Sony Aims for the Bleachers with Full Frame Alpha 7 & Alpha 7R

Sony Aims for the Bleachers with Full Frame Alpha 7 & Alpha 7R

I've wanted to be impressed with Sony for a long time, and I think that time has finally come. The rumored full frame compact interchangeable lens camera is real, as Sony has announced the Alpha 7R and Alpha 7. Featuring full frame sensors, fast hybrid AF with phase-detection and a new image processing engine, these might be everything we've wanted in a compact camera.

Firstly, let's set something straight: there are two cameras we are talking about here. One is the Alpha 7 and the other is the Alpha 7R. Major differences:

Alpha 7R:
Full Frame 36.3 MP resolution with 14-bit RAW recording
Contrast-based focusing
Price (body only): $2,298.00

Alpha 7:
Full Frame 24.3 MP resolution with 14-bit RAW recording
Price: (body only): $1,698.00

Yeah that's basically what I was able to glean. One has more megapixels, slightly different focusing and costs more. So that aside, let's take a closer look at the guts of both of these cameras, focusing primarily on the 7R.

Sony’s Exmor image sensor takes full advantage of the Full-frame format, but in a camera body less than half the size and weight of a full-frame DSLR. Sony is positioning the ALpha 7 camera against the Canon 60D and 70D and the Nikon D600 and D7100 and the Alpha 7R against the D800 or the 6D/5D Mark III. They don't just want to be your second camera, they want to be your go-to.

The 36.3 MP effective 35 mm full-frame sensor has a normal sensor range of ISO 100 – 25600, and a sophisticated balance of high resolving power, gradation and low noise. The BIONZ X image processor enables up to 5 fps high-speed continuous shooting and 14-bit RAW image data recording.

What is a BIONZ X? It's the camera's new image processing engine, which faithfully reproduces textures and details in real time, as seen by the naked eye, via extra high-speed processing capabilities. Together with front-end LSI (large scale integration) that accelerates processing in the earliest stages, it enables more natural details, more realistic images, richer tonal gradations and lower noise whether you shoot still images or movies.

Sony a7 Digital Camera Body

Enhanced Fast Hybrid auto focus combines speedy phase-detection AF with highly accurate contrast-detection AF, which has been accelerated through a new Spatial Object Detection algorithm, to achieve among the fastest autofocusing performance of any full-frame camera. First, phase-detection AF with 117 densely placed phase-detection AF points3 swiftly and efficiently moves the lens to bring the subject nearly into focus. Then contrast-detection AF with wide AF coverage fine-tunes the focusing in the blink of an eye.

Sony a7 Digital Camera Back

The high-speed image processing engine and improved algorithms combine with optimized image sensor read-out speed to achieve ultra-high-speed AF despite the use of a full-frame sensor.

Even when capturing a subject partially turned away from the camera with a shallow depth of field, the face will be sharply focused thanks to extremely accurate eye detection that can prioritize a single pupil. A green frame appears over the prioritized eye when focus has been achieved for easy confirmation. Eye AF can be used when the function is assigned to a customizable button, allowing users to instantly activate it depending on the scene.

Quick Navi Pro displays all major shooting options on the LCD screen so you can rapidly confirm settings and make adjustments as desired without searching through dedicated menus. When fleeting shooting opportunities arise, you’ll be able to respond swiftly with just the right settings.

Sony a7 with SEL55F18Z Lens.jpg

View every scene in rich detail with the XGA OLED Tru-Finder, which features OLED improvements and the same 3-lens optical system used in the flagship α99. The viewfinder faithfully displays what will appear in your recording, including the effects of your camera settings, so you can accurately monitor the results. You’ll enjoy rich tonal gradations and 3 times the contrast of the α99. High-end features like 100% frame coverage and a wide viewing angle are also provided.

