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Dec 23

Review: Sony A7

Operation and Menus

A7 - Top Controls

A7 – Top Controls

The Sony A7 has a bevy of direct controls that make operating the camera straightforward and easy during shooting. The front of the camera features a dial that sits on top of the grip and it has a matching command dial on the rear of the camera which can easily be operated by the thumb. Taking a page out of the ‘retro’ camp, the A7 also features a dedicated exposure compensation dial that conveniently sits on the right of the top plate. Because of the dedicated EC dial, the front and rear dials control the same parameter in aperture priority and shutter priority modes, and they control shutter speed and aperture independently in manual mode.

The back of the camera features a function button that brings up a quick menu to access common options, a four way dial that can also be used to select options (the default is to select ISO), and a smattering of other buttons. The rear four way dial is much stiffer than the one on the NEX-7, which prevents accidental selection of ISO. Overall, the controls are well placed and easy to access with the exception of the C2 button, which sits above a ridge and is difficult to press, and the menu button, which is oddly placed on the left side of the camera. I don’t like the positioning of those two buttons, but overall, I quite liked the controls of the A7.

A7 - Rear Controls

A7 – Rear Controls

There are a few odd quirks with regards to operation, however. The C1 button is used to select focus points by default, which requires you to press the button, then directionally move the point around with the four-way buttons. I would occasionally move the dial, inadvertantly changing ISO, when moving the focus points around. In manual focus mode, the C1 button reveals an enlarging rectangle. Tap the button again to magnify the view. It worked fine, but is a button press too many to magnify.

Sony does offer plenty of customizability, though.  The C1, C2 and C3 (trash) button can all be custom set to whatever function you wish.  In a first for me, however, I actually preferred the functions that are assigned by default, so I felt no need to change from the basic setup.

The quick menu accessed through the Fn button

The quick menu accessed through the Fn button

The menu system features tabs and multiple pages within those tabs. There’s a lot of options to cover, but the menus are well organized and easy to navigate. As I mentioned earlier, the tabs really look like they would work well with the missing touch interface.

In all, the A7 is a camera that provides a lot of direct control. While there are some quirks to operation, the camera as a whole is great to use.

One quirk I encountered on several occasions was a bug in the image review capabilities.  Every once in a while, the camera would throw an “unable to enlarge” error at me, and I would be unable to check critical focus on an image.  Turning the camera off and then on again would usually correct the problem, but a few times it took two to three reboots before I could review an image.  I’m sure this will be fixed in a future firmware update, but it was frustrating.

Performance and Autofocus

The Sony A7's View during focusing.  The area marked is the area of the sensor with phase detection capabilities

The Sony A7’s View during focusing. The area marked is the area of the sensor with phase detection capabilities

The Sony A7 takes a while to boot, especially with a new memory card, but otherwise is a generally responsive camera.  There is a little bit of shutter lag, but the camera works very quickly shot to shot, clears the buffer quickly and is otherwise very nice to work with.   I didn’t find myself waiting on the A7, and that’s a good thing.  The camera features a 1/8000s top shutter speed and can rattle off 5 frames per second in burst mode, though this is without focus tracking.  With tracking enabled, it’s a much more pedestrian 2.5 frames per second.

I only had one native lens to test on the A7, and that was the Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 Sonnar.  With this lens, autofocus was very quick and very accurate.  In most any lighting situation, it locked on quickly and surely.  In the dimmest of light, the camera slows down a little and can hunt a bit, but this is the case for almost all camera systems.  Overall, I found the focus to be very good.

Due to the wider angle focal length, I didn’t have the ability to really stress the continuous AF system, though what I did test came out beautifully.  The phase detection pixels that are present in the center of the sensor do a good job of maintaining accurate continuous autofocus.  If it weren’t for the relatively slow burst rates, the A7 might do a very nice job for sporting, provided the continuous autofocus works as well with longer lenses.   From what I was able to test, however, the A7 has autofocus that will satisfy all but the most demanding photographers.

Continue: Key Features

About the author

Jordan Steele

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

12 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.

  8. Blogophile

    It’s not really a sucessor, they’re continuing to sell the A7 and A7r along with the A7s, each has different features that will appeal to different users, for example the A7s has great low light potential but only half the Megapixels of the A7.

  9. Moe

    Hello. I hope you can help me. I have an A7 and I also am seeing squiggly lines in the noise. They really look like little hairs and lint etc. When I take two identical sequential pictures, the squiggly lines and specks do not remain in the same place. They are definitely unique to each exposure.

    This does not happen at ISO 100, but is very visible at 1600.

    I had a Nikon d5100 that did not have this problem. The noise was uniform, and got courser as ISO increased, but was composed of uniform graininess, not little squiggly hair looking lines.

    This noise shows up in my raw files IDENTICALY. I shoot raw+jpg and the exact same noise will be in each exposre.

    At first I thought this could not be sensor dust because it is different with each exposure, but then it occurred to me that if the shutter is opening and closing with each exposure, it could be moving little hairs and specks around on the shutter.

    Any info you have on this phenomenon would be great, because I have not heard of this weird looking noise on any other camera.

    Also, do you know if the a72 has same problem? And also what about a6000?

    Thanks for any help.

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