Sony A7r - Design, Layout, Ergonomics, Use.

So away from all the sexy, moodily lit product shots, what's the A7r like to use? Well here are my initial impressions and as with most other cameras I've bought they tend to be my final impressions as well.

The body has a nice feel to it. On it's own with no lens attached it feels like a modern light mirrorless camera. My first impression was something like a Panasonic G6. It is however weather sealed, so it's probably quite tough. The grip is nice, though I'd have liked the camera slightly taller and I will be getting the add-on battery grip. Without wishing to offend anyone, I wonder if the size of the cameras we get is because of where they are designed who designs them and who they are primarily tested on. I've got small hands but I rarely find a mirrorless camera that has a grip I like. I usually add something to make it bigger and more comfortable.

However the grip is nice and 'grippy' (technical term) so there's no real problem there. Plus with a lens attached, like the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G above, there is a nice substantial feel to the whole thing. Again very reminiscent of a Panasonic m4/3 camera. The viewfinder, as many have said is really good and there is a diopter wheel and a decent rubber eyepiece. The camera comes set up with it automatically switching between screen and EVF and that's nice and quick. 

Dials, buttons and wheels are decently laid out. Using the camera outdoors my thumb rests nicely in the gap and I'm not turning or switching on anything by mistake as yet. Menu button is in an odd place and by habit I keep pressing the select button because that's what I'm used to. The video on button is at the side and the SD card slot is unusual in that the card slides along the right hand side of the camera at the bottom. Nice to have it here and separate from the battery compartment. You don't have to remove the grip (if you use one) to get cards in and out.

The dials are nicely weighted, firm yet easy enough to move. The thumbwheels likewise. The buttons aren't huge but you don't need 'hampster fingers' to operate them. There are mini jack sockets for Mic In and Headphones out which is great for video. The socket below the green headphone port is where you plug the charging lead in, of which more later. 

Screen is nice and clear and can be customised as you wish. I've included a shot with the focus peaking on to show how vivid it is. You can change the colour as well. 

Overall it's a fairly typical layout but because everybody likes different ways of working most will probably want something different. However my initial impressions are that it hasn't caused me any problems so far, and for me I see that as a bonus. 

Other nice features are the level you can bring up in the viewfinder, the battery meter with a % left readout and of course the fact that the viewfinder is OLED. Everybody goes on about the Olympus E-M1 viewfinder but this is quite simply the best EVF I've ever used. Its sharp, clear and works pretty well in low light. I'm no fan of optical viewfinders anyway. I like seeing what my picture looks like before I take it.

There is of course the noisy shutter and I must admit going shooting with the camera yesterday I did find it annoying. I can see no good reason for the noise this makes, it's louder than most DSLR's I've used and it reminds me of a medium-format film camera. Please fix this SONY!!!

Finally, two things you don't get in the box. The first is a DVD. So no electronic manual, but you do get a huge book in several languages. And no software for the raw files.You have to download that. Shows how Sony regard their own software I guess and it is terrible. Probably explains why Adobe support for Sony cameras is usually in place before the cameras go on sale.

The other thing you don't get is a battery charger. Now my knee jerk reaction to that was 'How terrible' but thinking about it I actually like it. Whenever I go away on a shooting trip, I hate having to pack chargers, leads and a plug board. If I'm in a rented cottage or a hotel room I have to find a corner to set all this stuff up. With the Sony there is just one lead with a plug on it. Plus you don't even have to do that. You can just plug the camera in to a computers USB port and it will charge. If I use spare batteries, which I'm sure I will judging from the battery life I'm getting, then I can just charge up what's in the camera, take it out, put another one in and then charge that one up. 

I know not everyone will agree with me, but I do find it useful not to have a charger, particularly when I'm travelling. Of course I must remember to take the lead with me!

So my initial impressions are all very positive. It's a well thought out camera and unlike some other manufacturers Sony seem to have designed the A7r from a photographers perspective. It's obviously a very traditional design, but that's what most of us are used to, so there's really nothing wrong with that. The DSLR / SLR design is tried and tested and instead of a mirror we now have an EVF. Works for me. 

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