(Pocket-lint) - Sony has been on a bit of a roll throughout 2019 and 2020, bringing its expertise in video capture to a host of different form-factors and camera styles. With the ZV-1 it made the perfect tiny vlogging camera, and with the A7S III there's an all-powerful full-frame professional 4K camera.
Somewhere in the middle of those two it saw a gap and thought: "what would happen if we tried to put that 4K full-frame quality in a much smaller body?" Enter the Sony A7C.
- Dimensions: 124.0 x 71.1 x 59.7mm / Weight: 509g
- 0.39-inch, 2,359k-dot electronic viewfinder
- 3-inch, 920k-dot, vari-angle touchscreen
- Dedicated movie button up top
- Finishes: Silver, Black
There's no doubt the A7C is a great-looking camera, especially when you go for the two-tone grey and black model. It has that classic camera retro vibe to it. It's just such a cool-looking colour scheme and certainly is more distinct looking than the all-black version.
The biggest visual feature, however, is how small this camera is. For a camera hosting a full-frame Sony sensor, it's positively petite. Size-wise, it's virtually the same as the A6600, which until now was probably Sony's best small camera for videography/photography. But in many ways - purely from a design standpoint - the A7C is better than the A6600.
There are a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, there's a proper flip-out screen on it. It flips out to the side and can then rotate so you can see yourself while filming vlogs to camera or taking selfies. The old-style screens that flipped upwards were often blocked by any additional microphones you had attached to the hotshoe and slightly obstructed by buttons up top.
Second, the plastic door that covers all SD card ports is not at all flimsy or difficult to get into. It feels like it has some actual substance to it, and the hinge feels durable and strong too. In fact, all three doors are easy to access and open, which is a welcome design choice.
The textured rubber surface that covers over the handgrip on the side and some of the back of the camera is suitably 'grippy' and ensures it's easy to keep hold of the camera. That side grip is perhaps not as big and easy to hold as, say, that of the Panasonic Lumix S5, but it's more than good enough.
Other areas different compared to the A6000-series flagship include the button design on the top of the camera. They sit on top of the casing, rather than sitting flush within it. However, the area where all the buttons and dials live is actually recessed slightly and ensures the surface of the buttons is at the same level as the top edge. That means you get the benefit of easy access from having them fully external, but they don't stick out more than they should.
More importantly, the dedicated movie button for capturing video is placed right on the top, rather than being a tiny red button on the back. That makes it much easier to start shooting video and is easy to reach with a thumb while you grip on to the camera with the other four fingers.
Apart from that, the camera's rear plays host to the usual buttons and controls, but it must be said that the Menu button is in a very inconvenient location. Sony has put it right above the display, beneath the hotshoe mount. That means while you're using your thumb to control the dial and scrolling through menu options, you have to stretch awkwardly across to get to the Menu button to go back.
Autofocus and processing
- Automatic eye/face tracking for humans/animals
- Focus areas: Wide / Zone / Center / Flexible Spot / Expanded Flexible Spot / Tracking
- 4D Focus: 693 phase-detection & 425 contrast-detection autofocus points cover 93% of the image
As with any camera, a big part of the experience you have and the results you get are down to the lens you use with it. With our review unit, we were sent the standard kit which - in some ways - is great. It compacts down really small when you shut it down. But it's a 28-60mm f/4 - f/5.6, so nothing exactly special when it comes to zoom or maximum aperture.
To use, it's fine, but when you need to shoot quite close-up product shots and b-roll for video reviews and whatnot, it's difficult. Mostly because this lens just doesn't like getting all that close to anything. However, for portrait shots or anything in the medium distance it's fine. It's relatively wide but doesn't zoom in all that far. It's a sort-of everyday lens, but we'd definitely recommend trying another of Sony's lenses to really up the ante and improve the experience and capabilities.
But while close-up focusing wasn't always possible, the lens doesn't seem to hinder Sony's expertise in the field of autofocusing and real-time tracking. By default, the camera will recognise eyes and faces and keep tracking them throughout the scene when shooting lots of photos in succession, or shooting video.
