Sony A7 Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Sony Alpha ILCE-A7
Resolution: 24.30 Megapixels
Sensor size: 35mm
Kit Lens: 2.50x zoom
28-70mm
(28-70mm eq.)
Viewfinder: EVF / LCD
ISO: 50-25600
Shutter: 30-1/8000
Max Aperture: 3.5
Dimensions: 5.0 x 3.7 x 1.9 in.
(127 x 94 x 48 mm)
Weight: 27.1 oz (769 g)
includes batteries, kit lens
MSRP: $2,000
Availability: 12/2013
Manufacturer: Sony
24.30
Megapixels
Sony E-mount Full Frame 35mm
size sensor
image of Sony Alpha ILCE-A7
Front side of Sony Alpha ILCE-A7 digital camera Back side of Sony Alpha ILCE-A7 digital camera Top side of Sony Alpha ILCE-A7 digital camera Left side of Sony Alpha ILCE-A7 digital camera Right side of Sony Alpha ILCE-A7 digital camera

A7 Review Summary: When we reviewed Sony's A7R mirrorless camera, we were thrilled by its combination of a full-frame image sensor and a compact body. The Sony A7 offers both, and yet it's even more affordable. It also boasts better autofocus and performance, but trades off some of its sibling's epic resolution to achieve these. We already knew the Sony A7 would be great, but we wanted to answer which was better: The Sony A7 or A7R? Does amazing image quality trump performance? Are you better off spending a little more, or can you be thrifty and still get the best full-frame mirrorless camera money can buy? Read our review and find out!

Pros: Incredibly small body for a fully-featured, full-frame camera; Very high resolution; Hybrid autofocus is reasonably fast and confident; Significantly better burst-shooting performance than A7R; Excellent image quality even at very high sensitivities; Faster x-sync than A7R; Accepts existing Alpha-mount and E-mount lenses, and can optionally crop to APS-C image circle.

Cons: Grass-is-greener syndrome when compared to its higher-res sibling; Moderate performance; Loud shutter (but electronic first-curtain helps); Mediocre battery life when using electronic viewfinder; Weak low-light autofocus considering its price; Limited selection of native Sony FE lenses.

Price and availability: Priced at US$1,700 for the body alone, the Sony Alpha 7 is around one quarter less expensive than the higher-resolution Sony A7R. The Sony A7 kit, which includes the full-frame FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens, costs just US$300 more than the body-itself, for a final pricetag of US$2,000. Both variants began shipping in December 2013.

Imaging Resource rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Sony Alpha A7 Review

Overview and Technical Info by
Extended Walkaround by Dave Etchells and Mike Tomkins
Shooter's Report by David Schloss

Preview posted 10/16/2013
Review posted

Updates:
11/7/2013: Added Image Quality Comparison Analysis
03/07/2014:Added Shooter's Report
04/18/2014: Added Print Quality and Conclusion

Sony A7 Review -- Front left view

A little over a decade ago, enthusiast photographers were clamoring for an affordable APS-C digital SLR. That dream has long since become a reality, but for some, the dream wasn't big enough. They've been asking for an altogether different -- yet still affordable -- camera. They needed it to have a bigger sensor, and to drop the bulky mirror box of an SLR. Until now, they could choose one or the other. Sony has changed all that, with the launch of the full-frame Sony A7 and A7R mirrorless cameras.

The two cameras are very closely-related, and in this first impressions review, we'll be looking at the Sony A7. It's the lower-resolution of the two models -- albeit still pretty high-res, compared to what's available in its mirrorless and DSLR rivals -- but it has some important advantages over the A7R in other areas. If resolution above all else is your goal, though, you'll want to take a look at our Sony A7R review, instead.

Design. Externally, there's very little to tip you off to which of the two cameras you're looking at beyond their badges. The Sony A7 is just slightly heavier than its sibling, but the difference is not one you'd notice, even holding the two cameras side-by-side. Despite being heavier, it also features just slightly more plastic in its construction. You can tell the difference by touch -- the A7's front panel is warmer plastic, and that of the A7R is cooler metal. The A7's Mode dial and Exposure Compensation dial are also just slightly different, with coarser knurling on the former, and a slight increase in height on the latter. None of these physical differences is noticeable unless you're looking very closely indeed.

Differences between the Sony A7, A7S and A7R
Camera Sony A7S Sony A7 Sony A7R
Body-only List Price Unknown US$1,700 US$2,300
Available in Kit with Lens Unknown Yes No
Body Materials Magnesium alloy Magnesium alloy and polycarbonate Magnesium alloy
Sensor Size 35.8 x 23.9mm 35.8 x 23.9mm 35.9 x 24.0mm
Sensor Resolution (Total) 12.4 mpix 24.7 mpix 36.8 mpix
Sensor Resolution (Effective) 12.2 mpix 24.3 mpix 36.4 mpix
Maximum Image Size 4,240 x 2,832 pixels 6,000 x 4,000 pixels 7,360 x 4,912 pixels
Standard ISO sensitivity (Still) 100 - 102,400 100 - 25,600 100 - 25,600
Expanded ISO sensitivity (Still) 50 - 409,600 50 - 25,600 50 - 25,600
Standard ISO sensitivity (Video) 200 - 102,400 200 - 25,600 200 - 25,600
Expanded ISO sensitivity (Video) 200 - 409,600 N/A N/A
Electronic First Curtain Shutter Yes, optional Yes, optional No
On-chip Phase Detect Pixels? No Yes No
Continuous Shooting Rate
(with continuous autofocus)
2.5 fps max. 2.5 fps max. 1.5 fps max.
Speed Priority Continuous Shooting Rate 5.0 fps max.
(No continuous AF)
5.0 fps max.
(Continuous AF supported)
4.0 fps max.
(No Continuous AF)
Autofocus Type Contrast Detection
25-points
Fast Hybrid AF
117-point (phase detect)
25-point (contrast detect)
Contrast Detection
25-points
Predictive Autofocus Tracking No Yes No
Flash Sync Speed 1/250 second 1/250 second 1/160 second
Maximum resolution for HDMI live view 3,840 x 2,160 pixels 1,920 x 1,080 pixels 1,920 x 1,080 pixels
Video codecs XAVC S / AVCHD / MP4 AVCHD / MP4 AVCHD / MP4
Maximum clip length 29 min. (XAVC S); 29 min. (AVCHD); 20 min. / 2GB (MP4) 29 min. (AVCHD); 20 min. / 2GB (MP4) 29 min. (AVCHD); 20 min. / 2GB (MP4)
120fps at 720p? Yes No No
S-Log 2 gamma option Yes No No
Picture profile function Yes No No
Time code Yes No No
Maximum Magnification (Playback) 13.3x 18.8x 23.0x
Battery life (Still) 380 shots (LCD)
320 shots (EVF)
340 shots (LCD)
270 shots (EVF)
340 shots (LCD)
270 shots (EVF)
Battery life (Video, clips with power-cycling and zoom) 60 min. (LCD); 55 min. (EVF) 65 min. (LCD); 60 min. (EVF) 60 min. (LCD); 65 min. (EVF)
Battery life (Video without power-cycling or zoom) 90 min. (EVF / LCD) 100 min. (EVF / LCD) 90 min. (EVF / LCD)
Weight (Body Only) 15.7 ounces (446g) 14.7 ounces (416g) 14.4 ounces (407g)
Weight (with battery and Memory
Stick PRO Duo flash card)
17.2 ounces (489g) 16.7 ounces (474g) 16.4 ounces (465g)

Full-frame sensor. It's under the skin where you'll find the important differences, though, and they relate almost entirely to the choice of image sensor. The 24.3-megapixel Sony A7 has one-third fewer pixels than its sibling, but its sensor includes a generous helping of phase detection pixels. That allows it to offer a hybrid autofocus system, where the A7R is contrast-detect only. The A7's hybrid system allows for significantly faster autofocusing, not to mention better AF tracking. It also provides a significant improvement in burst shooting performance, whether or not exposure and autofocus are locked.

Sony A7 Review -- Front right view

The higher-resolution sensor of the Sony A7R will be attractive for some for whom focus speed isn't such an issue, however, such as landscape photographers. (Even if the A7 is itself no slouch in the resolution department.)

Lenses. Speaking of lenses, the Sony A7 and its sibling will both accept existing Sony E-mount lenses, albeit with an APS-C crop or vignetting. They'll also accept Alpha-mount lenses -- be they cropped or full-frame -- with an adaptor.

