Sony Alpha 7 ILCE-7

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The introduction of the Sony Alpha A7 and A7R sees Sony introducing the World’s first full-frame mirrorless cameras (excluding digital rangefinders), and with the Sony A7R, they are also claiming the World’s smallest and lightest full frame mirrorless camera. The Sony Alpha 7 (ILCE-7) is available for just under £1300 body only, or £1549 with 28-70mm kit lens. 

Sony Alpha 7 Features

Using the same Sony E-Mount as Sony NEX mirrorless cameras, it’s impressive that they’ve been able to fit such a large full-frame sensor into the same lens mount, and you can see below. This will also have an impact on how you use Sony E-Mount lenses with the camera, with the current Sony E-Mount lenses operating differently depending on each lens.

Sony Alpha 7 Body (2)

The camera gives the option to use the lens in crop mode, or alternatively use the full frame, but with strong vignetting. A new range of Sony FE – Full-frame E-Mount lenses has been announced to take advantage of the new cameras, which are signified by “FE” in the name, including a number of lenses developed with Carl Zeiss for optimum image quality. With the Sony Alpha 7, when using Sony NEX E-Mount lenses in crop mode, the camera takes 10 megapixel photos.

Sony Alpha 7 Body (10)

The Sony Alpha 7 features a 24.3 megapixel full frame CMOS sensor, with built in phase detection focus (with 117 AF points), as well as contrast-detection AF (with 25 AF points), which is said to be 35% quicker than the Sony NEX-7, giving the fastest AF performance of any full-frame camera currently available according to Sony.

The camera features a tough magnesium-alloy body that is weather sealed, and gives side access to the memory card slot, which supports the use of either Sony Memory Stick or SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards. 

Full HD video recording features stereo sound, at 60p/50p/25p/24p, and there is also clean HDMI out for recording to an external device, or for monitoring on an external screen – in addition the camera has a microphone and headphone socket on the side.

NFC (Near field communication) and Wi-Fi is built in for remote operation, and image transfer when connected to a compatible smartphone, with the camera using the Sony PlayMemories Mobile app which is available for Android and iOS devices.

Sony Alpha 7 Key Features

  • 24.3 megapixel full frame Exmor CMOS sensor
  • XGA OLED Tru-Finder electronic viewfinder, 2.359m dots
  • 3inch tilting screen, 921k dots 
  • Full HD video, 60p, 50p, 25p, 24p
  • Clean HDMI output
  • Fast Hybrid autofocus
  • 117 phase-detection AF points
  • 25 contrast-detection AF points
  • 5fps continuous shooting
  • Smart remote control, Wi-Fi and NFC
  • Tough magnesium weather sealed body
  • ISO100 to ISO25600, can be expanded to ISO50

Sony Alpha 7 Handling

Sony Alpha 7 Body (18)

The Sony A7, and A7R, features the same orange ring around the lens mount, which was first introduced with the Sony Alpha 99, and Sony Cyber-shot RX1 and signifies that the camera has a full-frame sensor.

The rest of the camera is much more subtle in its design with a black metal body, and SLR styling, with the top viewfinder area and rear of the camera closely resembling the Olympus OM-D E-M5. The design of the camera seemed to generate mixed reaction, with some welcoming the industrial retro styling, whereas others we much less keen on the angular design.

Sony Alpha 7 Body (12)

The rear features a high resolution 921k dot 3inch tilting screen that tilts up and down, and a high resolution 2.4 million dot OLED electronic viewfinder, with dioptre correction and eye-detection sensor so that it will automatically switch to the viewfinder when held up to the eye.

Viewfinder quality is excellent, with a very clear and crisp display, which includes a dual axis electronic level, and the EVF has a good sized rubber surround to help viewing outdoors which will be of benefit to anyone who wears glasses. Thankfully, the camera features a menu system much more similar to Sony Alpha cameras, rather than Sony NEX cameras, which means we may (finally) see the end of the Sony NEX menu system, which we were never a big fan of.

