Buyers Guide for Sony Mirrorless Cameras

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What’s the best Sony mirrorless camera and which one should you buy? If you are thinking to get yourself a mirrorless camera, you have to check out Sony first. Sony has been bombarding the mirrorless market with new lenses and new cameras every so often for the last few years. 

[REWIND – Choosing the right camera |Why travel with a mirrorless camera and not a DSLR]

Sony mirrorless cameras have been evolving tremendously since the introduction of the NEX system. Sony continues to dominant the mirrorless market with their wide range of cameras. However, the same thing can’t be said for their Alpha DSLRs which are still struggling. The success in Sony mirrorless cameras comes from its innovative design, compact footprint but packed with superb features and setting cameras at different price points. You can find a Sony mirrorless interchangeable lens camera ranges from $450 to $3300. When Sony introduced its A7 and RX1 series cameras which offer a full frame sensor in a mirrorless body, it was a significant milestone to the mirrorless market, users are given the opportunity to have the best image quality in a smaller camera bodies. The fact that this design and concept took off and Sony mirrorless cameras have become ever so popular saw a growth of 66% in mirrorless sales over the last year. 

When it comes to performance, Sony’s mirrorless cameras’ image quality and noise performance are highly regarded. They deliver professional image quality and camera performance without the need for the bulky reflex mirror, cutting a huge amount of size and weight from the camera design. It also enhances camera operation; without the need to move a mirror back and forth for every frame, allowing to achieve extremely high frame-rates with constant autofocus. While the autofocus performance of mirrorless cameras are pretty average in the past,  Sony has put a lot of effort in this area and now the latest mirrorless Sony RX1R II offers up to 399 phase detect AF points. Check out this blog post on why mirrorless cameras are here to stay.

The problem with Sony mirrorless cameras is that there are so many models out there. The older models are not discontinue, you can still buy the old models from four years ago new. This completely confuses users who are not familiar with cameras and their specs. Hopefully, this guide will help you to choose the right camera and explain their differences.

 

Sony basically has five popular mirrorless line up which service for different purposes.

Series Models Prices range as at Oct 2015 Category
A7 A7II, A7RII, A7SII, A7, A7R, A7S $1398 – $3200 Full frame interchangeable lens cameras
RX1 RX1RII, RX1R, RX1 $2800 – $3300 Full frame non interchangeable lens  cameras
RX100 RX100IV, RX100III, RX100II, RX100 $448 – $948 High End compact cameras
RX10 RX10II, RX10 $898 – $1298 Power Zoom cameras
NEX/Alpha a6000, a5100, a5000 $448 – $648 APS-C interchangeable lens cameras

 

Sony A7

This is Sony’s top of the line full frame interchangeable lens cameras. There are three variants with the latest models being mark II and the earlier models being mark I. The main differences between the newer and older models are that the mark II offer 5-axis in-body image stabiliser, better hybrid AF system, slightly higher resolution on the back LCD and general performance improvements. However the step up does cost about $500-$600 more. The size different Sony A7 are:

Sony A7 II – 24MP standard full frame interchangeable lens camera with AA filter, 1080p HD. This is a great camera for all purposes.

Sony A7R II – 42MP high resolution full frame interchangeable lens camera with no AA filter and 4K video capability. Equipped with a  high resolution sensor this camera is great for capturing the details, such as landscape, detail portraits and studio work.

Sony A7S II – 12MP full frame interchangeable lens camera with superb high ISO performance. It has AA filter with base ISO extends two stops more than the other models up to 102,400. It also has on sensor phase detection for improve AF performance. This camera is great for weddings or fast action photography where you are operating in the higher ISO territory.

Sony A7 – 24MP standard full frame interchangeable lens camera with AA filter, 1080p HD. This is a great camera for all purposes without the luxury features of the mark II, it is $500-$600 cheaper.

Sony A7R – 42MP high resolution full frame interchangeable lens camera with no AA filter and 4K video capability. Equipped with a  high resolution sensor this camera is a great for capturing the details, such as landscape, detail portraits and studio work. It doesn’t have the luxury features of the mark II, but it is $500-$600 cheaper

Sony A7S – 12MP full frame interchangeable lens camera with superb high ISO performance. It has AA filter with base ISO extends two stops more than the other models up to 102,400, It also has on sensor phase detection for improve AF performance. The camera is great for weddings or fast action photography where you are operating in the higher ISO territory. It doesn’t have the  luxury features of the mark II, but it is $500-$600 cheaper

 

Sony RX1

Sony RX1 series is the top of the line full frame non-interchangeable lens cameras. They are equipped with Sony’s A7 full frame sensors but in a non-interchangeable lens body. They are smaller in size and there are three models in this range. The RX1 is superseded by RX1R. The price for the two models are the same so there is really no reason to get the obsolete RX1. The recently announced RX1R II (mark II) is however a significant upgrade to the mark 1. The resolution has been increased from 24MP to 42MP (same as A7RII) with numerous features added like tiltable LCD, EVF, Wifi, on-sensor phase detection. The ISO has also expanded by 2 stops to 102400. However to make room for the EVF, the internal flash has been stripped off and the new model does cost about $500 more.

Sony RX1R II – Recently announced 42MP high resolution full frame non-interchangeable lens camera. It has tons of upgrades compare to the RX1R and it currently has the highest price tag.

Sony RX1R – 24MP full frame non interchangeable lens camera. This is now two years old but still a very good performer missing a few of the latest features like EVF, tiltable LCD, Wifi.

