Camera Review: Sony A7c – Part 1. The camera I did not know I wanted.

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Looking back Sony has a knack for releasing cameras I did not know I wanted until they announce them. Typically I am getting on perfectly fine with the camera that I have. Then they release something and my reaction is, “Well that would be nice.”

Started with the Sony A7.

Sony A7 w/ Minolta MD 50mm f/1.7

I had a Nikon D3300 at the time, that served me well, and was stuck in analysis paralysis between two cameras when I wanted to upgrade to a full frame Nikon body. Both cost more than I wanted to spend. One extremely so. Did not help that both lacked features I wanted. The D750 lacked a 1/8000s shutter speed (At 1/4000s it was slower than my lowly NX300 orphan mount camera‘s 1/6000s) and the D800 lacked an articulating screen and built in wireless connectivity for example (Again. Lowly NX300 had both… Dang it Samsung.). Then in waltzes the Sony A7 offering an articulating screen, 1/8000s shutter speed, and wireless connectivity along with the ability to adapt all of my film glass at a lower price point. Sony made it impossible for me to resist when they dropped the price further to $999.

King's Dominion

After the A7 I had upgraded to an A7II.

Kauffmann Wedding Shoot - The Wedding

I then upgraded to the A7RII

A7Rii - A7Compare

…thinking the more MP the better but soon realized that even though I liked the high MP IQ…

Sony A7Rii

…the added MP did not really fit my personal use case. I did not want to go back to the A7II at that time (even though I would again later). The also high MP A7RIII was then released and I thought “That is nice. But not really for me either.” And then Sony announced the 24MP A7III which has been and is my favorite camera until this day.

A7iii - A7Compare
Samurai Armor Portrait Booth - Triangle JapanFest 2019

Next fast forward a few years and then there is the little Sony ZV-1.

Sony ZV-1

Before the ZV-1 was released I had built an whole a6100 rig to create a video/stills hybrid camera solution to offset my A7III’s lack of a fully articulating screen and larger size.

It worked on paper. But adding the very lovely but not that small Sigma 16mm f/1.4 and necessary Small Rig to relocate the mic, that would have blocked the flip up screen, no longer made for a compact solution. So not ideal, but workable.

So good. I’m golden. Nope. Because then Sony releases the ZV-1 that checks every hybrid box I was looking to check in a tiny all in one set up. Even with the smaller 1″ sensor it was a comparable all in one video set up…

…that actually outpunches it’s larger a6100 sibling feature wise:

  • Better AF with upgraded tracking AF, product AF, Animal Eye AF, and in video Eye AF.
  • IBIS, digital stabilization, gyro data retention for in post stabilization.
  • Usable built in mic w/ dead cat adapter included.
  • Proper articulating screen that does not block the mic jack.
  • RX100 (II and III) like photo capabilities I remember as well.
Sony ZV-1
  • Lower price point than more recent RX100 models currently on the market.
  • Other nice touches like the one touch background blur button and video record button.

This ZV-1 put my a6000/a6100 kit on the ropes but had not knocked it out yet.

Next an older less expensive system gathered as a “digital vintage” thought experiment, world is on fire distraction landed a few quick jabs after proving far better than it had any business being. But the a6000/a6100 kit was still hanging in there. My argument was that the larger sensor had it’s benefits in certain situations.

Then came the haymaker swinging at the a6000/a6100 kit from Tuscaloosa for the final blow.

The Sony A7c.

Admittedly I did not get it at first but once I got my head fully around the specs the rest was a blur. I gathered up all a6000/a6100 accoutrement along with my A7II (A lovely camera that served me well but the A7c has a bigger battery, touch screen, updated AF along with other upgrades, and can also act as a second full frame camera body when needed.). Add a couple of long in tooth film cameras that had not seen much use recently and the swap was on for a Sony A7c pre-order at my local favorite camera shop. Based on past experience (Sony is not prone to misleading hype or prolonged shipping delay issues as I have heard about with some other companies.) I was confident that Sony would not let me down. I will take competent consistency over hype, misleading promises, and bluster any day. To be clear there is nothing wrong with the a6000/a6100 set up. The A7c is just a better fit for me that allows me to consolidate behind one AF lens mount and sensor size.

