Sony unveils the world's smallest and lightest full-frame camera
The benefits of full-frame mirrorless cameras are well known; chiefly, a big sensor tends to offer much better low-light performance than a small one, plus they allow you to use super-thin depth of field to define your subject and blur out the background.
The drawbacks tend to be that they're more expensive, they use big, heavy and pricey lenses, and they tend to be a fair whack heavier and bulkier than cameras with smaller sensors. But it seems 2020 will be the year that full-frame camera body size ceases to be an issue. Earlier this month, Panasonic revealed its S5, a full-frame video/stills beast in a body that's somehow slightly smaller and lighter than its own GH5, which uses a tiny micro 4/3rds sensor.
Now, Sony has announced a full-frame mirrorless rig that's somehow even tinier, claiming the status of the world's smallest and lightest full-frame camera with interchangeable lenses and in-body optical image stabilization. Which is a bit of a mouthful, but the new alpha 7C looks like a pretty amazing bit of kit.
Dimensionally, you're looking at 124.0 mm x 71.1 mm x 59.7 mm (4.9 inches x 2.8 inches x 2.2 inches) and a weight of just 509 g (18 oz) with a battery and memory card inside. That's nearly 30 percent lighter than the above S5, for reference, so it's a pretty incredible feat.
Inside that tiny, nicely retro case lies a 24.2-megapixel full-frame, back-illuminated Exmor sensor. Sony's sensors are top-shelf, and this one offers a huge 15 stops of dynamic range, grabbing lots of detail in shadows and highlights that can be brought out in post-processing. In-body stabilization offers some 5 stops worth of compensation for a wobbly hand, and a new high-capacity battery lets you bang away for up to 740 images on a charge using the LCD monitor, or 680 if you use the electronic viewfinder.
The AF system is a beast; 693 phase-detect autofocus points and 425 contrast detection points distributed all over the sensor, all working fast enough to shoot 10 fps bursts with autofocus and auto-exposure adjusting between every frame. There's real-time eye-autofocus for people and animals.
In terms of video, it's probably best described as a basic but beautiful 4K shooter. We don't yet know what frame rate it can handle at full 4K resolution, just that it can definitely handle 24 fps. We suspect if it could do 60 fps like the Panasonic, that would've been a key part of the announcement. In terms of slow motion, it'll do 1080p at up to 120 fps, and if you're the type to get stuck into color grading, it'll shoot in S-Log, HDR and S-Gamut profiles.
It's got Wi-Fi connectivity for wireless image transfer and quick sharing, as well as remote shooting, either in the studio, or for example when mounted to a drone, where the alpha 7C becomes the absolute lightest way to get a proper 35mm sensor airborne for aerial photo and video shooting.
Sony has backed it up with a new super-compact zoom lens in the FE 28-60mm F4-F5.6, which offers a decent standard zoom range but is clearly mainly focused on being the world's smallest and lightest full frame standard zoom. At just 167 grams (5.9 oz) and extending just 45 mm (1.8 inches) from the camera body, this is the one to grab if you want a super-portable kit. Otherwise, the camera can take the full range of FE-mount lenses, of which there are now many, but high quality full-frame glass can certainly get very big and heavy.
There's also a new compact swivel-head flash, the HVL-F28RM, which, when linked to a compatible camera like the alpha 7C, links into the face detection system to influence that camera's choice of white balance, making sure skin tones are rendered in natural colors.
Body-only, the Sony alpha 7C will set you back US$1,799.99, hitting the shelves in late October. With the 28-60mm kit lens, it's US$2,099.99, and this combo will also be available late October. The lens alone will be US$499.99, launching in January, and the flash will sell for US$249, starting sometime "this winter."
That's a couple of hundred cheaper than the US$1,999.99 Panasonic S5, which costs US$2,299.99 with a wider 20-60mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens. Mind you, the Panasonic's video capabilities are a definite step up toward the pro level, with 4K/60fps and 180fps slow-mo in 1080p, and dual native ISO to potentially make it a better machine in low light. On the other hand, Sony's sensors have long been brilliant in the dark, and the alpha 7C absolutely destroys the S5 on size and weight, so each will find its people.
Of course, the ultimate portable camera right now is the mobile phone you've got in your pocket. Smartphone imaging is so good now, and faked-up depth of field so effective, that dedicated cameras really have to fight for a spot on your hip if you're not a paid professional. But cameras like the 7C, with its delicious full-frame image quality and ultra-portable form factor – not to mention impressively affordable prices for what they can do – are going to be huge in drawing new blood into the hobby. The lower the barrier to throwing it in your backpack, the more you're going to use it. These things look like a terrific development to us.
Check out a video below.