They Finally Did It! Full Frame Rangefinder Style! Sony a7c Review

The Sony a7c is the company’s first rangefinder-style camera with a full-frame sensor at heart.

I’m incredibly elated that Sony made a camera like the Sony a7c. The entire industry is lacking rangefinder-style cameras. Putting a full-frame sensor into one is the icing on the cake. Maybe it will mean other brands follow suit. Sony made a few sacrifices to create the Sony a7c. This is a real innovation that was proven long ago with the RX1 series. But this camera is different; you can swap the lenses out. The image stabilization isn’t up to par with the other Sony a7 camera bodies. And in some ways, I feel the autofocus isn’t either. You’re also missing a joystick. But otherwise, the Sony a7c has a whole lot going for it.

Editor’s Note: Any reviewer publishing findings from this camera most likely got it with pre-production firmware. We’re included in that list. We’ll update this review once we receive the final firmware. But the rest of the camera is as close to the production unit as it’s going to get.

Sony a7c Pros and Cons

Pros

  • It’s tiny
  • This is Sony’s first rangefinder-style full-frame camera, and it reminds me so much of the Mamiya 6
  • Good image quality overall
  • I adore the shutter sound
  • Weather resistance is excellent for shooting in the rain
  • The colors from the images are lovely
  • High ISO output is outstanding, especially in print
  • Focus peaking seems better than previous cameras, but it’s still not Canon’s

Cons

  • No joystick
  • I really wanted the Sony a7r III sensor: that was the most perfect one
  • Sony’s IBIS isn’t as good as Canon’s or Fujifilm’s
  • The IBIS in the Sony a7c isn’t as good as that of the higher-end Sony a7 models
  • No touchscreen menu
  • I’d really like a frontal exposure dial
  • Sony needs to revamp its delayed shooting option to focus on a subject right before it’s going to fire
  • I don’t feel like this is the same autofocus as the other Sony a7 cameras. Sony’s autofocus needs to be revamped to accurately focus on people of color with dark hair and against dark backgrounds
  • Needs dual card slots
  • 1/200th flash sync
  • Dynamic range isn’t that great in Capture One
  • Sony is still prone to getting dust on the sensor with this camera

Gear Used with the Sony a7c

We tested the Sony a7c with

Sony a7c Tech Specs

Here are the tech specs in brief

  • 24 Megapixel Backside illuminated full-frame sensor
  • 20% smaller and 30% lighter than other Sony a7 series cameras
  • 5 stop of IS
  • Weather sealing
  • 4k video features
  • 10 frame per second in mechanical and electronic shutter
  • The same battery as the newer Sony a7 series cameras
  • Variable angle LCD screen
  • Magnesium alloy body with weather resistance

Ergonomics

Here it is in silver! Many of us have been waiting a long time for a rangefinder-style mirrorless camera boasting a full-frame sensor. And it’s here! Admittedly, I think I made it look more gorgeous in the photos than it is in real life. Personally speaking, my heart belongs to the Fujifilm X Pro 3. And the silver on both cameras is very similar.

The front of the Sony a7c has the full-frame E mount area. There are no buttons on the front except for the lens release. I wish Sony put more buttons on the front of their cameras. It would help them feel more like, well, real-cameras!

The top of the Sony a7c  has three controls. Around the shutter release is the on/off switch. It shares the right side with the mode dial that includes the dreaded Auto mode. There is also a video record button nestled between the shutter release and the exposure compensation dial. To the left of all this is the hot shoe.

The back of the camera is incredibly comfortable. It’s missing a joystick, and some folks won’t like that. The LCD screen is the variable angle type. To the top left of it is the EVF. To the right of all this are control buttons and the other exposure dials.

On the left of the camera, you can find a few things like the microphone jack, the SD card port, the USB port, etc. Luckily, the Sony a7c charges through USB C.

The rear LCD screen also flips out. This would have been perfect for Sony’s new touch capabilities on their screens.

The Sony a7c uses the Z style battery. That goes into the battery door on the bottom of the camera.

Build Quality

The Sony a7c has weather sealing throughout the camera. So you can take it out into the rain with little issue. But according to Sony, it’s not as good as the a7r IV and the a9 II. The problems I found are at the mount. Like the older cameras, the sensor is prone to getting dirty.

