Sony a7 II gains faster focus for adapted lenses and uncompressed Raw
Sony has announced that its a7 II will receive a firmware update that will boost its autofocus performance with adapted lenses as well as add support for uncompressed Raw. Previously, the a7 II only used contrast detect AF with lenses adapted via passive adapters. That meant a lot of hunting, and unusable continuous AF.
Phase-detect AF with adapted lenses
The update enables the on-sensor phase detection system to work with adapted lenses. This should, theoretically, allow it to behave much like the a7R II, which is quick to focus many A-mount and 3rd party lenses, even able to continuously refocus quickly on approaching or receding subjects.
You can select phase detection for adapted lenses via a menu option the update will add. Depending on the option you choose in this menu item, the camera will use phase detection (for speed) or contrast detection (for accuracy, at the cost of speed) when using non-native lenses. We should point out that in our limited tests, on-sensor phase detection even with non-native lenses appears to exhibit the high accuracy of contrast detection. Therefore, enabling PDAF should bring many benefits, with little to no cost. And despite the a7 II's sensor having far fewer phase detection elements than the a7R II, and likely lower speed of readout, the company says the camera will be able to offer some degree of object recognition and tracking with A-mount lenses, meaning they are also likely to work with Canon lenses via third-party adapters.
Advanced subject tracking with adapted lenses?
Frankly, though, we don't expect the more advanced subject tracking modes, like eye AF and Lock-on AF, to function with adapted lenses, as they do not function on the a7R II. Rather, much like the a7R II, we'd expect the firmware to enable depth-based subject tracking - or the ability of the camera to automatically choose AF points to stay on a moving target using mostly phase information - in the camera's 'Wide' AF area mode. This is welcome, but if that's the only mode that allows general subject tracking with adapted lens, it won't suit many photographers, since 'Wide' never allows one to even specify what your subject is (the camera always chooses one for you). These, and other limitations like 3fps max drive for continuous AF, are real, and limit your ability to shoot sports in fast-paced, reliable manner. Face detection AF in continuous, though, works remarkable well, and with the phase detection support this update brings, makes for a usable way to ensure the primary face in your scene is in focus at the time of capture.
In addition, the firmware update will add the uncompressed Raw option Sony introduced in the a7R II and available in the a7S II. Uncompressed Raw avoids the compression artifacts we, and many others, found could be introduced by Sony's compression algorithms. Ideally, we hear you: a lossless compressed option would be nice, but this is a start, and it is encouraging to see previous cameras updated with an uncompressed Raw that avoids all potentially image degrading steps in the Raw file writing process. The update will also allow the movie record function to be assigned to a wider range of buttons. The update will be available around November 17th.