If you like you can tell it to prioritise animal faces over human ones. By default the camera will aim for the nearest eye to the camera, so if your subject turns to face a different direction, it'll keep focus in the right place. And it does it really quickly. Even when you whip out the camera, point it as someone's face and snap the shutter before the moment's gone - and you're convinced there's no way it got the face in focus - it has.
- 4K up to 30fps
- 8-bit maximum bitrate
- HLG and multiple colour profiles
- 3.5 input for mic + output for headphones
Despite its size, the A7C is a very capable video shooting tool. But it is lacking a few things that enthusiasts and pros could consider necessary. Namely, the 4K shooting only goes up to 30 frames per second, likely due to thermal management restraints caused by the smaller body. It also maxes out at 8 bit, so colour graders may find there's not quite enough detail there to get exactly the colour depth and adjustments they'd like.
Move those two factors aside and, actually, it's a great camera for video. We used it for a number of shots in our video review production over the past few weeks and - aside from the limitations of the lens not allowing close focusing - we love the way the shots look just straight out of the camera. That's one of the wonderful things about full-frame - there's added depth.
Sony's processing engine seems to make things have a slightly warm edge to them, giving things a nice overall look that's sharp, without being too harsh or cool. Especially when there are faces in the shot. With a poorer autofocus system, we wouldn't be brave enough to leave it on AF mode while shooting a piece to camera for our videos, and yet, with the Sony A7C, it never went hunting or lost track of what it was focusing on - even when we looked down at our notes/script. It's super reliable for that.
The built-in stabilisation keeps things relatively smooth for handheld shooting too. And there's plenty of additional flexibility offered by having a mic input and headphone jack, plus the hotshoe adapter up top. All that meant we could mount our wireless mic kit and pre-amp to it and record directly onto the video. Granted, with those added, the camera is dwarfed by the accessories, but when mounted to a tripod that's not really a concern.
Photos and performance
- 24-megapixel CMOS full-frame sensor
- Bionz X processor
- Continuous burst to 10fps
- Z-Type battery - up to 740 shots
Sony's A7 system isn't just about video though. The A7C is equipped with that 24-megapixel full-frame sensor and is equipped with the same Bionz X processor found in the A7 III. That means it's up there with the best of them when it comes to quickly processing images and delivering detail and colour.
One of the saving graces of having that large, pixel rich sensor is that - despite us having the relatively average kit lens - we could still crop into the photos and get nice sharp detail and great colours.
We were impressed with how Sony's system managed highlights in the sky and shadows elsewhere, doing a job of ensuring it's all evened out, without killing the colours in the foreground. And when you do focus on something relatively close - at a portrait sort of distance - it can create some lovely looking background blur/bokeh.
Of course, with the ability to manually change all the usual settings - once you work your way through the menu system - it's easy to get the results you want, and the wide frame and processing ensure that you won't be dealing with a lot of noise. It's almost like getting a great point-and-shoot but without the usual compromises you have to deal with when you have a smaller sensor.
With the Sony A7C, the company has leveraged the popularity of its A7 series, creating a full-frame camera that seems impossibly small.
There are lots of positives here in terms of build quality and performance, but it's lacking a little in areas like bitrate and frame rates when compared to the top tier cameras. But those are compromises you'd expect when trying to cram full-frame goodness into a smaller body.
From a video perspective, if you're already in the Sony A7 ecosystem and want a smaller and more compact camera to add to your gear, the A7C will fit the bill as your b-camera or on-the-go camera for snapping little bits of b-roll here and there. For those starting out and wanting that full-frame goodness, it's a very decent starting point.
Overall we love what Sony has done with the A7C. It's a powerful camera that's also nimble. There's a lot of potential here and we can't wait to see if the company upgrades the form-factor with even higher-end feature details in the future.
Panasonic Lumix S5
Panasonic's entry-level full-frame camera is bigger than the A7C, but still relatively compact and easy to carry around. Plus, it shoots at 4K60, has two SD card slots, and plenty of other features that make it a real winner.