Sony Alpha 7C
Price as Reviewed:£1,900.00 (body only)
Andy Westlake examines Sony’s compact-bodied full-frame mirrorless model
Sony Alpha A7C Review – At a glance:
- £1900 body only
- £2150 with 28-60mm f/4-5.6 lens
- 24MP full-frame sensor
- ISO 100-51,200 (50-204,800 extended)
- 2.36m-dot EVF, 0.59x magnification
- 3in, 921k-dot fully articulated LCD
- 5-axis in-body image stabilisation
- 4K 30p video recording
Sony is famously a company that likes to make things small. Indeed this was the driving force behind the original Alpha 7 and Alpha 7R in 2013 – the world’s first full-frame mirrorless cameras. Over time, their successors have retained the same SLR-like shape, but become ever larger and more complex. Now the company has gone back to the drawing board and made a new body design.
The result is the Alpha 7C (for ‘compact’), which is rather circumspectly touted as the world’s smallest full-frame camera with in-body image stabilisation (IBIS). The firm couldn’t be more keen to stress that it doesn’t replace the popular Alpha 7 III – instead it’s a new strand of its full-frame line-up. Calling it the Alpha 6 would have made more sense in this regard. You can read our detailed comparison between the Alpha 7C and the Alpha 7 III here.
In essence, the A7C places the 24.2MP full-frame sensor and core feature set from the A7 III into a flat-topped, rangefinder-style body that’s very similar to the APS-C Alpha 6100. At 124 x 71 x 60mm and 509g, it’s about the same size as the A7 III without its viewfinder housing, and 80% of the weight. It’s not as small as the Sigma fp, but with a built-in viewfinder, fully articulated screen and IBIS, it has a much more attractive feature set.
In fact the Sony A7C retains almost the same impressive spec list as its sibling. It offers a standard sensitivity range of ISO 100-51,200, along with extended settings from ISO 50-204,800. A hybrid autofocus system makes use of 693 phase-detection points arranged across 93% of the frame, and supports shooting at 10 frames per second with a 115-frame raw buffer.
A new, smaller shutter unit provides a slightly slower top speed of 1/4000sec, but this can be extended to 1/8000sec by engaging silent mode. Meanwhile the downsized IBIS unit promises 5 stops stabilisation, just like the A7 III. Video can be recorded in either 4K resolution at up to 30 fps, or Full HD up to 120fps, and both microphone and headphone sockets are built in.
Sony Alpha 7C: Build and handling
Unsurprisingly, the most significant changes are to do with the body design, and its knock-on effect on the control layout. Operationally, Sony has decided to keep things simple, which means that enthusiast photographers are likely to find the A7C more frustrating to use than its SLR-shaped siblings.
The control setup is an improvement over the A6100’s, at least, thanks to the inclusion of an exposure compensation dial. The movie button is also more conveniently placed on the top plate, and can be reassigned to control other functions in the stills modes. But compared to the A7 III, there’s neither a control dial on the handgrip, nor an AF-area joystick. Instead Sony expects you to let its AI-based subject recognition take the strain, with a prominent AF-ON button on the back that’s used to specify and lock onto the subject.
The A7C employs a dust- and moisture-resistant magnesium-alloy body shell, and will be available in either a retro silver-and-black finish, or all black. One aesthetic change compared to the boxy A6000-series models is a stepped top-plate. I suspect Sony is hoping to garner flattering comparisons with Leica here, but it reminds me more of Panasonic’s Lumix GX range.
Sony’s obsession with downsizing has resulted in a somewhat small handgrip, which has clearly been designed to wrap around the NP-FZ100 battery as tightly as possible. There’s also just a minimal hook to stop your thumb from sliding off the back, while the dimpled rubber covering is rather smooth and not as grippy as the A7 III’s textured finish.
The grip still works OK, but the camera is certainly happiest with relatively small lenses, and feels unbalanced even with the firm’s FE 24-105mm F4 G OSS, which is far from the largest lens it makes. There’s no good reason why Sony couldn’t have used a larger grip, as it would make no practical difference to the overall bulk once a lens is mounted.
Sony Alpha 7C: Viewfinder and screen
Sony’s new-found enthusiasm for fully articulated screen continues, with a 3in screen that can be set to almost any angle, including forwards for selfies and vlogging. It also has a significant advantage over the tilt-only unit on the A7 III for stills, in that it can be used to compose high- and low-angle shots when you rotate the camera to shoot in portrait format.
The screen is a huge improvement over the 16:9 screens used on A6000-series bodies, but the trade-off is a smaller viewfinder, with the 2.36m-dot unit providing a meagre 0.59x magnification. The EVF also has a very small surround, with no apparent option to fit a larger eyecup, which means it’s likely to be difficult to see in bright conditions.
