Sony A7r: dream camera with crippling autofocus shortfall?

Friends and I have been playing around with the Sony a7R, supposedly the dream camera of 2013. Indoors, it turns out to be very slow to autofocus, to the point that it is almost unusable for conventional family photography. A friend who is a regular Nikon D800 user said “I really wanted one of these but now that I have seen how slow it is, I will stick with a conventional SLR.” This was after an hour or so of taking pictures at a noon to 2 pm party lit by a fair amount of window light and also some incandescent bulbs (i.e., much darker than outside but nowhere near as dark as a home interior at night).

I tried it last night taking pictures of a sleeping baby in a room lit by a table lamp. A Samsung Note 3 mobile phone didn’t have any trouble capturing focus on the baby’s face (though the result was grainy). The a7R hunted, despite blasting the baby with a bright AF illuminator. It really was not a usable device, though in theory it has reasonable manual focus capabilities (hard for an old Canon EOS user to wade through Sony’s interface, though!).

For now I think it is safe to say that the Sony a7R is a dream camera for landscape photographers looking for a lightweight hiking companion but I don’t think it is as good a general-purpose camera as an Sony NEX-6 (still slower than an SLR but usable).

Is all of the excitement about mirrorless cameras misplaced? The old Canon Rebel G film body was very light and compact and had much better AF than this latest Sony (at 10X the price!). I’m wondering if we aren’t all suffering from a collective delusion and if it wouldn’t be better to stick a sensor in the back of a Rebel G.

I’ve posted some example images on Google+ and will be adding to the collection periodically.

5 Comments

  1. jseliger

    December 28, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

    1

    Is all of the excitement about mirrorless cameras misplaced?

    From what I’ve read, the micro four-thirds bodies have the best AF among mirrorless cameras right now. I use an Olympus OM-D and have been amazed the AF speed and accuracy. The EM-1 has been getting rave reviews, and the Panasonic GX7 has also been getting good reviews. If you haven’t used any of these, you should look at and/or rent them.

    The micro four-thirds lens lineup is a href=”http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2012/05/standard-range-micro-43-imatest-results”>considerably more advanced than the NEX lineup.

    Almost all the mirrorless systems had somewhat slow AF in their first generation of cameras (the Fuji X100 is particularly notable here). Almost all of them solved those problems over time. Sony will probably do the same with the A7 series.

  2. Freddy Nielsen

    December 30, 2013 @ 9:06 am

    2

    Just wondering, what lens did You use?

  3. tex andrews

    December 30, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

    3

    I’ve posted this before in other places: I’m really mystified about posts like these. Well meaning and intended, but they leave me scratching my head more than a bit. It would seem to me that a camera with FR specs like this is definitely NOT optimized for speed, and that would include the AF by pretty clear inference, imo. And double that since its sister camera has different specs, including an additional AF mode!

    Such a slow camera giving such large files strongly suggests a medium-large format mentality/approach. And that is a far more measured and deliberate approach, although adepts can obviously shoot pretty quickly. Think of fashion photographers: They shoot relatively quickly, and have done for years, using MF bodies not known for being speed demons in any way.

    Personally, I would buy this camera WITHOUT autofocus—i might even prefer it that way. I’ll be using it that way for the most part in any event. Recently I purchased a couple of excellent Samyang/Rokinon manual focus lenses, and I have been using Voigtlanders on my NEX 7—-and it has been very refreshing to me to go back to manual focus. I have been using AF only in this century with digital cameras (and just a little bit in the ’90′s with my old waterproof Minolta I used for fishing only), and in some ways AF has made me miss focus by being lulled to sleep with its ease so that i did not pay proper attention to the hyperfocal distances and deep DOF in my shots.

    Having shot MF—and I still shoot MF film—I look forward to using this new, tiny (compared to MF) camera to get those sorts of files. I have several other cameras (including my 13mp Galaxy G4 phone camera…) to shoot family snaps and such. This A7r is truly a professional’s niche device. Expecting it to be otherwise, given its published spec sheet, is a little ….weird, I think.

  4. Stef

    December 30, 2013 @ 4:19 pm

    4

    Isn’t the a7 the one with the better AF of the two models, at least in theory? The a7 has a hybrid AF system with 25 contrast-detect points along with 117 phase-detect points which are built into its sensor, whereas the a7R only has the 25 contrast-detect points as it has the different, higher-megapixel sensor.

    If you’re looking for more of an all-rounder then perhaps the non-R model may be worth a try? It’d be great to hear your opinion on the differences between the two models if you do get a chance to play with both.

  5. Jack Rogers

    January 4, 2014 @ 5:17 am

    5

    “Is all of the excitement about mirrorless cameras misplaced?”

    Yes and no. There are benefits like size, weight and autofocus. Autofocus on micro four thirds cameras is really good, even in low light. It’s fast, silent and very accurate. Unfortunately, most micro four thirds cameras are plagued by the dreaded “shutter shock” phenomena. The movement of the shutter makes the sensor shake a little, especially at the most used (safe) shutter speeds like 1/125s – 1/320s. There’s no real solution for this.

    Take for instance the excellent Olympus OM-D E-M1. I think this is a truly excellent allround camera and if it weren’t for shutter shock, I would have bought it in a heartbeat. However, shutter shock makes this camera an unreliable tool. So, the excitement about this camera is partly justified. It is an excellent, but a crippled camera.

    Like the E-M1, the sony A7r is an excellent camera, but it’s crippled by a slow and unreliable autofocus system. The Nikon D800 is an excellent camera, if you’re willing to haul a huge brick with you all day. Or two bricks, if you add a lens. The Sigma DP2 Merrill delivers stunning image quality, but you can’t really use it at higher settings then ISO200 and the camera is painfully slow to use.

    The Fuji X-series cameras look cool and images exhibit little noise at higher ISO settings. However, there’s also less detail in Fuji images and the cameras feel cheap and focus is slowish. Also the Fuji’s just don’t feel as responsive as modern micro four thirds cameras.

    It seems that companies are very good at constantly producing compromises. Good (and very expensive) products that are somehow crippled. Products that keep users longing for something better all the time. It puzzles me why no one seems to be able to build a camera that has it all. Just test the thing thoroughly before it’s released onto the market. Ask photographers to test it and don’t settle for compromises.

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