Teardowns and Disassembly

The A7R teardown: A look inside Sony’s awesome full-frame mirrorless camera

Published January 29, 2014

The usual warnings apply:

  • Do not try this at home. This post was made by semi-trained, semi-professional repair technicians who sort of know what they’re doing.
  • The following blog post contains graphic images of the inside of a very nice camera. If such things make you squeamish, don’t read further. 
  • No cameras were harmed in the making of this blog post. The camera has been fully reassembled and is functioning normally.

Yeah, We Had to Do It

Ever since we first tested a Sony A7R, we were dying to take a look under the hood. Say what you will about Sony as a company, but they create some of the most elegantly-engineered camera bodies we’ve seen. Plus, the A7R is something of a groundbreaking camera, and we wanted to see how they crammed all that stuff into its little body. Oh, and finally, we’ve wanted a closer look at how thick the cover glass over the A7R’s sensor is, since there is some evidence that it may affect the edge performance of certain adapted lenses.

But we were a bit afraid of what we were getting ourselves into. Because Sony engineers its cameras so efficiently, they tend to be difficult to disassemble, let alone reassemble. And Tyler, knowing us like he does, had probably set computerized alarms on the inventory control system, notifying him the instant an A7R got sent to the repair department for any reason. But Tyler was out sick for half a day — and there were actually some A7R bodies in stock. So we did what we had to do.

A Quick SLR Comparison

Mirrorless cameras tend to be simple and elegant compared to SLRs — in part, because they have a lot less stuff in them. Just to set the stage, let’s remove the body caps and compare the front of a Sony A7R with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

If you take the body cap off the A7R, here’s what you see:


Take the body cap off the 5D Mark II, and there’s a whole lot more to see.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II showing main mirror (top left); partially lifted to show submirror (top right); fully lifted to show the shutter (bottom left); and with shutter opened to show the sensor (bottom right). The white area atop the mirror box is the focusing screen. 


If you flip things around and look at the bottom of the mirror box, you can also see the phase-detection autofocus sensor.


This isn’t particularly important for today’s teardown, I’m just trying to show why a mirrorless camera can be simpler inside than an SLR ever could. If you’d like to compare this article to a teardown of an SLR, you might like our Nikon D7000 Teardown, or perhaps this teardown of a Sony NEX-3.

So Let’s Get To It!

As usual when we do these things, Aaron drives the screwdrivers, while I take the pictures and offer helpful comments or suggestions, like “Don’t tear that flex”. This teardown was a bit like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, as we survived one near miss after another without quite destroying the camera. I’m sure my comments were most helpful.

The first trap we encountered was entirely of our own making. With almost every camera, you begin disassembly by peeling off the rubber grips to get to the screws beneath. Not with the A7R. The good news is that the A7R’s grips are completely bonded to the camera body, not held on with sticky tape, because there are no screws beneath them. They’re never going to come loose over time, unlike some cameras we know all too well. The bad news is that we found this out by spending half an hour trying to remove the unremovable grips.

Once we gave up on grip removal and started taking out the screws we could see, things progressed quickly, and the back was off in no time.

The electronic viewfinder cover came off just as easily. That’s the eye proximity sensor on the flex above the viewfinder.

A very nice thing — and one that’s quite typical of Sony engineering — was that there were only two different screw sizes used thus far: one size for the casing, and another for the EVF cover. A typical Nikon or Canon camera has four to seven different screw sizes by this point.

Back to the camera. With the back plate off, the LCD assembly is now exposed.

Removing a few more screws frees the LCD to be lifted up, showing the single large flex that connects it to the main PCB.

The LCD assembly is a very sturdy piece of metal that is totally rigid, even when taken out of the camera. That may seem inconsequential, but LCDs get pushed and pulled on quite a lot. When they’re weakly mounted, as we’ve seen on some very pricey DSLRs, they can get quite loose or even bent into the camera a bit.

Near-doom adventure number two came as we started to peel back the thick shielding tape over the main PCB. On the right side, there are several flexes under the tape that badly wanted to tear themselves as it was removed.

But the tape came off without any major mishaps, showing a typically clean Sony layout. All flexes are arranged to have the shortest possible runs, with no wires winding across, around, or under the PCB as we see all too often in other brands.  There’s even a nice little cutout to let the PCB on the bottom left come up through the board, rather than making it 10 times longer so that it can wind around the edge from underneath.

The nice layout continued as we lifted up the large flexes on the right, showing smaller flexes laid neatly under the larger ones, rather than winding their way around them. The lower flex leads to the memory card slot.

And a repair guy’s dream: That blue (I assume grounding) wire has a neat little snap connector, rather than being soldered to the board.

Disconnecting all the flexes lets us lift up the PCB, showing the input connectors and a couple more flexes coming in from underneath the board.

At this point, we thought we’d reached a dead end. The PCB was out, and so were all the screws, but neither the top nor the front would come off of the camera.  We pried. We cursed. Finally, we realized that we’d been working so long that our caffeine levels were probably too low, so we went and had some coffee. And a snack. Once we came back, Aaron immediately discovered the Secret Screw of Sony, hidden away at the bottom of a hole in the right side of the camera.

