Sony A7R Review with Canon EF Lenses First Impressions

Just published! Click here to read the Canon 16-35 F4 IS Review with the Canon A7R vs. the 17-40 F4, plus RAW files (32GB)

The Sony A7R was released as the lightest and smallest full-frame camera with the resolution range rivaling that of digital medium format cameras. But is it really a game changer, or only a step in the right direction? Let’s take a look.

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Sony A7R Overview

Ready? Let’s get started! First, here is an overview of the key features:

ISO 50-25,600

This review is an initial hands-on experience review with the Sony A7R with Canon EF, FD and FL lenses. A final Sony A7R Review is on the way, and this is the first iteration of that.

This review isn’t going to be based on marketing of the photography industry, and I hope to get past that with this review. I also don’t hold any preference for any brand out there, and I’ve never owned a Sony camera product before. I’m also not affiliated with any special interests. Okay, with that out of the way let’s get started!

Image Quality & Imaging Sensor

The Sony A7 and A7R are the first cameras to enter the market that feature a non-SLR full-frame sensor, aka mirrorless full-frame. Up to this point mirrorless cameras have been associated with compact cameras, and have slowly gone from teeny tiny sensors and gradually moved closer to 1.0x 35mm sensor sizes.

Sony A7R Full-Frame 36MP Sensor Same as Nikon D800 D800E

The A7R Exmor CMOS sensor (35.9x24mm) has a resolution of 36.4MP, landing it in the same range as the Nikon D800/D800E, which makes sense in retrospect knowing that Sony fabricates and produces that line of sensors for Nikon (Sony IMX094AQP). At 36MP this also falls into the resolution range of a few medium format digital cameras of the not so distant past.

In addition to having a full-frame 35mm sensor, the A7R does not have an optical low-pass filter. What’s an optical low-pass filter you may ask? Sometimes referred to as an Anti-Aliasing filter, these are built into nearly all digital cameras and is located directly in front of the sensor.

Digital cameras which do not have a low-pass filter (or AA filter) allow high frequency information to be recorded, thus increasing image sharpness. At the moment the D800E and the Sony A7R are the only full-frame cameras without low-pass filters.

Sony A7R Sunset Long Exposure with Canon 17-40mm

Rodeo Beach Sunset  |  276s  F22  ISO 50  Canon 17-40  |  Download RAW and TIFF here

The A7R has an Anti-Dust system that has a charge protection coating on the optical filter as well as an ultrasonic vibration mechanism, but I haven’t found it to be any better than the Nikon or Canon anti-dust systems. That is to say, it sucks and I clean the sensor once every two weeks, or, at the same frequency that I clean my Canon EOS 5D-IR that doesn’t have such a system.

I’m doing an extensive image test of the latest Canon CMOS sensors against the Sony A7R sensor to see what the quality difference is, and if it’s significant. In the meantime take a look at the RAW and TIFF images I have uploaded by clicking here.

Hardware & Design

The Sony A7R is currently the smallest and lightest full-frame interchangeable lens camera. Not only is it the smallest, but it’s quite a bit smaller than the second smallest – the Canon EOS 6D. In fact, holding it for the first time may remind of you of holding a point and shoot or compact camera.

Sony A7R Design and Durability top front and side view

The construction quality of the Sony A7R is very high, and you can tell the hardware engineers and industrial designers over at Sony spent quite a bit of time on this camera. The rubber grips are very sturdy, and are bonded to the body (non-removable).

The front-panel construction of the A7R is magnesium alloy, which feels solid without any flex or play. The backside includes a swivel LCD panel, which unfortunately only swivels in two directions, not all four.

The 3-inch swivel LCD can be useful in some situations, however I would have preferred it to be built-into the backside of the camera. Having it swivel as it does decreases the durability quite a bit. A small snag of the LCD could break it off entirely if you’re not careful.

Sony A7R long exposure with Canon 17-40

Lands End Sunset  |  Click here to download the .ARW + .TIFF

The small size is in no small part due to the lack of an optical viewfinder. Instead, Sony implemented an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) which is essentially a very small screen that sits directly inside the viewfinder.

