Sony A7C review: Smart, small and clumsy
With the introduction of the A7S III, Sony has proven that it still dominates the full-frame mirrorless camera market despite impressive competing products from Canon. On the APS-C side, however, the same cameras are being built over and over again from recycled parts from previous models, with the only real improvements being the autofocus system.
When Sony announced the A7C, I feared it could go in that direction with its full-frame cameras too. The "C" is compact and has a smaller body similar to the A6600, while using the A7 III's 24-megapixel sensor and other older parts. It also offers A7 III-like specifications for 4K video, recording speeds, and more. Similar to the A6600, the main improvement is a faster autofocus system with improved subject tracking.
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At $ 1,800, the A7C is $ 200 cheaper than the A7 III at launch. Today, however, the price of the A7 III has dropped, so both cost the same. So the question is, should you get the smaller A7C with improved autofocus, the larger A7 III with more physical dials, or a different camera altogether? To find out, I shot it in Paris.
Body and handling
A lot of people wanted Sony to change the design of their APS-C camera to look like the more classic A7 design, but we have the opposite - an A7 camera that looks like the A6600. In fact, the A7C is only slightly larger than the A6600 crop sensor and much smaller than any other A7-series camera. At just 509 grams, it is the lightest full-frame camera in the world, compared to 650 grams for the A7 III.
With this tiny body, it was easier to carry than the A7 III and more discreet for tourist and street photography. Note that many of Sony's best full-frame FE lenses are heavy aside from a few like the 30mm f / 2.0 model and the new 28-60mm f / 3.5-5, 6 kit lens. To keep the case so small and light, the A7C lacks a front dial, joystick and other manual controls.
Because of this, I had to operate the three main dials with my thumb, which definitely slowed my shooting. In the meantime, the lack of a joystick meant I had to use the D-pad to change focus when looking through the viewfinder, an inelegant solution. However, some of the other autofocus features make up for this, as I'll explain in a moment.
You can adjust the focus point with the touchscreen, but it does not respond very quickly. And unlike the A7S III, it doesn't support touch for menus or other functions. However, it flips and rotates completely, which makes the A7C a good vlogging camera.
Sample images of a mirrorless Sony A7C camera
The greatly improved menu system of the A7S III was also not achieved. Instead, Sony kept the confusing menus that I hated so much on the A7 III. With all of the extra scrolling and fiddling it takes to find settings, you'll want to set up the custom menus and buttons before using this camera.
Another problem that will bother hybrid shooters is the lack of separation between photo and video modes. With other new cameras such as the Panasonic S5, the Canon R6 and the Sony A7C III, all corresponding settings are changed by switching. The A7C keeps everything, so you'll have to use a custom mode to keep the still and movie modes apart.
The electronic viewfinder is also not a strength. Without a central hump as with other A7 cameras, the EVF is pushed into the left corner. As a result, it's small and doesn't have a decent eyecup. The resolution is also not very good at 2.36 million points compared to the 3.69 million point EVF on Fujifilm's cheaper X-T4. Although it improves the EVF of the A7 III by doubling the refresh rate to 120 Hz, it is not as pleasant to use due to its small size and large magnification.
Sony undoubtedly made these compromises to keep the A7C's price and size down, which is fair enough. Fortunately, there is no compromise on the battery, which is the larger NP-FZ1000 found on the A7S III and A7R IV. An impressive 680 shots can be fired on a single charge, pushing the area for the DSLR, compared to 610 for the A7 III. I also got a respectable hour and 55 minutes of 4K video footage for a fee.
After all, it only has a single card slot, which isn't ideal for professional photographers who need a backup. However, it's on the side rather than in the battery compartment like the A6600 and supports fast UHS II card speeds.
Sample images of a mirrorless Sony A7C camera
Since they use the same sensor, Bionz X image processor, and 693-point phase-detection AF system, it's no surprise that the A7C works similarly to the A7 III. That said, it has similar burst speeds of 10 fps, image quality, and low-light sensitivity. However, the A7C has some improvements in terms of buffering, autofocus performance, and image stabilization.
First of all, the A7C can withstand longer series than the A7 III because it has a larger buffer that can hold up to 115 RAW images, compared to 89 for the A7 III, which allows for a series of over 11 seconds. It clears a little faster, so you can shoot again sooner. You also get the latest Sony AF algorithms, including the eerie subject tracking system found on the A7S III and other newer models.
Regardless of whether you are chasing racing cars, birds, or people, it will remain stubbornly attached to the subject after you touch it to select your focus point. It also works quickly and smoothly, so this camera is fantastic for sports, wildlife, or any other genre of action.