Full-frame optics. Of most interest, though, are several brand-new, full-frame E-mount optics, branded as "FE" lenses. Five FE-series full-frame E-mount lenses have been announced for separate sale, and four have pricing and availability information. The FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA and FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lenses were the first to ship this December, priced at US$800 and US$500 respectively. The FE 55mm F1.8 ZA prime followec from January 2014, priced at US$1,000. The first zoom option for the Sony A7R arrived in February 2014, in the form of the FE 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS for US$1,200. Finally, an FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS telephoto zoom is planned, but Sony hasn't disclosed when it plans to ship this lens, nor at what price.

Lens adapters. There are also two new full frame-specific mount adapters. One -- the LA-EA3 -- has been available for a while in a bundle with the NEX-VG900 full-frame camcorder. The other is the LA-EA4, and adds a Translucent Mirror plus phase detect AF sensor, much like the existing APS-C format LA-EA2. The LA-EA3 costs US$200, and the LA-EA4 costs US$350. Both shipped from early December 2013.

Accessories. Finally, there are several related accessories to choose from. The Vertical Grip for A7 and A7R costs US$300, and a leather case costs US$140. Screen protectors are priced at US$15, and a new W-series battery charger at US$50. Finally, an off-camera flash shoe is priced at US$50. All of these accessories have been available since December 2013 or January 2014.

Let's take a closer look at the Sony A7.

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Walkaround. The Sony A7 feels wonderful in the hand. Although its body couples magnesium alloy and plastic, it's still very solid, with a similar sense of quality and precision in its operation to that of the A7R. (In fact, were it not for the difference in the perception of temperature given by the metal and plastic panels, we'd probably have assumed the construction to be entirely metal.)

Controls provide good tactile feedback, and command dials strike the right balance between stiffness -- so they won't be jostled accidentally -- and ease of operation. (Although we might wish for just a tad less stiffness on the exposure compensation dial.)

Given that we were huge fans of the Sony RX1's user interface, and loved the "Tri-Navi" interface on the Sony NEX-7, it's probably no surprise that we found ourselves liking the user experience of the new Sony Alpha 7 a lot as well. It's something of a melding of the characteristics of the two previous cameras. In many ways, this new camera feels a lot like a big brother to the NEX line, but Sony has chosen to label it an Alpha -- perhaps hoping to associate it more with the higher end of their ILC line. While the Sony A7 and its higher-resolution sibling the Sony A7R have a lot in common with the NEX series, there are also some obvious differences.

The Sony A7 is bigger than the typical NEX-series camera, as you might expect given its full-frame image sensor and built-in electronic viewfinder, but it's not as large as you might have feared. Compared to the NEX-7,which features an APS-C sized sensor, it's around 1.1 inches taller, and 0.3 inches wider / thicker. The majority of that difference is due to its viewfinder, which stands well proud of the camera's top deck at the shoulders.

Sony A7 Review -- Compared to RX1

The body is somewhat larger than that of the Sony RX1, but maybe not as much bigger as we were expecting. The body itself is only slightly taller, thicker, and wider than the RX1's, the big difference being the large EVF housing on top, which adds greatly to the sense of bulk. The 35mm f/2.8 lens isn't actually too much larger than the 35mm f/2.0 optic on the RX1, but the combined bulk of body and lens (particularly a zoom) is enough that it really puts it into a different category than the RX1. The RX1 could be considered a coat-pocket camera, but you'd have to have an awfully big coat to squeeze the Sony A7 into it.

That said, we felt that the Sony Alpha 7 was quite well balanced with all three lenses we tried it with. I'd say it's still a two-handed camera, particularly given that you'll want to have a hand on the zoom and/or focus rings of the lens, but it feels very nicely balanced with a moderate-sized lens like the 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 kit optic attached, and it's no trouble at all to hold one-handed, as for over-the-head shots in a crowd.

Sony A7 Review -- Compared to A99

Of course, saying that the Sony A7 is bigger than the RX1 may not mean all that much: Compared to any other full-frame interchangeable-lens camera (apart, perhaps from the rangefinder-style and considerably less feature-rich Leica M9), it's downright diminutive. The current size extremes in Sony's Translucent Mirror range are the APS-C sensor-shod Sony A37, and the full-frame Sony A99. The Sony A7 is 0.1 inches wider and taller than the A37, but a much more significant 0.8 inches narrower and shorter than the A99. More importantly, it's 1.1 to 1.3 inches slimmer than both, without a lens mounted. Getting rid of the mirror box clearly still pays dividends on size for a full-frame camera, then.

The Sony Alpha 7's grip is wider than some, but not very deep. Our personal preference is for deeper/narrower, but we found the Alpha 7 very comfortable to hold. This is partly due to the nice thumb-rest on the back of the camera and the leather-textured rubbery plastic coating on the grip and right rear of the camera, the combination of which meant our hold on the camera always felt very secure. We also found the various dials mounted on or just beneath the top deck were very easy to access while holding the camera, and the shutter button was comfortably positioned as well.

Sony A7 Review -- Front view

Seen from the front, things are pretty straightforward. The Sony A7's front surface is mostly smooth and featureless, save for the hand grip, Sony E lens mount, autofocus assist lamp, and a few controls. Of particular note is just how large that full-frame sensor appears, occupying the great majority of the E-mount's interior. For a comparison, take a look at this image from our review of the Sony NEX-7, which features a more typical APS-C sized sensor. The lens mount release button sits snug beneath and to the right of the lens mount (as seen from the rear of the camera), right where you'd expect to find it.

The handgrip is relatively shallow and wide, as we'll see in the top view momentarily, with a slight indent in the front surface that helps give more purchase for the fingers. An infrared receiver sits behind a small oval window near the base of the grip. At its top sits the front control dial, partially recessed in a small plateau below the camera's top deck. Just above and to the left sits the bright orange autofocus assist lamp.

Sony A7 Review -- Top view

Jumping to the top of the camera, it's clear that it's aimed at experienced photographers. As well as the front dial crowning the hand grip, and another control dial peeking out from behind the Mode dial and Shutter button, there's a third dial dedicated to exposure compensation at the very right-hand end. In front of this sits a Custom button, and the Shutter button is encircled by a Power lever.

Moving left, the electronic viewfinder hump -- there's no prism here, since this is a mirrorless camera -- is topped by Sony's Multi Interface Shoe. From this angle it doesn't look like an intelligent shoe, but when seen from the rear you can just make out terminals tucked beneath its front surface that allow communication not just with strobes, but with other accessories such as a clip-on LCD monitor or external microphone adapter. On either side of the electronic viewfinder hump are two single-hole microphone ports, which together provide for stereo audio. A small two-hole speaker sits just left of the hump, alongside the focal plane mark.

Sony A7 Review -- Rear view

Switching to the rear deck gives a clearer view of that second control dial, but the dominant features here are the 3.0-inch tilting LCD monitor, and the electronic viewfinder which sits just above it.

The Sony A7's eye-level electronic viewfinder is housed in angular bulge very reminiscent of the pentaprism on an SLR. EVFs have been steadily evolving in recent years, and the one in the Sony A7 is a good example of the state of the art. It uses OLED technology, and sports no fewer than 2.4 million dots, a level of resolution that means we can only just barely see hints of pixels along the edges of letters, and not at all in images displayed.

Its very high resolution is only part of the story of the Sony A7's EVF, though. Perhaps more important are the optics that Sony's put behind it. Viewfinder optics are often an afterthought in camera design, with optical artifacts like coma, blur, and chromatic aberration all too common. Since they're not being used to take a picture through, they often receive short shrift in the camera-design process.

Sony A7 Review -- Electronic Viewfinder

Not so the EVF on the Sony A7. It uses a three-lens optical system similar to that found in the flagship Sony A99 SLT camera, although with a slightly improved configuration. The dioptric adjustment range for eyeglass-wearers is an unusually broad -4 to +3 diopters, very welcome for far- or nearsighted people. The net result is a very highly-corrected view of the OLED screen, that's sharp from corner to corner, with nary a sign of chromatic aberration anywhere, and a nice, wide field of view (0.71x with a 50mm lens focused at infinity). The OLED screen itself has also been enhanced a good bit, with three times the contrast of the one used in the A99. The result is a remarkably clear view with better than average dynamic range, although still not quite up to what my eye can see when looking through an optical viewfinder. There are some areas in which optical viewfinders still outperform EVFs, but there are at least as many in which EVFs surpass, and the one in the Sony A7 is truly state of the art for current technology.

The EVF has much higher resolution, with 2.4 million dots (1,024 x 768 RGB pixels), versus the 921,600 dots (640 x 480 RGB pixels) of the LCD monitor. If critical focus is key, you'll want to use the viewfinder. We'd imagine most Sony A7 shooters will be doing so -- we certainly did. Proximity sensors above the viewfinder are used to switch between this and the main display automatically, when you bring the camera to your eye, and away again.

