It has been a little over a year since Sony announced the world’s first fixed lens 35mm full-frame mirrorless camera, the Sony RX1. Shortly after, Sony released another version of the same camera without an anti-aliasing filter and gave it a slightly different name – Sony RX1R, similar to what Nikon did with the D800 and the D800E. And with Sony’s hard push on the NEX-series cameras, we thought that it was a matter of time until Sony announces a full-frame interchangeable lens mirrorless camera system. Back in 2012, we predicted that Sony would release a full-frame camera in 2013 and it seems like our predictions were indeed true. Today is a very exciting day for the world of photography, because Sony has just announced the world’s first full-frame interchangeable lens mirrorless camera with autofocus capabilities. Sony is shaking up the industry once again with a breakthrough product that will lead the way for others in the future. Some might say that this is the beginning of the end of DSLRs. Read on to see what we think.
Aside from Leica, no other company has been able to offer mirrorless full-frame cameras so far. In addition to the high cost of manufacturing full-frame sensors, integrating a fast and accurate autofocus system and a solid electronic viewfinder with minimal lag and blackouts has been a challenge. Another factor was the cost of creating a new lens system, which requires a lot of R&D and a long term financial commitment to make a system successful. Lastly, most manufacturers realized that they would have a hard time competing with the mature DSLR market that has been historically soaring in popularity due to high demand and lower than ever prices. Having entered the mirrorless market with NEX-series cameras that sported smaller APS-C sensors seen in budget DSLRs, Sony has been probing the market with a number of different mirrorless options. Until today, Sony was one of the few manufacturers to create 4 different segments in the mirrorless market – from the budget Sony NEX-3 series to the feature-rich NEX-7 for enthusiasts and professionals. The NEX has been quite a success story for Sony, which has been rapidly growing its market share ever since. New cameras are introduced every year and the selection of lenses has been steadily growing, both in Sony’s native lenses and third party options. While the NEX-series cameras are meant to compete directly with APS-C DSLRs for everything except sports and wildlife photography, they have not been able to match the performance of full-frame DSLRs. Even the best of the breed Sony NEX-7 cannot directly compete with such cameras as the Nikon D800 in image quality and resolution, due to the smaller physical size of the sensor.
Lighter, Smaller, Cheaper
With the introduction of the new full-frame mirrorless cameras, Sony is now the first company to truly challenge full-frame DSLRs. Featuring imaging sensors that are of the same size as on top of the line DSLR cameras, the new mirrorless system will offer the same image quality at smaller size, lower weight and above all – cost! Yes, with a price tag of $1700, the Sony A7 will be the first full-frame camera in history to be sold that cheap at launch. Even the Nikon D610 with a similar 24 MP resolution sensor and a discounted price of $2000 (compared to the D600) is $300 more expensive in comparison! And the Sony A7R, which has the same 36 MP resolution sensor as the Nikon D800/D800E will be sold for just $2300 – $700 cheaper than the market value of the D800. Actually, it will be $1000 cheaper, because it has no anti-aliasing filter and therefore competes head to head against the Nikon D800E, which retails for $3300. What an aggressive move by Sony – two products that are meant to essentially eat into Nikon’s D610 and D800 sales directly!
What’s shocking, is that Sony’s full-frame cameras are also the first mirrorless cameras that actually compete with DSLRs price-wise. So far, pretty much none of the mirrorless APS-C cameras have been cheaper than their DSLR counterparts, maybe with the exception of some lower-end Micro Four Thirds models. The goal of these two cameras is pretty clear – to capture as much market share as possible at a very low cost entry and convert as many Nikon and Canon DSLR shooters to Sony, as quickly as possible. For photography needs like landscape and architectural photography, these cameras would be a perfect fit. Why wouldn’t you want a full-frame mirrorless if it is smaller, lighter and cheaper than a DSLR, with the equivalent image quality? For sports and wildlife photography, it will take a while for mirrorless to catch up. Contrast-detect is unusable for moving subjects, while hybrid AF systems are currently too slow and buggy to compete with the traditional phase detect autofocus. In addition, it will take a number of years for Sony or other manufacturers to develop good super-telephoto lenses for the full-frame mirrorless mount and there will always be an issue of balance when dealing with large lenses and small cameras. In fact, mirrorless might not be able to replace DSLRs for sports and wildlife photography for many years. But that’s a relatively small market we are talking about.
