Eric L. Woods

A camera I did not know I would want: Sony A7c

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Often a camera will be teased with rumors that raises interest but does not pan out later. This is what happens most of the time with me. But the Sony A7c was the opposite. With what I read in the rumors I did not think it would be a camera for me. Looking at my current full frame line up it seemed to check boxes that I already had marked.

  • Had IBIS covered with the A7III and A7II.
  • Same sensor as the A7III.
  • Long lasting battery like the A7III.
  • Touch screen for AF like the A7III.
  • A7III menus. Having the A7S III menus would have been nice, but I have made my peace with Sony menus having climbed their learning curve long ago.
  • One card slot like the A7II.
  • Rumored to possibly have a pop up viewfinder like I dislike on RX100 models or possibly no viewfinder on the body requiring an add on one like I disliked on the Olympus E-PL5 and E-P5.
  • Articulating screen is nice for video but I have that covered with the a6100 and ZV-1.
  • Lastly the rumored price at or more than $2,000 would have cost more than getting another A7III to replace my A7II. And overall I was happy with the A7II second body.

Having release hype fatigue I hesitated to watch YouTube videos on it or read the reviews. But one headline started me down a path that changed everything.

Hold on a minute now. This changes things.

As I mentioned in this blog post link I have owned couple of M Mount film cameras (M3 and Bessa) in the past and I currently still have one (CL).

I also have a set of 7Artisans M mount lenses (28mm/35mm/50mm/75mm). As a result I have wanted a Leica digital camera but price was the issue. Well, more accurately I want a digital rangefinder camera and Leica is the only game in town. In that post I also called on digital camera manufacturers to get on this M Mount desert like Zeiss (Ikon), Voigtlander (Bessa), and others did with film. The A7 bodies up to now do a fine job adapting M Mount lenses functionally but they altered the shooting experience quite a bit. The Phoblographer article above lifted up a few points I had not considered or did not know. Accidental list of three Fs below.

Feel

  • Another Phoblographer A7c article added, “It’s got a pleasing texture that is very different from other Sony cameras. Notably, it sports a soft leatherette comparable to a broken-in horween chromexcel leather strap. The top portion has this lovely, almost pebbled texture.”
  • While technically competent one thing you would never accuse an A7 of is having a good ‘feel’. Sony competence with an improved feel is a win win.

Form

  • The faux SLR mirror box hump shape of the A7 and many, many other mirrorless cameras makes no sense to me. I guess they were looking to ease users into the transition from DSLR to mirrorless but lack of a mirror box means you could put the viewfinder wherever you wanted to. While I own film SLRs my favorite film cameras are rangefinders or AF cameras with a rangefinder left side viewfinder layout. While it keeps your nose off of the back screen it also allows you to see your surroundings better, allows the photo subject to see more of your face, and could make for a smaller camera.
  • Even if a proper rangefinder is not available an M Mount lens shooting experience is bound to be more enjoyable on a small body shaped like a rangefinder.

Focusing

  • Last but not least another line in that post above grabbed my interest, “But this new Sony camera has stepped it up for focus peaking and accuracy.”
  • I could manually focus well enough with the A7 bodies I have but improvement is definitely welcome.
  • I am also curious how the A7c will get on with the TECHART AF adapter as well. May have found an interchangeable lens successor to the Leica Q.

That was enough to get me on board right there. While not possessing a true rangefinder this is as close to an alternative as I am ever likely to see if I am honest. While I would love it I can admit that it makes little functional business sense in this day and age for a company to invest in the creation a new rangefinder set up no matter how much I want it to be. And I am OK with that. Add to that the revelations I recently read regarding the Leica M9, which was the most likely used digital M candidate for me, where their sensors are failing in quite a common and expensive fashion and a brand new rangefinder-less rangefinder-ish design alternative with most every modern bell and whistle available for much less spend is very welcome. Personal choice but all of the nostalgia and shooting experience in the world does not justify thousands more. I completely understand that others will not agree and that is fine.

