Sony Alpha A7C II review: first look

The Sony Alpha A7C II is a compact-bodied full-frame mirrorless camera with a 33MP sensor. It’s a successor to the original 24MP Alpha A7C from 2020, which could arguably lay claim to being the smallest practical full-frame camera. It shares an identical body design with the 60MP Sony Alpha A7CR that was launched alongside.

Sony Alpha A7C II at a glance:

  • £2100 body-only
  • £2349 with 28-60mm lens
  • 33MP Exmor R CMOS sensor, 36 x 24mm
  • ISO 100-51,200 (standard), ISO 50-102,400 (extended)
  • Up to 10 fps shooting
  • 2.36m-dot, 0.7x viewfinder
  • 3in, 1.04m-dot fully articulated touchscreen
  • 4K 30p video (4K 60p with ‘Super 35’ 1.5x crop)
  • Sony Alpha A7C II rear controls

    In terms of design, the A7C II resembles the APS-C A6700. This means it has no joystick on the back for selecting the AF point or desired subject. Credit: Andy Westlake

    Unfortunately, the original A7C came with some serious compromises in terms of handling, while having a disappointingly tiny viewfinder. Thankfully, both the A7C II and the A7CR gain many of the same improvements we saw in the recent APS-C Sony Alpha A6700, including an improved control layout and a larger EVF. But is this enough to make them a serious alternative to SLR-shaped models?

    Sony Alpha A7C II : Features

    In many ways, the A7C II can be seen as a smaller version of the excellent Sony Alpha A7 IV, with a similar sensor and many of the same key specifications. However, it gains all of the new technologies Sony has introduced in the intervening two years, including its latest subject detection autofocus system that’s powered by its own AI processor. However, the smaller body imposes a step back in certain other areas.

    Sony Alpha A7C II sensor

    Sony has used a 33MP sensor in the A7C II, which presumably is the same as in the SLR-shaped A7 IV. Credit: Andy Westlake

    That 33MP full-frame sensor offers a standard sensitivity range of ISO 100-51,200 as standard, with extended options available covering ISO 50-102,400. Continuous shooting is available at up to 10 frames per second with autofocus tracking, although not with live view, which requires dropping the speed back to 8fps. You can now also record reduced resolution raw files at 14MP and 8.2MP, which wasn’t an option on the A7 IV.

    Autofocus employs 759 phase-detection points covering practically the entire frame. The subject detection system can recognise humans, animals, birds, airplanes, cars, and insects. But disappointingly it doesn’t have an auto selection mode, so you have to specify your subject type in advance. There is at least a combined animals and birds option for wildlife photographers.

    Sony Alpha A7C II subject detection menu

    The Sony Alpha A7C II’s subject detection menu can be accessed using the Fn button. Credit: Andy Westlake

    The smaller body requires a smaller and simpler shutter mechanism, which does without a mechanical first curtain. Instead it offers a choice of electronic first curtain, or silent fully electronic modes. This results in a slower top speed of 1/4000sec in EFC mode, rising to 1/8000sec in the electronic mode. However, the electronic first curtain mode can result in unattractive bokeh when using large aperture lenses at fast shutter speeds, while the fully electronic mode comes with an increased risk of rolling shutter distortion and banding effects under artificial lighting.

    A single SD card slot is used for storing your files, and unlike with the A7 IV, the camera can’t use the faster CFexpress Type A cards. Power is provided by Sony’s familiar NP-FZ100 battery, which promises around 500 shots per charge. In-body image stabilisation is provided and rated to 7 stops of blur reduction, which Sony claims equates to being able to shoot hand-held at shutter speeds as slow as 2 seconds.

    Sony Alpha A7C II top controls

    The A7C II uses an identical design to the A7CR, with relatively few top-plate controls. Credit: Andy Westlake

    Video specs are similar to the A7 IV, with the A7C II capable of recording in 4K resolution at 30fps using the full sensor width. It can also record 4K at 60p, but only using a ‘Super 35’ crop. Microphone and headphone sockets are built-in, along with micro-HDMI for outputting to an external recorder. The camera can also be powered via a USB-C PD supply for extended recording times.

    As usual, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity is built in for connecting to your smartphone or tablet, via Sony’s Creators App. This allows you to copy images to your phone for sharing, and control your camera remotely. In principle it’s also possible to upload all your images automatically to Sony’s cloud storage.

    Sony Alpha A7C II key features:

  • Power: The camera uses Sony’s usual NP-FZ100 battery, which is rated for 510 shots per charge with the EVF and 540 with the LCD. It’s charged via the USB-C port, which can also be used to power the camera from a USB-C PD supply.
  • Storage: There’s just a single card slot on the side underneath the viewfinder. It accepts UHS-II SD cards, but not the faster CFexpress Type A.
  • Connectors: Ports on the side include 3.5mm stereo microphone and headphone sockets, USB-C, and micro HDMI.
  • MI shoe: The multi-interface hot shoe accepts both add-on flash units, and Sony’s external microphones via a wireless connection.
  • Add-on grip: An extension grip will be available, promising better handling with large lenses. Unlike with the A7CR, though, it’s an optional extra and not provided in the box.
  • Remote: The A7CR is compatible with Sony’s RMT-P1BT Bluetooth remote commander (£65). But there’s no option to use a plug-in cable release or an infrared wireless remote.
  •  Sony Alpha A7C II: Build and Handling

    When it comes to design, the A7C II uses exactly the same body as the A7CR that was announced alongside. A full discussion of what this means is provided in my review of that camera, and at this point I’d recommend reading the ‘Build and Handling’, ‘Viewfinder and Screen’, and ‘Autofocus’ sections there. But in brief, here are the key takeaway points:

    Sony A7C II with Sony 40mm lens, in-hand

    While the body design is impressively small, it does come with compromises. Credit: Andy Westlake

    The body is relatively compact, at 124 x 71.1 x 63.4mm and 524g. It works very well with small primes, but the practical size advantage gets negated with full-frame zooms.

