A First Impression of the Sony a7R & How Canon/Nikon Can Beat It

A First Impression of the Sony a7R & How Canon/Nikon Can Beat It

Yesterday I got my hands on the new Sony a7R for a review here at Fstoppers, and I was instantly and somewhat begrudgingly a fan of it. It feels great in hand, doesn't lack physical buttons like with other interchangeable lens compacts (ILCs), and it sounds fantastic (the shutter has an absurdly glorious “click” that you can’t help but love). My feelings for the a7R were such that I began to wonder why Canon and Nikon can’t seem to get it right in the ILC market. The answer to making the perfect compact appears so clear, but they don’t seem to have any interest of going this direction.

In discussions regarding the a7R, the Fstoppers staff has been looking at opinions held by other photographers and writers out there. There are articles that herald this camera as the next major step in the death of the DSLR, and though I’m still not sure there is any validity to that claim, I can see where the feelings stem from. The a7R seems like a contender to really shift how people feel about ILCs.

Sony a7r first impressions 2
I enjoy that the a7R doesn't feel like a small camera. It holds like a DSLR would. It feels sturdy. I have small hands, so maybe that's why it doesn't feel miniscule. There are dedicated buttons for ISO, aperture, shutter speed and white balance, all things I use regularly and all things I'm glad I don't need to navigate through a menu system to find. The knobs are close together, but nothing feels crammed. I wish there was the ability to quickly switch between auto and manual focus on the lens like you can with a Canon or Nikon, but it's not a deal breaker.

Sony a7r first impressions 5

Like I mentioned earlier, that sound of the shutter is glorious. I can't get enough of it, and it might be the most pleasant sounding shutter I can remember since I left film. In many ways, the a7R does things quite well, at least from the aesthetics and handling standpoint.

Sony, and especially Sony and ILC fans, really believe that the a7 and the a7R could be a workhorse pro body like a 5D Mark III or a D800. My first impressions of the a7R are iffy on this subject. There are interface hiccups that I’m not a fan of. The swivel screen almost doesn't make sense to me. I still have to be standing either directly above it or behind it in order to see it. The benefit of the flip out screen, like on Nikon and Canons, is that I can back the camera far into a corner but still use the screen from the side.

Sony a7r first impressions 3

I don’t like the placement of the lens release button. I’m not a fan of the AF focus assist LED orange beam that the a7R fires in “low” light (anything below bright daylight really). With that AF beam, the auto focus is pretty swift. Without that AF beam, it quickly degrades to horribly slow. I don’t like the OLED viewfinder.

But these complaints aren’t at all focused on what the camera can do as an image making machine. I don’t think there is any argument that the sensor in the Sony a7R is expected to be pretty fantastic. No one is prepared to argue that point. So it’s either a matter of Sony improving on the things that bother photographers like me, or giving me enough of a reason to look past them for other benefits.

But while I either have to adjust, or Sony does, Canon and Nikon specifically have a leg up in this department, and it’s baffling to me why they haven’t done anything with that advantage.

Canon and Nikon have two distinct industry leg-ups over Sony: Lenses and public consumption of product. Though Sony has a lot of lenses available now, they don’t have the years of experience combining those lenses with camera bodies. Yes, Zeiss has been doing this a long time, but not specifically in a partnership with Sony bodies. That’s a relatively new business venture. Canon and Nikon know how to make their lenses great from a half century of practice, and also to make them as ideal as possible with their bodies. They have years and years of experience at it.

More importantly, however, is the public acceptance and availability of Canon and Nikon in the market. For me, and many like me, moving to a Sony body means forsaking my years of investment in Canon glass. Fellow photographers have shelves of lenses, all meticulously collected over years of hard work and scraping money together. Relinquishing those lenses seems almost foolhardy.

So why aren’t Canon and Nikon playing on that lens attachment? It’s obvious that pros want a small camera that can still give them the quality and experience they are used to in their pro bodies, so why are Canon and Nikon basically forcing us to go to Fuji, Olympus and Sony?

Canon. Nikon. I have one proposition for you: make me an ILC that accepts all the lenses I already have without the need for an adapter. Make it easy. I don’t even care if your first attempt is an APS-C sensor. I just want to see you at least show you understand how we feel. Why did you make me buy a new set of lenses that only work on your small cameras? If I bought an EOS M and four lenses, now I’m stuck with this sub-par body that you don’t seem to plan to improve and lenses that work on it and nothing else. It was basically a money pit. I would care less if that M just accepted EF lenses without that bulky adapter that killed the “compact” part of ILC, because at least then I wouldn’t have a set of lenses collecting dust on my shelf.

