NOTE: You may want to read these companion articles that talk more about the way I will use the a7C and my choice of lenses…
I’ve published more than 9000 blog posts, magazine articles and podcasts and NEVER – EVER did I expect I’d be writing a review like this one. Hold on to your horses. I love a SONY camera. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. Surprised the heck out of me too. But just because (and only because) I am at a stage in my career where size, weight and image quality have to be just right, I am able to say I love the Sony a7C.
Let’s start with the basics. This is hardly a new camera. It’s been around for two and a half years, but it IS a current model and Sony still makes it. And why wouldn’t they?
It’s the smallest full-frame, mirrorless camera with IBIS, in the world.
24MP BSI CMOS full-frame sensor
Bionz X processor (same as in the a7 III)
‘Real-time tracking’ AF system with human head, face, eye, and animal recognition
Oversampled 4K video at up to 30p, including 8-bit S-Log and HLG
Continuous bursts at up to 10 fps
2.36M-dot EVF with 0.59x mag.
Fully articulating 921k-dot touchscreen
Mic and headphone sockets
Dual-band, 2.4 and 5Ghz Wi-Fi
Large ‘Z-type’ battery, rated to 740 shots per charge
If you like(d) the a7III this is essentially a newer version of that camera, in a smaller, lighter body, with a smaller viewfinder and a couple of new features the III doesn’t have.
The four standout features of this camera are:
- Amazing autofocus (AF points that cover approximately 93% of the image area)
- Truly amazing image quality (when shooting uncompressed RAWs)
- Great high-ISO files – I shoot at 6400 with no problems
Secondary standout features:
- Amazing battery life
- Fully articulating rear LCD screen (You can touch to focus – I love that feature…)
- 15-stop wide dynamic range
- USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type C for tethering and charging
- Wireless connectivity for all sorts of things that I mostly don’t use except for the Bluetooth wireless remote (Sony RMT-P1BT Wireless Remote Commander)
- Weather sealing
- Just average video capabilities – not bad but not up to today’s standards (I have actual video cameras to remedy this)
- Viewfinder is very small (solved for me with an aftermarket eye cup – The $14 Kiwifotos Soft Silicone Extended Viewfinder – which does force you to give up the hotshoe but that’s not a problem for me and can be remedied with a half cage if it is important to you.)
- IBIS – Image stabilization works fine, but is far from state-of-the-art
- Only one card slot – it is UHS-II card compatible which is a step up from many other Sony cameras in this class. (About the single card slot – I know this is a big deal for some people but it’s never been a feature I cared about on a camera – to each his own.)
Why did I pick it for my personal use?
Of course my reason for choosing this camera is that it does what I need it to in terms of helping get reach for wildlife photography and accomplishes that in a very small, lightweight package. IQ is top-drawer; Autofocus is very impressive (once you master it) and when this camera was released, the a7C had the best autofocus system on the market.
This camera weighs less than the flagship Olympus OM-1! It comes in at 1.1 pounds, INCLUDING the memory card and battery. It’s essentially about the size of an iPhone 13 Pro Max only a little thicker. This is HUGE for me because my shoulder is shot and I simply cannot lift more than eight pounds (total) and save what’s left of my limited ability to move.
The sensor is 24.1 MP full-frame, BSI with a BIONZ X image processor. It offers very good high-ISO performance, has more dynamic range than most cameras in its class, oh yeah and about that autofocus…
When Sony released the A9, many bird/wildlife photographers switched from Canon/Nikon because of the incredible autofocus – including the ability to track human and animal subjects. The a7C AF is based on the A9 AF.
It uses a hybrid system that incorporates 693 phase-detection points along with 424 contrast-detection points with accurate (and fast) AF down to -4EV.
It locks on to subjects and the Real-time Eye AF works well. In my tests, with a little tweaking, it locks on to birds in flight just about as well as any Olympus camera I’ve ever used – with the possible exception of the new OM-1.
Of course this AF is 30 months old and the new Sony A1 has a better AF system. But frankly, this works more than well enough for me and I couldn’t carry that heavy A1 if my life depended on it so I am (and have to be) happy with the autofocus.
I wanted a camera that I could take outdoors so this one works because it utilizes a tough magnesium alloy body shell that incorporates full weather sealing for extra peace of mind in more inclement conditions.
I tested it in the rain at the Hoh River Valley in Olympic National Park and it never missed a beat.
In other words, it’s well-built and usually this is where I’d say it’s built like a tank but that might imply it’s heavy and it is not – heavy. But still built like a tank. There I said it.
I am particularly impressed with the build quality because one of my primary complaints about Sony mirrorless cameras when they first started becoming popular related to poor build quality. It appears those days are gone.
Speaking of build quality. The a7C uses a new, more compact electro-magnetic drive shutter unit that’s rated for 200,000 releases before it needs to be replaced. At this price point I’d expect that number to be about half that. So kudos to Sony for building a stout shutter.
About the shutter – it has an electric first curtain that you cannot disable so technically, there is no pure mechanical shutter on this camera. Depending on your goals, you either see this is a bonus or a problem. I am ambivalent. It hasn’t impacted my photography one way or the other.
The camera isn’t as fast as the most recent models – but 10fps shooting speed is fine for me and exactly the same as the A7 III, but the buffer size has been increased slightly, especially when shooting Raw files. (Do I miss Pro-Capture? You bet your ass I do, but you cannot have everything.)
