So far mirrorless cameras have been mostly a APS-C or smaller affair with even the most high end camera coming in at just over $1000. There hasn’t been a full frame camera really designed at the professional market the way DSLRs have. That is until today. Sony has announced two full frame mirrorless cameras for its Alpha line, the A7 and A7R and the new FE-Mount platform. Make no mistake, this is a shot across the bow of every other camera maker on the planet.
Before talking about the cameras themselves, I have to talk about the platform. No, it doesn’t stand for ferrum, the latin designation for iron. Its much simpler than that. Its a Full-frame version of Sony E-mount found on the the NEX and the four digit Alphas like the A3000. While having the 35mm sized full frame sensor, the new mount still maintains compatibility with the 24mm APS-C E-mount lenses. This will allow NEX users to move up and start taking pictures while both the manufacturer and the photographer build up their selection of FE-mount lenses. The full frame lenses will also fit the smaller APS-C cameras.
The A7-series is very much rooted in the NEX series in terms of feature set. They feature an easy to use interface and include Wi-Fi, NFC, and smartphone integration. The interface though, can be switched to a manual mode for the expert photographer. Through the same Play Memories app that controls the QX-Series clip on cameras, you can use your smartphone as a wireless remote shutter control. Also like the NEX-series they are much smaller and lighter than a comparable DSLR camera. In the presentation, they were dwarfed by Sony’s top of the line DSLR the A99. Somehow though, they managed to fit in a dizzying array of button and dials for manual control that can be customized to the user’s preference.
That is where the comparison to the NEX line ends and this takes its place as a working man’s camera. Unlike the consumer version, these are fully dust and moisture sealed and ruggedized. You won’t have to baby them. The A7 features a 24.3 megapixel 35mm sensor with a hybrid autofocus. The body features a magnesium alloy frame. For the user wanting a step up, there’s the A7R which honestly should have been called the A9 to avoid confusion. it features a 36.4mp sensor with no power low pass filter. A metal front plate for this model has been added so that the camera can keep up with the heaviest glass lenses out there. The cameras also have a BOINZ X processor to aid the sensors.
Like all modern cameras, these are also designed for video. They have a full array of ports including 3.5mm in and out and HDMI. The camera has internal level control and live through the HDMI. The camera shoots 1080p at 60 frames in the AVCHD format. For viewing, it has both a 2.4million dot OLED viewfinder and a 3.0” LCD screen. The screen is tilt-able, but sadly does not swivel out.
Lenses and Accessories
Sony also announced a number of new lenses and accessories for this camera and the FE-mount. First up is a f/4.0 24-70mm zoom lens from Carl Zeiss ($1200). They will also be offering a f/2.8 35mm lens ($800) and 55mm f/1.8 ($1000). Sony is offering a 28-70 f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens that is available in a package with the A7. Sony is also added a couple of 70-200mm telephoto G-lenses in both f/2.8 and f/4.0 whose pricing is TBA. There will also be a couple of lens adaptors available for A-Mount lenses. There’s the $200 LA-EA3 which is a pure mount adaptor. Then there is the EA4 for $350 which adds a translucent mirror like the Alpha series to the mix for autofocus. It effectively turns any FE or E-mount camera into a DSLR. Also available is a vertical grip for about $300 which take a pair of W-series batteries for extended battery life and a better grip.
Pricing and Availability
Both cameras will be offered in the US starting this december. The A7 camera body costs $1700 and the 28-70mm kit is 300 bones more at an even $2000. The higher end A7R will be offered only as a body for $2300. The vertical grip, case, and lens adaptors will ship with it. The lenses will be out in either December or January, depending on the lens.
Every so often, an industry goes through a disruptive event that shakes things up considerably. With photography, the last one was the advent of digital cameras taking over for film SLRs. Fortunately for the industry, there were certain elements that transferred over and the players mainly remained the same. The A7-series full frame cameras could definitely be classified as disruptive. They play right where the DSLRs do with the DSLR features in a much more portable package. They might take another couple generations, but mirrorless full frame is the future and Nikon/Canon should take this as a message. Sony has a leg up on everyone else for the future and could be positing itself as the next dominant player. The days of mirrorless as a hobby are over.