Sony A7c and A7III

Now when I say “The camera I did not know I wanted.” in the title it would be more accurate to say that it is a camera with a mix of features I did not expect any camera company to actually make.

While some see the A7c as lacking breakthrough innovations or any headline grabbing bells and whistles that is largely why I like it so much. The current stills/video camera market feature set bar is high enough for me right now. Sony had nailed all of my core needs with the A7III. In fact beyond Sony several models from each camera company would be just fine. Sure I have my preferences when it comes to variables like lens selection but many full frame Nikon Z or Canon RF cameras and many APS-C Fuji cameras would do just fine functionally. While I would greatly prefer phase detect AF I could also make do with Panasonic’s full frame cameras if need be. Many cameras out of my price range from Leica to medium format options would do fine also should I ever locate that elusive money tree. Good times… camera choice wise anyway, world on fire notwithstanding.

I came close to purchasing the Fujifilm GFX 50R not that long ago largely owing to its rangefinder style ergonomics more than medium format capabilities if I am honest. “But isn’t that quite pricey?” one might ask. Yes. Agreed. But 1) it was “on sale” at the time and 2) even given my fascination with Leica I can admit that feature for feature the GFX 50R is a screaming bargain when compared to the current Leica Ms on the market. I did stop short however. Recalling…

  • My personal lower MP preference.
  • The prospect of having to invest in an even more expensive lens system.
  • Contrast only AF.
  • If I one day ever did have need for such a high definition solution I could instead purchase a 42MP Sony A7RIII or 60MP Sony A7RIV and keep using the lenses I already have.

…I stopped myself on the day I was to place the order.

I had expected a company to step up and make a full frame rangefinder like variant one day. But I must admit I did not think that Sony would be the company to do it. Up to now no one had made a full frame option at any price point that pulled off duties as:

  • Video Camera
  • “Premium” Compact Camera
  • Rangefinder-ish Camera

Have had cameras that fit into one or two of those categories, but I had not come across any that comfortably put a toe into all three areas.

Sidebar: Some may raise the Sigma fp as a small, full frame camera alternative. Yes. It is even smaller and could serve as the base for an excellent video rig. But it lacks key features I require like an articulating screen, EVF, a mechanical shutter, and phase detect AF. If you then combine that with a limited selection of relatively expensive lenses (many of which are also available for Sony) and an asking price at or more than the A7c, which has all of the features mentioned, it is not a viable option for me.

Before I continue let me back up and complete my pugilistic metaphor on the a6000/a6100. In short the A7c put the a6100 rig and many other cameras I had tried or was looking at down for the count.

Video Camera

The relative size of a video set up may not be a concern for many but it is for me. Too large and/or fiddly and I will never use it no matter how capable. I want to shoot more video, but if I am ever to start it will have to be compact and as fuss free as possible. While the a6100 started out fine once I suited it up with all of its regalia things changed. Below on the left is the a6100 w/ Sigma 16mm f/1.4 combo I had settled on for video before the A7c was released.

To the immediate right of that is the overall considerably smaller package, focal length equivalent A7c w/ Rokinon/Samyang 24mm f/2.8 and to the right of that is the similarly sized A7c w/ Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8. Beyond just size:

  • The A7c adds IBIS to the equation. Sure the a6600 offers IBIS also if I upgraded to that, but I would gladly pay the extra money for a full frame sensor on the A7c over the a6600.
  • The A7c has a proper swing around screen. This was a “no big” for me until I shot with the a6100 and ZV-1 back to back. Now given the option I would readily take a swing around screen. It removes the need of obtaining a Small Rig get up to mount a mic without blocking the screen.
  • Better AF with added features like in video Eye AF and real time tracking like the ZV-1 and more premium A7SIII.

So what of all the wonderful specs on the latest and greatest hybrid darlings, the Canon EOS R5 and Sony A7SIII? Like the high MP on the A7 R line their headline video features are not needed for my use case. These are both more camera than I need and cost far more than I am looking to spend. I am very happy for those that have found a good fit with these cameras. If I ever needed a dedicated, serious, top tier video solution those would be my first considerations.

