Thursday, 9 January 2014

Sony Alpha 7 review (preview)

Sony Alpha 7 at a glance:

  • 24.3-million-pixel, full-frame sized CMOS sensor

  • 2.4-million-dot electronic viewfinder

  • ISO 100-25,600 (extended to ISO 50)

  • 117-point phase-detect AF system with 25 contrast-detection points

  • 5fps high-speed mode

  • Street price around £1,549 with 28-70mm kit lens

Sony Alpha 7 – Introduction

Along with the 36.4-million-pixel Alpha 7R that we tested at the end of last year (AP 14 December), Sony also gave us the 24.3-million-pixel Alpha 7. While sharing many of the same key features as the Alpha 7R, including the same design and a virtually identical build, the Alpha 7 also has a few new features of its own. Not only that, but it’s the most affordable full-frame camera yet.

Sony Alpha 7 – Features

Unlike the Alpha 7R, whose 36.4-million-pixel sensor omitted an anti-aliasing filter, the Alpha 7 uses a more conventional 24.3-million-pixel, full-frame CMOS sensor. As we’ve seen with a number of cameras recently, including the Canon EOS 70D and Olympus OM-D E-M1, the Alpha 7′s sensor features on-chip phase-detection AF with 117 phase-detection points, which combines with the Alpha 7′s 25-point contrast-detection AF system. The result is the Alpha 7′s hybrid Fast Intelligent AF system, which is married to a new Bionz X image processor that is 3x faster than the previous chip and promises to make AF tracking effortless. However, the AF is only sensitive down to 0EV light levels, which is not quite as good as the -1EV of the D610 or the -3EV offered by the Canon EOS 6D, so it will be interesting to see how it copes in poor light.

The Bionz X processor also helps the Alpha 7 achieve a burst rate of 5fps, which is good, although it is perhaps a little disappointing to see this drop to a pedestrian 2.5fps if you want AF and exposure active between shots. The new processor also offers diffraction-reducing technology when saving JPEG images. This technology helps correct the softness that can be caused as you stop the lens down beyond its sweet spot, while Sony has also tinkered with the algorithm for the area-specific noise reduction, which varies the level of noise reduction applied across an image in an effort to retain more detail at higher sensitivities. The Alpha 7 offers a native ISO of 100-25,600, which can be expanded to an ISO equivalent of 50-25,600.

The Alpha 7 uses the same E lens mount as previous Sony NEX compact system cameras, but existing lenses will have heavy vignetting or will need to be used in a 10-million-pixel crop mode, as they are designed to be used with the smaller APS-C-sized sensors of NEX cameras.

A range of new full-frame, E-mount lenses, designated ‘FE’, is available for the new camera, with the Alpha 7 coming bundled in a kit with the 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens. There is also a trio of Zeiss lenses to choose from in the form of the 35mm f/2.8, 55mm f/1.8 and 24-70mm f/4 OSS. These will be followed by a Sony G-series 70-200mm f/4 OSS and, by the end of 2014, Sony hopes to have at least ten dedicated lenses in its line-up.

Sony A-mount lenses can be mounted on the Alpha 7 via the new LA-EA3 adapter, which offers contrast-detection AF with lenses that feature built-in focus motors, and the LA-EA4 adapter, which features Sony’s translucent mirror technology to offer AF with all lenses.

There’s no built-in flash on the Alpha 7, but it does have the multi-interface hotshoe used on other current Sony cameras. Those with older flashguns that feature the Minolta/Sony hotshoe contact will need an adapter.

The Alpha 7 supports Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, allowing images to be shared easily with a smartphone or tablet, while the dedicated app for both Android and iOS allows you to control the camera remotely.

Read the full Sony Alpha 7 review in AP, 18 January 2014 issue

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