Sony is well known for innovating in the camera sphere, basically because it can. Not content to launch the world's first compact system camera to feature a full-frame sensor, the company has launched two versions of the A7.
The A7R features a full frame sensor with a whopping 36.4 million-pixels, but it has had the anti-aliasing filter removed. For, you see, the R in the A7R's name stands for resolution, so the emphasis here is on getting the highest possible picture quality. Removing the AA filter can lead to an increase in moire patterning, but it also means that the highest amount of detail possible is resolved.
Alongside the sensor, Sony has introduced a new processing engine. The Bionz X processor promises speeds that are up to three times faster than its predecessor, and facilitates a host of features including full HD video recording and a quick autofocus algorithm.
On the back of the camera is a 3-inch tilting screen which is joined by a half inch size EVF. The camera is also equipped with Wi-Fi and NFC technology for instant social media sharing and remote controlling the camera from a smartphone or tablet.
Even though the A7R uses the E-mount as found on NEX cameras, current lenses aren't designed for full-frame cameras and as such if you use them, images will be cropped to APS-C size. Sony is introducing five new full-frame lenses to go alongside the A7 and the A7R. The company says that is working on more lenses, with around 15 expected (in total) by the end of 2015.
The A7R will retail for more than the standard A7, as you might expect and is likely to be on sale from the beginning of December.
Build Quality and Handling
In terms of the build quality and design the A7R is pretty much identical to the standard A7, with the only difference being the R engraved onto the camera itself.
It features a reasonably chunky grip, while the overall small size of the camera is particularly impressive when considering the size of the sensor inside, especially when compared with other full frame cameras on the market such as the Nikon D600 and Canon EOS 6D.
Enthusiast photographers should appreciate the high number of dials and buttons on the camera which give direct access to many of the key features. On top of the camera is a mode dial for switching between the various exposure modes the camera has to offer, including aperture priority. There's also an exposure compensation dial, which is placed within natural reach of where your thumb might sit on the back of the camera.
As with other Sony cameras, several of the buttons on the body are customisable, including three which are labelled with a "C". This makes it especially convenient for those who want to work in specific ways, or who shoot specific types of scene quite often, such as low light.
Two scrolling dials can be found in front of and to the rear of the thumb grip, which are used for altering aperture or shutter speed, depending on which mode you're shooting in. If shooting in fully manual mode, you'll use the front dial for aperture and the rear one for shutter speed, which seems like a very natural way to work.
Although the A7R's screen only tilts, rather than fully articulates, it's still handy for shooting from awkward angles. Sadly there's no touchscreen, which would have made changing things such as the autofocus point much easier.
The electronic viewfinder on the A7R is one of the better ones currently available on the market, with its 2.4 million dot resolution providing a very clear and bright view. It will probably be tricky for Sony to convince the traditional full-frame audience of the merits of using an electronic viewfinder, though.
It's difficult to give much of an assessment at this stage of the review but early indications are that the A7R will be a very impressive performer.
We've been pretty happy with Sony's output of late, so we see no reason why the A7R shouldn't match the already high standards of existing models. We've had chance to use a pre-production sample of the camera briefly and have been impressed with colour reproduction while the detail resolved is, as we would expect, very very fine.
We'll be very keen to put this camera properly through its paces when a full production sample becomes available, and also keen to assess the differences between this and the standard A7.
Sony is keen to portray itself as a genuine contender in the imaging market. Currently, it is doing this through innovation and experimentation, of which the A7R is a prime example.
What we have here is an extremely exciting development, especially for the compact system camera market. Traditional DSLR manufacturers may be starting to get worried... we'll give you a full rundown of image quality just as soon as possible.