“Premium” Compact Camera

Have tried to go about this a few times in a few ways both with fixed lens and interchangeable lens cameras. The spec sheet is straightforward.

  • This is a camera that eschews the faux DSLR hump body style for a faux rangefinder offset viewfinder design. I never understood why every full frame interchangeable lens mirrorless camera design (other than Leica) uses the same old, dictated by a mirror box, DSLR design template silhouette when they could place the viewfinder wherever they wished.
  • If there is not a proper rangefinder excellent focus peaking will do.
  • If capable of AF suitable compact high quality primes are a must.
  • No Kevlar needed but a well screwed together solid feeling body would be nice.
  • Full frame preferred.

Prior contenders that came close but missed the mark for me and why.

Olympus PEN-F

Olympus 30mm f/3.5 Macro
  • I had and really liked this camera, but for me (Some may disagree and that is perfectly ok.) Micro Four Thirds, no matter how capable, does not fit the premium camera requirement due to the limitations of a smaller sensor.
  • With the best fit premium lens for this purpose in my opinion, the 17mm f/1.8, this does not make for a particularly compact or light get up clocking in at about the same height, width, and weight as the A7c (PEN-F on the right below).

Fujifilm X-Pro1

X-Pro1 and GW690

I specifically had the X-Pro1 but this applies to all of the X-Pro models for me. While they do pluck my camera nerd heart strings they are not a good fit for me in the end. While they excel in feeling “special” they lack the flexibility I am looking for.

  • Some may disagree but APS-C, no matter how capable, does not fit the premium camera requirement for me (Full frame X-Pro or all X100 variants would be nearly irresistible “Take my money!” cameras for me if such things existed.). I really enjoy adapting legacy 35mm glass and APS-C just does not cut it for me. I have heard the arguments to the contrary and they have merit. Again. Personal preference.
  • They are not small cameras for APS-C clocking in at a touch larger than a full frame Leica M (on the right below) and considerably larger than a full frame A7c (on the left).
  • Built to be a stills specialist tool and at that it excels. Non-articulating screens on the first two and a flip down on the third are a perfect fit for that purpose. But at this price point I would personally prefer at least a more conventional tilt screen or a fully articulating screen.
  • AF does not hold up for me. The system itself is very capable but my premium lens of choice, the optically excellent 35mm f/1.4, is not the fastest and quietest focuser in my experience and not a practical video solution.
  • Value. At a near as much as an A7c asking price I would choose that over the current X-Pro3.

Leica Q

Leica Q (Type 116)

I will start out by saying the Leica Q I had was lovely and worth every penny. Just a fantastic lens also. But…

  • For me the added preciousness works against it. I briefly misplaced this camera one day while out and about with my daughter (Clearly not the cameras fault, but my own.) and the stress levels experienced by me were higher than I have ever felt over a rare, but it happens now and then, misplaced camera. Sure, other gear would not be described as inexpensive either but the Leica stress levels were a whole other level.
  • This camera is the least expensive way of getting my mitts on a Summilux lens (with AF to boot) but it is still quite expensive and comes at the cost of never being able to use any other lens. While I do like the 28mm focal length it is a bit wide to serve as a daily shooter. At least 35mm would be better for me, if I had to choose, with around 50mm being the fixed focal length compromise I would prefer to make if I had a choice. If Leica made Qs with different focal length lenses that might have done the trick for me.
  • A surprisingly good AF performance does not fully counter the fact that this is a less than best of breed 49 point contrast detect only AF system where face detect is its own focus mode rather than an automated always on feature.

And last but not least, and likely the most controversial category:

Rangefinder (ish) Camera

You know what camera model line I am talking about. As I have stated many times prior I want a Leica M camera. In that post link I stated:

What do I want? For someone to pull a Voigtlander or 7Artisans on the camera side…

(Leica adherents look away. Nothing to see here until after the bullets.) So for now I make do with full-frame mirrorless. Perks:

  • IBIS.
  • MF with EVF adds focus peaking and the ability to punch in to focus for longer focal length and very wide aperture lenses. (I mean. There is a reason that the Visoflex exists.)
  • Adds the use of close focus adapters that further enhance the flexibility of these lenses.
  • AF is available with TECHART adapter.