With the A7C designed to appeal to users stepping up to their first proper camera from a smartphone, it comes as a real disappointment to find that Sony has failed to include the excellent touchscreen interface it developed for the recent Alpha 7S III. Instead, the touch interface is limited to specifying the focus area, along with limited playback functions.
The lack of useful touchscreen functionality compounds the relatively limited physical control set, and means users who want to take manual control of their settings will end up spending a lot of time pressing the d-pad buttons.
Sony Alpha 7C: Key Points
Ports: Stereo 3.5mm microphone and headphone sockets are joined by USB-C and microHDMI connectors
Storage: The A7C makes do with just a single UHS-II compatible SD card slot on its left-hand side
Remote: There’s no option for either a wired or infrared release, meaning the only form of remote control is via your smartphone using Bluetooth / Wi-Fi
Power: The NP-FZ100 Li-ion battery promises 740 shots per charge with the LCD, or 680 using the EVF, and is charged via USB-C
Compact, collapsible Sony FE 28-60mm F4-5.6 kit zoom
To complement the A7C’s small body, Sony has introduced a new kit lens, in the shape of the FE 28-60mm f/4-5.6. With a mechanical, rather than motorised zoom mechanism, it measures 67mm in diameter and just 45mm long when retracted, while weighing in at a mere 167g. Unfortunately Sony was unable to provide a sample to prepare this first look, so I can’t comment on how well it works.
The lens accepts 40.5mm filters, and is dust and moisture-resistant to match the camera. Its has a minimum focusing distance of 30cm at wideangle, increasing to 45cm at the long end. Three aspherical elements are used to combat aberrations, while the aperture employs seven blades. Initially it will only be available in a kit with the body, but is due to go on sale separately in January for £450.
While this lens should do a great job of keeping the overall package small, unfortunately it’s also the least interesting standard zoom that’s been made for any camera system for many a year, in terms of zoom range and aperture. This highlights an inconvenient truth around the concept of compact full-frame: you still need relatively large lenses to achieve many of the real-world photographic advantages of the larger sensor.
I’d probably use the A7C with the firm’s 24-70mm and 16-35mm F4 zooms instead, or small primes such as the 28mm F2, 35mm F1.8, 55mm F1.8 and 85mm F1.8. It should also work nicely with Samyang’s compact primes, or Zeiss’s manual-focus Loxia range.
Sony HVL-F28RM miniature hot-shoe flashgun
Another new accessory designed for the A7C is the compact Sony HVL-F28RM flash. With a guide number of 28m at ISO100, it’s compatible with the firm’s wireless radio control system, as found on the larger HVL-F45RM and HVL-F60RM units, and can operate as either a commander or receiver.
The flash itself has minimal external controls, with its settings mostly being changed from the camera body. It features dust and moisture resistant construction, and the head can be angled up to 180° for bounce flash work. It works with Sony’s latest flash metering technology, which takes face detection into account when balancing the flash ouptup with ambient light. Power is provided by a pair of AA batteries. The Sony HVL-F28RM is expected in the shops in mid-November, costing £250.
Sony Alpha 7C: First Impressions
I have to admit that after a week with a pre-production Sony Alpha 7C, I’m ambivalent about the camera. I like the idea of a compact full-frame body, and with Sony managing to fit a viewfinder, fully articulated screen and IBIS into a camera this small, it should have been a home run. Unfortunately, the camera’s control setup and handling is nowhere near as good as it should be, particularly given the high bar set by the A7 III and the likes of the Nikon Z 5.
Instead, the compromises Sony has made in packaging the A7C mean that its larger sibling still looks the better all-round choice, especially as the two models will initially cost almost exactly the same. However the A7C may well find its niche among those looking for full-frame quality in a small body. Watch this space for our full review.
Sony Alpha 7C: Specifications
- Sensor: 24.2MP BSI CMOS, 36 x 24mm
- Output size: 6000 x 4000
- Focal length mag: 1x
- Lens mount: Sony E (full frame)
- Shutter speeds: 30sec – 1/4000sec
- Shutter speeds (silent mode): 30sec – 1/8000sec
- Sensitivity (standard): ISO 100-51,200
- Sensitivity (extended): ISO 50-204,800
- Exposure modes: PASM, Auto, Movie, S&Q
- Metering: Multi, centre, spot, average, highlight
- Exposure compensation: +/-3 EV in 0.3EV steps (dial); +/-5EV (menu)
- Continuous shooting: 10fps, 115-shot raw buffer
- Screen: 3in, 921k-dot fully articulated touchscreen
- Viewfinder: 2.36m-dot, 0.59x magnification
- AF points: 693 PDAF, 425 CDAF, 93% coverage
- Video: 4K up to 30p, Full HD up to 120p
- External mic: 3.5mm stereo
- Memory card: SD (UHS-II)
- Power: NP-FZ100 rechargeable Li-Ion
- Battery life: 740 LCD, 680 EVF
- Dimensions: 124 x 71.1 x 59.7mm
- Weight: 509g inc battery and card