Sony A7 (A7R II) Camera: Travel Photography Dream

Sony A7 Camera

Sony A7/A7R Camera Review

Gear Review

I’ve been traveling around the world with Sony A7 or A7R II cameras shooting travel photography for the past 2 years. Here’s my review of this outstanding equipment.

UPDATE: Since initially writing this post on the A7 I’ve upgraded to the newer Sony A7R II. It’s the best camera I’ve ever owned!

When I first heard Sony was releasing a compact, full-frame, mirrorless camera, my initial reaction was “FINALLY!”. It was exactly what I’d been waiting for. The Sony A7 line of cameras enable you to create high-end images using a small, lightweight system.

Because I live out of a backpack working as a professional travel blogger, I’m always searching for new ways to pack less.

I’d grown very fond of my Canon 7D over the past few years. However Sony finally raised the bar — this new technology was too good to ignore. In December 2013 I made the switch to a Sony A7, and after a year of hard use through 9 different countries, I couldn’t be happier with my choice.

Many people have been asking me about the Sony A7 or A7R II, so I wanted to share my experience with you. In this article you’ll learn what I like (and dislike) about these cameras along with sample images from my travels.

Sony A7 Review

Sony A7 Camera Body

Sony A7 & A7R II Camera Review

So what’s so special about the Sony A7? Well it was the first time a full-frame sensor had been squeezed into a compact mirrorless camera body. This means the sensor inside the camera is big, producing high quality images with low noise.

Yet the camera body is smaller and lighter than your typical full-frame cameras from Canon & Nikon. Professional quality in a small package — a powerful combination many travel photographers have been waiting for.

Sony currently has three A7 models available. The Sony A7 II is the entry level model. The Sony A7R II has more megapixels. The Sony A7S II is geared for video, with fewer megapixels but higher ISO sensitivity.

Sony A7R II Camera Specs

Camera Format: Full Frame
Pixels: 42 Megapixels
Max Resolution: 7952 x 5304
Lens Format: Sony E & FE
Memory Card: SD/SDHC/SDXC
Video Recording: 4K or 1080 in 60/30/24p
Viewfinder: Electronic (100% coverage)
ISO Sensitivity: 100 – 102,400
Shutter: Silent Electronic (30 – 1/8000 seconds)
Burst Rate: 5 FPS
Focus Points: Hybrid Focus with 399 points
Wireless: Wifi/NFC
Weight: 22 oz / 625 g

Sony A7 Scotland

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland (1/200, f/9, ISO 200)

Sony A7 Spain

Albayzin Market, Spain (1/6, f/9, ISO 800)

Small & Lightweight

One of the biggest benefits of mirrorless full-frame technology is how small & light the Sony A7 line is compared to large DSLRs. Especially when paired with native Sony FE lenses, you’ll sometimes forget you’re carrying around a professional quality camera.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve had to double check my bag to make sure it was still in there. As the old photography saying goes, “the best camera is the one you have with you”.

I’m much more likely to bring my camera along with me for everyday activities if it’s small, ensuring I don’t miss a great photo opportunity. Over the past few years I’ve noticed that’s just what I’ll do with my Sony A7R II.

At 22 ounces, the Sony weighs less than Canon’s 5D Mark III.

Sony A7 Setup

Sony A7 Travel Photography

Sony A7 Turkey

Kackar Mountains, Turkey (1/125, f/22, ISO 250)

Image Quality

The image quality produced by the Sony A7 & A7R cameras are amazing for their size. In fact the quality is even rated higher than a Canon 5D Mark III by SnapSort.com.

Sony’s sensors are actually used in many other camera brands like Nikon & Fuji, as they are arguably the leader in sensor technology. The gapless design on the Sony A7 (A7R) sensor allows it to collect more light than others.

The new BIONZ X Image Processing technology allows for more natural textures & details to be captured with lower noise. I’ve been very impressed with the quality of Sony A7 (A7R) images.