Sample images of a mirrorless Sony A7C camera
As with all of Sony's other newer cameras, face and eye tracking is smoother and more accurate than its competitors - both animals and humans. While Canon has improved its autofocus significantly with the R6 and R5, Sony's is still a bit faster, smoother and more reliable.
The A7C has a brand new five-axis image stabilization system that is designed to work with the smaller body of the A7C. It offers 5.5 levels of camera shake reduction for photos, good for shots down to 1/15 of a second or a little less. No videos are processed either, but more on that later.
Another small difference between the A7C and the A7 III is the lack of a mechanical lock. Instead, the A7C has an electronic hybrid shutter, which at high shutter speeds can sometimes lead to minor artifacts with a blurred background. Personally, I haven't noticed any issues and I doubt the average user will, but purists might hate it.
So far, the A7C's performance is equal to or better than the A7 III's, while handling and control are worse. However, what matters to most people is what the photos look like.
As mentioned earlier, the A7 III and A7C use the same sensor and processor so the image quality is similar to what you can imagine. When I tested the A7 III for the first time, I was impressed with its image quality and its poor lighting conditions. However, it has been over two and a half years since I did this review.
The A7C is undoubtedly still a great camera in low light. Depending on the subject, I was able to take useful pictures at ISO 12,800 and higher with little visible noise. That makes it good for concerts, dark rooms, or at night, even with a slow kit lens like the 28-60mm f / 3.5-5.6 model sold with the camera.
However, in 2020 there are many more competitive and competing models like the Canon R6, Nikon Z6 II, and Panasonic S5 that now have similar ISO capabilities. Nevertheless, the A7C held its own and never let me down in poor lighting conditions. That's impressive for a three year old sensor.
Plus, you still get around 15 claimed stops of dynamic range, as much or more than competitors. This gives you plenty of room to enhance shadows or emphasize highlighting details in RAW images. If you'd rather shoot JPEGs, Sony's noise reduction and sharpening algorithms are perfectly matched and outperform all other brands.
Sample images for full-frame mirrorless cameras on the Sony A7C
With the improvements Sony has made to its color science over the years, skin tones look better than ever on the A7C. The colors are a little less warm than Canon's latest mirrorless cameras, which may give Canon the edge for portrait photographers. I prefer Sony colors though as I find they are a bit more accurate and easier to customize in the post.
If you liked the A7 III for video, you will love the A7C as well. It literally has the same specs across the board, with 4K full screen, sharp downsampled video up to 30 fps, and 120 fps video at 1080p. Only 8-bit videos are recorded internally with 4: 2: 0 and 4: 2: 2 via the HDMI connection.
This type sucks when compared to other newer, if slightly more expensive, full-frame cameras like the Canon R6 and Panasonic S5, both of which have internal 10-bit 4K video at up to 60 fps. To be fair, the A7C has slightly better dynamic range and you can take advantage of all of Sony's S-Log recording modes to get the most out of it.
Sony A7C full frame mirrorless camera for video
Thanks to the downsampling, the video is very sharp over the entire width of the sensor during 4K recordings. And if you're looking for a shallow depth of field to really separate your subject from the background, there's nothing like a full frame sensor - especially when you have a nice, fast prime lens.
As I said earlier, the addition of a fold-out display makes the A7C a far better vlogging camera than the A7 III. Stabilization in the body works well with video, but could use a more aggressive electronic mode to level steps. The presence of microphone and headphone jacks is also a strong plus. They're well located on this camera so they don't block the display.
The A7C retains the rolling shutter issues of the A7 III which can make the video look shaky. This is especially problematic in full-screen mode at 24 fps, although you can reduce it significantly using APS-C cropping.
Sony A7C full frame mirrorless camera
I'll admit, I never thought Sony would make a camera like the A7C, and I've followed the product strategy pretty closely. It goes against the evolution of full frame mirrorless cameras over the years. However, it does not conform to the APS-C product strategy.
I'm not a huge fan of the A6000 series crop sensor cameras, but they have been a huge hit. I think Sony wanted to bring some of that popular attraction to the full screen side. The A7C is essentially a full screen version of the A6600 in technical terms, but with sensor mojo from the A7 III.
At $ 1,800, it has a lower starting price than any other A7-series camera. Obviously, it's still not cheap. For that price or less on the full screen page, you can get Canon's EOS R, Nikon Z6, or Nikon Z5. The A7C beats all of them in my opinion, although the Z6 is a better option for video.
For just a few hundred more dollars, you could get the Canon R6, Panasonic S5, or Nikon Z6 II. I think all of these are better choices if you are into both video and photos and have the budget. In the end, however, the A7 III is Sony's main competition, especially on the photo side. Personally, I would prefer to have this camera for handling only. However, if you'd prefer something smaller, something better in vlogging, and with a more sophisticated autofocus, the A7C is a great choice.
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