The rear deck controls are fairly straightforward, with no NEX-style soft buttons employed. The Menu button sits above the monitor, as does a second Custom button. Beneath the rear Control dial is an Auto / Manual focus selector switch, at the center of which sits an Auto-exposure Lock button. Below is a Function button, which also serves to enable Wi-Fi sharing in Playback mode.

Further down, there's a cluster of four controls which bear a little more discussion. Another rear Control dial also doubles as a Four-way rocker, and during image capture is used to select the Drive mode, Display mode, or White Balance mode by pressing its left, top, or right sides. At its center is a Select button, used to acknowledge menu options, settings changes, and so forth. Directly beneath the dial are the Playback button, and a Delete button which also serves as yet another Custom button when in record mode.

Sony A7 Review -- Left view

Moving to the camera's left side and starting from the top, there's a neck strap eyelet with, unfortunately a metal D-ring. (Not our favorite thing to see on a video-capable camera, since the metal-on-metal interface tends to generate handling noise every time you so much as look at the neck strap.)

Beneath are two rubber flaps which cover most of the camera's side. The top flap conceals audio connectivity -- both a 3.5mm stereo microphone jack, and a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. The lower flap covers Sony's Multi Terminal interface, which provides for both USB 2.0 Hi-Speed and standard-definition video output, as well as wired remote control connectivity. The same flap also hides the Type-D Micro HDMI connector, which you'll use to get your images onto a high-definition display.

Sony A7 Review -- Right view

The right side of the Sony A7 is as simple as can be: There's a second neck strap eyelet with D-ring, and a Movie Record button which is tucked into the side of the rear-panel thumb grip. Beneath is the memory card compartment door, behind which you'll find a single shared Secure Digital / Memory Stick PRO Duo card slot. Wi-Fi and NFC logos hint at the inclusion of these two wireless networking features, and the latter provides near-instant pairing with many Android devices, simply by holding them alongside the logo momentarily. (Apple doesn't, as yet, support NFC in any of its products.)

Sony A7 Review -- Bottom view

And in the interests of completeness, let's take a quick look at the camera's base. The Sony A7 features a metal tripod socket, nicely positioned on the central axis of the lens. (That's where you want it, to minimize parallax error during panorama shooting.) A battery compartment door resides in the bottom of the handgrip, and includes a small rubber cutout which provides ingress for the dummy battery cable of an optional AC adapter kit.

Sony A7 Review -- Tri Navi interface

User interface. We mentioned the Sony A7's user interface at the outset: Let's look at it in a bit more detail. It bears a passing resemblance to the Tri-Navi interface on the NEX-7, in that it has both a front and rear dial, plus the back-panel dial control to adjust settings with. In addition, there's a dedicated exposure-compensation dial on the right rear corner of the camera's top panel, in easy reach of your thumb.

Compared to the RX1, controls on the Sony A7 are equally configurable, but also have explicit default functions printed on the camera body next to some of them. The lack of such labels on the RX1 had a lot to do with how quickly we were moved to assign our own, custom function layout to them. That little nudge to free myself from the default functions was a big plus, but we imagine a lot of users would be more comfortable with having the default functions labeled, as on the A7.

Despite the presence of the labels, the Sony A7's user interface is exceptionally configurable. The C1 button on the top panel and the C2 button at the top of the rear panel are of course both configurable, as is the C3 button, which doubles as the Trash button in playback mode. All three of these buttons can have any of 46 functions assigned to them, or they can be left unassigned. Additionally, the center button of the rear controller can have any of 47 functions assigned, and the left, right, and down keys can each have any of 39 assigned to them. This surely sets a new benchmark for camera configurability. (There may have been a camera or cameras with more configuration options, we just can't recall any.)

Sony A7 Review -- Center Button options

While it takes a little while to settle on the best configuration for a highly-customizable user interface like this, and some more time before your custom configurations become second nature, the benefit to regular shooters is huge. Rather than cursing a multi-level menu system, the camera becomes a fluid extension of your creative process. The impact of the sort of deep configurability of the Sony A7's user interface shouldn't be underestimated.

Menus and on-screen controls. We rather liked the default menu system as well, being something of a hybrid between that used on the NEX line and the more conventional enthusiast-oriented menus of the Alpha series. The top level is more NEX-like, with six tiles offered to let you quickly access the particular category of functionality you're interested in. Once you select a tile, you're dropped into a standard Alpha menu system, but on the appropriate tab set. We found this a good bit quicker than having to scroll through all the menu tabs between wherever we entered the menu system and where we wanted to be, as is generally the case in standard tabbed menu systems. We'd have to time ourselves with a stopwatch to say whether the tiled approach actually ended up faster or not (you still have to scroll between tiles, after all), but it certainly felt faster when we were using it. You can disable this tiled front-end if you wish, though, via a setup menu function, and the menu button will drop you directly in to the tabbed menu system.

Sony A7 Review -- Bracket options

There's also a "Quick Navi" interface that provides access to a wide range of camera functions, accessed by default via the Fn button. The operation of this menu on the Sony Alpha 7 is a step forward from some other Sony models, in that you can immediately change a setting with the front/rear control dials as soon as you've scrolled the cursor to it with the left/right keys. Some cameras require you to press the center OK button before you can change the settings, which always caused a bit of a mental disconnect for us. On the Sony A7, though, you can immediately make changes with the front dial, once the cursor has highlighted a particular function. A number of settings have sub-settings for them (such as exposure bracketing, where you can pick both the number and size of the exposure steps), and in those cases, the front dial selects the main setting, and the rear one the sub-setting. It's a very fast, fluid, and intuitive setup.

As with the camera's many control buttons, the Quick Navi menu is also highly configurable. Each of the 12 slots in it can have any of 27 different functions assigned to it, or that slot can be left blank.

Sony A7 Review -- Focus Magnifier menu option

No more modal menu failures! In recent history, Sony's menus have been very modal, in that various options would be grayed-out if they didn't apply to the current camera configuration. (For example, a setting pertaining to manual focus would be grayed out if you were in an autofocus mode.) The problem was, the camera wouldn't tell you why something was grayed out! It was often a puzzle, and a guessing game of many steps to figure out why the @#! you couldn't change a given menu setting.

We suspect others complained to Sony about this as well, so it probably wasn't just us bringing it up every time we had a chance to talk with their engineers, but we're happy to report that Sony listened, and the new A7 actually tells you why you can't access grayed-out menu options! To our mind, this was the single biggest thing Sony needed to change in their user interface, and they've done it! Not every grayed-out menu has an information screen associated with it (a couple in the setup menus just say "this function is currently disabled"), but this is still a huge step forwards for ease-of-use.

 

Shooting with the Sony A7

by David Schloss

Sony A7 review -- Sample photo

The Sony A7 and its sibling the A7R (which we've also reviewed) together mark a pivotal moment in the photographic world. Though at first glance it looks for all the world like a particularly nice fixed-lens camera, the A7 is in fact a full-frame, interchangeable-lens mirrorless cam. Its semi-pro grade body fires a shot across the bow of Nikon and Canon, both of which have taken a more cautious approach to mirrorless than some of their customers would have liked.

A more versatile option. At first glance the Sony A7 might not seem like a game changer, but it most certainly is. The camera pairs a 24-megapixel, full-frame image sensor and phase detection technology to create a camera that, in my opinion, is more versatile and groundbreaking than the higher-res (but slower-focusing) Sony A7R.

In my Sony A7R review, I noted that camera to be perfect for portraits and relatively-slow-moving subjects. It's great for wedding photographers, event photographers and enthusiasts photographing the occasional little league game. With its phase-detection autofocus capability and emphasis on greater performance, the A7 tries to capture a wider market.

It's pretty successful, although it doesn't have the performance of a professional-grade camera. It's more akin to a Canon 6D than it is to the flagship EOS 1D X, but for many users that's more than sufficient. While it would be nice to have the extra resolution of the A7R, it's more important to have a camera that can keep up with your subjects -- and the A7 can do so more often than its higher-priced sibling.

Sony A7 review -- Sample photo

The Sony A7 might have lower resolution than the A7R, but it still captures plenty of detail. Look at the basket of the second-nearest bike, which falls within the depth of field for a nice example.

Reasonably swift burst shooting. In its fastest drive mode with focus locked, the Sony A7 will shoot at five frames per second for, effectively, as long as you like at full resolution. With my 60MB/second Lexar UHS-I flash card, I managed 75 frames before the capture rate slowed somewhat, but as with most cameras, reviewing those images is an asynchronous function -- I had to wait for the entire buffer to write to the flash card before I could review even the first image in the burst.