Additionally I once switched from a Leica M3 to a Voigtlander Bessa R2 largely because I was shooting Voigtlander glass (40mm/50mm) at the time. If I am unbothered by non-Leica glass surely a non-Leica camera is not an issue for me. Have since moved on to 7Artisans glass with a Leica CL, made in cooperation with Minolta, and this is my favorite film camera of the three. Smaller size and solid build. Has internal metering where the M3 did not. Has a better metering experience than the Bessa R2 since I prefer a match needle over three lights and I can see the shutter speed in the viewfinder. Interestingly the A7c (124mm x 71.1mm) nearly shares the same width and height with the Leica CL (121 mm × 76 mm). I also prefer the all black A7c body over the much more review prevalent silver/black variant. I am interested in seeing the two side by side. Many ding the CL’s focusing. Primarily for its shorter rangefinder base length. A similar complaint lodged against the Bessa R2. While I fully acknowledge that the M3 rangefinder is superior I have had no fast lens focusing issues with either the CL or the R2. Different compromise but I am also not that concerned about focus peaking instead of rangefinder focusing as compared to digital Leica M cameras. Would I prefer a rangefinder? Yes. Am I willing to pay thousands more for it? While losing modern conveniences like IBIS, optional class leading AF, and much better battery life when compared to the latest M? No. There is not enough GAS justification in the world to cover that feature/price gap for me. Again, if you want an M get an M. Great camera. A large reason why I lean towards the A7c is that there is more to it than adapting M Mount glass.

The Leica M mount revelation was just the starting point. Initial rumors were off in some slight, but significant ways.

  • It has a built in viewfinder and it is thankfully not a pop up. Some have dinged it for size and resolution but if it is as good or better than the a6000/a6100 I am good. Just glad it is is there and not a pop up.
  • Thought it would have the A7III AF system but it has the even better AF from the A7SIII and ZV-1 with real time AF and animal Eye AF. That is huge. While not bad at all I would also not consider the older AF on the A7II its strongest point as it loses a few steps when compared to the newer cameras.
  • While having only one card slot it is of the new UHS-II variety which is a step up from the A7II.
  • Had not realized that it was 10fps like the A7III. But unlike the A7III the c has a 223 Frames (JPEG) / 115 Frames (Raw) buffer as opposed to a to / 177 Frames (JPEG) / 89 Frames (Raw) buffer. And both blow the 5fps 50 shot buffer of the A7II out of the water.
  • In addition to longer battery life I also like the idea of having only one battery type to worry about across two bodies since the A7II has the older, smaller batteries.
  • Like the A7SIII the c also has an unlimited filming times and no overheating issues reported so far. Both the II and III are limited to 29 minutes and the II lacks 4K.
  • All in a package barely larger or heavier than the a6600 and an actually shallower depth.
  • And last but not least on this list the body only price is $1,799 or considerably less than the earlier reported $2,000 and less than an A7III.

Also brings something else up. Variety as a second full frame body. The A7II is very much like the A7III and the main reason I never picked up a second A7III body is that seemed a bit too redundant. Now we have a camera that lends itself to being a casual shooter than can also step up and be a second full frame body when needed also. Another win win.

Another unintended side effect is that it also rendered my a6000/a6100 gear kind of pointless. My main reason for using them was their compact form factor. While not large in the conventional sense one would not call the A7 bodies compact either. I look forward to slapping on the Rokinon/Samyang 24mm f/2.8 for a very small AF rig almost as much as using the camera with M mount lenses. May even pick up a Rokinon/Samyang 35mm f/2.8 again.

And while we are on the small form factor with that 24mm f/2.8 lens I am looking forward to having a swing out screen. The more I use swing out screens on the ZV-1 (and Canon EOS RP in the past) the more it is becoming my favorite articulating screen configuration. I even prefer it to the flip up screen on the a6100. That screen also facilitates turning the lens around completely to protect the screen when off and allowing a viewfinder only faux film shooting experience like I enjoyed on the Olympus PEN-F and Canon EOS-RP. With that pancake lens, wide field of view, swift/accurate/fast/silent latest and greatest AF, mic jack, headphone jack, swing out screen, and a full frame sensor this is shaping up to be the mother of all compact set ups.

