Sony A7R teams up with Canon glass By Fred Miranda
Sony gets its swagger back with the new full frame A7R. They own bragging rights to resolution resulting in crisp prints, and dynamic range that tucks away hidden shadow detail for clean recovery. Bottom line, this camera belongs in the hands of a landscape photographer. And the best part, is that Sony tied it all together in a light, mirrorless, weather-sealed body that almost any lenses can hook up with.
But let’s be honest here, my fatal attraction with this new body started the day I discovered I could adapt my personal herd of Canon lenses to it. Just imagine, my favorite glass united with the awe-inspiring, Sony Exmor 36MP sensor. Sounded like a magical combination and I was just itching to explore the possibilities. To start my quest, I decided to trek out to one of my favorite spots, Death Valley National Park. It’s the perfect setting to decide if this is indeed a match made in heaven.
The new Sony A7R is equipped with the same 36mp Exmor sensor that was previously only available on the Nikon D800 and D800E cameras. Having the ability to combine Canon’s top L lenses like the TS-E 17mm f/4L, TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II, and EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II, with Sony’s 36MP sensor compelled me to try it. Currently the Canon 5D Mark III, 6D and 1DX have amazing high ISO but this new sensor combined with the Canon glass would mean broader dynamic range at base ISO and higher resolution. Plus, there’s always the added bonus of finally rivaling Nikon’s D800 series when shooting landscape.
Sony A7R main features
- 36.4MP Full Frame Exmor CMOS Sensor
- No Optical Low-Pass Filter
- ISO 100-25600 (with 50 ISO extension)
- 1200-zone evaluative metering
- Speed Priority Continuous shooting: 4fps
- 1/8000 to 30s shutter speed range
- Full 1080/60p Video with Remote Capture)
- 2.4M-Dot OLED Electronic Viewfinder
- 25 points contrast AF
- Eye AF (Eye Detection)
- Detail reproduction technology (JPEG only)
- Diffraction-reducing technology (JPEG only)
- 3.0" Tiltable TFT LCD with 1,229K-Dots
- TRILUMINOS™ Color technology
- BIONZ X image processing engine
- Gapless On-Chip Lens Design
- Flash Sync Speed: 1/160s
- Direct Compatibility with E-mount Lenses
- Weather sealed
- Built-In Wi-Fi and NFC
- Dimensions (WxHxD): 5.0 x 3.7 x 1.9"
- Weight (main unit only) 407g
Canon lens adapter
Step one in adapting a lens: Find a high quality adapter. Unfortunately, this is not as easy as it sounds. My options were limited, and my good options few and far between. After trying a couple brands, the best I found was the Metabones Mark III. But, I had sample variation among the different Metabones adapters I tested. Before you start out, it’s crucial to get a well-centered adapter. Any mount tilt will translate to blurry edges when using ultra wide lenses.
Keep in mind there's also the issue of your adapter’s internal reflections. I noticed that my test images suffered from low contrast on the edges of the frame, especially when shooting with the TS-E lens shifted. Photographer Marc Aurel posted a fix on this thread, and after applying his solution, the problem's resolved. Basically, apply adhesive black flock paper to the adapter internals to fix the low contrast and flare on the edges of the frame. It’s a bit of a hassle, but at least it works.
Sony A7R | Metabones Mark III with Edmund adhesive black flock paper
The Metabones adapter supports auto-focus (AF) and image stabilization (IS) for modern EF lenses. Image stabilization support can be extremely handy, especially when using the electronic viewfinder (EVF) high magnification. It helps stabilize the image so you can fine-tune your manual focus for optimum results. But, I found the AF to be a bit slow and unreliable under low-light conditions.
Novoflex has an EOS to E-Mount adapter in the works. According their PR rep, Michael Hiesinger, the company is working on a better solution than Metabones offers at the moment. They plan to include electronics in the adapter, but it will still take 3 -5 months since it’s only in the development phase.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed for better tolerance, less sample variation, no internal reflections and the added comfort of electronic contacts for full exposure control.
Once you have your adapter squared away, you’ll need to get a sturdy L-Bracket to support the weight of your heavy and bulky SLR lenses. This will also assist you when rotating from landscape to portrait orientation in the field. One solution for the Metabones adapter, is an L-bracket from “Hejnar Photo”.
Sony A7R | Metabones Mark III | Landscape Orientation
It’s well built and can be purchased with the Hejnar spacer, which attaches to the Metabones tripod mount and elevates it by about one inch. It’s just the lift you’ll need, for large diameter lenses and all TS-E lenses to maintain full range of motion. Another less expensive and even smaller L-bracket brand that works well is the Desmond L Plate DAL-1. But, you'll still need the Hejnar spacer for full range of motion on the TS-E lenses.
Sony A7R | Hejnar Photo L-bracket with Spacer | Canon TS-E 24mm fully shifted/tilted
My first impression when handling the camera is that the body size is ideal. Some buttons are a little cramped but they're strategically positioned and the ability to customize functions enhance the tailored made feel. Overall, Sony delivered a full frame sensor on a small camera without too many compromises.
