5 reasons to buy a Sony A7R and 5 reasons NOT to buy a Sony A7R

On a warm summerday, I went to see Thingbaek Chalk Mines in Denmark. When I arrived, the mine was closed due to a wedding. Instead of just abanding the plan, I killed some time at the nearby Rebild National Park. A famous Danish American National Park. When I got back to the mine, my waiting was rewarded. Because of the wedding they had lit candles all over the mines. It was very beautiful. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

On a warm summer day not long ago, I went to see Thingbaek Chalk Mines in Denmark. It’s really a museum having chalk sculptures in an old chalk mine. When I arrived, the mine was closed due to a wedding ceremony held in the mine.

Instead of just abanding my plan, I killed some time at the nearby Rebild National Park. A famous Danish American National Park. When I got back to the mine a couple of hours later, my waiting was rewarded. Because of the wedding they had lit candles all over the mines. It was very beautiful.

Why should you buy a Sony A7/A7R or why shouldn’t you do it? I have been having loads of thoughts on this topic. In the end I have bought the Sony A7R. Am I happy with my new camera? Well, yes and no.

Five things that I like about the Sony A7R

These 5 things I like about the camera:

  • Quality of the images. The image quality is superb. It has a really high dynamic range, only second to Nikon D800E, and the low light performance is also great. And you get the 36 megapixels you also have on the Nikon D800/D800E.
  • Size. I love the small body. It is very easy to carry around and the native lenses are much lighter than regular Full Frame lenses for DSLRs. However, they are NOT as good. My two E-mount lenses and the Sony A7R weighs the same as my Nikon D800 body.
  • Flexibility. Many adapters have been made, making it possible to use all kinds of lenses on the camera. I use my Nikon lenses on the Sony A7R, in fact the photo above, is a 3 shot HDR using my Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 lens on the Sony, using a metabones adapter. I do not have autofocus, but I have absolutely no problem manual focusing, using the focus peaking. And using adapters compensates for the missing great lenses.
  • Great live view screen. This was my main reason for buying the Sony A7R and this did not disappoint me. The Nikon live view is really bad and absolutely useless in dark conditions. I like to take photos in the dark from a low vantage point. Using a regular view finder, requires me to crawl on the ground, trying to look through a dark view finder. Not a good solution at all. The Sony live view screen tilts, and performs really great in the dark. Now I can compose and focus, in the dark and from low vantage points. This is a huge step forward. And then I just love the Focus Peaking, which makes manual focusing so easy.
  • Built in wifi. This is cool too, however this is probably not a feature that I will use a lot. But it allows me send photos to my iPhone and I do like to have this option.

Five things that I don’t like about the Sony A7R

These 5 things I don’t like about the camera:

  • Speed. It starts up slower than my DSLRs and it focuses slightly slower. I wouldn’t use it for events and sports. As we say in Denmark, it’s not the fastest animal in the woods.
  • Battery life. The battery is too small. I can only take about 300-350 photos on a battery. I manage close to 1000 on both of my Nikons (D800 and D600). I have bought two spare batteries for the Sony, which brings me up to one Nikon battery. I used to carry two spare Nikon batteries too, bringing me up to 3000 shots. So this really leaves me behind with the Sony. Another annoying thing is, that there is no battery charger in the package. You charge the battery while it is in the camera. I have bought an external battery charger.
  • HDR Bracketing. I shoot a lot of HDR photos and this is important stuff to me. I do not like the flexibility of the Auto Exposure Bracketing. It allows 3 or 5 shots in series. This I would be fine with, if just Sony had made it possible to shoot 5 shoots, with the same EV steps as for 3 shots. I can shoot “-3, 0, +3”,  “-2, 0, +2” and “-1, 0, +1” in 3 shot mode. This is fine, but the 5 shot mode only allows steps of 0.3 or 0.7 and that is useless for my purposes. I never use 5 shot mode.  Another annoying thing is, that you can not shoot exposure bracketing using a timer. You either have to press the shutter while shooting the three shots or use a remote control. Pressing the button makes movement of the camera a great risk, I therefore use a remote control, but this is not perfect either. When you have the remote control option enabled, the camera will not go on stand by. This combined with the short battery life, makes it important to shut off the camera between shots. There is room for improvement!
  • Native lens lineup. There are only a few native E-mount Full Frame lenses currently, and none of them are really impressive. And there are NONE extreme wide angle lenses. This is a huge disadvantage. I have chosen to buy the 28-70mm, which is a kit lens for the Sony A7. This lens i reasonable OK. You just have to avoid it wide open at 70mm. I have bought it as a tourist lens. I also bought the Sony 10-18mm, which is made for an APS-C sensor camera, like the Sony A6000. But the Sony A7R crops the image and leaves me with a 15.4 megapixel photo. I can also use it as a full frame lens in the span of 14-16mm, but it has a nasty mustage distortion, therefore I only use it in cropped mode. This lens I probably shouldn’t have bought. However I needed a wide angle lens and many cameras, including flagships of Nikon, only give 16 megapixel images. I am not particularly worse off, than people owning a 16 megapixel camera. And as a light weight tourist wide angle lens, it’s fine. 
  • No auto focus using a Nikon Adapter. The adapter for the Nikon lenses does not allow any auto focus and neither does it carry over the F-stop value. This pretty much makes this either a tourist camera, using the Sony lenses or a landscape and cityscape camera, using the adapter. Using the adapter makes it a more slow camera, because you have to do manual focus and for me, that just doesn’t work in fast situations.