This camera has five-axis IBIS (in body image stabilization) and it works well. If there was anything about this camera that I found to be just okay, it was the IBIS. I am used to Olympus IBIS and I find it to be much more effective. That said, the IBIS works on the a7C- unless you attach a third-party lens with lens-based image stabilization and in that case, the IBIS shuts off and the lens stabilization takes over. If you wanted maximum IS you would need to buy the Sony branded lenses that have dual IS where the lens IS pairs with the camera body’s IBIS.
Another underwhelming area on the a7C is video. When the camera first shipped, the video was up to par with most other hybrid cameras in its class. But at 8-bit rather than 10-bit output, it’s just okay. I have real cinema cameras and even my iPhone 13 Pro which records in 10-bit ProRes HQ and that does a better job. Still the built in video will work well if you don’t need to do lots of color grading and especially if all you need is 1080p. And let’s face it, 99% of you are shooting for Instagram, Facebook or YouTube video where 1080p is just fine.
Some people (who are used to the 6000 series cameras) complain about the a7C’s ergonomics – but I find them to be just fine. The rear Fn function button serves as a simple way to enable most features I need and there are also three custom dial settings (C1 – C2 – C3) that allow you to make even more custom changes. It’s a very customizable camera any way you look at it. (Of course that means lots of menus which again – lots of people complain about but hey – I am used to Olympus menus so this is a BIG step up) Once you get the hang of it, the menu system seems well-organized and well-designed. You do need to go through a lot of pages of nested menus to get things done but if you assign those to the various custom settings or the Fn button, you won’t have to do that more than once or once in a while.
One of the things that really made me want to go with the Sony was the availability of some amazingly great glass that is built by Tamron for Sony FF cameras. It’s lightweight, fast, has great performance specs and using the heaviest lens I need (Tamron 150-500) on a monopod, with monopod head and Sony battery/memory card, I can sneak in just UNDER eight pounds for EVERYTHING. This is very important to me and the lightweight Tamron glass (which is smaller, lighter, cheaper and in some cases – even sharper than some Sony glass,) well that sealed the deal. (Read about my thoughts on the Tamron lenses by clicking on the links at the top of this article. It’s a crucial part of my decision to go with Sony.)
Bottom line – Tamron lenses on this camera are smaller, lighter, cost less and do a fantastic job. If I had to use the heavier Sony glass, then my approach to this camera wouldn’t have worked and I would have had to stay with Olympus.
This was a very, very, very close call for me. I wanted to use the OM-1 and the Olympus 100-400. That would come in under eight pounds (where I just have to be due to my shoulder) but the problem is in this particular use case, it doesn’t quite produce the image quality I need. I am printing billboard sized prints so the full-frame sensor is the real difference here.
Lots of people would also look at the price – nearly $400 less expensive than the M43, OM-1 but then again the OM-1 is a brand new model and this a7C camera has been on the market for 30 months so I say that is a wash.
Most people buy the a7C because it’s small and lightweight with great image quality and autofocus. It’s a hit with VLOGGERS (No – I am not starting a vlog) and is a great all around camera.
Depending on how you look at it, at $1800 new, this is not a budget choice, but like I said, it is also several hundred dollars less expensive than the new OM-1 and will do most of the same job and do it with a full-frame sensor.
I have never felt like I needed a full-frame sensor before but in this camera it benefits me in the following ways…
- I need to make VERY large prints – as in billboard size so the larger sensor helps out.
- I need to crop in to make my Tamron 150-500mm zoom lens a little longer in the reach department so this extra size helps with that too.
I am not a member of the full-frame mafia and for most people, Micro Four Thirds is more than enough. In fact, for an even greater portion of the photographic public the iPhone’s small sensor is more than enough.
It just so happens in my particular use case – FF is the better way to go – RIGHT NOW. And I want to keep emphasizing this, it’s VERY close. But I am making a judgement call based on all the information I have available to me. And while I do not think Olympus is going out of business, it is now owned by a holding company and the steps I’ve seen them take since taking over have left me feeling like I need to go a different direction. Sony is as stable (financially) as any company in Japan so in that regard it’s a safer bet. Please don’t go out and tell people “Scott said Olympus is failing.” That is not what I mean at all. It’s just a different culture at the company than when I signed on as a Visionary and things changed. The new company seems focused on much younger people. Then again, I guess ALL advertising and marketing these days is focused on much younger people. Anyway, it’s just a feeling I get when I see how they handle things. And so many of the people I used to work with there are gone that I no longer feel a need to be connected to the company.
That frees me to put aside any bias or preconceived notions and start fresh. After doing that, I ended up in the Sony camp. (I know, I can’t believe it either.)
At the end of the day, the incredible autofocus on the Sony a7C paired with fantastic image quality, great dynamic range, and an amazingly small, lightweight package make this a no-brainer for me. If they update this camera I will probably buy the updated version (assuming they don’t make it any heavier.)
My recommendation ratings go from HIGHLY RECOMMENDED (The best of the best) to RECOMMENDED (Not quite perfect but darn good) to ACCEPTABLE (Something that performs as promised but may be too expensive or have other problems that make it sort of a MEH recommendation) to NOT RECOMMENDED (Self-explanatory.)
Because of the small size, light weight, high image quality, amazing autofocus and 15 stop dynamic range this camera offers, I rate the a7C as HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!