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 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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.