Below you’ll find a before & after processing example photograph:


RAW Camera File (unprocessed)

Sony A7 Camera

RAW Camera File


Final Image (processed)

Sony A7 Camera

George the Boxer, South Africa (1/250, f/5, ISO 500)

Weather Sealing

As a travel photographer I’m often outside capturing landscapes in all kinds of conditions. Over the last year I’ve tested my Sony A7R II in a variety of weather situations — snowstorms in Iceland, thunderstorms in Turkey, hot sandy deserts in Israel, and salty ocean spray on the coast of South Africa.

Luckily the camera is weather resistant. The only issue I’ve had is when I lost the tiny flash hot-shoe cover, and waterfall mist created an annoying camera error. I could still shoot photos, but the error would keep popping up in between each shot. Once dry this was no longer a problem.

There is a bit of controversy about the weather resistance though, as Sony later decided to remove any references to weather sealing. Probably because of reports to the contrary. However in my experience the Sony A7 (A7R) is pretty weather resistant.

Just don’t take your Sony A7 (A7R) out for extended sessions in pouring rain or drop it in a lake. Extremely cold weather can also be an issue for the small batteries, which drain pretty fast.

LCD Screen & Viewfinder

Sony’s articulating LCD screen has been a pleasant surprise, I find myself using it more than I thought I would. It tilts up and down so you can get shots from up high or down low and still see what you’re shooting on the LCD.

It does not however rotate enough for selfies, which would have been nice. Especially when trying to shoot video of yourself. Both the LCD screen and electronic viewfinder have great resolution.

Sony A7 Camera

Spinner Dolphins, Reunion Island (1/800, f/5.6, ISO 400)

Sony A7 (A7R) Lenses

If you’ve invested a fortune in lenses from Nikon or Canon, you don’t have to sell them all and purchase new ones to use the Sony A7 (A7R). There are Metabones adapters that allow you to use glass from other manufacturers on the Sony.

But if you really want to reap the benefits of a smaller camera body, I’d recommend slowly updating your kit with Sony’s FE lenses specifically designed for the A7 line. No extra adapter to lug around, and smaller lenses.

I only travel with 2 lenses at the moment. The Zeiss FE 16-35mm F4 and the Sony FE 70-200mm F4.

Available Zoom Lenses

Available Prime Lenses

Menus & Ease Of Use

The Sony A7 (A7R) camera’s menu system is pleasantly user-friendly. Most buttons are fully customizable to do pretty much anything you want — you can completely change their functions in the menu settings, including 3 custom function buttons.

Apart from the oddly placed video recording button on the right side of the grip, the rest of the camera’s functions are quick, intuitive, and easy to change on the fly.

There are also 2 custom modes on the camera’s dial — allowing you to save your most used camera settings for easy access on the fly.

Sony A7 Camera

Negev Desert Canyon, Israel (1/400, f/14, ISO 200)

Sony A7 (A7R) Video

With the ability to record high quality 1080 video at 60p (for slow motion), the Sony A7 (A7R) is very capable for general video applications. The A7R and A7S both shoot 4K video too. The cameras include external 3.5mm microphone and headphone jacks specifically for video.

The Sony A7R II has a continuous autofocus mode which is very handy. While not as fast or accurate as a dedicated video camera, it’s pretty good.

With the realize of the 2nd generation A7 line of cameras, they also feature 5-axis internal stabilization for the sensor, resulting in super smooth video clips while moving or reducing camera shake.

Other video highlights include fully manual exposure control, active audio levels, and full-time live view of what you’re recording on the LCD screen.

Video can be recorded in MP4 or AVCHD formats. While AVCHD (MTS files) are higher quality, they’re a bit clumsy to move around or preview once downloaded off the camera. I use Acrok MTS Converter for Mac to batch-convert clips into more manageable ProRes 422 files.

Sony A7 Camera

Flowers in Sirmione, Italy (1/400, f/13, ISO 250)

Battery Life

Another issue I’ve had with the Sony A7 (A7R) is short battery life. For such a small camera body there simply isn’t enough room for a large battery. These smaller batteries don’t last very long.

