Sony A7S II Conclusion

Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS at 24mm, f/11, 1/10s, ISO 100
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Following up on their impressive low-light camera, the A7S, Sony has made an incremental, yet impressive, upgrade with the new Sony A7S II. While the sensor remains unchanged, Sony has reworked the image processing engine to provide even better high ISO performance. Considering how impressive the original A7S was at high ISOs this is quite a feat. Furthermore, the camera underwent a face-lift like its Mark II sibling with improved controls and ergonomics, as well as gaining Sony's impressive 5-axis image stabilization technology.

Relatively compact camera body doesn't skimp on controls

Featuring a refined design, which saw the front control dial and shutter release button repositioned into more user-friendly position like the other A7-series "Mark II" revisions, the A7S II is a well-built and solid-feeling camera. The front grip, while not massive, is big enough to provide ample grip. The body and lens mount have both been strengthened compared to the original A7S as well.

The electronic viewfinder also saw improvement, which we liked a lot. Improving from 0.71x magnification to 0.78x magnification and featuring double-sided aspherical elements and Zeiss T* coating, the A7S II's electronic viewfinder proved to work very well. The 3" tilting rear display is very nice, too, although its lack of touch functionality remains unfortunate.

Relatively low-megapixel sensor captures great images

To provide impressive high ISO performance, there often must be a compromise. In the case of the Sony A7S II, that compromise is resolving power. Packing only a 12-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor, the A7S II will not be able to match other modern full-frame cameras in terms of resolution, but this doesn't mean that it can't deliver high-quality, sharp images. Both JPEG and RAW image performance is impressive with detailed, vibrant images. JPEG images perform particularly well as we found that the A7S II produces very sharp, detailed images with minimal sharpening artifacts and little loss of detail due to noise suppression as the ISO rises.

Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS at 24mm, f/9, 5s, ISO 50
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Recording RAW images really brings out the best that the A7S II has to offer, however, allowing incredible latitude for making exposure adjustments and delivering images with impressive dynamic range. Thankfully Sony has also added uncompressed RAW image recording capabilities for the A7S II, allowing users access to even more data than before. When looking at the dynamic range of RAW files, the advantages of the lower-resolution sensor become evident. Even when looking at normalized results, the A7S II bests the impressive Sony A7R II at ISO 102,400 by over a stop. At many ISOs, the A7S II matches or slightly beats its predecessor, although oddly the original A7S does win out at a few ISOs, such as 25,600.

No surprises here: excellent high ISO performance

On the topic of high ISO performance, this is where the A7S II truly shines. At ISO 100, there is essentially no noise at all. Even up to ISO 3200, noise levels remain low. The A7S II is capable of shooting all the way up to ISO 409,600, although its native ISO stops at 102,400. Of course, at its highest ISO speeds, noise is high. Nonetheless, we found that you can produce an acceptable 4" x 6" print at ISO 102,400! 24" x 36" prints looked good up to ISO 400 with ISO 800 dropping acceptable print quality down to the 20" x 30" print size, which is still impressive. 8" x 10" prints looked good even up to ISO 12,800.

To further improve its low-light shooting capabilities, the A7S II gains the 5-axis I.S. system like the other two revised A7-series models. As with those models, the 5-axis in A7S II works very well, allowing us to shot with much slower shutter speeds than we'd typically get away with for a given lens.

Sony FE 28mm f/2, f/2, 20s, ISO 6400
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Improved autofocus makes this a dependable camera in the field

Compared to the A7S' 25 autofocus points, the A7S II has 169 total AF points. Our experience backs up Sony's claim that it is more accurate and faster overall. The A7S II had very good autofocus speeds for a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, and its speeds were competitive with prosumer DSLR cameras, despite having only contrast-detect autofocus. In the field, the increased number of autofocus points proved invaluable as the A7S II was able to consistently capture sharp images, even in difficult conditions and with fast-moving subjects. Low-light autofocus capabilities were also excellent, rated to focus down to -4EV (like its predecessor).

In addition to increased AF points, the A7S II also brings new autofocus modes and features to the table. Enhanced Eye AF allows the camera to follow a subject's eye even when they're moving through the frame. The new Expand Flexible Spot AF point mode helps keep focus on a subject even when it moves outside the autofocus point.

Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS at 200mm, f/4, 1/800s, ISO 100
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Despite low megapixel count, the A7S II is not very fast

Unlike some of its A7-series siblings, the Sony A7S II does not have on-sensor phase-detect autofocus pixels, which means that it cannot autofocus in Speed Priority mode. In this Speed Priority mode, AF is locked with the first frame, and then the camera continuously shoots at 5 frames-per-second, which is good for its class but not particularly fast. Buffer depth and clearing times are somewhat unimpressive considering the relatively small files, with uncompressed RAW files slowing the camera down to 1.4 fps after 28 frames and taking 15 seconds to clear (these times will vary with the SD card used). Buffer depth is however pretty good with compressed RAW files (37 frames) with a better clearing time (9 seconds). It is also worth noting that the uncompressed RAW files, while 14-bit when shooting single frames, are actually 12-bit converted to 14-bit in continuous modes and Silent Shooting mode, which is not new for 14-bit Sony cameras.

A multitude of video features and excellent performance

Using full pixel readout when recording 4K Ultra HD video, the A7S II produces detailed 4K video with reduced amounts of moiré and aliasing artifacts. Cinematic Picture Profiles, including a new S-Log3 profile -- in addition to S-Log2 -- provide up to 14 stops of dynamic range. When using these new profiles, the A7S II's new Gamma Display Assist function proves useful, showing a more natural video on the camera's rear display. The A7S II's 5-axis stabilization system works for video as well, allowing for much smoother, more pleasing handheld video. Given the E-mount's vast compatibility with various adapters and third-party lenses, the flexibility to use lots of different optics with the benefit of image stabilization is a huge plus. In addition to the extensive video feature set we found that the A7S II's video performance was itself very good. In both 4K and Full HD resolutions, the A7S II captures detailed video with good exposure and accurate autofocus.

Sony A7S II offers refinements to an already excellent camera

The Sony A7S II may be an incremental upgrade over the A7S in some ways, but the improvements are impressive overall. Combining a refined camera body, improved autofocus, and many notable upgrades, the A7S II is a great camera. If you're looking for high resolution you may want to look elsewhere, but if you're looking for excellent low light performance and lots of video features then you need look no further than the Sony A7S II, which nabs a sure-fire Dave's Pick just like its predecessor.

Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS at 24mm, f/8, 1s, ISO 100
This image has been modified slightly. Click for original image.


Pros & Cons

  • Outstanding high ISO performance, very similar to its predecessor
  • Excellent JPEG image quality at low to moderately high ISOs
  • Very good dynamic range
  • 5-axis image stabilization system works very well for both stills & video
  • Fast single-shot AF speeds and very low shutter lag (with electronic first curtain shutter)
  • Very good buffer depths especially with compressed RAW
  • Large high-res electronic viewfinder
  • Decent battery life for its class, but slightly lower than A7S
  • Fast 1/250s flash sync speed
  • Silent Shooting mode (Is truly silent, but see related Con)
  • DRO helps with high contrast scenes
  • In-camera HDR works well
  • Useful Hand-held Twilight and Anti Motion Blur modes
  • Sweep Panorama Mode
  • Now offers uncompressed RAW mode (14-bit in single-shot, 12-bit in most other modes)
  • Can now record high quality 4K UHD video internally
  • Full HD video up to 120fps
  • Clean HDMI out
  • Improved AF system (but still contrast-detect only)
  • Able to autofocus in extremely low light
  • Redesigned camera body is very good with better control placement
  • Many more AF points than the original A7S
  • Built-in Wi-Fi & NFC connectivity, but iOS app can be tedious to setup
  • 12 megapixels may not be enough resolution for some applications
  • Some high resolution full-frame cameras can challenge high ISO performance when re-sampled down to 12 megapixels
  • Slower startup than A7S (2.9s vs 2s)
  • No on-sensor phase-detect autofocus
  • Underwhelming continuous shooting performance considering the resolution
  • Continuous AF not supported in 5 fps "Speed Priority" burst mode
  • No lossless RAW compression option, though new uncompressed RAW files aren't too large because of the low resolution
  • Silent Shooting mode (fully electronic shutter) reduces image quality slightly
  • Single card slot (but supports SD or MS Pro Duo cards)
  • No built-in flash
  • Menus can be clunky, confusing and sluggish to navigate

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