Which Photographer Is the Sony a7R V Intended For? A Critical Review

Which Photographer Is the Sony a7R V Intended For? A Critical Review

I received the brand new Sony a7R V from Sony Netherlands for a review. It was a wonderful opportunity to find out if the autofocus is as good as advertised. Looking at the camera in a critical way makes me wonder: which photographer is the camera intended for?

It has been three years since the Sony a7R IV was announced, so it was time for an upgrade. Instead of the expected increase in resolution, the Sony a7R V has the same 61 MP sensor. Everything else is completely new. The latest Bionz processor allows not only a small increase in dynamic range, but also an enhanced AI-based autofocus system that seems to be the main selling point.

How It Looks

Sony has come a long way since the first Alpha series cameras. With the Sony A1, the design finally became more mature. Ergonomics have become better, the quality of buttons has increased, and the menu is redesigned.

The Sony a1, the Sony a7 IV and the new Sony a7R V.

After the Sony a1, the Sony a7 IV also got a better design and bulkier body. To be honest, it was the first Sony that I enjoyed. The new Sony a7R V has almost the same design. 

The buttons have a good feel and a clear pressure point. The joystick works well, and the dials have a good grip. The camera is the right size for my hands, allowing a firm grip. There is a lockable switch for image, movie, and S&Q settings, beneath the PASM dial.

The camera body of the Sony a7R V is the same as the Sony a7 IV, except for the LCD screen.

The battery can be charged by USB-C. Unfortunately, there is no way to check if the battery has a full charge. You have to disconnect the USB-C to check the status.

Still, it's not perfect. There are a couple of things that can be improved. The back dial could have a better grip so you won’t push it on accident while rotating. The menu is not always logical, the help function is useless, and the settings that are projected in orange onto the LCD screen are not that crisp and clear.

The display of the settings is unchanged. This could be improved a lot.

The LCD Screen

As said, the design of the body has grown mature. But what’s really great is the LCD screen. It is tilt-able like the previous models. But it also has the fully articulating ability, which can be found on the a7 IV. This makes the screen truly amazing. I love it.

The amazing tilting screen that is also fully articulating. It's the best LCD screen design I've seen so far.

The second screen is the electronic viewfinder. It has a resolution of 9.44 million OLED dots. It refreshes up to 120 fps. If feels like looking through an optical viewfinder. But the resolution will drop when the camera is focusing. More about that later.

Another well-designed detail is the doors that cover the connections. These are not the flimsy rubber flaps which can be found on many cameras. It also hides a full-size HDMI connector, which is great to have if you’re into video.

The connections on the Sony a7R V. I like how the camera has two similar card slots, the full-size HDMI, and the doors that hide the connectors.

The AI AF Options

Perhaps the most important selling point is the artificial intelligence autofocus. Sony claims a 60% increase in speed and the ability in recognizing subjects. Of course, this is compared to its three-year-old predecessor. The Sony a7R V now recognizes humans, animals, birds, insects, cars, trains, and airplanes. Indeed, there are settings for animals and birds, but also the combination of the two.

There are a lot of customization options for the AF menu. Although I like the ability to tweak the behavior, perhaps this has become too difficult.

Every autofocus setting can be customized. It is possible to change how fast it will track a subject and how it will stick to the subject. You can choose what is used for autofocus for each subject. It's possible to turn on eye AF, head AF, or body AF for animals, birds, and humans. But there are many more AF customization options available, which makes it a challenge to find the perfect settings for your kind of photography.

The autofocus works great. It picks out the eyes of birds, dogs, and humans and switches between eyes, head, and body if necessary. Although it’s said to be much better compared to the previous model, I can’t say I was overly impressed by its performance.

Although animal AF was activated, the camera preferred to focus on the person. After the person was out of frame, it failed to lock onto the dog. I was expecting AI driven autofocus to be more, well, intelligent? It happened more than once.

With bird AF activated, it didn't detect the bird at all. But it was a difficult situation, I must admit. Again, I would expect AI-driven autofocus to be able to figure this out. I had to switch to one point AF to focus on the duck.

There were situations where the autofocus was struggling. It preferred to focus on a human when photographing my dog, even though I set it to animal AF, and it failed to switch to the right spot while photographing. It could not find a bird when photographing through leaves with bird AF activated, and on one occasion it completely failed to focus at night. 

This situation turned out to be difficult for the autofocus. It failed to focus even though there was enough light. I tried different settings, but had to switch over to manual focus. This was quite disappointing. Other night shots with more streetlights weren't any problem.

That doesn’t mean the autofocus is a failure. Most of the time, it worked perfectly, and it continues to amaze me how quickly and accurately it works. But it would struggle in more difficult circumstances where I was expecting the AI-powered autofocus to do a much better job.

It could be a wrong setting that is responsible for my findings. If that’s the case, it might take a very long time to find out what could be set to improve the AF. There are just too many customization settings available, and thus too many variables to take into account. Perhaps Sony has gone a bit too far with these customization options.

