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Dec 23

Review: Sony A7

It’s here.  The long awaited full-frame mirrorless camera.  Photographers have been waiting with bated breath for a company to release a full-frame mirrorless camera and Sony has delivered with not one but two new cameras to satisfy those who are looking to reduce size a bit while keeping the ultimate in image quality.  The A7 and A7r are very similar bodies, differing predominantly by the sensor used, with the A7 having a 24 megapixel full-frame sensor with phase detection pixels and the A7r featuring a 36 megapixel sensor without phase detection.  There are some other small differences, but overall they are remarkably similar.  Today I review the A7.  Let’s take a look at this camera and see if the wait and the hype have been worth it.

The Sony A7 and it's big full-frame sensor

The Sony A7 and its big full-frame sensor

If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective. You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those. I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool. I am not a videographer, so my reviews concentrate on the still imaging capabilities of a camera.

Body and Ergonomics

Sony A7 - Front

Sony A7 – Front

The A7 is a solidly constructed, relatively compact mirrorless camera.  While larger than something like the NEX-7 or even the Fuji X-E2, it also contains a full-frame sensor and a large viewfinder. The A7 is constructed of magnesium alloy and high-quality plastics and has no flex or wobbles anywhere.  The camera is tightly assembled and feels solid and comfortable in the hand. The large grip has a wonderfully sculpted finger indentation as well as a very comfortable formation for your thumb on the back.  As one who did not find the NEX-7 grip to be comfortable at all, this was a great relief.  The A7 feels wonderful to hold and shoot and is big enough to handle well and small enough to be a worthwhile venture away from a DSLR.

The camera features dual control dials in easy reach, along with a smattering of buttons across the back and top.  Most of these are easy to reach, but I found the C2 button to be frustrating to press, especially since it is used for zooming during playback, and the menu button on the opposite side requires the left hand to operate.  Since it’s the only left hand button, it feels quite alone out there, and is somewhat annoying that changing menu options requires both hands.

Viewfinder and Rear Screen

The A7's tilting rear screen

The A7′s tilting rear screen

The A7 features a 2.3 million dot electronic viewfinder (EVF) at a generous 0.71x magnification.  As a result, the EVF is large and clear.  There is good color and contrast and low lag and noise.  The viewfinder refresh can slow down in very dim light with a slower lens, but these situations are relatively infrequent.  Overall, it’s probably the second best EVF I’ve used on a camera, next to the tremendous finder in the Olympus OM-D E-M1.  The image of the viewfinder can be magnified by tapping on the C1 button twice, and then magnification can be adjusted using a control wheel. This works well, though I wish it didn’t require a double button press.  With the image magnified, manually focusing is incredibly easy to perform, even when using very fast lenses.

The A7 also features a gorgeous tilting rear display.  The 3.0″, 1.2 million dot rear LCD can tilt down or up to aid in taking images low to the ground or above your head.  It is limited to about a 45 degree angle when tilting down; I’d have preferred a steeper angle here.  The screen itself is clear, contrasty and has excellent color, making image review a pleasure and composing with the rear LCD easy.

On the down side, the rear screen is not touch sensitive, and it’s a feature that the A7 could use, as moving focus points is more difficult than I’d prefer with the buttons.  The menu system also seems like it could use a touch interface well, with clearly denoted tabs that beg to be touched. The A7 screen also seems to lack an oleophobic coating, as fingerprints and smears are extremely visible.

Continue: Operation and Performance

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad

10 comments

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  1. Ron

    Great review, thank you. The Winter Street photo gave me the feeling I was walking there myself.

    1. Glenn

      That’s an interesting comment, ” the feeling I was walking there myself”. I’ve noticed that some shots, usually made on a full frame camera, with a lens around 35 – 50mm, have a look that you feel you could just walk right in to the scene. They have a certain sense of depth that’s hard to convey in two dimension (a photo). Anyone else see that? Why do they look that way?

      1. padam

        Put it like this way: it is a bit like listening a well-recorded music in audio system, which being set-up really well. When you listen to something like this, it is a bit like “being there”.

        The larger sensor, the better.
        So this effect you are talking about is even more apparent with images taken by a medium or especially large format cameras, they really give an even stronger 3D effect from a still image.

        By the way, thanks for the review Jordan, very well-written.
        Adam

  2. Crix

    Thanks for your review! One suggestion: It would be great if you could also add the used aperture to your sample pictures ????
    A question since I. Can’t browse the other reports on mobile: do you see the WB as similar to the Nex cameras?

  3. HF

    Very nice article.
    I would welcome a comparison or opinion of how the Sony A7 compares to the Olympus OMD EM1 and Fuji X-E2.
    Even though FF in a comparably small body looks promising, I don’t see the advantage anymore when using
    fast zooms (24-80/2.8, stabilised, or 70-200/2.8, with low focusing distances), since these will be large and heavy. Is there any point buying
    this camera if you only stick to primes (35mm, 50mm, 85mm) with apertures larger then 2, if you don’t print large
    and don’t have rangefinder lenses?
    Your opinion would be welcome.

    1. Jordan Steele

      I’m actually working on an opinion piece that covers many of these things. Look for it in the next week.

  4. Plex

    Hello Jordan, great review !!!… I’m trying to decide between Oly e-m1 or Sony A7(R) …
    I had a X–E1 in the past but didn’t like the AF and slow response… I hope this is better with the A7(r)?
    Would go to the e-m1 but I’m really loving very small dof… really like the sunset photo here!!!

    Really surprised the jpeg quality of the A7 is that bad…is this better via Raw and lightroom conversion?

    Thanks in advance!!
    Plex

  5. Franck

    hello !
    I’m thinking to change my NEX 7 by this A7, but maybe !?? it’s much better to wait for the Sony news il the early of january.
    Thank you for this test

  6. chris giammona

    Jordan

    What adaptors were you using for the Rokinon and Vivitar lenses (canon mount)?

    Thanks

    Chris

  7. Chuck

    Jordan – The A7 does not have IBIS, which, to me, is a “Con”. And that shutter noise – forget it. Prediction – I bet we will see the class-leading Oly 5-axis IBIS licensed to Sony and incorporated in the next version of the A7. But, for me, the bottom line is that I’m sticking with my Oly E-M1, Pany GX7, and Fuji X-E1. Nice review. Thanks.

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