The term "groundbreaking" gets used a lot in the technology world. But when it comes to cameras, there are few announcements that make us truly believe that change is in the air.
There's no doubt about it: A7 is a groundbreaking camera. It's a full-frame interchangeable lens camera (ILC) for less than AU$2000. Not only is it cheaper and lighter than some equivalent full-frame SLRs, it packs almost as many features -- including a 24.3-megapixel sensor.
Design and features
Featuring a compact body design made from magnesium alloy and polycarbonate, the A7 feels sturdy despite its light weight (416g body only). There are dual control dials for exposure control, as well as a dedicated exposure compensation dial at the top of the camera. The body is sealed against dust and moisture and there is a headphone and 3.5mm microphone jack on the side of the camera for video-makers.
Also on-board is an OLED viewfinder that borrows the same three-lens optical system as used in the flagship A99 SLR but gets a boost to contrast. In use, the viewfinder is responsive and very pleasing to use. Buttons and dials are intuitively placed, and there are up to nine customisable function buttons for those who like to have their favourite shortcuts under thumb.
The 3-inch LCD screen pivots out from the body from the base hinge, though does not move 180 degrees up and down. It's not a touchscreen either, so don't try pressing on options to change them -- it's all old-school dials and buttons here.
Sony has brought across many of its most successful features from its NEX and Cyber-shot cameras, including Sweep Panorama. This works particularly well on the A7, offering seamless panorama stitching. There are very few visible stitching artefacts, and ghosting is even kept to a minimum in scenes with moving objects.
Overall, the design of the A7 is very well thought out. However, we would have preferred if the positioning of the rear adjustment dial was in the place of the exposure compensation dial as it's easy to confuse the two when the camera is held up to your eye.
There is no built-in flash on the A7, however, the multi-interface shoe accepts an external flash unit as well as other accessories. Flash sync speed is 1/250 second. For photographers and video makers, the A7 also offers the added bonus of zebras and peaking, the latter available in a red, yellow or white overlay. There are also lighting optimiser and built-in HDR modes as well.
On top of Sony's automatic mode, the dial also offers full PASM control, scene modes, Sweep Panorama, video recording mode and two custom slots. The shutter speed selections range from 30 seconds to 1/8000 second.
Unfortunately, unlike many other professional-grade ILCs and SLRs, the A7 charges its battery in-camera rather than using an external battery charger.
The second A7
Alongside the regular A7, Sony is also offering the A7R. For all intents and purposes, the A7R is much the same as the other model on the outside, with a few key exceptions internally. The A7R is an all-magnesium alloy body, which means there's less flex, providing a sturdier hold for larger lenses. Mode dials at the top are all made from aluminium, while the sensor does away with the anti-aliasing filter and gets a resolution bump to 36 megapixels.
The A7R: much the same on the outside, but it's what inside that counts.
Astute observers will note that Sony actually made the sensor for the other 36-megapixel full-frame camera on the market currently, the Nikon D800. Sony has told us that the sensor has been tweaked to improve performance over the SLR's version.
The A7R is designed for incredibly high-resolution output, as well as getting the most out of the sensor for applications like landscape photography. This means that it has a reduced continuous shooting speed rate of 4 frames per second (fps) compared to the 5fps rate from the A7. It also misses out on the hybrid AF system. Sony intends to sell the A7R for AU$2499.
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Start-up to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
- 18.104.22.168.2 Sony A7
- 0.30.150.150.1 Nikon Df
- 0.60.20.30.3 Canon 6D
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)
- 5.5 Nikon Df
- 5 Sony A7
- 4.5 Canon 6D
(Longer bars indicate better performance)