This compact interchangeable-lens model is a great step-up from APS-C models, as long as you don't demand action-shooting performance.
There's no question that the cheaper model of Sony's full-frame interchangeable-lens duo looks mighty attractive, thanks to its lower price tag. The less-expensive 24-megapixel model (Alpha ILCE-7, aka A7) boasts faster performance and a better autofocus system than its slower, AA-filter-free 36-megapixel sibling (Alpha ILCE-7R, aka A7R). But despite those advantages, I still generally like the A7R better for its superior image quality. However, compared to similarly priced and bigger full-frame dSLRs, the A7 is a very attractive alternative as long as you don't need to shoot action.
Note: the design and feature set for the A7 is identical to the A7R, so much of my discussion of the camera is, well, also identical.
The A7 incorporates the lower-resolution sensor in order to use Sony's hybrid autofocus system; Sony says that it couldn't put the phase-detection pixels on the 36-megapixel sensor for the A7R. If you need both resolving power and autofocus speed, you're out of luck for now.
Both new sensors have redesigned microlens arrays. While most modern sensors use gapless microlenses, these also required some tweaking on the edges near the lens mount to prevent vignetting, since the sensor's such a tight fit in the mount opening.
While the higher resolution and better resolvability of the A7R's sensor beat the A7's, the A7 still fares quite well. It produces sharper images than the 6D and D610 at midrange ISO sensitivities, but it also looks like Sony's performing more aggressive processing on them; you can see the artifacts on the out-of-focus edges.
In general, the A7 produces excellent photos. On one hand, you can start seeing artifacts in JPEGs as low as ISO 800, but processing raw lets you alleviate the edge artifacts and recover some detail. Depending upon subject matter, you can get usable JPEGs as high as ISO 6400 that print nicely as large as 13x19, and even at ISO 12800 there's a reasonable amount of retained tonal range and detail to make those shots usable when scaled down a bit.
|Click to download||ISO 100 ||ISO 800 ||ISO 6400|
I really like the A7's video. It's not insanely sharp, but it's pretty good, with just a tiny bit of aliasing. It delivers nice tonal range, albeit with some clipped highlights. Even in low light at ISO 3200, it produces saturated colors without a lot of image noise. Also, for those who care, Sony lets you set shutter speeds as low as you'd like -- it doesn't cut you off at 1/30-second like most cameras. The built-in microphone delivers surprisingly warm, full-bodied sound, too.
I wouldn't call the A7's performance stellar, but it's much better than the A7R and is relatively on par with its dSLR competitors. Unfortunately, it's not much better -- and in some cases worse -- than the NEX-6. And its overly long startup time is a big sticking point, not to mention its short battery life.
It takes a whopping 2.8 seconds to power on and shoot, even longer than the A7R; that's because you have to wait for it to fully power on before touching any of the controls or they simply won't register. Depending upon what you're photographing, that could be insignificant or could count for several lost opportunities. And because the battery life isn't great, you don't really want to leave it on all the time.
Time to focus and shoot in both good light and dim runs about 0.4 second, which is good for dim but not great for bright conditions. Shot-to-shot time is fast, though, at about 0.2-second for raw or JPEG. And while it can sustain a solid burst -- it doesn't slow until after about 27 shots for raw and it doesn't slow at all for JPEG -- with continuous AF that's for a fairly low frame rate of 2.1fps.
Because it has the same image processor but smaller files, it's more responsive than the A7R at least. And the hybrid autofocus system feels faster and a lot less frustrating to use than the contrast-only system in the A7R. It does have the same manual focus peaking and a sharp EVF as its big brother, so manual focus is just as fast and easy. Both cameras incorporate the same excellent EVF and LCD screens as on the SLT-A99, and as with the A7R I do wish the LCD could tilt down further for easier overhead shooting.
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 |
|24.3MP CMOS |
|24.3MP Exmor CMOS||24.3MP Exmor CMOS/ |
36.4MP Exmor CMOS
|24.3MP Exmor CMOS|
|35.8 x 23.9mm||35.8 x 24mm||35.8 x 23.9mm||35.8 x 23.9mm||35.8 x 23.9mm|
|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 |
(5 fps with fixed focus and exposure)
|2.5fps (5fps with fixed exposure and focus)/ |
1.5fps (4fps with fixed exposure and focus)
13 raw/14 JPEG
0.5-inch/ 2,359,000 dots
100 percent coverage
|OLED EVF |
2.4 million dots
2.4 million dots
|AF||11-pt AF |
1 center cross type
9 cross type
|25-area contrast AF||Hybrid AF system |
25-area contrast AF;117-pt phase-
25-area contrast AF
|Dual phase -detection system|
11 cross type;
102-pt focal plane
|AF exposure range||-3 - 18 EV |
0.5 - 18 EV
|-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 |
|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 |
|3.2 inches fixed |
|3-inch fixed |
|3 inches tilting |
|3 inches articulated|
|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 on-camera flash)
|Battery life |
Live View (CIPA rating)
|1090/220 shots |
|900/n/a shots |
|270 shots||340 shots |
|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|
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.
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.