Focus speeds are rapid, and the camera is responsive in use, and a switch on the back will let you change the operation of the AF/MF button to an AEL button.

Sony Alpha 7 Body (1)

The side video record button has been placed so that you don’t accidentally start video recording. There is also a microphone and headphone socket on the side for those seriously interested in video recording, and the clean HDMI out will be of particular interest here.

The mode dial features Auto, P, A, S, M, Scene, Panoramic, Video modes as well as two customisable user modes, and there’s also a C1 (custom1) button on top of the camera, with a second C2 (custom2) button on the back, along with a Fn (Wi-Fi) button, and C3 button that doubles as the delete button when in playback. The functions available on screen when you press the Fn button can be customised to give quick access to your favourite options. 

Sony Alpha 7 Body (13)

A large front grip is covered in a textured rubber coating that extends round to the back of the camera, where it is shaped for your thumb. The camera feels good to hold with some of the smaller lenses, however, when the larger FE lenses are mounted on the camera, it can make the camera seem quite lens heavy and therefore holding the camera with two hands (with one supporting the lens) is highly recommended. If you plan on using one of the adapters, and Sony Alpha (A-Mount) lenses with the camera, or other large lenses, then the optional battery grip could help the camera feel more balanced, as well as giving extended battery life.

An exposure compensation dial on top gives quick access to exposure control, and a front and rear dial can be used for aperture and shutter control when in manual / aperture or shutter modes respectively.

Sony Alpha ILCE 7 Carl Zeiss Zoom

With the announcement of the Sony Alpha 7 and Sony Alpha 7R, Sony says that there will be no further Sony NEX cameras, and instead aim to merge the Sony NEX and Sony Alpha range into one Sony Alpha range. To enable this, Sony say that the Sony E-Mount cameras can accept both Sony E-Mount lenses, as well as Sony A-Mount lenses with an adapter, so that you have the choice of choosing your ideal lens from the whole range of Sony lenses. There are also a wide range of third party lens mount adapters available to enable the use of classic (and modern) lenses from other manufacturers, including lenses from Leica, Nikon, Canon and others.

Sony Alpha 7 Body (15)

Battery life – Battery life is rated at 270 shots according to Sony / CIPA test results, and the camera uses an info-lithium battery so you know exactly how much battery life is left. The battery is charged in camera using the provided USB cable and an external battery charger is not provided. For those that find the battery life short, a spare battery and external charger is recommended. 

Speed – We took a number of shots to test the camera’s responsiveness, from switch on to first photo, shot to shot, focusing speed etc. We take a number of shots and then use the average to ensure accurate and consistent tests, making it easy to compare with other cameras.

Sony Alpha 7
Shutter Response<0.05s
Wide – Focus / Shutter Response0.25s 
Full zoom – Focus / Shutter ResponseN/A
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo2.4s
Shot to Shot without Flash0.6s (MF) / 0.8s (AF)
Shot to Shot with FlashN/A
Continuous Shooting – JPEG
(shots before slow down)
5fps (66 shots)
Continuous Shooting – FlashN/A
Continuous Shooting – RAW5fps (26 shots)


The Sony website says that continuous shooting shoots at 2.5fps or 5fps, we switched on speed priority continuous shooting and the camera shot at 5fps for 66 shots before slowing down when shooting JPEG or 26 shots when shooting raw, using a Sandisk Extreme Pro 95MB/s UHS:I SDHC card. Focus phase detect area can be switched on or off and focus speeds remained the same. Focus speeds tested with the Carl Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 lens. 

Sony Alpha 7 Performance

Additional sample photos and product shots are available in the Equipment Database, where you can add your own review, photos and product ratings.

Sony Alpha 7 Sample Photos

Guitars | 1/60 sec | f/4.0 | 35.0 mm | ISO 800

Sample Photos – The Carl Zeiss Sonnar FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA T* lens performs very well with the Sony Alpha 7, with good detail into the corners, and is the most compact native lens currently available for the system. The camera is also very good at correcting any lens based distortion, as can be seen in examples further into this review. Exposure is reliable and focus speeds are good, with the camera producing excellent colour and detail. The saturation, sharpness, and contrast can be customised so that you can setup the camera as desired.

