There’s a fierce running debate about the merits of full frame vs. APS-C or even smaller sensors like Micro 4/3. Full frame has an image quality advantage due to the larger sensors, and given the same technology, will produce cleaner images with better tonality and larger dynamic range. Many people will argue that full frame is such a huge leap in image quality that the smaller sensors aren’t even worth their time. For some shooters, this may well be the case: they need every ounce of image quality out of their cameras that they can get, due to shooting in demanding situations, printing huge or other considerations. Others prefer full frame because of the ability to provide greater subject separation with fast glass. People who shoot a lot in dim light may want or need the better high ISO performance that comes with the larger sensor. Those advantages are tangible and real, and while all large sensor cameras produce pretty darn good images at high ISO nowadays, full frame will still provide the cleanest results at high ISO if the sensor technologies are comparable.
These are all valid reasons to choose one format over another, but how does Full Frame stack up against APS-C in a situation where we’re shooting at base ISO on a tripod? The classic landscape shooting scenario? Many will still argue there’s a big difference, but how big is that difference? To try to start to answer that question, I took my a6000 along with me when I was out shooting with the new A7II and 16-35mm OSS. The A7II + 16-35mm combination pairs a brand-new 24 megapixel full frame camera with a pro-grade ultra-wide angle zoom. The combination together retails for $3,046. On the smaller side, I brought the a6000 and the Rokinon 12mm f/2. This is the latest 24 Megapixel APS-C sensor from Sony, along with a very good ultra-wide prime. This combination together retails for $857 at the moment. That’s quite a monetary savings. The lens and body together weight 549g, which is slightly lighter than the A7 II body by itself.
First off: a disclaimer. This test does not test all aspects of full frame vs. APS-C. It tests it in two typical landscape situations. I didn’t have a chance to test the cameras in a bright sunlight situation, and I’d have liked to, but this is what you get. It is also not a test per se between the lenses. These are two lenses that are both very good, but obviously each has strenghts and weaknesses. I’m looking at noise, tonal rolloff, etc as the primary concerns in this test.
In the course of my shooting with the A7 II, I stopped during two scenes to switch to the a6000 and capture a similar scene. Due to how the body plates attached, I wasn’t able to keep exact framing between the two shots, but they are very close (the tripod was not moved). All images were taken tripod mounted, stabilization off (in the case of the A7 II), with 2 second remote release. Image processing was identical (save for white balance adjustments to get them as close as possible in tonal display). Aperture was adjusted to provide similar depth of field for each image (for instance, f/16 on the A7 II, f/11 on the a6000). As such, the exposures are longer on the A7 II shot, so water might look slightly smoother as a result.
Image 1: Under the falls. This shot had a somewhat wide range of tones, with the area under the ledge being quite dark, and the area beyond the falls being light by ambient daylight. Exposure was adjusted to taste for highlights and shadows and then duplicated on the other camera’s images. All images are at ISO 100.
As you can see from the shots above, the overall images are extremely similar. But how do they compare when examining the files at full size? Below I’ve compiled 100% crops from the images at four locations in the frame. Click on the image to enlarge, then click on the green arrow at the bottom of the screen to view at 100%.
The result? Well, the A7 II image is better. Slightly. VERY slightly. There is slightly more subtle tonal gradation that can be seen in the last crop, and very slightly smoother quality in the shadow areas. The thing is, you have to REALLY look to see these differences, and they’re only apparent when viewing images side by side at 100%. I’m confident that these differences would be invisible until we start printing up around 24″ or larger, and even then, you’d need to be very closely examining the prints. With different scenes and such? In my opinion, you’d never be able to tell these apart.
For the next image, I had a broad depth of field I was trying to cover, with the close rock (which drops off a ledge) leading to the waterfall. As such, I was stopped down to f/16 on the FF combo and f/11 on the a6000. I made a small goof in framing here, setting the 16-35mm to 21mm instead of 18mm, so details will be slightly larger in the A7 II crops as a result, but this isn’t an assessment of lens quality, but rather how the sensor images things. This is also a good test because both images were underexposed, and therefore pushed in postprocessing by 1.1 stops in Lightroom. This will give us an idea how these cameras respond to somewhat significant exposure adjustments and processing for this type of work. First, the images:
Again, the two images look awfully similar. Let’s dive in up close:
Again, the images are extremely close. The A7 II has a little lower noise in the pushed shadows from the exposure adjustment, but otherwise, they are very similar images. If you’re just looking at cost, is the difference above worth over triple the price and double the weight? That’s something only you can answer. In this situation, I personally think the differences are small enough as to be negligible, but only each photographer can make that determination for how it impacts their photography.
