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Sony A7R V review: Awesome images, improved video, unbeatable autofocus

It’s only marred by excessive rolling shutter.

Steve Dent/Engadget

Sony’s full-frame A7R IV was one of the best mirrorless cameras I’ve ever reviewed, so there was a lot of pressure on its successor. The company’s answer is the 61-megapixel A7R V, designed to deliver the maximum amount of detail for portrait and landscape photography.

Though it uses the same sensor as the A7R IV, the new model has been improved in nearly every other way. The processors have been updated to the same ones found on the 50-megapixel A1, allowing for faster autofocus and AI tracking and better video specs. Sony has also improved the stabilization, the rear display, EVF and more – all for the same $3,900 price as its chief rival, the Canon EOS R5.

Sony

Sony is once again on top of the high-resolution full-frame camera market with the A7R V.

Pros
  • Superb AI autofocus
  • Awesome photo quality
  • Powerful in-body stabilization
  • Much improved video up to 8K
  • Clever rear display
Cons
  • Significant rolling shutter
  • Full-frame 4K video could be sharper
$3,898 at Amazon

Sony’s advanced technology has always been its superpower, but rival models from Canon, Panasonic and others have started to catch up. To find out if the A7R V is worth buying over other cameras, and even the last model, I took it out for some detailed testing. Spoiler alert – it’s one impressive camera.

Body and handling

Sony made some changes to the design of its full-frame mirrorless cameras starting with the A7S III, and the A7R V continues in that vein. On top of a slightly bigger grip, it has a number of improvements over the A7R IV, such as a new dedicated selector for video, photos and the slow motion (S&Q) mode.

By taking that function off the mode dial, it’s relatively easy to switch between photos and video, then change modes in each. It’s also possible to share some, all or none of the settings like shutter speed and ISO between photo and video modes using the customization menu. Sony also moved the record button from the back to a better position on top.

As with other Sony cameras, it’s intuitive and easy to use. Some people may find it uncomfortable to hold all day, though, particularly those with larger hands. That’s because the grip has some hard edges and a material that’s less cushy than Canon’s R5, for example.

A big new innovation on the A7R V is the rear display. Rather than a simple tilt-only screen like before, Sony has come up with a whole new system. It not only flips out, but also tilts – not just upwards like Panasonic’s similar system on the GH6, but also down and out as well.

On top of being better for vlogging and selfies, it also lets you move the screen clear of any microphone or monitor cables. It’s also better for photo shooters. Some people prefer a tilting display (for shooting at high and low angles), so the A7R V has the best of both worlds.

The A7R IV already had a very good 5.76-million dot EVF, but Sony made it even better. Resolution on the OLED panel is up to 9.44 million dots, though it drops when you focus or increase the refresh rate to the maximum 120Hz. Still, it’s now close to matching what you’d see in an optical viewfinder.

Sony A7R V camera review
Steve Dent/Engadget

Like the A1 and A7S III, it has a pair of dual-format card slots. Each one accepts either UHS-II SD or faster, but far more expensive CFexpress Type A cards. The latter are required for 8K video and let you shoot photo bursts longer before the buffer fills.

Since the A7R V is now a much better video camera, Sony has seen fit to swap out the tiny and fragile micro HDMI jack for a full-sized one. Though still not up to pro standards, it offers a relatively secure connection and allows for more robust cables, as micro HDMI models are prone to breaking.

It has the same battery as the A1 and delivers exactly the same number of maximum shots on a charge, 530. That’s under lab conditions, though, and I got about double that in the real world. The USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 port is PD compatible, so you can charge the battery and power the camera at the same time. It also comes with microphone and headphone ports as you’d expect, plus a wired LAN port and the ability to do zoom calls or livestream over USB-C via the UBC webcam standard.

Performance

Sony A7R V mirrorless full-frame camera review
Steve Dent/Engadget

The A7R V has roughly the same burst speeds as its predecessor, 10fps in both mechanical and electronic modes, shooting C-RAW and JPEG photos. That drops to 7 fps when shooting uncompressed RAW files. While not super quick compared to Sony’s A1 or the Canon EOS R5 (both have stacked sensors), it’s not bad at all for a 61-megapixel camera. You can shoot about 104 C-RAW + JPEG files before the buffer fills, though that takes less than two seconds.

Sony is known for its brilliant autofocus, and the A7R V may be its best camera in this area to date. WIth 693 phase detect focus points (up from 567 on the A7R IV) the regular (non subject tracking) AF is uncannily accurate in all five area modes, delivering a large majority of sharp frames even with fast moving subjects.

Things get even better when you kick in the AI. On top of the excellent face, head and eye tracking, Sony has introduced a new body tracking mode. It works much like 3D motion tracking software used for animation, predicting the position of your head and eyes based on your skeletal structure. If it fails to track the subject’s face, it can also switch to their body and still grab sharp shots.

On top of humans, it can also track people, birds, animals, insects, cars, trains and airplanes. However, you have to select those manually – it would be nice to have an auto mode that lets the AI choose the subject like Canon’s EOS R6 II. It also has a touch-to-track mode that locks onto subjects more accurately than rival models.

Sony A7R V mirrorless full-frame camera review
Steve Dent/Engadget

In most of these tracking modes, the camera did a good job at focusing on the subject’s eyes. Failing that, it accurately tracked the head or body and still delivered sharp photos. The results were particularly impressive considering the high resolution that shows focus flaws in minute detail.

