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What sort of camera is the Sony A7r?

Joe Cornish looks at the A7R after 6 months of use

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Joe Cornish

Joe Cornish

Professional landscape photographer. His personal website is www.joecornishphotographer.com/



From the outset let me explain that this is not a conventional camera review. If that is what you are seeking then returning to the usual suspects (DP Review et al) will give satisfaction. This is unashamedly a partial, personal opinion piece, based on experience gained as a regular user, in which I will come to a rather surprising conclusion. If I have now piqued your interest, read on…

A7r test-0137 copy

FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA

 

Looking back at my earliest pictures I see that I have now been shooting with the Sony A7r since the beginning of February this year, so over six months. Not surprisingly my first pictures look a bit tentative. When any new camera turns up there is a simple desire to get out and take pictures with it (excitement) tempered by an uncertainty about how to use it (inhibition) eg what do all the flippin' knobs and dials do? And in the case of the A7r, getting used to 24 pages of in-camera menu.



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  • Lewis Golbourn

    Good read, co-oincides with a time I’ve been looking at these too so pretty helpful too.

    I believe the Sony RM-VPR1 will work as a cable release for the A7R if that’s any help – an Australian bloke on YouTube says so – must be true!

    • trondk

      I use the RM-VPR1, and it woks just fine. It is designed to also work with video cameras so it has a record and a zoom button.

      Also if you like gadgets (who doesn’t?) and have a smathphone (iOS or Andoid) you can get TriggerTrap Mobile witch an S2 multi port plug that fits the A7-line of cameras. It has simple cable release, press and hold, press and lock, self timer and timed release. It sports a nd-calculator (from 1 to 20 stops). HDR and time lapse settings are also available.

  • tobers

    I’ve been using an A7R since the first day of release in the UK in November 2013. It is a fabulous little camera. I’ve been using manual focus lenses until last week when I bought the Sony/Zeiss 55mm 1.8 which is very sharp indeed.

    I spent a lot of time looking for different “legacy” lenses, and eventually settled on the Olympus OM 21mm f/3.5 for wide angle, which aside from a teeny bit of smearyness in the corners is excellent, a Leica 50mm Summicron M and a Konica M-Hexanon 90mm 2.8 which is very good though not quite as sharp as I’d like.

    I did try some of the Leica R lenses which are excellent, the 24 2.8 being very nice indeed. I’ve also got a couple of Canon FD 1.2 lenses – a 50 and 85, which are amazing. The ability to play with older lenses is a real attraction of the camera to me.

    For landscaping, it all makes for a very light package – I had the camera and 3 lenses in a small belt pack in Assynt in February which was fantastic. The weatherproofing let me down, needing a new main circuit board following water ingress.

    I haven’t yet figured out all this tilt-shift stuff, but I am keenly awaiting the upcoming Sony/Zeiss 16-35 f/4 – hopefully they can do an amazing job with that lens. The Cambo Actus looks interesting but I’ll have to understand what it does first!

    • Tobers, if you have ordered/acquired the new Zeiss 16-35mm lens, feel free to share your impressions here! It strikes me this is a big challenge design-wise and it will be very interesting to see how effective this lens is, especially on the A7r. But, in practical field photography the 24-70 does the job and I expect this latest lens to do likewise. Fingers crossed.
      Joe

  • trondk

    I am holding out for a manual lens from Zeiss although I may not afford it.
    According to their Facebook page they are: “…currently working on manual focus lenses for these new full-frame CSCs. They will have an interface to provide EXIF data to the camera. They are expected to be in stores by the end of 2014. However, we cannot provide any additional infos right now.” According to Sonyalpharoumors they will release five manual lenses.

  • Guy Aubertin

    It is a PC lens after all :)

    • John McMillan

      Sod the captions, why don’t we park that one and comment on the bloody high standard of photos for a camera review…..

      • Guy Aubertin

        Oh agreed indeed. Without question.
        Just wanted to ensure that those who were seeking to fully understand the equipment being used were not being confused…I certainly was. But anyway…:)

        • All fixed now, sorry for confusion – hope you don’t mind me cleaning the comments now

          • John McMillan

            Not wishing to be pedantic but I’ve reloaded the page twice and it still says Canon PC??

