Sony A7 and A7R

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October 2013

Announced on October 16th, the new A7 and A7R are the result of merging several things that Sony has been working on. The A7 takes the core ethos and basic handling of the Sony RX1 and builds on it with an interchangeable lens E-mount, a built-in EVF, added weather sealing, and upgraded electronics. The A7R variant goes one step further with a 36 megapixel sensor. It’s an awesome looking camera on paper and if the RX1 was shot across the bow of the camera industry, the A7 is a full on salvo. Sony’s not pulling any punches here.

I’ve got a pre-order in for an A7 and my pal Rick LePage has ordered the A7R and as soon as it comes in, I’ll be reviewing both of them here in a manner similar to my Sony RX1 review.  

Update (12/3): My A7 arrived, but I don’t have a lens yet. When it arrives, I’ll get started in earnest on a review.

Lens Choices

At launch, the new full-frame FE lens line seems a bit constrained. The kit 28-70 lens looks adequate, however the serious options are the Zeiss 35/2.8 and 55/1.8 lenses. Notably, there’s a need for good options at the 24mm and 85mm focal lengths. Presumably, these are coming over the next year as Sony and Zeiss fill out the lineup.

But, looking at it this way is a bit disingenuous. Yes, you’ll likely want FE lenses for the best quality in the smallest package, but a multitude of lens adapters opens up the full range of Sony Alpha, Leica, Nikon, and Canon lenses. In particular, I’m really looking forward to trying out my Nikon 14-24mm and 300mm lenses with the A7.

Deciding between the A7 and A7R

The differences between the two cameras go a bit beyond simply the difference in resolution. The A7R’s sensor features micro-lenses that  are offset to work better with rangefinder glass, such as Leica M lenses. It also eliminates the anti-aliasing filter which means that your images will be sharper than ever—with the risk that you might occasionally get moiré. The build quality of the A7R is somewhat better as well with more use of metal versus plastic.

On the other hand, the A7 has an electronic first shutter as well as a higher flash sync speed of 1/250 versus the 1/160 of the A7R. This makes it better for anyone who uses a lot of off-camera flash, Strobist style. It has phase-detect autofocus hardware on the sensor to complement the contrast-detect methods used by all live-view cameras. And, it can shoot at 5 frames per second as opposed to the A7R’s 4. 

My recommendation: if you don’t see something on the A7R feature list that’s a must for you—for example, the micro-lens design, don’t shoot on a tripod most of the time, and you don’t plan on printing your work on a 24" or 48" printer, you should probably choose the A7 and put the $600 you’ll save towards an awesome lens, either now or in the future. 

Compared to the Sony RX1

Even though it builds off the RX1, I don’t see the A7 as a strict replacement . In fact, in the process of getting all of its new abilities, the A7 loses a few things. In particular:

  • The A7 uses a focal plane shutter that’s not nearly as quiet as the leaf shutter in the RX1
  • The RX1 lens has a wider maximum aperture of f/2 as compared to the Zeiss FE 35/2.8
  • WIth no front grip, no built-in EVF, and its integrated lens, the RX1 is still the champ for packing in so much into so little space. 

In other words, while the A7 has so much going for it, the RX1 certainly still has a place as the most discreet full-frame camera made.  I anticipate that it’ll still have a place in my daily shooting thanks to its unique attributes.

Compared to the Fuji XE-2

Two days after the A7 announcement, Fuji announced the release of the XE-2. It’s the solid upgrade to their X-series line that adds their latest sensor—including built-in phase detect autofocus—and a bunch of operational tweaks. Fuji is on a tear of late as well. In fact, right now, I’d say that Sony and Fuji are the innovation leaders and are definitely skating to where the puck is going in the photographic world.

If you’re trying to choose between the A7 and XE-2, I don’t yet have a lot of help for you. My experience with both Sony and Fuji cameras of late has been ultra-positive and you aren’t going to go wrong either way. The significant difference between the A7 and XE-2 at this point is the size and resolution of the sensor. I personally love the images from the 24 Megapixel Sony full-frame sensor and, based on my experiences with the D800E, the 36 Megapixel A7R is going to be amazing. On the other hand, the 16 Megapixel Fuji sensor is truly amazing as well and I’ve seen incredible results with it.

In many ways, the choice between the two will be more about personal preference and what you want to use the images for than anything else. Pick them both up and see which feels better in your hand and you’ll have most of the answer you need.

Compared to the Leica M (Type 240) 

I’ve wanted a Leica since I was a child and my grandmother taught me how a rangefinder works. But, in the digital era, it’s only the been the latest M that’s really had more than a passing interest for me. The previous efforts didn’t have the sensor I wanted for the environments I spend a lot of time shooting in. And, other that sentimental reasons, the red dot isn’t attractive enough to compensate. The latest M, on the other hand, is an interesting machine. I’ve had my hands on a couple of them and have been really impressed. 

That said, the essential desire for a Leica isn’t only for the body, it’s for the amazing lenses you can put on that body. I’ve long said that what I really want is Leica glass paired with one of the best sensors available. The A7 with an adapter should be jus thatt. We’ll see.