The birds were detected without problem. But you have to check which bird is chosen by the AI AF. It turned out to be the bird that was in the front.

The AF Capabilities in Real Life

Fast and accurate autofocus makes it possible to follow fast-moving subjects. The camera can recognize humans, animals, birds, trains, cars, and airplanes. This suggests this camera is perfect for shooting action and sports. So, that's why I tried to shoot some action sequences with my dog.

Most modern mirrorless cameras can shoot 10 frames per second or more with a mechanical shutter. Switch to the electronic shutter, and the amount of frames per second becomes two, three, or even four times as much. I was expecting this from the Sony a7R V also.

This is the maximum speed for the Sony a7R V with the electronic shutter. It will reach only 8 frames per second if the settings are right. With the mechanical shutter, 10 frames per second is possible.

To my surprise, the camera can only shoot a maximum of 10 frames per seconds, depending on the right settings. You have to switch to JPEG or lossy compressed raw and mechanical shutter to reach this speed. If you switch to a better image quality setting, the speeds drops to 7 frames per second.

With the electronic shutter, the speed is limited to 8 frames per second with JPEG or lossy compressed raw. Uncompressed raw will limit the speed even further, to 5 frames per second. There is also the pronounced rolling shutter effect with the electronic shutter, which makes it not suitable for panning.

Rolling shutter is a problem with the electronic shutter. But if you want the maximum speed, you need to choose the mechanical shutter.

Although 10 frames per second can be enough for action photography, most people would prefer a faster frame rate for this kind of photography. It makes the Sony a7R V not the best choice for sports or action photography, despite the intelligent autofocus ability.

Subject recognition seems to have a bit of preference for humans, even though another subject was chosen here.

The resolution of the electronic viewfinder has to be mentioned also. If the camera is focusing, the quality of the image in the viewfinder drops significantly. This is of no issue if you focus once and take the shot. But if you’re using continuous AF, you won’t have a high-quality viewfinder at your disposal.

Dynamic Range and ISO

The performance of the sensor is good. There’s no doubt about that. At ISO 6,400, the camera performs well. Noise becomes noticeable from ISO 12,800 and up. I wouldn’t use the camera with ISO 25,600 or more. Especially with JPEG in the camera, the noise reduction will reduce the image quality. You could tweak the noise reduction inside the menu, of course.

The ISO performance at higher ISO settings. This is a crop (reduced size) of an in-camera JPEG.

With ISO 100, I find four stops of shadow recovery acceptable. More will show too much noise. This result will be worse when switched over to higher ISO settings.

I also tested the camera for how underexposure can be corrected in post. I shot a series of photos at ISO 100 and underexposed the image up to seven stops. I corrected the raw image in Lightroom Classic to see how the image quality would hold. For me, this is a good indication how good the dynamic range is.

I found a four-stop correction acceptable, with five stops to be the absolute maximum for lifting shadows. I wouldn’t advise to go beyond five stops since image quality starts decreasing rapidly. I believe it performs well, although not groundbreaking.

An example of a raw file processed in Lightroom. On the right the original ETTR result, and left, the processed version. There is noise visible. I would prefer to shoot using exposure bracketing in these situations for a cleaner result.

Other Possibilities That Are Small but Valuable

Sony has added a few nice settings that will help the photographer that often uses longer exposures or a large depth of field. With the Sony a7R V, you now have a bulb-timer at your disposal. It makes exposures of more that 30 seconds much easier. There is also a possibility to shoot an automated focus stacking series. The camera will adjust the focus increment up to 299 shots. It’s perfect for macro and landscape photography if an extreme depth of field is needed.

Sony finally added a bulb timer for long exposures. I love this feature.

As expected, you won’t be able to stack the images together in the camera. You need to use software to get the final result. This also applies for the pixel shift multi-shooting option. This option will take a series of images with a shifted sensor to get a higher resolution end-result. The camera doesn’t stack the images automatically, which means you get a series of images that has to be processed at home with the Sony image software.

My Verdict

I find the Sony a7R V a wonderful camera, and I’m a bit puzzled at the same time. First of all, the design has improved a lot, especially if you compare it with the three-year-old predecessor. The new articulating LCD screen is amazing. I wish this was implemented on many other cameras. Well done, Sony.

I love that screen. That is perhaps the best thing about the camera, I think.

The new menu structure, although far from perfect, is a welcome improvement over the old one. Sony can still improve with help pages that contain actually useful information, a better distribution of menu items, and less confusing abbreviations. Also, the quick menu and on-screen menu information can easily be made much clearer to read. But these are things that are typical for Sony cameras. The only problem can be the extensive customization options, which can make it difficult to find the best setting for your photography.  

The thing that disappoints me the most is the combination of limited frame rate. You would expect a camera with such a sophisticated autofocus system to be capable of fast action photography. Even with shooting in JPEG you won’t get more than 10 frames per second. If you want a silent shutter, the best the Sony a7R V can do is 8 frames per second.