Nor could I access the main menu system until the buffer had cleared, and although the Function menu could be accessed, most options were greyed out. Only metering mode, focus area, DRO mode, and Creative Style could be adjusted before the buffer was empty. But on the plus side, if there was space remaining in the buffer, I could start shooting again straight away -- so I wasn't missing shots unless I needed to change camera settings before continuing.

Just how fast is the Sony A7? Find out by clicking here
to see our full battery of rigorous, objective speed
and operation tests conducted in the IR Lab.

More sophisticated autofocus. The topic of phase detection autofocus versus contrast detection is a bit technical, but it's worth knowing how it works, because it's directly related to one of the key differences between the Sony A7 and A7R.

In years gone by, conventional wisdom had it that contrast detection -- while more accurate -- was much slower than phase detection. With powerful modern processors and aggressive algorithm development, though, contrast detection has now reached performance parity -- at least, for some brands. There are still areas where each system has advantages or disadvantages.

How it works. Contrast detection works by calculating the level of contrast at the autofocus point location, then adjusting focus slightly and repeating the process. If contrast increases, you know you're heading towards correct focus; if it decreases, you're going in the wrong direction.

Phase-detection systems superimpose two images seen from opposite sides of the lens. If they overlap, then the subject is in focus. If not, then you can tell both the distance and direction to focus from the mismatch in phase between the images. That's important, because it means that there's no need to hunt around the point of focus to determine precisely where it lies.

Sony A7 review -- Sample photo
The A7's photos couple great detail with pleasing color, good auto white balance, and spot-on exposure at default settings, most of the time. This scene is exactly as I remember it in person. This particular image was shot with the Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 lens.

This ability to determine the distance and direction of the point of focus means that phase-detection systems can track moving subjects more easily, making them better suited to shooting moving subjects. In an SLR camera, phase detection is performed with a separate, dedicated autofocus sensor. In a mirrorless camera, it's performed using the image sensor itself.

The best of both worlds. Sony's Hybrid autofocus system in the A7 uses both phase-detection and contrast-detection together for subjects located towards the center of the frame. The PDAF system provides the camera with information about the distance and direction to focus, while the CDAF system fine-tunes for maximum precision. Nearer the edges, only contrast detection is used. The result, when compared to the CDAF-only system in the A7R, is more confident and quicker autofocus, with less focus hunting.

The A7 shares the same autofocus settings as the A7R, plus one addition: an on/off menu item rather confusingly named "Phase Detect. Area". This doesn't enable or disable phase detection, but rather controls an optional overlay on the live view showing the outer limits of the phase detection area.

Sony A7 review -- Sample photo
High ISO shots show plenty of detail, too. In this image at ISO 6400, you can clearly make out striping from the pixels on the in-focus portion of the monitor.

Not the fastest, but better than the A7R. I set the A7 to continuous autofocus and continuous shooting, then enabled the phase-detection area display so I could see where to frame my subject, and was able to capture a fast moving subject at a little under three frames per second for as long as I held down the shutter button.

Admittedly, that's a bit sedate in terms of performance, but the camera continued to focus on my subject just fine as it moved around the frame. (And by way of contrast, the A7R manages a rather lethargic sub-2 fps.)

The electronic viewfinder wasn't completely able to keep up with the action of the subject, stuttering a bit as it tried to display between shots, and blacking out between frames for longer than I'd like, but it still managed to maintain focus.

Sony A7 review -- Sample photo

Shooting moving subjects is noticeably easier with the Sony A7 than its higher-res sibling. Here, the extremely animated Ben Folds is tack-sharp. Sadly, with the side view and glasses to contend with, I didn't manage to place focus on his eye, but I wasn't far off.

Great viewfinder. I'm a big fan of the Sony A7's electronic viewfinder, which makes EVFs of old seem like looking at video from the moon landing. It has plenty of resolution, and I think in many ways it's more useful than an optical viewfinder. Seeing a real-time histogram, for example, is impossible with a TTL optical viewfinder.

That's not to say its perfect. I felt that I had to increase the brightness in order to give me more visible detail for focus confirmation, at the expense of a slightly less accurate preview of exposure. But putting that aside, the EVF on the A7 is the most vibrant I've tried, and it's a pleasure to use. It's my belief that we're now only a generation or two away from the point at which the EVF/OVF debate is settled once and for all.

Want to learn more about the Sony A7's built-in electronic viewfinder?
Click here to see our viewfinder test results.

Tilting monitor. The rear-panel LCD screen is just as vibrant as the EVF, albeit with a lower resolution. Because the viewfinder is so good, I only used the LCD screen for playback, navigating menus, and for occasional over-the-head or waist-level shots. It's clear and bright even in outdoor, sunny-weather shooting, and isn't unusually fingerprint-prone.

The LCD monitor is articulated, but since it's not a tilt/swivel design it's useful only for landscape shots, and not those in portrait orientation. I must admit that I'd have preferred a tilt-swivel screen, but only if it could be installed without significantly increasing the depth of the camera.

No touch? No problem. I've become so accustomed to testing cameras with touch-screen displays that I usually find non-touch screens a step backwards in usability, but thanks to its great (and very configurable) physical controls and mostly well-considered menu system, this isn't such an issue with the A7.

One of reasons I typically prefer a touch-screen interface over a non-interactive panel is that many cameras force you to dig down through multiple menu levels to change settings, but the A7 negates the need for most of this with a smart user interface. For example, when in the AF Area menu, the vertical arrow buttons change focus mode, but you can also cycle through the different AF point sizes for the Flexible Spot setting with the left and right arrows. In some cameras, there would be an extra layer in the menu for the latter, or it would be accessed via a separate menu item.

Sony A7 review -- Sample photo

The FE 28-70mm kit lens -- shooting here at its 70mm focal length and stopped down to f/6.3 -- can yield some deliciously smooth, creamy bokeh.

The physical controls help out, too. To adjust sensitivity, many cameras first require that you press an ISO button to toggle ISO control with a dial or buttons, or even send you running to the menu system. The A7 instead allows for ISO adjustment by spinning the dial on the face of the four way rocker. (Another function can, optionally, be assigned, and some modes don't allow ISO control. Hence, a small icon on the LCD or EVF indicates what the dial currently controls.)

It takes a little while to learn these controls, though. During my review, I've shown the A7 to several friends who are professional photographers. They've all been impressed, but they've also all asked "Why can't I change the sensitivity without using the menu," because they didn't know about this dial's hidden purpose.

Occasionally illogical. The menu system is fairly straightforward, but its organization isn't always the greatest. For example, I'd expect to find the Format option on the first or last page of the setup menu, but it's actually on the fifth of six pages. And the seven options related to focusing are scattered across three different tabs of the Record menu, with 11 items completely unrelated to focusing interspersed between them.

Translations are occasionally a little clumsy, as well -- for example, the recommendation to "Shoot with fitting into the face frame" when registering a new subject for face recognition.

Thankfully, the quick menu (accessible by pressing the Fn button) has direct access to the most common shooting functions, and eliminates much of the need to jump into the menu once the camera is set up.

Loud shutter. The Sony A7 has a surprisingly loud shutter, which may be an issue if you're shooting in environments where noise is frowned on, or with a skittish subject. In fact, even for street photography -- a genre for which the A7 is otherwise extremely well suited -- you're not going to sneak up on anyone with the A7, once you've tripped the shutter for the first time nearby.

Sony A7 review -- Sample photo

One thing worth noting, though, is that the A7 has an electronic first curtain shutter function, which makes it a little better in this respect than its sibling, the A7R. Electronic first curtain can be disabled, but when active it makes the shutter sound both slightly quieter, and of significantly shorter duration.

Great new lenses. I tested the A7 with the new FE-mount Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm F2.8 ZA lens, which costs $800. I quickly fell in love with this optic: It only projects a little less than three inches from the front of the camera, and it's one of the sharpest pieces of glass I've used. That's to be expected from Zeiss, a company with which Sony has a long partnership.

Sony A7 review -- Sample photo

Even though I found it hard to tear myself away from the Zeiss glass, I also used the Sony-branded kit lens that's available with the A7. The kit lens is a 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 optic, and it feels much more durable and substantial than most other kit lenses I've tried. Depending on the focal length, you lose 2/3 to 2 stops over the f/2.8 Zeiss lens, but the zoom is still a great and efficient piece of kit.

How good is the FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens?
Click here to see our test results for this optional optic.

Plenty of detail. Images from the A7 are wonderful, though slightly less detailed than those from the A7R. That's understandable -- with 24 megapixels instead of 36, there's a lot less data in the A7's images, although it's still providing as much (or more) resolution than you'll get from the majority of cameras on the market. And that's borne out by my experiences.

