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My Thoughts on the Sony A7r vs A7s – Which is Better and Why?

Sony has a long history as a pioneer in the consumer electronics field and is following in that tradition with their innovative camera products ranging from advanced point and shoot cameras to recently introduced advanced full frame mirrorless cameras, including the full frame Sony A7r and the Sony A7s.  These two cameras are an advancement of Sony’s current NEX and Alpha series of cameras and are viable alternatives to traditional DSLR full frame cameras.  While not a DSLR, these cameras provide excellent results in a small and compact camera body and at a competitive price for cameras with state of the art technology.

Similarities: Sony A7s vs A7r

sony a7r vs a7sWhile both cameras are Sony’s latest full frame cameras, the A7r and A7s are very different cameras targeting two entirely different markets and only similar in a few ways.  The target market for the A7sris for serious photographers looking for a camera capable of capturing high-resolution camera, while the A7s targets serious videographers looking primarily for video performance.  As a result, while similarities include the sensor, processor, electronic viewfinder, display, size, weight and a few other minor features, there is little else that they share in common besides capturing excellent images.

The A7r and the A7s are both built around Sony’s Exmor CMOS sensor, along with the Bionz X processor which both deliver excellent still image and video results.  The 2.4 million dot OLED electronic viewfinder that is found in both cameras provides 100% coverage and has 25 auto-focus points.

The excellent display on the rear of both cameras is 3” wide with 1,229,000 dots and has the ability to tilt 84 degrees up and 45 degrees down, allowing a wide range of shooting angles for the photographer.  While both cameras do not weigh exactly the same, they are the same size with their bodies being approximately 5.0” x 3.7” x 1.9” making them both among the smallest and lightest full frame cameras on the market.

Other similarities include built in sensor cleaners, the ability to capture RAW and JPEG images, E lens mount, shutter speed range from 1/8000 to 30 seconds, an advanced 1200-zone evaluative metering system and the same NP-FW50 battery.  Neither camera has a built in flash, instead relying on a flash mounted to the hot shoe.  Images are written to a single SD card or memory stick.

Differences Between the Two Cameras

There are significant differences between the A7r and A7s, with these differences being driven by the market that the cameras are targeting.  These differences include the effective megapixels of both cameras, as well as the ISO capabilities of each camera.  Another major difference is the video capabilities of both cameras.

While both cameras have an Exmor CMOS sensor the A7r can capture images at 36.3 megapixels, while the A7s is capable of capturing images at 12.2 megapixels.  While the A7s was developed with less megapixels, the camera is capable of extremely high ISO settings ranging from 100-102,000 and is expandable to up to 409,600.  This is possible because of the size of the megapixels used in the A7s’ sensor, which trades resolution for the ability to absorb more light and achieve high ISO ranges.   However, as with all cameras there is often a trade off in high ISO ranges and image quality, with image quality suffering at high ISO ranges.  This applies to both the A7r and A7s as well.  In contrast the A7r “only” has a range of 100 to 25,600, but has extremely high resolution.

The video capabilities of the A7r are excellent with high definition quality video being produced at 1920 x 1060 at 60p, 60i or 24p.  However, the A7s is capable of shooting uncompressed 4:2:2 full high definition video with 4k QFHD output via HDMI.  Other video specs for the A7s include 50 MPS, XAVC 1920 x 1080 at 60p, 1280 x 720 at 120p.  In addition, the A7s has the ability to record to an external storage device via a HDMI cable.  The video capabilities of the A7s are highly desirable by serious videographers.

Pros and Cons of the A7s vs A7r

The biggest “pro” to the system is the video capabilities of both the A7r and A7s.  Sony has always been the leader in video technology dating back to the days of the original Sony camcorders.  While other camera manufacturers such as Nikon and Canon were late to introducing video technology into cameras, Sony was leading the way and it should be no surprise that the A7r and especially the A7s offer excellent video capabilities.

Another ‘pro” of both the A7r and A7s is the ability of both cameras to integrate with other devices via the camera’s WIFI capabilities.  Devices include tablets, smart phones and certain Sony televisions, where it is possible to view images and video directly on the television from the camera.  This would not be possible without Sony’s large impact on consumer electronic products.