I pack 3 batteries in my camera bag, and can sometimes go through all of them on a really full day of heavy shooting. Especially in cold weather. However draining through two is more common, leaving me with the 3rd as a spare.

But you’ll almost always want to recharge them all overnight.

Sony In-Camera Apps

You can download camera apps to use with your Sony A7 (A7R) through Sony’s website. I use the Smart Remote Control which allows you control the camera with your smartphone (great for selfies or group shots).

I’ve also used the Time Lapse App for shooting time lapse photography. It’s not the most user-friendly app, but it works. However these days I prefer to use a wireless intervalometer described below…

Sony A7 & A7R II Accessories

These are some useful accessories for the Sony A7 that I highly recommend.

Sony A7 Camera

Glacial Crystal Ice Caves, Iceland (1/125, f/9, ISO 320)

Sony A7 & A7R II Tips

  • Turn off WiFi when not in use to improve battery life.
  • Turn on “steady shot” when hand-holding the camera if your lens is compatible. Turn it off when using a tripod.
  • Focus peaking is excellent for quickly achieving focus in manual focus mode, with yellow lines helping to display what’s in focus. Great for video.

Conclusion

Could the Sony A7 (A7R) cameras be improved? Of course they can. But their benefits far outweigh the few issues, like short battery life. At the moment I think it’s probably the best camera out there for travel photography — especially if you’re looking for the smallest and lightest kit possible.

While the camera is small, it still feels well-built and confident in your hands. I’m amazed they managed to cram a full-frame sensor into that tiny body. It’s a powerful tool at a reasonable price that I’ve been very happy with.

The Sony A7R II is definitely my favorite camera for travel photography. ★

UPDATE: Since initially writing this post on the A7 I’ve upgraded to the newer Sony A7R II. It’s the best camera I’ve ever owned!

More Information

Product: Sony A7 II or Sony A7R II
Useful Notes: If you don’t need something quite so powerful and expensive, check out the more affordable Sony a6000.

READ NEXT: Ultimate Travel Gear Guide

Have you heard of the Sony A7 camera before?

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

Any Questions Or Comments?

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76 Comments

  1. Very good works and information in your blog, it’perfect thank you.
    Can you give us informations about to take very good picture like you in Island ?

  2. Hey Matthew,
    Thanks for the review. I currently shoot on a Canon 5D Mark II and have been considering the switch over to the Sony A7RII for sometime.

    I took my Canon into Son Doong in Vietnam, and the constant change between moist and dry weather within the cave ended up causing a shutter error in the camera, and ultimately I had to replace the shutter.

    My thought was that a mirrorless camera would perform better in similar scenarios, but was curious if aside from the weather sealed experience you described above, if you’ve brought the Sony into humid climates and if you experienced any issues.

    I’m heading to Chile / Peru in October, and will be in the amazon and machu picchu – so I just want to make sure I don’t end up having the same issue as Son Doong.

    Thanks for your help!

  3. Hi! I have purchased my own A7 last january and it’s the best camera I’ve ever had. Reading that post I recognized myself so much. Traveling with 3 batteries but mostly ending up using two. I also own the Zeiss 16-35mm f4 and it’s just an amazing lens. I also travel with the 200mm lens but a different brand. The only other lens I also bring is my trusty 50mm.. Love that lens. I bought the camera with the kit lens but i’ve used it maybe 5 times since I purchased it.. Nothing spesh to this lens.. really.. I think I should try and sell it maybe.. Anyways, good read. I just wish I could upgrade to ii :D

  4. Hi Matthew, I’m thinking of upgrading from my M43 to an A7RII for a 7 week trip to Southeast Asia. Do you have any safety tips for gear? As a single traveler there will be times I just want to leave my gear in the hotel room and enjoy the beach. Most of my little guesthouses do not have a safe. How do you secure your gear when you are not using it? What insurance do you have on your camera gear? Really excited about all the amazing features of the A7RII!