Once the Secret Screw was removed, the grip came off. With the grip off, the top came right off. And at last, the deepest secrets of the A7R were ours!

For completeness, here’s a picture of the top assembly. This can be disassembled further, but reassembling it is another matter. (This is why when you break a button on your camera, the repair is usually listed as ‘Replaced top assembly’. It’s cheaper to do that than it is to pay someone to spend hours reassembling the multiple flexes and buttons in the top assembly.)

The Nice Surprises

With our disassembly down to the core of the camera, things got even better. We had now exposed the back of that big, bad sensor, complete with heat sink tape and copper sink / shielding.  (By the way, if you wondered who made the A7R’s shutter, now you know.)

A couple more screws, and the sensor can be removed from the main mount of the camera, exposing the shutter.

Note that the sensor doesn’t mount to the shutter. It mounts directly to the metal chassis of the camera, with shims in three locations to make sure that the sensor is properly aligned to the lens mount.

The simplicity of the design becomes easier to see with the shutter removed, and only the metal chassis of the camera left.


The sensor is mounted and shimmed on one side of the metal chassis, as indicated by the red arrow. The lens mount is attached directly to the other side, marked with a yellow arrow. There’s nothing else that needs to be calibrated or aligned.

Compare that to the pictures of DSLR mirror-boxes at the start of this article, where there’s a lens mount, two mirrors, an autofocus sensor, the main image sensor, and the focusing screen, each of which must be aligned and calibrated to the other.

The Sensor

The sensor assembly is a nice, self-contained unit. One thing that was immediately apparent is that the cover glass on the sensor is held onto the assembly with three strong clips.

It does seem that — in theory, at least — replacing a scratched cover glass might be done without a complete sensor assembly replacement. Not to mention that there has been some discussion regarding removing or replacing the cover glass, possibly improving performance with adapted lenses in the process. I can’t say for certain, but it appears this should be a simple matter. But the clips didn’t pop off easily and we’d already pushed our luck with this camera enough, so we decided not to force the issue.

One Last Image

This is rather amazing. The completely disassembled Sony A7R consists of about a dozen major pieces, held together with 29 screws of just three different sizes. A typical DSLR has around 120 screws of 11 different sizes. You might not care less about that, but do you know what I thought about? How much easier it will be to fix this camera when it breaks. How much simpler it must be to perform all the calibration that must be done during assembly. And how much simpler it must be to assemble the A7R in the first place. In other words, how much cheaper it must be to make this camera, than to make a DSLR.

Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz


Jnauary, 2014

Addendum: The A7r cover glass was about 1.5mm thick, compared to 0.75mm for a Canon 5D II.

Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Lensrentals.com. Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

Posted in Teardowns and Disassembly
  • Deaner

    Hmmm, will we see A7Rs converted for IR if the disassemble is relatively straight forward and the sensor cover seems to be accessible. Or is the filter elsewhere in the sensor stack.
    I would also be curious to see how the construction of the A7 sensor stack compares, where is the AA filter.

  • Phfatcat

    You guys are too cool. You’re like a gunsmith, except for cameras…

    AND, you are funny…what with the warnings posted up there at the beginning of this piece…

    PLUS, you even got all those parts back together and made the camera work again?? That’s the part I could never get right…either too many parts left over, or several go missing…

    ANYWAY, you guys are good! And entertaining! Vegas, Baby…

  • Observing your home made arrows reminded me when, back in the day, I had to work for a living and I did a lot of documentation. I discovered a screen grabbing utility called Snagit, which includes a nifty editor to tweak the screen grab. The editor includes nice arrows and text and is very easy to use. Not sure if this is your cup of tea or (more likely) you know all about it, but thought I would pass it along.

    Thanks for all your good works!

  • Roger Cicala

    Roger, it covers the EVF – you can see the EVF on the last picture and it fully fills the ‘hump’.

  • Seeing this, it’s clear that mirrorless is going to eat the market in just a few years, for everything except maybe wildlife and sports (depending on how on-sensor phase-detect AF evolves, and given that the size advantage of mirrorless goes away when you have a huge lens attached anyway).

  • Roger Musson

    I’m curious to know what’s inside the EVF “hump”. Is it empty, or does it serve some purpose. Many people believe these humps are cosmetic only, to make the camera look like a dSLR.

  • GK1128

    “The A7r cover glass was about 1.5mm thick, compared to 0.75mm for a Canon 5D II”
    Is it possible to remove the cover glass and fix the red shift problem for some rf lens ?

    How about A7 ? is it possible to replace the cover glass on A7 with A7r one ? (without lpf)

  • Roger Cicala

    Hades, this one will remain our testing camera for a while, just to make sure it’s perfect, then it goes back into the rental fleet.

  • hades_ow

    What do you do with these cameras after? Do you sell them as new, or refurbished on ebay?

  • Markus

    Would be interesting to know if sth. like the OM-D E-M1 is also built around this sort of a ‘middle chassis’. If you look at pictures of the bare magnesium OM-D E-M1 body, at least to me it looks more like a front half and a back half screwed together (‘clam design’). Or are these parts usually also screwed onto a middle chassis?

