If you want to play a fun trick, give a Sony Alpha A7R camera to a photographer who may not be familiar with this high-resolution, full-frame mirrorless model, and tell him or her to go shoot with it for an afternoon and then share the results. Our test guinea pig photographer, who mostly shoots with professional digital SLR and medium-format cameras, reacted with a smile when we shoved the compact A7R into his hand and told him to try it on a few of his regular assignments and report back. After all, if you didn’t know better, this 36.4-megapixel camera might pass for a snazzy snapshooter you see weekend warrior photographers wearing around their necks to capture the local Fourth of July parade.
It’s far from it. We reviewed the A7R’s stablemate, the 24.3-megapixel A7, online last year when it first launched and liked it so much, we named it Camera of the Year for 2013. If you’re looking for a more in-depth take on the A7 and A7R, which are essentially the same models with a few changes, you can dig into the full review at http://bit.ly/sony-alpha-7.
But back to our experiment. In addition to its 35mm-size sensor and near medium- format level of resolution, the Sony A7R has no optical low-pass anti-aliasing filter, which is designed to optimize image detail and maximize sharpness. Aside from having less resolution and utilizing an optical low-pass filter, the A7 has a hybrid autofocus (AF) system that combines phase- and contrast-detect AF for faster autofocusing. It can also shoot at 5 frames per second (fps) compared to the 1.5 fps for the A7R. In other words, the A7 is more of a street-shooting camera, and the A7R is more of a studio camera.
Our photographer had no idea about these details, he just brought the A7R with him to photograph models in a range of poses. When he was reviewing the shots later, to his surprise he had a hard time telling the difference between the ones he captured with the A7R versus his 36.3-megapixel Nikon D800. In fact, the detail in the A7R shots was better than those captured with the D800, which he found to be remarkable for a camera that’s about half the size and weight of the full-frame Nikon.
On the downside, the Sony A7R and its pokey contrast-detection-based AF system could be frustratingly slow to use. The A7R also didn’t track movement particularly well, occasionally lagging behind a model if she moved too quickly. And in terms of burst speed, 1.5 fps is about as slow as a medium-format camera. Again, that’s probably fine for a studio environment, but not really suited for capturing action.
His other question mark about the camera was its presence. For one, while the A7R is a really good-looking compact that uses interchangeable lenses (he loved the Zeiss FE 55mm F/1.8), it doesn’t impress like a medium-format camera or even a pro DSLR does in the studio. While that might not bother most people—and it really should be the A7R’s fabulous photographic results that count most—when your clients are booking expensive studio time with you, a compact camera with small lenses might not carry as much gravitas as, say, a Hasselblad or Phase One system would. Or as the always nattily attired jazz drummer and bandleader Art Blakey once put it, “They see you before they hear you.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Sony A7R might not look like a high- end studio camera, and it might not cost as much as a high-end studio camera, but its high-resolving, full-frame image sensor, excellent image quality and impressively sharp Zeiss lenses perform as well as many high-end studio cameras we’ve tried. The A7R performs so well, in fact, that this compact but powerful camera might even fool a photographer or two.
Pros: A lightweight, compact interchangeable lens camera that produces image quality that matches big, bulky and more expensive studio cameras
Cons: Slow performance and svelte camera build may fail to impress
Read all of our camera reviews at www.pdnonline.com/cameras.