    One very welcome addition is a new front control dial on the handgrip. This means that there are now four dials – one more than the A6700, and the same as on the A7 IV. The exposure compensation dial is unmarked, and the dial functions are all customisable.

    However, the handgrip is rather small, even compared to the A6700. A knock-on effect of this is that there are fewer function buttons, too, compared to both the A6700 and the A7 IV.

    Sony Alpha A7C II with the Sony FE 90mm F2.8 Macro G OSS lens

    While the body is small, you still have to use full-frame lenses. This is the Sony FE 90mm F2.8 Macro G OSS, which is far from the largest lens Sony makes. Credit: Andy Westlake

    There’s no joystick for positioning the focus point, or choosing between subjects recognised by the AF system. Instead, you have to use the d-pad, which already controls other functions, meaning you have to continually toggle its operational mode. This makes for clunky, unintuitive operation.

    You do at least get a proper touch interface, including Sony’s latest onscreen touch buttons. Both the onscreen Fn menu and the main menu can also be operated by touch.

    Sony Alpha A7C II: Viewfinder and screen

    Again, this is identical to the A7CR, so the full discussion can again be found in that review.

    Sony Alpha A7C II articulated screen

    The screen can be set facing almost any direction, including forwards. Credit: Andy Westlake

    2.36m-dot, 0.7x viewfinder. This is a sensible compromise given the body size, but even so, it’s smaller and lower resolution than similarly priced cameras. Unlike the A6700, there’s no option to fit a larger eye cup, which can be a problem in bright sunlight.

    3in, 1.04m-dot fully articulated screen. Again, while perfectly usable, this is lower resolution than other full-frame models at a similar price. It can be set facing in almost any direction: up, down, or forwards for selfies.

    Sony Alpha A7C II: Autofocus

    At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, again the A7C II behaves in essentially the same way as the A7CR. The subject recognition AF is extremely impressive, thanks to its dedicated AI processor, picking up subjects when they’re small and distant and tracking them reliably.

    Sony Alpha A7C II airplane sample image

    The A7C II’s subject detection autofocus works brilliantly – at least, with subjects that the camera can recognise. Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG DN OS lens, DX crop mode. Credit: Andy Westlake

    ILCE-7CM2 · f/6.3 · 1/500s · 400mm · ISO200

    However, the fact that you have to choose the subject type in advance, combined with the lack of a joystick, make the AF system slow and clunky to set up. Canon’s AF system on the EOS R6 Mark II, for example, is much easier to use.

    Sony Alpha A7CR: First Impressions

    Having spent some time shooting with the Sony Alpha A7C II alongside the A7CR before their official launch, it’s clear that as we’d expect, it delivers essentially the same image quality as the Sony Alpha 7 IV, while behaving in almost exactly the same way as its higher-resolution sibling. So yes, you get a compact full-frame mirrorless camera that performs extremely well in terms of image quality and autofocus capability. But as to whether it really makes sense to buy an A7C II for not all that much less than an A7 IV, that’s very much open to question.

    Sony Alpha A7C II in use with Sony FE 20-70mm F4 G lens

    Sony Alpha A7C II in use with Sony FE 20-70mm F4 G lens. Credit: Andy Westlake

    Personally, while I really wanted to like these cameras, the compromises they bring don’t really seem to be worth the size saving. Some of these are entirely understandable to keep the body size small – for example the relatively small viewfinder, single card slot, and simplified shutter. But others just seem unnecessary – if the A6700 can have a larger handgrip, more function buttons, and a proper viewfinder eyecup, why can’t the A7C II and A7CR? These feel purely like marketing decisions, presumably to differentiate the new cameras from their SLR-shaped counterparts.

    Then there’s the clunky interface that’s necessitated by Sony’s decision not to fit a dedicated AF controller joystick. Almost every other full-frame mirrorless camera on the market has such a control, for the simple fact that they’re incredibly useful. It’s not as if there’s insufficient space on the body – Sony could have just moved the Fn button elsewhere on the top or the back.

    Sony Alpha A7C II sample image

    The Shard, London. Sony FE 20-70mm F4 G lens. Credit: Andy Westlake

    ILCE-7CM2 · f/8 · 1/200s · 61mm · ISO100

    Plus, of course, there’s the elephant in the room with the whole concept of compact full-frame setups: you still need to use full-frame lenses. These cameras are great if you’re happy shooting with compact primes, but make less sense with almost any zoom lens you might choose to use. If you really want a compact system, then basing it on a smaller sensor size makes more sense.

    Of course, it’s still important to give Sony credit for offering users a choice of body styles, and I’m sure that some photographers will find that A7C II to be a very agreeable companion. But to me, its just a shame that it and the A7CR aren’t just that bit better designed.

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    Sony Alpha 7CR: Full Specifications

    Sony Alpha A7C II with Sony FE 40mm F2.5 G lens

    Sony Alpha A7C II with Sony FE 40mm F2.5 G lens. Credit: Andy Westlake

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