Wi-Fi and Remote Capture

If you've used the NEX-5R/5T or NEX-6, then you'll be quite familiar with the a7's Wi-Fi implementation. The camera can be controlled via your smartphone, which can also be used to share your photos. Sony also offers downloadable 'apps' (some free, some not) which add additional features to the camera. Thanks to NFC (near-field communication), you can interact with the a7 simply by 'tapping' your smartphone against it.

An additional feature that enthusiasts will appreciate is remote control from your Mac or PC.

Connecting to open access points is easy. Protected networks will require entering passwords via the tiny on-screen keyboard.

Before you can use any of those things, you must connect to a Wi-Fi network. That's easy enough, as the a7 will display a list of access points for you to choose from. If you have to enter a password, you'll do so using the on-screen keyboard (which is pretty clunky). If you're lucky enough to have a wireless router with a WPS button, you can just press that and select the appropriate option on the camera, and you're online.

You can also use your smartphone as the 'bridge' to the Internet. You can do this by 'tapping' the phone against the NFC symbol on the camera, or by joining the a7's network by selecting its SSID.

Once you're connected to a network, you'll be presented with a screen that should resemble what's shown above. When this review was written, there were just a few apps available. Smart Remote Control is built into the camera, while Direct Upload (along with the services it connects to) requires a download. Also visible above are links to the PlayMemories Camera App Store and an organizing tool.

In the wireless settings (NFC option) you can choose which application is loaded when you 'tap' your phone against the camera.

The PlayMemories App Store can be browsed directly on the camera over Wi-Fi (shown at left) or from your desktop computer.

Many will find a Mac or PC to be easier to use, as navigating the store on the small display is difficult (and let's not even start on the keyboard).

At the time of writing, there are fourteen PlayMemories Camera Apps available for download, eight of which are compatible with the a7. While some apps are free (such as Smart Remote Control and Direct Upload), others (such as Time Lapse) may set you back up to $10. On a camera in this price range, we feel that these functions should not be optional extras.

PlayMemories Mobile

As its name implies, this app allows you to operate the Alpha 7 via your smartphone or tablet. Naturally, you'll first need to install PlayMemories Mobile onto your iOS or Android device. Once installed you'll have limited control over the a7, though it gets the job done. We also updated the Smart Remote Control app on the camera itself, which added additional functionality over what was built into our camera.

While PlayMemories Mobile can be used with your smartphone held vertically, you'll get a much better view of the scene in the horizontal orientation (at least if you're shooting with the camera in landscape format). Touching the shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, or ISO info at the bottom of the screen will allow for quick adjustment

If you were hoping to adjust every camera setting via the PlayMemories Mobile app, you're out of luck. You can adjust exposure, ISO, white balance, and things like the self-timer and size of the image transferred, but that's about it. You can adjust additional settings by using the camera itself. In the version of the app that we tested, movies could not be recorded, though Sony hinted that this feature may be added later.

The Direct Upload app (for the camera) lets you upload photos to Facebook, Flickr, or Sony's own sharing service.

Something else you can do with PlayMemories Mobile is send photos on to Flickr, Facebook, or PlayMemories Online (Sony's own service). To use this, you first must download the Direct Upload app onto your camera. If you want to upload to Flickr, that's an additional app to put onto the camera. Confused yet?

Strangely enough, one thing you cannot do via the camera is e-mail your photos. You can get around this by sending photos from the a7 to your mobile device (again, using the PMM app), at which point they can be forwarded on to friends and family. If you have an NFC-enabled smartphone, selected photos can be transferred by tapping the two devices together - pretty cool.

PC control

The most robust remote control system for the a7 is via Sony's RemoteCameraControl application for Mac OS and Windows. This doesn't work over Wi-Fi - rather, you'll use an old-fashioned USB cable.

RemoteCameraControl lets you adjust a lot of camera settings, but is missing one very helpful feature.

RemoteCameraControl allows you to set the drive mode, white balance (with fine-tuning), and even HDR. Behind that stopwatch-looking button is a robust time-lapse feature.

The main issue with this application is that there's no live preview - unlike with Canon and Nikon's software - so you need to have the camera close by if you want to see what you're about to photograph.