An Easier Sony Alpha Mirrorless Camera Comparison
Update Dec 2017: Now includes the a6500 and a7Riii.
Which Sony mirrorless camera should you buy?
I want to try to make choosing a Sony mirrorless camera easy. There are currently ten cameras in the lineup ranging in size, capability, and cost. 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 only one camera. The seven 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. 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 ten 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 a6500||Sony a7ii||Sony a7Sii||Sony a7Riii|
|Its Specialty||Capturing action||All purpose||Low light & movies||Image size & detail|
|Price (body only)||$1,198||$1,298||$2,398||$3,199|
|Camera weight w/ battery, no lens||16 ounces||21 ounces||17 ounces||23 ounces|
|Sensor size||APS-C 23mm||Full frame 35mm||Full frame 35mm||Full frame 35mm|
|Resolution||24.2 MP||24.3 MP||12.2 MP||42.4 MP|
|In-camera stabilization||5 axis||5 axis||5 axis||5 axis|
|Movie capability||Full HD 120fps, 4K, XAVC S 100Mbps||Full HD 60fps, XAVC S 50Mbps||Full HD 120fps, 4K, XAVC S 100Mbps||Full HD 60fps, 4K, XAVC S 100Mbps|
You may also want to read:
- Decoding Sony alpha mirrorless camera lenses
- Which Sony alpha mirrorless camera lenses are best for hiking
- Should I get the a6300 or a6500?
Sony mirrorless APS-C
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.
The a6500 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.
It claims to have the fastest autofocus (AF) in the world with a time of 0.05 seconds. This 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 new touchscreen lets you set the focus point with your finger.
The a6500 will accept E-mount lenses. If your lens doesn’t have image stabilization, no worries, the a6500 adds 5-axis in-camera stabilization.
Shooting movies? You can record 4K or Full HD with 120 fps using the advanced XAVC S codec and S-Log gamma curves for an expanded dynamic range.
The camera is tiny at 4.72″ x 2.63″ x 2.1″ and weighs only 16 ounces (without a lens), just slightly larger than its predecessor. The body listed for $1,198 when it came out.
The a6500’s predecessor, the a6300, is currently selling for $748 at Amazon. This camera does not include in-camera stabilization and has a smaller image buffer. Read my summary of the differences here.
Then there’s also the original a6000 for $448. The a6000 has an older (but still great) sensor, 179 AF points instead of 425, an ISO limit of 25600, and no 4K movie capability.
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 capabilities. Upgrading from the a6300 to the a6500 won’t really buy you much except for the touchscreen and sensor stabilization (worth it?).
Sony mirrorless full-frame cameras
Sony a7ii – My Pick
The 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” negatively. The a7ii 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 some advanced movie controls to make post-processing easier, including S-Log2 gamma correction for a much broader 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. This added 0.5″ to the depth and 4 ounces in weight, but it ditched the plastic body and is constructed of a more durable magnesium alloy.
The a7ii’s predecessor, the a7, has been reduced to $798. 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 an exceptional 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.
The 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 incredible 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.
The first a7S costs $1,998 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 undoubtedly benefit these types of photographers.
And finally, the a7Riii, introduced November 30, 2017. This is for the location or studio photographer who needs a high pixel count, superb detail, and excellent 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.
It does feature the new Exmor R backlit sensor, a revolutionary redesign to increase sensor sensitivity, with an expanded 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 significant 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 to reduce a phenomenon called “aliasing” or “moiré.” This is a swirling effect that appears on tight patterns. But to gain something with this filter, you lose something. What you lose is some image detail because the filter intentionally blurs your image to reduce this swirl. The pixel count in the a7Riii is so high that the filter isn’t really needed, ergo no intentional blurring.
This 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 a7R used to be the smallest of the full-frame bodies, but the a7Riii is slightly larger than its predecessors to be more or less equal to the other full-frame bodies, but it’s the heaviest at 23 ounces.
Other significant improvements over the a7Rii include a burst mode of 10fps (vs. 5fps); improved low-light autofocus; higher dynamic range in low light; twice the battery capacity; dual SD slots; USB-3; and a touchscreen LCD. The a7Riii also introduces Pixel Shift shooting – the sensor moves by one pixel in each direction while shooting to grab more color information for better gradation.
The a7Riii brand-spanking new is $3,199 (body only).
The a7Rii is now $2,398 at Amazon. The a7Rii is still an excellent camera, but the a7Riii significantly improves the image capture. Its predecessor, the a7R, is considerably 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 or a7Riii 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 a7Rii to a7Riii will again benefit these types of photographers, given the items improved upon.
I hope this makes choosing a mirrorless camera simpler for you! Please add your questions or comments below. I’ll try to keep this updated as the lineup changes.