I do think it’s clear that, for landscape use at least, the differences between full-frame and APS-C are not quite as big as is often made out to be. On the flip side, this test doesn’t take into account the other benefits of moving to a full-frame sensor: better noise control and better subject isolation with fast lenses, and the A7 II definitely does still have an advantage in image quality here. It’s just rather small. This is just one test among thousands that could be performed, but hopefully this helps you cut through some of the hyperbole that often comes out in discussions of sensor size. If landscape use is your primary reason for shooting, it is worth looking at the whole picture, and pick a camera and system that fits your needs better.
If you’re interested in more about each of the piece of gear compared here, check out my in-depth reviews for the Sony A7 II, Sony a6000, Zeiss FE 16-35mm, and Rokinon 12mm f/2
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40 thoughts on “Sony A7 II vs. Sony A6000 – Landscape Use”
Thank you Jordan for that nice and honest article!
I’m really looking forward to even more comparisons like that.
Its triple the price only if you go for the A7ii. The original A7 can be had refurbished today for less than $900. That’s significantly closes the gap in price.
Granted, that’s still before lens purchases come into the equation, but still.
But you won’t have IBIS with “ordinary” A7. For me that is the only reason for pondering.
Sure, but if we’re talking about landscape, which this article is, then we’re also talking about tripods and then you need to turn IBIS off.
A bit late, but since I’m in the process of purchasing a A7II, I’d like to add that the A7 has very strong sensors reflection, while the A7II is really better at it. For me, the consequence is simple : the A7 is not usable for night landscape, while the A7II is.
Nice demonstration. As you got almost the same DOF and AOV together with increased shutter time I expected a similar outcome for same generation sensors. I guess no severe differences show up, since you are probably lens resolution limited, not sensor resolution limited. http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/resolution.shtml table 3 shows the maximum resolution to get for a diffraction limited lens. Maybe I’m wrong, but this article points to this possibility.
Effects due to diffraction should be essentially identical, since the rate of stopping down is proportional to the size of the pixels, and therefore the size of the blur disk from diffraction should be proportional as well. It’s not an exact 1:1, but it’s very close as an approximation. (F/8 on m4/3 is similar to f/11 on APS-C which is similar to f/16 on FF, for both depth of field and diffraction effects). In any case, my primary concern in evaluating these has nothing to do with sharpness…first of all, there’s no way to compare directly anyway because they use different lenses.
I agree, but my point is that it is hard to judge micro contrast and sharpness, etc. if you use different lenses and are in a region where the sensor is probably outresolving the lens. Nevertheless, this test reflects actual shooting conditions and parameters for many, which is very valuable. Using those the difference is indeed small. I try to use the hyperfocal distance and stay a lower apertures on FF, if possible. Please don’t take my comment as a severe criticism.
Thanks, your article came out at the right time. I’ve been considering picking up the original A7 since the price drop to get better tonal and dynamic range. I mostly shoot landscape with my Olympus E-M5 + 12-40mm f2.8 or my Canon 7D + EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS. I’m guessing I would see some image improvement, but wasn’t sure if it would be enough to justify the 2600 bucks. You convinced me it isn’t. Sorry Sony!
The Sony A6000 has much better IQ than Canon’s 7D. You can’t just take the A6000’s performance and compare then to your 7D’s. There are a lot of videos on Youtube comparing the 7D with the A6000. The 7D’s look really blurry, even with very good lenses. Have a look on your own.
So I’d say, if you only have the 7D with the 15-85mm and are willing to replace it with a A7, you could have a closer look at the A6000. If you already have a complete lens line-up, stick with it. In general, if you don’t want to use legacy MF lenses, native e-mount lenses are a big problem for e-mount. They have some great, small primes (35/1.8, 50/1.8, 24/1.8) with very good image quality. You can also use some very good FE mount lenses (Loxia, 55/1.8) … But there’re not many more options. 3rd party supply is very low (there’re 2 cheap but sharp Sigma primes) and most zooms have bad image quality even when they’re quite expensive.