For many, Nikon almost got it right with the Df. My friend said something that really resonated with me regarding that design: "it is not hipster if it is nostalgia for the F3 that I actually used, it is hipster if it is nostalgia for the unremembered 80s." If Nikon made a mini APS-C version that accepted his already-owned Nikon lenses, he would basically trip over himself trying to throw his money at them.

Canon. Nikon. You guys can beat Sony at their own game, a game they desperately need to win in order to become relevant/profitable, if you just embrace the parts of your business that make you current industry leaders. Why you seem to ignore your greatest strength has been a source of much irritation for many photographers. The a7R is selling faster than Sony can keep stock. Don’t you want to do that too?

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I think Canon and Nikon have ceded the compact ILC market to new entrants. It's a daring strategy. But I'll say this, I'm in the process of eliminating most of my Canon gear because it's been eclipsed for everyday photography. I picked up a Sony RX100MII and it was my main camera for a trip through Germany, India, and Italy, and I never regretted not bringing my DSLR. They better sharpen their game soon or they will lose control of the photography market for consumers.

The lens release button is in the right place, its also where pentax put there's and I use it as a "dirty/quick" MF button (as it disengages the in body lens motor) on older lens.

I haven't yet heard the shutter sound of the sony 7r but It would be hard to find anything better than the pentax k5/k5II and the new k3 all of which have a very nice and quite shutter (my k5 is quieter than my gf1 which doesn't even have a mirror) unlike my old D3 which gave off a rather loud clatter.

At any rate, the FF sony's interest me just as M4/3 camera's do and I would love to play with one at some point and even invest in one as I have some nice MF pentax primes that would go nice on there :)

I think both Nikon and Canon are behind the 8 ball here. Full frame mirrorless cameras make sense and considering this is the first generation, it's a very solid start. It's a sad day when Nikon is touting the lack of a dust and oil on the sensor as a feature the way they have with the D610 while still using the exact same technology they had last year.

Graham Marley's picture

I think the "death of the dSLR" talk is... odd. When people ask me for recommendations for cameras, I haven't mentioned a base level SLR in years, simply because to me, the SLR is a platform; You buy one to build a system off of that's going to allow you to work in as many conditions as possible. If you just want a camera, get a simpler, more compact system. I also think it's odd to assume that compact cameras are absolutely going to overtake capabilities of SLRs, because that assumes a certain arrested development in what SLRs are going to be able to do. I think, and I could be wrong, but ILCs will refine new technologies introduced in SLRs, but I see SLRs being the pace setter for technology.

Aside from that, there are definite intangibles: I just can't imagine having a better working experience than actually looking through the glass of, say, my 135mm f/2. I know what's happening because I've learned what's happening, which shapes my instincts, which gets me photos I like. That's not something that I'm even looking to be replicated or replaced by a new technology.

Brian Anderson's picture

The very same thing happened to me when a friend loaned me the Canon 200mm f/2.8 prime to take action shots at a corporate bowling event. I moved into the right position and I went to work. Things started to make sense and I just ran with it. Now I own that lens. I get it. It help me understand exactly what I was looking for, and for now I'm not sure why I would change that right away for another platform. Frankly, I think that's exactly why Canon and Nikon are holding back a little for now.

I quite agree. I've told several people they're far better off with a decent compact or bridge camera and that an SLR would probably ultimately disappoint them if they bought only the body and a kit lens - the reason being the kit lens, which I'm not slating for what it is and does, but it doesn't cover anything like the same range as you can get from a lot of smaller and lighter cameras, and these benefits will matter more to most people than the slight benefits in image quality brought by a DSLR and a low-end lens.

However, the DSLR has always appealed as being the ultimate - whether an entry-level DSLR without great lenses is that doesn't matter, that's what people see - their DSLR is the same as a professionals, save for a few trivial details and thousands of whatever currency.