Sony Alpha 7 Lens test images

Wide 28mm | 1/125 sec | f/8.0 | 28.0 mm | ISO 100
 

Photos taken with the Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens are better than expected with the lens producing good results whether shooting wide or with full zoom, and the lens benefits from optical image stabilisation. Macro performance of the kit lens is reasonable, but is not as good as you would get from a dedicated macro lens. Distortion correction is switched on by default, and can’t be switched off (vignetting and CA correction can be switched off), however it’s possible to view the level of distortion in the original raw images. With thanks to HarrisonCameras for providing the Sony FE 28-70mm lens for this review.

Sony Alpha 7 ISO test images

1/13 sec | f/2.8 | 35.0 mm | ISO 50
 

ISO Noise Performance – The ISO range goes from ISO50 to ISO25600. High ISO NR options include: Normal, Low, and Off, with the default setting being normal, which was used for these tests. Long exposure NR options are on and off. 

Noise is very low at ISO50, ISO100, ISO200, ISO400, ISO800  and even ISO1600 with very good levels of detail. At ISO3200 there is a slight drop in detail however the camera does a good job of controlling noise. At ISO6400 there is a more noticeable drop in detail and noise increases although results still appear good. Image quality degrades more noticeably at ISO12800 however colour is still reasonable and noise well controlled. ISO25600 shows the highest levels of noise and colour saturation suffers slightly as a result.

Sony Alpha 7 ISO

Lens Correction Off | 1/13 sec | f/2.8 | 35.0 mm | ISO 50
 High Res

Built in lens correction options are shown above, with the first option showing all corrections switched off, the next is with shading / vignetting correction switched on, the next shows chromatic aberration switched on as well, with the final image showing all corrections switched on including distortion correction.

Sony Alpha 7 White-balance test images

AWB Tungsten f/7.1 | 1/10 sec | f/7.1 | 35.0 mm | ISO 200
 High Res RAW

White Balance Performance – Auto White Balance (AWB) performs well under tungsten lighting, with the tungsten preset giving very similar results. Similarly AWB performs well under fluorescent lighting, and the fluorescent presets give different colour casts. 

Sony Alpha 7 Outdoor images

DRO Off | 1/320 sec | f/9.0 | 28.0 mm | ISO 100
 H

There are a number of ways to improve dynamic range in harsh lighting conditions, and when in intelligent Auto or Superior Auto+ the camera will automatically use the backlight scene mode if it decides it’s necessary. In program mode you can switch DRO (Dynamic Range Optimisation) or HDR (High Dynamic Range) on, with these featuring Auto or manual settings. Here we’ve used the auto DRO setting which has produced very good results, without looking too artificial, with the HDR mode combining a number of shots taken at different exposures. 

Panoramic | 1/125 sec | f/8.0 | 28.0 mm | ISO 100


Panoramic | 1/125 sec | f/8.0 | 28.0 mm | ISO 100

The camera features a panoramic sweep mode where you simply press the shutter button and pan the camera in the direction you want to take the photo. You need to move the camera from one direction to the other at a quite specific speed, otherwise the camera will fail to create the panoramic or alternatively produce a panoramic with a black edge, which will need cropping off later. Results are quite good, with good detail and a fairly high resolution result.

Sony Alpha 7 Other sample images

Photo Pre-production A7 | 1/30 sec | f/8.0 | 70.0 mm | ISO 6400
 High Res

Sony Alpha 7 Digital filters

Miniature | 1/80 sec | f/4.5 | 35.0 mm | ISO 100
 


Digital Filters – When using the picture effects, the camera records the altered JPEG but does not let you use this feature with raw enabled. There are also colour options available which can be customised, letting you set contrast, saturation and sharpness.

Video – The camera records full HD videos with stereo sound, and there are options to adjust the audio levels as well as audio out timing, and wind noise reduction. Microphone, headphone and HDMI ports can be found on the left of the camera, and a clean HDMI output is provided.

