The Sony A7R for Landscape Photography – The Verdict

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In a nutshell, I don’t care for the camera and I’ve sold my kit. The obvious issue is a lack of lenses. I knew that getting into it of course, but thought the Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 would be a good start, followed by the Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 out now and the Sony FE 16-35mm f/4 out in the fall. That’s a great lightweight full-frame kit! This is keeping in mind that the two primes already released are not relevant for landscape photography. Guess what, the Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 is not a good lens. Not even an acceptable lens in my opinion. That throws the holy trinity of lenses out the window and where do we go from here? The Metabones adapter turned out to be a pain in the butt. Supposedly you had to add flock paper in order to reduce the glare in the adapter and improve contrast. OK, did that. Now the flock paper is in the scene! I would take a picture and have flock paper in the lower left. I would remove the lens and reapply the paper. Not fun. The Sony is clunky with the adapter. You lose a great deal of the lightweight factor and it doesn’t pair well with the larger Canon glass. Then there’s the light leak issue. Supposedly it’s common in most cameras but I followed recommendations and added a hair tie around the adapter. Next we have the vibration issue. At certain shutter speeds you get blurry images? How this got past Sony quality control is beyond me. Other issues include poor battery life, lossy RAW compression, poor UI, unusable EVF in low light and the feel factor. This can’t be measured but only assessed in the field when you are using a camera. It either feels right or it doesn’t. In the case of the Sony A7R it doesn’t feel right. My Canon 6D feels perfect in the hands with incredible UI and live view performance.

Sony will keep throwing darts at the wall trying to get it right and they just may. This is clearly a first generation camera and I anticipate the second version is right around the corner. They are doing a great job of innovating, but sometimes at the cost of perfecting what’s current. In addition, they are pushing out cameras that don’t have a cohesive system. The full-frame mirrorless family, the Sony A7, A7R and now A7S are years away from having a flushed out lens collection. While the image quality may be better than my current Canon setup, it comes at too great a cost of usability and options.

My next mission, especially for the next edition of my Gear Guide, was to tackle the Fuji X system. With the release of the weather sealed XT-1 and the Fuji XF 10-24mm f/4, I decided it was worth the plunge to explore the system for landscape photography. I will write a more detailed blog post with the results, but first impressions are the opposite of the Sony. The camera has great feel factor, an incredible selection of lenses, and solid UI. If you are looking for a quality lightweight landscape kit, the Fuji X-T1 is the way to go!

 

 

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16 responses to “The Sony A7R for Landscape Photography – The Verdict

  • dlqdprn

    Well evaluated Justin. The lack of meaningful lenses is what is holding SONY back, and they being primarily an electronics company seem slow to figure that out. Too many bodies, great sensors, no system.

    I recently suffered a failure with my Fuji X20 when dust got sucked into the lens at the coast. I was not in a dusty environment, so the sucking action of the zoom lens drew a few specks that had landed somewhere near the base of the lens. The service was expensive because the lens cannot be cleaned, a replacement lens was required. The WR XT1 is fine, but until the lenses get WR, I’d advise caution, especially with all of their zooms.

  • Sarah

    I appreciate your no-nonsense review and conclusions, Justin. I am also looking forward to your review of the Fuji system. I really want a mirrorless camera to help lighten my load, especially for backpacking. I will delegate the process of finding that camera to you since you are doing such a good job in testing them out. :)

    We hope you are doing well.

  • Arthur Wang

    Direct and to the point! (…how rare nowadays in a cyberspace without editors or column inch limits…) Very helpful: will save me from stumbling down this seemingly attractive road.

  • John Stephen Chandler

    i’m enjoying my A7R and yes there are pros n cons.
    I’m using legacy glass, mainly primes which is giving me great joy. My nikon ais glass is small and sharp, the 20mm and 24mm are great for landscapes.
    for portraits i’m using the 135mm f2 dc.
    for my style of photography is suits me.
    focus peaking, zoom magnify is great for MF lenses. if you have a collection of legacy glass this is a great camera to take advantage of. meaning you dont have to buy all new glass, just get an adaptor like novoflex and voila.

    doing portraits shots at wide open is a treat when you can zoom magnify. with my nikon d800 it was a challenge to get the eyes sharp and in focus but with the A7R its way easier now and i can preview it quickly in the viewfinder.

    the bad:
    less than 2 hours battery time but i figured a trick out and i can get 5 hours. diable wifi and go into menu option and use strictly viewfinder, diable the lcd, this way when you turn it off and on the lcd will not turn back on.

    one gripe is when i enable pure viewfinder i can not change settings via lcd, i have to use viewfinder which is lame i wish i could at least use lcd to change a settings.

    unable to change the way some buttons work, ie the wheel dial where the OK button is, i constantly hit it by accident with my palm which changes settings – so i put micropore tape on it – fixed that problem.

    the apps are limiting meaning some of them like time lapse and many others resort to taking pictures in JPEG only. you want to magnify or zoom in…it has to be done via the app, you cant use the button you mapped for zoom magnification – totally retarded. its best to zoom in check focus and then launch the app.

    terrible firmware update process, it actually bricked mine going from 1.01 to 1.02, the camera has wifi and all that yet you gotta download this lame software to update which is not 64bit compatible and sony fails to mention this on their website which bricked my camera, very frustrating.