Other things that I have observed on the Sony A7R

There are a few things, that I have found which surprised me. Not big things, but nevertheless things I have noticed, some good, and some bad.

  • The raw files are smaller than the raw files of the D800. They are only about 36 Mb, at an incredible stable level, while my Nikon D800 raw files is between almost 60 Mb and 39 Mb.
  • There is only room for one memory card (SD card).
  • Sometimes I can’t zoom on my photos in play back mode. The photos work fine when imported to Lightroom.
  • If in Remote Control mode, the camera will not go on stand by. You must turn it off manually.
  • The shutter noise is rather loud. This came as a surprise. Being a mirrorless camera, I would have expected something almost noiseless.
  • This one is more difficult to understand, yet relevant enough. I can not have the same “AF ON” feature on the Sony, as I can on my Nikon D600/D800. I will write a blog post on this topic, but the idea is, that you remove the auto focus from the shutter release and place it on the AF ON button. Then you have a very easy and fast switch between auto focus and manual focus. If you press the button you get auto focus, and if you don’t you are on manual. This is what the real pro’s use, but it is not possible on the Sony. What I have done instead, is assign a button to switch on and off manual focus. This is almost as good.

Is this the death of DSLRs?

Sony certainly has an edge on these mirrorless cameras. They deliver outstanding sensors, packed in small bodies. It definitely is the future, even though they still have some room for improvement.

Us the future here yet? Not quite, the lenses are missing. And this really is a great drawback. But sooner or later, the lenses will be here. I have top of the line Nikon lenses, and any native lens for the Sony E-mount is currently a step downwards.

Should I start all over today, I would buy the Sony A7R, but I would also buy an adapter. Probably I would buy the (rather expensive) native Sony adapter, opening up for cheap but great Konica Minolta lenses and new Sony Alpha Mount lenses. The Sony adapter allows full integration and auto focusing. And then I would wait for the great E-mount lenses to arrive.

My guess is that in a not too distant future, Nikon and Canon will release full frame mirrorless cameras too. Nothing on a rumoured level yet, but Sony will end up cornering the market, if not Nikon and Canon get around to make mirrorless cameras. These will most likely give some sort of compatibility with their existing lens lineup.

Further readings

You might also want to read these articles:

12 thoughts on “5 reasons to buy a Sony A7R and 5 reasons NOT to buy a Sony A7R

  1. Hi Jacob
    I have recently purchased the A7R because the size appeals to me and I can match it with my Canon L Lenses with a Metabones IV adapter. I agree with all of you observations and add one more.
    I have used it twice so far with my Canon TS-E 17 L lens but was disappointed with the level of noise compared to my 5D MkIII. Are you experiencing this compared to your D800?
    That said though, I am still happy with the camera. Most of all I love the small size, even with my L Lens on it.
    Rob

    1. Hi Rob,
      Are you asking to low light performance (high ISO) or noise at low ISO? I have owned both the Canon 5D Mark III and own the D800. I find that the 5D performs better at low light conditions, even though DXO tests show that the D800 should be better. Noise at lower ISO levels I haven’t noticed (yet) any way. The A7R is slightly behind on lowlight photography, compared to the D800, but it is not much.

