We take a moment to relax a bit after last week’s fury of activities at Watches & Wonders and look at a camera which was loaned to us for two weeks – the new Sony A7RV. It came with two lenses – a 90mm prime macro lens, and a general purpose 24-70 zoom, from the high end G and G-Master lineup.
I was offered to try out the new A7RV. The camera was announced in October 2022, and was available to buy from December 2022, costing approximately USD 3,900 / GBP 4,000, though units only became available in Singapore from early this year. We received the camera in late Feb, and had the camera for two weeks. This was a very short time for a complex, full featured camera like the A7RV. But I tried to put it in paces, with focus on my use case. Mostly for macro photography of watches, and some day to day use.
TGIFriday: Review of the new Sony A7RV
The Sony A7R V ILCE-7RM5 body only is priced at a retail of SGD 5,749. The 24-70 zoom, SEL2470GM2 is priced at SGD 3,028 and the 90mm Macro prime SEL90M28G is priced at SGD 1,614. Prices inclusive of GST.
- 60MP BSI CMOS sensor
- Improved AF with subject recognition
- In-body stabilization rated at up to 8.0EV
- Continuous shooting at up to 10fps with flash (JPEG or Lossy compressed Raw)
- 8K/24p or 4K/60p video (both with 1.24x crop)
- Full-width 4K up to 30p
- 10-bit 4:2:2 video options, including S-Log3, S-Cinetone and HLG
- Fully-articulated rear screen on tilt-out cradle
- Reduced-size Raw files (26MP/15MP)
- Focus bracketing mode (with stacking via computer)
- Multi-shot pixel shift high-res mode with motion compensation (via computer)
- Sensor-shift dust removal and close shutter with power off option
- 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi
- UVC/UAC USB-standard video for use as webcam
Overall, this is a superb camera. It is excellent in almost all aspects of general photography. No matter what your photography needs, it can be argued that the Sony A7R V will be able to meet the requirements. It was only a question remains is if the camera is good for the use in very specific applications like mine. And how the camera ergonomics feel in your hands.
The Sony legacy
Sony came quite late in the camera game. They never made a film camera, unlike their competitors viz Nikon, Canon, Pentax or Fujifilm from Japan. Or the likes of Leica and Hasselblad in Europe. Even Korean manufacturers like Samsung has made film cameras in the past. Sony’s first digital camera appeared in 1988 and used a floppy disk as a storage media. This was the Mavica, and it sported a sensor resolution of 640kp. In 2006, Sony stepped up their camera game when they acquired Konica/Minolta, and launched the Sony α (the lower case to Greek letter alpha, often transliterated as Sony Alpha). The Alpa was a DSLR – with a mirror and a digital sensor. The range has grown significantly, but it was perhaps not til 2013, when Sony introduced the E-Mount for mirrorless cameras that it became a significant player in the world of the digital cameras.
Sony also leveraged on its status as an electronic giant and is the major manufacturer of digital sensors in the world. Most of these sensors were developed for industrial use, but Sony sensors have also been applied in photography and found in cameras made by Nikon, Fujifilm, Panasonic, Pentax, Hasselblad, and even Phase One. Only Canon remains the only large camera maker who make their own sensors. Leica does not state which sensors its current sensors use, but they appeared to have transition over from TowerJazz (a Panasonic company) to Sony sensors. But this suspicion is not officially confirmed.
The body: A7R V
The body pf the A7R V uses the rather standard DSLM form factor. The body is smaller and lighter than either the direct competitors in the full frame market. The Canon R5, Panasonic S1R and the Leica SL2 are also full frame cameras sporting Sony sensors, are larger in all dimensions as well as weight. Both the Canon and Panasonic have 45Mp sensors in comparison to the 60Mp BSI sensor offered on the A7R V. As discussed in our review of the Phase One IQ4 150 review, the BSI sensor has significant technical advantages over the standard CMOS sensor.
Handling of the body is excellent. The grip is large and comfortable. And the Sony G and G-Master lenses are relatively manageable in size and weight. Especially when compared to the new lenses used in the Canon R or the L Mount Alliance lenses used in Panasonic and Leica SL ecosystem. In particular, I find hand holding the 90mm macro G lens attached to the A7R V is manageable, while I need a mini-tripod to support the combined weight of my Fujifilm GFX 50S II with Hasselblad HC 4/120 Macro plus H Adapter. Granted this is not really a fair comparison, as the GFX combo has a medium format sensor, and the Hasselblad lens needs to be larger to cover the bigger sensor, as well as an old design. So perhaps a fairer comparison might be to the Sigma Art 70mm, a rather light lens which I used with the Panasonic S1R and Leica SL2. And even with this full frame combination, Sony still feels good hand held.
The big complaint about Sony cameras, at least for me, has always been the menus. The system is designed by computer engineers, and not photographers. Resulting in a menu system which make sense from a systems engineering point of view, but often bury useful photographer items deep in the menu system. The most logical, and easy to use menu system, designed by photographers, are those found in Leica cameras, like the SL or SL2, and Hasselblad X1D. And on the other extreme of simplicity is the Sony menu system. The other manufacturers have menus which like somewhat in between. In the A7R V, the menu is cleaned up somewhat and is a great improvement over earlier iterations. The items are much more logically laid out within the menu tree, and more usable. However, Sony supporters always argue that the menu system, even though not intuitive at first use, will become second nature with familiarisation. An apologetic way to justify, to be sure, but one I readily accept. Only for reviewers who need to use multiple systems at a time, does the complex menu systems become a hassle, and even then, a google at the manual will always give the right settings.
