Full review of the SONY A7 – full frame mirrorless


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Due to high demand and thanks to a good friend of mine (thanks again Mihai) here is my older review of the great SONY A7, fully translated to English!

Sony has once again shaken the photo market with their new Full Frame Mirrorless devices, the 24MP Sony A7 and the 36MP A7R. I was fortunate enough to have a pre-release Sony A7 model for a whole week (plus an extra weekend). Thanks again F64 for the opportunity!

Sony7_lead

 

I couldn’t resist publishing a few sample shots from my test, so I had a new thread opened on DPreview’s NEX subforum. It shortly gathered over 90 comments and questions about the camera; these further helped me in writing the article.

Even though my review was completed yesterday (n.a 5 nov 2013), it was also launch day for the Nikon Dƒ, so I didn’t want to mix up the two.  This could still prove an interesting comparison however, as the Internet is once again split on which is the better buy now

the Sony A7 or the Nikon Dƒ?

I won’t give you the answer, at least not until I’ve reviewed Nikon’s retro camera (update, here is the review). I would say by now that leaving aside the Full Frame sensor and the “old-school” aspect they don’t have many things in common.

Coming back to the A7 (check for price and availability), here is a short feature list:

SONY A7

  • 24.3MP Full Frame CMOS Sensor
  • 14-bit RAW shooting
  • Fast Hybrid AutoFocus with phase-detection for DSLR-like speed
  • 2.4M-Dot OLED Electronic Viewfinder
  • 3.0″ Tiltable TFT LCD with 1,229K-Dots
  • Built-In Wi-Fi and NFC
  • Full 1080p @60fps Video Recording
  • New range of Full Frame, dedicated lenses

I kept wating in writing this review, as I honestly struggled to keep an objective view over such an appealing product.

Since some of you might therefore think this is just a praising article for the Japanese company, I’ll start with the few negative points I found during my short but intensive use of the Sony A7. I invite the rest of you to join my little adventure with the A7 after this:

Negative points

  • slow to wake-up from Sleep Mode (this seems to be a recurrent issue from the NEX line)
  • limited access to some of the camera’s functions (like changing settings) while data is being recorded on the memory card (after a longer Burst shoot).
  • difficult to change Focus Points in a rush
  • incomplete photo system (not a lot of FE lenses at launch)

This is what I’ve found in terms of issues, but I also believe all of them will eventually get fixed. A firmware update and likely the final product would surely solve things like the Sleep Mode delay or even the function access hiccups during data writing.

New Sony FE lenses will probably keep surfacing from now on, while several 3rd party manufacturers already announced plans for FE-mounted lenses (Samyang being the first, followed by Sigma, Tamron and more)

Now on the good side

Here starts the actual review, but in a shorter version, due to my previous discussion with the camera shop who lent me the camera. The entire review is on their blog (sorry for my English readers)

Here I invite you to have a look at the images: a summary of my A7 experience, with only a few words to fill the blanks :).

The Electronic Viewfinder and the LCD

I did not think the day will come when I would be charmed by an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). The 2.4 million pixel XGA OLED is simply stunning. Looking at the image before – and after the shot, leaves you the impression it’s tridimensional. It’s clearly superior to the “puny” 1.22 million pixel LCD on the back, a tiltable screen otherwise helpful in extreme conditions (like at ground level or overhead).

I was not fond of EVFs until now. However in the dim lighting situations above, when the restaurant lights were barely visible on the viewfinder or the LCD, activating the Live Preview raised the sensitivity of the EVF – allowing me to take the shot I wanted. Where until now only an optical viewfinder would have helped, such a function truly made an impact.

Also on the subject of EVF, I found another useful advantage over the optical counterpart (even though my conservative self still prefers the latter): shooting in direct sunlight. Looking straight into the sun for longer periods of time is not healthy, even behind an optical viewfinder. Using the EVF I could stare into it for as long as I pleased without repercussions (although I still have to find out if this has any negative effects on the sensor)

ISO

Here’s a set with the same shot at all ISO values; you can download it in RAW format here.

