Sony Alpha a7R—Initial Impressions

I’ve been testing a new interchangeable lens camera, the Sony Alpha a7R, to see if I can happily use it. The a7R can truly be thought of as a new paradigm camera compared to the DSLRs I am accustomed to using, which are basically classic SLRs with an optical pentaprism and mirror, updated for digital. The full frame sensor in the a7R is the same as the sensor in the Nikon D800E (the Nikon sensor is made by Sony), with a full 36MP capture. This camera has great resolution, but no mirror or optical viewfinder—and weighs less than half of what a full-frame Nikon DSLR weighs.

Succulents (via Sony Alpha a7R) © Harold Davis
Succulents (via Sony Alpha a7R) © Harold Davis

It’s really interesting how the gear we use influences our imagery, and even what we see and how we see it! I shoot differently with a full-frame DSLR than when using an iPhone camera, and as I try the a7R, I am working differently yet again—and taking different shots.

This is a very smart camera, and a magnificently designed machine. It is a real pleasure to hold in my hands, and the light weight of the form factor considering the resolution is nothing short of astounding.

I shot the image shown above with a Sony-Zeiss Vario-Tessar FE 24-70mm lens at 70mm, f/5.6, 1/80 of a second and ISO 100 handheld. It’s not my usual way of working, but I set the camera on Auto, and let the camera do the thinking about focus and exposure. It did a pretty good job, I’d say. Auto-pilot, when it is as good as the automation in this camera, has something to be said for it because I can concentrate on seeing, and I don’t need to think about the technical aspects. Maybe this is the future, a little like being driven by a Google car!

I’m continuing to work my way through the sketchy documentation, explore my feelings about the non-optical viewfinder, see how easy it is to use manual exposure settings, find out whether it plays well with my wonderful collection of Nikon-mount Zeiss glass via the Sony E to Nikon F metabones adapter, test battery life, see how I can use the a7R with an intervalometer, and investigate other issues.

I’ve added a tripod quick-release plate to the bottom of the a7R, and I will be using it this weekend as my primary camera as I lead a landscape photography workshop at Point Reyes National Seashore.

The questions I now need to answer for myself don’t really relate to the camera per se, which is clearly a magnificent machine, but rather to how well I work with it, and whether my style of craft meshes well with the machine. Camera and photographer are a kind of cyborg. Does this Harold-Sony a7R man-machine cyborg work and play well? Stay tuned.

Full disclosure: Sony kindly lent me the Alpha a7R along with the 24-70mm lens.

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