In the early days of the Sony Alpha A7-series there was the A7, the A7R and the A7S. Things were quite simple. The A7S was the one for video, the A7R was the high-resolution model and the A7 was the more affordable option.
The situation has got a bit more complicated since then with the introduction of the Mark II versions of each camera and the Mark III versions of the A7 and A7R. Sony hasn’t officially discontinued any of the A7-series and they are all still available to buy new. So how do you know which Sony A7 camera to choose? Well, in some ways the original distinguishing features still help:
Sony A7R series = High Resolution
With 42.4 million effective pixels on its full-frame sensor, the A7R III has the same pixel count as the A7R II. In fact, it has the same sensor, and it can resolve the same level of detail.
Both of them resolve more detail than the original A7R which has a 36.4Mp sensor.
Where the A7R III scores over the A7R II for image quality is with the improved dynamic range at the lower sensitivity settings. However, we’re only talking about around 0.5EV, and while that could be significant for landscape photography, if you use ND grads or composite images, then it’s not THAT big a deal.
The A7R III also feels more rounded than the models that go before it, with an impressive autofocusing system that makes it useful for shooting sport.
Sony has improved the handling of each successive model, with the A7R III being significantly better in this respect than the A7R. The most recent camera even features a touch-screen, but Sony hasn’t gone overboard with it, so it’s only really useful for zooming in and out of images or setting the AF point.
There’s also a joystick that simplifies setting the AF point on the A7R III, (and the A7 III) but if you shoot still life, macro or landscape photography that may not be a major issue for you.
If you find the Sony A7R available at a bargain price, it’s worth considering, but it wouldn’t be our first choice of the A7R-series cameras. If you don’t need quick AF point selection and the fastest focusing, nor the improved dynamic range, then the A7R II looks like a good solid proposition that makes a significant saving on the A7R III. However, if you can afford it, the A7R III is one of the best cameras available at the moment.
Sony A7S series = Video
While the A7S and A7S II are intended as the video cameras, Sony hasn’t stinted on the video features of the A7R II, A7R III and A7 III. However, where the A7S models win is with their low-light capability, having a native sensitivity that tops out at ISO 102, 400.
Their low (12.2Mp) pixel counts mean that they handle noise extremely well. What they don’t do well in low light, however, is focus. That’s not an issue for many videographers who routine focus automatically, but it’s worth mentioning.
The big issue when thinking about buying a Sony A7 camera for video right now is that there’s probably an A7S III coming in the not too distant future, so it makes sense to wait and see what comes along. Even if you don’t go for it, the chances are the A7S and A7S II will be available at better prices.
Sony A7 series = The Affordable Option
While the A7 II was pretty decent, on the basis of my experience with it before its launch, the A7 III seems much better. What’s more Sony has priced it quite aggressively for a full-frame camera at of £2000/$1,998 (body only) or £2,500/$2,198 with the 28-70mm lens.
That’s not a figure to be sniffed at, but that money brings you a very capable AF system, that’s streets ahead of the A7’s and A7 II’s, improved handling with the mini-joystick control, a touch-screen and twin card ports.
The full-frame sensor also has a pixel count of 24.2 million, which as well as being a popular figure, allows a good balance between detail resolution, file size and noise control. Add in 4K (3840 x 2160) video recording with S-Log with a battery that has a much longer life than the A7 II’s and the Mark III looks like an easy decision.
In the UK the Sony A7 II can be bought for around £1,150 body only, which is temptingly below the £2000 asking price of the A7 III. But the new camera gives you so much more, we’d be sorely tempted to save a little longer.
In the US, the price difference is a lot closer with the A7 III retailing for around $2,000 and the Mark II being around $1,600. That $400 difference is easily justified,