If you've used the movie modes on Sony's recent NEX cameras, then you'll feel right at home using the Alpha 7R. The camera retains the same 1080/24p and 60p resolutions, but with the added benefits of a significantly larger sensor. The a7R also has the ability to output uncompressed video over HDMI (for use with an external recorder, for high-end work), something not available on NEX models.
Something that has been changing from model-to-model in Sony's mirrorless lineup is the position of the dedicated 'red' recording button. On earlier models, the button was too close to the thumb rest, which caused some users to accidentally press it (Sony later added the ability to disable it). On later models, the button ventured further away from the thumb rest to the point where, on the a7R, it's essentially now on the side of the camera. Paradoxically, the placement of this button on the a7R makes it harder to record a movie when you want to.
|Sony has moved the 'red button' so far from the back of the camera that it's now a bit challenging to record a movie. You can have this button active in all shooting modes, or just when the mode dial is set to the video position.|
The a7R offers plenty of manual controls to please video enthusiasts. When the movie button is activated in all modes, one can simply enter the shooting mode of their choice and adjust the desired exposure setting. Aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, and ISO are all up for grabs. If you've locked out the movie button, you can do all the same stuff by setting the mode dial to the video position. This will also give a 16:9 preview that matches what you'll record.
When manually focusing, you can use focus peaking to pull focus from one subject to another while recording (something that's still fairly rare on consumer-level cameras). We found that focus peaking worked as advertised in those situations.
Another feature is 'zebra', which shows a pattern in overexposed areas of the scene (similar to how some cameras have clipped areas 'blink' in playback mode). You can choose the exposure level at which the pattern shows, with a range of 70 - 100 and above. When dialing down the exposure on the a7R, the zebra pattern kept up with the changes.
The camera offers both mic and headphone ports, and has an on-screen audio level. The mic level can be adjusted, and users can select whether audio output is direct to the headphones or delayed to sync with the recorded footage. There's also a wind filter for improved audio quality when recording outdoors.
In addition to manual controls, you can also throw the camera into either of the Auto modes and take advantage of the same Creative Styles or Picture Effects that are available for still shooting. Speaking of stills, you cannot take a photo while simultaneously recording a video, as you can with some of the a7R's competitors.
Below are the various video size and quality settings available on the a7R. Do note that the default setting is 1080/60i, rather than 60p or 24p.
1920 x 1080 60i/50i Avg. 24 Mbps (high quality)
1920 x 1080 60i/50i Avg. 17 Mbps (standard quality)
1920 x 1080 60p Avg. 28 Mbps (highest quality)
1920 x 1080 24p/25p Avg. 24Mbps (high quality)
1920 x 1080 24p/25p Avg. 17Mbps (standard quality)
1440 x 1080, 1080p (30/25fps), Avg. 12Mbps
640 x 480 (30/25fps), Av. 3Mbps
|Audio||• Dolby Digital (AC-3) / MPEG-4 AAC-LC
• Stereo audio capture via built-in or optional external mic.
|Format||AVCHD / MPEG4|
|Recordable time||Approx 29 minutes for AVCHD, 20 minutes for MPEG4 (1440 x 1080)|
Overall, video quality is very good, as is the quality of the audio recorded. The only issues we ran into in our testing was some moiré (see sample 2 below) and focus hunting in low light (see sample 3). As you'd expect with a CMOS-based camera, rolling shutter is something you will run into if you're quickly panning the camera.
As has been demonstrated of the Nikon D800, the a7R produces its video by sub-sampling from the sensor - only using a subset of the available pixels. The way this is done (known as line-skipping), means the camera is measuring more horizontal detail than vertical detail, and is the source of some of the moiré we've seen. This is unlikely to be of concern to most people recording footage in the camera (the resolution is very high), but it may push high-end users to consider towards a dedicated video camera, instead, since this effect will still be present if you use an external recorder.
Autofocus is pretty effective, to our fairly undemanding eyes, with the camera doing a decent job of sticking to its subject, rather than racing off to focus to infinity. Any focus flutter caused by the camera checking it's still in focus is pretty subtle, meaning the camera's footage is pretty usable, so long as your expectations of video aren't as high as for stills. Focus peaking makes it easier to manually focus your footage, if you are taking the quality seriously.
Below are a few sample videos to give you a taste of what the a7R can do. Feel free to download the original MTS files to avoid whatever compression YouTube is applying.
Our first sample is a simple one, showing waves quietly rolling onto the beach. The quality is impressive, as is the audio, aside from a little wind noise. One thing you will notice is that the video goes out of focus for a few seconds, before returning to where it began.
|1920x1080 60p 28Mbps, MTS, 17 sec, 24.8 MB Click here to download original file|
This brief second sample - taken at the Seattle Seahawks victory parade - shows the smooth video you'd expect at 60p, as well as some great detail. Unlike the previous video, there were no focus issues in this example.
|1920x1080 60p 28Mbps, MTS, 8 sec, 55.2 MB Click here to download original file|