You do have a point about the 7D. I never have been misty eyed and filled with joy when I look at 100% crops of my 7D shots. But looking at photos from a normal point of view, I’m rarely disappointed. Then I purchased an Olympus E-M5, which to my eye had slightly better image quality in a much smaller package so the Canon gear has been mostly sitting on the shelf ever since. Another reason the 7D sits is because most of my photography is done when I’m either traveling or hiking which was the main reason I bought the E-M5.
I’m fairly heavily invested in Canon EF-S lens along with u4/3 lens. Sony’s prices for E mount lens aren’t quiet as stratospheric for their high end compared to Canon, but they aren’t exactly cheap compared to quality u4/3. If I’m going to get into a new camera system, it’s going to be FF so the A6000’s out of the question. I’ve been disappointed with Canon’s lack of innovation / vision lately which is why I’m looking at the Sony A7.
So what I should do is have a Canon gear fire sale and put the cash towards a new FF Sony. But then I would want to start buying new lens and before I know it I’ve spent thousands of dollars on a new system when I could have put the money into a couple more quality u4/3 lens and an awesome trip to Belize.
Thanks for the advice and reading through my ramblings.
Thanks much for this piece. I’ve been shooting mostly happily with my Nex6, trying to decide whether to upgrade to some form of A7 or the rumored A7000. I think I’m gonna stick with the APS-C size. For me, it’s not really the cost, it’s the weight and size of the overall system. Although the A7 body isn’t much bigger / heavier, by the time you put together a similar system with a few full frame lenses it is substantial. I travel a lot, and for me that may mean the ability to bring along an extra lens or two, an extra flash, or even to bring a small tripod rather than a monopod. For me, those things are more likely to raise the odds of a money shot or two than is the bigger sensor.
You don’t get the point at all do you ?
The purpose of FF for landscape is Dynamic range.
Try to compare your A7II and let’s say an Olympus EM1.
Initial file will look the same.
But play with it for photoshop during one hour, with the tones, shadows, highlights and you will see you manage to get great thing with the FF one, and shit looking image from the Olympus.
I did the test myself.
Wow. I never knew all the landscapes I took with Micro 4/3 cameras are now garbage. I’d be curious looking through my portfolio if you could identify which images, without looking at EXIF, were taken with which sensor size, as I have full-frame, APS-C and m4/3 images mixed all around.
I never said FF didn’t have an advantage in some situations. It clearly does. One of those is in extreme situations where you’re pushing things a lot. But in most real world situations where you’re taking your time and doing things correctly, the differences are generally fairly small. For some people, those differences matter a lot, and that’s fine. And for others, they really don’t. I notice the difference between m4/3 and the APS-C and FF images vary more in the abrubtness of tonal rolloff rather than in dynamic range or detail. It’s subtle, but it’s visible. Whether it matters to you is a personal decision.
Anyone who says that you’ll immediately get great things with FF and ‘shit looking’ with m4/3 has lost all credibility in my opinion, though, as while there are definitely quality differences, ALL of these cameras are capable of producing incredible images in the right hands.
Check this out: guesstheformat (dot) com.
Like Jean, I was wondering about DR and also high ISO, as I do a lot of sunsets and astro. Jean has a point here, but his hyperbole doesn’t help him. I’m sure the FF cams outperform their APS-C siblings when you’re really beating up the images in post. Nevertheless, the a6000 has produced some stunning photos for me since I purchased it a few months ago. You’re probably right that the difference is smaller than people make it out to be.
In the end it is all about justification: Can I justify spending $3-4k on a FF body and a lens or two? The answer for me is ‘no’. At this point in time my photography is not a profitable proposition, nor am I a particularly rich person. Perhaps that will change, but I don’t see myself upgrading any time soon. Life is about trade-offs. It’s not a big deal. Just spend less time reading blogs and more time shooting. I’m happy where I am with my gear (even though I’d appreciate it if Sony could show some more love for the E mount’s lens lineup!). Looking at the comparisons above I am confident I made the right choice in purchasing the a6000.
