2017 Roundup: Semi-Pro Interchangeable Lens Cameras $2000+
Sony Alpha a7S II
12.2MP Full-frame CMOS sensor | 5-axis image stabilization | 4K video capture
What we like:
- Incredible low-light sensitivity, particularly for video
- Internal 4K recording
- 5-axis image stabilization
- Tilting LCD
What we don't:
- Contrast Detect AF struggles in low light and with low contrast subjects
- Small, finicky, mushy dials and buttons
- No touchscreen
- Poor battery life
The a7S II lifts the same high-sensitivity 12.2MP full-frame CMOS sensor from the original a7S and carries it into the second generation a7 lineup, adding in-body 5-axis and internal 4K recording as new features. It sits next to the a7 II and a7R II as the ideal choice for available light photographers and video shooters.
Autofocus is contrast-detect only, but is claimed to work down to -4 EV - something that we've found is borne out in testing. The algorithms in video have been changed to make AF smoother and quicker to rack between subjects. Still, for still shooters wishing to acquire focus in very dark scenarios, or continuously focus on moving subjects, the a7S II's AF system can prove frustratingly sluggish compared to (for example) the a7R II.
Image quality is quite good but resolution is obviously somewhat low, which limits scope for cropping and large prints. Noise levels remain low even at seemingly insane ISO levels. It's important to note though that the low light, high ISO stills performance of the a7S II is not unique: even higher resolution cameras show fairly similar low light performance at all but the highest ISOs in Raw comparisons at common viewing size. Uncompressed Raw is also offered, allowing as much detail as possible to be recovered from shadows and high contrast edges, without odd compression artifacts. Raw dynamic range, while significantly higher than Canon peers, lags slightly behind its higher resolution siblings as well as Nikon's offerings.
Where the a7S II really shines is in 4K recording, which it can now do at up to 30p internally. While the a7R II offers similar capability, the a7S II full-frame 4K is far more detailed, thanks to full-sensor readout of every pixel. We've also found this full sampling of the sensor to significantly benefit low light video quality, with the a7S II (and a7S) delivering the lowest noise low light video footage we've ever seen. Unlike the a7R II, to which comparisons will undoubtedly be drawn, the a7s II doesn't offer decisive AF in video sans hunting, since it lacks on-sensor phase-detection.
The a7S II also has the ability to shoot 1080p at 24, 30, 60, and 120 fps frame-rates (although 120p comes with a 2.2x crop factor: smaller than an APS-C crop). Profiles such as S-log utilize the sensor's excellent dynamic range to enable videographers to cram as much information in to their clips as possible, allowing high contrast scenes to be captured and later color graded to the videographer's taste. The camera also offers ample tools for pro videographers, like zebra stripes, focus peaking and more. And a built-in microphone and headphone jack make the a7S II all the more able to be turned into an all-out video rig.
Benefits like IBIS and improved log gamma capture (with a lower base ISO) spell serious improvements over the original a7S and make the a7S II one of the most compelling video recording devices currently on the market.
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