Which Full Frame is the Best? The Nikon 810 or the Sony A7r?

Nikon has long been one of the major players in the professional grade full frame market, but recently Sony is making significant progress in competing with Nikon in this market.  Nikon has a number of full frame cameras available, with the D810 being the lowest priced camera in their professional lineup.  Sony also has a number of different full frame cameras including the A7r, which is an upgrade to their very popular A7 camera.  Both cameras capture excellent images, although they do it much differently.

The Similarities

The D810 and the A7r only share a limited number of similarities including the ability of both cameras to capture amazing images in a wide variety of light conditions.  Other similarities include a shutter speed range on both cameras ranging from 1/8,000-30 seconds and built in sensor cleaners.  Both cameras also have the ability to capture HD video in 1,920 x 1,080 format at a variety of speeds.  Finally, both cameras have magnesium alloy shells, as well as dust and moisture seals, which are expected on professional grade cameras.

The Differences

In many ways, the D810 and theA7r are more different than they are similar.  The differences begin with the fact that the Sony A7r is a mirrorless camera, while the D810 has a mirror.  The mirror in the D810 is used to reflect the light coming into the lens into the viewfinder thru a prism.  When the shutter is released, the mirror pops up and the shutter is opened, which allows light hits the sensor, which then captures the image.  In a mirrorless camera such as a Sony A7r, the light stays on the sensor and when the shutter is pressed the image is captured.

As a result, the A7ris significantly lighter due to the elimination of the mirror, prism and all of the moving parts associated with the operation of the mirror.  The Nikon 810 has an overall size of 5.8” x 4.9” x 3.3”, while the A7R is only 5.0” x 3.7” x 1.9”.  The A7r weighs 16.4 ounces, while the D810 weighs 31.1 ounces.

Other differences include ISO range with the D810 having a normal range of 64-12,800, while the A7r has a range of 100-25,600.  However, the D810 can be expanded up to 51,200 and down to 34, while the A7r can only be expanded down to 50.  As with all digital cameras, the camera’s processor will reduce detail at high ISO settings, as the camera’s noise reducing software reduces noise in low light situation.

The Nikon D810 has a 3.2” fixed LCD screen, while the A7r has a 3.0” tilt screen.  One other difference is the speed of the camera with the D810 being capable of shooting at 5 frames per second, while the A7r shoots at 4 frames per second.  Finally while the A7r has built in WIFI ability, it does not have a wireless or GPS ability.  WIFI, wireless and GPS capability exist with the D810 using a variety of optional accessories.

Additional differences include an optical viewfinder in the D810 and an electronic viewfinder in the A7r, as well 51 autofocus points in the D810 and 25 autofocus points in the A7r.  The D810 has a built-in flash, while the A7r relies on an external flash.  The D810 also has two memory card slots, one for CF cards and the other for SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards, while the A7r only has one slot, which can hold SD, SDHC, SDXC cards and a variety of proprietary memory sticks.

One of the most important differences in the two cameras is the lens lineup.  It is important to look at the entire camera system and just not the camera body, which will become obsolete in time.  Great lenses are timeless, as the current and past lineup of Nikkor lenses indicates.   While Sony has made significant strides in recent years by teaming up with the German optical company, Zeiss to make their DSLR lenses, it can be argued that Nikon still has a lead in both the quality and quantity of the lenses available.  The D810 is capable of using any Nikkor lens made since 1977, while the Sony A7r can only use the lenses currently available.

The Pros and Cons

The biggest ‘”pro” of the Nikon D810 is the weight and size of the camera, as well as the menu system.  This makes the D810 a very fun camera to shoot, as it feels solid in your hands and is comfortable to hold for extended periods of time.  In addition, it is well balanced using a wide variety of lenses.  Another plus is the menu system, which is fast, intuitive and easy to navigate.

The biggest “con” to the Nikon D810 is the remainder of their full frame lineup, which includes three cameras in the ‘enthusiast” lineup and four additional cameras in their professional lineup.  While well differentiated in price, it is important to keep in mind that the newest technology way be included in a less expensive camera.  The D810 could be technologically obsolete before you even buy it!

