An Easier Sony Alpha Mirrorless Camera Comparison

sony alphas

Which Sony mirrorless camera should you buy?

I want to try to make choosing a Sony mirrorless camera easy. There’s currently nine mirrorless cameras in the Sony lineup: the a5100, a6000, a6300, a7, a7ii, a7R, a7Rii, a7S, and a7Sii.  Sifting through all the specs and comparing them all will give you a headache – it did for me!

But you can break these down into two groups, with a total of just four cameras.  The two groups are APS-C sensor cameras and full-frame sensor cameras, and the APS-C group really has just one camera. The six in the full-frame sensor group can be reduced to three based on what they’re good at.

The three full-frame cameras discussed here all have their cheaper predecessors that aren’t quite as capable, and I’ll quickly mention which abilities were added.  They also have the advantage of being a couple years newer than the predecessors and benefitting from advances in technology.

So, rather than laboriously comparing nine cameras, let’s talk about four. How does that sound?

Here’s a quick table comparison with the hopefully-not-too-techie reading below.

 Sony a6300Sony a7iiSony a7SiiSony a7Rii
Its SpecialtyCapturing actionAll purposeLow light & moviesImage size & detail
Price (body only)$998$1,698$2,998$3,198
Camera size4.72"x2.63"x1.92"5.0"x3.8"x2.4"4.99"x3.76"x2.37"4.69"x2.74"x1.5"
Camera weight w/ battery, no lens14 ounces21 ounces17 ounces22 ounces
Sensor sizeAPS-C 23mmFull frame 35mmFull frame 35mmFull frame 35mm
Resolution24.2 MP24.3 MP12.2 MP42.4 MP
In-camera stabilizationNone5 axis5 axis5 axis
ISO Range100-5120050-2560050-40960050-102400
Stills frames-per-second11555
Autofocus points425117169399
Movie capabilityFull HD 120fps, 4K, XAVC S 100MbpsFull HD 60fps, XAVC S 50MbpsFull HD 120fps, 4K, XAVC S 100MbpsFull HD 60fps, 4K, XAVC S 100Mbps

Sony mirrorless APS-C

Sensor size comparison. Wikimedia commons.

Sensor size comparison. Wikimedia commons.

First is the APS-C group. APS-C sensors are often called “crop” sensors and it’s important to know the difference between this and full-frame cameras. APS-C sensors are larger (more detail) than what you’d find in the common point-and-shoot cameras, but they’re slightly smaller than your 35mm “full frame” sensor.

As a result, the focal length of your lenses will be multiplied by a factor of approximately 1.6. If you put a 15mm wide angle lens on the camera, you lose that wide angle as it effectively becomes a 24mm lens. And a 105mm telephoto gets an effective range of 168mm.


Sony a6300

The a6300 is the newest APS-C camera in Sony’s lineup. The 24.2 MP sensor was redesigned with new wiring, allowing better light collection with less noise. The ISO range goes from 100-51200 for fantastic low-light capability.

a6300It claims to have the fastest autofocus (AF) in the world with a time of 0.05 seconds, which is significantly faster than what’s found in many high-end cameras. It has 425 AF tracking points covering the entire frame with multiple Hybrid AF modes, including tracking in a fourth dimension – time – that predicts where your subject will be. This super-fast focus compliments a burst mode of 11 frames per second (fps) for getting the perfect shot with sharp, fast-moving subjects.

The a6300 will accept E-mount lenses; there is no built-in stabilization so any stabilization will have to come from the lens.

Shooting movies? You can record 4K or Full HD with 120 fps using the advanced XAVC S codec and S-Log gamma curves for expanded dynamic range.

The camera is tiny at 4.72″ x 2.63″ x 1.92″ and weighs only 14 ounces (without a lens). The body only is currently selling for $998 at Amazon.

The a6300 is the successor to the a6000. If the a6300 is too much for you, you can still purchase the a6000 for $498, getting an older (but still great) sensor, 179 AF points instead of 425, an AF time of 0.06 seconds, ISO limit of 25600, and no 4K movie capability.
You’ll also see the $448 a5100 out there, but if you’re looking at an interchangeable lens camera (ILC) then you’ll probably want some amount of manual control too and the a5100 doesn’t offer any (there’s a Help button on the back…come on).

Who would like this: photographers who don’t mind losing some wide-angle capability with the APS-C sensor – if you shoot a lot of action or fast-moving objects then this camera will be a real pleaser with its burst & focus capability.  Upgrading from the a6000 to the a6300 won’t really buy you much autofocus time, but overall autofocus capability, light sensitivity, and moviemaking might be worth your price.


Sony mirrorless full-frame cameras

Sony a7ii

a7iiThe a7ii is your general purpose, all-around pick for a full-frame mirrorless 24.3 MP ILC. It’s the compromise between the other two cameras in the full-frame lineup. But don’t take “compromise” in a negative way – it has excellent balanced qualities without the “specialty designs” of the other two.