Durability aside, the Sony a7c feels very nice. It’s got a pleasing texture that is very different from other Sony cameras. Notably, it sports a soft leatherette comparable to a broken-in horween chromexcel leather strap. The top portion has this lovely, almost pebbled texture. It’s similar to the surface on Tamron’s SP lenses for DSLR cameras. The camera will still feel pretty solid in your hands despite the little things that make it seem elegant. Your lower two fingers are also bound to hang off of the edge. But I found that repositioning them is very comfortable. During testing, I switched to shooting with my middle finger instead of my index. Instinctively, it means that I hugged my elbows in closer to my chest. I’ve found that this is the best way to shoot.

I’ve often given Sony a lot of harsh feedback about their cameras. In my mind, they feel like computers in camera-shaped bodies. But the Sony a7c feels a lot like a shrunken Mamiya 6. There are still things Sony can do to make it feel even more like a camera. For starters, the dials can sound and feel much different. Also, the thumb grip area should be a lot more pronounced. A little dip on the grip to rest your finger a bit more firmly can also help. Look at a Mamiya 6 and you’ll see what I mean. I also think the Sony a7c series could use a Fujifilm style shutter speed dial on top. But overall, the Sony a7c is their best attempt yet.

Ease of Use

This camera is a bit of a mixed bag. I really wish the Sony a7c had a touchscreen menu. Further, you’ll notice that the menu won’t take up the entire LCD screen. It’s because the whole screen isn’t useful to the edges of the bezel. This is an unfortunate feature of the camera. Different users could find this annoying or won’t care at all. It seeps into many ways that you use the camera, actually. If you want to quickly choose your autofocus point, then you’ll use the touchpad setting. Otherwise, you can press the bottom button on the back wheel and move the point. But if you’re the type to love manual focus lenses, it probably won’t matter. Just set the magnify button to enhance a part of the scene, focus, and shoot. Because of this, the Sony a7c could be perfect for the Zeiss Loxia series of lenses. Still, a joystick would have been a very welcome addition to the camera.

The Sony a7c also doesn’t have a frontal dial. It’s Sony’s first a7 series camera to not have the three main control dials. Still, you can use the top dial for shutter speed, the back dial for aperture, and then press the right button to activate ISO changes. So in real-life use, it won’t matter as much. This camera really needed the front dial, though.

I should also spend some time here talking about the image stabilization. It’s not that great. This photo was shot at 1/30th with a 35mm lens. I’m usually easily able to nail a shot like this without camera shake. But there’s shake. In fact, I sometimes found it better for me to just turn off the image stabilization and shoot. The image below is an example of what’s possible if you exaggerate the results. For the photo below, I photographed the lights during 9/11. The picture uses a method to create an image that looks more painterly and was shot at 1/8th of a second.

As it is, I think Sony does a good job. But other manufacturers have outdone them at their own game. Panasonic, Canon, and Fujifilm are producing excellent results with sensor-based stabilization.

Autofocus and Manual Focus with the Sony a7c

Before I speak about the autofocus specifically, I want to touch on manual focus. Of all the Sony a7 series cameras, the Sony a7c has the best focus peaking. I don’t know what Sony did, but somehow it’s more accurate. It’s not pinpoint accurate and super precise, but it’s more reliable than the useless afterthought of a garbage feature that it is on other cameras. So shooting with Leica M mount lens will be better

The Sony a7c’s autofocus is otherwise a weird duck. This has the Sony a7 III’s imaging sensor with the Sony a7r IV’s autofocus sensor. Personally, I hate the autofocus on the Sony a7r IV. I really hated it in low light portrait situations. I encountered a few particularly bad issues with the a7c. The first was with the communication to the user. The camera, set to Eye-AF, will focus closely on the eye, but it will tell me that it’s focused somewhere else. I’m willing to blame this on the pre-production firmware loaded onto the camera. But I’ve seen this other times too. It happened when shooting street photos on the subway, and it also happened when shooting people that have dark skin and hair who are standing in front of a dark background. I used the modeling lamp on the Profoto B10 to give the camera some assistance, but that didn’t help much.

