Sony A7R II Conclusion
Sony A7R II Conclusion
by Mike Tomkins
Over the last couple of years, I've gotten to shoot with some really cool cameras, but the original Sony A7R holds a special place in my heart. I first shot with that camera on a press trip in Nashville, Tennessee, and while it had some rough edges here and there -- I wasn't thrilled with the shutter button placement, for example -- I found a whole lot of potential in a camera so compact, yet housing a full-frame image sensor.
A couple of years down the road, the Sony A7R II follows on from that camera, and that gives it some mighty big shoes to fill. The great news is that it's more than up to the challenge, with significant upgrades throughout. Where its predecessor was a magnificent portent of things to come, the A7R II feels much more polished and complete.
More refined ergonomics
From the moment I laid hands on it, I loved the updated ergonomics of the Sony A7R II. Compared to the original A7R, it's a much more comfortable camera to shoot with thanks to a better-positioned shutter button, among other tweaks. In fact, I was happy with all but one control: I'm still not too keen on the movie button, whose position makes it challenging to start or stop handheld video capture without moving the camera. Otherwise, though, the A7R II's plethora of buttons and dials are well-positioned and comfortable.
The A7R II's menu system, like that of its predecessor, keeps the most frequently-used items near the start of each menu section. This is a bit of a double-edged sword, though. While it generally saves you time accessing those key functions, it can be a bit of a chore to find more obscure options. (Especially the oh-so-handy Eye Autofocus function, which is buried under control config and easy to miss altogether.)
But much as I'd like to see Sony improve the menu organization, doing so would likely mean a few more clicks to access some more common functions. And truth be told, A7R II owners will, after a little while, learn the ins and outs of the menus like the back of their hands. I'm a bit more sensitive to menu layout than most because I'm continuously jumping back and forth between cameras (and brands) as they land on my desk for review.
So while I'd like to see the menus improve, I'm not going to hold them against the A7R II. Overall, the ergonomics and UI combine to provide a noticeably better experience than in the original A7R, and that's great news.
Truly outstanding image quality
Image quality has also taken a sizeable step forwards in the Sony A7R II. In terms of resolution when shooting with a quality lens, its detail-gathering is simply spectacular. In fact, it comes surprisingly close to what medium-format cameras are capable of in a far, far more compact body. (And as I've pointed out over the years, a more compact camera is one you're more likely to have with you, ensuring you get the shot.)
Despite its high resolution, noise is surprisingly well controlled, as well. If you're predominantly an available-light shooter and you don't need this much resolution, you'll want to consider the A7 II or perhaps even the light-loving A7S II instead, but even if resolution is your primary goal, the Sony A7R II should net you some great handheld images under city streetlighting or in other dimly-lit locales. Especially if you're not aiming for too large a print size: We found the A7R II capable of good 5x7-inch prints (and perhaps even the occasional 8x10-inch print) at all the way up to ISO 25,600-equivalent.
Good performance and much-improved autofocus
Performance has also taken a good step forwards, especially in the autofocus department. No, the Sony A7R II isn't quite as swift in burst mode as would be a DSLR at this price point, but considering the amount of data it has to deal with after each shot, its burst rate of five frames per second seems eminently reasonable.
And thanks to the newly-added, on-chip phase detection autofocus, focusing is swift and confident, even in surprisingly low light. Buffer depths are also good -- at least so long as you don't opt to shoot uncompressed raw files -- and if you like to focus manually or prefocus, the A7R II's electronic first curtain shutter means you'll not be troubled by shutter lag in the least.
Really, the only fly in the ointment for performance is buffer clearing, which is a bit on the slow side. But then that, again, is relatively easy to forgive when considering the extremely high sensor resolution. (And honestly, buffer depths and clearing are something I'm more attuned to than the average shooter simply because I shoot bracketed raw+JPEG for everything when reviewing cameras.)
