there is … none ! And here comes Sony, with 36mp full frame sensor A7R.
As many of you already know, I shoot only raw, at base ISO (100). So I will use Lightroom 5.3, which support A7R. I won’t discuss high ISO, as this is just of no interest for me. And in case someone ask, I received nothing from Sony and am totally free to say what I want 😉
I’m used to my 1 series large and heavy body for years, and love it. Perfect handling, both horizontal and vertical with all duplicated controls, robust like a tank, and so reliable. No question, it will work, period ! I have it with RRS L-Bracket from the beginning and never removed it, shooting mainly on tripod.
So, I was afraid to switch to a small and light A7R ! And gosh, it’s small, really small !! The little finger is always underneath the body and get cramp fast. The buttons are also very small, some are even in a recess between screen and finder. Using it outdoor with gloves will be very hard ! Think of it : You put a lens on 1Ds. But you put A7R on a lens 🙂
First thing I’ve done ? Turn it to raw, disable all fancy stuff such as DRO/AutoHDR, NR, back to Neutral Creative Style, Airplane mode On, and check shot review as I like to see RGB levels just after the shot. It has a mode with RGB levels for review, which stay once selected, but then the shot itself is very small on the screen :/
A7R will need some customization anyway to set it according to your style (focus magnifier, Fn display etc). Menus are well organized and relatively intuitive, even coming from Canon world. Some function aren’t same name but globally, it isn’t very different, apart there isn’t much functions. There is no aperture control button, you will have to set it as a function, for example on c3 which has nothing set by default. But seems you can’t stack up functions, so if you are zooming on live-view to set focus, you can’t preview aperture ! Big drawback there.
EVF is a big surprise. I was prepared to really miss my 1Ds and 5Ds OVF, and sincerely, this EVF is just surprisingly good ! Sure it isn’t as accurate and ‘real’ as an OVF, but no aliasing, very responsive, and with nice functions that only an EVF can provide (exposure compensation, WB, focus peaking, levels, Manual focus zooming, etc). More resolution could be better anyway, to better ‘feel’ fine details.
Live-view screen is also very good and responsive. Being orientable (not articulated) is very useful. A missing feature anyway is sort of frame masking for different formats, for example shooting square. You can display a grid which show the center full square but you have to look at the lines to be sure to be in the square. A black mask would have been so much better (or 50% opacity black to keeps informations readable). Last thing, don’t entirely trust the electronic level, which isn’t quite precise. You can rotate a bit the camera without changing level indication at all !
Shutter is a bit disappointing, but after several hours quite forgiving. But A7R isn’t a street photography body ! Shutter is loud, and slow. Blackout is really long, and there is a small lag. Sure it was awaited after using Canon 1Ds, which have a lighting fast and robust shutter without any lag nor discernible blackout … Even 5DIII shutter seems like a plastic toy beside 1Ds one. All is relative after all ! Shutter button feels really right, very sensitive, without step between AF and shutter, just like 1Ds. I prefer that, as you have not to ‘push’ on it and so avoid any movement while triggering shutter.
On another hand, something terrible is … batteries !! They drain really fast, and one big drawback is that when charging, you can’t use A7R ! So get lot of batteries, and get a charger, which isn’t included ! One complete recharge takes 5 hours. Another option indoor is the AC-PW20 power adapter which replace the battery and allow shooting without charged battery.
There is a ‘power save start time’ option in the menu, but be sure to have ‘remote ctrl’ off or it won’t work.
With vertical grip (Sony VGC1EM), the camera feels a lot better in hand. The grip feels in-line with the body (without play when tightened), duplicates controls, and handles two batteries. It have a nonslip part around the tripod thread to avoid plate rotation. It makes the camera larger and is lot more comfortable even for horizontal shooting, not talking about vertical shooting which is another world, like any vertical grip.
A totally personal note here, but while A7R is well built (remember it isn’t a 1D pro all weather brick anyway !) and very responsive with nice live-view and EVF, the general feeling is more like using an electronic stuff like a smart-phone than a pure photographic tool like a 1D. Oh, and take a few seconds to remove these links on the body which ‘cling’ every-time you move it (the other is the flash mount protection) !
I have only Canon lenses, so I won’t compare to native lenses (there is so few !) or Leica, Zeiss etc that can be mounted also via another adapter. I’m more than happy with my small Canon lens line-up, very well built, reliable, fast, and performing in highest standard. I have no doubt it can handle 36mp density, but how does it handle this A7R ?
