Sony a7 Portraits: Beginner Full-Frame Camera For Portrait Photography

Sony a7 portrait with Kayla Natural Light

The Sony a7 mirrorless camera is the first in the line of full-frame mirrorless cameras from Sony. The camera was announced in October 2013 and made available shortly after.

The Sony a7 camera is a good choice for a beginner mirrorless camera. It features a 24mp full-frame sensor, LCD screen and quick auto focus. All this for a budget friendly price. Since the initial release, Sony has dominated the mirrorless camera market and continued to pioneer new technology for photographers. 

Sony a7 portrait photography outdoors

The first portrait session I ever did was with the Sony a7 mirrorless camera and the Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8 lens. This lens is the first of many new lenses being released for the Sony e-mount system.

This combination was light weight, very easy to handle and gave me some amazing natural light portraits of my good friend Kayla.

The Sony 55mm f1.8 is one of my favorite portrait lenses. If you’re curious to learn more, you should check out my article on the Sony 55mm and Sony 85mm G Master lens.

The shoot was a small collaboration at a local park. I didn’t want to get too fancy for the first time model. The natural light that day was perfect. The sky was overcast and we were able to shoot around mid-day that Sunday afternoon.

Sony a7 Portrait with Kayla Natural Light Park Shoot v6
Shot on Sony a7 Camera | Sony 55mm Zeiss f1.8 | ISO 50 | 1/250sec | @f3.2 | Natural Light

I reached out to Kayla because I wanted to test my new camera and see what I could do. I knew very little about the camera but I did have experience with Canon full-frame cameras.

This would take some getting used to, but I was eager to learn the new system.

Kayla agreed, and joined me at a local park across the street from my home. Little did I know this shoot would start me on an entire journey of learning portrait photography.

Why Choose Sony a7 for portrait photography

After doing tons of research on cameras, I knew I wanted to try a mirrorless camera and Sony was quickly becoming a leader in that space at the time. The price was semi-budget friendly but also the camera was small and inconspicuous.

I didn’t want to carry around a large camera setup like I had seen with other camera manufacturers. I liked the style of the camera body. It reminded me of the older film cameras.

I didn’t know much about photography, but I knew I wanted a full frame camera so I searched for the best deals possible.

Sony a7 Portrait with Kayla Natural Light Park Shoot v11
Shot on Sony a7 Camera | Sony 55mm Zeiss f1.8 | ISO 50 | 1/400sec | @f2.2 | Natural Light

I originally looked at the Sony a6000 crop sensor mirrorless camera because of the price, but I ended up getting suckered into purchasing the Sony a7 from a local Best Buy.

Little did I know it was the perfect camera for me as a beginner photographer.

Sony a7 camera features

For the time, the Sony a7 had some great specs for beginner photographers. It was really considered a professional camera until later when the newer generations of the camera series were released.

The Sony a7 mirrorless camera features include:

  • 24 megapixel full-frame sensor
  • Great styling in a small camera body
  • Face detection for portraits
  • Sony 28-70 kit lens came with body
  • Full HD Video capturing capabilities
  • Wi-Fi connection and image transfer to my iPhone
  • Tilting screen for low angled shots

I didn’t understand all the other technical specs from the box, but I knew these stood out to me the most.

I was a new photographer looking for a new camera, and the salesman sold me on it! Also, it was the last unit he had in stock and they were trying to get rid of it so I got the best deal possible on the camera and lens combo.

Quick camera specs of Sony a7

Here are a few technical specs on the Sony a7 mirrorless camera.

