Leica Killer and New Industry Benchmark? What Sony’s First Modern Full-Frame Interchangeable Lens Cameras Mean

Sony does it again. Newcomer Sony’s again the camera brand that innovates and thinks ahead. As rumors and industry sources suggested since last year and as Andrea of SonyAlphaRumors promised us over the course of the past few weeks, Sony is about to create a whole new playing field for high-end cameras. This week Sony announces the full-frame mirrorless A7 and A7R interchangeable lens system cameras. First clear images leaked by Digicame-Info confirm a not too NEXish and yet slightly retro camera body that will please modernists and traditionalists alike. And pros and enthusiasts alike will be tempted to reassess their gear. The A7 has a 24MP sensor with phase detection AF, the A7R has 36MP with no PDAF and no anti-aliasing filter. In other words: paired with the right glass you’ll get a quality that’s about to match medium format. In a compact package. For not even $2k the A7 kit and $2.2k the A7R body only.

Sony A7R with Zeiss Sonnar 35mm F2.8 | www.digicame-info.com
Sony A7R with Zeiss Sonnar 35mm F2.8 | www.digicame-info.com

Sony did it. Sony did what others thought impossible. (Micro) Four Thirds a few years ago decided a 50% equivalence in terms of 35mm “full-frame” sensor will be good enough and is the perfect sensor size for a new digital photography system designed from scratch.

The majority of camera makers bet on the bigger APS-C sensor size with 1.5x and 1.6x crop factors. Digital imager technology improved. Smaller sensors delivered cleaner, more accurate color rendition, but Sony tried to think outside the box and listened to the market; to photographers who equate 35mm with photography.

First Sony surprised with the large sensor RX100 (II), called the “best pocket camera ever made” by the New York Times.

Then the RX1(R), world’s most compact full-frame camera. Not yet a Leica killer because of the fixed lens. But Sony knew all along they’re onto something, despite the relatively high price levels.

Over the course of the past year they reprioritized their development strategy. The RX100 and RX1 were teasers to gauge the market for the real thing: a full-frame mirrorless interchangeable lens camera system, a.k.a. the single digit A.

Sony A7 with 28-70mm F3.5-5.6 OSS | www.digicame-info.com
Sony A7 with 28-70mm F3.5-5.6 OSS | www.digicame-info.com

The A7 and A7R will probably beat the D800‘s performance — Nikon’s flaghship equipped with Sony sensors –, for less money, with less weight. Weather-sealed, built like a tank. For a third of what a Leica M costs, the so far only direct competitor.

A newcomer only a few years ago, Sony pulls all the right strings to become tomorrow’s dominant player. That doesn’t mean they’ll have to sell most cameras. For Sony it’s equally good business to sell sensor and imaging technology to “competitors.” Chances are whatever camera or smartphone you’re shooting with: it already is or will be a partial Sony.

And yes, this A7 viewfinder looks big and bright. Add the grip, minimalist ergonomics, no more buttons and functions than you absolutely need… and you got Sony’s formula for success where tradition and heritage meet technology and the future.

Maybe Fujifilm has something similar in the making. Canon? Nikon? The rest? Sony won’t be able to produce enough of these As.

The crux are the size and speed of the lenses. All in due time. This Zeiss Sonnar 35mm F2.8 already looks like a winner. And don’t forget, these A will work beautifully with legacy glass.

  • amalric

    Not sure at all that the last sentence is true. Microlenses on sensor will help legacy wides, but it will be a case by case affair.
    Also the lenses shown by Sony are slow and relatively cumbersome. That is the problem of 35mm, no matter what.
    It also remains to be seen how reactive tthe new cameras are. Clearly a bigger frame in mirrorless doesn’t help AF, or IBIS, which is lacking.

  • callibrator

    “The A7 and A7R will probably beat the D800‘s performance…”

    I’m not exactly sure how did you get to this conclusion.

  • JakeB

    Dan you’re starting to sound like an over excited teenager, not to mention a fanboy.

    This isn’t the Dan I used to come here to listen to in the past, anymore.

  • That’s embarrassing if I convey an impression to get carried away. Maybe the excellent Primitivo Merlot / Tarantino I just enjoyed is partially to blame. Sorry for that.

    Dan’s still the same. Since the start of this site I’m carefully enthusiastic about Sony. In fact this article is no blind Sony praise. It’s a call to arms for other camera makers to better shape up.

    Why not talk again in five years or so. This is just the beginning of Sony imaging. They made some questionable choices thus far, but all in all they’ll outperform the industry.

    The strategic alliance with Zeiss, the enlargement of sensors, innovations such as SLT, etc. now, the A7 and A7R are just the continuation of forward-thinking approaches and a steady pursuit towards imaging excellence.

    Back in the days when no one was taking Sony for real, they contacted working photographers, equipped them with gear and sponsored assignments with the aim to get unbiased, constructive, potentially harsh feedback.

    Every camera maker does it, but what I can tell from talking to such photographers is: Sony really listens to them.

  • Should read: “… the D800’s sensor performance…,” not processing, fps or other speeds.

  • dierk

    Dan, be a “excited teenager” !!!

    There is nothing wrong to be exited with something, that you like or love.
    I am exited too (and just had a glass of Merlot :) and can’t wait to get my A7r and try my Leica and Zeiss glass on it.

    This whole thing is about emotions and not any rational figures, unless they help you to justify your desire.


  • Bengt Nyman

    I have been cheering and waiting for a high IQ FF mirrorless with interchangeable lenses for over a year now. I hope the A7 does not disappoint like the NEX7 and the RX1 did. It is very unlikely that the A7(r) beats the D800(e) in DxO testing, however, if it even comes close it will make a great alternative for light travel and for shooting noise sensitive theater and music venues.

  • One More Thought

    There is nothing wrong with showing enthusiasm when enthusiasm is merited. This Sony release merits such excitement and enthusiasm.

  • Bengt Nyman

    The deciding factor will be lenses. Depending on your type of photography and what focal length and preferred aperture your present “preferred lens” offers, you may or may not find the equivalent among Sony lenses.

    The belief that legacy lenses on thick adapters should do well is not correct. The pixel optics on the A7 is optimized for A7’s short flange distance, large sensor and consequently very divergent back end ray trace.

    This is a compromise in itself and the pixel optics used to compensate for it will help native lenses but hurt all lenses designed for a longer flange distance.
    Whether the front end of the lens is wide angle or telephoto makes little difference since the back end ray trace is similar on both.