Metabones EF-E smart adapter III is well built. Putting L lenses on it is really sturdy. At first, I had a very small play in the foot, but tightening up the screw set things right. There is a way to set the adapter in green mode (no AF etc) or in advanced mode, which consume power but provide AF, IS, aperture and all exif data you need.
Lenses with adapter with A7R package feels robust. There is very little rotational play between the adapter and the camera, but not more than with any EF lens on a Canon body. With small primes or even 135/2L, it feels really light but well balanced. With bigger lenses, vertical grip is a real plus ! Maybe too much use with 1D series lol !
AF and IS works nice indeed, but AF is really slow and avoid shooting anything moving. It goes back and forth to finally spot the focus, in one or two seconds. Another annoying thing is that with Metabones in green mode (no electronic), we can set automatic focus magnifier when turning lens focus ring, which is really useful. Can’t get such behavior with Metabones advanced mode, even in manual focus on the lens. It then require a few button click for same function …
IS works like on a Canon body, same for aperture (just forgiving), and we indeed have exif informations.
In exif anyway, we haven’t ‘EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM’ but ’24-70 F2.8 OSS’, so searching via metadatas lenses will need ‘both’ lenses. But in Lightroom, lens automatic correction works.
Check LensChanger tool to get right Lenses in your files.
Regarding performances, I didn’t shoot brick walls with all lenses at focal lengths and aperture, not my cup of tea. But I couldn’t see any flaw with my lenses, and always get better resolution with them on the A7R, center to corner ! Didn’t notice any stronger vignetting or softness with the adapter.
There is some flares and contrast problems when shifting TSE lenses, specially TSE 17 and 24 in corners. EF 8-15mm Fisheye doesn’t seems to have this problem. For a solution, check this post on FredMiranda forums about eliminating Metabones internal reflections. Here is good material to do it (This is what Canon put inside their lenses. Thanks Fred Miranda).
Update: The Metabones Mark IV now have internal coating to avoid such problems or having to flock it yourself ! Anyway, if you have a MkIII floacked version, MkIV doesn’t seems worthy : MkIV vs MkIII coated comparison
• Lightroom : the raws
With Lightroom, you will need version 5.3 and up to edit A7R raws.
All raw files are around 36Mo files. Once exported as psd 16bits, it is 220Mo. Lightroom on a modern computer handle that nicely, but I’m not reviewing hundreds of shots after a wedding session … On a 64Gb SD card, it tells me 1694raws. More than I shoot in three last years lol !
Raw files are compressed by a « visually lossless » algorithm from Sony. This algorithm cut some informations in low and high values, and is usually not visible. But if you push shadows, some artifacts can appears in very high contrast zones in low-lights. Would have been better to get an option for real lossless compressed raws, but you won’t see the difference in usual situations.
Examining raws immediately show something inherited from 36mp density : You will really need proper technique to avoid motion blur and get maximum resolution from this sensor. Don’t be shy and use your tripod or speed up aperture time ! But once you do, resolution is just amazing ! Per pixel sharpness isn’t so much better than with Canon bodies and a little sharpening, which is very good for a file which is 7300x5000pixels ! It indeed resolves a lot more details, no questions there. On the other hand, 36mp on a full-frame sensor is same pixel density as a 14mp APS-C, so we are in known territory (24mp APS-C would scale to 61mp FF.).
Here is a resolution comparison between 1DsII, 5DIII, and A7R. So, at same definition, you can print really larger, or print same size with lot more pixels, so better details/sharpness.
Focus-peaking is nice to have, but don’t rely on it. Better get focus-magnifier, even hand-held, to focus precisely. At least at wide apertures. Focus-peaking show sharp edges, but sometimes (too often) it show edges in lightly blurred zones in front or back of the focus point, so it’s not very precise at all. Sometimes it even doesn’t work, when focusing on granular surfaces that doesn’t have contrast edges.
Here is a crop from the second image : 100% crop
These were shot with TSE90 + Kenko 12mm tube, f/13, from 20cm of the subject (1/160 with studio strobes). So, not the usual conditions. On this crop, you are looking at a metal slide 0.5mm thick. And remember, you are looking at a 7300x5000px image ! Sometimes you don’t see much details not because of the sensor, but because there is simply not more details in the subject !
I also must ad that I was surprised not seeing heavy diffraction effect at f/13. Diffraction is only from the lens, but the higher pixel density, the higher/sooner you see it. Having done many shots with A7R and 90TSE around f/10, f/11, f/13, all is tack sharp !