The menu system is complemented by a rather nice dial layout on the camera top. A full PASM dial is available on a dial on top, together with 3 custom settings and two additional dials which can be used to adjust settings. The A7R V’s viewfinder is also superb, with a magnification of 0.9x and a 9.44M dot OLED display. The rear LCD is now also fully articulated, and the entire screen can be moved.
As with other recent Sony cameras, the a7R V has two dual-format card slots. These can accept either UHS-II SD cards or the small CFexpress Type A cards.
As a DSLM, the A7R V body has a short flange distance from lens to sensor, and thus is suitable for use with adapted lenses. Adapters are relative inexpensive and plentiful, and one can adapt lenses from SLRs and even Leica M lenses.
The body specifications also include very impressive claims on video capability, but I am not a video shooter, and unable to test out. But photographer friends who the Sony for video are often very happy with the performance.
The lenses: G 90mm Macro and G-Master 24-70 general purpose lens
Two lenses were loaned with the A7R V package. This was the Sony G FE 2.8/90mm Macro G OSS, wit optical image stabilisation. The lens features an easy switch between AF and MF by pulling or pushing a ring on the lens, and in focus throw is nice and long for precision in macro focusing. The lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.8, but almost all macro work is done at smaller apertures. I found the sweet spot for photographing watches to be approximately between f/11 and f/16, though to get a fuller depth of field, I often shoot at f/18 or f/20. At these smaller apertures, diffraction is visible on the full frame images, but properly downsized for the web, even as large as 2560 pixels across, the effect is not quite noticeable.
The other lens loaned to me was the G-Master FE 2.8/24-70 GM II lens. This is a general purpose zoom with constant maximum aperture of f/2.8 across the zoom range. The G-Master is Sony’s high end series.
Build quality of both lenses are excellent. With good fast autofocus, which operates accurately and quietly. The manual focus is also smooth with a nice feel.
Autofocus speed is blindingly fast with native Sony lenses, achieving focus almost immediately. The improved AI in the A7R V works well to identify people, heads and eyes, as well as animal subjects effectively. I had no issues with locking focus on any of the subjects I was shooting. But did not get to try it out with fast moving sporty subjects.
The only exception is when used in a very dark studio, without modelling lamps, when the AF tends to hunt, especially for close-ups. A switch on the lens help to limit the focus throw, but it still tend to hunt a bit more than expected. However, this is not really an annoyance in my use case, as I tend to prefer to focus manually for macros. And the focus peaking with magnification works well.
Sample photographs – Watches
Of course I used the camera in my bag for the duration it was with us for all my photo shoots. Here are two which have been published:
Overall, I am satisfied with the image quality performance of the A7R V, with no major issues spotted.
The A7R V is the first Sony camera to have focus bracketing built in. As with the new Leica, Panasonic or Canon full frame models, this mode is selected as a Drive mode. The process is rather manual, where the near and far points are set, and the user selects a step width and number of frames required. This is largely an by-experience method, with no automation offered by the camera. And quite similar to the ultra high end Alpa Focus Stacking system I reviewed recently.
The resulting frames can be combined in Helicon Focus to yield an image which is fully in focus from edge to edge.
The A7R V also has a pixel shifting mode to create ultra high resolution images. Two modes are available. The first is a four-shot mode that captures red, green and blue information for every output pixel location, giving greater chroma resolution and avoiding the softening effects of demosaicing Bayer images. There is also a 16-shot mode that shoots four Bayer-cancelling quartets of images at slight offsets, relative to one another, to boost the overall capture resolution to 240MP. Both these modes require the camera to be mounted on a tripod. The images are then combined in Sony’s Imaging Edge Desktop software, the latest version of which detects subject movement between images and corrects for this motion.
This is an easy breasy task for the A7RV. Covering events like the Chinese New Year celebrations of The Hour Glass. The camera locks focus very fast, and intuitively selects focus points. We also note the bright lighting conditions in this outdoor event.
Candid photographs are also easy, and the autofocus AI can easily pick up and identify humans, heads and automatically selects the eye for sharp focus. Almost just point and shoot.
Auto WB is also spot on, with perhaps with the lightest tinge of blue. For example, the image below is taken in a well lit restaurant with floor to ceiling window allowing good lighting from bright sun outdoors, complemented with fluorescent down lights. The A7R V was set to AWB, and the resulting image is rather pleasing.
The Sony A7RV is wonderfully suited to fast moving subjects, like in sports, in candid photography, and will be a useful camera for an event, wedding, or sports photographer. The 60Mp sensor is also offers excellent resolution and nuanced colours, and thus applications in landscapes, cityscapes and also table top macro are also within its ambit. This is a very good all round camera. Build quality is excellent, as expected of a camera with a professional use status. In the time it was with us, we did not get a chance to try it out in all the various genres that it is capable of, at least in paper. But in the fields where we tried, it performed excellent, with the only slight nit pick of not being able to nail focus in very dark studios for macro. Though as noted, though the camera and 90mm lens combo does tend to hunt a bit, this is generally not an issue in macro photography, as almost all focusing is done manually.
A hearty recommendation for a daily use camera, albeit a high end one. It is smaller and lighter than our everyday carry – the Fujifilm GFX 50S II with the GF50, though in this comparison, there is a slight penalty of image quality compared to the larger GFX sensor. But takes it back in terms of portability, convenience and speed of operations.