Mount the 35mm f/2.8 Zeiss lens, and the A7 produces images that are indistinguishable in quality from what I'd manage with my professional cameras. Tonal and dynamic range of the A7's images are great, as are detail and exposure. That's not surprising to me, as my experience has been that Sony's cameras typically provide some of the best-in-class images. Still, it's amazing when this full-frame camera system is smaller than some Micro Four Thirds bodies.

For my money, that's one of the most intriguing things about the A7: It provides ful-frame SLR-quality images without the bulk of a professional camera, or even of an APS-C DSLR. It's something that experienced shooters like myself have been clamoring for.

Sony A7 review -- Sample photo

Great exposures. The metering system in the A7 is incredible, just as it is in the A7R. Even intentionally presenting it with difficult subjects to to try and throw it off, I couldn't get the A7 to make a bad shot. Everything was at least in the ballpark.

View the IR Lab's in-depth Sony A7 image quality test
results by clicking here. Be sure to read further on to
see side-by-side comparisons of the A7 and competitors.

A comfy fit. The Sony A7 looks like it's made out of a single piece of carved metal -- there's a feeling to it that's not unlike grabbing the first MacBook, which was CNC-milled from a slab of aluminum. The body has a reassuring solidity, despite its small size.

The grip is a perfect fit for my hand, although it might not be as comfortable if you have bigger mitts. The camera is just tall enough that my pinky wraps underneath the handgrip, for added support. All controls are well within reach without adjusting my grip, with the exception of the dedicated video button, which is on the outside rear of the camera. The allows the A7 to be used one-handed for snapshots and casual use, but I still think it's best used two-handed.

Pro-friendly controls. I was happy to find that the A7 has a front and a rear control dial along with an exposure compensation dial and mode dial. These two dials, along with the on/off switch, have enough resistance that I didn't accidentally move them in normal shooting or in storage in a camera bag. The dial built into the four-way controller, though, is quite easy to bump. Fortunately, its function can be changed or disabled, or you can optionally lock and unlock it with a press of the center button.

Unusual card slot. The memory card slot sits behind a door in the handgrip, which I prefer to cameras that place the card slot inside the battery compartment. It makes it impossible to accidentally dislodge the battery while trying to change the card, or to get rain in the battery compartment during a flash card change. It's a bit unusual in that the card ejects backwards rather than sideways, but I got used to it quickly enough.

Sony A7 review -- Sample photo

In-camera charging. The Sony A7 doesn't ship with a battery charger -- instead the micro USB slot on the side of the camera is used to charge the battery in-camera. While I'm always happy to see an option to charge a battery over USB, I'd also like to see a standalone battery charger in the product bundle, because it gives me the ability to charge a second battery while I'm out shooting. It's easy enough to pick up an external charger separately, but with a price tag of US$50, it's a bit of a pricey option.

Movie capture. Video shot with the Sony A7 shows good detail, and has the same combination of attractive color and good exposure / white balance as do still images. I did notice a little aliasing and false color, but that's typical of cameras which skip rows of pixels during readout in movie mode -- which is to say, almost all still cameras.

Sony A7 review -- Sample photo

Rolling shutter looks to be fairly well controlled, too. In fact, the biggest issue is that the contrast-detection autofocus system induces noticeable hunting around the point of focus. It's also a little slow to catch up when the focus distance changes suddenly. And unfortunately, the phase-detection autofocus capability of the A7 isn't available for movies. Most experienced videographers will simply disable autofocus, and focus manually or use a narrow aperture to expand the depth of field.

Audio. The built-in stereo mic does a fair job of audio capture, all things considered, and you can adjust the audio levels in 32 steps. You can also monitor levels over a 3.5mm headphone jack, either with near-live or LCD / EVF-synced timing. That's a rather nice touch, and one I haven't seen on many cameras thus far. You can of course attach external mics, and fully manual exposure control is possible too.

Look for much more info on the A7's movie capture capabilities in our video page, coming shortly.

Wireless connectivity. Sony has built Wi-Fi wireless networking connectivity including NFC for quick setup on Android devices into the A7 camera body, as well as its in-camera PlayMemories Camera Apps. I tested using two Android products: a Google Nexus 10 tablet, and an HTC One X+ smartphone. (Although the latter isn't on Sony's "Verified Mobile Devices" list, it's functionally identical to the HTC One X, which is.)

Just as with the recently-reviewed Sony RX10, the tablet worked fine, but a connection could never be established to the phone. An app for iOS devices -- the iPhone or iPad -- is also available, but you can't use NFC for easy pairing on Apple devices since they lack the necessary hardware.

Sony A7 review -- Sample photo

Keyboard "fun". Apps must be installed on the camera and updated via a Wi-Fi hotspot or router, and if you have a long Wi-Fi password, entering it on the old-school multi-tap keyboard (similar to that from an old dumbphone) using the four-way controller is a painful experience. And once you're done with that, you have to sign up for a Sony account online, then enter your email address and password on the camera using a different on-screen keyboard more similar to that on a smartphone.

Updatable in-camera apps. On the plus side, these apps make it easier for Sony to add new features to the camera, and you can choose which of those features are important to you. As of early March 2013, you can choose from an updated Smart Remote Control app, a Direct Upload app, a Flickr add-on for Direct Upload, and a Picture Effect+ app. There are also several payware apps: Time-lapse ($10), Lens Compensation ($10), and Multiple Exposure ($5).

Remote live shooting. The Smart Remote Control app is the interesting one. It's similar to that which we saw on the Sony RX10, but allows for more features. It also leaves the physical controls on the camera active. You can shoot in Program, Priority, or Manual exposure modes, and can set exposure variables (including shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity, and white balance) as appropriate from the smart device, be it a phone or tablet. You can also touch on the smart device screen to select a point for focus, and trigger autofocus operation.

In addition, you can enable a self-timer, change the live view feed to prioritize speed or quality, and opt for either 2-megapixel or full-size image transfer. Live view quality, while well below the resolution of a tablet like the Nexus 10, is certainly sufficient to get an approximation of focus. And unlike the RX10, images can optionally transfer to your smart device immediately after capture.

Sony A7 review -- Sample photo

Quick transfer. Transfer speeds are also much better than those we saw with the RX10, taking only a couple of seconds to transfer a full-res image, while the live view is similarly snappy. (Perhaps a quarter of a second lag, or less.) Wi-Fi range was also better, on the order of perhaps 20-25 feet, although I still couldn't go out of line-of-sight without the live view image becoming too slow to be usable.

And of course, you can also transfer images you've already shot, handy for when you have rattled off a burst of shots with the camera and then want to review them on a larger screen. Here, you can select images either from the camera or the smart device.

Still-image only. The only area in which the Sony A7 lags the RX10's Wi-Fi feature set is that you can't transfer or shoot movies remotely at all. It's still image or nothing for the A7. But if you're willing to overlook that, and the relatively limited Wi-Fi range -- which could perhaps be addressed with a repeater of some kind -- the feature is pretty handy, and the ability to adjust exposure from your phone or tablet, then focus on your chosen subject remotely, is cool indeed!

Sony A7R review -- Sample photo
Having a really large full-frame sensor makes available-light, handheld shots much more feasible. This shot was taken in a very dimly-lit hotel room, and while auto white balance struggled a bit, there's still a fair bit of detail in the shot.

Closing thoughts. The Sony A7 is a groundbreaking camera. It challenges the conventions of what can be done with a full-frame camera body, much like APS-C mirrorless cameras redefined the crop-sensor camera market. Until now, if you wanted full-frame and interchangeable lenses, you had no choice but to buy a bulky DSLR. With the Sony A7 and A7R, that's no longer the case.

Chances are, these cameras will go down in history as having changed the full-frame game. Ultimately, there may be faster, more efficient and more professional mirrorless cameras, but right now, if you want full-frame and phase detection in a mirrorless body, the Sony A7 is simply a camera with no rival.

Want to see more real-world sample photos shot with the Sony A7?
Look in the gallery for 49 shots, all but one of which include .ARW raw files.

 

Sony A7 Review -- Technical Info

by Mike Tomkins

Sensor. The Sony A7 is based around a 24.3-megapixel, RGB Bayer-filtered, Exmor CMOS image sensor with approximately the same dimensions as a 35mm film frame. Total resolution is 24.7-megapixels, and the design includes on-chip phase detection autofocus pixels. Sensor size is 35.8 x 23.9mm.

Processor. Output from the Sony A7's image sensor is handled by a brand-new BIONZ X-branded image processor. Compared to the previous generation, BIONZ X has improved performance. Sony also says that it has improved area-specific noise reduction, which varies noise reduction strength across the image in an attempt to yield a clean result without disturbing image detail.

