Steve's Conclusion

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Steve's SnapShot
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  • 36.4-Megapixel Full-Frame Exmor CMOS Imaging Sensor
  • 3.0-Inch, 921k dot LCD Screen
  • BIONZ X image processor
  • 2.4-million dot OLED electronic viewfinder
  • Dedicated Video Record Button
  • iAuto/Superior Auto shooting modes
  • Full 1080p HD video recording
  • Gapless on-chip lens
  • Eye AF
  • 4K output for still images
  • Built-in WiFi
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card compatible
  • Li-Ion Battery
Pros
  • Plethora of exposure options, including an accurate iAuto shooting mode
  • Dedicated Video Capture Button is always ready to record
  • Fast and accurate AF
  • Amazing image quality 
  • Outstanding low-light performance
  • High Res 3.0-inch LCD tilts for tough shooting situations
  • Adjustable brightness allows you to see the screen in all lighting conditions
  • OLED EVF will quickly make you forget about your old camera's OVF
  • Good shooting performance
  • Good selection of lenses that continues to grow
  • HDMI and 4K output
  • Audio input
Cons
  • No built-in flash unit
  • No Phase-Detection AF (a7R only)
  • Single Memory card slot, instead of a dual card slot, important with 36-Megapixel images
  • Battery life did not live up to expectations, due to the large amount of useful extra features
  • High price tag
Timing Test Results
  • Power up to first image captured = 2.2 seconds
  • Shutter lag when prefocused  = less than 1/10 of a second
  • Shutter lag with autofocus = approx. 2/10 to 5/10 of a second
  • Shot to shot delay wo/flash = 0.76 seconds
  • Shot to shot delay w/flash = depends on external flash
  • Sequential burst =  1.89fps 
  • High Speed Burst = 3.91fps for 16 images
  • All tests were taken using a Sony UHS-1 (94MB/s) 32GB SDHC memory card, Program Mode, ISO auto and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.
Bottom Line
Sony has gone above and beyond with both the a7 and a7R, bringing Professional image quality and performance to a much more compact ILC. If the price does not scare you away, you will be thrilled with the performance and image quality from these compact cameras.
Pick This Up If...
You are looking for a portable and more than capable professional quality camera that comes in the size of the popular new ILC's.
Adding an entirely new level to the ILC (interchangeable lens camera) market, Sony has introduced one of the first, smallest and lightest Full-Frame ILC's on the market today. Both the a7 and a7R are made up of most of the same components built into the same housing. These camera's both feature a Full-Frame image sensor, with the a7 having a 24.3-Megapixel CMOS and the a7R sporting a 36.4-Megapixel CMOS. Along with the slightly different sensors, there are two different AF systems as well. The 24.3-Megapixel sensor allowed Sony to include Phase Detection pixels into the sensor (which is the same as the sensor in the a99), where the sensor on the a7R does not. They both also feature the same incredibly high resolution ½-inch XGA OLED electronic viewfinder and 3-inch tiltable LCD screen. All this and so much more have been crammed into camera bodies that are not much larger than one of their NEX models, making them not only incredibly powerful but incredibly easy to carry as well. 

The big difference between the a7 and a7R are the two image sensors featured in the cameras. The 36.4-Megapixel sensor of the a7R not only features a higher resolution than the a7's sensor, but the lack of an optical low pass filter allows the light to reach the sensor uninhibited. This helps to improve the overall image quality by increasing the amount of detail the camera captures as well as boosting its low-light performance. The higher resolution does take away the option of the built-in phase-detection that you will find on the a7's sensor. The phase-detection gives the a7 the advantage with a faster AF, minus the resolution.

