THE SONY A7R - ONE YEAR ON - AN ASSESSMENT

THE SONY A7R - ONE YEAR ON - AN ASSESSMENT

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Just over a year ago the Sony A7r was announced. A 35mm film size / 'full-frame' sensor with an astonishing 36MP in a small light body. I ordered one as soon as I could and have been using it extensively ever since. 

First off it has to be said that the files this camera produces are nothing short of astonishing. There is no AA filter so the resolution allows incredible detail to emerge. This is hyper-reality creating pictures with details the eye could never see. The images from this camera can be enlarged to huge sizes and would satisfy any publishing demand.

As good as medium-format? Well I guess the answer to that has to be no in terms of the sheer detail some of those huge MF sensors can produce, but the A7r is significantly more useful than the studio bound monsters made by Phase One, Leica and Hassleblad. And of course the A7r doesn't cost the ludicrous amount of money that those cameras cost. (Incidentally the price of MF cameras doesn't reflect their quality, it reflects the fact that they sell in VERY limited quantities.) Anyway, MF digital doesn't interest me. With cameras like the A7r and Nikon D810 around I really don't see the point and I certainly don't need or want them for how I earn a living.

So in terms of image quality, file size and the ability to produce high quality files for my stock photography libraries, the camera is the best I have. Plus when I factor in that it's much smaller and lighter than the Nikon D800E I used to carry around, it's a camera I have a lot of time for and I've taken a LOT of pictures with it.

Negatives? Well primarily for me it's that noisy shutter. It is impossible to be 'discreet' with this camera. The noise of the shutter is actually louder than most DSLR's and I've frightened off animals with it and had lots of people turn round and look at me. So a camera that would seemingly be very useful for shooting weddings is probably not. I've known registrars and vicars who would have thrown me out if I'd used an A7r during a ceremony. Now i don't know if it's possible, but the feature I'd love to see in a firmware update is an electronic shutter. That would be great.

The native FE e-mount lens range also leaves something to be desired. Sony are playing catch-up currently, but I suspect that there are going to be some gaps for a while. However, since it's a mirrorless cameras it is possible to go the adapter route. Either a-mount to e-mount, with a small light loss, or adapted manual focus lenses are solutions. My recent tests with a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens (Nikon Fit) produced some spectacular results. And while my a-mount Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART lens isn't light or small, it produces some incredibly sharp images. in addition I have Nikon and Voigtlander primes and the 10-18mm AP-S lens which does actually cover the sensor at around the 13-14mm mark. For me the gap is at the telephoto end, because walking the distances I do the 70-200mm f/4 is just too big and heavy. Recently though I got some excellent results using my Nikon 28-200mm G zoom, so that gives me an option.

Attitudes to lens ranges are dictated by personal needs. A camera may have only a few lenses available for it, but if that covers everything you want then that's fine. However the Sony 'full-frame' e-mount choices available hasn't achieved that for me yet and the recent announcements don't look that promising. The 24-240mm looks like it might be very useful for what I do, but it appears big and heavy, which is not what I'm looking for. There is supposed to be an advantage over using that Nikon D800E after all.

I'm not going into menus and layouts because after all the time I'm spent using the camera, I'm used to it. If I could juggle a few things around, then I would probably would but I don't have any great issues. I'm also pretty happy with the build quality. Design is a bit so-so, but I can live with it.

So all-in-all I have a lot of positive feelings about the A7r. And I certainly like more than I dislike. The OLED EVF works for me and my preference for polarised sunglasses, the video options are great. 4K would be nice, but since my computer can't even play it back let alone edit it, that's no real omission for me. And of course it does let me use two of the best lenses I've ever bought. The Zeiss 35mm and 55mm. Absolutely superb lenses. I just wish sony would make a 100mm f/2.8 the same relative size as those. I'm not bothered about image stabilisation, but I guess others are however. But with that and an electronic shutter I'd be as happy as Larry.

Because no matter what I would like to see as improvements to the camera, it's difficult for me to see much beyond that incredible image quality and resolution. Because it really is spectacular and no matter what else I feel about the camera, that is the reason I bought it and that is the reason I'll continue to use it. 

And if somebody had told me just a few years ago that I'd have this small light camera capable of such incredible quality, then I've have probably not have believed them and if I did I would have bitten their hand off to get my hands on one. (Well no I wouldn't but you get my drift) The point being that it's going to take an awful long time, if in fact ever. for the fiies from my A7r to be too small or too low quality.  And ultimately that's the great virtue of the camera. The astonishing photographs (technically)  I'm able to create with it. Since those images are much more important than the gear itself I'm happy to overlook any small foibles that it may possess. It was after all my camera of the year for 2013 and I certainly have no reason to regret that decision. 

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There is an interesting article on the BBC website HERE, which deals with many of the issues above.

Many Thanks

David Taylor-Hughes