With the human AF, this situation offers no problems. It detects the person and focuses at the right spot.

What I Like

  • Autofocus has a wide range of subject recognition
  • A lot of customization options (although perhaps a bit too much)
  • The fully articulating flip screen
  • Two card slots for similar cards (CF Express Type A or UHS-II-SD)
  • Size of the camera body and grip
  • Doors over the connections instead of the rubber flaps
  • Full-size HDMI
  • Automatic focus bracketing
  • Pixel shift multi-shooting
  • Built-in bulb timer
  • High resolution of the electronic viewfinder
  • Dynamic range and ISO performance

What Could Be Improved

  • The menu (yes, even the new menu system)
  • On-screen menu option can be sometimes difficult to read
  • AF menu is perhaps too customizable, which makes it difficult
  • Limited to 10 frames per second with restrictions
  • Pronounced rolling shutter effect with electronic shutter
  • Charging by USB-C lacks indication of a full battery (you need to pull out the charging cable to see the battery charge)
  • EVF resolution drops when autofocus is active
  • No in-camera merging of pixel shift multi-shooting

Which Photographer Is the Camera Intended For??

If you should upgrade to the new Sony a7R V depends on the camera you’re using at this moment. Best way of deciding if it’s worth it is by looking at the specifications and making a list of things you need or just want to have. If you tick enough boxes, then yes, you should upgrade.

Although not really necessary, the vehicle AF recognition works. But it's true benefit will probably be more noticeable with moving subjects.

But if you’re a sports or action photographer, I don’t think this camera is perfect for you. Even if the AI-powered autofocus is that good, the Sony a7R V is much too slow for proper action photography. Unfortunately, no other camera has this sophisticated AI AF system yet.

If you’re a landscape photographer, the resolution is great. The increase in dynamic range can be great also, but exposure bracketing or filters will allow even better results when it comes to noise levels. For this kind of photography, you don’t need the sophisticated autofocus system. If you own the predecessor, there is not much reason to upgrade. The bulb timer and automatic focus bracketing is not enough to justify it, I think.

Shooting in the field with the Sony a7R V was fun. It's a great camera.

If you're a wedding photographer, it might be tempting. But remember how much resolution this camera has and ask yourself if that’s necessary for this kind of photography. The improved autofocus is welcome, of course. But you don’t need the addition of trains, planes, and automobiles. Perhaps the Sony a7 IV is a camera that is more suited for this kind of photography.

That said, if you need to upgrade because your camera is worn out, the Sony a7R V a great one to have, unless you shoot action and sports. In that case, there are better choices.

What do you think about the Sony a7R V? Let me know in the comments below.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Nando Harmsen is a Dutch photographer that is specialized in wedding and landscape photography. With his roots in the analog photo age he gained an extensive knowledge about photography techniques and equipment, and shares this through his personal blog and many workshops.

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For me, the α7R V is just the necessary fix for the α7R IV.

I really felt that the α7R IV was rushed back then. I treated it more like a α7R III with a 60MP sensor. The α7R IV was difficult to use for handheld shooting, the AF was not really that great, and I think it is being slowed down by its processor.

The α7R V just fixed those. Better IBIS for the hand held shooting, better sensor to maximize the potential of the same sensor, and better AF. But then, I haven’t used the camera to actually see how far it improved from its predecessor.

Your remarks about the A7R IV surprises me a bit. I though it was well praised back then, being the better camera on the market if I remember correctly.
Glad to hear it will be the necessary fix. Well worth the upgrade for you

α7R IV is still a great camera, don't get me wrong. I still used it a lot but just learned to live with its shortcomings.

I currently use the a7riii… 2 generations back LOL. I have learned to work with it again shooting Sony for a few years (I had the a7iii before). The a7riii does most of what I need; however, the really great improvements like AF, EVF, Articulated Rear Screen, Improved WB & Color Science, and Video Specs - these are features that everyday I wish LOL or need more & more.

I too am still on rIII. Tough deciding on a7IV or a7rV. Maybe I’ll wait for the a7V in hopes it’ll get that nifty articulating screen. I use mine on the III a lot as sort of a waist-view finder.

Wish I could use silent shutter more, but proliferation of LED lighting has made that pretty useless. The a1 sure sounds nice, but pretty steep for amateur.

I have been using a Sony A7riii as well. Like its compactness and image quality, but don't like the battery drain with the Sony battery grip and its slow readout when using the electronic shutter. Thought about getting an A1, but ended up with a Nikon Z9 with Firmware 5.0. It works perfectly with the Sony AF lenses (including vibration reduction) using a Megadap ETZ 21 Pro adapter that adds virtually no length or weight to the mounted lenses. Great performance, battery life, image quality, lack of rolling shutter. Only thing is that the body is comparatively large and heavy, although considerably smaller and lighter than my Nikon d850 with grip. The ongoing free and substantial firmware updates that Nikon has provided for the Z9 really elevate this camera.