Sony A7 II gains A7R II superpowers: Phase-detect AF for third-party lenses and uncompressed RAW!


posted Wednesday, November 4, 2015 at 5:10 PM EDT


Great news, Sony A7 II owners: New firmware is coming very soon that will gift some important features from the higher-res flagship Sony A7R II to your own camera. (In fact, it's good news even if you don't already own the affordable A7 II yet. At US$1,700 new or as little as $1,360 used, the full-frame shooter looks to be even more of a smart buy than ever -- and you can bring your third-party lenses along for the ride!)

The new firmware, which includes three main changes, isn't available quite yet. It's slated to land free of charge in just a couple of weeks, though. The changes are all inherited from the A7R II, which hit the street this past August, and which sells for almost twice as much as the A7 II.

Faster focusing with adapted lenses

For anyone owning third-party glass or Sony's own Alpha-series SLR lenses -- and we'd wager that quite a few A7 II owners are in this group -- the really big news is the availability of faster autofocus for your adapted optics.

In the past, the A7 II could only use hybrid autofocus which ended with a speed-robbing contrast-detection cycle for lenses that were mounted using Sony's own LA-EA3 adapter for non-screw drive Alpha-mount lenses, or third-party adapters from the likes of Metabones or Fotodiox.

The reason why contrast-detect is slow when using many older lenses, incidentally, is that they weren't designed for the way it works. Where phase detection allows the lens to shift focus in a single swift step, contrast detection requires that the focus drive stop multiple times on the way to achieving a focus lock, then start moving again after checking subject contrast. If the lens' focus group is relatively bigger and heavier than it would be in a modern mirrorless camera, that will take quite a bit of time to achieve.

The Sony A7 II now packs an even mightier punch with key new firmware upgrades

Now, the much swifter 117-point on-sensor phase detection autofocus system will work with your appropriately-mounted Sony Alpha or third-party lenses, and that means they should function much as they would have on your SLR camera. If speed isn't your primary goal and you prefer to favor focus accuracy instead, though, you can still do so. The new phase-detect AF support is a user-selectable menu option, and the earlier hybrid system remains available if you need the final contrast-detect cycle to ensure your subject is razor-sharp.

Of course, what the new firmware can't do is to give you the more point-dense sensor of the A7R II, which has a whopping 399 phase-detect points in total. But for a free update, the ability to use your 117-point PDAF system on the A7 II with third-party optics -- and free of charge, no less -- strikes us as huge news.

Uncompressed raw shooting

The second main change in the upcoming firmware is support for uncompressed raw shooting. The A7 II will be the third Alpha-series interchangeable-lens camera to receive this capability, after the recently-launched Sony A7S II and the now-upgraded A7R II. The change should help avoid artifacts that could, in some relatively rare situations, occur when shooting in raw format. Of course, the downside is that you'll find file sizes are much larger, since Sony's uncompressed raw files are just that -- they're not simply compressed losslessly. But then flash cards and network-attached storage are pretty affordable these days, so if you've found yourself noticing artifacts in your A7 II raw imagery, now you can resolve the problem.

Customizable movie button

One final change in the new firmware is that the movie button function can now be assigned to a custom button. If you've found -- as we did -- that the existing movie button is a bit uncomfortably placed, you can now improve your ergonomics just as you can do with the A7R II.

Watch this space!

According to Sony, the new firmware is slated to arrive in two weeks time, on November 18th. Stay tuned, as we'll be sure to provide a link just as soon as it's available for a future Firmware Friday roundup!