Photography & Filming

A Long-Time Nikon User Tries the Sony a7R V

Sony A7R V Camera Front View

I recently rented the Sony a7R V for testing, having shot Nikon for around 15 years but not totally sold on their approach to mirrorless. My experience surprised me. I’ve briefly tested cameras from other brands before, but the a7R V was the first time I’ve shot extensively with anything other than Nikon.

I tested the a7R V at an interesting time. Through NPS, I just recently rented out Nikon’s latest and greatest: the Z9, Z 24-70mm f/2.8, and Z 100-400mm, with the intent to upgrade my Nikon Z6 / Z7 kit one way or another (more on that in a moment). My testing of the a7R V is also happening just a few weeks away from the supposed announcement of Nikon’s next major camera model, the Z8, with basic specs just starting to leak.

Overall, this backdrop has really put me in a contemplative mood – thinking about what I’m looking for in a system, and even if Nikon is still meeting my needs. Every major camera system today is very competent, of course. But from a business standpoint, the a7R V struck me as a pretty compelling upgrade path when I eventually switch from the Z6 and Z7. Here’s why.

Sony a7R V + FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II @ 37mm, ISO 100, 1/320, f/8.0

What I’m Looking For

I’m currently shooting with a Nikon Z6 and Z7, along with the Z 24-70mm f/4, Z 14-30mm f/4, Z 105mm f/2.8 macro, and a smattering of older F-mount lenses. My niches as a professional photographer are real estate, commercial photography, videography, and sometimes landscape/travel work.

When it comes to cameras and camera brands, there are a number of considerations that matter to me: brand innovation, camera customization, lens lineup, image quality, video quality, and portability/convenience. I’m going to break them down point-by-point because this is the framework that I used while testing the a7R V.

1. Innovation

A successful camera company is constantly innovating, breaking new ground and coming up with genuinely useful features. I felt that the Nikon Z9 did this in a number of areas, like the lack of a mechanical shutter curtain, the high efficiency RAW options, etc., that made it a very innovative camera for wildlife photography. However, I have been less inspired by Nikon’s innovations in cameras other than the Z9, as even the Z6 II and Z7 II felt more like iterations over the Z6 and Z7.

When testing the a7R V, I was struck by the multitude of innovations it offered. Having just come from testing the Z9, I was surprised to see so many features that I liked about the Z9 rolled up into a smaller body at a significantly lower price point ($3900 vs $5500). A multi-angle rear screen, staggeringly good autofocus performance, a plethora of customizable buttons, and more – it felt like a pro-level body, without the weight or price penalty. Some other innovations like high-res sensor-shift mode have yet to make it into any Nikon camera yet, although maybe that will change with the Z8.

Sony a7R V @ 22mm, ISO 1000, 4 seconds, f/4.0

2. Customization

One complaint I had seen repeatedly leveled at the Sony bodies has to do with the menus. While they are a bit more complex, I found that the newer menu in the a7R V was better than old Sony cameras I’ve tested in the past. It’s still more complex than the Nikon or Canon menus I’ve used, but partly that’s because there is a greater degree of customization available.

As an easy example, consider bracketing. My Nikon Z7 allows for toggling bracketing on, with 3 and 5 shots at .3, .7, 1 or 2 stops of difference. Meanwhile, the a7R V allows for single or continuous bracketing, at .3 and .5 stop intervals throughout the range, with the option for enabling the self timer, all from 1 button press. Why can’t I set a 1.5 stop bracket on the Z7? Why do I need to dedicate a separate button just to shoot a bracketed burst? My Nikon cameras should be capable of it, but the software prevents it.

That degree of customization continues across the buttons on the a7R V, which are more numerous than on most cameras of this size. For the rear thumb area, you get two dials, 3 buttons, an AF joystick, a mini-menu, the 4-way buttons on the main dial, and two more buttons underneath that. Sony managed to fit both more buttons, and buttons in more usable positions, in a camera about the same size as the Z7.

For some people’s work, this many customizable buttons will be a headache and an inconvenience rather than a help. But I found that while switching between various genres, it sped up my workflow in the field. For my commercial work, it was nice to spend less time entering the camera menu, and the same should be true for video work as well.

