Sony A7C Review

September 15, 2020 | Mark Goldstein |

Introduction

Sony have decided that it's time for the next step, the next concept, of 35mm full-frame Alpha cameras, and so the A7C is born, with the "C" in the product name standing for "Compact".

Aimed at a younger generation than usual - think mid 20’s to mid 40’s - the Sony Alpha 7C will be available in a new black and silver design (which Sony sent us for review), and a Limited Edition all-black version.

Sony told us that the A7C is the first model in a brand new line, which will alongside the A7 III in terms of both specification and price.

They've also launched a new retractable standard zoom kit lens for the A7C, the tiny FE 28-60mm F4-5.6, which despite weighing a mere 167g is claimed to offer better image quality than the FE 28-70mm F3.5-5.6 kit lens that commonly ships with the A7 III.

The Sony A7C will be available in October 2020 priced at around £1899 / $1798 body only in the UK / US, or £2150 / $2098 with the Sony FE 28-60mm F4-5.6 kit lens.

There's also a new super-compact flashgun, the HVL-F28RM, to accompany the Alpha 7C, which has a guide number of 28 and will cost around £250 / $248 in the UK / US when it becomes available in November 2020.

Ease of Use

Sony A7C
Front of the Sony A7C

The new Sony A7C essentially combines the sensor, processor and key specifications of the popular A7 III model with the smaller, lighter body of the A6600 APS-C camera.

This has resulted in the smallest full-frame mirrorless camera that Sony have ever made, and indeed the smallest full-frame mirrorless camera with in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) currently on the market (the Sigma FP is actually even smaller, but doesn't have built-in IBIS).

So at the heart of the Sony Alpha 7C, we find exactly the same 24.2 megapixel Exmor R back-illuminated full-frame sensor with an optical low-pass filter that's already used by the Sony A7 III, along with the same BIONZ X processor that can be found in the flagship A9 II and A7R IV cameras and also the A7 III (rather than the newer BIONZ XR processor that made its debut on the A7S III).

This means that the A7C has an ISO range of 100-51,200, extendable to 50-204,800, and offers up to 15-stop of dynamic range when shooting in Raw mode.

Impressively that larger sensor is housed in a camera body that's roughly halfway in size between the full-frame A7 III and the APS-C A6600.

It measures 124mm (W) x 71.1mm (H) x 59.7mm (D), compared to 120mm x 67mm x 59mm for the A6600 and 126.9mm x 95.6mm x 73.7mm for the A7 III, making it 10% larger in volume than the A6600 and 19% smaller than the A7 III.

The aluminium bodied Alpha 7C weighs 509g without a lens, battery and memory card fitted, amazingly just 6g / 1% more than the A6600 and a whopping 141g / 22% less than the A7 III.

It utilizes a tough magnesium alloy body shell that incorporates full weather sealing for extra peace of mind in more inclement conditions.

Sony A7C
Rear of the Sony A7C

For the very first time, Sony have employed a monocoque construction for the A7C, which is more commonly used in the car and aircraft industries, predominantly to help achieve the size and weight reduction.

The Alpha A7C has a pretty deep hand-grip that is relatively wide and comfortable to hold on to, with an indent for your right middle-finger to naturally sit in.

It's not quite as accommodating, though, as the even deeper, more chunky hand-grip on the A6600, but combined with the large rear thumb rest it helps to make the camera feel secure enough when shooting either one- or two-handed.

The Sony A7C features an in-body 5-axis image stabilization system to help prevent unwanted camera shake in low-light.

It automatically corrects for pitch and yaw movement, plus horizontal shift, vertical shift and rotary motion (rolling) for both still images and movies.

Given its reduction in size, the Alpha 7C uses a new, more compact IBIS unit to still offer a CIPA-rated 5-stops of compensation, which is very impressive considering that it has such a large sensor and such a small body.

Furthermore, the use of an in-body system, rather than a lens-based system, ensures that the Alpha A7C can stabilize all kinds of lenses, not just those with the FE designation.

This includes E-mount lenses without Optical SteadyShot (OSS), A-mount lenses and even third party lenses mounted via the popular Sigma MC-11 or Metabones adapters.

Sony A7C
Top of the Sony A7C

Note that lenses without any electronic contacts only benefit from three axes of compensation, and you also need to manually input which focal length you’re using to ensure that the stabilization works properly.

