Find the Perfect Sony Full-Frame Camera for You

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A pioneer of full-frame mirrorless, Sony has expanded its system into a full-fledged lineup that caters to all varieties of image makers. No longer a niche market, Sony recognizes the value and versatility of a full-frame sensor: Its large form factor yields excellent image quality, it’s the same size as 35mm film for a sense of familiarity, and it’s still small enough so the overall camera size remains portable and compact.

Now that Sony has a grip on how to use full-frame sensors, and has released such a bevy of different cameras over the past several years, how do you navigate the waters of full-frame Sony?

The a7 Series

Sony began full-frame mirrorless with the a7, or Alpha 7, to be more formal, in 2013. During the past several years, many things have changed but many have also stayed the same. The premise for what a full-frame mirrorless body is today isn’t too different from this very first a7 body; it’s compact, portable, and has a large sensor. With these key elements in mind, Sony has expanded the concept into a suite of different models and sub-series.

a7 III

With direct lineage to the original a7, the a7 III is the clearest example of Sony’s original aim with these cameras. The a7 III, the a7, and a7 II are the all-arounders of Sony’s full-frame mirrorless lineup. Modest resolution, good for photo, and good for video. They are just meant to be well-rounded cameras that appeal to image makers looking to dabble in a variety of shooting styles and methods.

a7 III
  • 24.2MP Exmor R BSI CMOS Sensor

  • UHD 4K 30p Video with HLG

  • 693-Point Hybrid AF

  • 2.36m-Dot OLED EVF and 3.0" 922k-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD

  • 5-Axis IBIS

  • Up to 10 fps Continuous Shooting

  • Dual SD Card Slots (One UHS-II)

a7R IVA

The first refinement of the all-arounder a7 concept came with the a7R; the “R” essentially distinguishing the camera’s heightened resolution and more specialized focus for photography mediums like landscape, portraiture, and still life. The original a7R had a higher-res sensor (36MP vs 24MP) and coupled that with the removal of the low-pass filter for a true emphasis on sharpness. This camera did come with the caveat of lacking phase-detection AF, but has since been updated and now, with the a7R IVA, this platform has been one of the most popular and well-respected models in Sony’s full-frame lineup.

a7R IVA
  • 61MP Exmor R BSI CMOS Sensor

  • UHD 4K 30p Video with HLG

  • 567-Point Hybrid AF

  • 5.76m-Dot OLED EVF and 3.0" 2.36m-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD

  • 5-Axis IBIS

  • Up to 10 fps Continuous Shooting

  • Dual UHS-II SD Card Slots

a7S III

The second more niche model is the a7S platform, with the “S” symbolizing sensitivity, and the camera itself being known as a groundbreaker in terms of video performance in a mirrorless body. The latest edition, the a7S III, even has the same essential feature set as one of Sony’s cine line cameras, the FX3. This camera has always stood out as a specialist camera due to its notably low resolution and high sensitivity range, which are perfect for video and low-light work, but not hitting the same all-arounder appeal of the a7 and a7R cameras. However, if video is your interest, the a7S is tough to beat.

a7S III
  • 12.1MP Exmor R BSI CMOS Sensor

  • UHD 4K 120p Video, 10-Bit 4:2:2 Internal Recording, 16-Bit Raw Output

  • 759-Point Hybrid AF

  • 9.44m-Dot OLED EVF and 3.0" 1.44m-Dot Vari-Angle Touchscreen LCD

  • 5-Axis IBIS

  • Up to 10 fps Continuous Shooting

  • Dual CFexpress Type A/SD Card Slots

a7C

The newest member in the a7 lineup is the a7C, which is still a first-generation camera and is perhaps the most unique of the series because it lacks the characteristic viewfinder hump. It still has a viewfinder, located in the upper corner, and otherwise features a majority of the a7 III specs in a pared-down, sleeker body design. Beyond the rangefinder-esque design, smaller form factor, single memory card slot, and Vari-Angle LCD screen that differentiate it, the a7C also has some minor differences in AF operability due to it being a newer model.

a7C
  • 24.2MP Exmor R BSI CMOS Sensor

  • UHD 4K 30p Video with HLG

  • 693-Point Hybrid AF

  • 2.36m-Dot OLED EVF and 3.0" 922k-Dot Vari-Angle Touchscreen LCD

  • 5-Axis IBIS

  • Up to 10 fps Continuous Shooting

  • Single UHS-II SD Card Slot

a7 Series Takeaway

Since the a7 Series has grown from two models to three and now to four, as well as the cameras themselves improving with each iteration, it’s trickier to pick the perfect camera for one’s needs unless what you’re looking for falls squarely in the bucket of video/sensitivity performance or pure resolution. The a7 III will still be the go-to model for many, with its all-around awesome feature set, but the a7R IVA has proven itself to be able to handle essentially the same video tasks as the a7 III, as well as provide enhanced stills performance. The a7S III is an easy choice if video is your focus, and the same can be said for the a7C if compactness is your number one priority.