Globally, colors seems richer. Testing some red fabric, it also seems that red channel doesn’t saturate so easily than with Canon sensors. Noise and dynamic range at base ISO is largely better than Canon sensors, no question there. There is still a bit of noise when you push shadows, but I must say it is a lot better visually than Canon sensor noise, more ‘film look’. And total lack of banding or patterns is nice too. Highlight recovery is really better, you get more infos there and richer colors better transitions from recovered highlights. Same from shadow recovery, but less than I though. You can push shadows a lot more but will get a bit of noise. In Lightroom, bumping up exposure by +2 show no loss in shadows quality at all. From +3, a small grain is definitely there, but without pattern at all. Once more, no mushy noise and no banding. Nothing scientific here but it seems D800E shadows have even more bits in shadows. Anyway A7R is in another league than whatever Canon has to offer, really ! But keep in mind not every situations need that (no pixel measurebation please)!
• On tripod :
The Metabones adapter is here mounted on Hejnar L-Bracket and spacer. The spacer allow more place between the adapter and the plate. If you mount a plate directly on the adapter foot, you won’t have enough place to fully shift a TSE lens. The spacer being mounted with two screws on the plate can’t rotate at all. Just be careful to get the spacer for v2/3, not for v1.
Update: Hejnar is now doing a much bigger spacer to provide lot more room between the adapter and the plate. Check it here : Hejnar Metabones Foot.
Update2: RRS (Really Right Stuff) is now offering a dedicated RRS L plate for Metabones adapter 3 and 4. You know RRS do stuff right, it provide two screws on both side of the adapter (landscape and portrait orientation) and make a one sturdy piece of gear !
Please note that such plate or L-bracket on the adapter won’t work if you have the vertical grip, at least the horizontal one. You can physically mount the L-bracket with the vertical grip mounted, but the horizontal plate will pinch your fingers along the grip when handling it vertically. It would need an L-bracket for Sony A7R+grip, which doesn’t exist right now (let me know if you find one). I also think the package is better balanced on the tripod with the plate on the adapter. So, I’m not sure I will use the vertical grip at all. Shame …
Update: ProMediaGear is now doing an L bracket dedicated to vertical grip. Users report a well finished and robust product. You can swap batteries without removing it, and price seems reasonnable : PLSVGC1EM
• Studio tethering :
Sony provide the free Sony Remote Camera Control software. Once the A7R is connected with a micro-USB cable, RCC allow you to set settings and trigger the shutter. It will also download the shot and put it anywhere you want on your hard disk. Set LightRoom auto-import and you are done ! You can trigger the shutter from the app on the PC or directly from the camera.
Keep in mind that this micro-USB cable will prevent you from plugging the remote shutter, and you won’t be able to use the wifi remote app. So you will need to use the shutter button on the camera, or use another IR remote. As the IR sensor in on the front of the camera, it isn’t very nice when working on tripod.
Update 09/01/2016: mobilexcopter is now doing a Sony multiport compatible USB + trigger cable, allowing both tethering and remote to be used! I use a Phottix Strato radio transmitter/receiver as remote, as the RM-VPR1 doesn’t have jack input.
The cable remote (RM-VPR1) has nothing particular, it works the same has Canon one, has bulb mode, AF + shutter release, and is same plastic toy like remote. It works great, and plug into the same micro-usb as the charger.
Regarding live-view, it has three zoom level, the standard ‘full shot’ one, 7.2x, and 14.4x. It is very reliable for focusing and show you exactly what will be on the shot. Which sounds logical as it show what the sensor is capturing, but resolution is good enough. You can set it on button, so one click gives you the zone to zoom to which you can move, second click gives you 7.2x zoom to adjust focus on the zone, and one more click gives you 14.4x to fine tune focus.
You can connect any monitor to live-view, connecting it with a micro-hdmi / hdmi cable. Live-view on camera still works, with focus peaking, but focus peaking won’t show on the external monitor. Also, be sure to connect an external monitor that support 1920×1080 60fps or you will have to change output to auto and it will display 720×576 only.
In studio, as the ambient light is always less than while exposure with flashes, you will want to turn live-view « Setting Effect OFF » so live-view show a correct exposure even without the flashes to set focus properly. When not using flashes, live-view « Setting Effect ON » allow you to see exposure compensation.