Sony RX1 – The original RX1 superseded by RX1R, it is still available new but cost the same as RX1R, so there is no reason to get it.

 

Sony RX100

This is Sony’s top of the line compact cameras equipped with 1 inch sensor and f/1.8 non-interchangeable lens. The lastest model is RX100 IV which has 4K video, up to 16fps burst rate and a max shutter speed of 1/32000s. It is about $150 more expensive than the previous model. Sony has added EVF and flash since RX100 III but removed the hotshoe which is not a bad move.  The lens has also been changed from 28-100m to 24-70mm (35mm eq.) since RX100 III.

Sony RX100 IV – Sony’s latest 20MP compact camera. It has added 4K video with a max shutter speed of 1/32000s.

Sony RX100 III – 20MP compact camera, still a good contender with EVF added and updated to 24-70mm lens coverage.

Sony RX100 II – Two years old 20MP compact camera with no EVF, lens coverage is 28-100mm. But it is $200 cheaper than RX100 III.

Sony RX100 – Three years old 20MP compact camera. It is the cheapest at $448.

 

Sony RX10

This is Sony’s power zoom camera with 1 inch 20MP sensor. The latest RX10 II has added 4K video and max shutter speed of 1/32000s.  It is big and the only reason you want this is because of its 24-200mm power zoom.

Sony RX10 II – A 20MP power zoom camera with 24-200mm focal length in a bigger body.

Sony RX10 – A 20MP power zoom camera with 24-200mm focal length in a bigger body. It doesn’t have 4K video but it is $400 cheaper than the mark II.

 

Sony Alpha

While we are overwhelmed by Sony’s full frame mirrorless cameras, Sony does have a APS-C sized sensor interchangeable lens camera line up. The top of the range in this class is the Sony a6000. It has an EVF, stunning 307K LCD, hotshoe, 11fps,1080p video and Wifi. It is a great performance for a very affordable price. For the lower models, it is $100 cheaper for the a5100 and $200 cheaper for the a5000. Both lack an EVF, hotshoe and only offer half of the burst rate. However the image quality should be about the same amongst all three models. Sony’s APS-C mirrorless do produce stunning image quality and with its small footprint, they are perfect cameras for travel.

Sony a6000 – 24MP APS-C interchangeable lens camera. No fancy 4K video and pro video features, but very affordable and a great performer for photographs.

Sony a5100 – 24MP APS-C interchangeable lens camera without EVF. If you don’t need the luxury features of the a6000, you can save yourself a $100

Sony a5000 – 20MP APS-C interchangeable lens camera without EVF. If you are on the lowest budget, then this is a good buy.

 

Recommendation

Each Sony camera is designed to target a certain audience and has its own distinct features that separate from other models, but it can be over whelming when all of these cameras (a total of 18) are presented to you at once. When you are buying a camera, it is important to ask yourself which camera format is suitable for you: DSLR, mirrorless or compact camera. Each has its own advantages and if you are unsure about choosing between DSLR or mirrorless, check out these two posts Choosing the right camera and Why travel with a mirrorless camera and not a DSLR). Personally, I would recommend the following cameras depending on your budget and personal needs. Check out the decision chart below to help you with weighting price versus image quality for each Sony camera.

Sony A7S II  – If you want a top of the line full frame interchangeable lens camera without a massive resolution, this is the best full frame mirrorless camera you can get and it is  $200 cheaper than the Sony A7R II. It is superb in low light condition and indoor.

Sony A7 II – If you don’t need the megapixel and superior low light performance, this camera saves you $1300 from the Sony A7S II. It offers stunning image quality and performance for all purposes.

Sony A7S –  If you don’t need the luxury features of the mark II like 5-axis in-body image stabiliser, hybrid AF system but still want the superior low light performance, this camera saves you $500-$600 which you can spend on a good lens.

Sony A7  – This is the best bang for buck and the cheapest full frame interchangeable lens camera. If you don’t need the luxury features of the mark II like 5-axis in-body image stabiliser, hybrid AF system, then this is a perfect camera. It is $300 cheaper than the mark II and still offers stunning image quality and performance for all purposes.

Sony RX1R II – If you don’t need/want to change lenses, this is the best camera with a full frame sensor and a f/1.8 lens. It does however cost $3300 (as at Oct, 2015).

Sony RX100 IV – If you want the best compact camera and don’t mind the price tag, this is it. But it is more expensive than the Sony a6000 which offers better image quality, so get this if size matters.

Sony RX100 III – If size matters and you want a small compact camera while still able to take good quality images, this is a highly regarded compact camera with EVF and many advance features. It is not as expensive as the Sony RX100 IV while still have the majority of the advance features.

Sony a6000 – If you don’t need the luxury of full frame, but still want to have good image quality, APS-C cameras are a good choice. The Sony a6000 is a great performer at a very good price. It is cheaper than other counterparts from Fujifilm, Olympus.

Sony a5100 – $100 cheaper than the Sony a6000, if you don’t need the luxury of full frame and EVF, but still want to have good image quality, this is a great performer at a very affordable price.

 

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About Kent Yu

Kent is a professional wedding and portrait photographer based in Wellington, New Zealand. He and his team specialise in modern and contemporary weddings. Kent has his work published in international magazines and is a regular author to a number of photographic publication. He is fascinated by photographic equipment and enjoys showcasing the gear used in creating his images. You can find him on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Google+
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