Sony Alpha 7R Review
For the most part, the a7R's feature-set resembles that of cameras like the NEX-6 and NEX-7. While the majority of a7R users won't be using Auto modes, the camera has a fair number of well-implemented point-and-shoot modes, named Intelligent and Superior Auto. There are also customizable 'Creative Styles' as well as 'Picture Effects', which is where you'll find things like toy camera and selective color.
Below we've selected some features that will be of most interest to the enthusiasts who are considering the a7R.
Non-native lens support
Thanks to its short flange-back distance and Sony's release of the E-mount specifications, a plethora of third-party lens adapters is now available. The Alpha 7R offers the highest resolution way of using 35mm film lenses such that they offer their originally intended field of view - the 'acme' of the trend of using old lenses on mirrorless camera. Sony offers a number of tools to support manual focus of these lenses, including magnified view, focus peaking, or the combination of the two.
When shooting older - especially fast primes - 'wide open', accurate focus can be a challenge, even with the availability of magnified focus view and peaking. To have any chance at all you really do need to be in magnified focus mode, but a typical classic prime made for film is likely to be pretty hazy wide open, much more so than a modern native FE lens. As a consequence, depending on the specific lens that you're trying to use on the a7R, you might find that it doesn't always deliver enough contrast for focus peaking to bite onto until the aperture is stopped down a little.
|View our gallery of Sony Alpha 7 / 7R photos taken with third-party lenses|
You'll certainly need to set peaking to 'high' for the best chance of getting it to work. With focus magnification activated and peaking set to 'low' or 'medium', you're unlikely to see any highlighted edges at all. Set to 'high' we've found that the system has a decent chance of highlighting some edges, typically non-organic edges like text, but softer subjects, like the features of someone's face, frequently just don't deliver enough contrast for peaking to work reliably at any of its three settings.
Regardless, the fact remains that turning peaking up to high is your best chance for accurate manual focus with this kind of lens in magnified live view mode, and as such it's the setting we'd recommend. Sadly, 'high' peaking isn't very useful in normal (unmagnified) live view mode, and generally plasters peaking highlights all over the scene across a very wide range of focus. It is entirely possible for focus peaking to outline pretty much everything in the viewfinder at its 'high' setting but for your image to be magnificently out of focus when you look closely.
Ideally, when working with older lenses 'wide open' we'd love the option to separately define a peaking level of 'low' for normal unmagnified live view, and 'high' for the magnified view. Hopefully this can be added via a firmware update.
For more on this topic, read our 'Using third-party lenses on Sony a7 / a7R' article.
Classic Sony Features
Despite being a higher-end camera, the a7R still has many features from the NEX line. These include HDR, Sweep Panorama, and multi-shot layering.
The HDR feature takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure. The interval between each shot can be ±1EV to ±6EV. As one might expect, you cannot use HDR in Raw or Raw+JPEG mode. Here's an example of the a7R's HDR feature:
|HDR off, ISO 100, 1/100 sec, f/8|
|HDR on, auto setting|
As you can see, the HDR feature, at the 'auto' setting, nicely balanced out the contrast. On some occasions, HDR photos can look slightly 'fake', in which case you might want to adjust the HDR level manually. In our NEX-6 review you can see how each HDR step affects the final image.
Sweep Panorama was the first feature of its kind, and Sony's implementation is one of the best. You can pan the camera in any direction, with your choice of standard or wide angles-of-view. When shooting left or right, the resolution of standard and wide images are 8192 x 1856 and 12,416 x 1856, respectively.
|Sweep Panorama, standard size, ISO 100, 1/100 sec, f/9|
The example above - which we've brightened a bit (as exposure is locked when you start to 'sweep') - shows very good stitching, with just one area of misalignment. The couple toward the right side were walking away from the camera, and didn't get chopped into pieces, which can happen with less robust panorama features.
One thing we noticed about Sweep Panorama on the a7R is that the camera is fairly noisy while you're shooting (as is the shutter in general), and that you have to pan a bit slower than on, say, a 'regular' NEX camera.
Multi-shot NR modes
There are several multi-shot modes on the Alpha 7, in addition to HDR. Two similar features are Handheld Twilight and Anti Motion Blur, which aim to reduce blur by combining a series of four exposures into one. The difference between these two features is that Anti Motion Blur takes subject motion into account, which may result in a higher sensitivity being used, in order to ensure a sharper photo.
|Not bad for a photo taken from a moving ferry. Handheld night scene, ISO 12800, 1/20 sec, F4|
Multi Frame NR, which is for JPEG shooting only, combines multiple images into a single photo with reduced noise.