The a9 Series

Sony had a good run at keeping its full-frame mirrorless lineup neat and tidy for a few years, until 2017 when the company introduced the original a9 and the concept of a full-frame mirrorless camera existing outside of the ubiquitous a7 nomenclature. The a9, when first released, brought a chunkier, hardier body, more physical controls, updated EVF and handling, and speed, speed, speed. It was Sony’s first attempt at a sports, wildlife, and fast-action-centered camera and was one of the first times anyone would see how mirrorless tech was evolving, finally to approach and even outpace DSLRs in some fast-moving applications. It was Sony’s new flagship.

a9 II

The current iteration of the a9 platform, the a9 II, still sits in Sony’s driver’s seat when it comes to speed and action, boasting its proven stacked-sensor configuration for ultra-quick readout speeds, 20 fps continuous shooting, blackout-free viewing, and flexible connectivity options, including 1000BASE-T Ethernet, for more professional shooting applications.

a9II
  • 24.2MP Exmor RS CMOS Sensor

  • UHD 4K 30p Video

  • 693-Point Hybrid AF

  • 3.7m-Dot Blackout-Free OLED EVF and 3.0" 1.44m-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD

  • 5-Axis IBIS

  • Up to 20 fps Continuous Shooting

  • Dual UHS-II SD Card Slots, 5GHz Wi-Fi and 1000BASE-T Ethernet

a9 Series Takeaway

The a9 II and its predecessor are very much purpose-built cameras meant for speedy shooting tasks. You’ll notice Sony hasn’t focused too much on video performance with this series, meaning the camera is aimed at still photographers photographing moving subjects (often in a professional setting). The a9 series was Sony’s first attempt at a “professional camera,” with the inclusion of more sophisticated and reliable connectivity options, like wired LAN. This is a camera platform to choose if you know exactly how and when you’ll be using your camera, and if that place is a sports or outdoor setting, you’ll be photographing fast subjects, and will greatly benefit from the lack of rolling shutter distortion, blackout-free EVF performance, and advanced AF tracking.

The a1 Series

Imagine if you took the best of the a7 series cameras and the a9 II, combined them, and then added a bit more all around… you’d end up with something like the Alpha 1, or a1, which is Sony’s newest flagship model and its attempt to make a true “one camera to rule them all.” If you found yourself, somehow, debating whether you wanted the high resolution of the a7R series or the speed of the a9 series, well, the a1 virtually encompasses both of those extremes, and adds a dash of updated workflow capabilities, impressive video specs, and manages to keep roughly the same form factor that’s made the a7 and a9 cameras so popular for so long.

a1

The a1 is a no-holds-barred camera that mixes resolution, speed, video, operability, and connectivity all in a sleek and versatile body. The sensor is a 50.1MP stacked CMOS sensor, and an updated BIONZ XR processor helps to achieve up to 8K 30p and 4K 120p video recording, 30 fps continuous shooting, and impressively low rolling shutter and distortion. Advanced AF performance incorporates a bevy of subject tracking modes, too, for stills and video. In terms of viewing, a class-leading 9.44m-dot OLED EVF with blackout-free monitoring is featured, along with a high-performance electronic shutter, a variety of connectivity options, and 5-axis image stabilization.

a1
  • 50.1MP Exmor RS CMOS Sensor

  • 8K 30p and 4K 120p Video with 10-Bit Internal and S-Cinetone

  • 759-Point Hybrid AF

  • 9.44m-Dot Blackout-Free OLED EVF and 3.0" 1.44m-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD

  • 5-Axis IBIS

  • Up to 30 fps Continuous Shooting

  • Dual CFexpress Type A/SD Card Slots

a1 Takeaway

It’s hard not to be impressed with a camera like the a1 since it hits so many points and can appeal to a wide array of photographers, ranging from sports and wildlife shooters to landscape and portrait photographers to video specialists. Its high-res sensor makes it viable for critical work while the speed and intelligent tracking make it suitable for fast-moving subjects. And then there’s the high-res 8K video and slo-mo 4K recording that make it a compelling choice even when set against the video-centric a7S III. The recording capabilities make the a1 something special, and then there are the body ergonomics and viewing elements, like the 9.44m-dot blackout-free EVF, that put the a1 over the edge as the type of camera you’d really enjoy using. In terms of who this camera is best suited for, the short answer would be “everybody,” but the more realistic answer is that it’s a lot of camera, and more than most people need to do most jobs. On the other hand, it can take the place of two or three cameras if you were looking at one camera for stills, one for video, and for that reason the a1 really shines as an advanced all-arounder.

Which to Choose? a7 vs a9 vs a1

When comparing cameras, inevitably the answer is always going to be “it depends.” And that’s exactly the case here when comparing Sony’s variety of full-frame mirrorless offerings. Picking a camera involves weighing which features and options mean the most to you and benefit the way in which you shoot. If you’re not much of a video shooter, then cameras like the a9 II and a7R IVA are the stills-optimized models. The a7S III, on the other hand, hits the multimedia nail on the head with its video capabilities, and the a1 does double duty by catering to both. Cameras like the a7 III and a7C have their place, too, as gateways to Sony’s full-frame system and just more accessible options that sport many of the features and tech from the higher-end models.

What do you think about Sony’s full-frame lineup? Do you already know which is the perfect Sony camera for you? Is there another model you could see in the lineup someday? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section, below.

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