Thanks for your article!
Thanks for the comparison! But I think a more balanced comparison would have been to compare the FE zoom to its APS 10-18mm counterpart, and not to a prime lens. Or using the 14 mm Samyang for example in comparison to an APS-C prime.
I wasn’t concerned about the lens comparison in this test…and I don’t own the Rokinon 14 or the Sony 10-18, so it was rather impossible to do the test with those lenses. I don’t think either camera was handicapped in this test by choice of lens.
It matters little because everything is displayed on a computer screen these days. Even my 30″ 2560×1600 display only gets a chunk of the picture.
Now my printer wants 360 DPI and prints 16×20 so my a7R is just big enough.
Very interesting test.
I just bought a Panasonic GX7 on firesale, and reading things on the internet always tends to give me a big of buyer’s remorse, or put me on the defensive when people talk about how inadequate smaller sensors are. Real world testing like this really helps allay my fears. I was strongly considering the newly-discounted A7, but found that the things that I liked most about the GX7 (ergonomics, focus-peaking and quick magnification, the touchscreen, IBIS, etc…) still haven’t been matched on any body with a larger sensor.
I recognize that the image quality differences are present and are real, but its important to remind myself that in the real world, for an amateur like me – doing landscape and the other similar kinds of photography that I enjoy – they differences are definitely small enough not to lose sleep over.
Thanks again for helping us all keep perspective!
For the comment I made on the A7 Mark II review, I took images with the A7 Mark II f/7.1, ISO 100 on a tripod with the 24-70mm f/4 lens at 50mm (shutter release with electronic front curtain shutter) and then took the same image with the a6000 using the Voightlander 35mm f/1.4 Nokton, f/7.1, ISO 100. To my eye, (at 2:1 ant 3:1) the image results were virtually identical in the highlights and in the shadows. I personally attribute this result to the file compression that Sony uses as I would otherwise expect the full frame sensor to have a slightly better dynamic range and produce better shadow results. However, the specific compression used throws away more data in the shadows, greatly reducing the FF advantage. So my point is, why spend the money for the full frame body and heavier lenses when the results are no better than with the less expensive body and lenses. BTW, I am “very” impressed with the Sony Vario 16-70mm lens and the Sony 10-18mm lens…..Final comment, I also shot the same image as described above with the Nikon D600 with a Zeiss 50mm f/2 lens with better detail in the shadows and all around smoother image.
Very nice test, I wonder how the current best APSC sensor from Samsung NX1 28mp BSI stacks up to the A7ii. The NX1 can take the Samyang 12mm f2 lens as well, it’s clear here the Samyang 12mm is an excellent lens (sharper than the Zeiss Touit 12mm in another test I saw). I wager there is a chance this combo can best the A7ii in resolution.
Thanks Jordan. This is exactly what I’ve been thinking but with your tests, it reinforces my thoughts.
Very interesting test, but probably it is not very correct to compare the resolution of prime lens at f8 (samyang 12 mm f2) against vario at f14 (even if it is Carl Zeiss) because all lenses have the best resolution between f5.6 – f8. In any case full frame cameras cover only very specific issues and everybody should think a lot is it necessary spending big amount of money and carrying more weight for the same result. I hope that in the future Canon and Nikon will not stay forever on their DLSR concept and accept the fact that mirrorless cameras are technically more advanced. Mixer of hot and cold water is already invented :)))))
It’s important to remember that Depth of Field was equalized. Sure, a lens tends to be sharper at f/8 instead of f/14, but diffraction effects should be similar for both cameras since the a6000’s pixels are proportionately smaller. Shooting both at f/8 would yield less in focus on the A7 shot. And while it is comparing a prime to a zoom, it’s a cheap prime Ana very expensive zoom. But that’s beside the point anyway, since I wasn’t testing the quality of the lenses, but rather how the sensors performed in this situation.
You are comparing a prime with a zoom lens, did you thought that a prime will give an advance in term of sharpness, if you use the same lens I am sure that the a7 will be sharper cause it will use all the lens, am I right?