Along with their different, but outstanding EXMOR image sensors, both camera's also feature Sony's new BIONZ X image processor. This new processor from Sony is very powerful and allows the camera to capture more details and richer tonal gradients all while providing you with less noise for both your still images and videos. Along with the better image quality, the processor also controls the camera's AF system and scene shooting modes, including the Intelligent Auto mode. It allows the camera to determine all of the correct shooting information and make its selections faster, while allowing you to point-n-shoot without any delay. It also does incredibly well with faces, detecting them immediately and following them without fail as long as they stay within the frame. Along with the face detection, Sony has added an eye-focus feature that will find and set the focus to eye of the subject, not just the face. This can be a great help when using the AF system for up-close portraits, especially with a wide-open aperture. Finally it allows the camera to shoot at a rate of up to 4fps at the full 36.4-Megapixel image size on the a7R and 5fps on the a7.

Keeping up the features of the popular ILCs, Sony has included built-in WiFi with both models. The WiFi offers the cameras a slew of options and versatility. The camera itself provides its own WiFi signal, allowing you to connect a smartphone or tablet anywhere. This allows you to share your images with the world, if your smartphone or tablet has internet access, or just view or transfer images back and forth. Images and movies can also be shown on certain HDTVs that have WiFi capabilities as well. For more creative shooting situations, a smartphone or tablet can also be used to control certain aspects of the camera like a remote. It allows you to mount the camera somewhere and capture images via your other device. 

The first option for composing and viewing your captured images is the 3.0-inch, 921k-dot tiltable LCD screen. This high resolution screen is bright, sharp and a pleasure to use. It tilts to be easily viewed in all shooting situations, but unlike most tiltable screens, it lays flat and even with the back of the camera instead of against the back and sticking up. No matter how you like to shoot, whether seeing all of the shooting information or none at all, your image is easy to see while composing. The information is also easy to see and read, no matter how much is showing. If you do not prefer to shoot with the LCD, it can also be set to show all of the shooting information without the image. 

For that true dSLR feel, shooting with the true-to-life, 2.4-million dot XGA OLED electronic viewfinder will satisfy just about anyone. If you are used to a true optical viewfinder, it may take a little time to adjust to seeing your shooting settings and the rest of the information that is not normal available with an OVF. It does not take long, however, to find the benefits of this EVF. First you are able to see the changes to your shooting settings in real time. This takes some of the guesswork out of touch situations and creative photography. It gives you extra assistance with manual focus options like zoom assist and peaking. These features allow you to fine-tune your focus through the EVF (also available via LCD screen). Brightness and dioptic controls let you adjust the EVF for your specific preferences, and before long you will wonder how you ever shot with an OVF.

Sony's E-mount lens collection is one of the best available for ILC cameras, in my opinion. With the introduction of the a7 series of the cameras, they have also introduced some incredible full-frame E-mount lenses. Most of our tests were completed using the new Zeiss f/1.8 55mm lens, which was an absolute treat. The camera also did well with the 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 Telephoto Lens, proving that the more affordable lenses still make a great option as you build your lens collection. Sony offers several A-mount to E-mount adapters for any lens that Sony does not have yet in the E-mount. One of these adapters even features phase-detection, so you do not lose anything in the AF department when using older Minolta glass.

When turning on the a7R, we were are able to capture our first image in just 2.2 seconds from flipping the switch. Shutter lag is nearly non-existent when the camera is pre-focused. Allowing the AF system to work will take between 2/10 and 5/10 of a second in most situations, depending on the available light, zoom etc, which should be just a little slower than the a7 with the phase-detection. In single shot mode, the camera has a shot-to-shot delay of ¾ of a second, allowing you to snap quickly and freely. Since the a7R does not have a built-in flash, the shot-to-shot delay with an external flash will have to depend on the unit you use. For faster capture, the continuous shooting mode allows the camera to capture images at just under 2fps for as long as you like. If speed is what you need, than the camera can capture up to 16 images at 4fps (full size) claims Sony. With our tests we were able to capture at a rate of 3.91fps, keeping right in line with Sony's claims. All of our tests were taken using a Sony UHS-1 (94MB/s) 32GB SDHC memory card, Program mode, ISO auto and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.