The tiltable 3.0” (1,229k dots) Xtra Fine™ LCD Display makes it easy to photograph over crowds or low to capture pets eye to eye by swinging up approx. 84° and down approx. 45°. Easily scroll through menus and preview life thanks to WhiteMagic™ technology that dramatically increases visibility in bright daylight. The large display delivers brilliant-quality still images and movies while enabling easy focusing operation.
Connectivity with smartphones for One-touch sharing/One-touch remote has been simplified with Wi-Fi®/NFC control. In addition to Wi-Fi support for connecting to smartphones, the α7R also supports NFC (near field communication) providing “one touch connection” convenience when transferring images to Android™ smartphones and tablets. Users need only touch devices to connect; no complex set-up is required. Moreover, when using Smart Remote Control — a feature that allows shutter release to be controlled by a smartphone — connection to the smartphone can be established by simply touching compatible devices.

Sony a7R Digital Camera

Remote Camera Control allows you to control your α7R from your PC using a USB cable. Feature control has also been updated to include video capture control.

The 36.4MP resolution and outstanding performance of the α7R are optimized by removing the optical low-pass filter. In combination with the new BIONZ X image processing engine this design increases resolution and enhances the reproduction of the finest details. In addition, the sensor includes a new gapless lens design that fills the space between neighboring pixels to significantly increase light collecting efficiency and realize high corner-to-corner image quality. Differing from the Sony a7, the a7R with its omitted low-pass filter, gapless lens design sensor and contrast-detection AF provides the utmost in high-resolution, finely detailed capture. With 36.4 effective megapixels, the Exmor CMOS sensor captures high-resolution, low-noise images with rich tonal gradation and low-light sensitivity. The normal ISO range on the a7 is 100-25600.

14-bit RAW image data of extremely high quality is outputted by the α7R. This data fully preserves the rich detail generated by the image sensor during the 14-bit A/D conversion process. When developed with Sony’s Image Data Converter RAW development software, these images deliver the superb photographic expression and rich gradation that only 14-bit data can offer.

Capture Full 1920 x 1080 HD uncompressed clean-screen video files to external recording devices via an HDMI® connection in 60p and 60i frame-rates. Selectable in-camera AVCHD™ codec frames rates include super-smooth 60p, standard 60i or cinematic 24p. MP4 codec is also available for smaller files for easier upload to the web.

When your subject is moving fast, you can capture the decisive moment with clarity and precision by shooting at speeds up to 5 frames per second. New faster, more accurate AF tracking, made possible by Fast Hybrid AF, uses powerful predictive algorithms and subject recognition technology to track every move with greater speed and precision.

Unlike conventional cameras, the α7R features the advanced Multi-Interface Shoe that dramatically expands compatibility with Sony digital imaging accessories, thus raising the potential for photo/movie shooting.
Enjoy Ultra High Definition slide shows directly from the camera to a compatible 4K television. The α7R converts images for optimized 4K image size playback (8MP). Enjoy expressive rich colors and amazing detail like never before. Images can be viewed via an optional HDMI® or WiFi®.

Advanced features enable manipulation, conversion and management of full-resolution RAW images. You can expertly adjust exposure, white balance, tonal curves, saturation, contrast, hue and sharpness — as well as apply DRO and vignetting compensation. Bundled Remote Camera Control software also lets you remotely activate and deactivate still/movie recording and control various camera settings from a PC.

Enjoy long hours of comfortable operation in the vertical orientation with this sure vertical grip, which can hold two batteries for longer shooting and features dust and moisture protection.

Both of these 35mm full-frame compatible adaptors let you mount the α7R with any A-mount lens. The LA-EA4 additionally features a built-in AF motor, aperture-drive mechanism and Translucent Mirror Technology to enable continuous phase-detection AF. Both adaptors also feature a tripod hole that allows mounting of a tripod to support large A-mount lenses.

That's not all Sony announced. You might have caught the "new full frame lenses" bits above. Here they are:

Sony 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS Lens, which will retail for $1,198.00
Sony FE 35mm F2.8 ZA Lens, which will retail for $798.00
Sony FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Lens, which will retail for $998.00
Sony 70-200mm F2.8 G SSM II Lens, which will retail for $2,998.00

SEL35F28Z_A

SEL35F28Z_B

SEL2470Z_A

SEL2470Z_B
 

Impressed? I'm ready to try them out and look at the image quality.

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55 Comments

Previous comments

Which is why you'll be able to essentially customize your settings to your satisfaction. 9 different custom buttons, the fn button allows for more, and then the Quick Navi screen will get you through everything. Layout, no problem.