Another design win on the A7R is simplicity. Sony really spent quite a bit of time on the drawing board reimaging what photographers need in terms of physical controls, and what they could build into the interface. As a result, there’s far less physical buttons, and there’s even an exposure compensation dial, which is a new addition to a full-frame camera. I actually quite like the exposure compensation dial as I often shoot in Aperture Priority and use it frequently. The dampening on this dial is excellent, and it has a good 2x to 3x more dampening than the rear thumb and forward index finder dials. It’s also out of the way and logically placed.

Sony A7R Design and Durability

The backside of the Sony A7R looks pretty clean and clutter free. The 3.0″ LCD takes up a majority of the real estate, leaving just essential controls justified on the right. One of the biggest advantages of the Sony A7 and A7R is the custom function buttons. There are three C-buttons, all which are very customizable. There’s so many options for customization that it’s unlikely two A7R’s will be identical. I’ve mapped mine to the following:

C1: 0x – 7.2x14.4x zoom magnification for manual focusing

C2: Focusing Grid Overlays


Sony A7R rear controls backside backpanel

All controls on this camera are accessible from the shooting hand, from the exposure compensation and mode dial, to the zoom buttons and custom function buttons… except for the Menu Button. Why Sony put it way up on the top left I have no idea.

Why not put it just below the exposure compensation dial in-between the grip, or drill a hole in the exposure compensation dial and include a spring-loaded nub, or just to the left of the EV dial, or… well, it’s nearly perfect except for the menu button placement.

The Sony A7R has a very nice sounding shutter click, however it does have a clank-type of sound and it’s a few decibels higher than other full-frame SLRs. The Silent Drive mode on the Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 6D are pretty amazing, and unfortunately the A7R doesn’t have anything comparable. I was out shooting San Francisco’s Chinatown in B&W recently and nearly every closeup shot of someone alerted them to my presence.

Autofocus & Focus Peaking



The single largest differentiator between the Sony A7R, the Canon 5D3/6D and the Nikon D800/800E is the autofocus. In fact, if you’re used to using an SLR of any kind, one of the first things you’d notice when using the A7R is the autofocus speed – it’s sluggish.

San Francisco Sunrise A7R with EF lenses test image

San Francisco Sunrise  |  Click here to download the .ARW and .TIFF

However, if you’ve used the autofocus on a Canon or Nikon in Live View, you’d probably notice the AF being sluggish there too. Well it’s just as fast as that. So for photographers who rely on autofocus to get the job done, such as sports photographers, event shooters, wildlife photographers or anyone who uses Servo for AF tracking, this camera may not cut it with it’s AF system, which relies on contrast detection.

The accuracy of the focus is excellent however, and in fact it’s nearly always critically sharp on the first shot. But obtaining that AF lock usually takes between 3-5 seconds, depending on the scene and the light level.

The autofocus sensitivity of the A7R is 0EV. Contrast that against the Nikon D800/800E’s -2EV, and the 5D Mark III’s -2EV and it’s at a bit of a disadvantage. Compared against the Canon 6D’s -3EV and it’s even further off the mark!

So with regards to AF accuracy, the A7R’s AF is spot on. For AF lock speed, it’s comparably slow.

Focus Peaking

Focus Peaking is a feature whereby the photographer can see the areas in-focus on the LCD and EVF, represented by white areas of the image. It’s a feature that has been around for a little bit, mainly on mirrorless cameras, and has come downstream to the A7R from Sony’s other cameras (which I have no experience with).

I have found Focus Peaking to not only be incredibly useful with lenses that have excellent focus dampening, such as L lenses, Canon FD and FL, Nikon Kogaku and many of the other classic lenses. On lenses that have subpar focus rings and dampening, not so much. But assuming the lens is right, I have found that obtaining a focus lock with Focus Peaking can be faster than the autofocus in some situations, but not always as accurate depending on the lighting. Harsh light is the best scenario for focus peaking as it’s measuring the contrast for focus. In lowlight situations focus peaking doesn’t work, and in fact just clutters the viewfinder.

With my L lenses I almost always use the autofocus, as it’s fast enough, reliable and it’s very accurate. But for my classic lenses, such as the Canon FL, FD and Nikon Kogaku’s, focus peaking takes them to a whole new level.