Sure I can continue adapting M mount glass to the A7III but for me the ergonomics (And also aesthetics if I am being completely honest. We can pretend otherwise, but it matters.) of that affair take the edge off. The ergonomics of shooting a rangefinder lens on a fake SLR body style bothers me more than the lack of a proper rangefinder. Does that make any sense? Questionable. Perhaps not. But no less true regardless.

Had a film M3 that was fantastic and I currently love my little film CL. As stated above I have had a Q, but it asks for too many compromises. I have had a used Type 240 or Type 262 in my cart countless times. But I can never pull the trigger. And a new M is not in the plan as long as there are full frame mirrorless cameras with focus peaking. It always comes down to the one and only negative bullet for the admittedly great digital M series.

  • An objective convergence of feature lack that outweighs the subjective pull of feel and experience for me.

Your mileage may vary. But please note that if I ever do lay my hands on my missing money tree a proper digital M will be on my shopping list post haste.

Sidebar: Some talk a lot about color science across brands and I do notice a difference. But even if I use a profile as simple as black and white or brand specific simulations from Olympus and Fujifilm it is to assist in imagining what the end product will be. Handy if I want to share a file on the go, but that does not happen often and I then process the RAW files in Lightroom for a final image regardless. Again, I do see a difference, but nothing warranting the choice of one brand over another. Personal preference.

I suffer no delusions. I know the A7c is not a full blown M alternative. So if it is not a proper M alternative what is the A7c then? While not a full on subjective match for the Leica M or Q experience the A7c does have its objective advantages.

  • A grip. As much as I like the feel of the Q (and also M bodies) without the case w/ grip or accessory grip it would not be a one hand hold by the side camera for me.
  • Value. A new A7c is in the neighborhood of $1,000 less than the current used price for a Leica Q.
  • Focusing flexibility. Proper current hybrid phase and contrast detect AF with all the modern features. MF matches the Q with focus peaking. And I have read that the focus peaking is greatly improved with the A7c. If that is true this is potentially the camera that might… might put my Leica M obsession to rest the way the CL did on the film side.
  • Interchangeable lenses. This allows me to emulate:
    • A fake MF focus peaking rangefinder-less Leica M with my M mount lenses and helicoid (adding a bit of close focus to the equation) manual focus adapter. (See shot below at the end) Heck, while we are potentially agitating adherents accidentally:
      • Flip the rear screen around and get yourself a fake Leica M-D (Kidding… kind of.). (See shot below at the end)
      • Switch it to black and white for a fake Monochrome. I know. Not the same. But close enough for me. Maybe I will borrow a page from Omar Gonzalez Photography and call it the A7c NOIR.
    • A fake AF Leica Q using an M lens that I enjoy as much as the Q’s. The 7Artisans 28mm f/1.4 and TECHART AF adapter or…
    • AF with most any legacy prime lens with the TECHART AF adapter by way of SLR to Leica M adapter (which I did not even know was a thing until last year). (See shot below at the end)
    • Of course any Sony FE lens. which allows me to:
      • Use any FE lens and serve as a second camera to my A7III.
      • Make my ideal Leica Q by attaching the Leica like styled Sigma 45mm f/2.8 with a focal length that works far better for me. (See shot below at the end)

  • A proper full frame video camera with stellar video AF, mic and headphone jacks, and a fully articulating screen.
  • Weather sealing. The significantly more expensive Q2 did add weather sealing but the still more expensive than an A7c used original Q does not have this feature.

Sidebar: Most all of these points also apply to another camera I have been interested in. The Sony RX1RII. While considerably smaller than the also small A7c it does not offer enough features to offset it’s high price.

