Update on February 13, 2015: Since the launch of the A7 and A7R, Sony has added two new models to the lineup. Read our reviews of the A7S and A7 Mark II. All four cameras have earned either our Editors’ Choice or Recommended awards.
Update on March 8, 2014: Sony will release a firmware update on March 19 for both cameras. The update will improve startup speed and image quality. There will also be two new downloadable apps via Sony’s PlayMemories platform (Live View Grading and Smooth Reflection); time-lapse mode with smoother transitioning; support for Fast AF and focus hold on 70-200 F4 FE lens. Full details are scant at the moment, but we will update you as we get more info. (h/t DPReview, Engadget)
Update on December 9, 2013: We’ve added new details about the new lenses and accessories.
Sony officially announced what had been floating around the rumor mills the past weeks: two full-frame 35mm mirrorless cameras, the Alpha 7 and 7R, which Sony claims are the world’s smallest and lightest in their category. The two new groundbreaking cameras join the A99 DSLR and RX1/RX1 R Cyber-shot models in Sony’s full-frame lineup, borrowing design cues more from its compact RX1 and NEX cameras than the larger Alpha DSLRs. Designed as a small and lighter full-frame alternative for both pro photographers and advanced amateurs (A7R) and step-up users from APS-C and CSC cameras (A7), these solidly constructed magnesium alloy bodies are weather-sealed for dust and moisture resistance. Sony is using the Alpha designation instead of the NEX name that is usually associated with Sony’s mirrorless cameras, which demonstrates where Sony sees this camera – in the high end.
The A7R uses a 36.4-megapixel Exmor CMOS sensor that Sony says is the highest resolution sensor it has ever made for the Alpha lineup, and, following a recent industry trend, eliminates the anti-aliasing filter for sharper details. The A7 has a 24.3-megapixel sensor, but uses a hybrid autofocusing system. Fast autofocusing was key for Sony in the development of both cameras. The updated Eye AF helps to increase quality around a subject’s eyes, and the face recognition system can now detect which is the eye and focus on it appropriately. Both cameras feature the new Bionz X image processor, which Sony says is responsible for handling much of the heavy lifting like fast autofocusing, Full HD video, and low noise – allowing for a compact camera to utilize a large sensor while delivering DSLR-like performance. Sony says the Bionz X offers better quality, speed, and accuracy than any previous Bionz processor. The Bionz X has new detail reproduction technology that minimizes outlines on an object or subject for more realistic images, while a new diffraction-reducting technology corrects blurred details to match the aperture setting.
The A7 and A7R have a 2.4-million dot XGA OLED electronic viewfinder, as well as a 3-inch tilting non-touch LCD and a redesigned user interface. The EVF is exceptionally bright, highly responsive, and displays a real-time view based on the settings, including depth of field. You can also enlarge an image within the EVF for focusing, and you can see where the full-frame image would be cropped if you’re using an APS-C lens. The cameras are also highly customizable: available are nine buttons that you can assign up to 46 functions. For movie recording, the cameras have audio level control, live HDMI output for external viewing on a monitor, and Clear Image Zoom for close-up shots. Wi-Fi and NFC are built into both cameras, with support for Sony’s downloadable PlayMemories Camera Apps that add additional functions like remote control and viewing from a smartphone, creative effects, etc.
We had an opportunity to try out both the A7R and A7. Both cameras have a nice solid feel of a luxurious product. While it has a nice grip, holding it is more in line with a compact system camera than a larger DSLR. The autofocusing is pleasantly fast, which has always been an Achilles’ heel of earlier mirrorless cameras. We really like how responsive the cameras are. The EVF is nice and bright, and turns on instantly the moment you bring your eye to it.
The cameras will go on sale in December. The A7R will be priced at $2,300 (body only), while the A7 will be listed at $1,700 (body only) or $2,000 with a 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 full-frame lens.
New lenses and accessories
To accompany the new A7R and A7, Sony also unveiled five new full-frame E-mount lenses. These include a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T 24-70mm F4 ($1,200, available in January) with a constant max f/4 aperture at all focal lengths; Carl Zeiss Sonnar T 35mm F2.8 prime lens ($800, available in December); Carl Zeiss Sonnar T 55mm F1.8 prime lens ($1,000, available in January); Sony 28-70mm F3.5-5.6 OSS midrange zoom (this lens is available as an aforementioned kit with the A7 for $2,000), and Sony G Lens 70-200mm F4 OSS telephoto (currently under development). These full-frame lenses will fit any existing non-full-frame E-mount camera, albeit cropped.
Besides these E-mount lenses, Sony is introducing the G Lens 70-200mm F2.8 G SSM II ($3,000, available in January) telephoto zoom or A-mount cameras. Sony says it’s four-times faster than its predecessor with quiet autofocus and better AF tracking.
Also available are two full-frame adapters to use with Sony’a A-mount APS-C and full-frame lenses for Sony DSLRs. The LA-EA4 ($350) comes with Translucent Mirror Technology, which means you can autofocus a compatible A-mount lens. The LA-EA3 ($200) does not support autofocusing.
Accessories include a new vertical grip ($300) that holds two separate batteries, and a soft leather case for $140.
(This article was originally published on October 15, 2013)