Sony Alpha ILCE-7 (with 28-70mm Lens) review: A welcome step-up from smaller sensors

Unfortunately, it also has the same embarrassingly loud shutter. While there's some dispute as to whether or not it causes significant shake from vibration -- I didn't find it an issue -- it still outs you when you're shooting for stealth. And while I love the bright, contrasty LCD and huge, vivid electronic viewfinder, they contribute to the camera's terribly short battery life given that the camera is targeted at people who photograph a lot. The only thing zips along merrily on this camera is the battery-level icon.

Design and features
Although I don't consider the A7 a beautiful camera, in a lot of ways it's beautifully designed; it feels very comfortable, with a substantial grip, sturdy dust-and-moisture-resistant magnesium alloy body, and enough heft that it counterbalances fairly well with big A-mount or other lenses.

Sony has advanced the design over the NEX-7, which these models essentially replace -- Sony's still selling the NEX-7 but it will likely die once all existing units are gone -- and it's substantially streamlined in comparison. On the top right sits an exposure-compensation dial, programmable button and power switch/shutter button, along with a mode dial that has the usual manual, semimanual, and automatic modes, two custom settings slots (and you can tweak them from a central location rather than having to resave when you make a change), sweep panorama, and a dedicated movie mode. Sony's Multi Interface Shoe perches on the huge EVF box.

To the right of the LCD sits a thumb-operated switch that toggles its button function between focus mode and exposure lock. The function button below that brings up frequently needed settings -- drive mode, flash, flash compensation, autofocus mode, autofocus area, exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity, metering mode, white balance, Dynamic Range Optimization/HDR, and Creative Style.

The updated interface combines the Quick Navi control-panel from the SLT models with a less confusing version of the NEX interface. In essence, it operates like most other cameras now, with a Fn button that pulls up most of the frequently used settings, which lets you scroll through the options without having to go another level down. It supports tethered shooting, albeit only via Sony's Remote Camera Control software at the moment (unless someone knows of current third-party support that I'm missing).

While it incorporates the usual limited AVCHD codec options and full manual exposure and audio-level controls, it can output clean HDMI for more flexibility and can take Sony's XLR mic kit.

Canon EOS 6D Nikon D610 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R Sony Alpha ILCE-7/7R Sony Alpha SLT-A99
Sensor effective resolution 20.2MP CMOS
n/a
14-bit
24.3MP CMOS
n/a
14-bit
24.3MP Exmor CMOS 24.3MP Exmor CMOS/
36.4MP Exmor CMOS
14-bit
24.3MP Exmor CMOS
n/a
14-bit
35.8 x 23.9mm 35.8 x 24mm 35.8 x 23.9mm 35.8 x 23.9mm 35.8 x 23.9mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x
OLPF Yes Yes No Yes/No Yes
ISO range ISO 100 - ISO 25600/ 102400 (exp) ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp) ISO 50 (exp) / ISO 100 - ISO 25600 ISO 50
(exp)/ ISO 100 - ISO 25600
ISO 50
(exp)/ ISO 100 - ISO 51200/ ISO 102400 (exp, via multishot NR)
Burst shooting 4.5fps
15 raw/unlimited JPEG
5.5fps
n/a
2.5fps
(5 fps with fixed focus and exposure)
n/a
2.5fps (5fps with fixed exposure and focus)/
1.5fps (4fps with fixed exposure and focus)
n/a
6fps
13 raw/14 JPEG

