The original Sony a7C was very much an entry-level camera. I really liked the minimalistic styling; a strong departure from the boxy DSLR look of the other Alpha cameras, and it was easy to navigate, but suffered from what many entry-level cameras suffer from: a lack of manual control dials, and a bargain basement viewfinder. But now we’ve got an upgrade. Or rather, upgrades.
The $2,200 Sony a7C II and its 33-megapixel sensor is a direct successor to that original a7C while the new $3,000 a7CR comes loaded with the same 61-megapixel sensor as the a7R V. Both of these cameras are still in a pre-production state so there is only so much we can touch on, but we definitely put them through their paces nonetheless.
Although intended to be more affordable and simplified cameras, it was obvious that Sony has made an effort to step up the sophistication a bit. The a7C II clearly draws a lot of its DNA from the a7 IV and the a7CR similarly from the a7R V, but are these simply “baby” versions of those cameras or is there more to it? Let’s start with what is the same between both cameras.
Sony a7C II and a7CR: These Two Have a Lot in Common
Both of the new a7C cameras get some major upgrades that in some ways even put them above their higher-end counterparts. The first major change is the new Bionz XR processor which speeds up overall camera operations and unlocks new photo and video capabilities. Couple that with the latest Sony autofocusing algorithms and you get focusing performance and subject detection modes that equal the best that Sony offers.
There are substantial improvements to the handling of these cameras over the original a7C. First, the grip is larger and more comfortable to hold on to, which is a valuable benefit to a very compact body. If that grip is still too small, Sony offers a new removable extension grip that provides a place for your bottom two fingers to grip securely, while still allowing access to the battery compartment. This new grip comes with the a7CR but will be an optional add-on for the a7C II.
At only 18 ounces (513 grams), both cameras are ideal to travel with and take up minimal space inside your camera bag. By far my favorite improvement to the handling is the addition of a front control dial. Previously, the thumb had to be used to control two dials: a slow and inefficient process.
Having the addition of a front control dial makes a huge difference when adjusting manual controls on the fly. There is now a faster UHS-II SD card slot in the cameras — although there is only one, as to be expected. The cameras are even weather-sealed to the same degree as the a7I V.
Both cameras also feature a 2.36 million dot EVF, which although similar in resolution to the original a7C, has a much clearer magnification factor which improves the viewing experience tremendously. On the back of the new cameras is a rather entry-level touch-screen LCD panel at just over a million dots, but at least it fully articulates.
Another interesting change is the implementation of electronic first curtain shutters exclusively in both cameras. This means there is no fully mechanical shutter mechanism although there is a fully electronic shutter mode if desired. This EFC-only shutter makes the cameras very stable to shoot at slower shutter speeds due to the lack of slap caused by a traditional mechanical shutter. On the other side, it cause bokeh to render with a truncated look. Worth nothing, but it only occurs when shooting lenses with very bright maximum apertures — arguably a very rare occurrence.
Lastly, both cameras now have an improved IBIS system which promises seven stops of added stability. This is a substantial upgrade over not only the original a7C but also the a7 IV. It can’t quite compete with the more advanced a7R V camera, but regardless, the built-in stabilization is very useful.
The a7CR vs the a7R V
If we specifically look at the a7CR, what does this camera bring to the table? We have the exact same sensor and autofocusing ability as the Sony a7RV. This brings the two main standout features from the A7RV to a much smaller and somewhat more affordable package.
The Sony a7R V has a slightly more effective IBIS unit and can shoot 10 frames per second instead of the a7CR’s eight. Admittedly, these are fairly minor differences. The Sony a7R V does have a far more sophisticated EVF and dual card slots. I could see the lack of these features being a deal breaker for some more serious photographers who are looking at the a7CR.
When it comes to video performance, the a7CR has similar capabilities to the a7R V, including a sensor that is excellent for photos but not so much for video. This 61-megapixel sensor just reads out too slow on both cameras, so the 4K 24p and 30p modes are pixel binned in order to provide full-width video. In 4K 60p, the frame is is cropped and again the pixel binning hurts your overall video quality.
The biggest difference is the lack of 8K record modes on the a7CR, although, due to the rampant rolling shutter on both cameras this isn’t a huge loss. Switching to APS-C crop mode does allow for over-sampled footage and a boost in image quality, however, then you have to deal with a 1.5x crop factor to all your lenses and there is no getting away from the rolling shutter issues.
In short, we have similar video capabilities between the a7CR and the a7R V but also similar issues.
The a7C II vs the a7 IV
The Sony a7C II is in my opinion the best-looking of the bunch. I love the gunmetal top plate, and the styling of the a7C series was always sexy to me. I far prefer its looks to the more utilitarian a7IV, but it’s what’s inside that counts.
Both cameras have the same 33-megapixel sensor, which is a nice balance between file size and quality. Both cameras also peak at 10 frames per second burst rates, so action and sports are doable. However, this is an interesting case where the a7C II is actually better in many important ways when compared to the A7IV.
The a7C II has the new Sony autofocusing system which puts it on par with the much higher-end Sony a7R V instead. It also has a more stable IBIS system than the a7 IV. Of course, the a7 IV does still have better displays, a larger grip, and a more sophisticated control scheme. There are definitely arguments to go either way, but the a7C II does manage to exceed its “big brother” in some key ways.
In terms of video performance, both cameras are essentially on par. Rolling shutter is still an issue on either camera due to the somewhat slow reading sensor. Both require a heavy crop when shooting 4K 60 footage as well. However, the a7C II does have a slight advantage when it comes to video autofocus performance. Again, because of the more advanced AF algorithms involved, the a7C II will outperform the more expensive a7 IV.
Sony a7C II and a7CR: Entry Level No Longer
So it’s clear to see that the Sony hierarchy has been mixed up a little. It’s not so much a question of getting the a7CR or a7C II simply because they are cheaper, entry-level cameras. In many ways they equal — or surpass — the more expensive models, and despite the control structure and more basic displays, offer a far more compact design.
I could see many photographers outright preferring the new a7C series bodies regardless of the lower price tag. I’d almost think of these two cameras as compelling alternatives to the a7R V and a7 IV, rather than lower-tier choices for the budget minded. They both have at the heart of them some serious capability worth exploring further.
Within the Sony ecosystem, the only real alternatives are the very cameras that they borrow heavily from. If you want the more advanced control scheme, dual card slots, and better-quality displays, the a7R V and a7 IV are still excellent cameras to choose from. But when it comes to image quality, video performance, or autofocusing, the a7CR and a7C II are effectively equal to the task.