      –Jacob

  2. “Mirrorless” does not mean “shutterless”. Even though the A7 does not have a mirror, the shutter is still mechanical – hence the sound 🙂

    My view of the A7 series, is that I don’t really understand the craving for at smaller full-frame camera. The fact is, that the lenses still need to have roughly the same size – especially high-end lenses required for 36mp! Mounting a 70-200 on the A7 (maby even with an adapter) would result in a combination almost as heavy as with a traditional DSLR, wouldn’t it?

    And then, what’s the point?

    /Henrik

    1. Hi Henrik,
      A very loud shutter that is 😉
      The craving for the smaller Full Frame is a subjective thing. The Sony, through a number of adapters, offers access to a wide range of lenses. Some small. The first native lenses are small too, however not good enough. The question is, if a high end lens can be made small enough? Leica lenses are small (but too expensive).

      My primary reason to buy it really is the live view screen, and without compromising on the image quality. Size is nice and great. And with smaller native lenses, I have a camera I can easier pack and will bring more often than a larger. With the aber der bei, that the image quality is slightly lower, due to lenses of lower quality.

      –Jacob

  3. Hi Jacob – I am basically in agreement with all your thoughts. I have a Canon 5D mark III which in my opinion has the best live available on any pro-sumer camera, I also have recently purchased the Sony a7 but not the R model. I am very pleased with the results from the A7 and in particularly the Nikon sensor dynamic range. I have come to terms with the minor irritations of the camera but waiting for the E mount wide angle zoom which I am advised is in the pipeline. I have the Sony Zeiss 24-70 f4 which is a good all round lens but a little soft at the edges but I can live with it. I’m considering using the Leica lens’s which will be clearly very good on this camera. Great to read all your comments. Gordon

    1. Hi Gordon
      I did have a Canon 5D Mark III and I clearly remember the live view to be awesome. I can’t compare with the Sony, because I do not have the Canon anymore. But the Sony is great too. The Dynamic Range is awesome, when you are used to Canon. I was so surprised, when I switched to Nikon (Sony and Nikon has the same Dynamic Range) – 2.7 EVS more, does the Nikon D800 (and Sony A7R) have, compared to the Canon 5D Mark III. That really is something that matters!
      –Jacob

  4. Hi Jacob

    I dont seem to have the same problem with the AF/MF switch as you, my AF/MF and AEL button all works as they should do on A7.

    1. Hi Gordon,
      The way I have set up both my D600 and D800, is that there is no auto focus on the Shutter Release button. Never ever! When I press the AF ON button the camera focuses, and if I keep the AF ON button pressed, it will keep refocusing (AF-C). As soon as I let go of the AF ON, the camera is on manual focus (or just focused). This way I have all possible focus scenarios implemented in one button. On the Sony A7R I have to switch in and out of manual focus mode. If I use AF ON mode, I can not focus peak. This makes fast switch between auto focus (using AF ON) and manual focus cumbersome and less optimal. Nikon has done this superbly :-) On the Sony I have programmed a button to switch on and off Manual Focus, but it is annoying.

  5. As a retired lifelong enthusiast, I have been on a quest for a better smaller camera that I can just take along with me so I don’t feel that I’m out to shoot but just out.. and if I find something I like I will shoot.

    My lifelong favorite film camera for this purpose has been the Pentax MX which I still own. So in the digital world the Sony A7 line seems very attractive and surprised me that I might be able to afford full frame and regain the lightness I loved about some of the early 35mm film cameras.

    I find your article very helpful and your magical pictures very inspiring. I recognize that in conjunction with your visualization and superb camera work, part of the magic is your masterful post processing. You are ever so skillfully riding the edge of surrealism and believability. I am compelled to at least ask if you might be willing to share any hints about what tools or effects you use; leaving folks like me something to explore.

    1. Hi Mike,
      Thanks a lot for all of the kind words. Much appreciated.

      I love my Sony A7R, but it’s not perfect. Be sure to read my article on what’s so great about the Sony A7R and what’s not so good about the camera. You find it here: http://caughtinpixels.com/reviews-2/5-reasons-to-buy-a-sony-a7r-and-5-reasons-not-to-buy-a-sony-a7r/

      I will be happy to a post what tools and effects I use. You do find them through out my “The making of” posts, but there is no structured overview, and I will be happy to make one. Do sign up for my website, then you will get the post when I write it. It’s put on my todo list, but it won’t be one of the first days, but rather one of the first weeks. I have a lot projects going on right now.

      Merry Christmas 🙂

      –Jacob

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