People have a lot of bad things to say about the Sony A7R – it’s got a rubbish shutter, it’s got a terrible menu system, the shutter button is in the wrong place, battery life is too short.
But it produces AMAZING, huge, high dynamic range pictures and I can put almost any 35mm lens on it. Really… it could bite my hand and spit in my eye every time I picked it up and I would still love it. Anything wrong with it is completely irrelevant compared with how amazing it is.
So, why would I want to upgrade? Well, the A7R2 has a few features that make a real difference – and by real difference I mean it lets me take pictures I couldn’t take with the A7R.
Improvements that matter
I’ve got a benign familiar tremor. Which means my hands shake.
I use manual lenses, so I zoom in a lot to focus. With the A7R I see a magnified image that’s bouncing around all over the place. With the R2, the stabilised sensor means I can zoom in and see a completely steady image, making focusing a breeze. Since using the R2 I rarely get an out-of-focus image. Previously I’d have to take three or four shots, bracketing focus, to have any chance.
I used to think there was something wrong with my Canon FD 28mm – I never got a sharp image out of it. With the R2 the lens is brilliant. And that’s all down to being able to focus accurately.
And, of course, I can shoot with radically lower shutter speeds, which has opened up a world of narrower apertures.
The A7R2’s contrast and phase detect autofocus means Sony lenses are quicker to focus, and I can use Canon EF glass with a cheap adaptor and get pretty good autofocus. On the A7R autofocus didn’t work at all with my Canon lenses.
Shoot without card option
Sounds trivial, but the A7R has no option to stop you taking pics without a card in the camera. Yes it flashes a warning, but when you are composing a picture you just don’t see it. I’ve taken a surprising number of pictures that got saved nowhere.
The A7R2 has the option to lock the camera if there’s no card in it. So that’s no longer a problem.
The A7R’s shutter is so loud that you can’t use it anywhere quiet, not even quite loud concerts. The A7R2 can be completely silent, which is useful – I take lots of pics of classical musicians.
A more modern sensor
The R2 is the first camera I’ve had where I’m comfortable using auto ISO with a decent ISO range.
High ISO performance is noticeably better than any other camera I’ve used.
Some improvements that don’t matter so much
A less violent shutter
I take macro photos of flowers. And I print the pics really big – up to 1 meter square. So extreme, pixel-peepy quality matters. The A7r’s shutter is so violent that the shock transmits through the tripod to the table to the mount to the flower, making the flower shake visibly. But this has no effect on the picture. Which is a surprise to me. All the violence must be in the reset.
The A7R2’s electronic first curtain option is probably nice, not that I’ve had a problem with vibration on the A7R. If nothing else it makes the camera less alarming and much more pleasant-sounding. (The R2’s shutter with electronic first curtain off sounds lovely enough.)
A bigger sensor
The A7R’s pics were big enough and high enough quality. I’ve noticed no real difference with the A7R2.
Is it better? I’d imagine so. But I don’t care because I have literally never pressed the video button on either of these cameras.
Improvements that have made things worse
There’s a lovely German compound noun that means ‘an improvement that makes things worse’ – schlimmbesserung. There’s a lot of that about. See almost all prime ministers and presidents. Thankfully very little of it here.
The on/off switch isn’t as nice
It feels cheap, but only when turning the camera off. Go figure.
The control dials are hard to find
The A7R’s control dials are chunky and metal. The R2’s aren’t. They are really hard to find when the camera is up to your eye.
What about the R3?
The two things the R3 brings to the party are much improved battery life and two card slots. Neither is enough to make me upgrade.
Swapping battery every so often doesn’t bother me.
Dual card slots
Once in a while I get paid to take photos. Would I like the security of two card slots? Yes. Have I ever had a problem? No. Doubtless I will one day – all cards will fail. But I mitigate against that by changing card every so often, and shooting with multiple cameras.
Both cameras are AMAZING. Really. Sci-fi dream camera amazing. Is it worth upgrading from one to the other? For me, yes, very much so. The stabilisation is a revolution.