Sony A7 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 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!

About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, which we named our "Printer of the Year" in our 2015 COTY awards.

The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.

See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.

*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)


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