VF Optical
97% coverage
0.71x
Optical
100% coverage
0.70x
Optional
Reverse Galilean
Zeiss
n/a
($599.99)
Optional
EVF
Tilting OLED
0.5-inch/ 2,359,000 dots
100 percent coverage
($449.99)
OLED EVF
0.5-inch
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
0.71x
OLED EVF
0.5-inch
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
0.71x
AF 11-pt AF
1 center cross type
39-pt
9 cross type
(Multi-CAM 4800FX)
25-area contrast AF Hybrid AF system
25-area contrast AF;117-pt phase-
detection/
25-area contrast AF
Dual phase -detection system
19-pt
11 cross type;
102-pt focal plane
AF exposure range -3 - 18 EV
(center point)
0.5 - 18 EV
(other)
-1 - 19 EV n/a 0 - 20 EV -1 - 18 EV
Shutter speed 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 30-1/2,000 sec (f2), 1/4000 (f5.6); bulb 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync
Shutter durability 100,000 cycles 150,000 cycles n/a n/a 200,000 cycles
Metering 63-area iFCL 2,016-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering II n/a 1,200 zones 1,200 zones
Metering exposure range 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV -2 - 17 EV
IS Optical Optical Electronic (movie only) Optical Sensor shift
Best video H.264 MOV
1080/30p/25p/24p; 720/60p/50p
H.264 MOV
1080/30p/25p/24p; 720/ 60p/50p/ 25p/24p
all at 24, 12Mbps
AVCHD: 1080/60p/50p @28Mbps; 1080/60i/50i @ 24, 17Mbps AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28Mbps, 1080/60i/ 24p @ 24Mbps AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 1080/24p @ 24Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps
Rated estimated max HD video length at best quality 29m59s 20 minutes n/a n/a n/a
Audio mono; mic input mono; mic input; headphone jack Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input; headphone jack Stereo; mic input; headphone jack
LCD size 3 inches fixed
1.04 megadot
3.2 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3-inch fixed
921,600 dots
3 inches tilting
921,600 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 2 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 2 x SDXC
Wireless flash No Yes No
(No on-camera flash)
No
(No on-camera flash)
No
Battery life
VF/
Live View (CIPA rating)
1090/220 shots
(1,800mAh)
900/n/a shots
(1,900mAh)
270 shots 340 shots
(1,080mAh)
410/500 shots
(1,650mAh)
Wireless connectivity Wi-Fi Via optional WU-1b Wireless Mobile Adapter $59.95 None Wi-Fi, NFC None
Size (inches, WHD) 5.7 x 4.4 x 2.8 5.5 × 4.5 × 3.2 4.5 x 2.6 x 2.8 5.0 x 3.8 x 1.9 5.9 x 4.5 x 3.1
Body operating weight (ounces) 27.2 30.1 17.6 17.2 28.7
Mfr. price $1,899 (body only) $2,099.95 (body only) n/a $1,699.99 (body only)/
$2,299.99 (body only)
$2,799.99 (body only)
n/a $2,699 (with 24-85mm lens) $2,799.99
(fixed 35mm f2 lens)
$1,999.99 (with 28-70mm lens)/n/a n/a
Ship date December 2012 September 2012 July 2013 December 2013 October 2012

It uses the same Wi-Fi implementation as recent NEX models, including support for Sony's proprietary PlayMemories app ecosystem. Some complaints: I dislike that you have to have and log into a Sony account using the horrible keyboard interface on the camera in order to download, at least the first time. You should be able to queue it from your computer or mobile device like Android or iOS 7. And who is going to read terms of use and privacy policies on their camera screen??

However, I didn't have nearly as much problem connecting or maintaining a connection on either Android or iOS 7 as with some other cameras, and the NFC works well for connecting relatively quickly via Android. The (free) updated Smart Remote Control app is pretty useful; it now lets you adjust exposure settings and use touch focus, even without a power zoom lens on the camera. The interface for the app is a little sluggish, but otherwise it's quite nice.

It supports direct upload to Flickr via a new (free) app, but there are no new apps specifically developed for the A7/A7R. And keep in mind that the apps are available in only 23 countries (the list is at the bottom of this page). Plus, it feels nickel-and-dimey for Sony to charge you $5 or $10 an app for relatively basic capabilities like multiple exposure, time-lapse, or in-camera lens corrections when you've already shelled out $1,700 for the camera.

Overall, there's almost nothing missing. I do wish it had dual SD card slots and a flash; though I rarely use (or recommend) on-camera flash, it's nice to have it in a pinch.

For a complete accounting of the A7's features and operation, download the PDF manual.

Conclusion
I think the biggest problem with the A7 is its name; that is, by naming the A7 and A7R so similarly, Sony confusingly forces a comparison between two models that might otherwise constitute unrelated purchase decisions. As an alternative to Canon and Nikon's entry-level full-frame dSLRs, it's great as long as you don't need the burst performance or optical viewfinder, and if the long startup time won't make you crazy. And if you need real continuous-shooting speed in this price segment (or less), you're probably still better off with an APS-C dSLR or Micro Four Thirds ILC.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Raw shot-to-shot time
Typical shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim)
Shutter lag (typical)
Olympus PEN E-P5
0.8
0.2
0.2
0.3
0.2
Sony Alpha NEX-6
2
0.2
0.2
0.5
0.2
Sony Alpha ILCE-7R
2.2
0.5
0.4
0.9
0.3
Sony Alpha ILCE-7
2.8
0.2
0.2
0.4
0.4
Nikon D610
0.3
0.2
0.2
0.5
0.4
Canon EOS 6D
0.6
0.3
0.3
1.3
0.4

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Digital camera type Digital Compact System Camera
  • Optical Sensor Type CMOS
  • Sensor Resolution 24.3 Megapixel
  • Optical Sensor Size 23.9 x 35.8mm