Sony A7r: dream camera with crippling autofocus shortfall?

Philip Greenspun's Weblog 2014-01-06

Friends and I have been playing around with the Sony a7R, supposedly the dream camera of 2013. Indoors, it turns out to be very slow to autofocus, to the point that it is almost unusable for conventional family photography. A friend who is a regular Nikon D800 user said “I really wanted one of these but now that I have seen how slow it is, I will stick with a conventional SLR.” This was after an hour or so of taking pictures at a noon to 2 pm party lit by a fair amount of window light and also some incandescent bulbs (i.e., much darker than outside but nowhere near as dark as a home interior at night).

I tried it last night taking pictures of a sleeping baby in a room lit by a table lamp. A Samsung Note 3 mobile phone didn’t have any trouble capturing focus on the baby’s face (though the result was grainy). The a7R hunted, despite blasting the baby with a bright AF illuminator. It really was not a usable device, though in theory it has reasonable manual focus capabilities (hard for an old Canon EOS user to wade through Sony’s interface, though!).

For now I think it is safe to say that the Sony a7R is a dream camera for landscape photographers looking for a lightweight hiking companion but I don’t think it is as good a general-purpose camera as an Sony NEX-6 (still slower than an SLR but usable).

Is all of the excitement about mirrorless cameras misplaced? The old Canon Rebel G film body was very light and compact and had much better AF than this latest Sony (at 10X the price!). I’m wondering if we aren’t all suffering from a collective delusion and if it wouldn’t be better to stick a sensor in the back of a Rebel G.

I’ve posted some example images on Google+ and will be adding to the collection periodically.