Nikon and Canon – Wake Up!
This is certainly a wake up call for both Nikon and Canon, both of which have been ignoring the potential of mirrorless cameras and pushing their R&D in the wrong direction. And this is certainly a huge blow to Nikon! Sony let Nikon have the lead game for a year with its D600 and D800, by selling Nikon its 24 MP and 36 MP sensors and now they are slapping the same sensors on completely different products at much smaller price points. Think about what this will do to Nikon’s DSLR prices. Perhaps Nikon is counting on the loyalty of its existing customers? Well, if that was the case, perhaps it shouldn’t have let its D600 customers down by announcing the D610 instead of trying to fix the dust problem? Or perhaps it should have acknowledged the autofocus problems of the D800 and taken steps to remedy them? Nikon’s image has been badly tarnished during the last two years and it is not something that even the most loyal customers will easily forget for a while. I would like to see how Nikon can convince its fan base to upgrade to the D800E, when Sony offers comparable image quality at a whopping $1000 less. Obviously, it is not just about the camera and its sensor – lenses also play a huge role, as pointed out below. However, if Nikon does not turn around and act quickly, it risks losing a lot of its market share and dominance in the next few years. I am not trying to say that everyone will move to Sony, but those that are considering moving up from an APS-C / DX camera to full-frame will certainly take a close look at what Sony has to offer.
Lens Selection and Compatibility
As you probably already know, a good selection of solid performing lenses is a must-have ingredient for success. Without good lenses, Sony will have a hard time selling the system. Historically, in comparison to Micro Four Thirds and Fuji X systems, Sony has not done a very good job with its NEX lens line in my opinion. Instead of focusing on compact prime lenses with good performance characteristics, Sony has been releasing bulky zoom lenses and slow primes. To date, there is not a single native f/1.2 or f/1.4 lens for the NEX mount. And if you have been reading our coverage of the NEX system, one of my biggest complaints is the size / bulk of Sony’s E-mount lenses and their average performance. Zeiss has a couple of good lenses, but they come with bulk and a high price tag.
With the A7 and A7R full-frame mirrorless cameras, Sony is launching 4 full-frame E-mount lenses and a development of a 70-200mm f/4 lens:
- Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA – $798
- Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA – $998
- Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS – $1,198
- Sony 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS (Kit lens with the A7)
- Sony 70-200mm /f4 G OSS (Spring 2014)
This is an interesting list of lenses to start with. Two primes and two zooms. The 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS is a stabilized fixed aperture lens, which seems very promising. If I were to get one of the Sony cameras, which I most likely will, I would put that as my first choice. Should be a superb lens for landscape photography and image stabilization is a nice bonus. The cheaper, variable aperture version, the Sony 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS will only ship as a kit lens to the A7. My second choice would be the 55mm f/1.8 ZA, which should also be excellent for portraiture. As usual, I am certainly planning to review the whole system, including the four lenses mentioned above. With Zeiss designing three out of four lenses, I suspect these will not disappoint.
While going through Sony’s marketing material, I saw a very catchy header “Fully compatible w/ Sony’s E-mount and new full-frame lenses”. Considering that the current Sony E-mount lenses were technically supposed to be designed for the APS-C format (which means that they should have a smaller image circle), I first thought that Sony did the same thing that Nikon did with DX – the lenses would mount, but work at limited resolution. However, after I saw the below image, where the Sony Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 lens was pictured together with the new lenses, I realized that Sony might have some lenses that have image circles covering wider than APS-C – the 24mm f/1.8 has been out for a while and it is probably designed to be a full-frame lens from the get-go.
