Sony A7 & A7R Hands-On Field Test

  By Jordan Drake


Man, it has been tough not talking about these cameras for the last two weeks. Sony was good enough to get us some sample cameras well before the announcement date, and we were thrilled to be able to test what are clearly two of the most exciting cameras this year. To make things a bit more scary than usual, I decided to film the video on the A7, a camera I had only a few short hours to familiarize myself with before filming.

We needed to go somewhere remote, as no one could see these cameras. No images of them had leaked, and we really didn’t want to be the ones to slip up, so we went out to a remote walking path near Bragg Creek. To complicate matters, I had absolutely terrible light, harsh overhead direct sunlight.

I filmed on the A7 with a Tamron 24-70 F2.8 VC lens on a Metabones Canon to NEX Version 3 adaptor. Audio was recorded with a Sony UWP-130 wireless mic kit. As usual, I kept the camera on a Manfrotto 561BHDV monopod. To control exposure, I used a Genus Eclipse Fader. Unfortunately, Faders tend to flare more than regular ND filters, and you can see a few examples of this in the video.

Considering the small cameras we were looking at, Chris carried a pretty impressive bag of gear. For Chris and myself, the beauty of a mirrorless full frame camera is the ability to adapt almost any full frame lens in the world onto it. Canon users who have been begging for a high-res body like the D800E for landscape now have a great, relatively inexpensive option. For test lenses, Chris brought the Canon 17-40 F4, Leica M 90mm F2, Leica M 50mm F1.4, the new Alpha Zeiss 50mm F1.4, and the Sony NEX 18-200 Powerzoom. Sony also provided us with the 28-70 F3.5-5.6 lens, and the Zeiss 35mm F2.8. As expected, the Zeiss 35mm F2.8 is a gorgeous lens, brilliantly sharp across the frame, but we were also very impressed with the slow Sony 28-70 lens. Considering the price and specs, we weren’t expecting much, but it’s actually one of the strongest kit lenses we’ve tested, up there with the Fuji X 18-55 zoom.

I loved shooting video with the A7. All the controls were well placed, the viewfinder is such a pleasure to use, and seeing zebras, audio levels and peaking put me right at home. The audio I was hearing through the headphone jack also put my mind at ease, the sound was quite nice. As mentioned before, we had terrible light with a huge amount of contrast. It was a good test for the A7 as most cameras would struggle to handle some scenes. Looking at the video in post though, I was less delighted by the image. It is quite soft, and there was noticeable moire in several shots. I shot with the flattest profile, Neutral, with sharpening, contrast and saturation all turned down, yet the moire issues still surfaced. In the two short shots Chris filmed with the A7R, I saw an increase in sharpness, but also moire. I’m hoping this was due to early firmware, I’ll test the video quality again when the production cameras arrive. As is though, while the Sony A7 image is nice, I’ll stick to the Panasonic GH3 when I need a small camera.

Video issues aside though, the A7 and A7R are incredibly capable stills cameras. The image from the A7R, in particular, is amazing. I can’t wait until I can process some RAW files, but even looking at the JPEGs, the photos hold up very well to Nikon D800E files. The handling is exceptional, and everything feels solid, well made and carefully thought out. If I were shooting landscapes, portraits, architecture, or reproduction work, I would rather have one of these cameras than a DSLR. The ability to use any full frame lens in the world means you’re never locked into a system and there are no image quality compromises. The low price means you can also spend some extra money on the many great full frame lenses available. If you have lenses for Canon EF, Pentax K, Leica M, Leica R, Olympus OM, Nikon F, or Canon FD, the A7 & A7R are worthy of your consideration.

I primarily shoot video, and the biggest endorsement I can give these new cameras is that as soon as they were in my hands, I wanted to go take pictures. Any camera that can inspire that feeling is one photographers everywhere need to check out!