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The Sony a7C: Did Sony Get This One Wrong?

Sony announced its new compact full frame mirrorless camera today, the a7C. It shaves the dimensions of the hugely successful a7 III while retaining most of its innards, but who is this camera for and should you be excited about buying one?

Combined with Sony’s new FE 28-60mm F4-5.6 lens, Sony promises “an experience unlike any other, maximizing portability and versatility without sacrificing any of the power of full frame imaging.” This is certainly a smart-looking and compact camera, effectively trimming the EVF bump from the a7 III and ditching a card slot, and for anyone pondering their first full frame camera, this might be an appealing prospect. However, with the price, the features, the size, and the sensor, where does it fall into the range of mirrorless options currently on the market, and is there a risk that it will become something of a curate’s egg, especially once the a7 IV arrives?

At a time when Canon and Nikon both seem intent on dragging down the cost of an entry-level, full frame camera, some had expected Sony to go the same route with a body that offered a direct competitor to the Z 5, the RP, and whatever Canon is planning that’s allegedly going to be even cheaper.

The Nikon Z 5

At eighteen hundred dollars, the a7C is very far from being that camera, and the big difference here might be that Sony has a plethora of crop sensor cameras for those on a budget. Canon’s success with whatever undercuts the RP might change this in the future, but for now, Sony seems happy to protect its line of APS-C cameras.

A question remains: it might be slightly smaller, but what is the biggest incentive to buy this over the a7 III with its dual card slots, especially given that the a7 III is likely going to drop in price, not only as a result of this camera but also the arrival of the a7 IV?

When Sony announced the ZV-1 back in May, the general consensus seemed to be that only people who know little about vlogging would be fooled into believing that its 24-70mm equivalent fixed lens is the perfect tool. 24mm is not wide enough for many, and digital stabilization has the potential to trim that even further.

Panasonic Lumix S 20-60mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens

At 28-60mm, Sony’s new kit lens might be compact, but that’s a step in the wrong direction. Only Panasonic seems to have the right idea having released its 20-60mm f/3.5-5.6 alongside the recently announced S5. Even Nikon’s latest effort is closer — the NIKKOR Z 24-50mm f/4-6.3.

It’s worth checking out the hands-on video from Tony and Chelsea Northrup to get an idea of how autofocus and stabilization perform. Early impressions are not great.

One of the complaints about full frame cameras becoming ever smaller is that the lenses immediately undermine the reasons for having a compact body. And certainly, if like Jared Polin, you’re attaching massive prime lenses such as the Sigma 35mm f/1.2, you’d be correct.

However, this ignores the large array of compact primes that are available in the Sony system, with Samyang/Rokinon adding another notable lens to that list only this week. The Samyang 35mm f/1.8 will not offer anywhere near the image quality of the Sigma 35mm f/1.2, but it’s almost a quarter of the price and nearly a fifth of the weight.

Samyang Rokinon 35mm f/1.8 lens

Firstly, if a customer has chosen a camera that lacks a second card slot that gives immediate redundancy on any shoot, they’re probably spending hundreds of dollars on lenses each time, not thousands. I’d argue that those choosing a full frame camera because it is compact, there’s a very good chance that insanely creamy bokeh and razor-sharp images are not of paramount importance. I love compact primes because, although there are compromises, they allow me to travel light. I suspect that the majority those buying the a7C will be of a similar opinion.

Sony has a significant advantage over Canon and Nikon here: the choice of full-frame lenses available — especially budget and compact options — is extensive.

The decision not to implement the same freshly redesigned menu system as the shiny new a7S III is an odd one. As barriers to entry, the menu system is one of the reasons that I might steer newbies to photography away from Sony. Given that the a7C appears to be an ideal entry to the Sony system, it’s bizarre that Sony has chosen to stick with something so widely criticized.

Perhaps there’s something about having lifted so much of the a7 III’s innards that made implementing the new menu hugely impractical. Most likely we will never know.

I think many a7 III owners will have been waiting to see how much this new camera puts their old technology into the shade, especially given how compact the a7C is while still being able to match the a7 III’s ten frames per second burst speed.

Perhaps one point of frustration, however, is Sony’s implementation of autofocus tracking, a feature that is notably lacking from the a7 III, but present in pretty much everything that Sony has released since. Given how much of the a7 III has been included inside the a7C — it’s the same sensor with its output being controlled by the exact same processor —  it’s probably safe to assume that Sony could deliver this functionality to the a7 III via a firmware upgrade but, for now, chooses not to. Is this a retrospective cripple hammering at play? Let me know in the comments.

Is Sony going to sell a ton of these cameras? How will it affect the price of other bodies? And will the a7 IV be a little bit more expensive than predicted as a result? Be sure to give your response in the comments below.