          • Guy Aubertin

            Oh absolutely. Feel free to delete away :)

      • milo42

        In reference to cable shutter releases.
        The Sony cameras actually use the USB socket thats actually more then a USB socket not only for charging but also for cable release.
        You can use the official Sony product (RM-VPR1) I have one it works perfectly but its very expensive, third party versions are just coming to market I got a couple by Pixel from amazon they are very good and less then a tenner.
        http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00KAOYE12/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

        They also do a wireless cable release and intervelomenter which I got also a good product (eBay purchase not Amazon) and of course you can always get one of the many IR remotes from Amazon for under a fiver.

        As always its great to read Joes wise words not the internet hysterics about shutter shock and lenses.

        I have the 70-200 lens and I am sure your going to love it Joe it would be great if you could pen a few words once you have used it a bit.

        Agree about the 24-70 its a great all rounder comparable with other 24-70’s but its an all rounder so not perfect anywhere boot good everywhere.

        The A7R isn’t perfect but what camera is? I have found the size/weight means its out of my bag more often resulting in more photo’s and actually it has added more fun into my photography.

        Regards Chris.

  • I have been thinking of the Sony A7r for a while now as a second body next to my Canon 5D Mark III .. Didn’t want to convert my whole equipment for a Nikon D800E just for the pixels but I think Sony did a great job with this one and the lens convertors.

    thanks Joe for sharing this and have a safe trip :)

    • Sarah, a word of warning; if you do acquire the A7r and use it carefully on a tripod with low isos, careful focussing etc you may find it taking over from the 5D Mk111 as your first choice camera. That resolution uplift really makes a significant difference in IQ.
      Joe

  • jfzander

    Thank you for the review. I have been using the A7r exclusively with TS lenses for landscape. 17/24/40/80/120 mm. I very rarely use the 17mm and mostly find the 40mm useful. Actually its a Zeiss/Hartblei, so its the same lens like the Hasselblad. The Zeiss Distagon 4/40.

    I couldn’t be happier. With the EVF focusing is precise, and for tilting Focus peaking is very helpful.

    By the way, there is a Sony wireless remote in addition to the cable release. : RMT-DSLR2

    Highly recommended.

  • Paul Arthur

    I bought this camera as an excuse really not to get my LF out so much (not that i need much excuse), and I have to say that I love it. I’ve used it extensively for work, and as a Canon user, I find that it produces a much cleaner colour palate than my Canon bodies, and makes full use of the TS lenses. I’ve also used the 55mm FE lens a lot and I haven’t got anything that’s as sharp anywhere. With the Metabones adapter, I can use all my Canon glass and it looks great (just don’t try to use autofocus).

  • Anthony Larson

    I recently pieced up a very inexpensive ($33US) USB remote shutter which allows long exposure, intervalometer, interval timer, etc. http://tinyurl.com/a7rRemote
    Despite being an unknown brand (JJC from China), my experience so far has been very solid & I can recommend it, especially for the price. For long exposures I find it much easier to enter the time in the remote, rather than to manually monitor the time and this allows me to do this, and more.

  • JJC produces a cable release for the A7r that allows for timer even in bulb mode, intervalometer etc.

  • I am using a Samyang T-S 24mm in Sony E mount to which I adapted a Novoflex lens foot for tripod mount. I am very happy with the results

  • dkosiur

    So, when all is said and done, what are the advantages of the Sony A7r setup using two tilt-shift adapters and a large “legacy” lens, as shown in the photo titled “Hasselblad 40mm CFE plus two tilt/shift adapters”? Assuming I’d have to buy the entire kit from scratch, is there a cost advantage over the other digital cameras Joe uses? A weight advantage?

    And has anyone noticed any difference in image quality because the Sony raw files are 11-bit compressed files? Why “throw away” 2**3 bits of information?

    • I can understand your question, and I apologise if I failed to make it clear that it means we can have both tilt and swing, and rise/fall, AND lateral shift simultaneously, which is usually possible only with a full-featured view camera. I admit that this is a fairly unusual, even obscure feature, but for hard core view camera users it will appeal. It also means that the tilting converters can be used ‘full-tilt’ together, giving nearly 25º of tilt, and therefore scope for more extreme focussing capabilities. Perhaps curiosity value mainly, but I will do my best to shoot some examples with it some time to show the value.
      It is impossible to realistically say that you should rush out and buy this set-up, or know whether there is a cost advantage because I owned the Zeiss 40mm and a Mirex tilting adapter for my D-800 already. But in the digital domain I think the only rival will be the forthcoming Cambo Actus. Not sure how that will compare price-wise… presumably it will depend on the lens used.
      In all honesty I have seen no ill effect from the compressed raw files. I guess it is the sort of thing that might be detectable in extreme situations, and with enormous print sizes, but I have yet to find any issues.
      Joe

