Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras have come a long way in only a few years. And after gradually layering on new features and capability, they've finally reached an apex in Sony's new A7 and A7r models, both of which sport that big and beautiful bastion of image quality, the full-frame sensor.
Sony's new type of mirrorless system not only provides insane image quality by way of a full-frame, 35mm sensor, but it also utilizes the E-mount lenses that Sony has been developing for its APS-C NEX-series models over the past couple of years. It's a bold move to try and lure high-end enthusiasts away from their beloved but bulky DSLRs.
Why exactly is a full-frame sensor so crucial? Its large size means more light can reach it, which means better low light performance. The field-of-view is also wider than smaller-sensor cameras, lending a sort of grand scope to many full-frame photos. Lastly, a large sensor enhances that creamy, soft, shallow depth-of-field you get when shooting at large aperture sizes. In essence, full-frame has a look that many just adore.
Speaking of looks, the A7 feels like Sony cut up an RX1, NEX-6, and OM-D EM-1, then glued the parts all together. Its weather-sealed body sports a new 24.3-megapixel sensor with hybrid contrast/phase-detect auto-focus that should deliver speedy results similar to Sony's cams with the same feature, like the NEX-6. Also like the NEX-6, the A7 has a 2.4 million dot OLED electronic viewfinder resting on top, looking much like Olympus' OM-D cameras.
The A7r features the exact same body as the A7, but the difference lies in its 36.4 megapixel sensor. My god that's a lot of pixels. The A7r's image prowess is provided by that increased resolution, but also because Sony is leaving out the optical low pass filter, which in most cameras can decrease sharpness slightly.
It will be interesting to compare the image quality of the two side-by-side, because many contend that packing too many pixels on a sensor decreases image quality, especially in dynamic range and noise levels. In addition to those concerns, there is one big concession for A7r users. The sensor does not feature the hybrid AF, so expect auto-focus speed to be a bit behind the A7.
Both cameras feature Wi-Fi, NFC, headphone and mic inputs, and a new BIONZ X processor that Sony says will do wonders for JPG quality and also enable full HD 60p video.
If you are already an NEX owner, the new cameras are compatible with all of Sony's previous E-mount lenses, though they will only work in a crop mode on the A7/A7r, since they were not designed to cover a full-frame sensor. However, Sony is pairing its new full-framers with a new line of lenses, called FE lenses, which provide full-frame coverage.
The FE line includes a 55mm f/1.8, 35mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/4, 70-200mm f/4, and finally, a kit lens that is 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6. With the exception of the kit lens, the FE offerings are premium lenses with high price tags. In addition to using E-mount glass, Sony is offering two A-mount adapters. One, the EA3, is the simple mount converter, while the EA4 includes a built in semi-translucent mirror that will boost auto-focus speed.
Mirrorless fans have been aching for a full-frame model, and it is no surprise that Sony, having led so aggressively in the development of mirrorless cameras, finally indulged them. The A7 series seems incredible on paper, but roadblocks to true greatness still loom. It's not clear that the E-mount lens system will be able to evolve fast enough to satisfy hardcore enthusiasts who want a lot of options in glass. It's also not clear how far the engineering can be pushed to build full-frame lenses that fit the small makeup that makes sense with this type of body. Moreover, the camera's usability and speed are still untested.
But there is almost no doubt that the A7 will be able to deliver supremely amazing images, with that full-frame look that so many opine for, and that is reason enough for many to scrape and claw to get their hands on this camera.
The Sony A7r and A7 will be available this December. The A7r camera will be $2300 (£1440, before taxes and the usual UK inflation is added), body-only, while the A7 will be offered with the 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 kit-lens for about $2000 (£1250). The body alone will be $1700 (£1060). The prices are actually reasonable when compared to full-frame DSLRs currently on the market.
The Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 lens will be available in December for about $800 (£500), the 55mm f/1.8 prime lens will be available in January for about $1000 (£625), and the Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 zoom lens will be available in January for about $1200 (£750). The 70-200mm f/4 OSS lens is yet to be priced.