Value For Money


Sony Alpha 7 Verdict

The Sony Alpha 7 is one of, if not, the cheapest full-frame digital cameras currently available, undercutting both the Canon EOS 6D and Nikon D610, whilst also being considerably smaller and lighter. The new camera certainly offers an exciting new option in the camera market. Whether used with Sony lenses or using an adapter, the camera is setup for accurate and easy manual focus thanks to focus peaking and other display options, as well as a clear and high resolution electronic viewfinder. 

Despite the styling of the camera being a bit like Marmite, you either love it or hate it, the Sony Alpha 7 looks to do what the Olympus OM-D E-M5 did, but for the die-hard full-frame DSLR fans, and there is now no reason to dismiss Mirrorless cameras as somehow “inferior” anymore. The Sony Alpha 7 is a real game-changer offering full-frame image quality in a much more compact and lightweight body. Despite the current lack of lenses, for anyone with a collection of other lenses, it will be possible to find an adapter for it, although for the quickest auto focus use of FE-mount lenses is recommended.

The Sony Alpha 7 is a very appealing camera, offering a relatively low price, a full-frame 24 megapixel sensor, a compact body, full HD video with microphone, headphone and HDMI sockets. The camera delivers impressive image quality with the lenses we’ve used so far, and has impressive noise performance for excellent low-light performance. There are a few niggles that it would be nice to see resolved including the shorter than ideal battery life, the lack of built in flash, and the lack of provided external battery charger. But putting these issues aside, the Sony Alpha 7 is one of the most exciting cameras of the year.

Sony Alpha 7 Pros

Impressive noise performance
Impressive image quality (with 35mm lens)
Full-frame mirrorless camera
Weather sealed magnesium alloy body
5fps continuous shooting (speed priority)
Focus peaking / Zebra display
FullHD Video plus clean HDMI out
Microphone / Headphone sockets
Price

Sony Alpha 7 Cons

Limited FE mount lenses – plenty of adapters
Short battery life / USB charging
Flash not included / provided

Sony Alpha 7 Specifications

ManufacturerSony
Image Sensor
Pixels24.3Mp (Megapixels)
Pixels (W)6000
Pixels (H)4000
Sensor TypeExmor CMOS
Sensor SizeFull-Frame
Sensor Size (width)35.8mm
Sensor Size (height)23.9mm
Aspect Ratio3:2
LCD Monitor
LCD Monitor3in
Screen resolution921k dots
Touch ScreenNo
Focusing
Focusing modesAutofocusManualSpotFace DetectionMultiCentre
Exposure Control
Shutter speeds shortest1/8000sec
Shutter speeds longest30sec
Bulb modeYes
Exp modesProgramAperture-PriorityShutter-PriorityManualScene modesProgram Variable
MeteringCentre-weighted – AverageMulti PatternSpot
ISO sensitivity100 – 25600
White balanceAutoManualBracketOutdoors/DaylightCloudyIncandescentFluorescentShadeUnderwater
Exposure Comp+/-3
Viewfinder
Viewfinder Resolution2,359,296 dots
Shooting Options
Continuous shooting5fps
Video
Movie modeYes
Video Resolution1920×1080 FullHD640x480 VGA1440x1080
Video FPS60p, 25p
Stereo SoundYes
Optical Zoom with VideoYes
Other Features
Image StabilisationNo
Interface
HDMIYes
USBUSB 2
Wi-FiYes
Storage
Card TypeSDSDHCMemory Stick (Sony)SDXC
File TypeRAWJPGRAW + JPG
Power Source
Battery TypeInfo-Lithium Battery (NP-FW50)
Battery Life (CIPA rating)270shots
Box Contents
Box ContentsAC Adapter (USB), Rechargeable Battery Pack (NP-FW50), MicroUSB Cable, Shoulder strap
Dimensions
Weight416g
Width126.9mm
Height94.4mm
Depth48.2mm