BIONZ X also brings two new features. Diffraction-reducing technology combats the effects of diffraction limiting, improving detail at smaller apertures. Interestingly, the effect applied is both lens and aperture specific, and said to work even with Alpha-mount lenses shot through an adapter. It also has what Sony bills as "Detail reproduction technology", which tries to draw out finer details without creating halos in the process.

Sensitivity. The Sony A7's sensor and processor combine to yield a sensitivity range of ISO 100 to 25,600 equivalents. The lower end of this range can be expanded to encompass ISO 50. There's also an Auto ISO function, ordinarily 100 to 6400 equivalents. Upper and lower limits for this Auto ISO function can be adjusted to match the photographer's needs.

Want to know how the Sony A7 deals with image noise at higher sensitivities?
View the IR Lab's comprehensive A7 noise reduction series by clicking here.

Performance. The Sony A7 isn't a camera you'll select for sports, with relatively sedate burst shooting performance. That will likely be forgiven by photographers hooked on its pairing of a huge sensor, compact body and affordable price, though. With focus and exposure locked from the first frame, you can shoot at up to 5 frames per second. With autofocus and exposure between frames, the maximum rate plunges to just 2.5fps. That's one frame per second faster for both figures than its higher-res sibling, the Sony A7R.

Lens mount. The Sony A7 still sports the company's mirrorless E-mount, but it now accepts new Sony FE full-frame lenses. Five Sony FE lenses debut alongside the camera, and Sony tells us it aims to have 10 FE lenses by the end of next year, and 15 lenses by the end of 2015. Of the currently-announced lenses, two are primes, and three are stabilized zooms.

The A7 can also accept standard E-mount lenses, and these can either be used with an APS-C crop (reducing image resolution correspondingly), or you can opt to view the full image circle and decide for yourself if vignetting and image quality outside of the APS-C image circle are acceptable.

You can also use Sony Alpha-mount lenses with an adapter, be they APS-C or full-frame. The latter are catered for with two new full-frame compatible adapters -- the LA-EA3 and LA-EA4 -- which replace both existing APS-C adapters. Although technically, the LA-EA3 isn't actually new, as it's been available for a while. It's just that until now, you could only buy it in a bundle with the full-frame NEX-VG900 camcorder.

Shake reduction. The Sony E-mount uses lens-based image stabilization, meaning that availability of stabilization is lens-specific. For the initial round of Sony FE lenses, all three zooms announced so far feature SteadyShot stabilization, while both primes don't.

Dust removal. As you'd expect on an interchangeable-lens camera, Sony has accounted for the possibility of dust on the sensor. The company is using an ultrasonic vibration system, coupled with a charge protection coating on a filter overlying the sensor.

Focus. The Sony A7, unlike its sibling the A7R, includes on-chip phase detection pixels, allowing for a hybrid autofocus system. There are a total of 117 phase-detect pixels, of which 99 are available when shooting with a Fast Hybrid autofocus-compatible APS-C lens.

The CDAF system in the A7, meanwhile, is branded as Fast Intelligent AF. It's said to offer good performance, thanks to a healthy readout rate from the sensor. The system provides a total of 25 contrast detection autofocus points, and is able to locate and prioritize an individual's eye when focusing.

It also includes the Lock-On Autofocus function first seen in the Sony A58, which tracks your subject as it passes between focus points, or strays outside of the focus point coverage area. (It's the first time this tech has been included by Sony in a camera without phase detection.)

If you prefer to focus manually, you'll find the presence of a manual focus peaking function to be a great aid for getting the point of focus just where you want it.

Viewfinder. Sony has gifted the A7 with a high-resolution XGA (that is to say, 1024 x 768 pixel) Organic LED electronic viewfinder. It's related to that seen previously in the flagship Sony A99 Translucent Mirror camera, but with further-improved optics for a better viewfinder image. (And indeed, it's among the best we've seen to date.)

LCD. On the rear panel of the Sony A7 is an articulated LCD monitor. It has a 3-inch diagonal and a 921600 dot resolution, and its articulation mechanism allows it to tilt up by 84 degrees for low / waist-level shooting, or down 45 degrees for shooting over your head.

There's a five-step manual brightness adjustment, and a Sunny Weather mode is available if you are shooting in bright conditions, where a washed-out-but-bright image is better than no image at all.

External flash. Sony hasn't included a built-in flash in the A7, doubtless in the interest of reducing size. That limits users to external strobes only, and they're attached via the top-deck Multi Interface Shoe mount. This has proprietary intelligent contacts, and can also be used to mount various non-flash accessories.

The A7 also accepts Minolta / Sony iISO strobes using an optionally-available adaptor. No strobe is bundled with the camera.

Exposure modes. The Sony A7 provides a healthy selection of exposure modes. These include Auto (both single-shot Intelligent Auto and multi-shot Superior Auto), Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, and Manual, plus Scene, Sweep Pano, and Movie. Scene-mode choises are Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports Action, Sunset, Night Portrait, Night Scene, Hand-held Twilight, and Anti Motion Blur.

Drive modes. Five drive modes are available: Single, continuous, speed priority continuous, self-timer, and bracketing. Speed priority continuous differs from standard continuous in that focus is locked from the first shot by default, but continuous AF can be enabled. Self-timer options are two or ten seconds.

Metering. The Sony A7 uses a 1,200 zone evaluative metering system, which like all mirrorless cameras operates on information from the image sensor. Three metering modes are available: Multi-segment, center-weighted, or Spot.

Shutter. Available shutter speeds range from 1/8000 to 30 seconds, plus a bulb shutter function. Maximum flash sync is 1/250s, and the A7 offers an electronic front curtain shutter option.

Movie capture. The Sony A7 can record Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixel) movies, with a rate of 60 progressive-scan frames, 60 interlaced fields, or 24 frames per second, using AVCHD version 2.0 compression in an MPEG-4 container. Sound is recorded with a built-in stereo mic, or via a stereo 3.5mm mic port. There's also a stereo 3.5mm headphone jack for audio monitoring, and you can display / adjust audio levels. The A7 is also compatible with Sony's optional XLR adapter, allowing XLR mics to be attached via the Multi Interface Shoe.

You can also output clean video with no overlays on the Sony A7's HDMI port.

Weather-sealing / cold-proofing. Although it doesn't provide a count for the number of seals, Sony describes the A7's magnesium-alloy body as both dust and moisture-resistant.

Connectivity. A generous range of connectivity options are provided for on the Sony A7. These include both Wi-Fi and NFC wireless communications, high-definition Type-D Micro HDMI video output, and a combined USB data / wired remote port, which Sony calls the Multi-Terminal Interface. There's also the aforementioned Multi Interface Shoe for external strobes and accessories, and 3.5mm stereo headphone / microphone jacks.

The Wi-Fi and NFC wireless connectivity is probably the most interesting. This allows you to share your full-frame images with a smart device such as phone or tablet, or even to view them wirelessly from your DLNA-compliant TV. You can also control the camera remotely via Wi-Fi using an available Android / iOS app.

The HDMI port is interesting, too, though. According to Sony, it's the first to automatically detect 4K displays, and provide a 4K ultra high-def video output when one is detected. The HDMI port is also unusual in that it can be used at the same time as the camera's LCD monitor.

Remote control. As well as the ability to control it remotely via Wi-Fi, the Sony A7 lets you trip the shutter release from an infrared remote, using a receiver in the handgrip. It can also accept Sony's Multi-Terminal Interface wired remotes in the USB port.

Power. Power comes courtesy of an 1080mAh Sony InfoLithium NP-FW50 battery pack. This is capable of providing up to 340 shots on a charge, with the LCD active. Note, though, that while it's tested to CIPA standards, the battery life figure doesn't include the typical 50% flash usage, since there is no internal flash in this camera.

If 340 shots isn't enough, you can double battery life by attaching the optional VG-C1EM vertical grip, which accepts two NP-FW50 batteries. With this in place, around 680 shots on a charge should be possible.

Storage. The Sony A7 stores images on Secure Digital cards, including the higher-capacity SDHC / SDXC types, and the higher-speed UHS-I types. Its single flash card slot can also accept Sony's proprietary Memory Stick PRO Duo cards, if you prefer.

 

Sony A7 Review -- Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops comparing the Sony A7 with the Sony A7R, Canon 6D, Fuji X-Pro1, Nikon D600 and Sony A99. The comparison between the A7 and A99 is particularly interesting, in that it's the same sensor in both cameras. Does the Sony A7's more powerful BIONZ X processor make a difference in image quality? Check the crops below and decide for yourself!