It sometimes failed to lock onto birds’ and other animals' eyes, though that’s something Sony could potentially improve with firmware updates. By and large, though, it nailed focus nearly every time, beating rivals by a solid margin.

The A7R V also has a new in-body stabilization system, boosting it from 6 to 8 stops with supported lenses, the same as what Canon’s EOS R5 offers. It was very good for photography, letting me take sharp shots down to a quarter of a second. That means you can shoot handheld and capture the streak of a car’s lights, for instance, while freezing the background. That being said. it falls a bit short for video as you’ll see soon.

Image quality

As it has the same 61-megapixel sensor, the A7R V delivers near identical image quality to the A7R IV. That’s not a bad thing, as the latter can produce stellar images. With the very high resolution and the lack of an anti-aliasing filter, only Hasselblad and Fuji’s 100-megapixel medium format cameras offer greater detail. If that’s not enough, you can use Sony’s Pixel Shift Multi-Shot and quadruple it to 240.8 megapixels.

With no low-pass filter, beware of antialiasing or moire that can crop up in detailed or repeating parts of an image. The high resolution means that the detail has to be very fine, however.

JPEGs are ready to share right out of the camera, with nicely tuned levels of sharpening and noise reduction. Colors are more accurate but perhaps less flattering to skin tones than Canon’s latest models. The system is particularly well tuned to sunny, blue-sky scenes, so the A7R V is a great option for landscape shooting.

Sony A7R V review image gallery

Sony claims 15 stops of dynamic range, above Canon but perhaps slightly below Nikon. That gives you tons of overhead to edit RAW files, fix under- or over-exposed shots or tweak colors. Except for highly detailed scenes, I didn’t notice much difference between compressed and uncompressed RAW files.

The A7R V does surprisingly well in low light. At speeds up to ISO 6400, grain isn’t an issue. Noise increases considerably at ISO 12800, but images retain detail. Beyond that, they can get gnarly with large grained color noise. Still, for such a high-resolution camera, it exceeded my expectations in this area.

As it happened, I reviewed the A7R V at the same time as the 100-megapixel Hasselblad X2D, so it was a good opportunity to test two very high resolution cameras. Both use sensors that have the same size pixels, and both are likely manufactured by Sony. For many photos, it was honestly hard to tell the difference, which is not bad for Sony considering the X2D costs over twice as much.

Video

The A7R V is a pretty darn competent video camera if you understand its limitations. It now offers 8K at up to 24/25 fps, 4K 60p and 10-bit 4:2:2 video with S-Log3, S-Cinetone and HDR formats. The A7R IV had none of those features, so it’s quite a step up.

Sony A7R V mirrorless full-frame camera review
Steve Dent/Engadget

There are some asterisks, though. The 8K video has a 1.24 times crop, while 4K 60p has a 1.24 times crop with pixel binning. 4K 30p video is uncropped, but also uses pixel binning. The only way to get supersampled video is with a 1.5 times APS-C crop. That, however, is limited to 30 fps. 120 fps video is only available at 1080p.

That said, Sony has done a good job with the pixel binning, so it doesn’t look significantly less sharp than the APS-C video supersampled from 6.2K.

Now that it supports 10-bit capture, the S-Log3 video is far more useful than on the A7R IV. You’ll see less banding once you grade it, and the 15 stops of dynamic range give you extra room to push blacks, pull back highlights and tweak colors. As with photos, hues are natural and accurate, and the A7R V is decent but not awesome for video in low light.

The A7R V now has the best video autofocus system, too. It’s nearly foolproof, locking onto subjects quickly and accurately even in chaotic circumstances. Shooting one scene with three people, it stayed locked onto the main subject even after he moved positions around the frame. All the AI features mentioned for photos work for video, so it can track animals and other subjects nearly as well as humans.

Sony A7R V camera review
Steve Dent/Engadget

The updated stabilization isn’t nearly as good for video as for photos. It’s good for handheld video if you don’t move around, nicely smoothing out any hand shake or small motions. However, any rapid movements or walking will cause jolts that mar the video. Panasonic’s new S5 II is much better in this regard.

You might be thinking at this point that the A7R V is actually a solid video option, but it’s held back by one thing: excessive rolling shutter. It’s particularly bad at 8K and full-frame 4K, with any camera movement setting off a jello-like effect. The best case scenario is in APS-C mode, but you’ll still need to be careful not to whip the camera around.

Still, the A7R V is fine for most video shooting. If you’re mainly looking to shoot video, though, I’d get another camera. For instance, Canon’s EOS R5c or the Nikon Z9 are better, if you need 8K and can tack an extra thousand or two onto your budget. If 4K is fine, Canon’s new $2,500 EOS R6 II or the $2,000 Panasonic S5 II are better and a lot cheaper.

Wrap-up

Sony A7R V mirrorless full-frame camera review
Steve Dent/Engadget

Sony is once again on top of the high-resolution full-frame camera market with $3,900 A7R V. Image quality and detail are outstanding, autofocus is second to none and the updated video capabilities are a great addition for hybrid shooters.

As mentioned, Sony’s main rival is the 45-megapixel Canon EOS R5, which offers lower resolution and better video capabilities, but suffers from overheating issues. The 45-megapixel Nikon Z9 is also a more capable video camera, but costs $1,500 more, and Nikon’s $3,000, 45-megapixel Z7 II is $500 less but has inferior autofocus and video.

None of those models come close to matching the A7R V’s resolution, image quality and exceptional AF, though. Given that, plus the massive video improvements, it’s now the best high-resolution full-frame camera on the market, by far.