About this Sony A7R2 review
The Sony A7R2 is a mirrorless camera launched by Sony in 2015 to world wide acclaim. The camera creates 42 million pixel image files of exceptional quality. It uses the Sony FE mount.
Eighteen months ago I sold my heavy DSLR equipment in favour of the Sony mirrorless system.
When I researched the system I was able to find a wealth of general information and reviews. But there was little information directly relevant to my personal style of photography.
Last August I wrote a blog post for Wex Photographic. I hoped that my first impressions and experiences of using the Sony A7R2 system would help others.
A year on its time to update those experiences.
I stress these are my views based on my personal usage. Other photographers may have different views and requirements of their gear. But these are my opinions.
What are my requirements?
I am a fine art photographer shooting mainly cityscapes. I do much of my work at night and in other low light situations.
Many of my images are created using long exposures.
I produce panoramic images. This can involve stitching anything from 2 to 40 image files. I make very large prints, which means that the quality of images and underlying files is paramount.
I need cameras to be responsive and to work with lenses that are sharp, with low distortion and which do not flare when shooting into streetlights at night.
I use four everyday lenses. The Sony 35mm 2.8, Sony 55mm 1.8 mm and Zeiss Batis 25mm and 85mm lenses. These four lenses plus the body comfortably fit into a Peak Design every day messenger bag. This set up is very handy for walking around cities.
I also have the Sony 70 – 200 F4 zoom. I only use it in special situations and do not usually carry it with me.
I use an L bracket and, occasionally, a remote release.
The L bracket is for panoramic shooting. By stitching vertically rather than horizontally there are more reference points. I could not use the L brackets from the more reputable suppliers as they block the remote release socket. I found a cheap import that works much better.
I used to use a cable release all the time when shooting on a tripod. But I find the two second delayed exposure option on the camera to be adequate in many situations so am now much less dependent on the remote. This is a good thing as I have not found a cable release I am happy with.
I considered lens adapters but decided against them. Sony cameras are able to use lenses from other systems via adapters.
I tried both the Metabones and Novoflex adapters with Zeiss Nikon fit lenses. Both functioned well optically but at the time I tested them neither allowed transmission of EXIF data with image files. This may have changed now. The Novoflex was awkward in combination the Zeiss 135 as its fixing mechanism obstructed the lens.
So how does the system perform for me?
There are two killer advantages – image quality and weight.
Firstly, image quality
Image quality is superb. File sizes are huge.
Mirrorless cameras are less prone to camera shake than DSLR equivalents. This allows sharper images taken hand held in low light situations.
Files are 7952 x 5304 pixels. At 180 dpi prints are 112 x 75 cm (44 x 30 inches) without interpolation. (Note that in uncompressed RAW these files use a lot of computer resources. Each file is 86MB which expands to 216 GB when opened up and saved in 16 bit format.)
The camera has 14 stops of dynamic range at ISO 100. It captures an enormous amount of detail, especially in the camera’s extended dynamic range mode.
The A7R2 is ISO invariant. I regularly shoot two stops below optimum exposure to protect highlights. Pretty much all shadows can be recovered at low ISO’s without noise.
The Zebra system is excellent for highlight recognition.
Autofocus is extremely reliable and locks on to moving objects well. It will track a moving train accurately and reliably.
At 600g the A7R2 is a lightweight camera.
There are also several lightweight, high quality prime lenses.
(But users working with zoom lenses lose much of the weight advantage compared to DSLR systems. Most of the zoom lenses that fit the A7R2 are about as heavy as DSLR equivalents. The Sony 70 200 F4 is a notable exception at just 860g)
An aside. The 55m 1.8 is one of the best lenses I have ever used, and in combination with the camera is extremely light. I can do 75% of my photography using this combination which consistently delivers outstanding results.
Room for improvement
The Sony system is not without its shortcomings. But what system is?
Issues identified with the camera fall into three categories: irritants, significant operational issues and the customer service factor.
Firstly the irritants. There are several issues which when push comes to shove don’t bother me that much. But these three factors do.
Build quality and ergonomics are disappointing. Although the A7R2 is a serious camera it does not feel like one. Every time I hold it I miss the feel of my old DSLR, or my alternative Fuji camera.
The menu system is confusing. It is neither well nor logically organised and I still find it difficult to remember where menu items are without having to scroll through all options, sometimes more than once. Even after eighteen months of use!
The buttons on the camera can be fiddly. It is easy to press the wrong button, especially when working in the dark. When this happens I find myself operating functions I did not intend to because the same button does something different in shooting and playback modes.
Then the operational difficulties:
The manual focusing system can be awkward. The camera has focus peaking which I don’t find to be accurate when viewing the entire image in live view. Manual focus assist allows users to zoom in on part of the focus area. When contrast levels are low very little focus peaking is seen if zoomed in. There is nothing to indicate when focus has locked onto a subject.
On rare occasions I simply cannot get my shot. I photographed Chelsea Bridge in London from a distance at night. Autofocus would not lock on and I could not get manual focus to work.
Before finalising this post I experimented with this image in almost dark conditions. Autofocus would only work intermittently and I could not focus the camera manually. Effectively I could not control the camera in these conditions. I had expected to be able to focus on either the light to the left of the school, or the green light to the right.
But, in spite of these difficulties when the camera did focus it performed well. Given that it was dark, when focus locked on I got this result showing the excellent dynamic range and shadow recovery possibilities of the camera.
For younger people with perfect eyesight none of this may matter. But neither factor applies to me!
(I have run tests against the Fuji XT-2 whose focus peaking is more accurate and more visible. The Fuji also has two indicators to confirm when focusing is locked on).
There is no joystick. This makes moving the focusing point awkward especially as the “arrows” double up as something else in non shooting mode. It is very easy to switch away from focusing mode when working at night. It can be really fiddly focusing when subjects are not static.
I find the time before images can be reviewed after shooting to be too long. If I am shooting a series of images for a panorama I would like to review each as shot. The lag between shooting and writing does not permit this.
There is an additional delay if you want to zoom in on images after shooting.
Delays in reviewing images are presumably down to the size of images files. 42mp files are extremely large and the trade off between size and processing speed needs to be considered.
Service and support
Ask retailers “off the record” and most will say that Sony’s customer service can be patchy. Especially when compared to other camera manufacturers.
I have found it to be extremely inconsistent. It can be hard to get technical help over the phone. If equipment needs fixing (even under warranty) it can be difficult getting clarity about the repair process or timescales. When you reach the offshore support centre some advisers have never heard of the camera. Attempts to raise this with Sony management have fallen on deaf ears. The only way I can see to deal with this is to double up on equipment to eliminate any single point of failure.
I will watch with interest as Sony and other manufacturers develop their mirrorless cameras. There is a lot of evidence that Sony will take the professional market very seriously. It may just be a matter of time until many of the points above are addressed.
The A7R2 creates outstanding images. Really outstanding images. It has a lot going for it.
But it feels like a computer that makes images rather than a camera that is a joy to use.
Is it for everyone? No. I think a few of the pitfalls will put some users off. But many photographers love the camera. I often photograph with railway and aviation enthusiasts. I reckon 95% of this community still uses DSLRs. Of the remaining 5% most of those use Fuji rather than Sony mirrorless cameras.
Is it really for me? After eighteen months the jury is still out. I have learned to work with it, but I still feel I am compromising too much. I use and have evaluated other cameras. I will cover my experiences with the Fuji XT2 in a separate article. But as a heads up most of the issues I have described above do not apply to the Fuji system.
I hope you have found this Sony A7R2 review useful and balanced. I welcome any views and discussion.