For regular E-mount lenses that have a smaller APS-C image circle, the cameras will automatically crop images, similar to what happens on DX cameras when they are mounted on full-frame cameras. The resolution will be limited to 15 MP.
There are some concerns around the weight and bulk of full-frame lenses and the balance of a heavy lens versus the light camera body. With the A7 and A7R, Sony is also launching a grip, which should help balance things out a little better. Still, considering that lenses have to cover such a huge image circle, Sony will have to be creative on what lenses they release for the mount in the future.
I am very excited to see what will happen in the photography industry during the next few years. A full-frame mirrorless system was a dream just yesterday and it is now a reality. And contrary to what many thought would be an expensive system, we are facing something that will shake up the market immediately. With Sony’s aggressive pricing strategy, I expect the A7 and A7R cameras to have an impact on full-frame DSLR sales. As I have explained above, I see a direct threat to Nikon’s D610 / D800 and Canon’s 5D Mark III DSLRs. Perhaps those that shoot sports and wildlife might not be interested yet, but think of everybody else that will want to get a taste of cheaper full-frame system for landscape, architecture, portraiture and other needs, without the heft and weight of a DSLR. That’s potentially a huge market we are talking about…
Bravo Sony, you have done it again! I cannot wait to get a hold of the new system and compare it head to head against my Nikon DSLRs. Exciting times indeed!
The Author, Mr. Mansurov has put forward a wonderful article. An article with hope about the system’s future and to a certain extent, threat to Canon & Nikon, because the only big problem with these A7 series cameras, is the autofocus system.
Nothing else is a real problem at all, everything else has real world alternatives (like battery extenders), or future solutions (like new lenses).
Remember, this is market:.. Customer behavior may be irrational and unpredictable.
I think for the future, Sony should be looking at the same phase detection system as in DSLR’s, but with a variation: The Mirror must not be there in front of sensor.
Autofocus system should be around the sensor, (like above the sensor) not within it. With a viewfinder window or without.
This way, only Macro photos would require in-sensor autofocusing, otherwise most of the distant objects should focus reasonably well, with the same speed.
Talking about the mobile world, Sony could learn and maybe have a infrared laser autofocus system in this mirrorless?? My little stint with a LG G3 turned out quite a surprise. It was like I touch and click sharp photos. Couldn’t judge whether it was faster than DSLR, but it had a potential, combining it with a phase detection system…
Lol! Always nitpickers and naysayers! They’re everywhere! Please, get a life!
I am a serious amateur with a Canon 7D, and I am having soft focus problems. I am seriously looking at the Sony 7 or 7R, however finding one in a store that you can actually pick up and feel is very difficult. Any stores on the West Coast of Canada that will bring in these cameras? I do not want to order one without actually trying it out.
The Canon’s are soft. I moved years ago because of this.
To my knowledge the Nikon D610, D5300 and 7100 do not use Sony sensors.
They use sensors made by Toshiba and possibly Nikon will ony employ Toshiba sensors in their cameras going forward.
The Sony is groundbreaking as it is the smallest FF in the world as of now and it’s pointless comparing it’s body size to comparitve APS-C DSLR.
It’s easy to see how Sony does it since it makes the sensor for Nikon. Sony filled the market with the NEX version until it could figure out the price point. As soon as they saw Nikon falter and likewise Canon they coincidentally came out with their mirrorless versions. They weren’t about to try to compete at the same price. That was the deal with the RX1. Who was going to pay as much for a single concept lens as an ILC? Someone who needs to have an Audi in the driveway next to their Suburban. In the meantime Sony is cornering the market. Canon’s profits will have to improve and it won’t come from DSLRs no matter how many they sell. Nikon is a brand that Sony will take over. The entire camera industry has already consolidated. For Sony cameras are just another line on their balance sheet. But they can deliver for less.
Nasim, Do you foresee Sigma and Tamron to join the Sony A7 party soon? In particular, I’d like to see the A7 version of the Tamron SP AF 90mm F/2.8 and the SP 70-300 F/4-5.6 but I wonder if Tamron will place back the VC (Vibration Compensation) because the A7 body lacks such function.