Similarly, I started reading a lot about Mirrorless a couple of months ago, and the great photographers now using and extolling the virtues of that system, and I began considering it as a path for the future ... then a couple of days later I did a shoot of my favourite type and my DSLR and lens didn't miss a beat, and in fact seemed more right for the task at hand than ever. There are times when I'd love a capable and more compact camera, but for my work, the DSLR is still doing the business.

For non-professionals, however, the appeal of these capable smaller cameras may not need to exist alongside their DSLR, but instead of it, and there are more non-professional photographers than professionals. Whether the Mirrorless or ILCs can shake off the illusion that the DSLR is the ultimate, this will be a big question. A lot has been said about the name Mirrorless not helping the cause, as it sounds like something is missing which is present in a DSLR. Compact also doesn't help the cause, it makes them seem a diminutive version of something bigger and better - when the reality may not be as such. In the end, if these cameras gain credence as image producing machines, these details will not be important - except to Canon and Nikon, who I don't think should be taking the risk of getting so far behind/abandoning the fight altogether.

Apologies, long-winded and perhaps rambling post of various thoughts.

Brian Anderson's picture

I started my DSLR journey with a Sony SLT-A33 a couple of years ago that they quickly discontinued for the A-37 and the later. Now they have this. I invested in the Canon 7D and the lens collection I am building because companies like Canon and Nikon at least have years of consistency to build on even though it looks like M4/3 is really gaining on them and taking them on fronts. If Canon builds a M4/3 that will compete with say the Oly (the new Oly is sick) for instance that I can use the glass I am investing in today then I am there. Nikon is already getting the drop on Canon with the Df as it is. Thing is - Sony initially appealed to the gadgetry in me and then I became interested in photography once I started learning DSLR more practically. I learned that I needed to actually get good at taking a photograph and understanding the exposure triangle first long before I continue to chase bodies around. I got the 7D later in its life in fact because I learned about its AF abilities. I could still take a great photograh will less of a camera which was the hard lesson I learned later. However, things like that started to matter when I started tracking birds in flight etc. Note - it looks like Oly really caught up AF front pronto too. Also, when I got my first 50mm lens for the A33 I immediately became hooked on photography. Therefore, I will not discredit Sony for making a simply fantastic camera like this bad boy because I learned how to take photographs on one of their cameras ;) However, competition is a good thing and while I've collected some Canon glass now I'm hoping that Canon indeed makes a showing soon and it benefits me. I want the 7D buried with me even if the DSLR is crushed in a few years if this is the beginning of it as we are seeing with Pentax, Oly, and Sony ;) I'm sentimental like that :)

I'm currently in the process of selling the remaining parts of my Canon gear. I was ready to jump ship to Olympus when the A7r was announced. Sony was the winner in getting my $$ from selling my Canon gear with an A7r, 35mm and 55 currently on the way.

I've shot Canon for over 10 years and been happy with their products until I got tired of the lack of innovation in the past 2-3 years. Somehow I think they (Canon/Nikon) believe they are giants and the others are small fish that they don't need to worry about. I'm not sure what to call it, but I would hope that this was a HUGE wakeup call for both of them.

Either way they lost one more consumer of their products.

I don't pay that much attention to Nikon but I get the distinct impression that Canon plans to go down with the SLR ship. I also get the impression that they are perfectly willing to rest on their laurels, hoping that their massive base of installed lenses will keep consumers with the Canon brand regardless of what the competition innovates. Seems like very short term thinking.

Yeah, Nikon is doing pretty much the same. Neither company seems to have quite grasped the idea that they aren't the only camera manufacturers for photographers to choose from. The sad thing is Nikon's DSLR line isn't even complete.

Since Sony made a new lens size for the a7 and a7R they've noted the FF sensor and small form-factor physics would not work with their Alpha lenses - a smaller mount was required. I "assume" same challenge for Nikon and Canon FF therefore? i.,e. our investment in current lenses, with FF, would require an adapter on any ILC from them (which I guess gets to your point about APS-C then if that will work). I'm not holding my breath though. A friend in retail says guys come in to look at DSLR's and walk out with an ILC system - not one or two, but a tsunami of change going on here. The consumer ground is moving, but how it plays out in the pro space remains to be seen...

Their full-frame Alpha lenses work just fine on the a7R using the LA-EA3 and LA-EA4 adapters.

ILC is definitely the future. The SLR mirror is a remnant of the film era that will eventually be removed.