Lemmings follow lemmings. Sony have some serious photographers under their belt (take a look at Brian Smith Photography, or Nigel Barker, or John Isaac) just as any manufacturer. The idea of "who have you seen using Sony" doesn't fly. In Hollywood the question is, then, "Who have you seen using Canon DSLR?" The answer is "masochists" when you ask directors or "people who need a cheap camera to destroy for the sake of one take." Does it make Canon any less valid a tool? Just because Canon and Nikon have had 40 years to build a user base doesn't mean they make the most innovative products of today. They don't. And they haven't in years. Olympus pioneered the live view on DSLR as well as the quick navigation screen Canon has tried to take credit for the last 4 years. Sony's sensors own the market, Panasonic does better video than the 5DMkIII on the GH3, Fuji has the most unique viewfinder system... where oh where are the innovations from Canon and Nikon? Left behind with the EOS M and the 1 series, perhaps. Nikon may have found a niche underwater for the 1 but that was the last ditch effort to secure a future for a system that would otherwise sink Nikon further into the hole they've been digging for quite some time.

Judging a system by who uses it is useless. Judge it by what it does for you.

I'm not judging the camera by its users clearly. I was simply just trying to make the point that saying the A7r is the ultimate solution over other cameras doesn't make sense in response to what Steve Wade is seeming to portray. Like i mentioned before if that is what works for you then by all means use it. For goodness sakes I've had 2 of the cameras on the NEX line and I liked them but they no longer fit my need so I moved on. Does it make them any less of a capable camera? No. It just means in my OPINION using a different tool at a similar price point makes more sense. Everybody just relax a little bit and just be photographers, my opinion isn't going to changes Sony's sales one bit.

All it needs to do is put out better images than either of those two cameras (the specs alone say it's more than capable), be better built (it is), put out better video (not hard to do), and kill them by almost half the weight (it does) for it to be viable. The 55mm f/1.8 lens is neither large nor heavy. And the 24-70 f/4 is a featherweight. The size and weight of the system is a fraction of what we carry now. It's utterly viable.

Low cost primes may be great for the budget but they can be murder on your picture quality. There is zero chance that the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G will compete with the Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 in quality. Which is why Nikon announced their 58mm N, I would think, yeah? I don't think we even have to mention Canon's plastic fantastic but apparently we do: it isn't a professional grade lens. Never was. Never will be. And it should never be compared to the Zeiss as anything other than a seriously low grade alternative. Acting as though Zeiss/Sony should have brought out the 55mm Z at a bucky thirty simply because we would have preferred that price point is forum photographer entitlement at it's worst.

Ariel Martini's picture

the reviews for the canon 50mm 1.2, 1.4 and 1.8 show they all have the same quality at the same aperture. just a sample

If you'd tried the converters (I own the LAEA2 for my NEX6) you'd note they aren't very large and they weigh nothing. The camera is still much smaller and lighter than my A99v or my A900 in any state.

It'll have the same setting as the other Alpha systems where the setting effect can be turned off and the EVF simulates a standard OVF for compositional purposes only. The studio guys who use the A99v are quite used to it.

Thank you Dyna! Great to know that.

If you want the latest and greatest without compromise, you aren't spending $3k for your camera BODY. You're spending $7k and getting the Canon 1Dx, period. And then concerning yourself with $2k+ each for the lenses that can handle it. The new bodies that Sony announced are designed to go toe to toe with the D800/5D setup but not against the 1Dx. There are always compromises to cameras in the design:function ratio. These are a fair balance for their weight and for the fact that they represent merely the first wave of many.

I'll side with Stephen here just as a matter of course. The new sensor and processor combination in both A7 and A7r promise to outperform the 5DMkIII in low light sensitivity, dynamic range, and in video output. DXO will hold their court but I expect this to take place, especially where the 7r is concerned as no one has ever seen a sensor like THAT. They're built as well as the 5DMkIII. They have the studio capabilities (1/160 vs. 1/200 isn't worth quibbling over). They have live histogram, audio monitoring and leveling, Zebra, Peaking, WB, and metering through the viewfinder. 5DMkIII is incapable of doing any of that through the viewfinder, they'll need at the very least a Hoodman HoodLoupe or a Zacuto finder ($300 to $800). and is incapable of Zebra and Peaking altogether. The A7 and A7r are fully dual XLR integrated, with leveling on board with the $800 Sony unit. 5DMkIII will need $1500 in rigging to do it right. 5DMkIII wins with battery and twin card slots... A7/r win at being HALF THE WEIGHT and being compatible with 3/4 of the 35mm format lenses in history.