The ergonomics are adequate and the menu system is intuitive. Within a couple of days after shooting, I was able to customize the camera to my needs. When testing Canon and native lenses with auto-focus, I kept the settings on "Focus Area” in Flexible Spot “S” (small) with good light and “M” (medium) in low light.
Peaking level worked well in the “Mid” setting, which was useful and reliable on high contrast subjects. I set my C3 button to control peaking level. For the most part, I maintained the defaults. But, I had to remove the ISO setting from the scrolling wheel. This was because I didn’t want to activate it unexpectedly if my hand brushed against it while shooting. Instead, I assigned ISO settings to the C2 button.
I prefer shooting in Manual mode because I like having the ability to adjust aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation while in auto ISO. When shooting landscape, I kept my ISO at 100 and in manual mode, the LCD had a nice little confirmation for metering adjustment.
Sony RAW image quality (ARW)
I set my alarm for 4am and checked the sky. I thought a saw a few clouds forming, so I yanked on my hiking boots, grabbed my gear and headed out. Treading up the dunes in the dark you have a lot of time to think. Will I get there in time for that millisecond of sun light, did I pack enough water, and why the hell is everyone so caught up on Sony's jpeg file quality? All I want are decent RAWs to work with.
I’ve edited Canon 5D Mark II/III files for years now and I know how far I can push the shadows before they start to fall apart. When editing Sony A7R RAW files, I pushed the shadows and highlights without any noticeable penalty. In fact, I was extremely impressed by the RAW output image quality. I even tried a few RAW converters but decided to stick with the editing controls of Adobe Lightroom v5.3.
Sony’s compressed RAW (cRAW) can be described as a "visual" lossless compression but technically it's nearly lossless. Overall, you would be hard-pressed to find artifacts due to compression. Basically, in my real world landscape images, I was unable to detect any problems. Sony’s files size remains reasonably consistent at around 37mb regardless of the complexity of the scene so the benefit of the compression is getting 40-50% smaller files when compared to fully uncompressed RAWs.
In order to test shadow recovery, I decided to find the most messed up lighting conditions to see if the Sony A7R could handle it. My subject, a wooden stud, was shining bright and nearly over-exposed. On the right side, it's hugged by an almost pure black shadow. When I came back home and examined the files, I hunted for artifacts. I finally found them hiding in the blacks - near the transition between light and dark. But, it took terrible lighting and ridiculously harsh conditions to capture it. Don't get me wrong. It's there, but it's rare.
At first, I though it could be an issue with Adobe's demosaicing algorithm, but the artifacts show up on Capture One and Sony's Image Data Converter as well.
Sony A7R before shadow recovery
Sony A7R after shadow recovery.
Shadow recovery: A7R vs 5D Mark III
To be fair, my files were normalized in order to compare them on a monitor screen. I didn't want to downsize the Sony A7R 36MP file to 22MP in order to compare the advantage of higher resolution. Doing so, would throw away detail.
Instead, I interpolated the 22MP file to 36MP. I wanted an honest comparison since both files would be printed on the same paper size. For web purposes, here's 100% magnification crops displaying identical size dimensions for both cameras.
I went back to the same location where I'd previously tested the D800 vs Canon 5D Mark III a couple years back. The Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens was used for both cameras. In the case of the A7R body, the lens was attached to the Metabones Mark III adapter. For all tests, I used the same exposure for both cameras under identical light conditions. I wanted to make sure that I captured RAW images, in exactly the same settings. Afterwards, I used Lightroom 5.3 and essentially kept the default values.
Examine the red highlighted area below for shadow detail recovery and compare how much each camera is able to retrieve detail under high-contrast light.
Before shadow recovery (A7R file)
Sony A7R after shadow recovery
Canon 5D Mark III after shadow recovery
The Sony A7R is in a totally different league in regards to dynamic range at base ISO 100. This image reveals the exceptional signal to noise ratio and high IQ RAW performance.
It's no secret that the Canon 5D Mark III does not have the cleanest shadows at base ISO. Canon shooters have adapted to its shortcomings by bracketing and exposing images to the right (ETTR). It's usually unnoticeable in good light if you don't start playing with the shadows too much in post. But, even perfectly exposed shots in high contrast lighting will have color and luma noise in the shadows when pushed one or two stops. To make matters worse, you might even find some banding or visible horizontal and vertical line patterns.
This cross section explores the resolution advantage, moiré pattern and shadow recovery when comparing both cameras.
Before shadow recovery
Sony A7R after shadow recovery
Canon 5D Mark III after shadow recovery
The results are very similar to the D800 vs Canon 5D Mark III tests shots taken at the same location under similar lighting conditions.
With the Sony A7R crops, you can clearly read the "Smoking is prohibited" and "Notice" signs. Aside from the resolution advantage, the absence of luma noise in the shadow areas bring out detail even further.