As we briefly touched on earlier in our 2013 Sony DI Press Excursion article, the image quality from the a7R is outstanding, which is easy to see in our outdoor sample images. We captured our samples in both Intelligent Auto and Program shooting modes allowing you to see a standard image captured by the camera as well as an image adjusted by Sony's Intelligent Auto. These images show us more detail, with far more resolution than we are used to seeing. This allows for huge prints, and if needed, with the ability to crop large amounts out of images, while still being able to create large prints.

Our indoor images give us a better look at how the camera handles various lighting conditions and the quality at different ISO settings. As with our outdoor images, the amount of detail the camera captures is amazing. Surpassing the details in the flag that we are used to looking for, we can actually see the scratches and fingerprints on the M&M man himself at the lower ISO levels. We also noticed that there is a shallower depth of field at f/8 than we are used to as well. It's not until ISO 3200 that noise starts to become noticeable, more within the colors that the details. This may start to dull the colors slightly, but you still have nothing to worry about with your images. As with all cameras, the higher ISO settings do get overtaken by noise and still become unacceptable. Sony also offers a couple different noise reduction settings that help to reduce the noise, but the sacrifice if a softer image. 

Assisting with your portrait and candid photography, Sony's face detection software works very fast to detect and follow all of the faces that appear in the frame. This assures that your faces are always in focus, and if you are shooting in auto or program mode, your exposure will be set correctly as well. Building on their face detection software, Sony has also introduced its Eye-AF system that goes beyond the entire face and will focus on the primary eye of the subject. This is a great feature for shooting close-up portraits, as it assures you that the eye is always the sharpest part of the image.

Sony has made it easy to shoot panoramic and HDR images, with automatic settings that do the work for you. Sony's motion panorama shooting mode lets you just press the shutter release and pan the camera in the direction that you have chosen. As you pan, the camera will capture multiple exposures and stitch them together for you. HDR shooting works in a similar way. Once turned on, the camera can be set to bracket the images at the exposure difference that you choose. Then the camera will create your new image for you. 

When a still image just isn't enough, the a7R's video capture capabilities are more than enough for the job. The camera records video with higher quality than most of the ILCs and dSLRs on the market. For the pro, this means they get the quality they demand. For the average consumer or photo enthusiast, you will be proud to show off your home movie on any HDTV. Our sample video shows incredibly sharp, smooth playing video, even with the fast action. The audio in our sample sounds good, but still similar to that of any other ILC. This is thanks to the built-in stereo microphone capturing all of the sound around the camera. Sony has included an audio input for use of external microphones, some of which can be attached to the camera's hot shoe. This gives the ability of outstanding video with amazing audio as well. 

Powering the a7R is a 7.2V, 1080mAh rechargeable Li-Ion battery. The InfoLITHIUM battery gives you very specific information and battery level with a percentage, as opposed to the three or four bars that most cameras offer. This battery allows you to capture up to 340 images on a single charge. This may be possible under the right conditions, but during our tests and using all of the camera's features, we found that the battery seems to go pretty fast. You will definitely want to have a spare battery or two on hand at all times. Sony also offers a battery grip for the a7 and a7R that allows you to double your battery capacity. The included portable quick charging unit charges a single battery out of camera. Combine this with the camera's ability to charge a battery in-camera via USB and you will have no problem keeping two or more batteries charged and ready to go at all times.

Bottom Line - No matter what level photographer you are, if you are looking for a compact dSLR or ILC that has image quality worthy of a professional photo shoot, then the Sony a7R may just be the camera for you. Its full-frame 36.4-Megapixel image sensor blows away the rest of the ILC cameras on the market, rivaling any dSLR in its price range. It sports good performance, but with the large image sizes, the 4fps burst mode may hold your back just a bit. With a MSRP of US $2,299.99, this camera is an investment and the number of E-mount lenses is much smaller than most dSLR mounts, but it is growing quickly. If the faster AF and or higher burst rates are important to your photography, then you will want to look at the a7 instead, or possibly the soon-to-come a7S.


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