The a7ii is the first full-frame camera to have in-camera five-axis image stabilization (pitch, roll, yaw, horizontal, vertical). ISO range can be expanded from 50 on the low end to 25600 on the high end. You can use the E-mount lenses and even the A-mount lenses, maintaining phase-detection AF capability, with an adapter.

The a7ii also introduces the advanced XAVC S movie recording format, outputting 50Mbps in Full HD for super-sharp movies. This camera has a number of advanced movie controls to make post-processing easier, including S-Log2 gamma correction for a much wider dynamic range in your movies.

The a7ii is the largest of the full-frame cameras at 5.0″ x 3.8″ x 2.4″ and 21 ounces without a lens, about 70% of a Canon 5Dii DSLR.  The body was redesigned from the a7 to hold the stabilization system, adding 0.5″ to the depth and 4 ounces in weight, but it ditched the plastic body and is constructed with a more durable magnesium alloy.

The a7ii will run you $1,698 at Amazon; its predecessor the a7 has been reduced to $1,099.  The a7 is slightly smaller but the a7ii has faster focus, better low-light focus, better video recording, and in-camera image stabilization.

Who would like this: any photographer looking for a great full-frame interchangeable lens mirrorless camera when you don’t need crazy-high sensor sensitivity or crazy-large images.  An upgrade from the a7 to a7ii is your call – if you really need image stabilization.


Sony a7Sii

a7sThe a7Sii is great for photographers who spend a lot of time with the ISO dialed up – low-light, nighttime, maybe some moving action in those instances. You’re generally not concerned about making prints the size of billboards. A magazine spread or web content is what you’re after, so long as you can print something taken at 12800 ISO with sharp detail and no noise.  The a7Sii has a resolution of only 12.2 MP (still enough for magazines and prints) but it has an ISO of – get ready for it – 409600. The 169 AF points will quickly pick out the edges in scenes with amazingly dark exposure values of -4. To help out in these dark situations, the a7Sii also features the five-axis image stabilization introduced in the a7ii.

This camera is also a movie machine, recording high-quality 4K movies and Full HD at 120fps, using XAVC S format at rates up to 100Mbps. S-Log3 will give you an amazing tonal range in post-production.

The a7Sii is, like the rest, a small package at 4.99″ x 3.76″ x 2.37″ and a super-light 17 ounces.

This camera will cost you $2,998 at Amazon. Its predecessor the a7S costs $2,198 but doesn’t have 100Mbps movie recording (the limit is 50Mbps), has a scant 25 AF points, and does not have built-in image stabilization.

Who would like this: photographers who need crazy-high sensor sensitivity for night/low-light shooting.  An upgrade from the a7S to the a7Sii would certainly benefit these types of photographers.


Sony a7Rii

And finally the a7Rii. This is for the location or studio photographer who needs a high pixel count, superb detail, and great sensor sensitivity (but not a7S sensitivity). This camera has a 42.4 MP resolution which is honestly way too much for what most people do (not to mention the increase in data storage). If you want to have a “virtual telephoto lens” in post-production and be able to crop small, go for it.

a7iiIt does feature the new Exmor R backlit sensor, a revolutionary redesign to increase sensor sensitivity, with an ISO of 102400. It includes the five-axis stabilization of the a7ii. That combined with the Fast Hybrid AF & 399 AF points will keep your images sharp.

The other major difference in this camera is that it does not have a low-pass filter in front of the sensor. This filter is found on virtually all cameras in one form or another in order to reduce a phenomenon called “aliasing” or “moiré”, which is a swirling effect that appears on tight patterns.  But to gain something with this filter you lose something, and that’s image detail, because the filter intentionally blurs your image to reduce this swirl.  The pixel count in the a7Rii is so high that the filter isn’t really needed, ergo no intentional blurring.

a7riiThis camera also excels at movies, recording Full HD up to 120fps/50Mbps and 4K at up to 100Mbps in XAVC S. You can also shoot in “Super 35mm” format in addition to regular 35mm.

The a7Rii is the smallest of the full-frame bodies, measuring 4.69″ x 2.74″ x 1.5″, but is the heaviest at 22 ounces.

The a7Rii costs $3,198 at Amazon. Its predecessor, the a7R, is significantly less at $1,898. This is in part due to the older, less sensitive sensor (ISO is two stops less at 25600) and a smaller resolution “limited” at 36.4 MP. You also don’t get as high of quality movies as the a7Rii with the Full HD-only AVCHD format. The a7R does not have image stabilization either.

Who would like this: the photographer who needs to pick out every last little detail in their images for large prints.  An upgrade from the a7R to a7Rii will again benefit these types of photographers, given the items improved upon.

I hope this makes choosing a mirrorless camera easier for you!  Please add your questions or comments below.

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