Sony a7R V + FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II @ 69mm, ISO 100, 1/100, f/4.5

3. Lens Lineup and Third-Party Lenses

Interchangeable lens cameras are nothing without the right lenses. To me, the current situation with Nikon and 3rd party lens manufacturers feels messy and awkward – even more so with Canon, which makes me less likely to consider them if I decide to jump brands from Nikon. It seems that both Nikon and Canon are trying to keep a tight lock on their mirrorless lens mounts. Nikon is doing a bit better than Canon here, but I can’t help but feel annoyed to see rebranded Tamron lenses with the Z badge, for a premium price over the original Tamron lenses.

Sigma’s recent announcement of three Nikon Z APS-C lenses encapsulates what I’m talking about. Are these three lenses really Sigma’s priority to get in front of Z users? To me, it reads like Nikon is only leasing the mount to lenses that won’t compete with its 1st-party offerings. Either way, it leaves the lens lineup for Nikon Z mount feeling lacking, particularly if your needs don’t align with Nikon’s specific direction. Nikon has been filling out their lineup pretty well, but there are still many niches where third-party lenses would make it a more competitive system (tilt-shift lenses, longer macro lenses, a 200-600mm type lens, a lightweight telephoto zoom, etc. – the list goes on.)

Meanwhile, Sony’s E-Mount offers far more options. It’s been around for longer and is widely supported by almost every third-party lens company. I’m not saying that every Sony E lens is a winner, and my years of experience with Nikon have given me great confidence in the quality of their lenses. But there are lenses for the E mount that I think we will not see for the Z mount for years, if ever.

For example, a 12mm lens suits my real estate photography needs perfectly, which is possible with Sony’s 12-24mm and not with any Nikon Z lens. Beyond that, the Sony 20-70mm f/4 is a more useful commercial lens than the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4, since I don’t need to switch lenses when shooting wide-angles. And Nikon still doesn’t have a 70-200mm f/4, so I’ve had to use my 105mm f/2.8 macro as double-duty for longer focal lengths.

Lenses are a very personal decision, but using the a7R V, it was nice to use some inexpensive Sigma lenses that would have cost $2500+ for the Nikon Z equivalent. And I like how Sony’s native lenses match my professional needs better, especially the 12-24mm for real estate photography and the 20-70mm for commercial work.

Sony a7R V + Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 Contemporary @ 400mm, ISO 320, 1/1000, f/6.3

4. Image Quality

After some extensive shooting sessions with the Sony a7R V, including landscape, wildlife, and commercial subjects, I was very impressed with the image quality. Images were sharp, with great dynamic range, and processed similarly to my Nikon files. Given Nikon and Sony’s long running sensor relationship, this isn’t much of a surprise – I wouldn’t give either company a clear advantage here. Still, it was nice to see I could just pick up and shoot, without having to adjust any elements of my technique.

Speaking of technique, particularly for animals, I was amazed when I tested out the Nikon Z9. It grabbed the eye of every animal in the viewfinder, locked on, and wouldn’t let go. It was by far the standout aspect of my time with the Z9, and I was missing it the most when switching back to my Z6 and Z7.

I found that the a7R V offered roughly the same uncanny level of tracking as this. At one point, I was photographing a black-colored bear in the contrasty mid-day sun, and while I couldn’t even see his eye, the camera could. In another scenario, it grabbed focus on a flamingo who was head down in the water, gracefully transitioning to head and then eye AF as it returned upright.

Again, I know that Nikon also has this potential, because we’ve seen it in the Z9. We will probably see it in the Z8 as well. But in terms of cameras that already exist, it was pretty exciting to see the level of performance of the Z9 in a smaller, less expensive camera. It definitely gave me some pause.

Sony a7R V + Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 Contemporary @ 288mm, ISO 500, 1/320, f/6.3

5. Video Quality

One thing I haven’t much time to do with the a7R V yet is to shoot video, so I’ll limit my comments to acknowledging the specs. The Sony a7R V is one of the more impressive video-oriented cameras today – not quite at the level of the Nikon Z9’s RAW video capabilities, but still plenty impressive. The 8K, in-camera 10-bit, HLG, SLG, etc., features are plenty for my commercial needs.

My Nikon Z6 and Z7 aren’t terrible in terms of video, but some clients are already inquiring about higher-than-4K footage, which is one reason why I began my new camera search in the first place. The upcoming Nikon Z8 might be the answer depending on the price and size of the camera, but the a7R V also clears the bar.

6. Portability and Convenience

As previously mentioned, I was impressed by the performance of the Z9 overall, and even the price would be workable as a business expense. However, the body just didn’t work for me. While I had previously shot on a D3s, I’m not usually a wildlife photographer, and I don’t need the size and weight penalty that comes along with an integrated grip. Half the reason I switched to mirrorless in the first place was the size savings, and I don’t want to backtrack in that department.

