Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sony A7r Hands On (Pre-Production)

Yesterday I had the chance to play with a pre-production Sony A7r. Just some quick first thoughts about this camera. Though it's far from pretty and looks a bit angular, it sits comfortably in your hand as though it were a slightly bigger Sony NEX camera. Mounted with the kit 28-70mm lens for the A7, the overall package is roughly the size of a Leica X Vario, but nowhere near as chunky. It looks positively Lilliputian next to the A99 SLT.

Using the A7r is a measured affair. It's not a fast camera by any means, but it is serviceable for a thoughtful approach to photo taking. The A7 is a faster camera, as it has the same phase detection circuitry as the A99. However, my understanding is that Sony is recommending the A7r over the A7 for lenses wider than 28mm because of its offset micro-lenses. Apparently, there is little to differentiate the two cameras except that the A7r uses a metal top plate, whereas the A7 will be plastic.

Some additional thoughts:

  •  Resolution is comparable to the Nikon D800, but I wouldn't go so far to say that it's better. The D800 is usually paired with the optically excellent Nikon 24-70 f/2.8; I wouldn't say that the lenses I got to use with the A7r were as well matched, so I'll withhold judgment.
  •  The 35mm f/1.8 and 55mm f/1.8 lenses feel unusually tiny and lightweight for their focal lengths if you are only used to DSLR lenses. They're rather simple in design, and as primes, they don't have the same heft as a Leica or Voigtländer lens.
  • The shutter blades are metal, and produce a loud "thwak!" when you press the shutter button. This is not the silent stealth street shooter that you are looking for....
  • The vertical grip accessory is deeply sculpted with a nice soft rubber surface and is comfortable to use. It does add to the bulk of the camera, but attached, the setup is still no bigger than a mid-range DSLR like the Canon 7D or Nikon D7100.
  • Got to try the A7r with a Canon 50mm f/1.2L attached by Metabones adapter. This setup allows for body and lens to communicate autofocus and aperture control, albeit with limitations. Focus works reliably, but is naturally slow. Also: this is a ridiculous lens.body combination to use, as the weight of the 1.2L completely overwhelms the camera.
  • Also had a chance to try the A7r with a Leica mount adapter and a Voigtländer 15mm f/4.5 M. The Leica adapter is a simple, elegant affair. The one that I got to try was finished in an attractive red chrome, which unfortunately clashed with the orange chrome ring on the lens mount. Off hand I would not say that this is a great combination (as of pre-production) as the vignetting is severe and there is a visible colour shift at the edges. My understanding is that Leica M users shoot in black and white with this lens to get around this problem. Also, I wouldn't describe this as the sharpest lens that I've ever used.
As a pre-production model, the mechanics and construction were all in place, but the brains still needed some sorting out. There are areas where image processing deserves more tweaking, including the aforementioned vignetting and colour cast with ultra-wide angles. As well, the white balance didn't seem to be truly dialed in.

Though you'd be giving up the fast action capability of a traditional DSLR, the A7r seems like a good first step for Sony's FE mount. I do mean first step... there are things about it that seem "first-generation." However, it's a strong first outing, and from what I've heard the initial reaction has been quite strong. Just a reminder, if you want one before Christmas 2013, you will likely have to pre-order because supplies will be extremely limited.

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