    max 160s flash sync speed.

    lack of timer for hdr bracketing
    lack of intervalometer – usre there is an app for that but again its limiting. $2k for a camera that can not bracket shots in a row?? can only do 3 brackets??

    sonys lack of updated firmware, takes them forever and realistically they will rls another camera instead of firmware. its insane if you think about it. instead of upgrading and unlocking features which limit the user they would rather release another camera. its no mystery, sony is terrible at software and giving users updates to their gear.

    lack of lenses: i dont mind so much but i hope they provide more glass thats fast. a 24-70 thats f4 is lame, a 70-200 thats f4 is lame. i want the bokeh.

    overall – i am happy with the a7r because its small, lightweight, lets me play legacy glass, images are sharp, the quality matches my D800. the menu system is easy to use

    wish list: firmware to unlock 9 brackets HDR
    timer to fire off the brackets w/o holding the damn buttons (what was sony thinking- does anyone use a camera over there?)
    more menu options – ability to map viewfinder on/off to a button (turn off LCD except when you want to axs menu options)
    better written apps, that give axs to mapped buttons like zoom, magnify.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnchandler/

    • Justin Reznick

      Thank you for the reply John! I hope you have Sony’s ear because your wish list is fantastic. That would definitely improve the functionality of the camera. Interesting that you had the firmware issue, I had a similar problem as well. I’m happy the A7R is working well for you and I hope Sony continues to innovate and improve the system.
      Cheers!
      Justin

  • Mark Hespenheide (@mhespenheide)

    Justin,

    It’s interesting to me that you had a very different overall impression than I did. First, I’m coming from “inside” the Sony system, so I made the jump from a Sony a850 up to the a7r, combined with their own adapter (the LA-EA-3 and LA-EA-4). Some of the alpha-mount lenses are quite good.

    I’m also using a variety of other lens with manual focusing, live view, and 7x or 14x magnification to focus. Consequently, I’m not worried about the focusing speed for landscape work.

    I also think the shutter vibration issue might be much more strongly exaggerated when you attach a plate to an adapter (such as the metabones) rather than the camera body. I’m using an L-plate adapter attached to the body and have seen fine results for everything except possibly 1/15 to 1/30th — and even then, I might not have used the best technique.

    I haven’t seen any images of my own that are affected by the “light leak” issue.

    I will say that one area that I find the a7r distinctly short of competing cameras is its shutter lag. I gave up shooting events (or sports, etc.) with it because there’s simply too much time between pressing the shutter and when the picture is actually taken. I wouldn’t try wildlife with it, either.

    I haven’t personally run into problems with Sony’s compression algorithms yet, but I do wish they’d give us the option of a true 14-bit raw image.

    I feel like the a7r, when paired with the right lenses (that aren’t from the native E-mount family, unfortunately…) is a little bit like a modern view camera. Slow, finicky, and capable of amazing work in the right conditions. Not the right tool for everyone, though. I do agree with you that it’s a first-generation system; I hope Sony continues to work on it and address the issues we’ve raised. It’s the right camera *for me* right now, but everyone should make up their own mind based on their own needs. That said, in the incredibly unlikely event that Sony makes a new dSLR similar to the a850 but with the a7r’s 36mp sensor and live view, I’d probably go back to it!

    (Sarah, as an aside, if you do longer backpacking trips, think carefully about the battery life of mirrorless systems. They might not hold up as long as you want them to since you’re continuously using the sensor to compose and focus, etc.)

    • Justin Reznick

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply Mark! You make many excellent points and I think it’s awesome that the A7R is working well for you. It’s great that we have so many options to choose from!
      Cheers!
      Justin

  • Terry

    Hey Justin,

    Thanks for sharing your honest opinions about the A7R. I really didn’t expect this outcome from a landscaper like yourself but I realize everyone has different needs. In general, it seems like mirrorless systems have inherent problems that technology can’t address yet (i.e. short battery life, small non-prime lenses with with apertures larger than f/4, fast auto focusing). But like you said if Sony keeps innovating at the pace they’re going and addresses the major shortcomings you’ve outlined (along with some of the other comments above) then version two should be awesome!

  • C Webster

    I sent my R back and got a plain 7, which is better for non-native glass. But, in the end, the 1.75mm cover on the sensor hobbles the Sonys. I can’t consider something so huge as a 6D, so I broke down and found a nice used M9. I’m very happy now.

  • Chris Weber (@w3be)

    Justin, it was a pleasure meeting you at the Wedgwood festival today. I’ve been eyeing the A7R but haven’t gone there for many of the reasons cited in comments above – because of the lack of lenses, and it being a first gen camera I wanted to wait for another revision or two. I have however owned the RX1R alongside my Canon 5D3 and have found the RX1R incredible. The fixed 35 isn’t good as a ‘system’ obviously but it’s rivaled my 5D3 with the 24 mm TSE II and 70-200 2.8 in sharpness and image quality. From landscape to nightscape it can produce, and even with the slow AF I’ve managed to get some good ones of the kiddos too. It’s an incredible little gem.

    • Justin Reznick

      It was great to meet you too! Thanks for the info on the RX1R… I’ve heard nothing but glowing reviews regarding the camera. I will be interesting to see what Sony does next with the A7R follow up. I hope we can do a Seymour trip this winter!

      Cheers,
      Justin

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