Minuses documented:

  • Reuses A7III innards. That is not a proper ding in my book. I love my A7III. Two years on from purchasing it there is not another faux DSLR shaped mirrorless camera I would take over it. I have not a single complaint about the image quality of this sensor. Even better the A7c adds a few more bells and whistles from more recent cameras like the no recording limit and video Eye AF.
  • One card slot. The previously mentioned X-Pro1 (second slot added on the X-Pro 2 and X-Pro3), PEN-F, Leica Q, and M all lack a second card slot. The A7II I am replacing with this camera did not have a second card slot. And lastly on a second body camera this is a non issue for me.
  • No thumbstick. Personally not an issue for three reasons.
    1. Sony AF is so good that I rarely have any need to manually select a focus point.
    2. The Sony A7III has a thumbstick but since it is the only camera I have ever owned that has one I always forget it is there and instead use the…
    3. Touch screen on the A7III which allows you to select the point on the back screen and when using the EVF you can drag your thumb across the screen to select the AF point.
  • Smaller EVF. Non issue for me. But I am not picky. I am less of a “What is the EVF resolution?” type and more of an “Oh good. It has a viewfinder.” type. In the end it is a small price to pay for the ergonomics and space savings.
  • Shutter Part 1: 1/4000s top mechanical shutter speed. Would be a likely issue for me if the silent e-Shutter did not go up to 1/8000s. Fortunately 1/4000s works for most of my use cases. While the full silent shutter can introduce distortion when quickly panning that would likely not be an issue in situations where I would want to access 1/8000s a second.
  • Shutter Part 2: There is currently no way to activate a mechanical front shutter. This is only an issue for me on occasions where I would like to use flash HSS as banding (sample below) will be introduced due to the nature of HSS implementation. This would be a showstopper if I planned on using this as a main camera for professional purposes. That is not my case. I would think this could be addressed in firmware but time will tell. I will not hold my breath.
A7c - HSS No Front Mechanical Shutter Banding Sample
A7c – HSS at 1/2000s banding sample
  • Meh 28-60mm kit zoom. Not exactly specific to the camera but adjacent for sure. Almost bought the kit with lens, as in I was going to buy whatever came in to the camera shop first. Simple solution if you are not a fan though. Don’t buy it. The lens seems to be an acceptable starting point, but I would rather use one of the Rokinon/Samyang pancake lenses (24mm or 35mm) for size and if I wanted a zoom I would use the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 instead. My personal go to will be the Sigma 45mm f/2.8. Still, sample images look good. The 28-60mm would be nice if compact with a zoom was needed over bright aperture.

So for me the largest A7c selling point is this.

It is a proper full frame Sony FE stills camera based on the excellent A7III with some features the A7III does not have that is well suited for video and, courtesy its compact size and reasonable weight, can also serve as quite the capable fake rangefinder and compact camera when one would like. All for less than an A7III.

Would I use this as a value oriented professional camera? No. There are a few compromises that would push me to the A7III (2 card slots, 1/8000s mechanical shutter, and ability to enable mechanical front shutter) instead.

Would this be a great companion/travel full frame camera perfect for adapting legacy glass? Yes.

Would this make a good back up to the A7III in my bag? Yes. More than once I had thought of getting a backup A7III and landed on an A7II instead. Those two cameras were far more alike than they were different. I much prefer this camera as a back up instead. It provides the most important advances of the A7III over the A7II, and a couple of AF features the A7III does not have, packed in small body that displaced my Sony APS-C kit.

That my friends is:

The camera I did not know I wanted. Or the camera I wanted that I did not think any camera company would actually make.

And Sony made it.

Sony A7c
M Mount Lens w/ Helicoid Adapter
Sony A7c (Fake M-D mode)
Screen tucked away for protection or for an EVF only shooting if you wish
Sony A7c - 7Artisans 50mm f/1.1
M Mount and other legacy glass AF with TECHART adapter
Sony A7c
Sigma 45mm f/2.8 was purchased especially for the A7c and it is a perfect functional and aesthetic fit.

This concludes Part 1. Here is an ongoing gallery of sample images of and with the A7c. I have had a little time with this camera and have run it through some of my basic use cases so there will be an additional post (this link) to break down my initial experience with the camera and give a side by side comparison with the A7III.

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