I think Canon and Nikon are safe for a while with their DSLRs. With all the hoopla bout mirrorless, mirrorless only counts for less than 10% of the market. Canon DSLRs alone I think have the larger share of the market than others together. Canon can do nothing, their DSLRs are excellent and their lenses, especially lenses, are, in my opinion the best, the fastest focusing, and very reliable. You walk around at any tourist distention today and what you are going to see mostly is Canon DSLRs and some Nikon DSLRS and occasional mirrorless (I am talking about America and Europe, I know Japan is different).
When I lived in Japan, there were always bigger crowds at the Nikon section at Yodobashi Camera, compared to the Canon section.
Nikon and Canon are safe as so many old fucks still use them.
I have teenagers living at home, so I’m not completely out of tune with today’s happenings. I fully understand that everyone is in full “Retro” mode these days and there’s a certain nostalgia for anything 1960s and 1970s(just look at all of the retro film plugins for Photoshop that people overuse).
Personally, I think the A7 looks hideous and, more importantly, it looks like an ergonomics mistake. I wouldn’t want a camera with such sharp edges and angles; and so small!
Also, I don’t understand why everyone is jumping to the conclusion that Nikon and/or Canon have to produce a mirrorless full-frame body that looks like the A7/R, or one that has the same specs as that Sony model.
I can see how users, specially pros, will grow tired of having a body without a substantial grip surface to grab on to. There will be other FF mirrorless bodies succeeding the A7 that will provide more grip and width for those that don’t have smaller than average hands. After all, a car dealer doesn’t just offer one size automobile and neither will camera manufacturers.
What I believe will happen is that Nikon and Canon will produce a full-frame mirrorless body/ies WITHOUT any need for converters or adapters. Nikon will keep using the longer flange distance of the F mount and simply make a thicker mirrorless body. Why not? Who says that they *MUST* make a paper thin body, like the A7?
Visit the following link where I’ve compared the size of the Sony A7R, the Nikon D5300, the Nikon d7100 and the Nikon D600:
The difference in size between the A7R and the D7100 is not that big. The D5300 is actually smaller than the A7R!
Why can’t Nikon make a D600-like body, with the 24Mpix sensor and all of the controls and featues that camera has, in the size of the D7100 or even the D5300? That would be a VERY SMALL camera. Thicker than the A7, but not much taller and possibly smaller in width. The weight may not be much different. Once the prism mechanism is out of the way, that space can be used for electronics. The camera wouldn’t need to be any thicker than the D7100 and no wider than the D5300.
If I were a betting man, that’s what I’d wager will happen with Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless offering. Ditto with Canon, Pentax…..et al.
Le’ts not crown Sony the king of the hill just yet. It’ll be MUCH easier for Nikon or Canon to engineer a body like I’ve described than for Sony to build lenses that will challenge the ones currently offered by the big two.
I’ve been doing a lot of searching and reading and I’m not sure you’ll have such an adapter. But even *if* it would be available, you lose an important advantage : this expensive adapter will neutralize the gain you have when buying the Alpha as opposed to the D800. Also, even with an inteliigent adapter (AF, exif, etc), you could have (serious) vignetting in all your photos.
Don’t get me wrong : I’m very interested in the A7R, but replacing my collection of lenses is not something I look forward to, especially since I’m not impressed with the current offer.
Other points of view are welcome of course!
‘neutralize the gain’ – like, who even talks like that?
OK, looked back over the thread and see others have mentioned this possibility – but have not seen it addressed at length by the OP or anyone else.
Anybody willing to discuss the pros/cons of this issue (adapted Nikon lenses)?
I understand machining tolerances and autofocus/etc. are problems, but could be addressed by high-quality, even if expensive, adapters. And even the cost of an expensive adapter is peanuts compared to replacing an umpteen-thousand dollar set of fast, quality Nikon glass . . .
Interested in opinions about this . . .