The a7R V specifically is slightly bigger than my Z6 and Z7, but not to the degree that I found myself treating it any differently. My initial testing was done with Sony’s 24-70 f/2.8, which was surprisingly compact for a f/2.8 zoom with such good performance. My Sony 20-70mm f/4 rental also arrived right as I was putting this article together, and I’m even more impressed by this compact combo.

Sony A7R V for Video

In terms of convenience, the a7R V also impressed me. As I mentioned earlier, Sony makes great use of the space on the back of the camera, squeezing in a number of useful buttons. There’s also the convenience of the memory cards, which I didn’t realize that I would find so useful when testing the a7R V. I don’t particularly like the CFExpress setup used by the Nikon Z bodies, and one of the major reasons I’m planning to switch from my Z6 and Z7 is that I’m tired of the single card slot. By comparison, the a7R V’s card slots supported both the high-performance CFExpress Type A cards, and common SD cards that you can find in a gas station.

Add it together, and I found the a7R V’s balance of portability and features to be really nice – like mixing the best parts of the Nikon Z7 and Nikon Z9. I’m willing to wait a bit to see what Nikon releases in this niche, if anything, but maybe you can see why the a7R V struck me as a viable upgrade path from my existing setup. Which brings me to…

The Future

Nikon has been in an odd place for the prosumer / portable pro market for a while. The Z7 really wasn’t the full embodiment of the D850, and while the Nikon Z7 II improved in some meaningful areas (like dual card slots – pretty critical for professional photographers) it didn’t fundamentally change much.

A few years ago, I expressed disappointment that Nikon was prioritizing special editions, different colorways, and effectively duplicating lens options over filling the significant missing holes in their lineup. For example, there’s still a total of just three telephoto zooms available: a cheap 24-200mm f/4-6.3 superzoom, and two pro-level, bulky options in the 70-200mm f/2.8 and 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6. If you need anything other than that,  hopefully you’ve got those FTZ adapters handy!

Sony a7R V + Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 Contemporary @ 400mm, ISO 200, 1/500, f/6.3

Meanwhile, the expansive size of the Z mount and shallow flange depth was supposed to enable exciting new lens possibilities, yet at the wide angle, things are pretty milquetoast. Nikon’s optical quality is stunning, but with just a few exceptions, their optical creativity needs work. Need something wider than 14mm? Want a 14mm f/1.8? How about something faster than f/1.8 at all?

Instead of any of those, Nikon is offering a 28mm f/2.8 (in two styles!), a 26mm, a 24mm, and soon another 24mm (DX). Considering that they also have a ton of zooms that cover the 24mm range, shouldn’t Nikon have focused their attention elsewhere? The 26mm f/2.8 and 28mm f/2.8 duality is especially strange to see. Meanwhile, the 200-600mm lens (or anything like it) is nowhere to be seen. When I think about the future, I don’t have the confidence that Nikon’s lens decisions will be particularly rational, and I can’t count on third parties to fill the gaps.

In the end, any interchangeable lens camera is only as good as the ecosystem around it. Even if the Nikon Z8 solves a lot of the problems and acts as a true Sony a7R / Canon EOS R5 competitor, it is still a question about the lens lineup strategy. And don’t get me started on Nikon Z DX (although Sony has plenty of work to do with their APS-C cameras, too – this is one area where Canon is clearly ahead with the EOS R7).

I say this as someone who loves Nikon and wants them to succeed, but it was surprising to me that using the a7R V really crystalized the failings that I have been dealing with, yet struggled to put to words, with my Nikon Z kit. Nikon definitely has some high-end niches that they are chasing with cameras like the Z9, their incredible f/2.8 zoom trio, and drool-worthy lenses like the Z 400mm f/2.8 TC. They are also chasing a wedding photography niche with lenses like the 85mm f/1.2, and (upcoming) 35mm f/1.2. But the further you stray from those archetypes, the less clear Nikon’s ecosystem becomes.

I’ve had a great run with Nikon, spanning over a decade, but using the a7R V made me think about more than just the a7R V. Now that I’m on the cusp of upgrading my cameras one way or another, I’m wondering if it’s time to make a full leap – probably to Sony, maybe to Canon. Even now, I’m not sure if I’m ready to break things off and fully switch; I still need to do more serious thinking. But I can say that for the first time, I currently have a full set of non-Nikon gear sitting in my cart at B&H, and that Buy Now button is looking better and better.

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