Move over, there's a new full-frame mirrorless camera in town! Sony Alpha 7R V Review

Move over full-frame cameras - there’s a new camera in town, the long awaited Sony Alpha 7R V is finally here!

sony a7rv camera front view

I have been lucky enough to test out Sony’s brand new R series camera before its official release and I am very impressed. 

While some of you may get excited about the technical jargon - I want to focus this review mainly on practical things that a landscape and generalist photographer will love, comparing these new features against its predecessor the Alpha 7R IV - which I’ve had and used exclusively for the past 3 years.

My first impressions are that the Sony Alpha 7R V takes many of the excellent features that were new in the Alpha 1 and Alpha 7 IV bodies (the 2 main full frame cameras Sony has released since the Alpha 7R IV back in 2019) and packages these up into a very impressive model but with a number of features that are also brand new to any Alpha camera too.

The big advancement: AI Auto Focusing Improvements

Some of the biggest changes in the Alpha 7R V come from the new AI features which are even better than those on the Alpha 1. These AI advancements have significantly improved the Eye AF tracking feature, based on a ‘human pose’ estimation. What does this mean in plain English? It means that rather than having to seek out an actual Eye when tracking a human subject (previous iterations struggled if people were wearing hats or sunglasses), the new Alpha 7R V is capable of determining a human from their pose, and will easily keep tracking subjects even when the eye is not visible when they’re wearing headgear OR they have their back turned to the camera - so smart!

Also added are some seriously powerful new features to distinguish different modes of transport like cars/trains separate to planes and even insects separate to other animals when tracking with auto focusing. As a landscape photographer I don’t tend to shoot a lot of moving subjects other than my kids’ sport, but with an imminent trip to Antarctica on the horizon in January, I can’t help but be excited at the prospect of trying out these new features on the wildlife down there - particularly shooting flying seabirds from a moving ship!

A Human Element

I had the opportunity to try out the autofocus in the field at my son's football tournament, and it was impressive to see how well the tracking locked onto the eye, but you can see from the focus frame display where the focus was in each image that equally the camera could still detect there was a human element to the scene when their backs were turned or they were running away.

Even when a subject moved in front of the camera, the auto focus still stayed locked on the player I was following.

And as a new subject came into the frame, it took only a split second to change focus on the players (from the one behind to the one in front) and I got 7 sharp shots out of a 9 burst with the player running past at speed.

A quick note on 10 fps

One thing that hasn’t changed from the RIV to the RV version is the maximum frames per second, this remains at 10fps and nowhere near as fast as the Alpha 1 which claims a maximum 30fps (when using the electronic shutter). That being said, the R series cameras pack a huge punch with so many features, that it also makes sense to leave the Alpha 1 with a distinguishing feature that sets it apart in that category.

Buffering in Continuous Shooting Modes

There’s also a big upgrade here - and although I didn’t do a fully scientific test on the exact times, the Alpha 7R IV stopped much more quickly before buffering and slowing down to a crawl between images, whereas I found the new Alpha 7R V went for so long that I wondered if it was ever going to stop! Obviously using the electronic shutter vs mechanical and RAW vs JPEG impacts on what results you will get for continuous shooting, but I was still impressed.

The official word on continuous shooting before buffering is as follows - look at the difference!):

  • JPEG (Fine): 1000+ vs 68
  • Compressed RAW: 583 vs 68
  • Uncompressed RAW: 135 vs 30
  • Lossless RAW: 547 ns N/A

I also found by accident a feature I never knew my Alpha 7R IV had - the ability to Display Continuous Shots as a Group (much like the focus bracketing folder I mention below). It appears to be turned on by default with the new camera and is very useful.

Fully articulating (& tilting!) screen - we’ve been waiting for this!

Sony gave an indication where it was heading with the Alpha 7 IV, and R series users will be shooting a big hooray to finally see the articulating feature on the new model. But BETTER STILL is that the Alpha 7R V combines the best of both worlds, it has the articulating screen of the 7 IV AND the tilting screen of the R series cameras so it's the most flexible way to use a screen of any Alpha camera made yet!

I often shoot vertical images or images where my tripod is really low to the ground, and it is really tricky to see my composition with a screen that only tilts slightly up or down (horizontally) or left/right when in vertical position. For me, this new feature alone would make me want to buy this model!

sony a7rv articulating screen

Not only that but being able to ‘shut’ the screen away with the screen on the inside is really helpful to protect the screen from damage when in-between locations etc as well.

sony a7rv screen protector

The 61MP Sensor remains but with a processor upgrade

As a landscape photographer regularly selling large format images for kitchen splash backs and corporate office walls, I had half been wishing for a jump in megapixels - as rumours had floated around that the Alpha 7R V might be 90MP - but to be honest it is actually a double edged sword when it comes to file space. As an astrophotographer I also don’t necessarily want larger, noiser RAW files either - so I’m OK with the new model staying with the same number of pixels, I already shoot panoramas when I want more resolution for larger formats so I'm happy to keep doing that. Then of course there is always the option to use the Pixel Tilt Shift feature which has had an upgrade to 16 images from 4 (though it has limitations when landscapes too).