    I also thought, the A7r is the one with metal front and back while the A7 uses more engineering plastics?


    P.S.: This post is really great, a lot of fun and highly interesting and it just makes VERY clear what a lot of peaople have already stated:
    The days of SLRs as the mainstream cameras are over, simply because of complexity and alignment issues.

  • Roger Cicala

    Peter, that’s an interesting observation. They do use them in assembly and to make publicity videos. But anyone who does this kind of stuff and doesn’t know to keep their fingers off of GMRs and other oil sensitive parts shouldn’t be doing it. Personally, I can’t afford the tactile loss that gloves give. I need every bit of feedback I can get to avoid stripping screws or tearing flexes.

  • Roger Cicala

    Richard, I agree, but then that applies to every manufacturer: they all mount connectors on the main board, soldered rather than in a chip holder, so any connector failure is always a PCB replacement.

  • Richard

    Nice work, Roger & Aaron!
    Nice engineering by Sony.
    However, Sony should have mounted the external(i/o) connectors on a small board linked to the main PCB via a flex (an additional cost of perhaps $3 at the most). Then, when the i/o connectors get ripped off the PCB, replacement of the complete main PCB will not be required. Repair then would be quick and cheap. But alas, do they care? Cheap and quick to manufacture is what makers are after.

  • fiatlux

    The a7 (not R) is said to be more forgiving with 3rd party lenses. Would it have a thinner glass cover?

  • Roger Cicala

    Jon, I can’t say I’m totally impressed. Positives would be fewer screw holes, fewer pieces making up the shell, and an overlap of about 1/4″ in the lips of the plastic shell pieces. But I saw no watertight gaskets, etc. I won’t be taking mine out in anything other than a light mist. But then I don’t take any camera out in anything more than a light mist without covering it with a baggie or something.


  • BdV

    Impressive job! I expect I might also be able to do this, with a near 100% certainty it won’t work after reassembling.

  • Jon

    Thanks Aaron & Roger, for having the wit to do this.

    What are your thoughts on the environmental sealing of the A7R against rain/condensation water ingress?

  • Peter

    I cringed reading this.

    Want to know the difference between semi-trained, semi-professional repair technicians and fully-trained, fully-professional ones?

    The latter wear latex finger cots or gloves. If you’ve ever accidentally touched a sensor, a sensor cover glass, any of several OVF/EVF parts, etc. with your fingers, you know how easy it is to ruin.

    Good teardown otherwise. I like the sensor protective glass. Do many cameras have that?

  • pixelbart

    I work in the software development business and I really started to love clean and elegant designs. My experience is that designs like this are only possible if the designers aren’t restricted to budgets and deadlines. Just put the brightest heads in a room with a minimal specification and wait what they come up with. That’s the only way to create a good and solid base product that has the flexibility for the marketing department and the other designers to add bells and whistles or to make a low budget version. Because in the end, the product must sell in a rapidly changing market.

    SLR’s, just like most products, have had way too many incremental updates. I’ve once torn apart a Pentax *ist DL and found a film camera with electronics built into it. You could basically see the place where the film sprocket used to be, filled with electronics and wires and flexible PCB’s all over the place. It would be a nightmare to have to add features to such a monstrosity. But on the other hand, being able to do just that is a valuable talent that shouldn’t be underestimated. For the same reason as the previous paragraph: making sellable products is job number one.

    A clean internal design is a strategic asset, not a selling point.

  • rrr_hhh

    The A7r is apparently to cameras what the Swatch are to the watches !
    Well done Sony and thanks to Lensrentals for this interesting teardown.

    PS : did you try this with an Olympus E-M5 ? I would like to know whether they are as clean as that !

  • ScottD

    you can knock Sony for a few things but production engineering is rarely 1 of them as this shows again.

  • Slav

    This pretty much clinches the economic case for mirrorless over SLRs, doesn’t it?

  • Nqina Dlamini

    Wow, you guys have strong stomachs. Just thinking of the number of things that could go wrong made feel a little dizzy.
    Sweet design.

  • Not gonna lie, that was pretty epic. Mine is coming on Friday and I can’t wait to use it!

  • David

    I love these strip-downs and have an A7R on order right now…

    BTW, you can do these tear-down analyses but you cannot spell January :))

  • Billy

    Would you, pretty please, do a tear down of an X-Pro 1, X-E1, X-E2, or X100S? There is endless debate about the manufacturer of the sensor hidden beneath Fuji’s X-Trans CFA and you could spare the Internet endless arguments!

  • Wonderfull!
    I love to know the intimacy of machines, even if it seems a litlle risqué. But, at the end, how thick is the glass over the sensor?

  • ScottyP

    Oh, the humanity!

  • eths


    The blue wire clip looks a little like a coax connector, so I would also guess that it is a RF connection.

  • John Leslie

    I don’t think the blue wire is a grounding lead, more likely the WiFi antenna feed. Looks like a PCB waveguide coming off it. Nice job BTW 🙂

Follow on Feedly