In-camera 4K in a really compact form-factor
There have also been some great upgrades in the video department, making the Sony A7R II a very impressive dual-purpose still / video camera. Finally, in-camera recording of 4K content is possible, and that's not from a tiny cropped window, but instead using the full frame-width of the image sensor. (Well, unless you intentionally opt for the Super 35mm crop mode.) That capability, in a camera so compact, is a seriously impressive feat which must have required a lot of thought from Sony's engineers as to how to get heat out of the camera body.
While I found myself wanting to shoot 4K more often than not -- even if the rest of my workflow hasn't yet been upgraded for ultra high-def support -- Full HD videos also offer good quality, and with the added bonus of being able to increase the frame-rate for smoother motion (or perhaps a modicum of slow-motion playback). And if you prefer to record externally for the maximum possible control, you'll be pleased to note that the Sony A7R II can record internally and provide an uncompressed video feed via HDMI for recording on an external device. Add in a high-quality XAVC S codec, external microphone connectivity and more, and the Sony A7R II makes for a very compelling video capture device, not just a stills camera!
A Dave's Pick for one highly-recommended full-frame shooter!
All things considered, I've really enjoyed shooting with the Sony A7R II. And not just because there's an astounding amount of technology jammed into its very compact, comfortable body. Most important of all, it's a fun and satisfying camera to shoot with, and can give really great results in a wide range of shooting situations.
If you're in the market for a really high-res camera and don't want to be weighed down with a heavy, bulky DSLR and lenses, I'd highly recommend putting the A7R II near the top of your shortlist. The Sony A7R II is a clear Dave's Pick, and quite possibly the most impressive Alpha-series mirrorless camera to date!
Pros & Cons
- Superb image quality at low ISOs straight out of the camera
- Surprisingly good high ISO performance
- Very high resolution
- Excellent dynamic range; best in class at higher ISOs
- Susceptible to aliasing artifacts
- Fast autofocus with 399 points and very good coverage
- Incredibly fast prefocused shutter lag
- Able to autofocus in very low light
- Eye Autofocus, while deeply hidden in the menu, makes it simple and quick to place focus on your subject's eye
- Decent burst speed considering the resolution and sensor size
- Good buffer depths (when shooting JPEGs or compressed RAW files)
- Sluggish startup compared to a DSLR, but a good bit faster than A7R was
- Burst speed trails what's possible from similarly-priced DSLRs
- Slow buffer clearing
- Somewhat shallow buffer with uncompressed RAW files in Continuous Hi mode, and there's no losslessly compressed RAW option
- 4K (UHD) video recording in-camera with no external recorder needed
- High bitrate XAVC S compression available
- Excellent image quality at 4K resolution, and very good at Full HD as well
- Can still record 4:2:2 8-bit video to an external recorder via HDMI, even when recording internally at the same time
- Optional Super 35mm crop can get you some more tele reach
- External mics can be connected via standard 3.5mm jack or proprietary Multi Interface Shoe
- Movie button is awkwardly-positioned and hard to press without shaking the camera
- Much-improved ergonomics make it far more comfortable to shoot with
- Extremely customizable controls
- Dust and moisture resistant (but no lens gasket, sadly)
- Huge, bright and clear electronic viewfinder with very good accuracy
- Tilting LCD helps get the shot at awkward angles
- Five-axis in-body image stabilization
- Low-vibration mechanical shutter rated for 500,000 actuations, which bodes well for reliability
- Electronic first curtain shutter (all electronic option as well)
- Uncompressed RAW capture option added in firmware version 2.0
- PlayMemories Camera Apps can extend the functionality of your camera post-purchase (sometimes for an additional cost)
- Tilt-only LCD isn't as versatile as a tilt/swivel type
- No touch control
- Movie button is still awkwardly positioned, making it hard to start or stop recording without moving the camera
- Menu system can feel somewhat disorganized, especially for PlayMemories Camera Apps
- Fair battery life for a mirrorless camera, but poor compared to DSLRs
- Single card slot where some rivals have twin slots
- Good support for third-party optics via a broad selection of adapters, some including autofocus support
- Limited native lens selection (but growing)
- Multi Interface Shoe allows for various smart accessories and adapters
- No built-in flash