The official word on the sensor is that is the same size as the Alpha 7R IV (61.0 MP), but with the new BIONZ XR processor sharpness, colour reproduction and noise performance has also been improved.

Here are Features the Landscape Photographers will Love

Focus Bracketing (BRAND NEW!)

This exciting new feature has been snuck in without much singing and dancing but it’s finally catching up with some of the other brands who have had focus bracketing in their models for a few years, where many Sony users have been crying out for it. 

sony a7rv focus bracket function

The bracketing options allow you from 1 (narrow) to 10 (wide) steps in terms of the change in focal depth with 4 being standard, and then you can program in any number of shots up to 999 (though why you’d want to is another story). I got good results in a landscape scene with sharpness shooting at the wide option with 5 shots. Stacking this sequence of 5 images in Photoshop with Auto Align and Auto Blend worked OK, though I can see that blending manually would have been even better.

sony a7rv focus bracketing

What I DO love about this new setup is that you can stack these focus bracketed shots into their own folder so that you only see one shot in the display rather than having to scroll through them all. I think this is also useful when you are importing as it will be much easier to see which of your focus stacks have worked the best if you are trying different options and then you can ignore some folders to import.

sony a7rv focus bracket folder

Exposure Bracketing in ⅓ stops between 1.0 and 3.0 (BRAND NEW!)

For those of you who do a lot of in-camera exposure bracketing, there are lots more options. Instead of the exposure increments jumping from 1.0 to 2.0 to 3.0, there are now 3 options between 1.0 and 2.0 (1.3, 1.5, 1.7) and 2.0 to 3.0 (2.3, 2.5, 2.7). Not only that but you can now choose 7 images where previously there was only the choice of 3, 5 and 9. There’s also options to just use 2 images + or 2 images - as well.

Focusing near the edge improved - more AF points

The coverage at the edges of the camera for AF has been improved to get closer, and there are more autofocus points as well. It’s hard to demonstrate this in real life, but the images I saw showing the coverage at the edges is improved - this will be great if you do want to do manual focus stacking on close up foreground subjects particularly in vertical orientation.

What does this mean in terms of the actual statistics? The new Alpha 7R V has 693 phase-detection AF points covering 79% of the sensor. The Alpha 7R IV has 567 phase-detection AF points covering 74% of the sensor.

Bulb Mode - programmable up to 15 mins (BRAND NEW!)

For those of us who love a good long exposure, we finally have an inbuilt programmable bulb timer which you can program up to to 15 minutes (900 seconds) in increments of any number of seconds up to 15 mins - this is going to be very handy when you don’t want to have to plug in a remote timer, especially in the dark when shooting long exposure foregrounds for astrophotography. I will be programming this bulb timer setting onto a custom key for quick and easy access as it is a little bit hidden in the menu otherwise.

Sony a7rv bulb mode timer

Side by Side Landscape Photography Comparisons

Though I only had a limited time with the new camera to do any landscape photography, I did have a small window to do some side by side comparisons while in Taupo for the weekend. I went out for sunrise during low light and tested each lens - with the Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II in low light before sunrise, the Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 at full 300mm zoom on the Central Plateau mountains, and the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM at Huka Falls (with quite dark shadows in the foreground).

One thing I noticed was the ease with which the camera focused in low light AND how easy it was to see detail in the darker parts of the image when reviewing through the viewfinder - a bonus of having the 9 million pixel upgrade I'm sure.

When viewing side by side, bear in mind that I have only been able to work with TIFF files on the new Alpha 7R V (because the Adobe products don't yet recognise the new RAW files from the camera since it hasn't been officially released at time of writing) so it's hard to compare apples with apples and these are only screenshots as well. Regardless, I found when viewing the images side by side that sharpness was at least as good if not better on every occasion with the Alpha 7R V.

sony a7rv a7riv side by side comparison
sony a7rv a7riv comparison 300mm zoom
sony a7rv a7riv comparison

In the last image I used a Wide Gamut 16-bit TIFF file from the Alpha 7R V to compare with the original Sony Alpha 7R IV RAW file with the same editing in the Basic Panel in Lightroom, the colours seem much richer, the details sharper with exactly the same basic exposure, highlights and shadows adjustments (and no sharpening applied). I'm looking forward to seeing what the RAW files are capable of in editing!

Features All Photographers will Love

Shutter off when closed - dust spots begone!

This feature also exists with the Alpha 7 IV and Alpha 1 but I for one am VERY happy to see this also appearing on the new model. I change my lenses constantly while out in the field and to have some protection against dust getting in will be super helpful, it’s ironic as I only just purchased a good quality cleaning kit and arctic butterfly brush for $400 after I got sick of paying $100 for a sensor clean in a camera shop when the results were often not thatgreat. I’ll be interested to see just how much difference it makes in the long run with dust spots, but surely it has to help!