  • Sensor Size: Full Frame (35.8 x 23.9)
  • 24 megapixel resolution sensor
  • 6000 x 4000 Max resolution
  • 100-25,600 ISO range
  • 1/8000 sec Max shutter speed
  • CMOS sensor
  • Articulating LCD screen
  • E-mount
  • Weight: 474g (1.04 lbs / 16.72 oz) with battery
  • 127mm x 94mm x 48mm (5″ x 3.7″ x 1.89″)
Sony a7 Portrait with Kayla Natural Light Park Shoot v8
Shot on Sony a7 Camera | Sony 55mm Zeiss f1.8 | ISO 50 | 1/250sec | @f3.2 | Natural Light

Sony a7 Portrait Lens – The Sony 55mm f1.8 Zeiss Lens

The first lens I purchased was the Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f1.8 lens. After tons of research on beginner lenses, I knew I wanted to invest in better glass than the kit lens.

I’ve written a more detailed article on the Sony 55mm f1.8 portrait lens. Check it out here. 

Sony Zeiss 55mm F1.8 FE Lens
Sony Zeiss 55mm F1.8 FE Lens

At the time, the only other lens I had was the Sony FE 28-70 kit lens that came packaged with the camera.

I remember wanting an 85mm lens for portraits, but there was no option on the market. The closest was the Sony 90mm macro lens and I wanted something that could capture more of the background with each shot.

The lineup for Sony was pretty limited at the time, but it continually grew over time.

I shot with my Sony 55mm prime lens for over a year before I looked at other lenses.

I rented a few zooms like the Sony 24-70mm f4, but I liked the bokeh I got from shooting with primes.

Sony a7 Portrait with Kayla Natural Light Park Shoot v9
Shot on Sony a7 Camera | Sony 55mm Zeiss f1.8 | ISO 50 | 1/250sec | @f3.2 | Natural Light

What I like about the Sony a7 Camera

The Sony a7 has a light full-frame body and allowed me to have my camera with me all the time that first year.

The Sony 55mm f1.8 was a small lens, so this combo made it into so many places without drawing too much attention.

The image quality has been superb, and the RAW files allow me to do lots of post editing with Photoshop and Lightroom.

RAW is my preferred format and I often transfer JPGs during my shoot for behind-the-scenes social posting and more.

I now have a small battery grip from Meke on the camera, and this really helps with portrait orientation and having a better grip on the camera.

I can customize many of the buttons and dials to my liking, which makes things fast for shooting.

Sony a7 Portrait with Kayla Natural Light Park Shoot v4

Shot on Sony a7 Camera | Sony 55mm Zeiss f1.8 | ISO 100 | 1/400sec | @f1.8 | Natural Light

Shooting Portraits with the Sony a7 Mirrorless Camera

The Sony a7 is a pretty lightweight camera and can be shoot one-handed if you wanted to. I don’t always recommend it, but it is possible due the the light weight.

I have the Meke battery grip which makes it easier to hold, and allows for 2 batteries to supply power to the camera so not stopping mid shoot to change the batteries.

The additional grip doesn’t add much weight and makes it easier to shoot in portrait orientation.

I shoot mostly in single shot mode. I have a custom button set for single spot focus and I use my control wheel on the back of the camera to set the point over my subjects face.

I will get about 80-90% shots in focus, with a few being blurry because my model was moving and my shutter speed was not fast enough to keep up.

Sony a7 Portrait with Kayla Natural Light Park Shoot v1
Shot on Sony a7 Camera | Sony 55mm Zeiss f1.8 | ISO 50 | 1/400sec | @f1.8 | Natural Light

Is the Sony a7 good for new photographers

YES! I truly believe it’s a great starter camera for many new photographers looking for a full frame starter camera.

I always recommend renting a few camera bodies first and trying out a few systems before making a purchase. Since this release, Sony has come out with newer generation cameras that you may also want to consider.

I tried the Canon 6D DSLR but just didn’t like the size of the camera. I also tried a Fuji camera as well, but again I kept going back to Sony.

Is the Sony a7 camera good for portraits

In my opinion this camera is really good for portraits of subjects that are not going to be moving very much.

The tracking and autofocus is fast, but works best with still subjects.

There is no IBIS (in body stabilization) in the camera, so keep this in mind when setting your shutter speeds.