Take a look at the following photograph, captured with my Canon FD 50mm 1.8:

Sony A7R Focus Peaking

Streets of Chinatown in B&W  |  1/320  –  F8  –  ISO 125  –  Sony A7R

Now let’s take a look at 100% zoomed in to see what the sharpness looks like:

Sony A7R Focus Peaking Sharpness Accuracy

Not only do these lenses have beautiful design and build quality, but the focus dampening is magnitudes better than modern lenses, even the most expensive L or Zeiss lenses. Why don’t they build lenses with focus dampening like they used to?

So in summary, focus peaking is not right for every situation, but for anytime after sunrise and before sunset, it’s not only accurate and fast, but a lot of fun. And if you have any old lenses, you can now focus with greater confidence and accuracy than ever before on a full-frame camera, and get critically sharp images without guesswork or magnification.

No Intervalometer

Unfortunately one of the downsides of the A7R and the Sony camera line in general, is there’s no intervalometer. The A7R has integrated WiFi, so sure, someone will create an application that will have that someday, but the fact that Sony has no intervalometer with the launch of the A7R says one thing: Sony either completely forgot about this or they hate time-lapse and star trail photography (or both).

Sony A7R Shutter Release No Intervalometer

Sony does however sell a shutter release cable, which they manufacture for $1.72 and then turn around and sell it for $70 to the photography community. So for landscape, star trail, time-lapse or any kind of photography that is longer than 30 seconds, you’re dead in the water. Pretty disappointing to say the least.

Third Party Lenses & A7R Flange Distance

When Sony created the first full-frame mirrorless camera, they did so around the E-Mount. The distance between the back of the lens and the sensor is called the flange distance, and it’s the reason not all camera’s work with certain lenses. For example, the flange distance on a Nikon is further away than that of a Canon, meaning you can’t use a Canon lens on a Nikon without a bellows effect, and losing infinity focus. You can however use a Nikon lens on a Canon for the reverse reason, with an adapter to make up for the difference of the flange distance.

Sony A7R with Canon FL 50mm 1.8

San Francisco Skyline from Treasure Island  |  97s  –  F11  –  ISO 80  –  Canon FL 50mm 1.8 (1964 – 1971)  |  Click here for .ARW & .TIFF

The Sony A7R has a very small flange distance. This is significant for a couple reasons, the biggest one being now you can use any lens ever made for any 35mm camera ever. In other words, the A7R with it’s 35mm sensor and short flange distance is truly agnostic to lenses. Adapters for old lenses need not be amazing or have electronics in them either, as classic lenses didn’t have autofocus. I bought a few adapters, each one running around $7.30 with free shipping. Awesome!

Electronic Viewfinder

Before buying the A7R, I had no experience with Electronic Viewfinders (EVF) and didn’t have much interest in them. Actually, I did look through a few EVF’s on compact cameras and I wasn’t impressed, however when I looked through the A7R’s EVF, I was surprised by a number of things:

  1. There’s no perceptible pixels or dots. The resolution is very high
  2. Once an image is captured, it plays back through the viewfinder, and it looks exactly like the viewfinder
  3. Exposure is reflected within the viewfinder. Exposure compensation dial changes reflect in real-time
  4. Focus peaking through the EVF is a game changer
  5. Focus magnification through the EVF is a game changer for achieving critically sharp images when using a tripod
  6. For the first time photographers can actually see in black and white

I took the EVF to the test when out shooting Chinatown in B&W. I was using a 1960’s Canon FL 50mm 1.8, and a 1970’s Canon FD 50mm 1.8 shooting in B&W with focus peaking turned on. Read more about that experience here.

Image Gallery

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the battery life on the Sony A7R?

Between 200-300 shots is what I’m seeing with normal day-to-day use, with around 100 when doing long exposure landscape.

How do I use the .ARW file format in Aperture?

The file formats are supported on the OS X level, so navigate to: Apple > Software Update

Is there a shutter release cable for the Sony A7R?

Yes! It’s called the Sony RM-VPR1. Amazing product names over at Sony, right?

Does the Sony A7R come with a battery charger?

It does not, you must directly connect the camera to a power source.

Will the Sony A7R work with Nikon lenses?

Yes, it will! You must use an adapter, like this one.

Will the Sony A7R work with Canon lenses?

Yes, it will! You must use an adapter, like this one.

Will the Sony A7R work with Canon FD lenses?

Yes, it will! You must use an adapter, like this one.

Will the Sony A7R work with Leica M lenses?