The new, more compact electro-magnetic drive shutter unit is officially rated for 200,000 releases before it needs to be replaced, which is very impressive for a supposedly "entry-level" camera.

It does only provide a top shutter speed of 1/4000sec, though, which is marginally slower than the A7 III's 1/8000sec, but it can be extended to 1/8000sec by turning on the silent shooting mode.

The Sony A7C uses exactly the same NP-FZ100 battery as the A7 III and the A6600.

This large capacity battery offers a CIPA-rated battery life of 740 shots when using just the LCD screen and 680 when using just the viewfinder, which is even longer than the A7 III's 710 shot life (for the LCD screen), addressing one of the most common complaints about Sony's mirrorless camera range, namely the poor battery life.

Subsequently the A7C is capable of lasting for a full day's shooting on one battery, something that the majority of Sony shooters have long been wishing for.

The Alpha 7C can also be powered and charged via a USB connection, which is useful if you’re without your charger but can access a computer, and thankfully it uses the latest USB-C standard (the A6600 didn't).

The Sony A7C features a fairly good, but certainly not class-leading, XGA OLED electronic viewfinder.

It shares exactly the same 2.36 million dot resolution as the one used by both the A6600 and A7 III, and has the same 120fps high frame rate setting to help track moving subjects more smoothly with virtually no lag.

Given the overall reduction in camera size, unfortunately the viewfinder is correspondingly smaller too, measuring 0.39" and consequently offering a lower magnification of 0.59x, versus 0.78x magnification on the A7 III and A6600.

Sony A7C
Tilting LCD Screen

Whilst this viewfinder is still respectable enough in today's market, we'd have expected to see a higher-spec model used on the new A7C.

The same is also true of the 3-inch 3:2 ratio widescreen LCD monitor, which again rather disappointingly retains the same 922k resolution of the A6600's and A7 III's screen.

A larger, higher resolution screen, perhaps even 16:9 rather than 3:2, would have made the A6600 more competitive with its main rivals.

The new fully articulating vari-angle design that's been inherited directly from recently released A7S III is a big improvement on the A6600's 180-degree flip-up design, proving much more versatile for vlogging and movie shooting in general.

It can be flipped out to the side and rotated forwards for easier operation when holding the camera at arm's length and pointing it towards yourself, and can be usefully folded flat against the back of the camera to protect it when not in use.

Sony have also implemented touch sensitivity on the Alpha 7C's LCD screen. This makes functions like focus point selection much easier and more intuitive, especially given the regrettable lack of a dedicated AF joystick on the rear.

It even works while looking through the electronic viewfinder, a feature that we've seen on several other high-end mirrorless cameras recently.

Somewhat bizarrely, though, you can't use the touchscreen to navigate the main menu or quick menu settings, press the on-screen icons, or even swipe through your images in playback mode a la smartphones, all rather strange limitations that are also shared by most (but not all) Sony Alpha cameras.

With the new fully-articulating screen and super-compact size, the Sony A7C seems to be ideal for vlogging, but there's one rather big elephant in the metaphorical room - the new 28-60mm F4-5.6 kit lens.

Sony A7C
Memory Card Slot and External Ports

The 28mm focal length simply isn't wide enough when holding the camera at arms length and pointing it at yourself, unless you've got incredibly long arms or you're using some sort of selfie stick or extension to position the camera further away from you.

Which is presumably why Nikon released a 24-50mm kit lens with their recent Z5 camera and why Panasonic went even further and used their 20-60mm optic as the kit lens for the Lumix S5.

Both of the Sony A7C's main rivals clearly have the edge here in terms of how suitable their kit lenses are for one of their key target markets, namely vloggers.

If you're buying the A7C primarily for vlogging, we'd recommend the FE 20mm F1.8 prime lens instead of or in addition to the 28-60mm kit lens, which will provide better framing and greater depth of field.

The Sony Alpha 7C’s primary external controls are very similar to those on the A6600.

There's a familiar dual wheel layout with a thumb-operated control dial on the rear of the top panel and a secondary rear-panel scroll wheel that doubles up as the 4-way navigation buttons.

What has changed on the A7C is the type of thumb-operated control dial. On the A6600 it was a large round dial set into the corner of the top-plate. On the A7C it's a smaller plastic dial more logically positioned above the rear thumb-rest, just like the one on the A7 III.

This change has also allowed Sony to add a dedicated exposure compensation dial to the A7C's top-plate, again inherited directly from the A7 III, and something that the A6600 sorely lacked.

