Whether you like it or not, Sony have to be given full points for perseverance in the camera game. Their relentless camera production programme has often been criticised for being over innovative but that constant effort looks like it’s paying off. Eyes are turning.
In my own opinion, the flagship A99 felt like I was using a high end fly-by-wire electronic imaging device rather than a camera. A completely capable and excellent camera but up against the aura and known factor of established DSLR brands.
The NEX range of interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras broke the pattern and paved the way to much speculation for a full-frame NEX.
The Rx1 seemed to land in the market to test the waters. It caused big ripples by trumping the established Fujifilm X100 with sensor size but at a considerably higher price.
Now Sony have diversified their range further with the new full-frame A7 (24mp) and A7R (36mp) mirrorless interchangeable lens system.
I tested the A7R during a trip to London and immediately it felt like the Alpha DSLR, NEX and RX1 had been rolled into one. The body felt very comfortable in my hand, an expected size with a reassuring grip. Solid and robust dials for aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation. Loads of function buttons scattered on the back of the camera offer a serious level of customisation which proved to be very handy after I’d squeezed off a few shots and realised that the shutter release was way too sensitive. Typically on any camera a half-press is focus, increased pressure fires a shot. On the A7R I felt the line between focus and shoot was just too sensitive. Luckily I could program the centre button of the rear command dial to focus, freeing up the shutter release button for just making the shot.
I also set up one of the function buttons to quickly access the user selectable AF point setting. Still, after every shot the AF selector needed to be activated to move the AF point. An issue that I’m sure firmware could ‘fix’ If you’re a centre AF point and reframe person, you’ll not notice this.
I also found the AF system to be a bit hit and miss. Grabbing the opportunist street styled images I had many false focus locks resulting in too many out of focus shots. To be fair though, the camera was a pre-production model so I’m pretty sure the firmware tweaks will improve the AF performance.
If you’re thinking you’ll be able to use the A7R for some subtle and discrete shots, forget it. The shutter sound rattles your teeth. Logical really considering the small body has no real way of absorbing the mechanical clunks of the shutter. It sure has a reassuring I HAVE JUST MADE A SHOT sound to it.
All in all though, a mighty fine camera that delivers impeccable results. Really. Crisp, clean images with a good neutral feel. The ‘croppablity’ of the 36mp is something I have become accustomed to with the D800 so finding all that detail back in a ‘compact’ camera is a joy. The electronic viewfinder is great and I love the tilt screen. I’m getting used to the Sony menu system too.
Some firmware tweaks and it’s be a properly realistic DSLR companion and in some cases I’m convinced a DSLR replacement.
I think Sony are on the right track with this one. Fighting in the DSLR market is like swimming uphill but by tossing this into the stream they are now waiting on the other side of the hill for others to catch up.
Now, if only they’d include a charger in the box too ;)
Below, some random shots from the A7R.
The image above is a classic example of how the A7R focusing missed. An opportunity shot but it gave a false lock on the centre of the image.