Sony A7 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Smallest full-frame, fully-featured interchangeable-lens camera by a country mile
  • Noticeably 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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