Sony A7 and A7R – Are These New Full Frame Mirrorless Cameras Just Overkill? (CONTROVERSIAL STATEMENT WARNING!)

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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.

Conclusion

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.

Order the Sony A7, Sony A7R, the Pansonic Lumix GH3, the Panasonic Lumix GX7, The Olympus OM-D E-M1, the Fuji X-E2 , the Sony NEX 6, and the Pansonic Lumix G6 on Amazon Here

Comments

Michael Gowin says:

“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.”

Pretty much.

I switched from full-frame Nikon gear to M43 Olympus and Panasonic gear and–guess what?–I can still make really nice photographs. And now I can shoot HD video as well, something I couldn’t do with my Nikon gear.

Steve Solomon says:

Good article, and I agree with Michael’s comments about HD Video being more “seamless” on mirrorless systems. However, one thing that I rarely see mentioned when comparing or contemplating switching to mirrorless from the DSLR, is the fact that mirrorless systems need no AF Micro-Adjustment!! Since the image is focused directly on the sensor, and no mirror/prisms in the path, there is never that nagging concern about “Did I achieve optimum sharpness (focus) with this particular lens?” That is the ONE reason that would prompt me to switch over from the DSLR! That said though, I recognize that most high-end DSLRs do have the AF Micro-Adjustment function, as well as 3rd party lens makers such as Sigma, with their new Art lenses with USB Docking Station that permits very fine control of AF correction. However, the prospect of never having to take the time to adjust AF for any lens, is admittedly enticing! But, I still have much time invested in Nikon, and especially with the no OLPF models like the D5300, and a very sharp lens like one of the Micro-Nikkors, I still find it hard to believe that equivalent image quality can be obtained from the smaller 4/3 sensor, in particular, for very large prints! Though I do love the ergonomics (and weather-sealing) of cameras like the Oly EM-1 and Fuji XT-1. Decisions, decisions!

Martin says:

Sensor size has absolutely nothing to do with the number of pixel, but everything to do with dynamic range, low light sensitivity and noise free high iso photography. Image processor? You can’t process information that isn’t there to begin with. While I appreciate the spirit with which this article was written, it is badly researched.

Hi Martin,

Thanks for your feedback, although I’m going to have to respectfully agree to disagree with you.

Frankly, there have been some incredible advancements in sensor and processing tech (not to mention an abundance of killer lenses, which are also a big part of the equation) over the last few years that have greatly narrowed, if not erased, the gap between “Full Frame” sensors and those of the smaller variety – including low light sensitivity and dynamic range. So my point is, there’s a lot of options for folks to make great images. As for research, I work with a group of highly renowned professionals who have moved over to mirrorless (cameras with smaller sensors), and have hands on experience with just about every contemporary camera imaginable, including “full frame” DSLRs. Believe me, they’re not about to compromise image quality, dynamic range, low light performance or any other area just for the sake of being hip or trendy. While I’m sure that some lab somewhere has some scientific studies or charts that differ from my analysis and that’s all well and good, my associates and I are in the business of selling images, not DxOMark rankings.

Please don’t misconstrue my message. I’m not trying to put down DSLRs or even full frame mirrorless cameras – they’re wonderful stuff. I’m just pointing out that the smaller sensored cameras are delivering too, in a big way. But don’t take my word for it, go out and get your hands on a Fuji X-E2, Panasonic GX7, Olympus OM-D or a Sony NEX-6 and see for yourself.

Paul Gero says:

Hi Scott…Thanks for sharing this. It is a fascinating time in the development of photography. There are so many great cameras out in all formats ranging from M43 to Medium Format. All will do a great job, it’s now a matter of personal tastes and preferences in terms of which camera/system/format will do the job for each photographer.

So many choices — so many great ones and so much that can be DONE with these new tools. I’m very excited about what is possible!

Paul

I think you hit the nail right on the head, Paul!

There are so many great tools out there for photo and video pros to use. Choose the one that works best for you and go make images! ヅ

SG

Beth says:

I believe that you misspoke when you said “lenses can be easily adapted by using a Metabones Speedbooster.” Metabones Speedboosters are clever focal reducers (containing expensive fancy optics) for putting all of the image of a full frame lens onto an APS-C roughly half size sensor like those of the NEX cameras; it would be pointless to use a Metabones Speedbooster with full frame Sony A7 and A7r cameras, as roughly half the sensor (except for the center) would get no light.

What you meant to say is that Metabones (and others such as Rayqual and Novoflex) also makes much less expensive non-Speedbooster adapters (which are empty tubes with no optics) for putting full frame lenses with a variety of mounts onto Sony E mount full frame cameras, i.e., the Sony A7 and A7r.

Hi Beth…

Great catch, and yes, you’re absolutely right. I put in the Speedbooster twice when I meant to only put it in once. I guess I’ve just had Speedboosters on the brain. I’ll make the correction ASAP.

Thanks!

SG

laddrob says:

Hi,
It seems to me that this debate is pretty much the same as a debate between 35mm and larger format film photography. If you are Ansel Adams, you probably don’t want to shoot micro four thirds. But if you Cartier-Bresson or Andre Kertesz, you do. Photographers who chose to shoot with 35mm cameras were (are) no less “professional” than those who used larger formats.
Bob

Will Crockett says:

Scott is right on here, once again. The processor that drives the sensor is just as important as the sensor itself. As a pro shooter than uses an M43 system in a real portrait studio that makes 20 inch and greater exhibition grade prints every day, the “full frame sensor” discussion means very little to me. I don’t need it, nor do I want a ff sensor because it will slow my workflow down. We move wired or wireless from camera to computer for edit, then over the wireless network to get to the printer room, then a back up copy to Zenfolio for our full size file backup system. A smaller file will move faster. I can make the big prints I need now using an M43 and make clients happy. Please, if you are unfamiliar with my work, go to ChicagoPortrait.pro and see. All jpeg from m43 shot in one one long photo sessions on busy saturdays.
My thought is that the Sony feels good in your hands and you are OK with all the goofy lens mount / adapter stuff {I’m not an adapter fan} then go for it and have a great day. Or if you somehow have it in your mind that the bigger sensor will help you take a better picture then by goodness go use it. Under real life conditions, like my studio, it’s just marketing hype to have a ff sensor. Nothing more. If you prefer the Fuji XT or Lumix GH3, go with that.
Pros need to shoot smarter, not harder and looks to me like in my studio this ff sensor is not going to help me make more money. The smallest file needed to make an excellent quality print or an excellent quality eProduct is the smart way to go. Thanks!

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