Review: Sony A7

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The big box arrived on my doorstep about a month ago. Inside rested the Sony A7, one of the company’s latest offerings that has shifted the industry. A gorgeous machine both inside and out, the A7 sports a 24.3MP Full Frame sensor and a shutter that is so satisfying to hear. Adjusting to the field of view took a short while as this is my first foray into the full-frame space, but the shooting experience was as smooth as butter.

Pros and Cons

Pros

-Beautiful image quality

-The most satisfying shutter on the planet

-A crisp LCD

-A large and bright viewfinder

-Weather sealing

-Vintage aesthetic with contemporary sensibilities

-Focus peaking

Cons

-I haven’t found any.

Gear Used

We used the Sony A7 with the 55mm 1.8.

Tech Specs

Courtesy of B&H Photo Video’s listing:

  • 24.3MP Full Frame Exmor CMOS Sensor
  • BIONZ X Image Processor
  • Direct Compatibility with E-mount Lenses
  • 3.0″ Tiltable TFT LCD with 1,229K-Dots
  • 2.4M-Dot OLED Electronic Viewfinder
  • Full 1080/60p with Uncompressed Output
  • Fast Hybrid Autofocus; 5 fps Burst Rate
  • Built-In Wi-Fi and NFC
  • Multi-Interface Shoe
  • Direct Access Interface

Ergonomics

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The Sony A7, like its beefier older brother, is an impressive machine both inside and out. With a metal construction, weather-sealed body, and a 24.3MP full-frame sensor, the A7 is one of the first in a new full-frame mirrorless market. The front of the camera features an aperture control dial at the top of the grip and a lens release button.

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At the top, there’s the hot shoe in the middle, and to the right sit all of the controls: a mode dial, on/off toggle, shutter, exposure compensation dial and a custom button. You’ll be doing a considerable amount with your right thumb and index finger, and that’s okay. It works very well.

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Here’s where most of the magic happens. The menu button sits to the right of the wonderfully big and bright viewfinder which provides a stunning amount of dial. Electronic viewfinders have come a long way. Other button offerings include: the second custom button, function, four-way control dial (display, WB, burst/timer and AF point select), playback, and trash/third custom button. There’s an AF/MF and AEL switch. There’s a movie button just off to the right side, and below it is the SD card compartment.

All of this surrounds a crisp, tilting LCD that provides a stunning amount of resolution that works very well when shooting from the hip.

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On the south side, there’s the tripod thread and a battery compartment. Unlike the A7R review, the battery door did a swell job of staying closed.

Build Quality

The A7 is remarkably durable, and the weather sealing is such a boon. The weather in New York City for the past month has been a mixed bag with surprising warmth, icy cold winds, rain and most recently, snow. While we didn’t take it out in the recent snow storm, we did take the A7 out on some rainy days, and it performed admirably.

The A7 is great to hold, and the texturized grip provides a solid amount of security and surface area. It sits comfortably around the neck, and if weight is a measure of seriousness, then the A7 is a very serious camera.

Autofocus

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The A7’s autofocus worked very well, and with the best light, it’s mighty fast. With the above image, I shot from the hip as I was across the plaza in front of the school of the International Center of Photography. I didn’t know I got the shot until some time later, and I credit the A7’s AF for this image. I tended to work mostly with flexible spot AF which could subsequently be activated by pressing the bottom of the four-way control dial. Then you navigate to your point by pressing the directional buttons. The size of the AF point – small, medium, and large – can be set in the Fn menu.

The other AF areas (wide, zone and center) worked just as well, but for most of my purposes, the flexible spot in conjunction with Continuous AF worked the best. Single shot AF and DMF were solid performers, but other the main combination I used, I would focus manually.

Fortunately, the A7 does not share the A7R’s autofocusing maladies. The A7’s ability to focus quickly and accurately makes it a prime choice for street photographers, and generally, any type of photographer would be able to make beautiful images.

Ease of Use

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As a longtime Sony shooter, the A7’s easily navigable, and the amount of control Sony provides is immensely satisfying. The Fn button provides access to all the essential functions that would be a bit more difficult to find in the dense menu system. This camera’s meant to be used in Manual mode, and it’s designed in such a way that the necessary dials (aperture & shutter speed) are immediately accessible by your right thumb and index finger.

Photographing with the A7 is a very smooth process, and it has one of the most satisfying shutter sounds I’ve heard in recent years. The built-in wi-fi is smooth as silk, too. Fire up the wi-fi, select the shots you want and send them to your phone via the Sony Play Memories app. With a wealth of mobile editing apps, post can be a breeze on your smartphone. I used Photoshop Express occasionally when I had an image I knew I wanted to share.

Metering

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As per the Sunny 16 rule, the A7 meters perfectly, so you won’t have to worry about missing a hue. Of course, should you desire something else, you can nudge the exposure compensation dial in either direction.

Image Quality

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Among other aspects of its design, the A7’s claim to fame is its image quality. Granted, it sports two-thirds of the A7R’s MP, but for what it’s worth, the A7 provides a stellar amount of detail and gorgeous colors. Should the image be off a bit, you can do a solid amount of recovery in Lightroom, and the A7 works even at higher ISOs that most wouldn’t touch.

This is by all means a professional camera and the most affordable full-frame option on the market. This may be too much power in the hands of a nascent photographer, but professionals will have a field day with this camera. Enthusiasts, too, will find that the A7 can help them explore their creative vision.

For what it’s worth, you should also know that this is a nearly identical sensor inside the company’s A99 DSLR.

High ISO Output

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The above image was shot at ISO 1600, and where a good number of cameras would start to fall apart at this ISO, the A7 produces solid photographs. Minor boosts were done in Lightroom for exposure and contrast. Photographing concerts is always a crapshoot, but the A7 was a solid performer.

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This image was taken at ISO 5000. Now, the noise is very apparent and there’s a good amount of warm tones. Given the nature of the image, however, I think it has a certain amount of charm. The Sony 55mm f/1.8 isn’t one of Kubrick’s lenses, but it does its job well.

RAW File Versatility

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The A7’s RAW files are incredibly versatile, and in Lightroom, you’ll be able to recover a good amount of information. The RAWs aren’t as portly as the A7R’s, but even so, just be mindful of how much you’re shooting. If you’re a bit trigger happy, you’ll easily fill up a 16GB SD card. It should also be said that the A7 produces great JPEGs, too.

Extra Image Samples

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Conclusion

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It almost seems like an obvious choice, but the A7 is wholly deserving of an Editor’s Choice Award for its beautiful design and image quality. Alongside the A7R, the A7 is creating a new market that Nikon has also tried to stake its place in, but this is clearly Sony’s game. Now, this is a full-frame E-mount which means the current field of lenses specifically designed for this mount is currently limited. The field should hopefully expand soon. The FE lenses we’ve reviewed are the 55mm f1.8 and the 35mm f2.8. We’d really love to see faster lenses to truly unlock the A7’s potential.

Even so, the A7 and the 55mm f1.8 did very well together. The A7R has more megapixels, but the A7 has far better autofocusing which gives it a sizable advantage. This makes it great for street photographers and just about any type of photographer, really. Moreover, the A7 is cheaper. Whether or not $1,700 (sans lens) is affordable for most is a question that has yet to be answered conclusively, but in putting DSLR power into a compact body, Sony is succeeding in bringing the price down.

With the A7, Sony injected some vitality into the marketplace that was otherwise seeing more of the same from most companies. Granted, Sony is not abandoning its DSLR line of alpha cameras. Rather, it’s providing an option for everyone, and what an option the A7 is.

Get your A7 at Amazon.

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