Sony A7 very first look – Part I

SonyA7-01Sony Alpha 7, 24MP FF mirrorless camera

On Oct 16th, Sony has taken the digital camera world by storm by introducing two full frame mirrorless interchangeable camera bodies, the former at 24MP, and the latter at 36MP. I chose the 24MP version “A7” for its lower price tag, faster flash sync, better AF module and electronic first curtain shutter. I waited for it for a solid month before it finally made its way to my doorstep this morning. As you must know by now if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, I am a long time and crazy in love fan of the NEX7. So how does the A7 fares against its APS-C older cousin ?

TestA7-04Well. It does well.

I’ll start at the beginning, with looks and feel of the camera. Aesthetics are wildly subjective, so I’ll just give my own opinion. In short, the NEX7 is a way better looking camera. It is also more dense feeling, albeit slightly smaller. Dimensions are very close, the A7 feeling looking more substantial due to its thicker foorprint, and the massive central EVF housing on top. So overall I’d say the A7 is not a beauty queen… But once you take a hold of it, your visual resistance starts melting. Cause truth be told, it feels bloody good in the hand !! The grip is extremely nice to hold, and the whole thing just feels solid and seriously meaning business.

MarlaDec13-04Two things on the A7 are great, physically and literally : the rear LCD screen (a thing of beauty) and the electronic viewfinder. That some people have been able to criticize the latter boggles my mind. It is just superb. The NEX7’s EVF was not bad by any means, but this one is just a *lot* better. A total winner for me. The screen itself is still 3″ wide like the NEX7’s but it’s not in 3:2 format, rather than 16:9, so overall taller and larger. It’s crystal clear, very sharp and just beautiful. Before going any further I’ll address Focus Peaking right away. I shoot 80% older lenses with manual focus, so the issues reported with Peaking performance by early users was of big concern to me. I’m a pleased to affirm that Focus Peaking has never worked better (or even as well) on any NEX that I have tried. Both screen and EVF show extremely accurate and reliable travel of the in-focus zones as they roll thru the depth of the frame while you turn the focus ring. I have kept my old set-up of Mid level and Yellow for day, White for night, and so far nailing critical focus with fast primes has been a treat. There is yet an added bonus that is a very welcome improvement over NEX models, and that’s the ability to assign Peaking Level and Color to either physical controls (respectively C1 button and lower position of the thumb wheel on my camera) or to slots in the shorcut “Function” menu. Very handy !!

CannelleDec13-04I assume you all want to know about any sluggishness (as it’s been reported times and again) ? I do not feel the camera sluggish at all. Yes, there *can* be a delay at start-up or wake-up time. I have missed many a shot on my NEX7 for thart same reason, and it seems the A7 hasn’t improved a lot over that. Except wake-up from power saving sleep can be surprisingly fast in certain cases. A bit confusing, but welcome when it does happen fast. Just don’t *count* on it being fast, because sometimes, it won’t. Otherwise I have NOT witnessed any lag in camera operation at all. Menus show up swiftly, navigating them is very fast, so is image review, etc. One GREAT improvement over NEX models is that you now can magnify an image to check focus, and scroll through other shots keeping the same magnification and location in the frame. Again, much, much welcome improvement.

MarlaDec13-02OK, another big question : shutter sound. It is not half as loud as you expect it. But it sounds very weird, the shutter drags on like if you were shooting at slooow shutter speeds. And this, even as very high shutter speeds. Go figure… That being out of the way, the next biggest interrogation about this camera is about autofocus performance. In good light (mid day inside my kitchen) it was last generation m4/3 fast, which also means, DSLR fast. Yeah, really. I was impressed. Focus modes also offer more options than NEX models, AND you can change the size of the AF box (I use the middle size box, which I find a good compromise between accuracy and speed). Once you chose a physical control for them, you’ll have all your focus settings accessible at once (again, that’s brilliant). Chose the focus box size, your AF mode, move the box around or reset it to center with various keys, all from one first button push. Love it. As the light gets dimmer, the AF performance worsens significantly. I still find it better than NEX AF, but in the dark it’s nowhere as fast as it is in good light, that’s all.

TestA7-05Coming back from school witht the pooch..

I *really* need to run to be. To be continued tomorrow !!

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About marla2008

Shutterbug. Shallow DOF nut. Mother of Child. Student of the Horse.
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5 Responses to Sony A7 very first look – Part I

  1. Patrick says:

    Congrats! I envy you. I’ll get mine mid next year. Still saving up for it.

  2. marla2008 says:

    Patrick, at the rate time flies, you’ll be there before you even know it, and by then wrinkles will be ironed out, and prices settled down. You’re gonna love it 🙂

  3. Looks a cracking cam, love the review so far!!

  4. Dear Marla!
    Thank You for the reviews. After reading your writings here and Rishio’s http://www.rishio.com on the DPReview forum, I was convinced that my next camera should be a NEX7, when Sony announced the A7 and A7R promising that they are available in December this year (2013). I am very much keen to see the (happy) ending of your story with the A7: whether it is going to replace the NEX7 or not. It’s a great help to me that you are doing the “dirty job” of evaluating the A7, such an expensive camera. As a terrific and experienced photographer, your opinion is very important, especially since you do this for your own fun, not as paid reviewer. I’d never trust a full-time professional camera reviewer.
    Thank You so much again, Miki

    • marla2008 says:

      Thanks again for the kind words Miki, and yes of course you are right from your other comment as well, it IS the best time of the year to really push a camera’s limits and see what it has in its guts. What I meant is that it’s not an easy time to rapidly come to *love* a camera, since it only throws at it the most difficult stuff. You need not to wait months, or even weeks, for my enthusiasm to dwindle, I’m in the meaty part of my evaluation already, and there is no infatuation from me to the A7. Respect, yes, because it is a highly respectable piece of photgraphic engineering. And one must not judge a two day relationship like a one year affair, they are totally different things. The ease and blind trust I have now developed with my N7 weren’t created overnight, neither will be ease and comfort with the A7. But as of this morning I have yet tweaked little but important things that bring me closer to appreciating it. I’m adapting my expectations, too. I had the (wrong) assumption that all things were equal between FF 24MP sensors, and expected low light performance akin to the D600. It seems such is not the case, but I have to pull my few D600 files from my external drive to really look into them closely, as I might be embellishing things from memory, too. The one thing that remain is my unit to have a strong tendency to give a (NASTY !) yellow/green cast in WB in any complicated lighting. This could be sample related (I had one NEX 6 unit doing this, was promptly sold), I’ll have to play with someone else’s A7 to find out… It’s going to the stables today, which is pretty much my own Thom Hogan basketball test (Hi Thom !). From there we’ll now more.

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