The biggest “pro” to the Sony A7r is the price of the camera.  At a suggested retail price of $2,229, the camera is an outstanding value.  Other positives about the A7r include its relatively small size and weight.  The A7r also has excellent video capability, which is not surprising given Sony has always been a leader in video technology.

The biggest “con” of the A7r is the limited lens selection.  Although the line up of available lenses and quality of the glass has improved it still lags somewhat, which is not really surprising given Sony’s relatively new venture into the professional digital camera market.  Although there are a number of converters available that will allow other lenses to be used, that is not the best option.

Just the Facts, A side-By-Side Comparison

While most serious photographers look at image quality over technical specifications, many feel that the specifications are equally important.  The Nikon D810 and the Sony a7r have excellent image quality as well as technical specifications, which are shown in the table below.

Item Nikon D810 Sony a7R
Year Introduced 2014 2013
Format Full Frame Full Frame
Megapixels 36.3 Million 36.3 Million
Sensor Type CMOS Exmor CMOS
Processor EXPEED 4 Bionz X
Image Format RAW or JPEG RAW or JPEG
Sensor Size 35.9mm x 24mm 35.9mm x 24mm
Sensor Cleaner Yes, Ultrasonic Yes
Autofocus Points 51 With 15 Cross Type 25
Modes Aperture Priority (A), Manual (M), Shutter Priority (S) and Program (P) Automatic, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manuel, Scene, Sweep Panorama
Metering 3D Color Matrix Metering III Advanced 1200-zone evaluative metering
View Finder Coverage 100% 100%
Live View Yes Yes
Frames Per Second 5 4
ISO 64 – 12,800 100 – 25,600
Lowest Expandable ISO Lo-1 (ISO 32) 50
Highest Expandable ISO Hi-2 (ISO 51,200) N/A
Shutter Speed Range 1/8000 – 30 Seconds 1/8000 – 30 Seconds
Built In Flash Yes No
Card Slots 2 1
Card Type CF, SD, SDHC or SDXC SD, SDHC, SDXC, Various Memory Sticks
LCD Size 3.2” 3.0”
LCD Fixed or Swivel Fixed Tilt Only
Virtual Horizon Yes Yes
Video Yes Yes
Video Type Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 / 60 FPS Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 at 60p, 60i or 24p
Internal Autofocus Motor Yes No
GPS Yes, Optional Accessory No
Wireless Yes, Optional Accessory No
Wi-Fi Yes, Optional Accessory Yes
Battery Rechargeable EN-EL 15 Rechargeable NP-PW50
Unique Features High Resolution, Quiet Shutter, Dust and Moisture Protection, Ability to Use Older Nikon Lenses, No Optical Low-Pass Filter High Resolution, Light Weight, Dust and Moisture Protection, Interface With Other Sony Products.  No Optical Low-Pass Filter
Size Without Lens 5.8” x 4.9” x 3.3” 5.0” x 3.7” x 1.9”
Weight Without Lens 31.1 oz. 16.4 ounces
Manufactured In Thailand Thailand
Body Only or with Kit Lens Sold Either Way Body Only
Included Accessories MH-25a Charger, UC-E17 USB Cable, AN-DC14 Strap, BF-1B Body Cap, DK-5 Eye Piece Cap, DK-21 Rubber Eyecup and Nikon View NX-2 CD-Rom Lens cap. Rechargeable NP-FW50 battery, AC-UB10 AC adaptor, shoulder strap, body cap, micro USB cable
Cost, Body Only $2,999.95 (For the latest discounts and prices.) $2,229.00 (For the latest discounts and prices.)
Cost With Kit Lens (Lens Varies) Varies Depend On Lens Selected N/A

 

*Information from Nikon USA and Sony website including pricing.

Overall Recommendation

I really like both of these cameras and found the image quality on both to be exceptional.  While the Sony A7r has many positive features including being lightweight and less expensive, I preferred the Nikon D810 overall.  There are a couple of reasons for this most importantly the D810’s ability to use older Nikkor lens.  Another factor in this recommendation is that the D810 just feels better to shoot with, as it is comfortable to hold even for extended times.  While it is heavy, the camera feels better balanced than the Sony A7rwith a large lens attached.  Performance wise they are both very similar and either would be a good choice for an experienced photographer looking for a full frame camera capable of capturing excellent images.  The D810 and A7r just do it in different ways!

The Camera Guide Team
 

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