Kit lens and more

Launching the A7, the Japanese manufacturer had to come up with a new lens series on the E-mount system, only this time they had to be Full Frame. As such, the new mount, even though otherwise identical with the NEX E series, is now called FE (Full Frame E-mount).

As I see it, the FE 28-70mm f/3.5 OSS is one of the best kit lenses, boasting an impressive performance. I found no chromatic aberrations in any of my shots, despite often pushing the scenes in order to properly spot such issues.

Since I’ve been asked about NEX lens compatibility, I took a trip to a photo shop nearby and tested an entire array of E lenses, with – and without APS-C crop enabled.

Dynamic range and colors

As if the sensor’s excellent Dynamic Range performances weren’t already enough, Sony A7 keeps the tradition of previous models and includes both the DRO (Dynamic Range Optimizer) and the HDR (High Dynamic Range) functions. I kept the DRO on Auto for most shots, but I also played a bit with the HDR, especially as the sun was well behind the hills.

Speaking of colours

Focus and burst mode

With its 117 phase-detect and 25 contrast-detect points Hybrid AutoFocus, the Sony A7 eclipses its 36MP bigger brother A7R’s contrast-detect only system. Set on Continuous AutoFocus and Burst shooting (2.5fps), this camera is ready to handle anything you throw at it, with little chance of missed shots.

It can further boost the frames per second to 5 using the Speed Priority Continuous Mode and I’ve been subsequently impressed by the results.

Is it loud?

Word on the Internet is, this little device is a bit noisy. And I can’t counter that.

One way to minimise this is using another function of the A7 called EFCS (Electronic Front Curtain Shutter). I won’t go into details about it, but rather invite you to read this excellent article about it.

I was asked to record the Sony A7 shooting with EFCS both OFF and ON. Here are the results:

Shooting video

Two clips. One directly from the camera,

and a composited one, as a small teaser. Beware, terror inside!

Conclusions

You can take of this review whatever you want: I tried to offer you as much as possible out of the experience with the Sony A7. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am anxious to see opinions from other users.

There could be much more to say about it, but it’s already quite a lengthy affair. Don’t hesitate to send me your questions : I’ll do my best to answer.

As I said at the start, this is not the full review. If you only browsed through and would like to see the complete article, you can find it fully on the F64 blog here.

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Author: Alin Popescu

Inginer ca formare, grafician ca meserie, fotograf ca mod de viata, Alin este pasionat de tot ce inseamna tehnologie si scrie articole detaliate pe intelesul tuturor.

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12 Comments

  1. Thanks for your review and beautiful photos…I am considering the A7. I am reading a lot of users saying that the AF is very slow in low light especially when shooting kids.

    What are your thoughts?

    Post a Reply
  2. Very good review. Do you feel that the 7R is worth the extra money?

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  3. I’ve read the kit lens isn’t very good, as most kit lens go. I was wondering which lenses you used to take the sample shots.

    Post a Reply
  4. Hi Alin. I’m considering the A7 with the kit lens. If the kit lens is okay, I’ll hold off purchasing the Sony 50mm prime for a bit. I was just wondering which of the photos in this review are from the kit lens.

    Also, is the kit lens any good for portrait shots with shallow DoF?

    Post a Reply
    • i really enjoyed the kit lens, but for portrait, you should try the Zeiss 55 1.8. It’s a beast!

      Post a Reply
      • Thanks Alin. I shall be purchasing the A7 with kit lens first and then buy the 50mm later.

        Post a Reply
  5. Great post and photos!

    I love this camera and simply can’t piut it down. The image quality, features and 3rd party lens options make this a creative tool.

    Lately I’ve been uising the Viltrox adapter with a Canon 50mm 1.4 to grab some amazing photos. The manual focus is actually desirable with this camera and gets back to what photography is all about.

    Post a Reply

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