  5. Thank you for writing this review! Recently I’ve been buying this nice one for my travel photography blog. Also I have used it for video recording. It’s amazing gear. I love my Sony A7 :)

  6. Thanks for the review, I see in the comments you are recommending the Sirui T-1205X, what do you think about the Sirui T-1204X which seems lighter? What ball head are you using and how much weight does it add?

  7. Hey Matt,
    i have a question ’bout the A7. I am searching a new cam, and i’m hesitating between Canon EOS M3 (400euro) and the A7 (650euro). What do you recommend i’d choose?

  8. Thanks very interesting review. As professional wedding photgrapher and photo journalist I am stating to evaluate the Sony alpha 7 system and I will wait for you review of the new 7 r II

  9. I browsed A7 and noted that it doesn’t come with a built in flash. I know there are mount on flashes available but is that not a big disadvantage not to have a built in flash? To have it handy.

  10. Hi Matthew,

    I have been enjoying reading your blog. I am just starting to get in to photography and I was wondering when you shoot pictures like the ones above in the Negev, Israel or Sirmione, Italy, do you shoot in fully manual mode where you choose the shutter speed, aperture and ISO, or do you shoot in one of the priority modes, where you will either choose the aperture or shutter speed and let the camera decide on the other factors?

    I often see when bloggers display their pictures they will show the settings that were used to get the shot, but I am curious which mode they shot the picture.

    Dean

    1. Hey Dean! Thanks for the comment. 90% of the time I shoot in Manual mode and choose all the camera settings myself. The only exceptions are in fast-action photography, when conditions are changing quickly and I may not have time to manually adjust everything. In those cases I’ll shoot in Aperture or Shutter Priority mode.

  11. Matthew,
    Thanks for your insights and information on the Sony a7 cameras. Thanks too for a truly great travel blog. Keep up the good work! I’ve been a “serious amateur” photographer for nearly 40 years, shooting primarily with SLR’s and DSLR’s. It’s hard to break away from the bulky DSLR’s since it’s what I’m used to. If I were to upgrade my current DSLR I’d probably pick up the Nikon D750 (which gets phenomenal reviews). Yet the advantages to smaller, lighter cameras (especially for travel) are obvious, and to that end I’ve been looking at the a7’s. I’m leaning strongly toward the a7ll since I can’t afford the a7rII. So here’s a quick question. What are your thoughts on the Sony lens’ that come with the a7ll vs the Zeiss lens’? Do you think the Zeiss lens’ are significantly better or is there a particular lens you would recommend for the a7 cameras? Thanks!

  12. Would you be able to recommend a compatible flash accessory for the A7 mirrorless? My son just purchased this camera and I am hoping to get an affordable flash. Thank you so much!

    1. I tried a couple with not great results.
      The best one for me is the actual Sony HVL-F20M – it is small uses two AAA batteries and can do bounce flash. Not cheap but I watched out on a well known auction site and picked one up for £70.

  13. Great review!! Been browsing everywhere for a good camera to shoot in Iceland next year! Is this camera any good for shooting the northern lights and glaciers/waterfalls?

  14. Hi Matt,
    Great review, thank you! You’ve helped me with my dilemma. I’ve been a long time Nikon user shooting mainly landscapes and architecture. I currently have the Nikon D700 with the 3 big lenses – 14-24, 24-70, 70-200. However, I do a lot of outdoor/adventure stuff and backpacking for days on end with this kit is very tiresome. Even at airports. I’m looking for an upgrade to my D700, especially with regards to ISO performance and image quality. Nikon has the massive D810 36mp at over $3000. It’s all about a combo of weight and image quality that is factoring into my ‘upgrade’ and I feel that Sony’s A7 series could be just the ticket. I could buy a new A7II and lens for below the cost of a new, heavier monster such as the D810 on its own. I could go other Nikons but I feel that for a pure travel camera, the Sony would be the best and I wouldn’t be sacrificing weight or image quality. Hmm, I’m a big procrastinator, haha. Thoughts?

  15. Great review! This will for sure be my next camera. When I have a little more cash, for now I will test my new Sony HX90V. I´m still struggling to let go on my old Canon g11, we had so much fun together.