Sony A7C
Front of the Sony A7C

We wish Sony had made the EV dial lockable, as its position on the corner of the camera meant that it was often inadvertently knocked into a different (unwanted) position when stored in a camera bag.

We’d also still prefer an additional control dial positioned at the front top of the hand grip near to the shutter release, which would enable simultaneous thumb and forefinger settings adjustment.

This is something that has been sorely lacking on Sony's APS-C cameras for many years, and is something that should really have been addressed on the Alpha 7C.

The other sacrifice that has been made to the top panel of the A7C is the lack of any Custom function buttons.

This is a popular feature with A7 III owners, which has two of them, so even not having one on the A7C is a surprising omission, especially as there seems to be more than enough room to accommodate one.

Sony have also tweaked the rear control layout of the A7C when comparing it to the A6600.

Instead of the clever dual AEL / AF/MF switch, there's a simpler AF-On button that can be used for back-button focusing, and to magnify an image during composition or playback.

This new button makes it a snip to back-button focus using your thumb rather than half-pressing the shutter button, a method that many photographers swear by.

Sony A7C
Bottom of the Sony A7C

Sadly this means that there's no room for an auto-exposure lock (AEL) button, a rather annoying omission.

You also now have to delve into the menu system to switch between AF and MF modes, or use the dedicated button on the lens (if there is one).

The Sony Alpha 7C is a very customisable camera, which partly makes up for the lack of actual Custom function buttons.

The AF-On button can be reconfigured to AE -Lock if you wish, just one of 27 different options that can be assigned to it.

The rear Fn function button displays a quick-access menu of frequently used shooting settings, and you can choose which items appear on this menu.

The Delete / Custom button on the rear can also be assigned one of the 27 frequently used functions for direct access.

The operation of the left, right, down and centre rear panel navigation buttons can also be customized, as well as the Fn button’s role in playback mode (it's set to Send to Smartphone by default).

New to the A7C when compared to the A6600 is the ability to assign a set of video-specific functions to these same buttons when you're shooting in the movie mode, which makes perfect sense for a camera that is as much about video as stills.

Sony A7C
Front of the Sony A7 III and the Sony A7C

In terms of the available shooting modes, there are three Memory modes marked 1, 2 and 3 on the shooting mode dial. These allow you to store three frequently used shooting set-ups for quick access, and within each Memory mode is a further four customisable sub-mode pre-sets which can be saved in-camera.

There are also the usual auto, semi auto and manual modes, plus a dedicated Movie mode that works in conjunction with the video record button.

This has been more logically relocated to the right of the camera's top-panel, rather than the A6600's awkwardly positioned one-touch movie record button which was located on the corner of the rear thumb-grip.

Note that there's no Scene Selection position on the Alpha 7C, unlike the A6600, perhaps reflecting the more serious nature of this particular model.

Also featured on the Sony A7C's shooting mode dial is the Slow and Quick (S&Q) mode, which as the name suggests gives you easier access to the camera's slow- and quick- motion video options (various frame rates ranging from 1fps to 100fps), as selected in the Movie1 tab / S&Q Settings option in the main menu system.

There is a Multi Interface Shoe / flash hotshoe on top of the A7C for connecting an external flashgun or a compatible accessory such as the new ECM-B1M digital shotgun microphone, but as with the A6600, this new camera does not feature a built-in pop-up flash.

The Sony A7C uses the "standard" menu design from the other Alpha Ax-series cameras. Sadly it does not use the much-improved menu system from the most recent A7S III model, as apparently that is onlysupported by the very latest BIONZ XR processor.

It has a fairly logical structure, although as is traditionally the way with Sony's menu, it's still pretty complicated.

Sony A7C
Rear of the Sony A7 III and the Sony A7C

There is a My Menu tab that, as the name suggests, allows you to construct your own custom menu for easier access to your favourite camera settings.

To be honest, we would rather have seen Sony continue to roll-out the new menu that made its debut on the A7S III.

Finally there’s the battery compartment which, unlike all the other A6000-series cameras, no longer incorporates the single SD memory card slot.

Instead Sony have found enough room on the left-hand flank of the camera to house the single SD memory card slot, hidden behind a lockable door.

Unfortunately there are no dual slots on this camera, which is especially annoying given its otherwise impressive abilities as a camera for capturing fast action.