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction. All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses.

Sony A7 versus Sony A7R at ISO 100

Sony A7 at ISO 100
Sony A7R at ISO 100

Both Sony Alpha A7 models produce a tremendous amount of clean, fine detail at ISO 100. The A7R, though, takes the cake with crisper, finer detail and better rendering of the threads in the fabric swatches, thanks to its 50% higher resolution and lack of an optical low-pass filter.


Sony A7 versus Canon 6D at ISO 100

Sony A7 at ISO 100
Canon 6D at ISO 100

This is an interesting comparison with both cameras producing lots of fine detail, but the Sony does noticeably better with the mosaic crop, while the Canon does a bit better with the tone-on-tone detail in the red fabric. Despite having a low-pass filter, we can see some moiré pattern interference in the red fabric in the A7 image. The Sony, however, does do considerably better with detail in the pink fabric.


Sony A7 versus Nikon D600 at ISO 100

Sony A7 at ISO 100
Nikon D600 at ISO 100

Similar to what we saw with the A7R vs D800E, it appears that the Sony is applying a bit more in-camera sharpening versus the Nikon. Both cameras produce a lot of fine detail, and both do great with the red fabric. The Sony wins with the pink fabric in this comparison. Sony has made huge strides in their JPEG processing, and particularly with how they can create dramatically sharp images without creating halos or outlines around objects.


Sony A7 versus Fuji X-Pro1 at Base ISO

Sony A7 at ISO 100
Fujifilm X-Pro1 at ISO 200

Pitting a 24.3 full-frame camera against a 16.3 APS-C camera is a little unfair, but the two cameras have similar form-factors, and the Fuji's X-Trans sensor is known to produce fantastic images, so we thought this could be an interesting comparison. In all three comparisons, both cameras produce lots of sharp, fine detail, but the Fuji struggles in the pink fabric and just doesn't have the "pop" of the sharpness from the Sony (which could be in part due to differences in their in-camera sharpening).


Sony A7 versus Sony A99 at ISO 100

Sony A7 at ISO 100
Sony A99 at ISO 100

Now, this is a compelling comparison, because according to Sony, the A7 and A99 share the same 24.3 megapixel full-frame sensor. It appears the A7 with its newer BIONZ X processor is able to pull out a lot more fine detail versus the A99, most notably in the mosaic crop. Both cameras do great in the fabric, but the moiré issue in the red fabric from the A7 is apparent. This last comparison is very interesting, given that both cameras have the same sensor (which includes a low-pass filter), and the magnification is pretty much identical between the two. We wouldn't have expected it, but somehow the A7's incredible sharpening algorithm seems to be bringing out moiré patterns that were completely absent in the A99's image.


Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1600, 3200, and 6400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Sony A7 versus Sony A7R at ISO 1600

Sony A7 at ISO 1600
Sony A7R at ISO 1600

At ISO 1600, both cameras here are pretty evenly matched, apart from the obvious resolution difference. Both cameras have default noise reduction enabled and both show minimal high ISO noise while still preserving lots of detail. The A7R appears to show slightly more fine detail in the fabrics, however.


Sony A7 versus Canon 6D at ISO 1600

Sony A7 at ISO 1600
Canon 6D at ISO 1600

The default noise reduction from the Canon in the first crop seems to be just a hair cleaner and smoother than the Sony, but it's quite minor. Both cameras retain lots of fine detail in the mosaic, with the Sony in the lead thanks to its excellent sharpening, and both do almost equally well with the red fabric (though the edge goes to Canon with a better leaf pattern).


Sony A7 versus Nikon D600 at ISO 1600

Sony A7 at ISO 1600
Nikon D600 at ISO 1600

This is a bit of a mixed comparison, with no clear winner. The Sony does better at cleaning up high ISO noise with their default level of noise reduction in the bottle crop, and also produces more detail in the mosaic. However, Nikon does markedly better with the red fabric, while the Sony handles the pink fabric much better. Apart from its handling of the red fabric, we'd give the nod to the Sony A7 here.


Sony A7 versus Fuji X-Pro1 at ISO 1600

Sony A7 at ISO 1600
Fujifilm X-Pro1 at ISO 1600

The smaller sensor of the Fuji holds up surprisingly well here at ISO 1600. There's a little more grain in the bottle crop from the Fuji (and we mean a little), and the Sony produces crisper detail in the mosaic. However, the Fuji is able to produce a much more distinct red leaf pattern. The overall win goes to the Sony, but it's frankly surprising how well the X-Pro1's smaller sensor does here.


Sony A7 versus Sony A99 at ISO 1600

Sony A7 at ISO 1600
Sony A99 at ISO 1600

While the A99 does just slightly better in producing a more discernible leaf pattern in the red fabric, the A7 is the clear winner overall, with cleaner noise reduction and more detail in the mosaic and pink fabric.


Today's ISO 3200 is yesterday's ISO 1600, so below are the same crops at ISO 3200.

Sony A7 versus Sony A7R at ISO 3200

Sony A7 at ISO 3200
Sony A7R at ISO 3200

At ISO 3200, it's clear that the default noise reduction is affecting fine detail, especially in the mosaic crop. However, both cameras hold up really well at this ISO level and still produce a lot of fine detail. The A7R does slightly better in the pink fabric, however.


Sony A7 versus Canon 6D at ISO 3200

Sony A7 at ISO 3200
Canon 6D at ISO 3200

The Sony does a bit better with the mosaic crop in terms of fine detail, but the Canon looks slightly cleaner with noise in the bottle crop and does slightly better with the red fabric. A toss-up, really, depending on what you're looking for. We'd personally probably go with the A7, but others might as easily pick the 6D.


Sony A7 versus Nikon D600 at ISO 3200

Sony A7 at ISO 3200
Nikon D600 at ISO 3200

Wow, big differences in overall noise levels here: The high ISO noise starts to hurt the image quality from the Nikon, which you can see in both the bottle and mosaic crops. The Sony shows much less noise and is able to produce a lot of fine detail in the mosaic. As before, the Nikon does better with the red fabric, while the Sony handles the pink fabric better.


Sony A7 versus Fuji X-Pro1 at ISO 3200

Sony A7 at ISO 3200
Fujifilm X-Pro1 at ISO 3200

Both bottle crops here looking very similar with both cameras doing equally well at controlling high ISO noise. The Sony does better with fine detail in the mosaic crop, while they both struggle with the red fabric pattern. Again, advantage Sony, but we're surprised by how well the X-Pro1 does, given the difference in sensor sizes.


Sony A7 versus Sony A99 at ISO 3200

Sony A7 at ISO 3200
Sony A99 at ISO 3200

Cleaner, sharper and more detailed is the mantra for the A7 in this comparison; its more powerful processor really makes a difference at the highest ISOs. The A99 has a little more high ISO noise, as seen in the bottle crop (although it's still very low), and doesn't produce nearly as much fine detail in the mosaic as the newer A7 can.


Detail: Sony A7 versus Sony A7R, Canon 6D, Fuji X-Pro1, Nikon D600 and Sony A99.

Sony A7
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Sony A7R
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Canon 6D
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Fuji X-Pro1
ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Nikon D600
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Sony A99
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Detail comparison. High-contrast detail is also important, pushing the camera in different ways, so we like to look at it, too. Both the Sony A7 and A7R show a fantastic amount of high-contrast detail all the way from ISO 100 to ISO 6400. There is also a difference in the default level of contrast applied to in-camera JPEG across these different models and brands. While all cameras here do well in the ISO 100 comparison, the two new Sonys really pull out ahead with much-improved sharpness. It's even more noticeable as the ISO rises, with ISO noise taking its toll on fine detail and contrast. The Canon 6D does quite well at the higher ISO levels, but the Sony A7 (and particularly the A7R) really maintain a high level of fine detail, contrast and low noise at the higher ISO sensitivities.

 

Sony A7 Review -- Print Quality

Excellent 36 x 48-inch prints at ISO 50/100; ISO 3200 images look good at 13 x 19; ISO 12,800 images make a good 5 x 7.

ISO 50 and 100 images look excellent at 36 x 48 inches, with super-sharp detail and rich color across the board, even at handheld distances. Wall-display prints look great at 40 x 60 inches.

ISO 200 and 400 prints look superb at 30 x 40 inches, with excellent detail, nice color, and no trace of noise or noise suppression artifacts.

ISO 800 images look quite good at 24 x 36 inches, with only the slightest hint of noise in flatter areas and mild softening in reds. 20 x 30-inch prints are fantastic, and eliminate virtually all of these minor concerns.

