Sony’s mirrorless cameras were some of the greatest photographic innovators of recent years – and that form has continued with the new Sony A7R V: a 61MP full-frame powerhouse with seriously smart autofocus. (Looking for our early verdict? Go to our hands-on Sony A7R V review).
Built for landscape, portrait, wildlife and product photographers, the Sony A7R V is part of Sony’s ‘Resolution’ series. Like its 2019 reference predecessor, that means it’s built around a 61MP BSI full-frame sensor, which only medium-format cameras like the Fujifilm GFX100S can surpass in resolution.
But the biggest change in the A7R V is a new ‘AI processing unit’ that sits inside the camera’s Bionz XR processor. Sony claims this unit means its new camera can process massive amounts of ‘deep learning’ training data related to autofocus, making it a ‘tipping point’ for the entire Alpha range.
We haven’t fully tested these claims yet, but they look promising as Sony has recently stole a march on its rivals with its real-time tracking autofocus technology. The real-world implications are that the Sony A7R V can, for example, analyze a human’s entire pose in granular detail to find their eyes, even when they’re obscured in the scene.
The same apparently goes for animals, with the AI autofocus capable of recognizing a dog’s head and body even when its back is to the camera. If the system lives up to its claims, it could be a huge boon for portrait and wildlife photographers.
What else is new compared to the A7R IV? A collection of design updates addresses some of the more common criticisms of the previous camera. A new four-axis articulating touchscreen lets you use it in tilting and rotating formations, which should sit well with hybrid shooters who prefer a balanced diet of stills and video.
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Above the screen is the same 9.44 million-dot electronic viewfinder we previously enjoyed on the Sony A7S III, while on the side, the A7R V now has two CFexpress Type-A card slots (which also accept UHS-II SD cards). A new setting also ensures the camera’s shutter remains closed when the power is off, to avoid the sensor dust issues that have plagued some A7R IV owners.
While the heritage of Sony’s ‘Resolution’ series lies in photography, the A7R V is also a powerful video camera. It makes the jump to 8K/24p video and can also record 4K/60p footage with 10-bit 4:2:2 color depth, which will suit those who like to color their videos well. Unlike the flagship Sony A1 though, there’s no 4K/120p mode for slow-motion fans.
With a host of other upgrades including better in-body image stabilization – which offers up to eight stops of compensation for handheld shots – the Sony A7R V is now (on paper) one of the most powerful mirrorless cameras (a lot of) money can purchase. You can pre-order it right now for $3,899 / £3,999 / AU$6,199, with shipping expected to begin mid-November (December in the US).
Review: Another leap to autofocus?
Sony has been pioneering in-camera autofocus for the past three years, with its ‘real-time tracking’ AF taking the technology to a higher level in the Sony A6400 and Sony A9. And while we haven’t fully tested its new ‘AI processing unit’ yet, the company claims the A7R V could be a similar-sized leap forward for mirrorless cameras.
Along with the traditional ‘photo triangle’ of aperture, shutter speed and ISO, focus is a key component of image quality. And so-called AI autofocus – which is actually more based on machine learning – is effectively making the whole process automated; recognizing the subject of a scene and focusing on the main part of that scene (most commonly, the eyes of a person or animal).
It’s a little strange that Sony has chosen to introduce this new technology – which will likely appear in its next generation of Alpha cameras – in the Sony A7R V. After all, this is an expensive professional camera aimed at the kind of photographer who knows how to ( and often prefer) to control settings such as the focus itself.
On the other hand, some of the Sony A7R V’s target buyers will be wedding or event photographers, who would certainly like to use a state-of-the-art AF system to take photos and videos in their unpredictable and rapidly changing scenes. The A7R V also seems to correct most of the common criticisms of its predecessor A7R IV; including its cumbersome menus, sensor dust issues, and general usability.
This makes the Sony A7R V a strong new rival to the popular Canon EOS R5, another powerful hybrid camera capable of recording 8K video. With both cameras priced equally high, though, more frugal photographers can plan to see what discounts appear on older models like the Sony A7R III and IV in this year’s Black Friday camera deals, which are fast approaching.