Sony Alpha 7R (A7R) Review - The Sony Alpha 7R joins the Alpha 7 as the first CSC to feature a full frame sensor, differing from its sister camera through a higher resolution. Does it impress as much as its partner? Read the full WDC review to find out
A prime example of this is the recent Sony RX1 – a camera notable insofar as it is the first compact to feature a full frame sensor
At the time of the RX1’s launch it was mooted that Sony were now working on a CSC which also incorporated a full frame sensor. As it turned out, when this came to pass Sony ended up releasing a pair of new models in the shape of the recently reviewed Sony Alpha 7 and the Sony Alpha 7R.
The pair of models are very similar, albeit with a few vital differences. While they both feature full frame sensors, the Sony Alpha 7R boasts a higher 36.4MP resolution in comparison to the 24.3MP sensor found in the A7.
There are other differences, including a slightly different focusing system, and the Alpha 7R will set you back an extra few hundred pounds.
So, is the increased resolution worth the extra cash alone, or are there other factors to sweeten the mix?
Sony Alpha 7R (A7R) Review – Features
The Sony Alpha 7R’s main selling point is its sensor. Much the same as the Sony Alpha 7 with which it was released at the same time, the Alpha 7R features a full frame CMOS sensor similar to what you would find on a pro-level DSLR.
The main difference between the sensor found in the Alpha 7 and that in the Alpha 7R is with regards to its resolution. While the Alpha 7 boasts a resolution of 24.3MP, the Alpha 7R sees a big jump right up to 36.4MP, almost half again in terms of a megapixel count.
The sensor also does away with its anti-aliasing filter, with a view towards making the very most out of its resolution.
Much like in the case of the Alpha 7, the Alpha 7R sports Sony’s new BIONZ X, a processor which Sony claims will deliver processing speeds of up to three times that of the previous generation chip.
It’s safe to say that the processor will be put under some extra strain in the Alpha 7R than the Alpha 7, owing to the larger file size that the higher resolution sensor will produce. One particular sign of this extra strain is a dip in the top-end continuous shooting speed, which is down to 2.5fps.
Outside of the change in the resolution of the camera’s sensor the other major difference between the Alpha 7 and the Alpha 7R concerns the camera’s focus system, although this is also in some part attributable to the change in sensor.
The system found in the Alpha 7R relies solely upon a contrast-detect AF system, unlike that in the Alpha 7 which also benefitted from on-sensor phase detection auto focus technology.
With regards to the rest of the camera’s feature set, there’s a host of similar functionality to the Sony Alpha 7. The rear LCD screen is a 3in unit with a resolution of 921k-dots, and it’s accompanied by a 2.4m-dot electronic viewfinder that’s one of the highest specified on the market.
The Alpha 7R also supports video capture at full 1080p resolution, and at a frame rate of either 60 or 24p. As well as HD video capture, the Alpha 7R includes support for an external microphone, as well as a socket for headphones for audio monitoring.
As you’d expect from a newly released Sony camera, the Alpha 7R arrives fully equipped with both Wi-fi and NFC technology. Thanks to the Sony Play Memories app – which is available for both Android and iOS devices – photographers can transfer their images wirelessly from the camera to their smartphone or tablet.
Sony Alpha 7R (A7R) Review – Design
In terms of the camera’s physical dimensions and design, there’s virtually no difference between the Alpha 7 and the Alpha 7R, bar the red ‘R’ on the front if the camera and the small matter of it being around 10g lighter.>
With that in mind, a lot of the same observations ring true as were noted with the Alpha 7.
The body of the camera is probably best described as functional or utilitarian, although that’s not to say that it’s not an attractive camera. Despite it being a CSC, the Alpha 7R has several elements that give it the feel of a DSLR.
For example it features a reasonably large hand grip, while it also benefits from having front and rear command dials for altering the basic shooting settings.
The rest of the controls are arranged logically, with the camera’s top plate playing host to a mode dial, exposure compensation dial and shutter release, as well as a programmable custom button.
The rear of the camera, meanwhile, features a standard button arrangement, while a host of other customisable buttons are located around the camera’s body.
The general build quality of the camera supports the functionality design, with the main body of the camera formed of a magnesium-alloy shell that certainly feels up to the rigours of regular shooting. In fact, the body itself is both weather and dust sealed, meaning you can feel confident shooting in adverse weather conditions.
Thanks to the relatively compact body, and the fact that the 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens is hardly bulky, the combination makes the Alpha 7R one of the most portable full frame camera on the market and certainly a capable travel companion.
Sony Alpha 7R (A7R) Review – Performance
As mentioned previously, one of the major differences between the Alpha 7 and the Alpha 7R is with regards to the camera’s AF performance. Where the Alpha 7 utilises on sensor phase-detection technology, the Alpha 7R instead relies upon a contrast-detection system.
This contrast-detection system has been utilises in previous Sony cameras – most notably in the Sony Alpha 3000, and in general it’s certainly fast enough. It is noticeable that in lower light the AF system does begin to slow a little, although it remains perfectly useable.