    Changing and learning a new camera is like getting new running shoes, it takes time before getting comfortable.. Haha.

  16. Hello

    We are travelling to Iceland at the end of October. I saw the Icecave photo on the last part of this post. Can I ask what part of Iceland it is? And what time did you visit? Do you think that we can visit an ice-cave like that on October? I check out some tour agencies and they only make these tours on November and takes 2 days? We will be renting a car and any possibility that we can see those on our own? Thank you

    1. Hey Talha, no the caves are only safe in the winter starting in November. You can read more about them here. It’s not really a place you can visit on your own. The caves move/change every year, and unless you’re an ice expert, I wouldn’t recommend venturing inside without a guide due to the very real risk of collapse.

  17. I think you and I have a different definition of entry level. The a7 is Sony’s high end FF mirrorless line. The s and r are just specialized a7’s geared for more specific audiences. A7s low light giant but small MP, a7r high megamixel and great for well lit shots, a7 kind of the middle guy. Each is aimed at a different target but one is not higher end than the other.

  18. Hello Matthew, thanks for the review, really helpful! I wanted to ask your opinion on the newer models of the A7 (A7 II, A7 S etc), have you made the switch or thinking about it? Also, about lenses, I’m thinking on getting only the Sony 24-240, do you have any thoughts? thanks!

  19. Hi matt!! thanx for the info. ive been looking for one to travel. but right now i cant efford an a7. do you know of any other ones that take really good pictures that are from $500-700??

  20. Thanks for a great review. I would like to add to Packer about lens adapters. I’m using Novoflex on my A7 (and earlier on also on my NEX-7) and it works very well.

  21. I’d like to add the record button to one of the customizable function keys…but I have not been able to master it.

  22. Is there a lens adapter that you would recommend above others to pair with Nikon F mount lenses? Not quite sold on the SONY lineup and would love to pair a few of my current lenses with the A7.

  23. I recently decided to upgrade from my beloved Sony Nex 7 to the Sony A7 full frame, and love it! I invested in better glass as well, and I’m sure my image quality will appreciate the investment! I loved the small size of the Nex 7, and tended to take it everywhere, while my clunky DSLR stayed at home….so I knew I needed to stay small and light when I upgraded. The A7 is the perfect camera for me, and at a great price I could afford.

    Thank you for the great review, and for helping me decide what to buy.

    1. Right on!

      Fabulous camera! We are in sync on the upgrade!

      I went from a Canon full frame (and who has not!) to a lighter and more useable unit several years ago!

      For what it’s worth, I have been the President of “2” camera clubs now for over 10 years, if that has any importance!

      Sony Cameras are fantastic! What more could you want?

  24. Which type and model of tripod are you using? I just purchased this camera and intend to use it mainly for travel. Thanks

  25. I discovered your blog when I was searching information about elephants in Thailand and was astonished by the pictures quality, so now I know what gear you are using… but too bad it’s too expensive for me ! also, there’s no wide angle lens for the A7… I’ll stick to my old Sony Nex 5N! But still your pictures are beautiful (sorry my english is not so great, I’m not a native speaker).

  26. I just bought one of these – my first non-point-and-shoot camera! Question—what bag do you use to carry it/your lens/extra batteries around? I picked one up on amazon but I’m unhappy with the dimensions/layout.

  27. After reading this article I switched from Canon 3d mark iii body and Sigma Lens to Sony A7ii and ZEISS Loxia 2/35.Thank you!

  28. Very interesting review . I’d like to know if the vibration of the shutter is a problem for you when taking pictures (i.e , you have to delete more photos than with other models due to blur images or pics with not enough sharpness.)

    Cheers!

  29. Hi Matthew,

    Great site!