Had said that if I had known how good the ZV-1 was going to be I might not have purchased the a6100. Well it is looking like the A7c may pull of the same trick regarding the ZV-1. It is safe for right now since I do rather enjoy the whole cargo pant pocket size all in one carry anywhere solution. Its stellar video capabilities set it apart enough from my recent MFT backslide that it sill has a home. But standing between the A7c, MFT kit, and the ZV-1 things are not looking good for the a6000/a6100 line up…

Who am I kidding the trade is already in motion.

Sidebar: After thinking about it a bit I do not see a path forward for crop Sony for me. Ok, the a6000 and a6100 as budget options still make sense. But this is not good for the a6600 as I would gladly pay more for the A7c instead.

The A7c also compares very well to many rangefinder-ish and/or compact cameras. The others:

  • Fujifilm X-Pro3
    • Full frame wins.
    • IBIS wins.
    • Smaller somehow.
    • Same price for the win.
    • Also not a rangefinder.
    • Had and liked the X-Pro 1 but all the nostalgia and ergonomics in the world cannot overcome the bullets above for me. Same goes for the much less expensive X-E3. Having had the X-E2 I would get the X-E3 instead if I had to have a Fujifilm camera.
  • Olympus PEN-F
    • Full frame wins.
    • Similar size and weight (same height and weight even).
    • Does also have IBIS, but we can stop here. Have had the PEN-F. Would much rather have the A7c.
  • Leica M10
    • Leica folks put the torches down. Please. Thank you.
    • This is not about specs. Objectively there is no comparison. But Leicas are not about specs.
    • Subjectively, as I have said before, if you must have a Leica, then buy a Leica. If you would like a Leica, but cannot get past the staggering price of entry the A7c is an excellent option.
  • Sony RX1R II
    • RX1R II lacks IBIS.
    • A7c is not that much larger.
    • Interchangeable lens wins for me.
    • RX1R II has the pop up viewfinder that I do not like.
    • RX1R II is considerably more expensive. So much so that you could get the A7c and a couple of lenses for less.
  • Sigma fp
    • fp lacks everything.
    • No IBIS.
    • Contrast only AF.
    • No mechanical shutter.
    • No viewfinder on board or optional.
    • Back screen is fixed.
    • Sony has many more lens that includes many Sony versions of the fp’s Sigma alliance lenses. Weirdly B&H shows more Sony mount Sigma lenses (24) than Leica L alliance mount Sigma lenses (17).
    • Same price. That will be a nope for me.

I have seen some compare the A7c against the Panasonic Lumix S5, Nikon Z5, and others but they are not A7c competitors for me. With their DSLR-ish bodies I would get the A7III before either of these. Which lands me back on the A7c when looking for a second body. But even if I did not already have the A7III the form factor and lens selection would win out for me personally. Third party options are so good that with recent trades I currently do not own a single Sony lens. Sony lenses are great, but I found every lens (prime trio and zoom trio) I need while saving on money and space. And these lenses are not available with other systems right now as of the writing of this post. Panasonic only has AF lenses from the alliance (32 in total between Panasonic, Leica, and Sigma) and Nikon only has Nikon AF lenses (13) currently. Meanwhile Sony currently has 96 AF lenses available from many manufacturers. Add the Sony option only adapt near any legacy lens with AF TECHART adapter for me and it is a no brainer. There are many great cameras on the market right now, but all other things being equal lens choice becomes the deciding factor for me. And right now Sony sits at the top of the mirrorless lens choice heap. If I had to start a new system full frame right now the only decision for me would be fake DSLR design (A7III) or fake rangefinder design (A7c).

The recently released spec war and entry level cameras do not interest me. This one now does. More to come soon when the A7c arrives.

-ELW

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