Sony takes home the gold with a total game changer
This one came way out of left field—thrown to home plate by a mighty arm. The Sony Alpha 7R represents not only the most substantial refinement of the interchangeable-lens compact (ILC) camera to date, but also a redefinition of the entire concept of the high-end system camera. The camera that best refined or redefined photography in 2013? Unquestionably, it is the diminutive (but full-frame) high-resolution Sony Alpha 7R.
We pretty much know it’s going to be trouble when Sony people show up near the end of the year with a bag or two of new stuff. By October, our editorial team had settled on the finalists for 2013 Camera of the Year, and, with no other potential competition on the horizon, we were just about to decide the winner. In anticipation of the shoot for this January issue, we had booked our studio photographer. A few days later, out of the Sony bag came the Alpha 7R and 7 cameras. They looked like super-compact DSLRs, but they turned out to be mirrorless compacts. With full-frame sensors. The “gulp” in the room was audible.
But to get in under the wire for Camera of the Year eligibility, a production model had to be vetted in the Popular Photography Test Lab within that year. That’s the rule: It’s not enough that a camera is a groundbreaking design, or that it’s a substantial upgrade of an existing model. It must go through our full battery of tests to be eligible. It has to perform, and perform very well. The results of the 7R’s test can be seen in our report HERE.
The camera actually outperformed our expectations, given the relatively small size of its body—smaller in volume than the Leica M, with considerably more electronics inside. Given the cramped interior quarters, there’s not much of a heat sink for a 36.4MP full-frame sensor, and heat buildup is a major cause of digital noise, which can also rob resolution. But the 7R proved competitive on all our test criteria with the Nikon D800, the highest-resolution digital camera available short of going to a (far pricier) medium-format camera.
Impressive as the 7R’s imaging power is, it’s all the more impressive for the package it comes in. This camera was clearly designed for pros and serious amateurs, with its tough, weather-sealed body, logical and ergonomic controls, superb electronic viewfinder (who needs a pentaprism?), and built-in connectivity. And the 7R came out of the bag as part of a full system, including five lenses and more to arrive soon (see the test report for details). There’s a vertical battery grip, the HVL-F60M electronic flash/video light that allows for wireless radio TTL, stereo mics for video, and more. We’re confident that Sony will thoroughly build out the system.