OK… Let me say this right out of the gate. The Sony A7 and Sony A7R are FANTASTIC Cameras! If you’re a pro or advanced enthusiast photographer who demands the very best in image quality, and you have advanced photography/videography skills, then these full frame darlings may be just what you’re looking for. They offer great value for the money and match up very well when compared to their DSLR counterparts (and we’re talking the very top end DSLRs), and if you pick one up, I’m very confident that you’re going to love it (if you want to know more about the differences between the two models, see our earlier article here and watch the video above). But will the majority of shooters (including pros and advanced enthusiasts) ever really need a full frame sensor? Is a “full frame” sensor really necessary at all?
In the video above (courtesy of This Week in Photography), Head TWiP Frederick Van Johnson sits down with Gordon Laing of CameraLabs.com to share their first impressions of the new Sony full frame cameras, and discuss how they stack up against the competition – both the full frame DSLR variety and today’s top mirrorless systems.
My 2 Cents
Like I said at the top, the Sony A7 and Sony A7R are FANTASTIC Cameras, BUT… [controversial statement number 1] – In my opinion, the ultimate output of your camera’s sensor has as much to do with the processing engine as it does with the overall size of the sensor. Say it with me kids… the ultimate output of your camera’s sensor has as much to do with the processing engine as it does with the overall size of the sensor. [Forum Troll outrage commences in 3… 2… 1…]
I’m not going to get into a lengthy explanation of the above statement as I’ve already written an article on the subject that you can view here. What I will say is that mirrorless camera technology has advanced much faster and much farther over the last several years vs DSLRs, which have comparatively stood still, and this is a big reason why [controversial statement number 2] mirrorless systems are quickly making DSLRs, even full frame DSLRs, obsolete. They’re on the way out, folks… no kidding. [Smoke pours from Pixel Peeper’s ears]
In my opinion, the “full frame” sensors in these Sony cameras (although marvelous) are merely the latest marketing talking point, much like the number of megapixels was just a few years ago (and anyone who still thinks that you need more megapixels for better performance need only look at what you’ll get from the 16mp Sony NEX 6 vs the 24mp Sony NEX-7).
Once again, the Sony A7 and Sony A7R are FANTASTIC Cameras, BUT… So are the Pansonic Lumix GH3, the Panasonic Lumix GX7, The Olympus OM-D E-M1, the Fuji X-E2 , the Sony NEX 6, and even the Pansonic Lumix G6, which is ostensibly a mid-range camera (and a steal at it’s current price of only $498 USD!). Although each is equipped with sensors that are much smaller than the 35mm sensor in the Sony A7 and Sony A7R, great things come in these smaller packages. They feature advanced autofocus systems and deliver spectacular image quality that will rival most any camera on the market – and they’ll be more than enough for 99% of the photo and video pros in the world, much less enthusiasts. Heck, there have been big screen quality movies shot in the last couple years using nothing but a Panasonic Lumix GH2, and that’s a 3 year old camera.
It’s leaps and bounds like this, plus the fact that mirrorless systems are smaller, lighter and less expensive with no compromise on quality, that have pro photographers moving into mirrorless. Combine that with the abundance of high quality lenses that are also smaller. lighter and less expensive (especially in the case of micro 4/3 cameras), and you have a powerful combination that’s hard to overlook. That’s why highly renowned photographers like Frederick and Gordon above, and others like Zack Arias, Trey Ratcliff, David Hobby and Hybrid Heroes like Suzette Allen, Giulio Sciorio, Marc Hauser, Will Crockett, and even yours truly, have all gotten into mirrorless. About the only area where a DSLR might still be preferable to a mirrorless system today is in fast action sports, but we’re just a software update and a lens or two away from that gap being erased.
But aren’t there more pixels on a 35 mm sensor?
Well, of course there are. At least, today. Sensor developers are constantly learning to do more with less real estate. Like I said, those processing engines are just getting better and better, and unless you’re planning on blowing up your image to fit on your garage door, you’ll be hard pressed to tell the difference between full frame and smaller sensors. [Pixel Peeper stomps foot in disagreement]
Don’t take my word for it. Grab a couple of these cameras and test them out for yourself.
Like Frederick and Gordon, I too am a micro 4/3 user and was drawn to that system for many of the same reasons that Gordon mentions in the video – great image quality, abundance of high quality lenses, smaller, lighter, less expensive (you might notice a recurring theme, here). What really got me into M43 though, was the ease of shooting high quality HD video. The Fuji cameras don’t have as many lenses from which to choose, but the ones they do have are absolutely first rate, and the image quality from the X-Trans sensors is in a league all it’s own. As for Sony, well… their sensors are top notch, no matter what the size.
If you’re a pro or enthusiast photographer who’s moving into mirrorless from a full frame DSLR and you have a large supply of legacy lenses, then the Sony A7 or Sony A7R may be just what you’re looking for as you lenses can be easily adapted by using a Metabones, or other adapter. Of course, they make Metabones Speedbooster and other adapters for micro 4/3 and Fuji cameras as well that will focus the light from a full frame legacy lens onto a smaller sensor. In the end, the A7 and A7R are great picks for a serious photographer who demands the absolute best in quality, but the same can be said for the other cameras I’ve listed as well. I would highly recommend picking up any one of these, especially before getting a DSLR. They’re all great Hybrid cameras that will do you proud in both photo and video. As for how much resolution you truly need, that decision is up to you.