  • Having finally returned from the (partially-frozen) North, a HUGE thank-you to everyone who responded to the article, especially with help on the cable release front, and for all your lens observations.
    The 70-200 turned up as suggested for the trip and I used it almost all the time, as we had few opportunities to land so most of the landscape photography was from the deck of a ship. It gave brilliant results as Chris (milo42) anticipated. There are some small vignetting issues (easily corrected), but little distortion and excellent sharpness at normal working apertures. And, it is superbly built and a joy to use.
    The A7r was used every day in all conditions on the trip, including in persistent rain and drizzle on a few occasions, and was totally reliable. I have to say this is quite an important consideration for any camera; many digital cameras seem to be quite sensitive to damp. It isn’t the fastest focussing system I have come across, so shooting pictures of birds from a zodiac (unstable platform, fast-moving subject) was basically impossible so I stopped trying and enjoyed watching instead… Much better! The Canon 1Dx and Nikon D4s still do have a role. But I remain delighted with the A7r for the tasks I typically put it to.
    Joe

  • The Sony A6000 in combination with the 70-200 has an incredibly fast AF and makes for a good back up to the A7

  • Rich Clark

    Very interesting read. Its size and flexibility make it a very good camera to have in the bag if you are looking to travel light. I’ve not shot with one yet but it felt very good in the hands, reassuringly solid and I’m reassured by Joe’s feelings about ‘shutter shock’. The adapted lens flexibility allows users of other systems to dip their toes in without having to dive head long into a full ‘brand’ switch. Perhaps an Autumn clearout can free up some capital and space.

  • I’ve had the A7r since it was released last year, and over the past months its a camera that I’ve loved and hated…gradually loving it more and more and looking to the future at what could be possible.
    The A7r has always been best suited to the 35mm to 55mm focal length, as can be seen with 2 of the sharpest lenses you will find, the FE35 and FE55. As a true landscape camera it has always needed something wide, which can be worked through glass from various other systems. I decided to keep the A7r linked to Sony glass and went for the 24mm f2, which works very well indeed.
    Hopefully over the next few months with Zeiss getting more involved a true manual wide lens will appear for the A7r, hopefully around the 21mm length.
    If you want to see what the A7r and 24mm f2 can do take a look at this one.

    https://flic.kr/p/p5fzgt

    cheers
    Brian

  • been looking at replacing my 5d mk2 with one of these, ive held one and it’s really nice and light.

    Lens selection is a hard choice and I fear ending up with a bag full of various adapters negating any weight saving.

  • John Dominick

    Being an A7r owner I found the article very intriguing. A few years back I was right on the verge of investing in an Ebony kit (after seeing Joe and his inspirational images at Paramo in Wadhurst) when nikon released the 24mm PCE and I therefore decided to invest my money in that and a D3. I have since very much enjoyed using that lens and the 45mm PCE extensively but sometimes remain frustrated by the limited movements available, especially with the 45mm. The Cambo Actus looks very exciting even though it leaves me with many unanswered questions re. lens options so in the mean time the 35mm PC and Kipon adapter may offer a relatively light weight solution. I’m exploring the sony option as a more portable option to my Nikon landscape kit. Are there any UK based dealers offering them for sale?
    Many thanks,
    John

    • John, just ran a workshop with a new Actus/A7r owner, and it is a very impressive camera/combination. The lens supplied in this kit was a 55mm Digitar, which seemed fine, but as yet I know little about the other lens options, or about UK dealers. Someone must be selling them. Actus construction quality is very impressive, as is the clever lens ‘panel’ system. But it is a heck of a lot more expensive, bulky, heavy and demanding in use than a simple tilting adapter. So probably, horses for courses.
      I carry two adapters, but I don’t think Scott needs to worry that he will end up with a bagful of them. Its sensible to think strategically about the images you make and simply plan accordingly. For example my images shot with a 28mm f/2.8 Nikkor from the late-80s and the Kipon tilting adapter (with tilt, but no scope for offset/shift) have come out very well indeed .
      Joe

      • John Dominick

        Kipon adapter ordered and 35mm PC on its way south from Ffordes. Really looking forward to trying it out so thanks for your guidance Joe. These certainly are interesting times we photographers are living in, never thought I’d have such a portable, take anywhere camera system that effectively covers so many genres. All I need now is a sturdy, full size tripod and head that weighs 400g and folds down to about 30cm!