ISO 1600 shots show a slight pattern of luminance and chrominance noise in the shadows, but you have to look closely to make it out -- even at 20 x 30 inches, which is a nice size for this ISO. Detail is still quite sharp except for our tricky red swatch, which most cameras typically have trouble with. 16 x 20-inch prints tighten up a lot more and are superb.

ISO 3200 prints at 13 x 19 inches start to show a light grain pattern in the shadows, with reds becoming a bit softer. We can still give this size our "good" rating, but for ultra-critical prints at this sensitivity you'd be better to remain at 11 x 14 inches.

ISO 6400 images almost make the grade at 11 x 14, but there is just a bit too much noise in flatter areas with default noise reduction to call them "good". Certainly OK for less critical applications, but we can call 8 x 10s good, and that's still a nicely-sized print for this sensitivity.

ISO 12,800 prints will work for less critical applications at 8 x 10 inches and almost warrant the "good" seal, which is really amazing. 5 x 7's are quite good for most-any application, and colors still look nice, retaining good overall saturation for this sensitivity.

ISO 25,600 prints are a bit on the soft side in general, but will work for a decent 4 x 6, which is not bad!

The Sony A7 certainly delivers the goods in the print quality department, as expected. At base sensitivity, 36 x 48-inch prints look outstanding indeed, and while not of the super-crisp caliber of the 36MP big brother A7R, they're still world class and among the best for the 24-megapixel resolution. There is a noticeable downturn in quality and a rise in noise beginning at ISO 3200, but it's nice to know that even at ISO 6400 you can still achieve a good quality 8 x 10 inch print. And well done Sony for producing a decent print even at the highest-rated sensitivity!

 

In the Box

The Sony A7 retail box ships with the following items:

  • Sony A7 camera body
  • Sony FE28-70mm F3.5-5.6 OSS (SEL 2870) lens if purchased as kit
  • Front and rear lens caps (if lens included)
  • Body cap
  • NP-FW50 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack
  • AC-UB10 battery charger (charges in-camera via USB)
  • Hot shoe cap
  • Eyepiece cup
  • Shoulder strap
  • Micro USB cable
  • Instruction manual
  • CD-ROM with Sony PlayMemories Home and Image Data Converter 4 software

 

Recommended Accessories

  • Extra NP-FW50 battery pack for extended outings
  • BC-VW1, BC-QM1, or BC-TRW battery charger (if you want to charge one battery while shooting with another)
  • VG-C1EM vertical grip (if you want portrait-orientation controls, and extended battery life)
  • Large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory card. Given the high resolution and large file sizes of the A7R, 32GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity. If you plan to capture HD movie clips, shoot image bursts, or shoot in RAW format, look for cards with UHS-I markings.
  • LA-EA3 or LA-EA4 lens mount adapters (to use Sony Alpha-mount lenses)
  • External shoe mount flash (HVL-F20M, HVL-F60M, or HVL-F43M), or other accessory flash
  • ADP-MAA shoe mount adapter (if you want to use an older strobe with Sony / Konica Minolta's proprietary shoe, colloquially known as an iISO shoe)
  • AC-PW20AM power supply kit with DC coupler
  • HVL-LEIR1 or HVL-LE1 video light
  • ECM-CG50 mono or ECM-ALST1 / ECM-XYST1M / XLR-KM1 stereo microphone
  • CLM-V55 clip-on LCD monitor
  • RM-VPR1 or RMT-DSLR2 remote commander
  • PCK-LM16 screen protector
  • Medium size camera bag

 

 

Sony A7 Review -- Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Smallest full-frame, fully-featured interchangeable-lens camera by a country mile
  • Noticeable more affordable than A7R
  • Can fit in a coat pocket with lens
  • Superb JPEG image quality at low to moderate ISOs
  • Excellent sharpness with few sharpening artifacts
  • Excellent dynamic range
  • Very good high ISO performance, particularly in RAW files
  • Decent kit lens IQ (although we found sample variation significant)
  • Incredibly quick prefocused shutter lag thanks to electronic first curtain
  • Five fps Speed Priority burst mode, with generous buffer depths
  • Supports Continuous AF in Speed Priority burst mode
  • Hybrid autofocus is faster, more confident than A7R's contrast-detect system, rivals consumer DSLRs
  • Optimized for new FE-mount full-frame lenses
  • Accepts E-mount lenses natively with optional APS-C crop
  • Accepts Alpha-mount lenses with an adapter
  • Electronic first curtain shutter available, helps avoid shutter shock
  • Fast 1/250s flash sync speed
  • DRO helps with high contrast scenes
  • In-camera HDR works well
  • Useful Hand-held Twilight and Anti Motion Blur modes
  • Sweep Panorama
  • Very fast USB download speeds
  • Very limited selection of native full-frame lenses (but many planned in the next two years)
  • Weak optical low-pass filter can mean aliasing artifacts
  • High ISO JPEGs look over-processed
  • Slow buffer clearing (but deep buffer)
  • AF not as good in low-light as most prosumer DSLRs (A7R performed better in the lab)
  • Have to trade off awesome resolution of A7R to get hybrid autofocus
  • Phase-detection autofocus doesn't work for movies
  • Mediocre battery life with the EVF (270 shots per charge)
  • No built-in flash
  • Loud shutter (although quieter than A7R when using electronic first-curtain shutter function)
  • Menus somewhat disorganized

Late last year, Sony set the mirrorless world alight with the announcement of not one, but two brand-new, fully-featured compact system cameras with full-frame image sensors. Realistically, the Sony A7 and A7R were -- and still are -- unrivaled.

The nearest thing to a competitor is Leica's M-system, but where the German photography icon's retro rangefinders place an emphasis on manual control, shunning even commonplace features like autofocus, the Sony A7 and A7R are fully-featured, modern powerhouses. And other rivals with a full-frame sensor have a bulky mirror box and an old-fashioned reflex mirror.

The advantages of the Sony A7 and A7R, then, are clear. But what's the difference between the two, and which should you be spending your money on? That's a harder question, because in most respects these two cameras are incredibly similar. Predominantly, the variation between the two relates to their choice of image sensor. The Sony A7 also replaces some of its sibling's magnesium-alloy body panels with plastic ones -- yet curiously, is also a little heavier. But this simply isn't noticeable in-hand: both cameras feel equally solid and comfortable.

It's their sensor-related differences that should make your decision for you. And there, the differentiation is clear. With roughly one-third fewer pixels and a quarter less linear resolution, not to mention the presence of an optical low-pass filter, there's no denying that the Sony A7's images don't provide the same level of detail as those from the A7R. It's obvious both in our image quality comparison, and in our real-world gallery samples. But for most purposes, the Sony A7's resolution will more than suffice: It matches or betters most current DSLR and mirrorless cameras, and even at 300dpi, there's enough here for a 20 x 13-inch print without interpolation.

At the same time, the somewhat-lower resolution allows a number of advantages for the Sony A7 over its sibling in other areas. Most notably, its hybrid autofocus system -- enabled thanks to on-chip phase-detection -- is faster and more confident, not to mention able to provide predictive tracking. It's also much more responsive for burst shooting, especially if you need autofocus between frames. And as you'd expect, there's a slight edge in ISO sensitivity for the Sony A7 over its higher-res sibling, although it's perhaps not as significant as you might expect.

The Sony A7's higher flash sync speed is also nice to have, as is an electronic first-curtain shutter that reduces prefocused shutter lag and helps reduce the impact of the surprisingly-noisy shutter mechanism shared by both cameras.

At the end of the day, both cameras are superb, and this is a decision that's going to come down to your shooting style -- and what you plan to use your photos for -- than it will to one camera being better than than the other, per se. That was probably obvious if you read our 2013 Camera of the Year awards, where the Sony A7R just squeaked the top spot and the A7 nipped at its heels as a Camera of Distinction. It was a struggle for us to choose one over the other, instead of simply letting both cameras share a first-place tie.

For my own shooting style, I think the Sony A7 -- even though it's the more affordable of the pair -- suits me better. While I loved the higher resolution of the A7R, I think the A7's swifter and more dependable autofocus will serve me better in day-to-day shooting, and the ability to shoot at more than triple the speed with continuous autofocus is also a huge deal for me. But for you, the ability to get razor-sharp detail comparable to that of a medium-format camera from a body that can fit in a coat-pocket might be closer to your own ideal.

Either way, there's no question that like the A7R before it, the Sony A7 is a clear choice for a spot on our coveted Dave's Picks list. It's one of the best mirrorless cameras money can buy, it shoots great photos, and it's by far your most affordable option for a full-frame mirrorless camera. If you've been considering picking up the A7, it's time to stop merely considering. Buy it: It's that good.

 

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