The a7 was the first full frame mirrorless camera from Sony, launched in 2013 and followed up with a 2nd generation in 2014 in the Sony a7 II.
My first encounter with the mirrorless cameras was with the Sony a7R, which was a solid camera for it’s time but had a lot of short falls with it that made me hesitant initially about the a7. That all changed upon buying the Sony a6000 and later trying the Sony a7, which I bought the same year.
After a few years with the a7 I eventually upgraded to the Sony a7 II (and actually bought TWO bodies) and what a vast improvement this camera is over the original, such as the increased performance response time, upgrade body design and auto focusing.
These cameras have the same image sensor, so for the sake of time and my writing an entire blog for another camera I’m combining that of the a7 with the a7 II cameras, along with their images.
What I think about the a7/a7 II cameras
The a7 is a great camera and at it’s current price of $800 makes it a steal of a camera for a full frame. It has some short falls, such as the sensor reflections (which I’ll discuss later in this review) and lack of IBIS. Affordability is what I look at this camera to be. It’s made it easier for those starting in photography to obtain a high performing camera at the price of what entry level APS-C cameras would go for several years ago.
The a7 II brought everything great about the a7 over into a vastly improved design, to make it the perfect upgrade and possibly the perfect camera for most in an all around camera body. Even at about $1,300 this is still quite an affordable full frame camera as well, which you can’t find in other brands with the features this camera includes.
Sony a7 Specs
24.3MP Full Frame Exmor CMOS Sensor
BIONZ X Image Processor
E-Mount Lenses Compatibility
3.0′ Tiltable TFT LCD with 921.6K-Dots
2.4M-Dot 100% Coverage OLED Electronic Viewfinder
Full 1080/60p with Uncompressed Output
Fast Hybrid Autofocus
117 Phase Detection and 25 Contrast Detection Points
117 Phase Detection and 25 Contrast Detection Points
5 fps burst rate
Built-In WiFI and NFC
These cameras have been used extensively in a variety of genre’s I photograph, such as Street, Architecture, Worship and Fashion photography.
They’re very versatile choices in the Sony lineup, being sort of the balance between the Sony a7R and a7S series of cameras. For the price as well it’s hard to not consider either of these models for any applications you might be photographing within or even for video, which both cameras are capable of full HD recording.
Favorite lenses for the a7/a7 II
Carl ZEISS FE 16-35mm f/4 (Amazon) - I’ve recently switched from the Sony E 10-18mm to this one for my wide angle images, as I’ve moved to an entire ZEISS lens line up for this year. It produces some amazing color and sharpness and is what I use for my epic landscapes and cityscapes. (Read my full review on this lens here)
Carl ZEISS FE 55mm f/1.8 (Amazon) - This is one of the best lenses for Sony E-Mount full frames. The quality is so sharp and the colors from this lens are what you’d expect from a ZEISS. (Read my full review on this lens here)
Carl ZEISS Batis FE 85mm f/1.8 (Amazon) - An incredible prime lens and now my most used lens of the 5 I presently own. The color reproduction, sharpness, contrast and speed of the AF really make this a stellar lens and one I certainly think is a must have for any genre of photography. (Read my full review on this lens here)
What do you like about the Sony a7?
Electronic 1st Curtain Shutter - One gripe I had about the a7R was that it sounded like a machine gun going off (a bit over exaggerated). That camera didn’t have any electronic shutter and would clack twice! It was quite loud and obnoxious! This camera however does have a 1st curtain electronic shutter, so it only clacks once. It’s still a high sounding shutter but not as intrusive as that of the a7R.
Image quality - This camera is a 24MP sensor, just as my a6000, which makes it great in having both 24MP camera’s. I can’t choose either camera and not feel as though I’m going to have more detail to play with over my other images, taken with a lower MP camera. I don’t know, but it just makes me feel better. If I had the a7R I’m sure I would shoot with that more and not think about the a6000 probably, just because it’s a higher MP count. I’m okay with 24MP for right now and think that’s pretty good. I certainly wouldn’t deny a 36MP though... I’ll take as much detail as I can capture! =)
WiFi & NFC - Like my other Sony cameras, this is always a favorite feature of mine, being able to share photos straight from the camera to my iPhone/iPad (works on Android also).
Compactness - I’m most amazed at the fact this is a Full Frame camera that’s this small. It’s super light and great to carry for long days worth of photographing!
Lens options - Having the flexibility to use an adapter and being able to use other brands of lenses, even the A-Mount on this tiny camera is great! I love that my NEX 10-18mm lens works just fine on this camera as well!
Tilt LCD screen - I love that this screen is much larger than the one on the Sony a6000. It’s a lot easier to see your images in review and also adjust settings. The screen is also a higher resolution, which I found quite noticeable compared to my a6000. I find myself using this camera more for that very reason, but I absolutely love the a6000 equally!
Phase Detection - This camera includes phase detection AF, vs just the contrast detection of the a7R, which makes it better at focusing. Another strong suit this camera has.
Audio Output & Microphone Jack - I’m so glad to have these two jacks, as the Sony a6000 doesn’t. As I venture more into video, having these added features will be quite useful.
Flash sync speed - The last thing this camera has over the a7r is the sync speed. This camera can do a 1/250th of a sec vs the 1/160th of the a7R. Ideally this camera is the one most people choose, as it’s the perfect blend of the Sony a7s and a7r cameras. It doesn’t have the superior low light capability of the a7s nor the image quality of the a7R, but makes the perfect middle man camera.
Camera body design - I know many people totally dislike the design of the first generation Sony a7 series cameras, but I actually LOVE them! I don’t care for the newer design and everything about the 1st versions are perfect to me. Even the placement of the shutter button actually feels great to me the more I use it. I don’t even have a problem with that, like I did when I first began using the Sony a7r. The grip feels great in my hand and it just feels perfect. I hate they had to change in all the Mark 2 cameras. =( I also love that the body is weather sealed as well. That’s always a positive for me!!
Video - I’ve filmed with this camera a few times now since I’ve purchased it. I think I found the camera that just might be my popular choice for video, simply because of the added benefits I mentioned above, the screen and the built in microphone and video reproduction just being so good. Don’t get me wrong, the Sony a6000 is fantastic, but the a7 exceeds it because it includes many additional features and functions that aren’t in the a6000.
LEVEL GAUGE - My BIGGEST issue with the Sony a6000 was that it did NOT have a level gauge. I was utterly upset with Sony for not including this and had actually inquired to them about this. I felt that this was one of the most important things that their cameras have included for several years now and such a popular camera like that didn’t have it! I’m glad to have that in the a7, as this is very important for a photographer like me. Symmetry is important and I like knowing my images are perfectly straight/centered in the camera. With the a6000 I had to compose my images and really take time with them to be EXACTLY sure, which was a waste of time.
What don’t you like about the Sony a7?
Sensor Reflections - One major issue you’ll see from this camera is the reflections off the sensor. Initially I had thought it was the lens or something, but with a lens hood, best glass possible it was still happening and later I discovered it’s the camera itself. You’ll see like a green color cast where there’s light entering the camera at an angle. I don’t really make a big deal on things with my photos so it’s actually not bee a major deal for me and my images, but it can be an issue for others. (You’ll notice which images are with the a7 in this review because of this also)
One other thing I would mention that’s not too bad for this camera though... is low light performance. It’s certainly not the best, but certainly not the worst either. If you do a lot of low light work then I’m sure this camera won’t be what you’re looking into using it for anyways. Up to ISO 4,000 is pretty good, but after that it becomes quite noisy. In comparison to the Sony a7r II I’ve used, it’s not even in the same country when it comes to low light. I can shoot ISO 10,000 on the a7r II and not think about it at all. I’ve also used the Sony a7s, which performs even better than that, but with a reduced megapixel count. Just something to think about, but again it does a very good job none-the-less.
Video with the a7
At full 1080p HD you obtain great clean video from this camera. Where this camera may struggle a bit is in not having that IBIS, where using lenses without OSS will present camera shake. Having a tripod helps when using this camera. Above is an example of handheld video of this camera, where you can see a little bit of shake even from using the OSS Sony 10-18mm lens (which is for crop APS-C Sony’s but is usable on the full frame between 12 and 18mm).
Low Light - Weddings with the a7
The a7 was never my first choice for weddings, as this camera shows noise very quickly as you begin to increase the ISO. I did however photograph one wedding with this camera, which was mostly outdoors and in a very well lit venue. If your goal is to use this camera primarily in low light then I wouldn’t recommend this camera and suggest the Sony a7S series or even the Sony a7R series.
What about the Sony a7 II?
Some may be interested in the newer sibling, the Sony a7 II, which is the newer model that came out a year after the original Sony a7.
Looking at the two side by side you’ll notice immediately the change in body design from the 2nd generation model vs the 1st. Below are some of the improvements you’ll find in the Sony a7 II:
In-body Image Stabilization - This is a huge improvement over the original a7, as it allows any lens you attach to this camera to be stabilized and also allow for slower shutter speeds and still obtaining sharp images. This can be the difference to getting a crisp clean shot or one that’s slightly blurred, which is apparent in longer focal length range lenses.
New Design/Better Grip - This camera has a thicker body design and new grip that’s a lot deeper, allowing for those with bigger hands to have a much better feel of the camera in hand. The mounting plate on the bottom is also improved and much stronger than the combination of plastic and metal on the a7.
30% faster than a7 - Startup is much faster for this camera, which helps in situations where your camera is off and you want to turn it on quickly to take an image.
Improved AF - AF has a performance bump that’s noticeable and it also performs a bit better in low light situations as well, but still not to that of it’s other siblings, like the Sony a7R II and Sony a7S II.
Shutter Button Relocation - The shutter button is moved to the grip of the camera, making the feel more natural to how you hold the camera. This was one of the biggest gripes of the original a7 and is a welcomed change.
LCD Screen - The screen has a new sleeker design, that’s thinner than the a7 and the resolution has been increased to 1.22 million dots, offering a much cleaner view.
Flexible Spot Center Button Control - This was a 2017 camera update that allows for adjusting your cameras focus point from the mode dial directly, without the need to go into the menu to change. This was a feature added to give the feel of the newer Sony a9 and 3rd generation Sony a7 series of cameras.
File Naming - This was another 2017 camera update that allows you to change the prefix letters of your cameras files to be any 3 letters you’d like, from the standard DSC naming of the camera files.
Video with the a7 II
This camera also produces full 1080p HD video. The advantage this camera gets over the a7 is of course it’s IBIS. This makes handheld video a slot smoother. The output from this camera does seem to be a bit cleaner over the a7, especially when shooting at it’s highest output/file format.
You obtain more video functionality in this model, which makes going back in post and color grading your content even better.
At the bottom of this review is a video example from a friend of mine, who is a professional beauty blogger and you can really see this cameras quality from her video.
Why did I buy two Sony a7 II’s?
I’ve always had two cameras, as a way to have a backup for projects that I do. For the longest I had the a7 and a6000 cameras as my primary cameras but eventually went entirely full frame and sold the a6000. I was left with one camera but was interested in adding a second full frame to return to two cameras.
So many new Sony full frames launched in 2017 and early 2018 that I didn’t know which camera to go for. I had the opportunity to use the Sony a7 II in Chicago during the summer of 2017 and really fell in love with it. Up until that time I hadn’t used this model before. I got one of them and sold my a7 and then had a great deal come on the a7 II during the Winter sale and Trade Up program Sony had going on. I was able to pick up another a7 II for only $390, after trading in some of my old Sony A-Mount gear I still had laying around and getting a bit more off with my discount.
I could have waited for the newly announced Sony a7 III, but those who’ve been apart of my community for years know that I never own the latest camera bodies and spend my money on investing in lenses. It doesn’t do me any good having the top of the line camera with sub-par glass. Look how long I kept my a7. I think these a7 II cameras are going to be around for quite a long while. They’re super capable cameras and have the features I need. They may have slowed FPS than the new a7 III, but I’ve never once utilized that max burst rate of a camera (not even on my Sony a6000) to where that’s a need for me. The battery life improvement, touch screen, toggle stick and dual SD card slots are certainly amazing upgrades, but for now I’m content with what I have.
Conclusion: Who is/isn’t this for?
If you’re someone who’s interested in jumping into the full frame arena of cameras and lenses, but don’t want to spend a lot on a body, then these are the perfect choices. Many of the Sony E-Mount lenses have OSS (Optical Steady Shot) and the image stabilization of the newer Sony a7 II may be something you don’t really need and could save even more by going with the first gen a7.
If you’re a photographer switching from another brand, such as Nikon or Canon, then you may be more into the Mark 2 cameras instead (Sony a7 II, a7R II, a7S II). If you’re not wanting to rid of your Nikon and Canon glass and want to use on your Sony camera, then it will be more beneficial with the bodies with IBIS.
Both cameras are winners. Even with some negatives to the Sony a7 it was a VERY solid camera for the years I owned it, before upgrading to the Mark 2. Even with the Sensor Reflections it wasn’t really something major for me. Try them both to see what suits you best, especially for your budget.