      • Took the dive and ordered a secondhand A7r from Ffordes to replace my 5d mk2. Planning to use an adapter and Canon fd lenses to start with although the fd 35mm tilt shift seems to be a hard one to find and I may end up jumping on the Kipon tilt-shift + Nikon 35mm PC bandwagon.

        Or further pushing the bank and going for that Cambo Actus once there is some feedback from people with hands on experience of them out there.

  • I can vouch for the Samyang T-S 24mm. I got it in Sony Nex mount, so need for adapter and I added a Novoflex lens collar. It has a very good quality, maybe not as good as the Canon TS-E MkII but on pair with the Nikon and, contrary to the Nikon, as tilt/shift on the same axis.

  • david mantripp @ snowhenge.net

    “Ultimately the appeal of any camera is beyond logic, reason, explanation” … I think will etch this onto my credit card :-)

    Fascinating review and quite convincing arguments for the A7r. Which makes me wonder about my long-standing and just about realistic desire to buy a Linhof 612PC. I guess a new A7r would be cheaper than a good seconhand 612PCii ….

    • Design paradigms are a curious thing; the slr/dslr pattern has, essentially, led the consumer market in photography since the 1950s (and been huge in professional practice too) and you would have thought the honing and refinement of this concept would have put it beyond challenge. But compact system cameras are doing just that, driven by the incredible rate of change and improvement in micro electronics. And yet, cscs are still in their infancy, development-wise. Improvements will continue, and quickly, in the years to come. The A7r is particular because it not only challenges the existing dslr orthodoxy, it actually improves on it in significant ways, not least, image quality (NikonD800/810 excepted). For those of us who work slowly and methodically, and embrace the opportunities provided by the tilting and shifting adapters and so on it is genuinely a new benchmark, and a pleasure to carry around (so small and light) and use. OK, it’s not perfect. But then nothing is, or ever will be.
      But in no way does it replace the Linhof 612PC. That is a completely different machine and equally appealing for utterly different reasons. Good luck finding one!
      Joe

      • david mantripp @ snowhenge.net

        What I do miss in the digital age is the plethora of format choices that existed before, especially in MF. With manufacturers increasing looking for ways to differentiate themselves, I am surprised that none – except to a minor extent Panasonic – have explored the market for different formats. Sure, a digital Cinemascope or wider isn’t going to be the No 1 worldwide seller, but I’m pretty sure that there is a latent demand for such a system, at a manageable price. Personally my heart would love a Linhof 612, but my head tells me it’s an overpriced dead-end street, not to mention total overkill for anything other than a working landscape / architecture pro. I have to admit that it would be totally wasted on me.

        • I have also been surprised that manufacturers have not taken up the opportunity to offer multiple crops in-camera in the digital era; from a software point of view it is presumably reasonably easy to do, and the resolution offered by the latest Sony and Nikon offerings certainly makes cropping realistic. After years with a beloved XPAN (and all the lenses), I finally went digital only two years ago with a D800E, when I believed the horizontal resolution would be enough to shoot panoramics in a single frame without stitching (as I have found it to be; and a must for me, as I want to conceive images in camera). With a panoramic mask over the LCD and a Zacuto-type viewing hood, I can pre-visualize an image in live view; but remain bemused that with the amount of technology the D800E offers, I am reduced to a carefully cut piece of cardboard to mask my compositional area.

  • For those that have an investment in Bronica SQ medium format lenses you may be interested to know you can successfully mate these to the A7R.

    I have been using the Zenzanon PS lenses (S variant should be ok to); 40mm, 50mm, 80mm, & 150mm via stacked adapters. Fotodiox do a Bronica SQ Lens to Nikon F body mount adapter which can then be stacked with a Nikon F Lens to Sony body adapter. In the later case I have been using both a fixed adapter from Novoflex and the Kipon Tilt/Shift.

    The Fotodiox adapter comes with a tripod mount so helps to balance the weight of the Bronica Zenzanon lenses and take the strain of the Sony’s lens mount.

    The benefits of using medium format lenses has been well discussed, nice glass, larger image circle so using the best part of the lens and helping to cover with tilt/shift applied, etc. Although, with the Bronica range of lenses you are limited to 40mm as the widest lens without resorting to their fish-eye, so that means either stitching or supplementing with a wide angle from a different manufacturer.

