Image Quality

When the a7R is at its best, the images it can produce are truly amazing. Photos are so sharp that you feel like you can reach out and touch them. Bokeh is also superb when using Sony's prime FE lenses. We also ran into some issues that are worth mentioning.

Stunning Sharpness

We've been impressed thus far with Sony's new FE lenses (read our review of the 55mm F1.8 for more info), When you combine a high quality lens with the a7R's 36-megapixel, AA filter-free CMOS sensor, the results are stunning.

ISO 100, 1/80 sec, f/6.3, 55mm F1.8 lens 100% crop
ISO 100, 1/160 sec, f/11, 55mm F1.8 lens 100% crop

The pictures really tell the story here. The intricate stitching on the moped seat, and the details on the water tower are as good as you'll get from a digital camera. The tack sharp Sony 55mm F1.8 Zeiss lens is a big part of the equation. As long as the vibration issue below isn't a factor, then photographers will be more than pleased with what the a7R can produce.

Distortion correction

The Sony a7R has a distortion correction feature for use with E-mount lenses. Whether correction is applied depends on the lens. For the 28-70mm and 55mm FE lenses it's active, while it's off for the 35mm and 24-70mm. The example below uses a converted Raw to show uncorrected distortion, and a straight-out-of-the-camera JPEG for the corrected version, at two different focus distances.

55mm lens, close, distortion corr off 55mm lens, close, distortion corr on 55mm lens, distant, distortion corr off 55mm lens, distant, distortion corr on

The a7R's distortion correction system takes subject distance into account. For example, with the 55mm lens it'll correct pincushion distortion when you're close to your subject, and barrel distortion when further away, which is illustrated in the example above.

JPEG issues

If you read our review of the Sony a7, then you won't be surprised that many of the issues related to JPEGs are present on the a7R as well. Something we wrote about at length in the a7 review is posterization, which is still visible on the a7R. Some may also be bothered by the heavily processed JPEGs, in which fine detail can resemble a watercolor painting; subjects like grass and leaves, for example.

However, one needs to put our comments about JPEGs in context. The a7R requires a degree of dedication to get the best out of it, and we see shooting Raw and post-processing as being part of that. So, while the a7R's JPEGs still exhibit some of the same problems as the a7, we believe the typical a7R buyer is less likely to be relying on them.

Rough edges

The Sony a7 and a7R use a content-sensitive noise reduction system that attempts to protect areas of fine detail while applying higher levels of noise reduction to smooth, featureless areas. The results with the a7R are an improvement over what we saw when we reviewed the a7.

ISO 16000, 1/400 sec, f/1.8, 55mm F1.8 lens 100% crop
Raw image, processed with 60% luminance noise reduction in ACR 8.3 100% crop

As you can see, at very high ISOs, the context-aware noise reduction still over-shoots edges - leaving a 'crunchy' fringe visible in transitional areas between smooth and detailed regions of the image. The difference is that the a7R has 22% higher linear resolution, meaning that those crunchy edges make up a smaller proportion of the final image.

As a result, the balance between the detrimental effect of these artifacts and benefits of images that have low noise and good detail preservation is further tipped in the favor of the positives.

Image shake: shutter shock and hand shake

We've read some rumblings online about 'shutter shake' with the a7R and have looked closely at the huge number of images we've shot, to check for a problem. We did find some evidence of motion in our images, but this doesn't necessarily mean there's a 'shutter shake' problem.

The biggest single contributing factor in the a7R is its resolution: whatever the cause of shake, be it camera or photographer-induced, the a7R's high resolution means it'll be shown in incredible detail, if you look closely. This fundamental point has an impact on all the potential contributing factors - and is equally true for cameras such as the Nikon D800(E). Beyond this, there are several potential causes or contributing factors, which we should consider.