Fully touch menu with colour coded column set up 

I have to say I’m in love with the new fully touch menu and change in design. Instead of tabs that you had to use the dial to move left and right and up and down through a myriad of deep menus on the Alpha 7R IV - now it’s all colour coded and at your fingertips without scrolling through 35 pages off a main menu. I feel like it is much easier to see more at once with the new set up.

sony a7rv menu

CF Express Type A vs SD Card format

The new Alpha 7R V takes both SD cards AND CF Express type A formats. Why is this so good? It’s faster, much faster. But the downside is that it’s more expensive too. For a stills photographer not shooting a lot of high speed wildlife or video, I'm not sure if I'll invest yet but I'm still happy to have the option to if I want to.

Lossless Compressed RAW files 

Being able to shoot with smaller RAW files without any loss of quality has got to be good. I’ve always shot with Compressed RAW files mainly due to the size - a compressed 61MP RAW file is still 61 megabytes which is an awful lot of space! But the new Lossless RAW files are a much better option, recording images with a method that causes no deterioration in image quality yet is a smaller file.

The Alpha 7R V introduces 3 Lossless Compressed RAW file sizes, approximately 50-80% smaller than Uncompressed RAW files.

Focus Frame Display

Another new feature that I’ve found very handy is the Focus Frame Display found in the Playback menu. This gives you a visual aid when displaying your images to see exactly where your focus was in that shot - this is especially handy when you are looking through large groups of images taken at high speed to see exactly where the focus was on that image.

Custom Keys

With the switch around of the Video record button (now on top) with C1 (tucked under the right of the viewfinder) there are more keys to customise on the back of the camera, though I’m going to have to reteach myself NOT to hit the record button as that was always programmed as white balance for my C1 key! Also the exposure compensation dial has lost its writing, because it is now also programmable to something else (like White Balance for example). Do you make use of custom keys? I hope so. They are so good for having your most used functions available at your fingertips. On my Alpha 7R IV I have the following programmed in:

C1 - white balance C2 - Steady Shot on/off C3 - focus mode C4 - focus area AEL - bright monitoring

Side note: (if you have an Alpha 7R III or newer, the bright monitoring feature is incredibly helpful for astrophotography getting your composition working in the dark - it basically brightens the screen in the dark to the point where you can make out the Milky Way which is so helpful when you are trying to line up the land portion of your scene without having to take a whole lot of wasted shots in the meantime. I also recommend customising your function menu as well.

Other comparisons

Weight, Size and Handling

The Alpha 7R V weighs in ever so slightly heavier at 723g vs the 665g of the Alpha 7R IV - but I think we can forgive that given we are getting a whole bunch of improvements and a 'flippy' screen for the extra weight, plus I don't think it's even noticeable when you hold both together. Size wise, it feels identical to the Alpha 7R IV including the grip - the only difference being the slightly bulkier screen width to accommodate the fully articulating feature (note I still have my L bracket attached on my Alpha 7R IV on the left as I couldn't find the Allen key to take it off in time for the photo!)

sony a7rv a7riv size comparison

Viewfinder Resolution 

I remember feeling quite wowed in the jump in resolution from the Alpha 7R II to the Alpha 7R IV - and anytime I’ve gone back to using the a7RII temporarily I’ve really noticed the difference. Can I say the same about the jump in resolution from 5 million pixels to 9 million? Not as much when I'm looking through the viewfinder before shooting I have to admit. That being said, when you zoom into enlarge an image on playback the standard zoom magnification on the Alpha 7R V straight away goes in a lot further than the Alpha 7R IV, which I can see will be helpful when reviewing sharpness of images. And I've found the improvement in resolution is much more noticeable with better definition in the shadows when you are reviewing low light images on screen too.

Battery Life

OK, I have to find at least one fault surely, and that is that battery life has decreased from 670 to 530 shots (the same as the a1). However, I think I can forgive Sony for this as we are getting so much more bang for buck in features compared to the a7RIV. I find my Alpha 7R IV batteries last a really long time and I can often shoot all day on the same battery, it's certainly still streets ahead of the Alpha 7R II which was atrocious at only 290 shots. I daresay I probably won't notice the decrease that much.

8K video vs 4K

As a still photographer, video specs in a camera aren’t something I really pay much attention to, but it is worth noting the jump from 4K video to 8K in the new model. Who knows, perhaps with my imminent trip to Antarctica in January I’d be wise to learn how to shoot video footage on something other than my iPhone!

Final Thoughts

Overall, Sony have nailed the new Alpha 7R V, it is a huge step forward in so many ways from the Alpha 7R IV and it also wisely combines many of the great features of the Alpha 1 and Alpha 7 IV - autofocus improvements, viewfinder resolution, articulating/tilting screen, anti-dust shutter, lossless compressed files, CF Express card slots, focus frame display…… I could go on!

Add to that some of the brand new features like focus bracketing, bulb exposure timer, additional exposure bracketing options and the huge leap forward in AI autofocus subject recognition/definition and what you have is a new full-frame mirrorless camera that is a force to be reckoned with! 

I'm fortunate that Sony NZ allowed me to test out the features of the new Alpha 7R V ahead of its official release - but all thoughts and opinions on the new model are my own.

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