The only real “con” of the two cameras is the current lineup of full frame lenses being offered by Sony, which are known as FE lenses.  While there are fifteen lenses in the pipeline, currently there are only five lenses available, including two primes, two zooms and one telephoto.  It is important to remember that the A7r and A7s are part of a full frame system and lenses are a critical part of that system.  The lenses available and in the pipeline are made by both Sony as well as Carl Zeiss, so the quality of those lenses should be excellent.

It is true that a variety of other Sony lenses, as well as other lenses such as Minolta, will work on both cameras.  However a variety of adaptors are required to attach the lenses to the two cameras.  In some cases more than one adaptor is required!  In addition, some of the Sony lenses that will work on the A7r and A7s were made for Sony’s cropped sensor mirrorless cameras and are not ideal for a full frame camera.  As a result images shot with these lenses will feature heavy vignetting around the edges of the image, unless the image is taken using the cropped sensor mode.  While possible, this defeats the entire rational of having a full frame camera!  Hopefully in the long run, Sony will remain committed to this camera system, including FE lenses, by offering continuous improvements, as well as support.

Comparison: Head to Head Features

While most serious photographers look at image quality over technical specifications, many feel that the specifications are equally important.  The Sony A7r and the A7s both have excellent image quality, as well as technical specifications, which are shown in the table below.

Item Sony A7r A7s
Year Introduced 2013 2014
Format Full Frame Full Frame
Megapixels 36.3 12.2
Sensor Type Exmor CMOS Exmor CMOS
Processor Bionz X Bionz X
Image Format RAW or JPEG RAW or JPEG
Sensor Size 35.9mm x 24mm 35.8mm x 23.9mm
Mirrorless System Yes Yes
Low Pass Filter No Yes
Lens Mount E E
Sensor Cleaner Yes Yes
Auto-focus Points 25 25
Auto-focus System Contrast detection Contrast detection
Modes Automatic, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manuel, Scene, Sweep Panorama Automatic, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manuel, Scene, Sweep Panorama
Metering Advanced 1200-zone evaluative metering Advanced 1200-zone evaluative metering
Type of Viewfinder Electronic Electronic
View Finder Coverage 100% 100%
Live View Yes Yes
Frames Per Second 4 5
ISO 100 – 25600 100-102,000
Lowest Expandable ISO 50 50
Highest Expandable ISO N/A 409,600
Shutter Speed Range 1/8000 – 30 seconds 1/8000 – 30 seconds
Built In Flash No No
Card Slots 1 1
Card Type SD, SDHC, SDXC SD, SDHC, SDXC
LCD Size 3” 3”
LCD Fixed or Swivel Tilt only Tilt Only
Video Full HD Uncompressed 4;2:2 Full HD and 4k QFHD output via HDMI
Video Type 1920 x 1080 at 60p, 60i or 24p 50MPS XAVC 1920×1080 at 60P, 1280×720 at 120P
GPS No No
Wireless No No
WIFI Yes Yes
Battery Sony NP-FW50 Sony NP-FW50
Unique Features Dust and moisture Protection, Interface with other Sony products Highly advanced video capabilities targeting Videographers
Size Without Lens 5.0” x 3.7” x 1.9” 5.0” x 3.7” x 1.9”
Weight Without Lens 16.4 ounces 17.2 Ounces
Manufactured In Thailand Thailand
Body Only or with Kit Lens Body only Body Only
Included Accessories Lens cap. Rechargeable NP-FW50 battery, AC-UB10 AC adaptor, shoulder strap, body cap, micro USB cable 2 Rechargeable NP-FW50 batteries, BC-TRW charger, body cap, shoulder strap, micro USB cable, AC-UD10 or AC-UUD1 AC adaptor
Cost, Body Only $2,229.00 $2,499.00

*Information from Sony USA website, including pricing.

Overall Recommendation: Which Would I Take?

While both cameras are excellent, I prefer the A7r to the A7s for several reasons.  The primary reason, I am primarily a still photographer and just do not have the need for the advanced video capabilities of the A7s.  The ultra high ISO capabilities of the A7s are not important o me either, as I rarely use ISO settings above 1,800.  However, I find the high resolution of the A7r to be appealing, especially for landscape and architectural photography.  The ability of the A7r to shoot at 36.3 megapixels, as well as the cameras ability to process those images quickly, makes the A7r the clear winner in my opinion. You can visit this listing if you are looking to purchase (and save a few bucks).

The Camera Guide Team
 

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