This section demonstrates detail in the Dome. Checking the same area above, moiré is not visible on the A7R image. I find the result surprising since the Sony A7R does not have a low pass filter.
The Sony A7R has impressive signal to noise ratio (SNR) at low ISO and has higher dynamic range. There's tons of detail in the shadows. I pushed the shadows several stops without any hint of color noise.
Electronic viewfinder and tilting LCD
Another amazing feature on the Sony A7R is its Electronic Viewfinder. Kinda makes you wish all cameras had this. The focus magnification is so efficient gliding from 7X to 14X like a little electronic buddy helping you nail the focus each time.
When shooting with TS-E lenses, tilting movements can be previewed on the viewfinder. This is extremely helpful in the field. Sony’s EVF is a huge improvement over their NEX-7 but still does not quite match the quality of optical viewfinders. However, it’s reasonably sharp, responsive and gives you a preview of what’s being captured. In low light it brightens your subject aiding manual focus even further. I enjoyed shooting with Canon FD manual lenses like the FD 85mm f/1.2L, FD 35mm f/2.8L Tilt and Shift and had tack sharp results using the electronic viewfinder coupled with focus magnification and peaking.
Sony A7R with Canon FD 35mm f/2.8 Tilt and Shift
The 3.0" Tiltable TFT LCD with 1,229K-Dots is awesome. The option "Sunny Weather" makes it seem clear even in direct sunlight. The ability to tilt the LCD when having the camera close to the ground is a great aid for landscape photography. I liked the LCD Live View performance in low light and could manually fine-tune focus with clarity. I usually shoot with two (2) L-brackets: One for the Metabones Mark III adapter an another for the A7R body (Markins PS-A7) in case I want to use native lenses like the Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA.
Sony A7R with Hejnar Photo and Markins L-brackets
Sony A7R with Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA and Markin PS-A7 bracket
The A7R does not have an electronic first curtain and therefore it's fully mechanical. Here is how it works: The shutter first closes to end live view or EVF. Then it opens to start the exposure and finally closes to end the exposure. At the end of this process it reopens to reinitiate live view.
Shutter vibration is real and it seems to happen at the exact moment when the shutter closes before reopening to start the exposure. When carefully inspecting my files at 100% magnification, the vibration blur was noticeable above 100mm from 1/30s until the 1/125s shutter speed range. The blur is very subtle but it is still there. I didn't detect noticeable vibration when shooting with my TS-E 90mm f/2.8 but did see vibration blur when shooting with my 70-200mm f/4L IS and 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS lenses. It's not much of an issue with focal lengths smaller than 100mm. When present, this blur unfortunately reduces the benefits of shooting with a high megapixel camera. The vibration is more noticeable when the camera base is not mounted on the tripod - like if you're using an adapter tripod mount or lens tripod mount.
Sometimes, I fantasize about a firmware update that could delay the time between the closing of the shutter and the reopening of the shutter to start exposure. This could wipe away the shutter vibration problem. The delay could be manually set between presets like 2 or 3 seconds or by leaving the time delay active until a remote trigger is used manually to open the shutter and initiate exposure. This setting would only be used for certain conditions like when shooting with longer focal length lenses on a tripod. Who knows, maybe I'll get lucky and someone from Sony will read this and make it happen.
Regardless, it's good to know the camera's limitations in order to make work-arounds. As a landscape photographer, it's not really a major issue for me. I mainly shoot with wide angle lenses and when shooting with lenses longer than 100mm, I use ND filters to keep shutter speeds below the affected range.
Even if Canon comes up with a high-megapixel body, and even if resolution and dynamic range are equaled, it's tough to deny the benefits of Sony's lightweight A7R. Especially, if you're hoofin' it to a remote location.
After a few days below sea-level in Death Valley, it's always nice to come back home to capture a sunset by the pier in San Clemente. Watching the sky turn my favorite shade through the golden light, I still can't believe the images churning out of this Sony A7R. Don't let its size fool you, this baby packs a punch. For Canon photographers interested in landscape or studio photography, it's a non-brainer. Combining this body with your arsenal of high quality Canon glass, makes for an unstoppable team.
Sony A7R with Canon nFD 85mm f/1.2L
- 36MP Exmor sensor
- Superb EVF
- E-mount compatibility with an array of Sony and other adapted lenses
- Compact size and Lightweight
- Manual mode with auto-ISO and exposure compensation
- Weather sealed
- High quality RAW files with amazing dynamic range
- Noticeable Shutter Vibration above 100mm focal length in the 1/30s - 1/125s shutter speed range
- RAW lossy compression
- Slow wake-up time
- Low battery life capacity
- Unable to toggle the LCD On/Off with a custom button. You can assign a custom function to turn off the LCD but it only blacks out the screen without actually turning it off.
Here is a list of the gear I used for this review. If you are interested in purchasing any of these items, please use the links below. Every purchase you make from our trusted partner B&H Photo.