Yes, it will! You must use an adapter, like this one.

Will the Sony A7R work with Leica R lenses?

Yes, it will! You must use an adapter, like this one.

Will the Sony A7R work with Minolta lenses?

Yes, it will! You must use an adapter, like this one.

Will the Sony A7R work with Olympus lenses?

Yes, it will! You must use an adapter, like this one.

11 Comments on “Sony A7R Review with Canon EF Lenses First Impressions

  1. I think that your review is very good, and the fact that you have posted some awesome RAWS really blew me away. Sincerely I just started working with one, and I really do like the ease of handling all my Leica R glass manually, also Canon’s TS lenses work perfect. I would buy this camera only for those functions, and would take the rest as a freebie. It is not perfect, but I have never used a camera in this compactness or even my DSLR’s, that could handle so well, being a large format photographer, I am amazed at all that I can do with this midget, and now add a VCC from Horseman, and they have announced one specifically made for this camera; or a Rhinocam, with Hasselblad lenses and you are in a different world. Keep it up and thank you

  2. Graham….anxious to read your upcoming review on this camera ….especially relative to the 6d. Any idea when it will be forthcoming?

  3. Just curious … if you only had one choice and use Canon L lenses for landscapes, would you go with a 5D MIII or the a7R?

  4. Hey, great review! I have a question though. I JUST picked up an A7R last night and I need an adaptor for all my canon glass. I see you’re using the Metabones III but now there is a Metabones IV. Do you know the difference? Someone told me that the light meter of the A7R does not work with the Metabones III but DOES work with the Metabones IV. Thanks!

  5. Aloha from Hawaii…. I just read your A7r 1st impressions article and wanted to let you know that your claims of the autofocus ‘lag’ seems way out of line with what I get with my A7r. So much so that I believe you may have a faulty camera. When shooting any of my FE mount lenses (Sony / Zeiss FE 35mm 2.8, 55mm f1.8, 24-70 f4 or 70-200 f4) my auto focus speed, in almost any lighting condition, is well below 1/8sec and in most cases almost instantaneous. Have you updated your firmware? There was a firmware update (1.02) which improved the speed a bit after the initial product release but even before that there was no where near the 3-5 seconds you seem to be experiencing (with any metering or focus settings)…. All I can think of is that maybe your results might be while using Cannon lenses with an adapter? If that’s not the case then you may want to have your camera checked out or try borrowing another A7r for comparison. BTW I am a pro and shot a D800E and D3x before
    switching to Sony.

    Great site! I look forward to reading more content in the future.

    JJ Backer
    Reel Time Images LLC
    Kona Hawaii

    • Glad you are having such good success with the a7r.

      But if you Google slow focus on A7R….you will see a host of comments from noted reviewers that talk (post software update)…about slow focus…especially in low light….peak focusing…etc.

      Now, I do not own the A7R. But it sounds like a great camera. I will probably wait a year or so…until things are a bit more sorted with the camera.

    • Hey James,

      I’m seeing identical speeds with the Sony A7R + Canon lenses as I do with my 5D3 and 6D focusing in Live View.

      Do you find it to be faster than a Canon focusing in Live View?


  6. I’m a bit late to the game, but thanks for the terrific preliminary review of the camera, Graham… it’s really helpful.

    Have you had a chance to post a full review yet? Also, I’m curious to know if you ended up switching to this as your main landscape camera in the end. I’m currently trying to decide between this and a 5D3, and am not sure which to get. I love the significantly better IQ of the a7r, but I’m afraid the compromises of the Sony system – especially needing to use an adaptor to use Canon lenses on it – may be too much for me.


    • Josh – FM Forums has an excellent section on Sony A7 cameras. I’m not sure where you’re seeing better IQ (because I don’t see an awful lot of difference), but dynamic range is like night and day from the 5DIII. I’m switching from that camera to Sony for that very reason – and I embrace the Metabones ‘smart’ adapter, so that I can keep my TS-E lenses… I don’t see the fact that the Sony can take virtually any lens ever invented, as a compromise.

  7. Good work… really useful to see the images with Canon lenses. A suggestion, if you take the review further – look at dynamic range… it strikes me that with very little real world difference between 24mpx and 36mpx, that the one defining feature of the Sony sensor is it’s superior dynamic range over those from Canon.