    The advantage for me going down this route is that I also have a nice set of tiny Nikon primes which I can mate on the Sony with the Kipon T/S or Novoflex as an alternative to the Bronica. I guess at some point I might get round to doing a side-by-side test, there again I might not as neither option comes anywhere near my 10×8’s ;o)

    • Thanks Joe, this is a really handy tip, especially as the Bronica 40mm is considerably smaller and lighter than the Zeiss Hasselblad 40mm that I illustrated, from memory. Although your 10×8 files should remain peerless, I think you may be pleasantly surprised at the print quality and size you can achieve with laterally (or vertically) slide and stitch files from the A7r and the Bronica lenses. And what great way to recycle some very decent optics which had previously been so poorly valued. Can the same trick be accomplished with the Bronica ETR lenses? If so even more compact and cheaper options become available.

      • Of course you’re right Joe. Leaving aside all the other reasons I use film, stitching will offer a way of bringing file sizes up to a good scan of a 10×8. I’ve actually got some raw files from an A7R / Bronica SQ stitch I did to back up a recent 10×8 (slide and colour neg) shot, which once developed / scanned I can do a side by side comparison to satisfy my curiosity.

        A quick check of Fotodiox shows Bronica ETR adapters to both Canon EOS or Nikon F bodies, so that route is open as well.

        It is a great little camera though, nice to see Sony agitating the market place a bit.

        • Dogwheels

          Hi Joe,

          Could you please tell me which device you used to stitch ? Did you use a device like the rhinocam ? Have you had the chance to do the comparison between your 10×8 scan and your stitched raw ? Many thanks

  • andy redhead

    Very interesting article, I have recently become hooked on Large Format film, therefore I am now looking to replace my heavier Canon 5dmkii with a lighter ‘hiking’ piece of kit. The Sony A7R being my first choice. As most of my lenses are now on Ebay I need to decide quickly. I was 99% sure it was the A7R until I noticed your comment above about wider focal lengths being an issue, forgive me if I have missed the discussion in any previous comment but can you elaborate more of this issue? When shooting digital I tend to lean towards the 24mm focal length for most compositions, my Canon 24mm tilt shift being the only lens I would have kept for the A7R. Would you foresee issues with this setup or would I be better off sticking the T/S on ebay aswell and going for the Zeiss 25mm + Kipon T/S adaptor?

    Cheers, Andy

    • Joe might well answer but in my opinion I would definitely keep the 24 TSE! (if it’s the version II one)

      • andy redhead

        Yeah it is Tim, was just a little unsure due to Joe’s comments above.

        • Yes there is an issue with rangefinder style wide angle lenses, depending on lens design. For instance the 25mm Voigtlander is not great and the 18mm isn’t great either but the 21mm is pretty impressive. Most lenses designed for SLR’s are OK – the 24mm TSE is excellent and makes a fantastic ultra wide when shifted and stitched.

          • I would agree with Tim that the Canon 24mm TSE v2 is worth keeping. Of all the lenses of this focal length I am familiar with it’s probably the best that I have used. Presumably you will need to use a ‘stopping down’ adapter such as the Metabones to retain the ability to use the aperture. This would mean you would depend on the existing tilt shift mechanisms of the lens for your technical work. In theory a tilt shift adapter would be great for more complex movements, but would I think, condemn you to shooting wide open, not ideal :-( !
            The 25mm f/2 Zeiss is by review, and from the field evidence I have seen, a fabulous optic too; and with the Distagon design, hopefully a reasonable performer on the very smear-sensitive A7r sensor. But as it has a standard image circle for the format would not allow offsets like the Canon TSE will, so you’d be limited to tilt only.
            Joe

            • andy redhead

              Ok, cheers Joe/Tim. I will stick with the canon lens for my wide angle, the newly released metabones mark IV(also the III) comes with electronics interface, so stopping down shouldn’t be an issue.

              I just need to find a lens now around the 45mm mark, with a large enough image circle that allows me to use the Kipon T/S adaptors shift ability, if such a lens exists?

              • Andy, try Ffordes. They have stunning looking Contax 645 Zeiss 45mm f/2/8 lenses in near mint nick for around £450. Or Mamiya 645 lenses of that focal length for less than £150.

                • andy redhead

                  Cheers Joe/Tim, ordering the Contax today from Ffordes. noob question incoming I think..I cant seem to find any Sony>Contax 645 Kipon T/S adaptors on ebay which is the only place I can find sellers for the Kipons. So I am assuming that I also need another ‘standard’ adaptor to fit in-between, any recommendation?

  • graham taylor

    Really interesting article with such varied comments. I have the Sony 7 II and am using Zeiss Distagon 50mm and 100mm Nikon fit lenses with the Metabones adaptor which works very well. Is it possible to use a 24mm Nikkor PC-E on this set up?

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