“However, it’s more reliable than the useless afterthought of a garbage feature that it is on other cameras. So shooting with Leica M mount lens will be better.”

To explain this a bit more, I’d often shoot in the wide autofocus setting in either AF-C or AF-S. Then the camera and lens would work together to get a target. I initially thought it was a communication error. So I cleaned the lens and camera contacts. But the problem persisted. For the record, I’d rather have the accuracy and the communication be in line with one another. If the camera is going to focus on an eye, then tell me so. Admittedly, Sony has made a ton of autofocus advancements, but I still sometimes prefer Canon and Fujifilm’s performance.

Sony a7c Image Quality

The Sony a7c I used was loaded with pre-production firmware, but the image quality is final. Oddly enough, Capture One 20 recognizes the Sony a7c as a random a7 series camera, so it means I can edit the RAW files. But there is no profile for the camera. And I’m willing to blame that for the surprising problems I saw. If Sony is correct about the profile, then this sensor will be pretty decent. I found that I love the color and the high ISO output, but the dynamic range is lacking. For those who have been shooting for a long time, it reminds me of slide film. And even though the profile will most likely fix this, I really wish more cameras shot images like slide film.

Personally speaking again, I really wish this camera had the Sony a7r III’s sensor and autofocus. That, to me, is still one of the most perfect cameras Sony made.

JPEG Quality

This camera spits out really beautiful JPEGs. For the best results, set your color profile to Clear or Deep. In most situations, you’ll really like the JPEG files. With Sony’s own lenses, the images are very saturated. In contrast, 7artisan lenses produce mellow colors. Further, Samyang lenses adapted from Canon EF also have subtle colors. Still, the images are overall beautiful and usable.

RAW File Versatility

I’m used to being able to push and pull Sony RAW files until Kingdom Come. But that’s not my experience with the Sony a7c. The color depth is terrific. Pushing the shadows is all that you’d come to expect from Sony. But the highlights are a disappointment at lower ISOs. At higher ISOs, you’re able to pull a reasonable amount of detail. But at lower settings, where I’d expect to draw more, I just can’t.

“Personally speaking again, I really wish this camera had the Sony a7r III’s sensor and autofocus. That, to me, is still one of the most perfect cameras Sony made.”

High ISO Output

The Sony a7c has the same sensor in the Sony a7r III. So the high ISO output is outstanding. And it looks best when you use a nice, sharp lens. ISO 6400 is incredibly clean. Above that, I really only tried the ISO 12,800 setting. That’s when I started to see things like lower contrast and crushed blacks, but the images are still clean and very usable. We printed photos using the Canon ProGraf 1000 and Canson Infinity paper. At 17×22 inches, the output is gorgeous. Amazingly, the highlight rendition is also satisfactory.

Extra Image Samples

Sony a7c Review Conclusions

Likes

  • The Sony a7c is very small. And when it’s paired with the Sony 35mm f2.8, it’s such a treat.
  • This means Sony will improve on its compact series.
  • It seems like they’re improving the focus peaking.

Dislikes

  • Since the focus peaking isn’t flawless, I really think we need a joystick. Otherwise, I’d just mount manual focus lenses to this camera.
  • I’d like dual card slots.
  • Touchscreen menus, please.
  • Improve the build quality, please.

For a shooter like me, Sony has almost made the perfect camera. We finally have a small, rangefinder-style camera with a full-frame sensor. There is also a bit of a grip that I don’t mind. It has autofocus. And it pairs well with equally small lenses. It’d be a waste to use this camera with zoom lenses.

It’s a fantastic camera for a documentary photographer and portrait photographer. This is because of the small size and big performance. Sony also gave it a great variable angle screen. However, there can be improvements to the screen and the interface. Further, I feel Sony is actually addressing the focus peaking issue. This camera is going to get lots of folks using it with manual focus lenses. That will mean Sony will hopefully improve the focus peaking even more. At the same time, Sony could have done so much more. Where’s the multiple exposure mode? Or touchless shutter? Or various other improvements that I’ve asked for over the years?

I personally won’t buy the Sony a7c because I think that the next version will be better. But, it means a lot that Sony has made this camera. If they don’t do it better, another camera manufacturer most likely will.

The Sony a7c  wins four out of five stars.