Sony A7R V initial review: Hands on with the new autofocus champion - MrLiambi's blog


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Friday, 28 October 2022

Sony A7R V initial review: Hands on with the new autofocus champion

Sony last updated the A7R camera in 2019 and - having already updated the A7 and A7S in recent years - it was about time to push out an update to the highest-resolution model. But how exactly do you push further when the A7R already featured a mega 61-megapixel full-frame sensor? 

The manufacturer's answer - seemingly - is to make it smarter. The A7R Mk5 has landed with the same sensor as before, but with a much smarter autofocus brain and an updated, fully-articulating monitor. We went hands-on with the latest Alpha to see what it was like. 

Familiar looks

  • 131.3 x 96.9 x 82.4mm - Magnesium alloy body
  • Dust and moisture resistant - anti-dust system
  • E-mount 
  • Fully articulating LCD touch monitor

Sony's approach to the full frame market has consistently focused on the idea of creating solid, but compact devices that last even in not ideal conditions. That's not changed with the new A7R V. The body is made from magnesium alloy, which is lightweight and sturdy but is also sealed against water and moisture for shooting in inclement weather. The sensor also features an anti-dust system, to ensure that dust isn't attracted to it. 

One new addition is the LCD monitor that flips out from the side. It can be rotated and angled in almost any direction, making it the most versatile monitor in Sony's current Alpha lineup. You can flip it out to the side and have it facing you when recording yourself, or flip it down and around so that it's primed and ready for portrait shots. Plus, it's not just touch-sensitive, but the user interface has been redesigned so that you can control all of it with a swipe or tap on the touchscreen. 

The touchscreen is joined by the electronic viewfinder which - this time - features a 9.44 million dot display and 120fps refresh at its full resolution, making it a very sharp and smooth EVF. 

You get Sony's traditional cluster of buttons and dials, most of which live either on the back of the camera, to the right of the viewfinder and monitor, or on the top of the camera. Sony still on insists on having the menu button to the left of the viewfinder, away from all the other buttons you'd use to control that menu, which remains puzzling. 

Otherwise, it feels like a well-proportioned camera, with a good grip around the front and on the back, making it really easy to hold. Although, with a good G Master lens on it, you will feel the weight. 

Living the autofocus dream

  • AI-powered autofocus - dedicated chip
  • Human body, face and eye tracking
  • Animal face and eye tracking
  • Plane, train, car and insect recognition

Sony's Alpha cameras have offered fantastic autofocus for a few years now, in fact, it's one of the primary reasons to choose the company's cameras over the competition. Offering fast and accurate focus with smart features like face and eye detection with real-time tracking has set it apart from other brands. 

For 2022, with the Alpha 7R V, Sony is ramping it up further and has built a processing unit with AI-powered 'deep learning' capabilities dedicated to autofocus. 

It can now recognise more than just eyes and faces and can detect entire human bodies, understanding where the head, face and eyes are in relation to the shoulders, hips and knees. Moreover, it can track the entire person in real-time, for both stills and video. 

collection: A7R V camera samples

It's hard to show a sense of what it's like to use and we've only had a relatively brief session to test it so far, however, it really is impressive seeing it work in the flesh. 

With fast-moving subjects - like the break-dancers in the gallery above - it was able to focus on the dancers' faces accurately. Even when they weren't facing us head-on, or when their face was upside down or partially covered, the camera seemed capable of keeping the relevant area in focus, and it does so really quickly, shooting bursts of photos. 

The new AI recognition and focus capabilities also extend to other objects. You get animal tracking and focus, which includes mammals and birds. For the first time, however, you also get insect recognition as well as vehicles like cars, trains and planes. The idea is that you can quickly shoot a burst of photos in autofocus, and keep the desired object pin-sharp in the frame, even if it's moving quickly. 

Sensor and video capabilities

  • 61MP backside illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor
  • 35mm full-frame - 3:2 - 693 PDAF points 
  • 8K video at 24/25p - 4K at 50/60p 
  • 5 axis 8-stop in-body stabilisation

The 'R' in A7R stands for 'Resolution', because - typically - this is the model with the highest resolution sensor. In fact, the new model uses the same 61-megapixel backside-illuminated Exmor R sensor that was featured in the previous A7R IV. That gives you the ability to crop quite far into the sensor while retaining a pin-sharp image. 

Along with a new Bionz XR image processing engine and an upgraded graphite heatsink for heat dissipation, it's enabled some pretty high-end video capabilities. You'll be able to shoot up to 8K resolution at 24/25 frames-per-second and do so for up to 30 minutes continuously. Or - if you like - shoot 4K up to 60 frames-per-second, or shoot a Super35 4K with 6.2K oversampling. 

It is worth noting here that there is a 1.2x crop on the highest resolution 8K shooting, so you won't get as wide a shot as you can if you use the 4K mode. In stills mode you can shoot up to 10fps bursts with full AF/AE using the mechanical shutter, or 7fps with the electronic shutter. 

To aid the enhanced autofocusing, the latest sensor has both contrast detection and phase detection autofocus, with the latter offering an impressive 693 points of detection, covering almost 80 per cent of the sensor, ensuring you can tap to focus even towards the edges of the frame. Add that to the 5-axis, 8-stop in-body stabilisation, and you should have sharp images, in most light conditions even if your subject is moving. We can't wait to test it further. 

Ports, battery and charging

  • USB-C with Power Delivery - USB 3.2 up to 10Gbps
  • Bluetooth 5.0 - Wi-Fi built-in
  • 3.5mm ports for headphones and mic
  • Multi-interface shoe - Dual CFExpress Type A slots (UHS-II SD compatible)
  • NP-FZ100 battery - up to around 530 shots 

Just like other high-end full-frame Alpha-series cameras, the A7R V is equipped with all the ports and connection options you could need. There's a USB-C port that can accept power, so you can use Power Delivery capable adapters to refill the battery quickly, plus it's USB 3.2 and can handle data transfer rates up to 10Gbps. Wireless transfer and connectivity should be speedy too thanks to Bluetooth 5.0 and Wi-Fi with 2x2 MiMO. 

You get two memory card slots that are compatible with CFExpress Type A and SD/SDXC (UHS-II). Of course, to get the most out of the camera and its fast burst shooting the CFExpress is the one to use, although that costs considerably more than an SD card. 

You get 3.5 ports for mic input and headphone output, plus the digital multi-interface shoe for connecting hot-shoe accessories to the top of the camera. 

As for the battery, that's the Sony NP-FZ100 which can handle up to 530 shots on a full charge when using the LCD display or 440 with the viewfinder. You get 150 minutes of continuous video recording on a full charge. 

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