Sony's compact Alpha 7 and 7R say go full-frame or go home

Credit: Sony

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is a very, very good mirrorless camera. It's so good that it can easily replace a DSLR. As superb as the OM-D E-M1 is, its Micro Four Thirds image sensor is still quite small compared to larger APS-C sensors and top-of-the-line full-frame sensors that you'll find on many popular DSLRs. Sony's changing the camera world with a big move: full-frame sensors in camera bodies no larger than the OM-D E-M1.

Alpha 7 And Alpha 7R

Up until now, Sony's $1,100 NEX-7 (body only) was its "high-end" mirrorless camera. Starting early December, the NEX-7 will be phased out and the Alpha 7 and Alpha 7R will replace it as the company's top tier of mirrorless cameras.

The main selling point to both cameras is obviously its large full-frame sensor. Professional photographers will tell you cameras with full-frame sensors are the way to go, but why? Consider this a quick lesson. Full-frame sensors are the largest consumer camera sensors around. Larger image sensors the camera can take in more light, which gives the added benefit of better low-light shooting at higher ISO without all the image "noise" you get on smaller sensors.

Full-frame cameras are also great for another reason: resolution. Shooting in full-frame resolution lets you get spectacular details (especially for landscape photos) in high resolution, which gives photographers more room to crop as necessary in post-editing.

Now that you're all caught up, let's go back to the Alpha 7 and 7R. Sony has two models to meet two different kinds of shooters. The Alpha 7 is built for speed, and as such it has a 24.3-megapixel 35mm Exmor CMOS sensor and a "Fast Hybrid AF system" that lets you shoot 5 frames per second continuously — with autofocus tracking on — and an optical low pass filter. For those who don't know, an optical low pass filter reduces moiré. The Alpha 7R is the bigger gun. It has a higher-resolution 36.4-megapixel 35mm Exmor CMOS sensor.

Both cameras have a 2.4 million dot OLED electronic view finder, a tiltable 3.0-inch screen (no touchscreen, though), and built-in Wi-Fi and NFC. The Alpha 7 and 7R also shoot 1080p HD video at 24 or 60 frames per second and outputs 4K photos directly over HDMI to any 4K TV or monitor.

Don't worry about all of those old E-mount lenses you've accrued for old NEX cameras, they're still good on the Alpha 7 and 7R, but they'll be cropped. However, if you're looking for the full-frame experience, the arrival of the two new cams also bring new full-frame E-mount lenses.

Serious Shooters Only

Cameras like these don't come cheap. The Alpha 7R will cost $1,699.99 (body only) or $1999.99 with a 28-70mm kit lens and the Alpha 7R will cost $2,299.99 (body only). Both cameras will be available in early December. Additional lenses, battery grips, cases and accessories will cost a decent chunk, too.

We had a chance to mess with the Alpha 7 and 7R and they're every bit as fantastic as they look and sound. The magnesium alloy build quality is really top-notch and the entire design is something akin to the Sony RX1, Sony's full-frame fixed lens point-and-shoot camera that sells for a whopping $2,800. Both cameras have a sufficient amount of buttons and photos look as sharp as ones taken on high-end DSLRs like the Canon 5D Mark III. The only disappointing feature is that neither camera has a built-in flash. (Then again, most full-frame cameras don't, either, since the larger sensor more than compensates the need for flash.)

If it isn't already clear by now, the Alpha 7 and 7R aren't cameras for newbies. They're not recommended for people who will leave it on Auto mode, either. Heck, if you're gonna drop the money on cameras as nice as these two, you'd better know more than a thing or two about photography. That, and you actually know how to use Manual mode.

(All images courtesy of Sony.)

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