The A7 and A7r are guaranteed to AF better at all times than a 5DMkIII. I think we all know why. Further, the A7 has full object and eye recognition programs. Face recognition: program your favorite faces to assist in a shoot. Wedding photographers? Studio guys? Senior Portraits? Program the camera with your subject's face before the shoot and let it go?

No, the Canon and the Nikon are getting schooled in what a modern camera can do today. Using an electronic shutter makes you faster but it's merely one element in the todays idea of what makes a camera a camera.

We talked about this all last week at NYC: the US has always been exceedingly slow to adopt new technologies. The Motorola Razor, as an example, set the US cellular market back behind the global curve by at least 3 years. Consumers here simply don't like to accept change... and they like being told by their friends what to buy instead of researching themselves. Which is why the NEX-6 is absolutely HUGE overseas... and barely registering here.

Not even apples to apples. Focal length and aperture ratio do not dictate the quality of glass, resolution, color separation, micro contrast, nor build of a lens. The price is usually the indicator we're looking for. The new Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 will be in the same echelon as the Canon 50mm f/1.2 L and should be judged accordingly.

Mark Alameel's picture

Another big difference on the Sony a7R: No Optical Low-Pass Filter

David Liang's picture

The Sony 70-200 II better be one hell of a lens at just under a 3k price point.

Ariel Martini's picture

what's the use of a compact body with such heavy and expensive lenses? needs some low cost lightweight primes to be worthy over a 6D or D600

Liam O'Prey's picture

Sony are killing it! Think of all the vintage glass you'll be able to use with no mirror issues.

nah i'd rather buy a dslr for that much.

I guess a very enticing product for serious amateur and enthusiasts. However the main caveat though is in the button arrangement. I think for pro users they are too tightly spaced out due to the smaller body.
What comes in as an appealing feature might turn into a nuisance during extend shooting.

I'd like to go out in a night session for evaluating the EVF which has been the weak spot on this breed of cameras.

Brian Anderson's picture

I learned how to use a DSLR with the discontinued A-33 SLT (quickly discontinued I might add). However, it didn't take long for me to move away from Sony to a Canon 7D. These look really impressive but I don't think it's enough to make me come back at this point. I still keep the A-33 around but I can't even use the A lenses I have for it if I were to come back. Not even the 50mm :(

Jason Vinson's picture

if this was A-mount i would pre order 2 of them.... but they had to go with e-mount...

At this stage does anybody still worry about image quality? Hasn't the tech in all cameras reached the point where picture quality from any Manufacturer (Sony, Canon, Nikon, etc) is more or less guaranteed and all it comes down to is mere preference?
I'm sure this will be a great camera and the only thing that will come in the way of a photographer getting great images with this camera is the photographer's own lack of skill or imagination

With a sync speed of only 1/160th, battery life good for only 350 shots, and button arrangement, I don't see how this camera is a contender for the professional. It probably is a great travel camera but beyond that...

Graham Marley's picture

To be honest, without the writer getting their hands on this camera, this just sounds like a copy-paste of the PR talking points about the camera. Is that what it's supposed to be? Because I'm not impressed by a company telling me how baller their image processor is, just because they say so. I'm sure it's a fine camera, but show us some files, or tone down the sales pitch.

Bruce Kaplan's picture

In five years, none of my camera bodies with have mirrors inside. The DSLR is obviously on its
way out; I get it. However, I need to see where all of this is headed before I dish out thousands of dollars (lenses included) on new gear. Things are changing so fast and technology is advancing at a rapid pace. I need to see some stability at this platform before I make the leap. I don’t want to buy a cool camera now, only to have it obsolete in 6mo. However, I do like where all of this is headed.

Sony camera designers are a bit off the mark - their cameras are ugly as sin!
These seem to be an attempt at the Fuji retro style - but with grip and prism added they look weird.

PS yes I realise we don't buy cameras for their looks. But it's something I've noticed for a while.