terry donnelly holding his sony alpha camera

Looking Back

10 Years of Alpha Full-Frame Mirrorless

On October 16th, 2013, Sony changed the game in cameras and for photographers forever. The launch of the Sony Alpha 7 and Alpha 7R were Sony’s first mirrorless-style consumer cameras to have a full-frame sensor. Previously, these large sensors were only found in professional DSLR or expensive rangefinder cameras, until Sony made the decision to feature the sensors in smaller and lighter cameras.

The Alpha 7 was the natural evolution of what had started three years earlier, with the launch of the Sony NEX cameras and the Sony E Mount. These were the first Sony mirrorless cameras with APS-C size sensors and targeted consumers who wanted to leave behind bulky and heavy DSLR cameras for something much smaller and lighter with contemporary features.

front view of a sony alpha 7

Creating a full-frame mirrorless camera was always part of Sony's plan, and it was a consideration when the E-Mount was developed.

In the years since, other manufacturers have introduced their full-frame mirrorless cameras, requiring a whole new mount and a new set of lenses.

Sony's philosophy was 'One Mount'; The E mount was used on the NEX and new Alpha 7 series cameras. Photographers could use their existing E-mount lenses in a cropped mode in the new Alpha 7 cameras, and the full-frame E-Mount (FE) lenses could be used with a 1.5x crop on NEX cameras. Even those with A-mount Sony cameras were included, thanks to a revolutionary pair of LA-EA3 and LA-EA4 adapters, which allowed A-mount lenses to be used seamlessly on Alpha 7 cameras. The latter even allowed for phase detection autofocus, making a move from Alpha A-mount to E-mount seamless.

chris schmid with his sony alpha camera and lens

Sony European Imaging Ambassador / Chris Schmid

The Alpha 7 and Alpha 7R shared the same external design but with different sensors and specifications to meet the needs of different photographers. For the all-round photographer, there was the Alpha 7 with its 24 megapixel sensor, phase-detection autofocus, and shooting up to 5fps. Then, the Alpha 7R increased the resolution for those who wanted the maximum possible image quality. It housed a 36 megapixel sensor, a resolution unheard of in a mirrorless camera at the time and on par with the leading professional DSLR cameras. It could shoot up to 4fps, making it an excellent camera for landscape, travel, and studio photographers. Both cameras could shoot Full HD video and had all the latest features, such as electronic viewfinders and Wi-Fi connectivity.

These two cameras paved the way for the full-frame mirrorless revolution we see today and the demise of the DSLR camera.

Olivier Schmitt framing a shot on his sony alpha camera

Sony European Imaging Creator / Olivier Schmitt

The arrival of the Sony Alpha 7S

A year later, the Sony Alpha 7S joined the Alpha 7 and Alpha 7R. It had a high sensitivity 12.2 megapixel sensor, optimised for shooting video and low-light. It had an incredible sensitivity of ISO 409,600 and quickly became a favourite of videographers worldwide. With three distinct lines of cameras, Sony could offer something for every photographer, and the E-Mount meant that lenses would work on every camera, whether you were shooting with an NEX-7 or an Alpha 7.

illustration showing the 5 axis stabilisation inside a sony alpha camera

In the years that followed, the second generation of each of the Alpha 7 cameras was released, each adding significant improvements on the previous generation, including 5-axis in-camera stabilisation and improved autofocus technologies. However, a camera that could tackle the fast-paced world of sports photography was needed. That camera was the Alpha 9.

front view of a sony alpha 9

The Sony Alpha 9 Changes Everything

The groundbreaking Sony Alpha 9 was the point where the days of the DSLR were numbered. It was a small mirrorless camera that could shoot at up to 20fps for 240 raw images, with phase-detection autofocus, and most importantly, there was no viewfinder blackout. With no mirror in the way and super-fast readout from the Stacked Exmor R sensor, sports photographers could shoot with a completely uninterrupted view of their subject, increasing the likelihood of capturing incredible sporting achievements.

Alejandro Ceresuela with his sony alpha 9

Sony European Imaging Ambassador / Alejandro Ceresuela

Something that Sony has done continuously is to keep updating existing cameras to add improvements via firmware. The most notable was Firmware 5.00 for the Alpha 9, which added over 20 features, but the biggest ones were Real Time AF and Eye AF Tracking.

All of the technology that Sony had been developing and evolving came to a peak with the highest specification Sony Alpha camera to date - the Sony Alpha One.

front view of a sony alpha 1

The Sony Alpha 1: One camera that can do everything

The Alpha 1 arrived in January 2021 and featured an incredible 50.1 megapixel sensor, 30fps shooting rate, and 8K video capture. It was better than any DSLR camera and was the new champion for sports and news photographers worldwide.

mathias kniepeiss holding his sony alpha 1

Sony European Imaging Ambassador / Mathias Kniepeiss

But the Alpha 1 isn't the end of the story. Sony has only just begun.

Since then, Sony has continued to listen and adapt to the needs of photographers and filmmakers to create new and exciting products, such as the ZV-E1 - a full-frame camera designed for vlogging but with much of the video power of the Alpha 7S III.

group of sony alpha 7c cameras

Then there is the Sony Alpha 7C line-up, including the recent Alpha 7CR and 7C II. These compact-style full-frame cameras are the smallest and lightest in their class, making them ideal for travel and everyday use, with the Alpha 7CR using the same incredible 61 megapixel sensor and AI subject recognition as the Sony Alpha 7R V.

And so to the future? What will Sony be developing in the next ten years?

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