DXO rate sharpness of full frame camera with a good lens over 20MP, an apsc camera usually never go over 10MP (real sharpness = lens + sensor), a micro 4/3 generally nerver pass 8MP (good for a small print) with the best configuration…So if you have the same lens and the same megapixel for sensor, than full frame will give always sharper result cause the full frame use all the lens….here you are comparing a zoom lens with a prime, prime is always a notch sharper than a zoom, so the fact that the a7 give the same result of a prime is a good result, in my opinion. You should try the a6000 with the 10-18 zeiss and the a7 with the zoom you tested, I am sure that the difference there will be more noticeble.
My opinion is if you print really big full frame is the choice, if you want a compact camera micro 4/3, if you want to use legacy glass, full frame again…If you want insane bokeh with f1.2 50 mm full frame again…yes they did some lens with very large aperture for micro 4/3 but they are not sharp when used at the largest aperture… As for size of the lenses I don’t see a big difference between an apsc lens and a full frame lens, not as big as micro 4/3
Well, it does matter. The comparison is quite nice as the sensor resolution is the same (24p) To achieve the same sharpness in a full frame sensor you do not need as good of a lens as you will need for the smaller senor. So while the A7 is more expensive you can use cheaper lenses but the A6000 requires good glass. In the long run the full frame is the safer investment as it is the lenses that cost big money.
Great test. Very much confirms my own results with a6000, A7, NEX6 and the Fuji XE’s. First rate wide angles were a little problematic for crop cameras at first but now there are some great options (like the the Samyang 12), it seemed like lens selection was the big promise when the A7 arrived but then everyone discovered that they were even fussier than the NEXs were. Its really really difficult to tell the difference between the A7(II) and a6000, even in a large print. For internet work, forget it. The a6000 is a giant-killer, and incredible value.
incredible value the A6000. But imagine the successor with IBIS!! that is what I’ve been waiting for and the reason why I still didn’t buy this little giant yet. an A7000 with IBIS will also bring other innovations that will make the camera irresistible. (Mg body? 4k video maybe? even faster and with better ISO? back illuminated sensor?)
Thanks Jordan, This article is a great find for me.
I was about to buy a7 II but I just paused to do a bit more research. Out of Sony RX10 II vs Sony A6000+18-200mm vs Sony A7 II+24-240mm, which one will offer better IQ, in your opinion.
I am looking for a strict one lens solution in the range of 24/27-200mm mostly for landscape photography.
Do let me know if you think there is any other better system solution for this focal range.
Nice one. A neat real world comparison that clearly confirms (once again) that at base ISO or just above the images from APS/DX and FF are barely discernible. It’s probably an area for psychologists to pore over why some people get very upset about this being so ; D
Thanks a lot for the comparison! I was looking at downsized images of the A6000 and A7 at high ISO, and yes, the A7 is better, but not by a big enough margin to justify the price difference to me. I would much rather wait to get an A7R II when it is available for a better price. The difference is much, much bigger. And also, waiting to see if Sony will release a firmware update to get uncompressed raws. That would make a pretty big difference before spending a lot of money on a camera.
Thanks for the review, Jordan. I have just purchased the a6000 to take on holiday as I didn’t want to carry around my Pentax K-5. I think the image quality on the a6000 is great for such a small and inexpensive camera. When I say inexpensive, I am comparing it to what I paid for my K-5 years ago, and that is also an APSC sensor. I have the Sony 35mm f1.8 lens, but I am looking to get a wide angle lens. I am considering either the Rokinon 12mm or the Zeiss Touit 12mm. Which one would you recommend? I can get the Touit for around $250 more than the Rokinon. Thanks again.
For $250, you have to decide whether AF is worth it for you. Both are excellent lenses and fairly comparable optically. The Rokinon is also faster and smaller, which is nice. I think I’d still go for the Rokinon in most cases. The Zeiss is good but large. AF isn’t as important in an ultra wide as it is in other focal lengths.
Such a great comparison. I’m contemplating making the move from my a6000 to the a7ii. Primarily for Milky Way shots with total darkness. I know there are better cameras for that… but i want the 24 mp for my other work. Is the noise difference worth it?
How does it compare in low light situations?
Good Day Jordan.
Will it be much different in image sharpness if both A7II and A6000 using the same lens. Let’s say A6000 also using the Full Frame Lens.
i owned A6000. wonder is the FF will make lot different compare to APSC if they r using same lens.
Hope to hear your comment.