The Alpha 7C thankfully takes advantage of the fastest UHS-II memory card standard, which was a surprising omission on the A6600, considering it is positioned as the flagship camera in Sony's APS-C range.

The memory card slot and the various connectivity ports on the left-hand flank of the A7C have been specially placed to not block the LCD screen when it's twisted out to the side.

Exactly like the A7 III, the A7C uses a hybrid AF system which employs both phase-detection and contrast-based auto-focusing.

Sony A7C
Top of the Sony A7 III and the Sony A7C

There are 693 phase-detection points that cover 93% of the frame, plus 425 contrast-detection points, which works down to -4EV low-light.

The Sony A7C uses a new focusing algorithm that's the same as the one used by the A7S III, claimed to make the AF tracking system even more reliable.

In the real-world the Alpha 7C rarely if ever missed the moment because of an issue with the auto-focusing.

It proved adept at both locking onto and tracking a moving subject, and excelled at portraits thanks to the dedicated Eye AF mode, which instantly recognises, locks onto and tracks a human or animal eye in both the AF-S and AF-C focusing modes.

The AF experience on the A7C has been somewhat diminished by the lack of a thumb-operated joystick to set the AF point, something that both the A7 III and several rival cameras offer.

This is a much more intuitive method than having to use either the Set button and the rear navigation pad or the touchscreen, so it's a shame not to see it featured on the Alpha 7C.

The Sony A7C offers 10fps burst shooting with Full AF/AE tracking for up to 223 JPEGs or 115 compressed RAW images in one high-speed burst, available with either the mechanical shutter or a completely silent electronic shutter.

Whilst the 10fps shooting speed is exactly the same as the A7 III, the buffer size has been increased slightly, especially when shooting Raw files.

Sony A7C
Front of the Sony A7C

New to the Sony A7C is the ability to shoot 10fps in the silent shooting mode.

It can also shoot continuously at up to 8fps in live view mode without any blackout, much like the A6600 and A7 III cameras.

A nice touch that's been inherited from the recent A7S III is the ability to select the focus frame colour, with additional choices of either white or red, rather than the default green, which can help you to see the focus point more clearly when shooting low-contrast scenes.

As denoted by symbols on the side of the camera, the Sony Alpha A7C is both wi-fi and NFC capable.

It also offers location data acquisition via a low-power Bluetooth connection to a compatible mobile device, effectively allowing you to geo-tag your images.

New to the A7C when compared to the A6600 is support for the fastest 5Ghz wi-fi standard.

The Sony A7C can shoot and record 4K video in multiple formats, including full-frame and the Super 35mm formats.

It can output uncompressed UHD 4K, 3840 x 2160 pixel video (30p/24p/25p) at 4:2:0 color depth in 8-bit to the inserted memory card or 4:2:2 in 8-bit over HDMI to compatible third party recorders.

Note that just like the A7 III, it does not support either 10-bit video or 4K 60p recording.

Sony A7C
Front of the Sony A7C

The Alpha 7C uses the XAVC S format, which is based on the professional XAVC codec, and can record Full HD at 120fps at up to 100Mbps, which allows footage to be edited into 4x or 5x slow-motion files.

A dedicated S&Q mode (Slow and Quick motion) on the shooting dial provides selectable frame rates ranging from 1fps to 120fps.

Note that when shooting in 4K at 24 and 25p, the camera utilises the full width of the image sensor to oversample from 6K's worth of data, but at 30p, a mild crop is still applied.

The Sony A7C's movie-making potential is further enhanced by 100Mb/s high-bit-rate XAVC-S data encoding, as well as clean video output over HDMI.

The HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) mode is available which supports an Instant HDR workflow, while both S-Log2 and S-Log3 gamma curves enable it to record greater dynamic range (up to 14 stops), providing you’re prepared to colour-grade the recording in post-production.

Other new features include the AF Speed setting from the A7S III, which offers 7 Speed settings and 5 Sensitivity settings, no time limits on recording, an additional blue peaking colour, vertical position data recording so that you can shoot for Instagram Stories or other vertical platforms, live streaming support, and NTSC and PAL recording to the same memory card without having to reformat it (the camera has to reboot when switching between them).

The Alpha 7C also has Sony's excellent Eye AF for movies and both a MIC input and a headphone jack, all of which make it a well-appointed, if not ground-breaking, camera for shooting 4K/30p and 1080/120p video.