While the kit lens that ships with the camera is perfectly functional, if you want to unlock the best in terms of the camera’s AF performance then you’ll have to turn towards Sony’s range of SSM lenses which can be used with the aid of a LA-EA4 adapter.
On the subject of lenses, the Sony Alpha 7R ships with a 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS optic, with Sony launching three other optics with the camera – the 35mm f/2.8, 55mm f/1.8 and 24-70mm f/4 OSS. A 70-200mm f/4 that should join the range before the end of 2014, while Sony states that it hopes to have at least 10 dedicated lenses in the range in the future.
The reason for the dedicated optics is clear. Although the Alpha 7R is compatible with the NEX series lenses, all of these are designed for use with an APS-C sensor and as such won’t deliver the best performance with the 7R’s impressive sensor. The same is true with the 28-70mm kit lens, an optic that shows worrying drop-off in sharpness towards the frame edges at 28mm.
The Alpha 7R boasts the same metering system as that found in the Alpha 7, and on the whole it delivers a similarly reliable performance. The camera can be relied upon in evaluative metering mode to deliver even exposures and print-ready images straight out of the camera.
A welcome feature when it comes to metering is the curiously named ‘Zebra’ mode. In this setting the Alpha 7R displays black and white stripes across over-exposed areas to help the spotting of blown out highlights on the fly.
This ‘Zebra’ mode, along with a useful focus peaking tool and dedicated microphone and headphone sockets all mean that the Alpha 7R delivers a comprehensive video capture experience. It’s also welcome that you can attach almost any lens to the camera thanks to a variety of adapters made available at launch.
The model’s LCD screen benefits from being of the vari-angle variety, and as such can be pulled away from the camera’s body and angled on a hinge. The one thing lacking with the LCD is the fact that it doesn’t feature touchscreen technology, and when it comes to controlling the AF system there are few better ways to do so.
Sony Alpha 7R (A7R) Review – Image Quality
Colour and White Balance
The Sony Alpha 7R delivers a reliable colour palette that’s very similar to recent Sony cameras. There are a range of preset colour modes that deliver pleasing results, with the ‘vivid’ setting not proving too garish and the ‘black and white’ mode also producing good monochrome images.
The camera’s auto white balance setting is also reliable, producing pleasingly neutral images in a range of different lighting conditions.
The Sony Alpha 7R was released at the same time as the Sony Alpha 7, and despite featuring the same sensor the higher megapixel count places an extra demand on its light gathering capabilities.
As a result the dynamic range is more limited that its counterpart, although the performance is still reasonable.
One of the areas at which you would expect a 36.4MP to really excel is with regards to its resolution, and the Alpha 7R certainly delivers in this regard. In fact, at the lower ISO settings the 7R manages to resolve every single line in our chart – a performance in keeping with the Nikon D800 and D800E.
It must be noted that such high resolution necessitates precise focusing and the elimination of camera shake as any error in this area are accentuated. It’s also the case that the very best lenses are needed, as once again any flaws in optical performance are highlighted by the high resolution.
With the Alpha 7R boasting a considerably higher resolution than its stablemate – the Alpha 7 – there were always going to be concerns that the jump might cause issues with noise at higher ISO settings.
The good news is that the Alpha 7R still performs well in this area. There are some signs of luminance noise at ISO 800, although these aren’t to the detriment of overall image quality. At ISO 1600 colour noise makes a slight appearance, although once again this isn’t a major issue, with the higher ISO settings also proving eminently usable.
Raw vs. JPEG
As ever it’s far more preferable to shoot Raw than it is JPEG, as Raw files not only deliver a better level of image quality straight out of the camera, but also allow for more manoeuvre in post production.
JPEG files suffer somewhat from intelligent noise reduction and sharpening at when viewed at 100% in comparison to Raw files, and although this isn’t to the extent at which it ruins images on the whole it is far from ideal.
The same is true with regards to dynamic range, with Raw files allowing for editing around + / – 2EV of shadow and highlight detail.
Sony Alpha 7R (A7R) Review – Verdict
In terms of its raw feature set, there’s no arguing that the Alpha 7R pretty much outstrips every single other CSC on the market. The 36.4MP full frame sensor is more in keeping with a high-end DSLR than a CSC and it delivers resolution performance akin to the Nikon D800 rather than its direct competitors.
Although the Alpha 7R is a touch more expensive than the Alpha 7 that was announced at the same time, if you’re a landscape photographer that really needs the extra resolution it’s a worthy investment.
The only major issue is with regards to the lens line up. There’s the promise of a further selection of lenses launching next year, although the current range is somewhat limited. You’re better off investing in one of the available adapters and utilising third-party lenses in conjunction with the body.
While there are also some reservations about the camera’s focusing performance in comparison to the Alpha 7, on the whole the Alpha 7R is a seriously impressive camera that joins the Alpha 7 as one of the very best CSCs on the market.
Sony Alpha 7R (A7R) Review – Sample Image Gallery
These are just a small selection of images captured with the Sony Alpha 7R. For a wider range of images, including a full range of ISO shots of the WDC diorama, visit the Sony Alpha 7R review sample image gallery.