Mike Kelley's picture

Surprised to hear you say this! I can't imagine ever composing an architectural image through an EVF, which they all have (I think.). Until they can replicate the dynamic range that the eye sees for those of us who compose using the entire frame, meaning there is no part of the image that can be overlooked, the SLR/optical viewfinder will rule.

Not being able to see highlight and shadow detail while composing would annoy the hell out of me :)

Apparently you have not used the EVF on the A7(r)! The dynamic range is excellent and you can see 100% of the image in the viewfinder.

Mike Kelley's picture

I have. As of a couple nights ago. It's good, but still not near what the eye sees.

Graham Marley's picture

I would imagine it's not just what the eye sees as far as DR goes, but how quickly the eye adjusts when looking from a highlight area to shadow. I don't have anything against EVFs, but I don't understand how their existence negates the optical view finder as a perfectly useful thing.

But your sensor doesn't. Why does it make it difficult to shoot when it gives you exactly what you'll see?

Mike Kelley's picture

Yes, it does, because supplemental lighting.

Your eyes see about 20-stops of light, your sensor only sees 14, so I don't understand what you mean. Same goes with the supplemental lighting. Unless you are using constant lights, I don't get how you can see it until you snap the picture. If you are using constant light, then the EVF would be able to see that as well. Would love to hear you explain. I wouldn't imagine you'd need a super light camera doing architectural work anyhow. I'd want beef so I could minimize the most vibration I possible..

I agree with your assessment of EVF. The funny thing about digital is that the standards keep getting lower while most people think that they're actually getting higher. The real discriminating pros know the difference, but unfortunately they're just a tiny minority that has little influence.

Shutter vibration. That's its issue. And yes it exists. Pop a speed booster on an nex 6 or 7 and you will be happy with 10fps and no shutter vibration.

Valters Pelns's picture

In hand a7R is just terrible. As holiday camera yes, but for long hours of shooting, no thank you!

Unless you have small hands, it's quite comfortable.

Valters Pelns's picture

I would say, I have big hands. :-) D700,D800 without grip is to small for comfortable hold. I cant imagine a7r with some long lense :-)

Do what I do, use the a7R with the grip and it's quite comfortable all day long. Still though, even without the grip it feels pretty nice. I think only the Olympus E-M1 and maybe the Panasonic GH3 has the better grip for a mirrorless camera.

All day shooting? Many, many batteries...

I love what Sony is doing with their cameras, however I do wish this was an A-Mount camera and not the E-Mount. I feel like they are really alienating half of their clients by using two different mounts. I know that adapters work perfectly fine, but I don't want the added bulk. I bought the Sony a700 as my first DSLR and then later switched over to Nikon for better low light performance with the D7000. I owned the Nikon for a year and it was such a disappointment in so many areas, the major being build quality, that I went back to Sony and found that the a99 is the best camera I've ever held/worked with. Their lens offering is severely lacking and I hate to say that, but it's the truth, but Sigma fills in the gaps very nicely. I'm always open to working with new camera brands but until one is as well built as the Sony's and has a nice flowing U.I. I'm right at home with my Sony a99. I really envy this camera, but I feel like it's not quiet there yet. I think in 2 years this will be right up to par with the top of the line cameras as far as speed and auto-focusing cameras fair, but two years gives the top dog cameras lot of time to improve...so they may always be behind in that aspect. I do believe that this camera is an amazing start to a great product line...minus the E-Mount, lol.

If it's A-mount only, you will always have that added bulk between the lens and the sensor. At least with the adapter, you have the option to slim down and use the native lens.

no, not really. 1-series have the perfect size and shape, and regardless of any small mirrorless camera craze, there is no way they will ever replace pro bodies. Well done to Canon for holding rubbish out from us. Your issue may be the price of gear if you take it to awful locations - ebay is there to help you.

Lloyd Grace's picture

I'm so sick of the assumption that somehow the camera market "belongs" to Canon & Nikon and only they are allowed to build good cameras - i.e. here's what Canon & Nikon need to do to get rid of this pesky Sony that's not invited to the party. SONY MAKES GREAT CAMERAS, THEY BOUGHT MINOLTA. PEOPLE ARE TAKING GREAT SHOTS WITH SONYS. DEAL WITH IT! Ask Matthew Jordan Smith, Brian Smith, Kirk Tuck, Andy Katz, Frank Doorhof, Nigel Barker, etc.

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