Shutter shake

First, the idea of shutter shake itself - the idea that the movement of the camera's shutter is itself producing enough vibration to induce visible blur in the image. There seems to be some evidence to support this - you can feel the camera shake as the shutter fires, and when mounted on a tripod with a focus rail, shake remains visible in the final image. Using the self timer doesn't change the way the shutter operates - it just adds a delay to remove the influence of user motion - the shutter must still close then open to begin the exposure, which would be the main source of shutter shock. However, mounting the camera on a heavy-duty tripod and making sure it's solidly secured does, in our experience, eliminate this problem.

Since this relates to the mass of the camera, the effect is slightly lens-dependent and may contribute to image shake when the camera is hand-held. Any signs of shutter shock are most likely to be visible in exposures between 1/80th and 1/160th in our experience. Downscaling the images to the same resolution as the a7 suggests the same effect isn't being seen in that camera (which has an 'electronic first curtain' mode that means the mechanical shutter isn't moving around at the start of exposures).

ISO 100, 1/80 sec, f/6.3, 55mm F1.8 lens 100% crop

Hand shake

Hand shake is another potential source of image shake, and the camera's lightweight body means there's less inertia to overcome before your slight hand movements induce image shake (again, visible in great detail, because of the high resolution). We said during the Nikon D800 review that you needed to develop a 'medium-format mindset' when it came to shooting at such high resolutions, and it's just as true with the Sony a7R. Whether you're mounting the camera on a tripod or hand-holding, you need to think hard about stability and the higher shutter speeds required to ensure it.

Auto ISO logic and shutter speed selection

The final factor builds on this need for fast shutter speeds. Sony's rather primitive Auto ISO system aims to keep the shutter speed above the 1/focal length threshold that's traditionally used as a rule-of-thumb for avoiding hand shake (More specifically, it appears to use 1/FL or 1/60th, whichever is fastest). The problem being that the 1/FL 'rule' is only a guideline, one that breaks down for higher resolutions, and it's simply not high enough to eliminate visible camera shake on the a7R. We'd recommend using substantially faster shutter speeds when you're aiming to get pixel-level sharpness when shooting hand-held, especially when using the (unstabilised) primes.

The upshot of this is that if you're hoping to get the best out of the camera, we'd recommend either setting the ISO manually, or only using Auto ISO in Shutter Priority or Manual modes (where you specify the shutter speed yourself). In an era where most makers give more control over Auto ISO, often in quite sophisticated ways (such as Nikon and Pentax letting you choose whether the camera should operate above or below 1/FL), this is a disappointment.

ISO 400, F2.8, 1/15 second FE 35 F2.8 ZA lens. Tripod: Manfrotto 190XPROB

But when the Sony a7R is mounted firmly on a sturdy tripod, you get a great deal of detail, even at higher ISO settings in very low light. It's worth opening and browsing around in this JPEG image to see all the detail in the courtyard and even through the windows.

Overall image quality

We are generally pretty impressed with the a7R's image quality - particularly when we shoot Raw. The JPEGs are over-processed and prone to exhibit some or all of the above flaws and limitations, depending on the subject matter, but thanks to the a7R's higher resolution, most affect a smaller percentage of the frame, so most of them won't be noticed as readily as they are on the a7 (the posterization effect is still present to the same degree). In addition, the a7R, like the a7, can occasionally exhibit moiré, but it's something we only saw once or twice in the hundreds of images we shot.

The good news is we were overwhelmingly pleased with the images we captured with the Sony a7R. Color is good, auto white balance most often gets it right, and Raw files leave plenty of opportunity for adjustment in post. And did we mention the extraordinary detail we get from the a7R's files? It's really enjoyable to peer around in the images afterward just to see what we captured.

Thanks to the very accurate contrast-detect autofocus and excellent performance in low light, we found the Sony a7R a great companion that could be relied upon to get the shot regardless of the situation, and that came down mostly to the resulting image quality.

Raw files for download

Below are a few Raw images that you can download and tweak to your heart's content: