Once in a blue moon, a product enters the frame of an industry and changes the market forever. Just as the iPhone shook the mobile phone industry in 2007, both the Sony Alpha A7 and the A7R will shake the camera industry with their upcoming release. As the most compact and affordable cameras that Sony has ever produced, both the Alpha A7 and A7R boast unparalleled image quality for their sizes, and are able to compete toe-to-toe with some of the notable DSLR cameras dominating the market (Nikon I am looking at you) for a lesser price.
Let’s start by clarifying the differences between the two. The Sony Alpha A7 is cheaper than the A7R with the releasing price of $1699.99 USD, exactly $200 USD cheaper than the A7R. However, as expected, the lower pricing point comes with the detriment of a lower image quality, and although the image quality is not bad by any means (quite good for the price in fact), more serious photographers may wish to invest in the extra $200 as the difference in quality is quite clear. Keep this in mind, for most other differences are unnoticeable, and hence the two cameras will be simply referred to as the A7s from here on.
Why the Alpha A7 & A7R?
The most remarkable achievement by Sony is neither the lower price point nor the design. Although the price point is very welcome, the price is only about $300~500 cheaper than the pre-existing cameras, and the design is almost the same as every other DSLR camera available. Instead, Sony has decided to tackle a fundamental question:.
Hence, Sony shines through its ability to manufacture a camera rivalling a DSLR but in a fraction of the size. At 24 megapixels and 36 megapixels, the A7s are powerful. But as can be seen in the examples below, it is evident that the A7s are much smaller than the available DSLRs. What if you could have a camera which is capable of the picture quality and the dynamic properties of a DSLR, but was as portable as a smartphone? The A7s deliver on just that.
The A7s have practically identical exteriors, with the name badges the only real difference between the two. Composed primarily of metal and plastic material, with solid rubber grips on the sides which allow for a more fluid and comfortable handling, they certain feel worth their prices. In addition, the viewfinder is located in the top middle, a noteworthy change from the typical far right viewfinder in most DSLRs. Finally, at just under 500g (or just over a pound), the A7s are definitely on the lighter side when compared to cameras of similar quality. This trait can mostly be attributed to the compact design as previously mentioned- 12 x 9.5 x 4.9cm to be exact (5 x 3.75 x 1.94 inches). Thus it is much easier to carry around, saving one the trouble of a sore neck or shoulder after carrying around a heavy DSLR all day.
With that being said, there are some valid criticisms to be mentioned, the most noteworthy being the new viewfinder. Although the location change does carry the novel aspect, it quickly wears off as it is slightly awkward peer through. Not only is it awkward, but the viewfinder adds a good inch to the overall height. This is a step back from the more recent cameras which implements the viewfinder into their bodies, leaving a clean and flat top. As Sony was aiming for the smallest possible design, this design choice is incomprehensible. Fortunately, the 3-inch, semi-detachable, high resolution display is a wonderful alternative to the viewfinder and is an absolute joy to use. The display comes with the additional benefit of a tiltable design (it is attached to the main body via a flexible bridge), allowing for the shooting of awkward angles a walk in the park.
The A7s are cameras with pragmatic designs, for Sony did not attempt to revolutionise: anyone who has previously operated a DSLR before will feel right at home. Balancing between retro and modern, the A7s feel new- with a hint of nostalgia.
As mentioned earlier, the A7 and the A7R boast 24 megapixels and 36 megapixels respectively, which rival any medium-high end DSLRs on the market. Despite this, Sony has managed to maintain the simplicity when it comes to the controls. Thanks to the intuitive controls, there is no need to bore through a instruction manual to operate 10 different ambiguous buttons to snap a picture of your pasta. Instead, the A7s have opted for a rework of the original NEX-7 three-wheel setup- a simplistic approach to be appreciated. The three wheels control (as expected) the specific shooting needs the user requires at a given situation, and although these are great to tweak around with to win that National Geographic 2013 contest, the Superior Auto mode will settle for most situations.
Speed is not a problem, and anyone who has tried an A7/A7R will be glad to testify that there is almost no lag in writing data to its SD card or from transitioning between sleeping mode to photo mode. Even when one is scrolling through hundreds of photos, there is little to no lag present. However, where the A7s fall short compared to other DSLRs is in the sound department. The shutters are loud, almost obnoxious. It feels as though the camera is breaking itself with every snap, and -as one would expect- it is definitely not a feeling expected from a medium price range. In addition, the battery life is rather short lived (it will die after only a couple hundred shots), and thus carrying a spare battery is recommended, if not a necessity.
Though the A7s are pragmatic to most audiences, neither the 4-frames a second maximum burst speed for the A7R nor the 5-frames a second for the A7 will impress any sports photographers. One key element that I enjoyed, however, was the fact that there was inbuilt Wi-Fi and NFC, allowing for the seamless connection with most smartphones available on the market. There is no fiddling about for features that should have come with the Wi-Fi either, no anguish caused from the convoluted advertisements which promised more that what was actually offered. Once connected, your smartphone can act as a slick, new remote viewfinder, and the newly taken images can be transferred directly to your smartphone wirelessly.
Ah- here it is, one of the defining features of the A7s: the ability to change lenses. Although the current options for lenses are extremely limited (not to mention expensive), it cannot be undoubted that it is a very welcome feature. Sony currently offers a 28-70mm OSS zoom, 35mm Carl Zeiss, and 55mm Carl Zeiss lenses on both cameras, although that number is soon to expand greatly according to Sony. Though as expected from the first Sony camera which offers the ability to change lenses, it is not nearly as impressive as it sounds, especially in the 28-70mm OSS zoom lens.
Firstly, though the image quality produced isn’t half bad, the lens requires a considerably long time duration to focus. Not only that, but the lens itself is rather large, and composed purely of plastic. For the asking price of $300 ($499.99 without the purchase of either of the A7s), it seems a little overpriced for the benefit it offers, which is why I suggest on delaying the purchase of the 28-70mm OSS zoom until adjustments have been made. However, both the 35mm and the 55mm Carl Zeiss works just as the user would expect, and though expensive, they are worth the asking price. One factor to consider though is that the A7s were really not designed for sports or wildlife photography. There are no long telephoto lenses planned for next year release from Sony (no official ones anyway), which rules out the possibility of using the camera for sports or wildlife purposes (not to mention the rather slow max-speed in burst mode).
The Overall Verdict
The A7s produce images which parallel an image produced by a heavy DSLR with expensive systems. It shoots smooth 1080p videos offered at 24-frames and 60-frames per second. Like with all cameras, the A7s are not without their fault, but at the end of the day, the A7s offer unparalleled quality for their sizes. More importantly, this will be a milestone for the camera industry which has remained relatively unchanged over the past few years. The A7s are serious cameras for both amateur and pro photographers alike.