You’ll want a high enough shutter to catch your subjects motion. It can be done.

I’ve gotten some great portraits with this camera and have done well with my simple natural light setups.

Sony a7 Portrait with Kayla Natural Light Park Shoot v2
Shot on Sony a7 Camera | Sony 55mm Zeiss f1.8 | ISO 50 | 1/400sec | @f1.8 | Natural Light

What I didn’t like about the Sony a7

I only have two real complaints about the Sony a7. First, the battery life does not last long when shooting all day. Again, this is one of the reasons why I like having the Meke grip added to the bottom of the setup.

You’ll need multiple batteries for this camera if you have long shoots.

Also, the eye autofocus can’t be used in continuous AF mode, so this makes it hard to capture focus on moving subjects. It works great for single shots, but not continuous shooting.

You can only use this on the Single shot mode to be effective. It’s not a deal breaker but I would love to see this updated.

Sony a7 camera ergonomics

One thing that really sticks out with this camera is the size. It’s small and may be too small for photographers who have larger hands.

My hands (medium to large) fit the main grip of the camera but my pinky finger hands off the bottom. Purchasing a camera battery grip will help resolve this issue but will set you back an extra $50-$60.

Sony a7 user experience

The menu system is large and will take some time to get familiar with. So give yourself some time before you jump in and starting shooting with different subjects.

The dials are easy to turn and the camera has a few buttons for customization.

The one dial that is hard to turn is the front dial but only if you are wearing gloves. It’s inset in the camera body so you only have a small bit of the dial sticking out to turn the wheel.

The front dial is also smooth to the touch, it can be hard to miss if you’re in a rush and need to change your settings.

Sony a7 Portrait Lenses for beginners

The Sony 55mm f1.8 is a perfect lens in my opinion for beginners but I understand the price may be out of some peoples budgets.

It allows for me to get some close up shots without crazy distortion, but I can also take a few steps back and get some great environmental shots with my models.

If you’re interested in learning more, I would highly recommend checking out the lenses below. You can find these in new and pre-owned shops all over the US.

I would save a bit of money and buy a good used copy of your favorite lens.

Here is a list of lenses I would consider getting for the Sony a7 mirrorless camera:

  • Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 Lens
  • Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8 Lens
  • Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master Lens
  • Zeiss Batis 85mm f1.8 Lens
  • Sony 90mm f2.8 Macro Lens
  • Sony 24-70mm f2.8 G Master Lens
  • Sony 70-200mm f2.8 G Master Lens
Sony a7 Portrait with Kayla Natural Light Park Shoot v7
Shot on Sony a7 Camera | Sony 55mm Zeiss f1.8 | ISO 50 | 1/250sec | @f3.2 | Natural Light
Sony a7 Portrait with Kayla Natural Light Park Shoot v5
Shot on Sony a7 Camera | Sony 55mm Zeiss f1.8 | ISO 50 | 1/250sec | @f3.2 | Natural Light
Sony a7 Portrait with Kayla Natural Light Park Shoot v3
Shot on Sony a7 Camera | Sony 55mm Zeiss f1.8 | ISO 100 | 1/400sec | @f1.8 | Natural Light
Sony a7 Portrait with Kayla Natural Light Park Shoot v10
Shot on Sony a7 Camera | Sony 55mm Zeiss f1.8 | ISO 50 | 1/400sec | @f2.2 | Natural Light

Conclusion and final thoughts on the Sony a7

As of this article, you can purchase a used Sony a7 for around $900 or less brand new. You can now find this camera in used markets for the low price of $500.

There are now more lens options to choose from so get out and start shooting.

***(Article updated September 2020)

*Affiliate Disclaimer - I am a proud partner of the various affiliate programs including the Amazon.com Affiliate Program. When you click on my links and make a purchase I make a commision which goes to helping me support this blog. Thanks!

You May Also Like