    With large sensor cameras, photographers are most likely shooting raw or fine jpegs (and videos), using 32gb+ memory cards . How to store/backup large files while on the road *without* using a computer or expensive portable backup devices is a question that keeps popping up these days. In the past, the obvious solution is to download the memory cards to an external portable hdd connected to a computer, personal or otherwise. Currently, instead of computers, travellers are carrying tablets and smartphones. Hence the question.

    https://www.google.com/search?q=backup+photos+without+a+computer&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8

    Here’s a sample thread:

    http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g1-i12530-k7212936-How_Backup_Photos_while_traveling_without_computer_internet-Travel_Gadgets_and_Gear.html

    The transfer speed of the device RavPower FileHub mentioned this thread is too slow for backing up large memory cards.

    The following setup calls for many devices. Might as well bite the bullet and carry a netbook.

    http://www.davemorrowphotography.com/p/google-nexus-transfer-photo-memory-card.html

    Would appreciate knowing how you and others do it. TIA.

  30. Thanks for your review Matthew! I bought an A7 recently and am quite pleased with it.

    How did you manage to assign the movie button to the C1 custom button? I don’t seem to have it as one of the available options…

    1. I would also really like to know if it is possible to relocate the movie button to one of the custom buttons as I find trying to find it a real problem when I am filming via the viewfinder rather than the viewfinder. If not I will have to send my thumb to a contortionist, a hypnotist or both so I don´t lose so many clips while my fingers try to find the oddly located movie button

  31. I bought the A7 and sent it back once I realized it couldn’t match my Canon T3i as far as lenses with a low f-stop (and the bigger the lens, the heavier the gear, which defeats the purpose of mirrorless). I probably should have given it more time, but I often shoot at close range and am kind of addicted to bokeh. Maybe I will give it another chance once day. This is a good review.

  32. Nice review, Matthew!

    We bought the A7s a few months back, and so far we are very happy with it. Before hitting the road, I made my living as a filmmaker so I wanted something with good video quality. However, so far we have used it mostly for photos and find that it is also a very good stills camera. The great low light capabilities (even better for video than for stills) come in very handy at night markets, caves, and dark temples.

    Of course sometimes it would be nice to have the extra resolution of a A7 for cropping, and perhaps someday someone is gone ask us for the 20mp high res files that we don’t have ;) As for the minuses you mention, I completely agree on the batteries, and the strange position of the video record button.

    We also have the same lens, the 24-70, and it works very well. Looking forward to more Sony lenses coming out in the next year. I’m sure we will be tempted to buy, even though the whole point of the camera for us, is to keep our camera kit as small as possible without sacrificing picture quality.

      1. We got to try the 70-200 a little in Japan. It’s an awesome lens, but fairly big and heavy. I’m curious about the 24-240 coming in february. It’s a really useful zoom range, but not sure the convenience is worth the image quality loss that super zooms typically have. Will just have to wait and see :)

  33. Finally :) Although I did get a private review session when we discussed it in Milan. I’ve been craving a change for this ever since. 2015 will be the year ;) Saving up. Pretty happy to see that the price has gone down 500 $ since Milan though :)

    1. Whoops, didn’t notice that you added this info to the notes at the bottom of the post. Also the latest Sony firmware allows you to shoot video in both AVCHD and MP4 format.

  34. I have been using the Sony A57 for the past two years and have been happy with the results, especially with the videos I have been able to shoot. However, the downside has been its larger size.

    I will most likely upgrade in the coming year and when I do other Sony models will certainly be where I start!

  35. My boyfriend and I have been wavering on which cameras to buy for a while now. Looks like this is one that we will have to rent and take for a test run. It was already in the running, but positive reviews are always helpful!

  36. Thank you SO much for writing this! I’ve been thinking about upgrading to the Canon 5D MarkIII for some time now, but the more I hear about the Sony A7’s, the more I’m starting to rethink my decision. I’d be using it quite a lot for video content. Would you say there’s a sizeable difference between the A7 and the A7s? Aside from price :)

      1. It appears to be aimed primarily at video. Philip Bloom has a great review of its video capabilities (turns night to day and keeps a very good dynamic range). Anyway I am buying one for my wife and we are going to give it a good run for its money in Greece in June. Will report back on video and photo quality.

        Thanks for the review. Your photos are beautiful. If you ever get the time and inclination, would love to know your post production techniques! :)