Sony Alpha 7 Review
For the most part, the a7's feature-set resembles that of cameras like the NEX-6 and NEX-7. While the majority of a7 users won't be using Auto modes, the camera has a fair of well-implemented point-and-shoot modes, named Intelligent and Superior Auto. There are also customizable 'Creative Styles' as well as 'Picture Effects', which is where you'll find things like toy camera and selective color.
Below we've selected some features that will be of most interest to the enthusiasts who are considering the a7.
Non-native lens support
Thanks to Sony's release of the E-mount specifications, a plethora of third-party lens adapters is now available. The Alpha 7 is, by far, the least expensive way of using 35mm film lenses such that they offer their originally intended field-of-view - the 'acme' of the trend of using old lenses on mirrorless camera. Sony offers a number of tools to support manual focus of these lenses, including magnified view, focus peaking, or the combination of the two.
When shooting older - especially fast primes - 'wide open', accurate focus can be a challenge, even with the availability of magnified focus view and peaking. To have any chance at all you really do need to be in magnified focus mode, but a typical 'classic' prime made for film is likely to be pretty hazy wide open, much more so than a modern native FE lens. As a consequence, depending on the specific lens that you're trying to use on the a7, you might find that it doesn't always deliver enough contrast for focus peaking to bite onto until the aperture is stopped down a little.
|View our gallery of Sony Alpha 7 / 7R photos taken with third-party lenses|
You'll certainly need to set peaking to 'high' for the best chance of getting it to work. With focus magnification activated and peaking set to 'low' or 'medium', you're unlikely to see any highlighted edges at all. Set to 'high' we've found that the system has a decent chance of highlighting some edges, typically non-organic edges like text, but softer subjects, like the features of someone's face, frequently just don't deliver enough contrast for peaking to work reliably at any of its three settings.
Regardless, the fact remains that turning peaking up to high is your best chance for accurate manual focus with this kind of lens in magnified live view mode, and as such it's the setting we'd recommend. Sadly, 'high' peaking isn't very useful in normal (unmagnified) live view mode, and generally plasters peaking highlights all over the scene across a very wide range of focus. It is entirely possible for focus peaking to outline pretty much everything in the viewfinder at its 'high' setting but for your image to be magnificently out of focus when you look closely.
Ideally, when working with older lenses 'wide open' we'd love the option to separately define a peaking level of 'low' for normal unmagnified live view, and 'high' for the magnified view. Hopefully this can be added via a firmware update.
For more on this topic, read our 'Using third-party lenses on Sony a7 / a7R' article.
Electronic first curtain
The electronic first curtain - which is not found on the a7R - shortens the lag between shutter releases by eliminating the step of lowering the shutter before the photo is taken. The difference between having the e-Front curtain on and off isn't huge, but if you keep mashing the shutter release (with autofocus turned off), you'll probably sense it. This feature also makes the a7 a bit quieter when shooting. The maximum shutter speed of 1/8000 sec isn't affected by the e-Front curtain setting.
There are two cases in which Sony recommends turning this feature off. The first is when using high shutter speeds when using a large diameter lens, with which ghosting might occur. The other time you'll want to disable it is when using third-party lenses, as you may otherwise get uneven or inaccurate exposure.
Classic Sony Features
Despite being a higher-end camera, the a7 still has many features from the NEX line. These include HDR, Sweep Panorama, and multi-shot layering
The HDR feature takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure. The interval between each shot can be ±1EV to ±6EV. As one might expect, you cannot use HDR in Raw or Raw+JPEG mode. Here's an example of the a7's HDR feature:
|HDR off, ISO 100, 1/125 sec, f/8||HDR on, auto setting|
As you can see, the HDR feature, at the 'auto' setting, nicely balanced out the contrast. The HDR version of the photo does look slightly 'fake', though, so you might want to adjust this one manually if that's a problem. In our NEX-6 review you can see how each HDR step affects the final image.
Sweep Panorama was the first feature of its kind, and Sony's implementation is one of the best. You can pan the camera in any direction, with your choice of standard or wide angles-of-view. When shooting left or right, the resolution of standard and wide images are 8192 x 1856 and 12416 x 1856, respectively.
|Sweep Panorama, standard size, ISO 100, 1/500 sec, f/4.5|
In the example above, the a7 produced a panorama with no major artifacts. There's also a moving subject near the far right of the frame, which didn't get sliced into multiple pieces.
One thing we noticed about Sweep Panorama on the a7 is that it's fairly noisy (as is the shutter in general), and that you have to pan a bit slower than on, say, a 'regular' NEX camera.
There are several multi-shot modes on the Alpha 7, in addition to HDR. Two similar features are Hand-held Twilight and Anti Motion Blur, which aim to reduce blur by combining a series of four exposures into one. The difference between these two features is that Anti Motion Blur takes subject motion into account, which may result in a higher sensitivity being used, in order to ensure a sharper photo.
Multi Frame NR, which is for JPEG shooting only, combines multiple images into a single photo with reduced noise.
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