• Flash support:
I’m always using my studio with Phottix radio triggers (Strato v1), all in manual mode, with a Sekonic L-358 for measuring flash power. First good news is : my ‘For Canon’ Phottix Strato transmitter works in manual mode with Sony A7R ! It indeed fire my studio strobes just like my 1DsII ! Nice, no transmitter to buy for it ! Even for hand-held interior shots, I use my Canon 430EX flash in manual mode with manual Flash exposure compensation. And it works the same on the A7R. Nice ! You can also buy a 10€ ‘JJC JF-G Remote Cable F2‘ to connect a Strato receiver to the A7R via micro-usb so you have a radio shutter release.
Now let’s test Flash Sync Speed. A7R specification is 1/160, which is the speed I always use with 1DsII. Here is four shots in studio with transmitter firing studio strobes.
Like you can see, even at 1/160s we still can discern a small part in upper left, showing the shutter. I seriously doubt we could see it in real shooting, but 1/125 is perfect. This can show a sync lag between the body and my transmitter, dunno. Don’t take attention to the gradient in the white, it is my soft-box which is on the right 😉
Regarding Auto-focus with adapter and Canon lenses, I wouldn’t use this combo for portrait shooting … AF is just too slow. Better keep your Canon body for this, specially 1D(s) or 5DIII which have best AF ever.
• Shutter shock:
Shooting with this slow and loud shutter made me anxious about shutter vibrations, knowing there is no electronic first curtain (and no MLU, as there is no mirror !).
I did test this several times, with 70-200LII (IS off) on tripod, at 200mm focusing on a small piece full of details at around 5 meters. With shutter times of 1/30s, 1/15s, 1/8s, 0.5s, 1sec, I couldn’t discern any vibration there. Gear was mounted on a Markins M20 + Gitzo GT5530S (unweighted).
Now, a torture test : 70-200 2.8L II + 2xIII, target at 100meters, 400mm 1/50s f/8, weighted tripod, IS off, cable release. Camera mounted on 70-200 tripod collar, absolutely no wind. Here, we can clearly see movement !
I would avoid such shutter speed at long focal length / far objects, even on tripod with cable release. Something which isn’t a problem at all with DSLRs and MLU. A7R clearly lack some electronic first curtain there ! Without this, the shutter have to close, then open to begin the shot, and close again to stop the shot (and actually, open again to activate live-view after the shot). This make two shutter movements with vibrations at the start of the shot ! Electronic first curtain would avoid such close/open sequence at the beginning of the shot, avoiding vibrations ! Not an issue for long-exposure shots anyway, but a real drawback in theses conditions. At least an option in the firmware to delay first close and first open would reduce this.
Note this 400mm test is really a torture test. 400mm with far objects at this shutter time are worst case scenario ! So avoid around 1/50s at focal lenght longer than 150mm ! In real world shooting, I never saw this anyway. There is no problem shooting 400mm at 1/400s, or 30s exposure for example. 1/160s in studio never show such effect.
Can Sony A7R replace your Canon body with your Canon lenses ? Sincerely, if you don’t really needs the resolution and DR from its 36mp sensor, I would say … no ! Better go for a 5DIII or even a 6D. Metabones adapter works really well, but with adapter and Canon lenses, you should better consider A7R like a manual focus body, with IS from lenses, electronic aperture, and exif from the lenses. Now, if you need the extra resolution and cleaner files and are not relying much on AF, it delivers amazing results. But it will need more work, time to focus properly with 14.4x live-view, most of the time with remote shutter and tripod. Focus at wide aperture (f/2 and wider) is particularly critical !
Will I keep it ? Definitely yes. But definitely as a tripod only tool ! For all shooting requesting AF, I will still use my 1DsII. But at least I have more time now to wait for a 1Dx 40mp high DR, low iso (dream of iso12, 25, 50, 100, 200) ! Even at 1fps, I would buy two in a heartbeat !
What I like :
– Sensor ! Simply the best 35mm sensor to date in terms of resolution and DR !
– Live-view : Focus Peaking is a real plus, even if it could be better. 14.4x zoom is very reliable.
– Articulated screen is nice on tripod.
What I do not like :
– Slow AF with Canon lenses.
– No electronic first curtain ! No option to delay curtain close and open to reduce vibrations.
– No lossless Raw compression.
– No frame-masking in live-view.
– Battery drain, no included external charger.
– SD card (I prefer CF).
– Really small body and buttons (Full frame lenses aren’t small !).